QA : Martin J Thompson

mjt-picture

 

1. Who are you?

I am Martin J Thompson. I record electronic music under the names Pokk!, Typeface and also one half of Mimosa Moize with my wife Lucia H Chung.

I run a small little label called SM-LL. I have releases out on SM-LL, SonuoS, An Epic, Dragon’s Eye Recordings, Murmur Records, and various odd tracks, remixes.

2. What do you do?

When I am not making music, I code/design working as a web designer.

3. Where do you often create/produce?

I rent a studio based in Tottenham, North London, which is where I live and work.

It’s quite handy having the equipment right there with me all the time, as it reminds me on a daily basis what I should be ‘really’ doing.

4. When?

Anytime I can. I haven’t really found I am any more or less productive at any specific time. Although I tend to create more in short bursts than in epic sessions.

Generally each burst lasts around 4-6 hours I guess, sometimes less.

5. Why do you play music?

Well, I don’t really play music much these days. I used to play the organ in my parents living room when I was really young, but I found other sounds and creating more interesting to me.

Although, if you mean why do I play other peoples music? then for me it’s really always about understanding more about it. There are times I can relax and enjoy music, but generally when listening I am always analyzing, trying to understand a little why I like something, why it sounds the way it does and how might I use that in my own work.

For me making music is not really an option, I just simply have to do it. If too much time passes and I haven’t engaged in something to do with creating music, I get really anxious.

6. When did you start making music?

I started writing my own electronic music at the age of 10. It was pretty basic stuff, mostly inspired by Jean Michel Jarre who I listened to a lot at the time. I made a tape called Peace and Noise, which I remember thinking at the time was the two extremes. I still have that tape actually, all done on a Casio keyboard and Music X on the Amiga computer.

My brother showed me the basics of sequencing and sampling using Techno Turbo Sound I think it was called. I remember the Amiga would have all these dongles hanging out of the ports.

Although, saying that now I do remember seeing that on the ZX Spectrum, so I guess I must have been aware of it even before, that’s pretty crazy thinking about it now. Kind of annoying in a way that it has taken me so long to put some stuff out haha.

7. Which track defines you the most?

I don’t think there is any single track that could do this, although maybe that might be an interesting direction to create something.

I would have to say it would be a combination of Time Becomes a Loop by Orbital, which referenced Steve Reich, who at the time I had not heard of. Also Twin Bleeps by Ø, this is very me. Geiger Counter by Kraftwerk, specifically the opening pulse kick sound.                          O Superman by Laurie Anderson is a pretty important one for me too. And basically everything on Ääniesineitä by Antti Rannisto, that album is incredible. I would say these tracks go someway to defining what I strive for in my music, which is a big part of who I am.

But in an effort to paint a clearer picture, I also like things like experience at my recent wedding ceremony. Me and Lucia created compilations of music for various parts of the celebrations, and during the eating part we had more relaxing Jazz based music.

Among them were sections taken from classic films whereby the actors would be taking and the song would sort of begin mid sentence, like all classic films seemed too. The interesting part for me, and quite deliberately done too, was knowing such an event would have the odd speech or call to attention, the talking in the music also acted this way.

Every time these songs would come on, the room would suddenly go quiet expecting something to happen, only to quickly realize it was the music…again. I take a lot of joy from observing and/or interacting with social systems like this. I think this plays a massive part in most of what I do.

8. How would you describe your own music?

It’s creative, personal exploration, released into the world using and playing with ways of engagement. I don’t really make stuff for people to ‘enjoy’ specifically. I mean it’s nice when someone likes something, but it’s equally as enjoyable when someone really hates it too, and has lots to say about why they hate it. I generally find both as interesting.

I also find it interesting how we generally tend to only buy what we like, and so there is this temptation to make things people will like, in order for more people to hear it, or buy it. However, for me, making things only for people to like seems really destructive to development, as things will always be sorting of chasing its tail, not going anywhere.

