Chris Carter: space exploration

By , Oct 4 2010
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Chris Carter – ‘Interloop’ (1980)


When it comes to electronic music, few can claim to have innovated as radically and consistently as Chris Carter.

Even before he joined Throbbing Gristle in the mid-70s, Carter was pushing technology to its limits. Born in London in 1953, by the late 60s he was working as as a sound engineer for the Thames, BBC, Granada and LWT television stations, as well as designing and implementing visuals for festivals and gigs by the likes Hawkwind and Yes. After touring a solo audio-visual show around Britain’s universities, making use of a number self-built synthesizers, and collaborating extensively with artist John Lacey, Carter fell in with Cosey Fanni Tutti, Genesis P. Orridge and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson of performance art group COUM Transmissions. Throbbing Gristle was born.

As well as recording and performing with TG, Carter found time to work on solo material, and in 1980 the band’s Industrial Records released a cassette from Carter entitled The Space Between. In 1991 Mute re-issued the album on CD, cutting its run-time by twenty minutes, and now, in 2010, Optimo Music have given the album its first vinyl release, cherry-picking six tracks (plus a bonus track, ‘Climbing’, taken from Geoff Rushton’s 1981 cassette compilation The Men With Deadly Dreams)  and re-titling it The Spaces Between. A bona fide classic of synthesizer music in whichever version you hear it, The Space Between sounds as giddily futuristic today as it did upon its original release thirty years ago.

The album helped set the tone for Carter’s subsequent collaborations with his long-time partner, Cosey Fanni Tutti, which saw them emphasising and riffing on industrial music’s links to ambient, disco, minimalist composition and electro-pop – leading to collaborations with artists as diverse as Boyd Rice, Robert Wyatt, Annie Lennox, Lustmord and Coil. Some of their most interesting work was made was made under the name CTI, including the ravishing proto-techno classic ‘Dancing Ghosts’ and several video works issued with the help of Cabaret Voltaire’s Doublevision imprint.

Tirelessly creative, Carter is a keen graphic designer, photographer and journalist as well as musician and video artist. He regularly writes technical articles and reviews for esteemed British gear mag Sound On Sound, and has designed innumerable record sleeves, posters and “pure” visual artworks. The photos adorning the cover of The Space Between and The Spaces Between are taken from a fetish series he shot in the late 70s.

Carter himself remastered the tracks for Optimo’s reissue, a process which he tells us more about in this interview. Iconic though the The Space Between is, remember that it’s just the tip of an iceberg: Carter’s entire vast catalogue of solo works and collaborations is ripe for rediscovery.


“I’d been in a lot of poorly paid jobs, I got arrested, I got ill, I got beat up and mugged, I was in debt, I felt misunderstood, I crashed my car…”



Can you tell me a bit about your mindset and personal situation around the time you began recording the music that would feature on The Space Between?

“You have no idea how deep that question could go, and a full and truthful answer is destined for a therapy couch somewhere. But to quote Dickens, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’

“It was the best of times because I was fresh out of school and was soaking up anything and everything: music, film, books, electronics, knowledge and sex. I was in different bands, I was playing and performing…which is all good. But it was the worst of times because I’d gone through a couple of traumatic relationships and I was still trying to find myself, I’d been in a lot of poorly paid jobs, I got arrested, I got ill, I got beat up and mugged, I was in debt, I felt misunderstood, I crashed my car and I moved a lot. An endless list of twentysomething angsts.”

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CTI / Elemental 7 – ‘Dancing Ghosts’ (1984)

How do you feel about The Space Between now? Having recently returned to the master tapes, what do you feel its strengths and weaknesses are?

“I’m pleased with it but I find it very difficult to be objective about my own work. It probably has both strengths or weaknesses but I think I’m too close to it to hear anything specific that I could point a finger at. In an ideal world, where time machines were in daily use, I would go back and change a few things, nothing major. There are elements now, with my 21st century ears, that bug me a little. I’d snip here and tweak there – adjust some levels and EQ. Nothing drastic though.”

How was the remastering process? I presume you wanted to render the sound as sharply as possible, but did you also want to retain some of the woolliness and warmth that characterised the original recordings?

“The remastering was done with a very light touch. The master tapes are pretty good quality and to keep the dynamics of the original as intact as possible no compression was used. Tere was some minimal, manual peak reduction, but no limiters were used either. There was some track-by-track EQ adjustment, most of the tracks had a little of the top or bottom corrected for vinyl. Wooly and warm or not basically the album is still what it always was, it’s just had a bit of a polish and brush-up.”


