Levitational Maximum Transcendence

Story online since:  09.02.2009 / 17:35:49

More than ten years have passed by since Campbell Kneale from New Zealand, then going by the name of BIRCHVILLE CAT MOTEL, started sharing with us his otherworldly visions. For many, the revelation was quite a shocking delight; to others, these sounds seemed far too vast and "out of reach" once placed in relation with their limited perceptual resources. As for BLACK BONED ANGEL, his blacker alter ego, Campbell walked further down the post infernal path of drone ambient blissfull doom heavy darkness. Let's only say that after as many releases as you can ejaculate spermatozoids within one micro-second, BIRCHVILLE CAT MOTEL suddenly faced an impenetrable wall inside Mr. Kneale's mind, and in 2008-2009, OUR LOVE WILL DESTROY THE WORLD forced it through and came to life as the artist's sort of "second birth". I decided to get in touch with Campbell in order to know a bit more about that change of perspective and attitude, and also because I think he definitely fits with the purpose of our website.

Nice to meet you Campbell! I suppose you've been busy tweaking your sound upside down lately. How has it been, spending your time in New Zealand?

Well. Sorry to start this interview out on a bum note but I had a dreadful summer actually. Beset by problems of a personal nature that I would have given my right eye to not have had to live through. Are you sorry you asked? (laughs) I can however say that the weather was ridiculously hot for a hare-brained schmuck like myself who has spent every summer for the last 8 years on tour in the gloom of a northern hemisphere winter. Pretty damn weird. So golden. So sunny. I suspect I've had a seasonal mood disorder that has lasted for about a decade. (laughs)

So I suppose both your personal life and artistic/musical life are pretty much entangled. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage when it comes to being creative? Still in relation to creativity, what would you say is better: having to go through hell or heavens?

I think, more to the point, itís actually impossible to separate one's personal and artistic life. One would be meaningless and soulless without the other. I have said in many interviews before that my music is very much rooted in the experience of the "everyday" rather than being any kind of esoteric or academic compositional exercise. I am utterly disinterested in academic music or any kind of music as "art".

As for whether itís better to go through hell or heaven... it's definitely better to go through heaven (duh!) but life's not really like that, is it? There is a certain "divine discontent" that seems ever-present and even necessary within the creative person's core. A need to protest, and wrestle, and fight with the world rather than accept it the way it is. This inescapable discontent is certainly at the heart of a great deal of creativity and I would even dare to suggest that the greatest creators have shouldered a degree of sorrow, adversity, or just general fuckedupness... I mean where did the (admittedly dreadful) stereotype of the poor, broken down, degenerate artist come from? It must have come from somewhere.

I have heard it said that if you find yourself going through hell... hit the accelerator, not the brake!

As an experimental artist, is it sometimes hard to keep up with what you ought to release in order to survive? I mean, you're obviously releasing loads of albums each year.

To be honest, Birchville Cat Motel rarely thinks too much about release strategies. You probably guessed this already. Traditionally I've been a big fan of the "if itís good, get it out of your bedroom" philosophy. No point in having good music that "hits the nail on the head" artistically-speaking languishing around the house... I've always preferred to let people in to the process. The trick has been choosing which format best suits the music I have made. Obviously not everything I have made is genius although it may contain a different kind of worth.

Yes... I've made a small truckload of albums. It was a deliberate strategy of mine to gain some kind of attention when I first felt ready for others to hear what I was doing. It worked too. But at this point in time I feel like this strategy has done its time. As has Birchville Cat Motel and within a month or so I will be releasing the final stanzas in the Birchville Cat Motel chapter and leaving this moniker on a high note. The next chapter is called OUR LOVE WILL DESTROY THE WORLD and it will carry on where BCM left off with a cleaner, meaner attitude to recording, releasing, and touring. I feel like I've had enough practice and I'm ready to start making the records I always wanted to make.

Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, your own label, bears quite an interesting name. Are you specifically celebrating psi phenomenon, whenever you're organizing sounds?

The label started off as an outlet for my own music and the music of my friends who were also producing some pretty levitational stuff as well. The name was intended to suggest a celebration of the paranormal qualities of music as I certainly felt that the music I was making at the time was in some way disconnected from the material earth. I was interested in music as a spirit force (and maybe even a spiritual force) in line with folks like John Coltrane and Sun Ra and all them hep black cats.