Having said that, most of my favorite tracks are those that are chasing their tail not going anywhere ha.

9. Any track of the moment?

“Of the moment” is really key, as it changes quite often. I have been listening to a lot of music for my recent wedding and I really love the track by Sarah Vaughan called Sometimes i’m happy, specifically the live recorded version from 1958. I love the pace of it and the way the vocals move around what is a really basic structure repeated, favorite part is where her vocals are not quite loud enough right at the start, yeah really loving that track at the moment.

10. What influences your work?

Pretty much everything. When I was younger it seemed to always be electronic music, but over recent years I have realized that it wasn’t the genre itself I was interested in, this was more a safety net for me, but specific things within that genre.

As I have gotten older and more confident, I can appreciate these things in all walks of life. Repetition, contrast, culture, perception, expectation, loyalty, the list is endless.

11. What’s your academic background? Are you an autodidact?

I am self taught, with the occasional nudge in a direction when I was younger. More recently though I did go to University to study a B.A in Sound Art and Design which was fun. I did learn a fair bit about more historical aspects of sound that I had generally avoided before, still do for the most part, but mostly University for me was about the academic side of things.

Learning how to communicate my thinkings, or learning the skills to analyse. I can’t say that much was learnt from the University itself, as for me is was extremely slow paced, but I did appreciate the time available to concentrate on building skills and not have to deal with managing my time with earning money, which up until that point was a bit of a hurdle.

12. Favorite designer?

Wim Crouwel. All his stuff is great but if not anything else, his New Alphabet is enough for me to like him as a favorite designer.

To design an alphabet that challenges the whole purpose of it being readable or usable, and then it is successful enough to be used, and all this back in the 60’s, yeah, amazing.

13. Favorite book?

It’s been a while since I properly picked up a book and was fully engaged. The last time this happened it almost brought me to tears and was a short story by J. G. Ballard in the collection ‘The Voices of Time and Other Stories’. I forget which is the specific story I read, but I think it’s one based in the Vermillion Sands, but they are all amazing. I was really late to Ballard’s work, so I really must read more of his work, simply stunning.

14. Favorite classic movie?

Ha, I always say Ferris Bueller’s Day off, I think I know it line by line, although there are many other great films. I recently watched Blade Runner, finally, amazing film.

Also I was put onto an incredible 1957 film called 12 Angry Men. I think if there was a film that summed up what I look for that would be it.

15. Favorite music label?

12k.

16. Your dream collaboration?

I generally don’t work with other people much, although more recently I have been trying this more.

Having said that, I reckon myself and Taylor Deupree would bring out something pretty special. Maybe one day.

17. Are you analog or digital?

Both. The whole analog vs digital is always an interesting debate for me. There is no final answer obviously, but it is interesting to hear what people say, or how they react to such a question.

Personally, it really depends on what I am doing or who I am working with. I enjoy working in hardware more than in the computer as I feel hardware is just more immediate, at least the machines I use. The digital world tends to benefit me more for reaching specific details, or working on bigger projects that require a longer process, so having multiple versions or sharing these versions with other people is a real benefit.

Having said that, I am not a fan of soft synths. Not so much the sound of them, as anything can be useable, but the fact the interfaces are a nightmare to use as they are so dedicated in relying on creating a GUI that looks like the piece of hardware, which for me is a really backwards way of thinking.

It reminds me of computer software that is inspired by or looks like its real world equivalent, skeuomorphism. I have a bit of a problem working with that sort of software, it’s just not as practical in some ways. Having said that, when it does work, it can be really satisfying such as the Softube Tube-Tech CL1B, I love the look of that and will buy a real one in the future. But perhaps in that case, the software version functions well, where as say a big soft synth has so many small sliders and dials and sub menus, it just irritates me.

