Manafonistas APRIL 28, 2014 - by Michael Engelbrecht



After the interview, the "concert for one" started. Brian warned me that it could become, in parts, an absolute mess (and Karl added: "I'm doing the messy parts"). In fact, in the beginning it was, at least, weird. But then, suddenly, the programmed beats, Karl's guitar, Brian's "arabic" singing style - all fell into place. Another entrancing piece sounded like something Embryo might have dreamed of in 1973! Everything was improvised. From one moment to another, they were "in the zone", and I was "in the zone", too. Later on, Karl told me that he rediscovered his love for playing guitar, when they had started working on "Someday World" - because of the "funnily tuned guitars" in Brian's studio. After weeks of this special experience, Karl returned to more "classical" tunings and felt to be no longer trapped by old patterns. A week later, I bought Karl's record Edgeland, and then sent him a list of questions. Meanwhile Brian got a copy of the Young Marble Giants record, the record he had never ever heared, the "pop" record of that era around 1981 that was, in some ways, really close to Brian's idea of "ambient music". Naked music it really was! Karl's solo album is ascetic, too, never trying to fill holes, never going straight ahead, never afraid of getting lost.

Michael: There are, for sure, connections between your album Edgeland and Someday World. Edgeland evokes unfamiliar areas of citys, the outskirts, forgotten places, topography...

Karl: The process for creating, writing, recording, composing Edgeland came as a direct result of my experiences during the 'Pure Scenius' sessions which Brian invited me to be a part of at the Sydney Opera House in June 2009. Those sessions were a turning point in my life, when I decided I wanted to explore writing, composing, recording through improvisation, hence, all the songs on Edgeland were improvised and most of them were left with the original 'first take' vocal unchanged. Equally Leo Abrahams' (whom I had met through his role in Pure Scenius) parts were also left exactly as they were recorded in the original improvisations. It was important that I move away from traditionally structured 'songs' and allow song forms to assume unpredictable shapes through the live interaction of musicians recording together in the same room. This is how we had recorded and performed as the Pure Scenius ensemble and I had enjoyed the thrill of having to react in front of a live audience (as a singer) to music I had never heard before - to be 'in the moment'.

Michael: How did your interest start in these outer city zones and remote landscapes that also lead to the film that was issued with the music, on Edgeland?

Karl: Since the beginning of the '90s I have 'collected' most of my words whilst mapping journeys through inner cityscapes. These places contain rhythms I love, sounds, smells, architecture, light and in particular - overheard conversations, all these things contribute to the words I find, collect and am inspired to write. I continually return to cities because of their dynamic rhythms and the ease with which I can slip un-noticed through the streets with my notebook and pen. People talk loud in cities, their words freefall through the air, I catch and sing them - their rhythms and syncopation's are more interesting than the poetry I used to write in the '80s and by singing 'conversational English' I am taken to different places than my old school traditional writing used to lead me. Having written most of my work for music, books and the daily text I write on (every day since 1999) I was looking for a new territory to wander in and the edges of cities have for many years been a fascination to me. They are places filled with outsider art, idiosyncratic architecture and outsider cultures who wish neither to live in the city nor in the fields, here there are tribes which choose to live on the rim of the city - permanently just outside the castle walls. They are a neglected, forgotten tribe and the landscape the inhabit is considered 'run down' - these are sometimes overlooked places which for me are filled with positivity and a dynamism unlike the inner cities. They are places where new rhythms are to be found, so I focused my wanderings in these areas on the Eastern Edge of London where it's not so easy to go unnoticed if you carry a notebook and pen and where you are likely to be approached by people asking what you're doing - unlike cities you quickly engage in conversation with other people, like improvising with other musicians in the studio.

Michael: Brian and you are working with notebooks. Can you say something about the way you're using them?

Karl: The previous answer explains a lot about my process, inspired by hearing Lou Reed's New York album which blew me away, because of his use of 'conversational American' as lyrics. I imagined him sitting in bars and cafes writing down the conversations he overheard and then singing them word for word. This was a totally new way of writing (collecting) lyrics for me. I completely abandoned the traditional approach I used through the '80's (I was rubbish at it anyway) and focused on mapping journeys through cities by writing down everything I saw, heard, smelled, tasted and thought as I walked the streets. Having amassed a considerable number of notebooks filled with these journeys through cities, they sit on shelves waiting to be re-explored in the studio and applied to music. I listen to a piece of music, it inspires me to feel a particular mood, I go to one of the notebooks, open a page and if it connects with how I feel about the music I start to sing the words directly from the page, sometimes modifying them as I sing, sometimes adding new words on the spot.

Karl: I write every day, it is my discipline to always be collecting words. some of the words we used on Someday World were collected on the daily journey to the studio and then sung straight away, some were written into my cellphone then mailed to Brian as I was travelling to the studio, for him to sing or modify or become a part of a 'pool of words' for us to draw from."

