Outside of the realms of jazz, collaborative improvised recordings tend to be the preserve of completists only: even the most disciplined musical operators are liable to slip into noodling or navel-gazing when left to their own devices. But there’s nothing remotely ponderous about Carti Tutti Void’s Transverse.
Carter Tutti Void is the union of Throbbing Gristle alumni Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Nik Void, best known as one-third of electronics powerhouse Factory Floor. In May 2011, the trio convened for a one-off performance at Camden’s Roundhouse as part of the Short Circuit festival’s Mute weekender.
“It was a bit fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, but that’s the way we like to work.” – Cosey Fanni Tutti
Those lucky enough to get into the room – and you had to squeeze or blag to do so – would have witnessed Carter bent over a console, twisting out drum loops and triggering samples; Tutti manipulating a six-string here, uttering primal vocal phrases there; and Void attacking her guitar with a violin bow, coaxing unusual squeaks and squalls from the instrument. Transverse, released through Mute on March 26, is the live recording of that event.
Transverse’s four pieces, each clocking in at around ten minutes, were prepped at Chris & Cosey’s Norfolk studio and premiered on the night. The recordings marry the forward drive of a Factory Floor record with Carter Tutti’s experimental instincts; the result is as bracing and urgent as anything Carter Tutti Void’s constituent members have put their name to. On the eve of the release of Transverse, FACT’s Joseph Morpurgo spoke to the trio about happy accidents, “gut-wrenching” frequencies, and the parallels between music-making and love-making.
Chris Carter: “A couple of years ago, I think, when we did a Cosey Club at the ICA”
Cosey Fanni Tutti: “They played at that. We went along to it – their manager was our manager at the time, and that’s the first time we’d seen them play as such. We really quite got off on the sound, actually. After that, they supported us on a different Cosey Club in February last year, and we’d sort of followed their work anyway.
“When Mute asked us to contribute to Short Circuit at The Roundhouse, with the stipulation that it would be nice if we collaborated with some of the old, new or future Mute artists, that’s when we started thinking about who we’d want to collaborate with. And Nik was with Mute some time ago, so that immediately cropped up in our minds as a really nice, fresh thing to do.”
“It all seemed to come together very naturally.” – Nik Void
The three of you prepped the compositions over the course of a few days in your private studio. Were they relatively finished when you came to The Roundhouse, or did they get their own lease of life when you performed them live?
Cosey: “Their own lease of life was the primary motive of whatever we did in the studio, to be honest. What we wanted to do was get together and create a foundation on which we could all jam live. And that’s what we did. We wanted to keep it as fresh as possible by just doing a really quick three days in the studio, so that the moment was kept for the live performance.”
That’s really clear in the record. There’s a real sense of relentless forward motion – everything from the title to the cover art, which constantly evades your gaze. Was that something you wanted to convey?
Cosey: “Yeah, it was, totally. The common denominator between us and Nik was that we worked in the moment. You have a starting point, but beyond that, anything is possible – and that’s what we wanted to create for The Roundhouse. Which is a bit fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, but that’s the way we like to work.”
Nik Void: “Also, I think that with the title and the artwork and the tracks – the live tracks and the studio tracks – they all seem to come together very naturally. I won’t say it was luck; it just pulled together what the whole feeling was of the collaboration. It clicked straight away when I got there, and playing it live brought another dimension to it, and then seeing it as a product – the package, the artwork, the title – just brought it all together, in a very natural way.”
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It sounds like the three of you working together was quite liberating, rather than a challenging thing.
Cosey: “It was quite alchemical, really. I think it surprised all three of us that once we got in the studio and started playing with the bare bones of rhythm that Chris had got together, we came out the other end of it, looked at each other and thought: ‘what happened there?'”
“And you don’t really have those moments, to be honest. I feel quite privileged that all three of us managed to capture that moment, then take it to a live situation. It seemed to be on its own little path.”
Nik: “It really did.”
Cosey: “We said it would be great to release it as quick as we could, because then it would be a complete thing in its own right.”
“It’s not about hammering people into submission – it’s about carrying them with you.” – Cosey Fanni Tutti
Looking at footage of the event, you’re actually all quite separate: there’s a massive table of electronic equipment, behind which the three of you are ghettoized onto different parts of the stage. Were you able to communicate much during the performance?
Chris: “There was some eye contact.”
Cosey: “Mainly, for me – and I think Nik works the same way, and definitely Chris – it’s all done through what you’re hearing. You’re working with the music, and we basically are three people that are conduits for making that sound work at any given time. Finding when it’s found its own ending, and moving on to another part of the piece. Nik works like that too, which was key to it being really quite successful.”
There’s some really interesting slippage between bodies and machines on Transverse. Cosey’s voice is electronically manipulated, but the electronics also sound organic: grunts, purrs, chirrups…
Cosey: “I’ve always been interested in that. I like things to be humanized even if you’re using electronics. People have always gone on about how sound is really hard when it’s digital, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s not about hammering people into submission – it’s about carrying them with you.”