Having said that, I bought an Alesis MMT-8 sequencer as I heard the menu and usability of it was really confusing and cumbersome, so for me there is something really interesting in emulation that I love trying to understand. For example, I like what Korg is doing right now with the MS-20 and the Arp Odyssey, but I don’t like so much what Roland is doing with the TR-8. For me, Roland originally made some machines to help the musician create music. Replacing a drummer or bass player for example. These machines were then taken and used in other ways, experimenting, and even created whole genres. The machine stood alone almost, a tool to create. The process behind the TR-8, seems to be more focused on those genres specifically, made to create ‘that’ type of music.

That’s not to say that’s bad, obviously that’s hugely useful too, nor is that to say people won’t take that in another direction either, but the interesting part for me is how the intention behind a machine seems to influence how we engage with it, and ultimate decide to use it or not. Another example would be the ValhallaVintageVerb, loosely based on the Ensoniq DP4 I believe, and yet the interface is visually very different and seems to held more decisions based in software looking ahead, than visual accuracy looking back. The whole area is really fascinating for me.

18. Which soft wares/tools/ instruments do you use/play?

I use all sorts and often swap about, but the main stuff is: Atari STE running either Cubase or DR T’s KCS. Roland SH-101, TR-606, TB-303, RE-201 Space Echo. Nord Rack 2 and Modular G1. Akai S2800 sampler. Dynacord VRS-23, DRS-78. Soundcraft BVE 200 mixer. ValhallaVintageVerb, Softube Tube-Tech, PSP Xenon plugins.

I just recently bought the new Korg Volca Sample Sequencer and i’m very impressed with this.

19. Describe your creative process?

Often, and as quick as possible. I like to work fast. I then wait a few weeks and listen back to review them.

I used to over think things and not get anything done. Now, mainly due to the www.mono-log.org uploads, that daily routine reduced this and insisted I just create, keeping the over thinking outside of the studio a little. These days it’s much like it was when I was a teenager, I turn on the gear and see what happens, and try to hit record as soon as a I can, often before I have worked out what the track might do. The structure of a track is largely done on the fly using the mixer mostly. I hit record and jam the whole thing, and hope it sounds interesting after a few weeks break. Often it is the crap versions of the time, that end up being something more interesting. Other times it just works first time, which is great.

For example, the Pathways E.P’ on ‘an epic’ was taken from about 7 jams, those final 4 being the strongest. That whole e.p. took 2 sittings, so all in all probably only about 8-10 hours for the bulk of the track pre-mastering and editing which was done by an epic themselves.

20. When are you the most prolific (creatively)?

After coffee or during a sneaky whiskey.

21. Any favorite record stores? (Real/virtual)

My favorite record store is Smallfish Records, but it sadly closed down many years ago.              I even moved from my hometown to get nearer that store, ironically on the very day it closed down. Still, rumor has it Mike (owner) is bubbling about with some new music of his own, so fingers crossed.

22. What’s your life philosophy? (Optimistic/pessimistic)

Yeah, the thing is with optimism and pessimism, is they are sort of two sides of the same coin. One persons good is another persons bad. I personally believe in individuality, respect, understanding, and people having a right to do and feel however they like. I find culture, society, rules, religion, law, guidance etc all quite interesting, but I can’t say I actively agree with them or not. It’s kind of like there are certain things in place, and have been for ages, and without wanting to deal with them, sometimes, it’s just easier to go along with it. I see a lot of that.

Equality is a nice ideal, but I don’t see that really existing yet. I don’t think there is any so called ‘bad’ in the world as it is, although there is certainly lots of stuff I personally don’t like, and would imagine that what I don’t like and those reading don’t like cross over, but to say it’s bad is something else I think. As far as I can see, it’s been this way since the very beginning and I don’t honestly see how it could be any different, generally speaking. I guess this could easily be seen as a very glum and negative view of the world, but I don’t see it this way, nor do I feel it is so simple to define it. And it is as you say, how you conduct your life through whatever we experience.

Generally I feel very positive about most things, and if I find myself negative towards something, I really am quite keen to understand why, and in most cases change that view.