Along with the "new band" I'm also closing the Celebrate Psi Phenomenon chapter and starting a new label called CROP CIRCLE EMPIRES, again with a cleaner, meaner attitude towards releasing music yet you can tell by the name the beauty of the unexplained is still at the core of the labels aesthetic.

So what is having a cleaner and meaner attitude towards music? I've already heard BCM fans who feel a bit let down (laughs) by the way you talk of your past music, as if it was only some sort of "preparation" for the future. Is your new music going to be THAT different from what we know from your vaults?

LET DOWN? (sigh) Donít people have better things to do? What do they care? They either like the music or they donít. Does it make any difference what I have to say about it? Or do they need some kind of permission to enjoy the music from me? JeZUZ... let it go people, let it go, or you'll make yourself very miserable indeed.

I was merely suggesting in a tongue in cheek way that the shedding of the name Birchville Cat Motel is a positive thing for me. It has freed me from a lot of unhelpful baggage that has gradually accumulated over the years (like the expectations of these kind of people!) What would they rather me do? Make the same album over and over again, year after year?

With the greatest respect, this is not a democracy.

My music is mine whether itís called THIS or THAT or anything else. It'll sound how it does. If you like it, I'm delighted. If you donít, Iím still delighted. If you like the records I made as BCM there is a good chance you will like the music I make as something else. Maybe you wonít. Nevermind. I can respect that of other artists, I hope people have the grace to accept that of me.

Where did this idea come from that I (or others like me) are just here to please people anyway?

As far as a cleaner, meaner attitude towards making music goes, itís exactly that... a change of ATTITUDE. Itís become clear to me that change is usually a good thing. I have recorded with BCM for 10 years now and been very successful indeed if only against my own criteria for success. I worked very hard and achieved a great deal more than I set out to. Now I need to not work so hard... I hope to release less material, of higher quality, packaged better, on rewarding analog-only formats, for labels that are supportive of my vision, can offer good promo/distro/whatever and a decent return for the both of us. When I go on tour I have to travel a very, VERY long way... so I expect to be paid accordingly. Not because Iím a dick, but because itís FAIR. As such, I expect I'll be touring less and that is totally OK with me.

In some way, Black Boned Angel, as well as a few other Birchville Cat Motel, correctly or incorrectly, have been associated with an experimental form of extreme metal music. How relevant is such an association for you? Are you into metal yourself?

Yeah. It's no secret that I'm into metal (including but not limited to extreme metal). It's glaringly obvious. I have found that this is part of a global trend of "rediscovery" for thirty somethingís like myself, and a welcome relief from all the "difficult listening" music that filled my brain since I left my teen years behind. But to be honest, I think because of this larger global tendency, people have made too much of the whole metal thing as far as Birchville Cat Motel is concerned and once the label has been applied it's really easy for people to stop thinking and hear a metal influence where there actually isn't one. There was a time when you could hardly find a Birchville Cat Motel review that didn't reference Black Boned Angel or doom metal or something... even when that was the furthest thing from my mind when making a certain record. It's become a label that means very little to me now.

However it would be equally wrong to suggest that there is no metal influence on Birchville Cat Motel's music. There is most definitely. Occasionally overtly but more often the influence lies under the surface. You can't hear it, it's about energy. I wanted to create a minimalism that wasn't at all "beard-stroking" music. I wanted to make minimalist music that RRRRRRrrocked! Minimalism that was loud and body-shaking and sexy. That's what I always liked about metal. Far from anything considered trendy in metal today... Birchville Cat Motel is probably more about early Van Halen than Sunn O))).

By the way, how much of an influence was Godflesh on your Black Boned Angel project, since that project's name, as we all know, comes from a Godflesh's song. I was wondering if this was a homage of some sort.

Godflesh was an influence on ME, not on Black Boned Angel. Godflesh was the band that summed up the early 90's for me as a human being. Suffering and beauty side by side as equals. Godflesh influenced my view of the world... who CARES about music?

Speaking of loud and body-shaking minimalism, the Endless Coming Into Life album by Black Boned Angel really did surprise me. Much more minimal, in fact, than most of your previous albums. I take it you won't also change the Black Boned Angel moniker into a new name, but do you think you're going for a new sound from Endless Coming Into Life onward?

Yes, Black Boned Angel will stay Black Boned Angel. It was always a side-project and will remain that way. But the same attitude applies... we will release and tour only when it is warranted.

