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Dominick Fernow on Prurient’s Bermuda Drain and Vatican Shadow’s “atmosphere of degeneration”

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  • published
    1 Apr 2012
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    Vatican Shadow
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Were you working with a lot of out-board and analogue gear, or was composition and recording more computer-based?

“It’s really a mix – of computer-based, analogue, digital synths…and live percussion too, there’s actually a lot of live percussion that we sampled and then altered and processed digitally. I have to mention and give a lot of credit to Kris Lapke, who produced the album and was really my partner, sonically, in going forward. He really laid a lot of groundwork in terms of figuring out how to use these new machines, I really couldn’t have done it without him.

“The way I define noise is the freedom to pursue personal obsession, outside of genre and audience. I think that’s largely been lost; in a scene that’s supposed to be approaching some kind of freedom, it’s sad to me how conservative and conformist it’s become. I think there’s a problem now where noise for many people simply means distortion, and to me that might be noise sound but the ideology of it is really just total selfishness and self-exploration. And it is anti-social, in the sense that it’s about the internal world. That’s why I think that in some ways– in attitude – this record is the most noise record that I’ve ever made. Even though it may not be seen to be linked sonically to people’s idea of what noise is.

Prurient has always been about, as you say, self-exploration; and moreover the foregrounding, the exposing of your self. By contrast, a lot of techno is defined by, if not anonymity, a certain facelessness, a simplicity of presentation, or to use your words, a lack of story.

“I totally appreciate and understand that approach, but for just for me personally, the work that always inspires me most is the stuff that works on the levels: visually, lyrically, sonically, formally. And in a way, I don’t even consider Prurient music, it’s more like a collage project – whether that be of sound, or the visual, or just a case of me reassembling and reappropriating and recontextualising anything that fits the mood of negativity.”

“I don’t consider Prurient to be music, it’s more like a collage project. It’s me reassembling and reappropriating and recontextualising anything that fits the mood of negativity.”

You alluded earlier to the act of travelling stimulating your interest in electronic music. Can you elaborate?

“The reality of touring – as anyone who’s ever done that sort of activity will know – is that most of the time you’re isolated and you’re moving. Literally. When I’m on tour, I spend 12-14 hours a day in a van and maybe about 5-6 hours in the club where we play the show, and maybe 30 minutes to an hour making music. So really what touring is to me is isolation and movement. It’s a paradox in the sense that you’re contained but you’re also seeing so much – I never realised the geographic diversity  of America until I first went on tour when I was a teenager, I literally drove through it and it blew my mind. And there’s something about not flying, not getting in an airplane, and arriving in another world…

“There’s something about the tedium, the incredible tedium, of physically moving through these places and environments that does something to the brain…because on the one hand you’re totally isolated through it, everything is whirling past you, it’s continuous in that it’s always changing…but the irony is that even though it’s always changing it’s fucking boring. It forces you into thinking about the internal world, it’s like some kind of divorce from the world; even though you’re seeing it, you’ve never felt more away from it.

“And it’s the way you spend your time – when most people are going to bed, I’m at the peak of my physical activity; when most people are getting up is maybe when I’ll catch up a couple of hours sleep in the van. So it’s almost like you’re totally rejecting the social rituals of the everyday world. And again that forces you to go into your own world. Really, in some kind of lame, pathetic, horrible way, it’s a form of meditation. You have no other choice, you’re in a fucking prison. So that to me is when the lyrics start and the titles start and the ideas come, when you just have that time to think; so much of this project is literally just thinking, you know, what does this mean, what can this be, how will this work with that? It’s laid out on paper like you’re writing an essay and you revise and you revise and you revise.”

“In some kind of lame, pathetic, horrible way, it’s a form of meditation. You have no other choice, you’re in a fucking prison.”

The tapes you released in 2009 as Vatican Shadow – Kneel Before Religious Icons and Byzantine Private CIA – sound to me like precursors to Bermuda Drain, in the sense that they’re rhythm-led, atmospheric and decisively electronic pieces. Is it fair to say that that what you’ve learned from that project has fed into the way you do things as Prurient?