Ultimately I believe in choice. The biggest revelation for me was realizing the power we all hold in our hands of choosing our life. I used to believe we were made up of all the things we have done, but have recently realized that is total rubbish. We are only made up of the things we do next.

For years I have been having this strange day dream, normally mid conversation with a friend or during something important like speaking with a client. It might sound odd, but I get this sudden urge to through my drink in their face haha.

I often tell people about this thought, and wonder what it could be? I have always found that there was something fascinating about how different a life could be, if the decision to through that drink was taken. A simple drink to the face, I wonder how many friends you would loose, jobs you wouldn’t get, angry people there would be with drink on their face haha.

I think it is to do with realizing the power of choice, and for me that is a massive part of everything I believe in. For the record I have never thrown a drink at anyone haha.

23. Do you have a healthy lifestyle?

I do the best I can, but I think it could be better. I could exercise more.

24. How do you manage your time effectively? (Job/hobby)

I used to believe I had no time, but realized this was all down to me being lazy. I am really lazy and really bad at managing my time, but I guess like most people who know this about themselves but want it to change, they do everything they can to better it. This seems to result in me being pretty active, and able to manage my time quite well, but yeah, I always feel really lazy deep down. I basically can’t be bothered most of the time, but it’s not what you think, it’s what you do, and I do as much as I can as fast as I can.

Currently I am working at home again, which is great, meaning I can control my day as much as I like, although it needs to be more effective I think. 2015 I am going to push really hard, as many of the things I have wanted to do are being slowly ticked off, which means the focus will be largely on the record label and the music. Very exciting.

25. Any secret skills?

I am pretty good at racing games, although Wangan Midnight Maximum 3 is a drifting game and I haven’t quite mastered that yet. I race a friend who is one of the top in the world, and I am a disgrace haha.

My wife Lucia said my skill is “the boy look”. I can stare into a cupboard for hours and never see what it is I am looking for haha.

26. Any future plans?

Life in London. SM-LL Record label with vinyl releases. Record cutting machine. A few artists releasing with me who I am very honored to work with the label.

27. What’s your life motto?

Don’t get addicted to brain crack, so stop thinking about those ideas and do them.

28. Any “mot de la fin”?

Copy my music and send me a demo? That might be interesting.

| This discussion was conducted via email |

1- We found the way you relate sounds to thoughts in mono-log very interesting. It shows how sound as a self-sufficient entity can be a seed-bed of unexpected creative outputs. Do you agree with the idea that although we are currently experiencing a “sonic turn”, sound as a discipline is still misunderstood?

I would agree there is certainly more artwork or creative output getting the attention of sound from either the author or the media than we have perhaps seen in the past.

Video works are now sometimes listed using terms such as “sound” or “sound piece” for example, where as before perhaps this was a given that the video either has sound or not. The focus is perhaps shifting to at least entertain the idea that sound is something to be considered on its own and needs to be acknowledged more.

I think it’s interesting ‘how’ this acknowledgement of sound is presented, be it in descriptions of artwork, through its use in commerce, its manipulation in the creation of music or its influence in how music making tools are designed.

I think at the core of everything there should be some misunderstanding, as it shows difference. It raises questions about correctness and intention. Any understanding is really down to how it is used, communicated and embraced, and I would say that is both on the part of the author and listener to establish some connection that could be called understanding.

I don’t think I would like to fully understand sound, well, that’s probably not true (laughs), the truth is I would love to know how everything works, but the reality is that is impossible. I am constantly pushed back against a want to push forward, but it this very impossibility of knowing everything that creates many pockets of understanding and misunderstanding, a constant friction that delivers the real excitement. It’s what is the fun in creating and experimenting.