Black Boned Angel was always minimal but The Endless Coming Into Life certainly has a whole different kind of spaciousness about it. But really itís just the same sense of blissful droning heaviness and terrifying emptiness we have always attempted to embody, just balanced differently. Maybe Endless is more like blissful droning emptiness and terrifying heaviness instead of the other way around? Yes, this is an evolution in our sound... SunnO))) needed to transcend Earth... we need to transcend the unhelpful "doom" tag and become our own band.

So what exactly is maximum transcendence, something you claim your music can induce the listener into?

Black Boned Angel has written on the back of our first couple of albums TRANSCENDENCE CAN ONLY BE ACHIEVED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME. I don't know if it's true of our records. I hope it is for some people but I can't control how people listen to this stuff. I have certainly found that volume has the ability to lend a physical presence to a record that can only be bettered by attending a live performance. As such it can completely change the experience of listening to the point where it almost becomes a compositional device in itself. If you think of transcendence as a form of disassociation from the "here and now", a means of being "carried away", or a process of losing touch with reality in a controlled way when listening to music, the common thread between all the bands that can perform this miracle for me is the CONTROL of volume.

Interestingly, "volume" doesnít necessarily mean loud (although it usually does when it comes to Black Boned Angel). Quiet music can be equally oppressive... it's the control of volume which is the key. And in turn that controlled volume (loud or quiet) can control an audience. Volume sets the scene for an intense musical experience.

And would you say that volume control is a big part of Our Love Will Destroy The World? Is this something you think about, either before a performance or when giving form to a new composition? And do you sometimes get to a transcendental level when performing, or is this exclusively, so to speak, to the listeners discretion?

Volume is not something I consider to be separate from the music in such a way that I can choose to use it or not... it's an integral, ever-present part of the music, so no, I never think about it with regards to a performance or piece of recorded music. My technical rider I give to people who are putting on shows for me asks for a PA that is big enough to handle heavy bass frequencies and mic-ed up drums... So I guess I am trying to ensure that people donít try and make this distinction between the music itself and the manner in which it is delivered. The music IS the delivery. I guess thatís what I like most about SunnO))), they ARE volume. The chords and "musical bits" are merely a means of activating the real star of the show... the AMPS.

I have not yet discovered a way to induce mass transcendence in an audience. Shame on me. Playing live, I am on my own ride and I invite the audience to join me if they can. Certainly for myself, I consider performing to be one of the rare occasions where I get to experience something close to total silence. A "perfect peace" that I am in the centre of. At THAT volume nobody is going to ask me questions, get me to do stuff, try and communicate with me, ring me, e-mail me, demand this or that from me... it's wonderful. There is just me in the eye of a huge hurricane of noise. Absolutely alone.

At one with sound, right... and whenever you play live - are your fans going to recognize most of the stuff, or are improvisation and "out of the blue creation" also an enormous part of your sound?

Firstly, I find it interesting that I even have fans. I always seem to assume I'm playing to people who haven't heard me whenever I leave the country to play because it is so rare that I get out on tour and the world is a big place. Improvisation is an important tool in my arsenal of rock-tricks, so is composition. I like to improvise around new compositions when I go out on tour so that people will be hit with a fresh experience. I don't have hits. And if I did a) nobody would want to hear them and b) if they did, I couldn't play them.

I heard you say that you compose much of your music at night, family free, all by yourself. Well, are your children aware of what daddy is doing at night with his machines (laughs)? And do you think it's possible to educate their young ears in regards to extreme noise/ambient music?

Yeah! The kids all know what I do. My music is not a blasphemy or a hush-hush secret that we agree not to discuss at the dinner table (laughs). They have all contributed to albums and even made their own (ed.- see to hear Campbell with his two sons). It's fun. I have no intention at all of educating them with regards to music... if you can't educate yourself about the things that give you pleasure in life, you're fucked. In spite of our reliance on the internet to plagiarise material for essays and steal recorded artworks that we will play exactly ONCE, by and large people seem to know less than ever about what's going on in the world. Our world view is shrinking and shrinking. If you can't find a band you enjoy by yourself you must be retarded. Both my boys are big Madonna fans at the moment. My daughter listens to the Pogues more or less incessantly and as such is convinced (in a way that only five years old can) that being a pirate is a legitimate career choice.

(laughs) Yeah I know what you mean. Not only education, but the place where we grow up also influences our upbringing. How would you qualify the New Zealand musical scene surrounding you, if there's any at all?

