Autumn of Communion may well end up being the last ever release on Fax and it rightly met with enormous acclaim from fans of the label. Here we talk to one half of the duo behind a latter day classic. Mick Chillage discusses the past, the present and the future...
Q: Can you remember when and where you were when you were first introduced to Fax music?
A: I was first introduced to Fax through the Rising High edition of Dreamfish back in 1993. It was the freaky digital fish that attracted me to the cover in Tower Records, Dublin and then when I flipped the cover over I saw that Mixmaster Morris whom I already knew as the Irresistible Force was involved and some new guy on the scene called Pete Namlook. I made a purchase and was blown away!! Shortly after this I discovered that those mysterious minimalist circular covered CDs that were in my other local indie store were also the work of Pete Namlook and then the obsession began.
Q: Do you have a favourite Fax album (or a few favourite albums)? If so why do you like it/them?
A: Naming my favourite Fax CD or CDs is a very difficult thing, Having acquired them all over the years my taste for fax changes with the mood I’m in. With such a huge catalogue there’s always something you can find to suit the mood but I can say these would be high on my list:
Dreamfish, Air 1&2, Silence, Fires Of Ork 1&2, Solitaire, From Within, Waiting For Snow, and so many more but S.H.A.D.O in particular is one of those albums which holds a very special memory for me. In 1998 I was on a trip to California with a group of friends. We hired a Winnebago and spent one night in Death Valley. That night I listened to S.H.A.D.O for the first time on headphones with my portable CD player. While I lay on my air bed looking into the stars, with zero light pollution and the clearest of skies my eyes began to adjust and I could clearly see the Milky Way as the music progressed.
The environment which was clearly alien to me made feel like I was lying on some distant planet out in deep space. Then it occurred to me that I actually was in deep space and the awesome sound waves which were entering my brain created the most incredible shiver through my body as the hairs on my arms, legs and head seemed to be standing. There was certainly some magical connection between the sounds emanating from the headphones and what I was experiencing on a visual level...as if I was close to unravelling the mysteries and wonders of the cosmos.
Q: Can you tell me about your musical projects before Autumn of Communion?
A: Autumn Of Communion was my very first collaboration so up to that point everything apart from various remixes had just been myself really. I started producing electronic music back in 1996 but it wasn’t until 2007 that I released anything official. I guess the birth of Myspace etc. gave me the confidence to put my music out on the web. It wasn’t long before I made some record label contacts who seemed keen on my work.
The first EP was released on the Greek net label This Side, which was a mixture of dubby techno, house and experimental electronica with a cinematic theme, as on the the title track Eye on the City. Shortly after that my second EP was Soundescapes on the Scottish-based Herb Recordings. Again, a rather diverse collection of experimental electronic and down tempo/chill out material, all recorded between 2000 and 2006. 2009 saw the release of my Departure EP series for Irish based Nice & Nasty and my debut ambient/electronica CD album Tales From The Igloo for Ireland's Psychonavigation (which clearly gets its name from the influence of Fax records). The igloo in the title refers to my studio.
Q: What are your memories of working in a (sort of) collaboration with Pete Namlook? How did you end up releasing your solo work FAXology on the Fax label? The album almost seems conceptual in a way. Did you set out with any grand ideas or definite directions to pursue in mind?
A: Any connection I had with Pete was always a joy, from purchasing his music via e-mail to interviewing him via a live phone back in 2000 (still searching for the VHS recording of this interview) and certainly sending him music demos. It would have back in 2006 that I first sent Pete a CD to listen to. At the time I mailed him saying I was considering releasing some material myself and I would love to have his expert and highly valued opinion. He replied rather quickly saying that he really enjoyed the music and felt it had a nice balance of analogue style sounds, mixed with some modern elements. He said it had an emotive feel and was certainly releasable. This gave me greater confidence in my productions. It wasn’t until 2011 after many years of thinking about sending Pete a demo that I finally got the courage to send Pete some material which I felt may suit the aesthetic of the label. The music I sent at this time turned out to be pretty much what ended up on FAXology.
As far as a concept I never really set out to create an album with the classic Fax elements in mind. They were just a collection of random moments on my hard drive. Even setting out to create these tracks initially I was never consciously thinking: I’m going to emulate the Fax sound. I guess from years of soaking in the label's output it just somehow floated through into the creative process.
Looking back though, the timing of FAXology was just right. Pete said to me that normally he wouldn’t really release material that tried to emulate what had already been done on the label but this felt different - like it was a look at the past of Fax but totally unique at the same time and with the 20th anniversary of the label just around the corner he felt it was absolutely worthy of a release. The only problem with the album was coming up with a fitting title. We discussed various ideas and I firstly suggested the rather cheesy 2011 - A Fax Odyssey as a joke. Pete then returned with FAXology and it all fell into place.
Q: How did you first make contact with Lee (Lee Anthony Norris - the other half of Autumn of Communion)?
Meeting up with Lee happened through social networking. I was a fan of Lee’s work in the mid '90s as Metamatics and continued to follow his releases as Norken etc. right up to the present day. His work was featured quite a lot on my radio show The Chillage Idiots. I guess when I connected with Lee he started checking out the radio show on a regular basis via Soundcloud and then I sent Lee a copy of my Tales From The Igloo
CD, which Lee said was a perfect soundtrack while consuming a good curry.
Q: Did the two of you discuss any concept for Autumn of Communion before you began or was the creative process completely spontaneous?