“The anticipation and excitement of what uncharted waters we, as electronic music artists, could sail, was palpable.”



It feels like a genuinely intuitive, exploratory record – like you were genuinely seeing where the machines could take you. Is that fair to say? Did it feel like it at the time?

“That period – 1977-80 – was for me a time of pure sonic and electronic exploration. There was so much new gear coming out, new technologies being invented, new techniques being developed: the undiluted anticipation and excitement of what uncharted waters we, as electronic music artists, could sail, was palpable.

“I never knew what sounds my gear was going to produce at any given moment. Of course this was partly due to the fact that I was using a lot of synthesisers and effects I’d made myself and the term  ‘unstable, unpredictable and temperamental’ was part of my everyday life. Not just with my gear either, my love life was like that too…but that’s another story.

“My method was basically to turn on the gear and experiment for hours on end. I’d often begin with a drum machine, a sequencer and a bass line and improvise live over that, recording onto tape as I went along. I’d then experiment with melodies and pads, record them and play back those combinations into new improvised performances, building up arrangements of sequences, rhythms and live electronics. I’ve been working this way with my experimental projects for 30 years now, only now I record onto a hard drive, rather than tape.”


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Chris & Cosey – ‘Love Cuts’ (1984)


When you sat down to make The Space Between, how familiar were you with the equipment you were using?

“I was very familiar with my gear… I always am. But seriously though, it’s not rocket science is it? Well, not to me it isn’t.

“I’m lucky in that I have a knack for picking up logistical and inter-relational concepts and methods very quickly. I’m referring to basic audio and synthesis theory here. I’ve always been an avid reader but as much as I enjoy a good book I also enjoy reading an instruction manual, or studying circuit schematics. Then, as now, whenever I get new gear I go through the basic functionality of a thing first to get my head around its concepts and workflow, then I read the instructions a few times before I attempt anything creative.

“In those days the learning curve involved with understanding and using analogue gear was nothing like it is now.  Back then you could figure out how to use a synth or a drum machine within half an hour, probably every aspect of it too.”


“It’s not rocket science is it? Well, not to me it isn’t.”



How pre-written was the album? Did you begin making the music with a vivid sense of the finished result you wanted to achieve?

“Of course I had many ideas and vague notions of sounds I thought I could make with the equipment I had but nothing was written and I rarely had a plan or any intention to write a score first. The closest I came to that was making notes and schematics of different configurations for interconnecting my equipment – something I still enjoy doing. But in those days everything came from exploration and experimentation. I would usually set up a rhythm or sequence first then construct synthesised parts around that, adapting and reconfiguring over and over until I was happy with the sound.”

Were the tracks made with a mind to being compiled and released, or was that only decided later?

“Most of the tracks started out as jams and experiments, or as things intended for TG projects. I had no real intention of releasing them commercially but I did used to make mixtapes of those tracks and give them to friends. It was Cosey and Sleazy who persuaded me to put them out as an album on Industrial Records.”

The music is very spacious and undulating, the mood it evokes almost pastoral at times. Were you consciously trying to come up with something less harsh and dissonant than what you were working on with TG at the time? Did your solo work offer some kind of refuge or escape?

“This is true. Much of the album was recorded and mixed in the Industrial Records studio when TG weren’t using it. The title (amongst other things) is alluding to that space between. But creatively I had a lot of other ideas I wanted to put down on tape that were nothing like TG and wouldn’t work within TG. These were tracks, ideas and sounds that I was working on before TG came along, and which got put on hold. You can hear the influence of some of those earlier things of mine in the quieter or more poppy aspects of TG. But as a rule my solo tracks were a lot more restrained and less in your face than my collaborative work.”

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Throbbing Gristle – ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ (1979)

Do you think that a line could be drawn between the music on The Space Between and late 80s techno? Did you have any interest in, or feel any affinity with, that music when it first came about?

“I pretty much worked in a vacuum as regards new musics then. Other than bands that were friends or bands that were on the same labels we were signed to I didn’t listen to commercial radio or go out clubbing, and unless friends or fans sent or recommended things I heard very little contemporary material. Any affinity I felt with other musicians or their music was probably on a personal level, because I knew them.

“It’s funny, because I don’t remember picking up on the whole techno thing at all for the first year or so of its existence. And even when I did begin listening to techno all I could do was constantly analyse it – ‘Oh that’s an 808’ or ‘they’ve used a 909 and a 303’, ‘that track is 128bpm’ and so on. It’s an annoying foible of mine that can really take the enjoyment out of something. Unfortunately I still do it a lot but with music and with film; now it’s mostly to do with analysing production techniques.