There is a huge, vibrant, jaw-dropping scene here in New Zealand with so many incredible artists that you can't even sneeze without getting snot on the shirt of a life-changing musician.

OoOpS, sorry for the massive sneezing off! My fault. Yeah, but with so many creative people around, would you ever want to play in a traditional band setting, with drums, bass, guitar, playing whatever kind of groovy rock?

Yes of course! Thatís my roots, man. I started playing in punky pop bands when I was 12 in the mid 1980's, all throughout my teenage years and into my early twenties. Playing "proper" music was definitely a realistic career option for me and I had plenty of chances to pursue that angle... The people who I played with as a teenager have all gone on to become very well known within the "official" New Zealand Music industry. That could have been me... but I chose differently. Iím glad I did too.

Speaking of band playing, how did you get in touch with the band Pyramids, whose first double-album out on Hydra Heads contains a killer Birchville Cat Motel remix? How would you describe your work on there?

Mr. Pyramids wrote to me via MySpace. I didn't know him from a pint of Guinness but he seemed like a nice chap and I had some time so I said yes to his humble request of a "remix". It was great fun and I really enjoyed working with the material he sent me. I sent it back and he seemed to genuinely like it... a big creative success as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad it came out on a nice label like Hydra Head.

You mentioned a pint of Guinness... Is beer or any other substance also part of the maximum transcendence levitational state (laughs)?


On our website, we've had conversations about whether noise can be considered music or not. What would you say to people who think noise is only random half-assed shit which could be done by about anyone out there? For you, what is properly "musical" about noise?

Whatís wrong with random, half-arsed shit?

Is it because itís RANDOM? You mean you canít write it down so it can be "understood" by some particular kind of listener (much like most of musical history I would have thought). I think Derek Bailey had a little rant in his book about how "musicians" are desperately afraid of "formlessness"... it threatens the sanctity of their little club.

Or is HALF ARSED the problem? True... I donít like practicing as it ruins my "random" but my commitment to my music is demonstrated in a discography as long as your arm that stretches back over ten years. Any comments that try to pick holes in my level of commitment are just plain laughable. And what EXACTLY constitutes "shit"? How do you measure SHIT?

As for the idea that anybody can play this kind of music... itís absolutely TRUE in exactly the same way that your four year old daughter probably COULD paint better than some celebrated artists. Jesus... have these people ever heard of PUNK? Get outta the 1970's dudes! "Success" on an artistic level is not reliant on mere technical mastery or musical dexterity and itís been that way for 30 years. Like any other art form, artistically successful noise music requires a depth of vision that your average plonker just doesnít have. On top of that, most people are too "half arsed", if they created something good they wouldnít know it, and if they did know it they wouldn't have the audacity to try and sell it.

I consider my own personal take on "noise" to be very musical indeed. In spite of the fact that I can read music and consider myself very fluent in traditional music theory, I donít have any time for notes, melodies, harmonies, rhythms, etc. I compose using tone, texture, volume, time, energy, velocity, mass... If these core elements donít seem very "musical", think about what music would sound like without them!

In short, the people who put forward these lame, old fashioned ideas about noise being somehow "under-music" suffer from a rather tragic form of snobbery. When it comes down to it, it's just not a very well thought out argument. I personally donít really care if people donít like my music and it doesnít bother me that people donít always understand it, but there is no need for people to be so offended or threatened that they need to demonize things they donít understand or like. That kind of weak-minded fundamentalism is so unattractive.

I've heard you wanted OUR LOVE WILL DESTROY THE WORLD to only release vinyl and cassette formats, to avoid being reduced to MP3 files. But would ever want to release a new CD, I mean is that possible or you've really put behind any sort of digital sized release? By the way, vinyl and cassette releases also find their way among the downloading circles...

Yeah I know, but I get to sniff the record so nah nah.

Well, "vinyl only" would be a pretty stupid rule in a digital world wouldnít it? Yes, Iím very open to digital offers and Iíve already got a bunch of stuff thatís just not going to work on vinyl as itís too extreme in the frequencies department. My preference is vinyl but I'd be closing the door on new friends if I said no to any form of digital release.

At the end of the day, I wish you all the best in everything you're going to explore this year. Keep it open-minded and wild. Most of us (or some of them) are waiting for your love to truly destroy the world as it is, into one massive earthly orgasm. Anything you'd like to add, man?

Err... wow, that sounds like an orgasm worth keeping myself pure for. Bless you young man.

Bless you, Campbell!

Oliver Side

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