A: Eventually, after many discussions on the web about our musical influences and films etc., we both realised there was a strong common ground and maybe a collaboration of some sort could happen. So the discussion or brief for the album was the we would try to mix up all our own individual production styles that kind of looked back to the classic period of early to mid '90s ambient with elements of 21st century production like digital glitches environmental recordings, electronc grooves of all styles to movie soundbites, while using a mixture of hardware and software synths and tools. I suppose the concept was pretty open to anything. Overall we wanted it to have plenty of atmosphere and emotion rather than just high tech trickery. Actually many of the tracks happened in a short period of time so there was a certain spontaneity to it also.
Q: Can you briefly describe the creative process when yourself and Lee work together, please?
A: The creative process was initially going to be Lee starting off with some foundation elements, which he would send to me as an Ableton file (that’s the program we both currently use) but there was a slight issue with the versions we were using and the platforms. I was on Mac and using an earlier edition - V5 and Lee was on PC with a more current version of Ableton. So we then decided that Lee would just supply me with the foundation wavs, various synth parts/field recordings/beats or whatever. Then I would go and prepare and work on these adding further elements, more synths or melodies or manipulations and I would then send a rough draft to Lee. He might then make suggestions or send more elements. This process could go on for a while until we were more or less both happy with our progress. The mixing and arrangements are mainly done at my studio but with further advice or suggestions from Lee if needed, I guess it was better to mix and arrange all the tracks from one source as it gives the album a more cohesive feel.
Some tracks were actually finished within a few days and others took a little longer to get right. And any that didn’t quite work were omitted for possibly other projects.
Q: Can you give any insight into the inspirations behind the Autumn of Communion album? Does the album title (or do the track titles) have any significance at all?
A: I suppose the inspirations for Autumn Of Communion came from, as I said earlier, a sort of homage to the classic ambient of the early to mid '90s. Those kind of production levels and depth are hard to find these days: plenty of lush synths and emotive melody. Layers of environmental recordings and other soundbites mixed with beats of all sorts.
Today the electronic music scene seems to be broken up into specific sub-genres. Minimal ambient tends to be just extreme drone, which I like myself but some people only like this particular style. Another example would be the dub techno movement this tends to be really strict on the conformity of uniform sounds and structures so we wanted to really just try and mix it up but be careful not to over cook it either. Finding the right balance of when to stop was just as important.
The title Autumn Of Communion was Lee’s brainstorm. He had just moved to a part of northern Italy and it was an area that was rather religious and was full beautiful of old churches and the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn gold, so again everything just fell into place.
Some of the titles were changed here and there. On track eight, Something We Can't Explain, the original title was The Railway Sleepers, as Lee had sent me a folder of some recorded spoken word material, along with a drone section. Initially the brief was to use the spoken word of this Scottish guy who was reciting a rather abstract piece of prose about railway sleepers but in the folder I found another section from another recording and when I dropped it over the music it just seemed to fit better. I really liked the line within Something We Can't Explain as the title, which then inspired me with the rather large synth string swells that come and go through the track. Other tracks and titles had some personal meaning to us, like End (Sunrise For Claudio). Lee’s partner sadly lost her brother, Claudio, in 2012, so as a moving tribute that was a lovely touch for the album. Track three, the title track, was originally called something else but its ethereal repetitions and what sounds like a church bell ringing in the background (actually another sound with some treatment) meant that the title Autumn Of Communion just gelled.
Q: Autumn of Communion was incredibly well received by Fax fans and yet it may end up being the last ever release on the label. I guess this is kind of bittersweet in a way?
A: AOC has been very well received so far. I think there is a hunger by some electronic music fans of the classic '90s sound/production plus there is also a new generation of electronic music lovers who are now discovering this period for the first time and AOC may have arrived just at the right time? Hopefully there will be a bit of a resurgence in the scene for lush and emotive music again as the ease of access to DAWs (digital audio workstations - ed.) like Ableton etc. are great but at the same time there tends to be a lot of extremely lazy and unimaginative music made with the sound packs these programs offer immediately to a new user.
On the other side with this being the final release on Fax there is an immense sadness when I think that it all stops with AOC. I really believe that Pete alone had at least another 20 years of music to release and to think of what other artists he could have discovered but I’m hoping that time will tell with Autumn Of Communion and that it will be a fitting swan song for Pete and his amazing label.
Q: What can we expect from Autumn of Communion II?
A: Autumn Of Communion II will continue with more themes of deep space ambient and environmental recordings, plenty of haunting soundscapes and emotive melodic refrains along with deep bass frequencies so it should delight fans of the first one, yet it brings new sonic terrain to the world of AOC.
Q: I’ve really enjoyed listening to your FAXology and Night Works albums. Do you have any other future musical plans that we can look forward to?
A: It's great to hear you have enjoyed FAXology and Night Works!! I currently have the bones of three new albums. One is very much within purely ambient territory, there's one that could be classed as ambient electro and another with strong dub influences. As yet I have not really attempted to find a home for any of them and I'm sure it will be a pretty daunting task, as more and more labels are just not listening to demos anymore. Many are struggling to keep going with their current roster of artists. I could simply go down the digital route with these but I fear they will just get lost in the ocean of digital mediocrity. Hopefully If I take my time I will find a suitable label for these projects.
But 2013 will see the release of Tales From The Igloo Retold
, a CD album of remixes featuring some of my other influential artists etc on Psychonavigation records.
Big, big thanks to Mick Chillage for patiently and kindly taking the time to answer my questions.
Check out Autumn of Communion and many of Mick's solo projects here:
Watch this space for Autumn of Communion interviewed - part 2 with Lee Anthony Norris...