the 666 – C Mantle

Continuing what Dead Sound started – this week I put three questions to noisy Scot – C Mantle.

Together with Sanyi, C Mantle runs label Acre Recordings, a label which should already be on your radar. Pushing fantastic sound from the likes of Romania’s Wirewound, Denmark’s Monolog, Serbia’s Molez, Berlin’s Swarm Intelligence as well as fellow Scottish talents the wee djs and Opine Kosinsky. The label also plays host to some of his own sounds – the highlight of which is the stunning Techne/Physis release.

He’s worked with the Leeds electronics specialists Digital Distortions; Berlin’s Stasis Records; Handsette Recordings and seen releases on sadly defunkt labels Myuzyk, Subgrade and Spacebar Sentiments.

His is a sound that has been captivating me for years – the brutal textures; the thundering bass and presence; all those little details.

I wanted to ask him about his love of noise records, his tastes in IDM and electronica and to get an insight in his studio process. Here’s what C Mantle had to tell the 666.

Question 1.
Hi Chris. Here’s your first question: as a fan of the more extreme styles of sound, what are your six must listen to noise albums – what one might regard as the classics or the crash course.

I’ve been into some fairly nasty sounding stuff since I was quite young, with forays into grindcore, punk, experimental and various extreme metal genres, plus a later taste for hardcore techno and gabber and, more recently, breakcore and noise itself. I blame the classically trained parents, myself.

Not all of these records are ‘noise’ as such, but they share the same spirit.

Whitehouse – Racket [Susan Lawly]
Whitehouse may of course be an obvious choice but their defining influence over noise/power electronics is difficult to overstate.

I was lucky enough to see them play not long before they disbanded and it was without doubt the most powerful and cathartic gig ever.

While a lot of their output is rather samey, and their earlier releases not always technically amazing, this album, for me, really represents their peak and also acts as a bridge into Bennett’s epochal Cut Hands work.

Racket mixes elements of more classic Whitehouse (including a re-working of Dumping the Fucking Rubbish, a track bravely made famous by Surgeon) with the African instrumentation for which Bennett is now well-known.

This is a mercifully brief record (noise should be short and sweet!) which has some of the finest noise production going. This really is a ‘must-have’.

Muscletusk – Ask the Universe [Braw Records]
Muscletusk are a little known local Edinburgh band who play some of the finest acoustic instrument-based improv noise. With a traditional four-piece set up, the band play very well together, obviously spending a lot of time rehearsing and are clearly adept musicians.

This isn’t the kind of ‘just-play-any-old-shite-and-turn-it-up-to-11’ style of noise, but rather is skilled and texturally nuanced, with plenty of dynamic range, drone sections and, of course, full-on noise parts too. They also utilise stomp-box/DIY style electronic effects, with plenty of retro tape delay, which serve to ameliorate the more intense parts and add a creepy 70s edge, reminding me, in ethos, if not in sound, of Broadcast and The Focus Group’s stunning Investigate Witchcults of the Radio Age.

0))) Presents Pentemple [Southern Lord]
This Sunn 0)))/Striborg collaborative project melds the guitar-based drone for which Greg O’Malley et al. are justly famous with the depraved extremity of early-style Norwegian Black Metal.

After a relatively mellow beginning the record slowly builds to a sustained frenzy of blast beats, thrashed guitars and Black Metal growls.

Although by no means a ‘perfect’ album, this supposed live recording represents an interesting cross-pollination of drone, noise and metal which is sinister, dark and a little self indulgent. This is very much for late-night ‘baked’ listening.

Napalm Death – From Enslavement to Obliteration [Earache]
Yes, this is not a noise album, but rather one of the finest examples of the grindcore sound that was growing in the late 80s and early 90s.

As the first record I ever bought it certainly occupies a special place in my heart but it was also a first introduction to very noisy, distorted sounds, to a form of music that more or less eschewed all pretensions towards melody, accessibility and vocal comprehensibility in favour of raw, bludgeoning power, backed up by bitter and political lyrics, espousing the Thatcherite social ills of the day.