When I think of the many youtube clips that show us how to make the perfect mix, I wonder about the impact this has for music diversity. I honestly can’t see how one direction is more perfect than another. This reminds me of speaking with people very early in their experimenting with sound, and sometimes they worry about views or ideas of a right or wrong way, that they are doing it wrong. It’s sometimes only in the very early days of experimenting, that we are free from the pressures of doing it a so called ‘right way’.

So I guess if there ‘is’ any misunderstanding about sound, it wouldn’t be from those learning about sound, as their ears are truly open. But it would be from those who frequently access sound, who then begin to believe there is a right and wrong.

2- The past few months, we have been enjoying a lot your daily uploads of sonic experiments, SND. How did this experimental project happened?

Is it a project that you are going to pursue this year?

Thank you, I am very pleased it is enjoyable.

First off, yes, I will be continuing it this year and for every year that follows it where it is of use to me. It probably won’t be every single day, although I will do my best.

Before mono-log, I originally started uploading a lot of old music that I had already written over the years, as a way to get used to sharing. Up until that point, the idea of sharing it was quite an odd one for me. I generally wrote music for myself, and believed I wasn’t all that bothered what people thought about it. I have since found out that wasn’t quite true. I do care what people think, although I don’t care if they like it or not.

The found this process of revisiting music and sharing is a really enjoyable experience. I also noticed myself reacting differently to music that got more attention over others. I am quite fasciated by how social media has taken ahold of people over the years, so I felt this was a sort of experiment on myself in using social media and an archive I felt quite precious about.

As the new year approached, I felt it was a good time to try something else, but I was really stuck as to what this could be. It was actually my wife who suggested I use my Nord Modular G1, as I was often saying I wanted to learn how to use it properly. The idea of creating something in the Nord Modular every single day seemed crazy and far to much of a commitment, and so I thought it was perfect.

3- Are you using the concept of SND as a medium to create/retrace your own memory?

This has certainly become a small part of it yes, although each upload presents its own reason for being there. For sure, there has been many uploads that have been quite specifically conceptual, either in sound or through how it has been presented and reflected upon, but I found that over the course of the project a real focus or thread that can be considered to encompass them all didn’t occur, or at least I have yet to find it.

It has been an interesting process of reflecting on previous creations. I find there is an anxiety on my part, in wanting to listen back, and yet I do. I found I would listen in blocks, weeks would pass and then I would spend a few hours going through them all, considering how I reacted.

I have learnt many things during the project but one that stood out more than most, is that my emotional state at the time of creating compared to that when listening back, hugely changed my feeling towards a piece. Time after time I caught myself liking what I disliked and disliking what I liked. It taught me to let go a little, and in turn I can hear myself more.

4- What is your relation to the notion of time in your artistic practice?

“Notions of time”… the very words make me smile. Time is essential in what I do. I play with perceptions of time within my work quite a lot, but also the very idea of ‘not having time’ or ‘finding time’ has a massive interest for me, which is directly influencing what I do and how I think about other peoples music.

I used to suffer a great deal from this idea of ‘not having time’. I always blamed my lack of creating enough music on being caught in a situation I felt I had no control over.Typically a job that seemed to literally take my time away. I felt I needed more time. I had set ideals, plans, systems in place that were based on having more time, and obviously not having this time, I was at a loss.

Mainly through doing mono-log and this daily requirement to create something regardless of time available, I found my perspective of using time changed. It’s not time that is needed, it’s what we do in the time we have that is important. This realization of making better decisions in consideration of time, has a huge knock on affect to the amount of time we feel we have and how we feel about any results that come through time.

5- Default 0005 (phases) is your first release as your label SM-LL.

We are curious about your approach of using the label as the artist name.

Can you tell us more about it?

The material used for that release come in part from a live performance I did in Copenhagen. The performance was credited as a Pokk! performance, and I recall feeling a little uneasy about it being listed as Pokk! as the material was a mixture. It wasn’t until afterwards I realized I wrote it more as a representation of the label more than any one artist. I think this is shown in the mixes I do on mixcloud.

