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Bruce Gilbert: shivering man

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  • Ahead of this Sunday's live show with Mika Vainio, the Wire man discusses his groundbreaking 80s solo work
  • published
    10 May 2011
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How did you approach the composition of the music that makes up The Shivering Man and This Way?

“The approach to composition relied heavily on the relationship with Blackwing Studios, developed through making the Dome records there. Eric Radcliffe (owner and engineer) and John Fryer (engineer) were very sympathetic to improvisation and stretching the studio technology. By the time I came to work on This Way, John was a fully-fledged and inventive engineer which allowed me to think on my feet and create in a very quick and free way.

“The main aim initially was to make sound for Michael Clark’s first substantial dancework (Do You Me? I Did), but thanks to Daniel Miller of Mute I was given the opportunity to make a record. The dancework did have a structure of sorts but like the rest of the record was the result of a combination of bits and pieces developed at home with fairly crude technology, improvisation in the studio and a relentless abuse of the effects in the studio. Experiment coupled with highly skilled studio engineering is the best way of describing both records.”

“Experiment coupled with highly skilled studio engineering is the best way of describing both records.”

 

So would you say they were quite technology-driven works?

“In some ways the records are ‘technology-driven’, although not being very technical myself, I was aware of what could be achieved with sampling and MIDI, especially given the limited time I had at my disposal. My set up at home is extremely primitive and chaotic. I still rely on a lot of analogue equipment which always throws up surprises and malfunctional opportunities that I can exploit.”

How did you think of The Shivering Man and This Way at the time? As minimalism? As abstraction? As noise? What language did you use to describe your own experiments, or at least frame them in your own mind?

“It’s very difficult to know what I  thought at the time now. I did know that the dance piece worked but that was due to it being ‘completed’ by Michael’s choreography. I was, and am, very pleased that my compulsion to try to make objects that did not exist before has not been a total waste of my and other people’s effort. If there is a ‘framework’ to my experiments then it’s what I like to call ‘psycho-eclecticism’ – whatever that means.”

“Graham Lewis and I had a shared interest in approaches to the notion of possibility, of seeing how far one could go.”


What were you listening to at the time of making these albums? Were there any specific artists, records or listening experiences that you would say fed into the conception of This Way and The Shivering Man?

“I stopped buying and listening to records in 1980.”

A lot of people would say these albums have an ‘industrial’ feel. Was industrial music something you were conscious of, let alone interested in, in the early 80s? The artists from that sphere now considered canonical – TG, Chris & Cosey, Nurse With Wound, NON, etc – did they make much of an impression on you at the time?

“I was aware of the projects you mention and I saw many of them live which was stimulating in lots of ways – especially NON’s joyous minimalism.”


How do these two albums relate to your work in Dome? Simplistic Wire-centric history tends to gloss over the whole P’o/Dome/Cupol/Duet Emmo/BG stuff as one short, sharp burst of activity, when of course they were all different, if intimately related, endeavours. Can unpick this period and these projects for me a little bit?

“It’s impossible to ‘unpick’ the period when these projects were created. Graham and I had the energy, curiosity and opportunity to break away from the strictures of a working semi-commercial situation [in Wire] and explore the notion of how far one could go with improvisation and studio technology and it still be described as music. Pretty straightforward stuff really: make things, no rules, but be quick. It’s worth mentioning that the P’o project involved lots of rehearsal as it was meant to be a strictly live object but circumstances changed and it became a recorded object.”

What role did Graham play in the shaping and execution of these records?

“I asked for Graham’s help on several pieces on the two records but he wasn’t involved in the shaping orexecution. Our musical relationship was fruitful and fully explored in the various collaborative projects we did, as we had a shared interest in approaches to the notion of possibility, of seeing how far one could go.”

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