In terms of anger and power, this seminal grindcore record deserves a place in the cannon of noise music.

Zeitkratzer – Whitehouse Electronics [Zeitkratzer Records]
Continuing with the Whitehouse theme comes this magnificent live ‘covers’ album by the experimental eleven piece ensemble Zeitkratzer.

As the sleeve proudly notes: “no electronics [were] used, only amplified instruments“. Don’t be put off, though, as this is one very noisy album indeed, but with a slightly gentler sheen and a touch more nuance, provided by the classical instrumentation.

Like Racket, this is a short album, and all the better for it.

Thomas Dimuzio – Headlock [Generation Unlimited]
Ending on what is a more dynamic and quieter ‘noise’ album, Dimuzio, a prolific but under-recognised artist weaves here a rich tapestry of drones, noise, musique concrete and rhythmic sounds into a haunting and mesmerising experience. Rather than exploring brutal cathartic power, this record, nearly 25 years old now and refusing to age, engenders solipsism, claustrophobia and creates some very sinister spaces. With hints of madness.

The inventiveness and fleeting madnesses make me think of the feel of quite a lot of Nurse With Wound, including his fairly recent collaboration with Graham Bowers, musically representing what goes through the brain in the three minutes between suffering a stroke and dying. Cheerful stuff.

Question 2.
Your six must own electronica/IDM/electronics albums.
The standard desert island scenario.

It would be far too easy to list here six Autechre albums so let’s just assume that I have already populated a desert island with everything from Chiastic Slide to Quaristice. Moving on to a second desert island (is that allowed?)…

In your particular case I think we’ll make an exception.

Pan Sonic – A [Blast First]
For me this is one of the finest Pan Sonic albums, portraying the rich tapestries of their varying sounds; from electro beats, to analogue synth warmth, to clanging rhythmical noise, to those two wonderful cuts based on run-out grooves, this album represents everything that Pan Sonic are and everything they’ve ever done.

When I first bought it many friends accused it of not being ‘music’ but I fell in love with it pretty much straight away. It somehow has a charm and warmth that more recent albums haven’t quite captured and also, for most part, a good flow without too many of those annoyingly quiet tracks.

Brothomstates – Claro [Warp]
This is without doubt one of the finest IDM/electronica albums ever, supported by the equally excellent (and more glitchy) Qtio EP.

While no obscurity – I assume most readers are familiar with the record – this is something I keep on going back to over the years since it was released. Surely that is the mark of a desert island disc and I’m certain Kirsty Young would be happy to play it.

It has wonderful production and mastering and a wonderful hardware/analogue sound that belies the fairly technical, almost glitchy, music. The flow of this album is excellent, and all the tracks fit together and share enough of their sounds that [as a] whole gels in a very impressive way. The way the last tracks get slowly more chaotic and confused…. It’s one of a few albums I actually make a point of listening to in its entirety, such a journey is it. Little else Brothomstates has done matches this peerless vinyl, making it perhaps all the more important.

Plastikman – Consumed [Novamute]
This is a real desert island disc, once more something to return to time and again. It’s deep, possibly one of the deepest records I own. Forget about dodgy haircuts, banal minimal techno and the dubious Japanese fashion label, this was Plastikman at his best. Stripped down and unworldly.

Reminiscent of the Concept series, but warmer and better. Lie down and drift-off to these womb-like tracks.

Autechre – Confield [Warp]
This was the album that provided the gateway from the more ‘accessible’ AE towards more difficult and technical albums such as Draft 7.30 and Untilted.

It retains some of the organic warmth of Chiastic Slide plus the clinical mechanism of E.P. 7 and L.P. 5 but adds new layers of sophistication and complexity, arguably foreshadowing the cold and angular (but wonderful) Draft 7.30.

It is also one of the most beautiful AE albums.

