INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mały Leksykon Wielkich Zespołów AUGUST 25, 2013 - by Dmitry Oliferowicz
Peter Chilvers is an English musician, composer, multi-instrumentalist, musical director and, last but not least, software developer. In addition, he is a co-founder of Burning Shed, an independent UK record label and online music store, together with fellow musicians Tim Bowness and Pete Morgan and an innovator of generative music.
He may be best known to music fans as a member of bands Henry Fool and Slow Electric, acting alongside No-Man's co-leader Tim Bowness.
He has kindly agreed to provide his insightful answers to the questions, which will hopefully make up for the current scarcity of information on him on the Web.
Tell our readers a little about yourself.
I've been both a musician and a computer programmer since a young age. Recently I've managed to combine them by developing the iPhone and iPad apps Bloom, Trope and Scape with Brian Eno. I've also worked with him as a technical assistant on a variety of projects including his recent albums on Warp, his collaboration with David Byrne and the soundtracks to The Lovely Bones, Top Boy and Spore.
I've also been collaborating with No-Man vocalist Tim Bowness for many years in a number of projects, including Slow Electric and Henry Fool, and we cofounded Burning Shed together with Pete Morgan in 2001. Last year I released an album of atmospheric country songs with vocalist Sandra O'Neill, under the name Letka, and that also featured a couple of guest appearances from Brian.
You are a Cambridge graduate. Did the alma mater have any kind of influence on your future occupation as a musician? Was it there that you began to play music?
It had an indirect influence. In my first week, there was an open concert where any new arrivals could play. I hadn't planned to play, but saw Michael Bearpark performing an atmospheric guitar piece early on. Encouraged that the concert wasn't to entirely consist of classical pieces, I tapped the organiser on the shoulder, and asked to play in the second half. I improvised a short piano piece, the first time I'd ever done so in public. It went down well and led to Mike and I working together.
What music were you a fan of growing up?
I didn't really listen to much music at all until I was about fourteen, and then had an unexpected simultaneous introduction to both rock music and soundtracks. I was watching the film Flash Gordon. Queen's soundtrack, in particular some of the more atmospheric guitar sections, opened a door for me somehow. I listened to virtually nothing but Queen for a year or so, then developed a thirst for music that was in some way pushing the boundaries of its time. That meant plenty of prog... Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, I lapped it all up! I also loved Chic Corea, Herbie Hancock and ultimately Keith Jarrett, probably my biggest influence (and the only one of those I still really listen to!) That lead me to discover ECM records. which I lived and breathed for a long time.
Later on my tastes mellowed, and I developed a love for the music of artists like Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, David Sylvian, David Bowie, The Blue Nile and, of course, Brian Eno.
How did your collaboration with Tim Bowness commence?
That came through Michael Bearpark, who had already been working with Tim for several years when I met him. Mike sent him an instrumental we'd written, and Tim wrote a vocal line - this became a song with the catchy title Life With The Independent Whore. That lead to a more ambitious project; the three of us went to Amazon Studios in Liverpool, and recorded an album in a single day (later released through Burning Shed as Tim Bowness / Samuel Smiles: Live Archive One.)
Can you elaborate on Slow Electric and the band's gig in Kiev, Ukraine last year?
In some ways, Slow Electric was a continuation of the tradition started with Tim twenty years earlier. Tim had contributed a track to an album by Uma (Robert Jürendal on guitar and Aleksei Saks on trumpet and flugelhorn) and we were invited to Estonia to play a series of three concerts. We arrived on a Sunday, rehearsed on Monday afternoon, and played our first gig that evening. Robert and Aleksei are such incredible improvisors that they instantly fitted over the repertoire of songs that Tim and I had established over the years. That project became known as Slow Electric, and the following year Igor Romanov invited us to Kiev to perform a double bill with Ex Wise Heads (Colin Edwin and Geoff Leigh). Colin joined us for several songs, and we're looking forward to having him join us again in the future.
Henry Fool has made a much applauded comeback with, surprisingly, a fully instrumental record, which had been in the making for more than a decade, according to Tim Bowness. Was there any serious overhaul of the project's musical philosophy and approach?
Strangely, I've had very little involvement with the Henry Fool project beyond the initial session. I rather liked the arrangement; I turned up, thoroughly enjoyed myself playing bass guitar for the first time in years, then Stephen and Tim (and more recently Jarrod) toiled away and eventually an album popped out. I've always had a great time working on the Fool project, but it's not really something I'd listen to now. My sixteen year old self would have loved it though!
Could you highlight your software developing collaboration with Brian Eno and tell us about the resulting iPad app, Scape, that emerged as a result of it? What possibilities do these kind of applications present to an average user?
I was introduced to Brian through a mutual friend back in 2001 who recognised our shared interest in self-generating music. We stayed in touch by email, and five years later when he started working on the Spore computer game soundtrack, he invited me to assist him with it. I stayed on helping him with other projects, mostly as a musical technician, but I think the iPhone and iPad apps we've created have been the most fruitful of the collaborations. Bloom came first, a very simple app that allows its user to create melodic patterns by tapping on the screen. Trope, a more dark and textural answer to Bloom followed, and most recently we released Scape, a much more complex app where the user can assemble groups of virtual musicians on screen and sit back and listen to them create music. None of them are intended to be tools; they are intended to be immersive pieces of music in which the listener is also a participant.
Do you believe there is some special sort of magic in vinyl - the sleeve artwork, the exclusivity dictated by the size and sheer weight of it - and that collecting vinyl should be on the agenda of any true prog fan?
I'm not a vinyl enthusiast myself - after moving house several times in one year, I decided to try and make as many of possessions virtual as possible. It's very rare now I even listen to a CD! But I can see the appeal of having music housed in a complete artistic package. I think the future - for me, at least - lies in downloads that expand on the listening experience, providing extra artwork, background information and so on, in much the same way that DVDs provide bonus content and features.
What are your tastes in music as a listener? What contemporary bands/artists can you recommend our readers to familiarise themselves with?
I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm rather out of touch with new bands of late. The nature of my work - whether I'm being immersed in ambient music while developing apps, or intensively preparing for a tour - means that I don't always feel in the mood to listen to other music. That said Efterklang, James Blake and Daughter are artists I've recently discovered and greatly enjoyed.
Can you nail what it means being truly experimental in music?
I think it means different things to different people. Although I find experiments in musical technology fascinating, what excites me most is hearing a group of improvising musicians exploring new territory. Brian Eno of course, is the master of pushing musicians outside of their comfort zone, and I've been very privileged to have witnessed some of these sessions in action.
What will be your professional priorities in the next few years: composing, recording, touring, programming or any other?
I've just finished a very intensive seven month period during which I became musical director for Karl Hyde from Underworld as he prepared for his first solo tour. I was also one of two keyboardists playing live in a tour that took included dates in Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Barcelona, Tokyo and Osaka. We played at Sydney Opera House and finished at Fuji Rock playing to around sixty-thousand people... as I've rarely played to more than two hundred people, it's been something of a shock! Playing live has never been a big priority, but I've had such a good time touring with an incredible group of people that it's given me a new perspective and enthusiasm for live performance; I hope I'll do more.
Tim Bowness and I have just completed preparing the remastered version of our 2001 album California, Norfolk, which will include a second CD of bonus material. In writing sleeve notes for the album, we remembered how it was that came to make the album in the first place, and that has reignited our enthusiasm for working together again. We already begun work for our (very late) follow up album.
I'm also finding my way back into app development, although it's not proved easy after a seven month gap!
Thank you very much for sitting down to do this interview!