“When I began listening to techno all I could do was constantly analyse it – ‘Oh that’s an 808’ or ‘they’ve used a 909 and a 303’…”



What music you listening to around the time of the album’s conception? Were Kraftwerk a significant influence?

“I’m a musical sponge and have a very eclectic taste in music. Actually not so much contemporary popular music, as I said earlier, but I listen to a hell of a lot of different material. That’s apart from county & western and rap, neither of which I can abide.

“But I wouldn’t say Kraftwerk were influential on my work, not consciously anyway. Don’t get me wrong, Kraftwerk are great, especially their very early material but they are just one of many bands from that mid-70s period that I used to listen to or go and see play live: Amon Düül, Klaus Schulze, Van Der Graf Generator, Hawkwind, Tangerine Dream, Soft Machine, Can. To me all those bands were inspirational and in certain ways possibly influential too. It’s more of a fused vein of different influences running through my work.”

Are there any lessons you learned during the making of The Space Between that you carried through into your subsequent solo and Cosey-collaborating work? And did it feed into TG at all?

“Yes absolutely, countless lessons. Because everything I do creatively overlaps in some way or other with everything else I can apply and adapt techniques I develop during one project to another. For example, the gear I use is just that – it’s what I use. I used the same instruments in TG as I did later for Chris & Cosey. Now the same equipment I use in Carter Tutti projects is pretty much the same as I use in TG. The big difference is adapting my techniques so as not to sound the same for every project I’m working on. Obviously there will be some similarities in my sonic palate but where possible I do like to differentiate my sound in some way.”


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Chris Carter – ‘Walkabout’ (1980)


How did the re-issue on Optimo come about? Was it difficult to choose which tracks to include on the 12″?

“The album has been a favourite with DJs for a long time and since the 80s there have been various bootleg 12” releases of tracks. But lately, the last few years anyway, there was a noticeable resurgence in it being played, playlisted or being referenced to. Then I started getting requests from indie labels to re-release it on vinyl. Ironically none of them were Mute, who technically still own the rights and still have the original CD version in their catalogue. But Mute are cool about the vinyl.

“Anyway, Twitch [JD Twitch of Optimo], who I’ve known for some time, has always been a big fan of the album and was really enthusiastic about wanting to release it on vinyl, so one thing led to another and here we are. This remastered release could be thought of as a ‘Best Of’ The Space Between. We couldn’t put out the whole 90 minute album, or even the 60 minute CD version on vinyl, that would have meant releasing it as a triple or quad album, which wasn’t an option. So between Twitch and myself we came up with what tracks we thought would work well on vinyl in a single album format.”


“I had a bulging bank account but was sitting in an empty studio full of regret and slowly realising what a monumentally stupid fuck-up had just occurred…”



Tell us about the artwork for Optimo’s The Spaces Between.

“The Spaces Between cover is a new take on the original CD artwork and was designed by Iona Fortune. The photo on this and the original is of Cosey, from a fetish series I did in the early 90s. I went back to the original negatives and we chose a slightly different angle to the one on the CD cover and Iona came up with the idea of the mirrored spin on the first version. The original cassette release was totally different: it’s a photo of me when I was about five years old.”

All too often these days analogue synth sounds are used as shorthand to make things sound retro or at least retro-futuristic. What are your thoughts on this? And how has your own relationship to analogue synthesis changed over the years since you made The Space Between?

“I can see some of the merits and reasons of musicians wanting to capture a retro analogue feel in a track, I don’t really have a problem with that if it’s done well. I sometimes do it myself now if a track cries out for it. And ‘I’ve been there and done that’ for real, in the historical sense, so I guess I have a more legitimate reason if I choose to do it. But I also agree with you that it has become an overused shortcut to giving a track a vintage vibe. It’s akin to those cheap photo plug-ins that instantly turn your high-res pictures into Polaroids or ancient looking faded and scratched images.

“My relationship with analogue was fine and unchanged for years, I couldn’t get enough of it. Then in 2000 I had some kind of mid-life crisis and decided the best thing for me to do was to sell all my music hardware and invest in computers and plug-ins. I’m talking about a studio full of classic analogue and digital gear from as far back as 1976. Six months later I had a bulging bank account but was sitting in an empty studio full of regret and slowly realising what a monumentally stupid fuck-up had just occurred. I’ve been slowly accumulating and reacquiring various bits of hardware since then but have you seen the prices of analogue gear lately? They’ve  gone through the roof. Actually if I’d held on to that stuff for another 10 years I could have quadrupled my prices… ha!”

Kiran Sande

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