When I lived in east Asia, far from any decent music (three hours on a bus to hear tech-house and funky breaks), it was this album, Draft 7.30 and the wee djs that saved me!

Sunken Foal – Fallen Arches [Planet Mu]
Sunken Foal seems to be a much over-looked artist but this amazing album on Planet Mu records is testament to Dunk Murphy’s broad musical vision and impressive technical prowess.

This is ‘IDM’ in the broadest sense, pulling on folk and acoustic influences, along with more electronic sounds and displaying both diverse instrumentation and quite daunting production skills. There are beatless tracks, broken beats, some 2-step and even a penultimate techno-esque stomper; some are melancholic, other spooky and others still are weirdly uplifting.

These pieces are so rich, there is so much to listen to, so many layers, that they simply don’t get boring and, despite being seemingly quite dissimilar from each other in a number of ways, really gel into a coherent whole. Superlative stuff.

Warp 10 + 3 Remixes (Various Artists) [Warp]
OK, choosing such a large compilation album does seem like a bit of a cheat but there are so many great tracks by a really varied group of artists…

If I had to choose just one IDM record this could well be it. At 14 years old, the tracks on this much cherished (and still mint!) quadruple vinyl still sound fantastic today, highlighting the great production and mastering on show here.

The compilation pretty well encapsulates all the sounds that made Warp such a great label in their time, from the electro funk of Vibert/Mink, the epic electronica of Isam/Seefeel, the haunting 2-step beauty of Surgeon/LFO, the freaked techno of Autechre/Nightmares on Wax to the spooky rhythmic sound of Mira Calix/Seefeel.

This is a much better release than the faintly disappointing Warp 20, and a far superior insight into the broad range of their sound back in the IDM heyday of the late 90s. If I was allowed a seventh album, though, We Are Reasonable People would pretty much be a sure thing, with it’s harder edge and inclusion of the first AE track I owned on vinyl, the fascinatingly mechanistic “Stop, Look, Listen“.

Question 3.
Your approach in the studio often produces uncompromising results – what are six tips you take into the studio with you.

This is quite hard to answer. I don’t think I do anything much different from other people but as I work in isolation I don’t really know how other folk work. And to be honest I’ve been struggling to come up with six ‘tips’ so I’ve just written a list of six things I commonly do and hope some will be of vague interest:

01. I generally match reverb and compression times to the tempo of the track to keep them a bit tidier.

02. My most used effect is a simple parametric EQ with a mid/side function. I spend a lot of time boosting and cutting sounds so they don’t conflict. And every track I write seems to need cutting on the master at roughly 125 & 250 Hz…

03. When I’m stuck with a track I’ll start auditioning sounds from [for example] some rubbish trance library and will force myself to use some of them. Or I’ll start resampling it and then muck about with what I’ve recorded.

04. I live in fear of using samples without mangling them beyond recognition so often limit myself to using just, for example, 20 field recorded ones for a whole techno track; or limiting myself to using only jazz samples for a breakcore track. Of course, they need a fair amount of manipulation! But getting a bassdrum out of a recording of someone swallowing is fun and bound to sound a bit different.

05. I’m mildly synaesthetic so I’m able to ‘see’ sounds in my mind’s eye to a certain extent. So, the look of a track is important. If it looks right in my head it will probably sound right too. I like having lots to look at, if you know what I mean, so I like to fill every available space. It also helps stave off boredom when listening to same loop over and over again for hours at a time.

06. I’m really slow at writing tracks. Two to three months, working most evenings, is common. A track will end up going through a number of incarnations, frequently ending up very different from how it started out. Any idea I start out with pretty much gets tossed out before too long. But I reckon it’s a good idea to take time, to polish the sound and the flow of the track, and to make sure I’m really happy with what I’m doing. And going back to a track after a rest of a few weeks… well, I suddenly hear all sorts of rubbish I hadn’t noticed before or have a sudden burst of inspiration for a slightly dull bit.

Mar 28, 2013