Michael: Mother Of A Dog has a kind of "snapshot" style. Who Rings The Bell is another strange beast, at one moment I thought or felt it as a kind of death experience."

Karl: I believe we all see the world as a series of fragments. When we think back on our day we recollect 'book marks' in our day, signposts, images, smells, sounds which rekindle the experience of a moment in our day. What I do is to try to document as many of these fragments as possible (I always carry a camera with me on these journeys and 'curate' found objects as markers on my path - these also find their way into the daily reflections on Both Mother Of A Dog and Who Rings The Bell were inspired by hearing the music, soaking in the pointers given off by the sonic architecture within them. After years of applying the notebook process to song construction I have developed an intuition around which notebook to pick up when a piece of music inspires me to sing. Sometimes I don't completely understand why I'm drawn to specific words, often I skip pages and link words from different parts of the notebook as if they had been written in one piece originally. I believe this was the case with Who Rings The Bell and the beauty of working in this way is that sometimes (and this would be one case in point) I listen back to the song as if for the first time, a member of it's audience hearing the music fresh, surprised to find the words have assembled themselves into a sense all of their own making, revealing a story line I had no idea was there until we listened back to the finished recording.

Michael: What is working with Brian like?"

Karl: Every day was a really interesting experience, every day a joy, an exploration, ego less, generous."

Michael: How is the current studio work proceeding in London, any plans for 2014?"

Karl: Going well... never dull... we live with the curve ball...

Michael: Can you name three records that have blown you away recently?"

Karl: Piramida - by Efterklang - l... I was introduced to them by John Peel (legendary BBC radio DJ), he gave me their first album just before he passed away. I loved all their records this being their last as the 'Efterklang we came to know' (I attended their farewell gig) has a particular resonance for me. Metz by Metz - heard in Rough Trade West - full on noise rock - joyous liberation! Balani Show Super Hits - Electronic street parties from Mali - heard on a drift through Rough Trade East - machines fuse with rolling Malian vocal grooves the second it came on in the store my whole body got happy - had to buy it there and then - great lo-fi cover...

On April 24 I found this, in Brian Dillon's essay "Gone To Earth" (being part of Christopher Scoates' book Brian Eno: Visual Music): "What is striking, though, in Eno's own descriptions of the relationship or relay between system and surprise, or between figure and ground, is the extent of unease involved - it is not simply a matter of placid, abstracted drift with occasional vistas of emotionally heightened content, but of a kind of topographical panic. In his biography of the artist, On Some Faraway Beach: The Life And Times Of Brian Eno, David Sheppard recounts a story that Eno liked to tell of a holiday in Scotland in the summer of 1974, "During a long, solitary hillside walk he had become severely lost. Increasingly anxious in the gathering gloaming he stumbled on a bank of wild flowers and was suddenly overcome by their spectral beauty. This, he seasoned, was evidence of desperation sharpening the aesthetic sense." On April 26 Karl Hyde wrote this in his diary, entitled WALKING WITH GHOSTS: "In a multi story car-park where Dad used to park the car on family trips to '60s London I saw an installation by Richard Mosse, disturbingly soundtracked I enjoyed by Ben Frost. Great venue for art and just up the same street Tomato sailed it's flagship in the '90s. The ghosts of our past lives wandered dazed in slow motion, caught in the flickering light of the screens as I leaned against the flaking concrete to watch and turn them into lyrics. Walked through friday night Soho whose revellers, subdued by rain, crowded beneath awnings and branded umbrellas smoking cigarettes with hangdog eyes and hunched shoulders. All the bars knew my mark, the security guards nodded as I passed, up Wardour Street, The Ship, turn right, Oxford Street & the Tottenham Court Road Tube. These feet could do it blind."


Who pulls the rope?
Who rings the bell?
Who pulls the rope?
Who rings the bell?
Who barks like a dog?
See the herd returning from the fields
Wires in the earth
Bird song in blue
Howling up on the hill
Messing up the ocean
Dark cuckoo
Motorbike and dog
And the wind circles round us up on the hill
Who pulls the rope?
Who rings the bell?
Who barks like a dog?
With your back against the wall
The white washed wall
You make a sound that's beautiful
Men carry iron across the horizon
Crowing like cocks
Metal in the wind
Metal in the stone
Voices in the town below
Sun turns into moon
Invisible two
Who rings the bells
Who rings the bells?
Who pulls the rope?
Who barks like a dog?
Who rings the bells?
Who rings the bells?
Who pulls the rope?
Who barks like a dog?
And all you smiling girls
Take me home
Build us a house upon the hill
Lie me down
Between the stone and the ocean
Who rings the bells?

PART 1/4 / PART 2/4 / PART 3/4