“Well, in some ways it has and in some ways it hasn’t. Quite simply, Vatican Shadow was the first time that I was experimenting with making beats, and in that sense it did lay some groundwork for Bermuda Drain. I love certain sides of Muslimgauze records, and I kind of ran out of that sort of music to listen to, so that’s partly why Vatican came about…I mean, a lot of what motivates me in general is that when I can’t find something I want, I try to create it, to satisfy that need. And in many ways that’s what Bermuda Drain is too – I’m looking for this thing and I can’t quite find it so I think, ok, so I’ll make it myself.

“You could also say that Vatican is the total opposite and antithesis of Bermuda Drain, because it doesn’t address the personal world thematically. It’s really more about headlines…I like to describe it as being like a spy game, an espionage board game where you don’t know who’s winning or what side you’re on. I think that’s fair. I like the idea that there are multiple events happening simultaneously, and they may be unrelated, but somehow they’re creating a larger picture. I like the idea of things working behind the scenes, particularly in a sinister way. Even the name Vatican Shadow, and all the song titles, are based around this idea of fear and mistrust and…”


“I mean, it’s linked to conspiracy, but I actually have no real interest in that and am not advocating any of those theories. I find [conspiracy] interesting as a symbol for collapse, a total lack of trust, a total global failure – I think that’s what’s interesting. I have no agenda. I like the atmosphere of degeneration and fear that Vatican conjures. It’s very poetic. When you read the news and see these headlines sometimes you just think you’re reading poetry. They’re so absurd.” [laughs]

“I find conspiracy interesting as a symbol for collapse, a total lack of trust, a total global failure – I think that’s what’s interesting. I have no agenda.”

You say Vatican Shadow is the first time you really made beats, and Bermuda Drain is also quite beat-driven. What have you learned about rhythm and its possibilities?

“So much of the work sonically has come from having a connection to the body. When I first started really developing the use of high frequency and feedback in the Prurient project it was literally about how it affected my body. When I would use feedback, it’s like, in its most base, primitive form it changes the sound depending on how my body is: if I’m holding the microphone and I’m standing entirely still, it’s entirely different to how it sounds if I’m having a seizure. Also psychologically I think that the higher frequency sounds are so much more personal, in the sense that they affect your head, your face, your ears, your teeth – you don’t really feel them in your stomach or your knees like bass sounds, and I always liked that, how treble really attacks the person not in a physical way but in a mental way, because it addresses their head. Like when you think of someone you think of their face, identity is so linked to your face and your speech, and your eyes. I like how aggressive that is.

“Obviously the use of drums is also physical, but it’s not head-oriented in the same way that high frequency is. Actually, most of the beats on the album are more in the mid-range, it’s not a very bass-heavy record either, it’s very sort of…punching. And I guess mid-range is more about addressing the area of breathing – the lungs, the heart, the chest.

“To get back to what you were saying about landscape, for me feedback was always a very kind of linear sound; I think of it is as like a long line that you’re drawing with…We were talking about driving, and I think there’s a rhythm of the road – of the pieces of concrete that are laid down, the road signs, the dots of paint, and I think that’s very rhythmic in a sense, and I think that’s why this techno sound goes so well with the road. It seems to have this relationship to movement and with making it go quicker. It alters your sense of time. If you’re driving in the car and then you put the music on it’s like there’s suddenly a time-warp. And the way we’ve done the editing and cuts on Bermuda Drain, there’s really no space in between the tracks; so it is rhythmic and it is moving you along but it’s also disrupting you. That’s where the paradox comes back in, that’s where the discomfort is. There may be beats that you can follow, but the transitions are sudden, and I think that maintains the feeling of tension and anxiety.”

“How do you define an album? Is it just by format, or is it by feeling? It’s about feeling.”

Is that why the tracks on the album are generally quite short too?

“To some degree, yes, but it’s also a rejection of the past. Vatican Shadow is essentially loops, and I don’t really  think of those tracks as songs; and when I first started using the synthesizer as Prurient on Pleasure Ground, it was really this idea of loops that are unchanging, where there isn’t a beginning and there isn’t an end – you come into the track and you feel like it’s been in progress before you arrived, it isn’t defined by your presence. It’s not like you’re here, OK the track’s starting, OK now it’s finished, now you go away. I wanted more of a voyeuristic feeling, like you’re being led into an event that’s already in progress and isn’t affected by your presence. So Vatican Shadow is still like that in a sense, as it’s still essentially loops, I wouldn’t call that material songs, there’s no real songwriting there, it’s mostly just atmosphere.


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