SM-LL has many directions surrounding such things as repetition, expectation, duplication, emulation etc and phases is one part of SM-LL. I wanted to represent phases as a core to label’s interest as apposed to something I do under any one artist. There is a hope and ultimately an engineering, that other artists can adopt these ideas and also do something with them. With SM-LL, I want to be able to represent musical ideas by artists, but also have artists do things with ideas that we all share.

I have often joked, but partly serious, that if someone sent me a demo that was essentially minimal repetition or phasing in it’s purest form, I would probably get very excited about that (laughs).

6- According to you “Phases is neither Pokk! or Typeface material but falls somewhere on the edges”. By wearing many hats, is your intent to free yourself and expand your creativity?

This is exactly it. Pokk! comes from a project idea I had  back in my early twenties. It has since incorporated other aspects but essentially it is rolling of shifting patterns with a techno dub like quality to the sound. The idea is the track has no specific structure and this is more made up of what is required of the sounds to make them shift about. It was initially inspired by the work of Recon and Biosphere, but other interests have fallen into the sound of Pokk!.

Typeface on the other is a purer idea, which is typically me. I am probably more excited about Typeface than Pokk! stuff but then this is also why there is less of it, as it takes a bit more thinking and I get all nervous (laughs). Having Pokk! and the label as outputs, allows me to be more relaxed when working on Typeface stuff. I don’t have to think about accessibility as much, or sell-ability even, which I do consider as important to what I do. Typeface is a tricky one and a bit self indulgent perhaps, which can be good.

7- In which project do you find yourself the most?

Probably when considering the label as a whole. The SM-LL mixes and the recent release as the label have been the most enjoyable experiences for me. Arguably the mixes are more fun as none of the music is mine, but edited to my taste, which make listening back easier.

But I really enjoyed being able to compare the mixed version to the original jams in the Default 0005 (phases) release. Comparison gives me a lot of comfort.

8- How did your current approach of making music evolves out of your earlier work?

I have found I have gone full circle. The earliest work I have recorded is still some of my favorite. The way it was made, the equipment used, and the longevity of it has played quite a role in the later stuff I make. As a result my approach is very similar. The evolution is perhaps a gaining of confidence in this approach, where as in the beginning it was probably the only way I knew how, or felt most comfortable with.

Generally I tend to get a rough idea I think might work, and before I perfect it, I hit record and start jamming a track straight away. Sometimes the first time is good enough, sometimes it takes a few takes, but never do I feel at the time it was perfect. But upon listening back, those little ‘mistakes’ become highlighted in the track and the anchor for the whole thing. This in turn gives a lot of confidence in jamming things and making things up as I go along which has really helped my desire to want to play live again.

9- Do you agree with Boltanski, when he said that “one of the purposes of art is to be curative”, the more you work, the more you learn about yourself?

Yes, it’s all about the hours you put in. Although, as you have pointed out, it’s not just about doing more in a quantitative sense, but also a more in a qualitative sense too.

It’s the more in reassessing, the more in decisions, the more in rejecting, accepting and the more in letting go. It’s the doing of more in every aspect that allows a perspective of learning, adjusting, undoing to occur. I think there is an essential balance in the ‘how’ work is done, and finding that balance is probably quite key.

10- A question that we always wanted to ask, what does “Pokk!/Typeface” mean?

Is it related to typography?

Typeface is related to typography, yes. Typeface uses typography as a creative tool in order to make music.

Pokk! actually comes from Daredevil’s club in a comic called Visionaries written by Kevin Smith. At the time of reading it, I was working on the Pokk! sound, and as I read the story,      I heard a similarity between what I imagined in my head for Pokk! and the abundance of sound effects in that comic.

I also liked the way his club has a tail, a trace of where it has been, showing its angle before hitting the target (in the case of “Pok” through a window and the word itself) and then often its bouncing back into Murdock’s hand… “fap”.

Thanks

My pleasure

some of our favorite SND uploads >

more here  >

 

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