“I didn’t go to Chris and Cosey trying to change what I did – I basically just did what I do anyway.”
Nik, Factory Floor are often talked about with adjectives like ‘propulsive’ and ‘mechanical’. Where does the human element slip into what you do?
Nik: “With Factory Floor, I’ve always found the kind of added visceral third part of that. What I do is manipulate vocals through samples, I attack it in a very organic way. Because I’ve been doing it some time, I didn’t go to Chris and Cosey trying to change what I did – I basically just did what I do anyway. I didn’t say, “I’m going to be the Factory Floor element” – I just do what I do.”
“It’s always been very instinctively driven what I do. Even though I’m playing a traditional instrument like the guitar, I’m playing it in a very baby-like way, trying to invent my own language for it as a way of communicating with an audience, or with other people I’m playing with. And it is quite primitive, I think.”
Cosey: “The other thing that’s key to it is that all three of us are very familiar with what kind of sounds we both want, and then we’re not afraid to try and get them. To experiment with the instruments and the gadgets that we’re using. We have got quite a wealth of experience, in a way, of bringing sounds together and fitting them alongside what would seem like quite awkward sounds, really.
“You wouldn’t expect to put something soft alongside something really crashing – and when you’re in a world of something quite gentle and you’re suddenly jolted out of it, that can be wonderful. Or it can be really bad, if it’s done badly. So I think a lot of it has to do with out familiarity with instrumentation, and our willingness to just go for it, to be honest.”
“There is a theme running through it, although I’m not sure what it is.”
Is there a narrative over the course of Transverse – are they discrete pieces, or is there an overarching idea going on over the forty minutes or so?
Chris: “There is a theme running through it, although I’m not sure what it is. We played those tracks pretty much in the order we started working on them in the studio – you can hear the development of the sound, and how we started working together and how it gelled more. Especially with the album, because it’s a live recording. You can sense on the recording how we got into the groove, so to speak. We began to lock together more, and figure out what we were doing as the set progressed.”
Cosey: “I think a natural thing to do anyway, whether it’s with music or anything else – with sex even – is that you start off, reach a peak, and then you come down very gently. You don’t always come down very gently. [laughs]”
Chris: “Because that’s a live album, there is some sense of the feedback from the audience, which was very positive, and seemed to get more so as the set progressed.”
Cosey: “It was a real driving force.”
Chris: “It was, and I think that’s reflected in the sounds we were producing and how it came together.”
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So there’s a real dialogue going on between you as performers, and the audience as witnesses?
Chris: “There was in that case, definitely.”
On the second track, there’s a moment where the sound of a metronome briefly pops up and disappears…
Chris: “That could have been Nik or me” [laughs]
It’s an interesting moment: it reminds you that time is passing as the locked groove goes on. Was it a gremlin in the machinery?
Chris: “I was using a tap-tempo on my laptop – the tempo was changing slightly, and I was trying to lock in other instruments I had – that could have been the sound.”
Cosey: “Quite nice though, actually!”
“A few people said they listen to it on their headphones and it locks into the pace of their walking, and it relates to their environment.” – Chris Carter
It’s one of those lovely inadvertent moments.
Cosey: “It’s the workings though, isn’t it? It’s quite nice.”
Chris: [laughs] “Happy accident.”
The three of you clearly share an interest in producing music in the moment. Is the album itself secondary to that original performance?
Nik: “First off, there were a lot of people who couldn’t get into the venue, so it’s nice that people can hear it. And it’s also a good way of archiving an event, because it deserved it – it worked really well. In terms of its sound, because it’s in a nice situation, there is that fourth part of that you got lost in it if you were from an audience point of view – we did on stage slightly too – but the recording’s going to offer something different. You can play it back again and again.
“Because of the space between some of the sounds, you might start to hear different things. A few people said they listen to it on their headphones and it locks into the pace of their walking, and it relates to their environment. It’s nice that it can translate in a different way, and continue to do so.”
It’s a wonderful headphone listen. It’s interesting how something conceived as a very live proposition works in unexpected ways when changed into a different medium.
Chris: “That’s interesting, because it was a very physical performance. If you were there, the bass frequencies particularly were quite gut-wrenching. It was a very, very loud performance. The best way probably to hear it is either very, very loud on a hi-fi, or on headphones. Headphones is probably preferable because it puts us more into the actual moment of the recording.”
“We’re definitely going to do something together again.” – Cosey Fanni Tutti
You feel placed there as a listener. The mixing job must be really well done.
Chris: “It’s funny, because that mix was the live mix. There was no post-production at all. I’m not actually sure who did the mixing, we never really found out. Mute just said they’d recorded it for us – and when we heard it, we thought it was fantastic. That was the live mix, done on the night.”
Are there any plans to reconvene Carter Tutti Void? A repeat performance, or perhaps new material?
Cosey: “We keep getting asked this! Don’t we, Nik? [laughs] We all keep saying: we’re both busy with our different projects at the moment, but we’re definitely going to do something together again. It’s just a case of finding that moment.”
Carter Tutti Void’s Transverse is out March 27. More information and pre-orders here.