An interview with Cyclobe
Cyclobe is Ossian Brown and Stephen Thrower. Both musicians had previously worked with the classic English experimental band Coil but in different eras. Now they are unified in Cyclobe (and life) where they create a very English blend of experimental electronics, psychedelic acoustics and hi-fidelity mysticism. With two new releases on their label Phantomcode, a collection of music made for Derek Jarman films entitled “Sulphur-Tarot-Garden” and a reissue of their long out of print second album “The Visitors”, it seemed the perfect time to speak to Ossian and Stephen.
Thank you for the new releases. Having bought “Wounded Galaxies” back when it came out on vinyl, it has felt like a long wait so it is very satisfying to get two albums from yourselves, is this a beginning of a new flurry of activity or will you once more evaporate into the ether leaving us wondering if it was all just a dream?
OB: We may well evaporate, dissolve yet again! We're just about to start work on completing our next full-length album, this'll be over the spring and summertime. A lot of it has already been finished. So we plan, gods and goddesses willing, to make it available before the end of this year. A number of the pieces we've already been performing live. We're blessed that we can disappear and not be forgotten about entirely, we operate in such a peculiar and slothic time realm. Perhaps it's not the most sensible way in regards to any form of 'pop career' but we're really quite incapable of contriving to be anything other than what we are, a blessing and a curse equally. Aside from the next album we also have plans to release an EP of new recordings, these are mostly me, Stephen and Michael J York at the moment. So these pieces are focussing on my work with the hurdy-gurdy and voice, Stephen's electronics and Michael's pipes. For me personally this is something I've been wanting to explore more intensely for a while now as the hurdy-gurdy has become my first instrument. I've very much grown into it. Cliff Stapleton's been a great inspiration with the instrument so we now have two players in Cyclobe, the way they blend is quite wonderful. We certainly feel hopeful and optimistic, and i think now we've also begun performing live, the energy feels very different, things have been subtly retuned, so we'll see how things turn out. It's been a grand thing for us to experience more support externally, working more intensely with Michael and Cliff, and from people who have come to us wanting to help. For many many years Cyclobe was a very solitary experience, when I say solitary I of course refer to myself and Stephen.
Does the title of “The Visitors” refer to yourselves as outsiders or is it reference to aliens or the supernatural? The original artwork has an alien quality to it whilst the reissue seems almost spiritual
OB: Alex Rose's new artwork for the album is, to me, astonishing. I couldn't have dreamed something more appropriate and more in tune with the spirit of the album. It's beautiful, it conjoins with the recordings in such a magical way I feel. There's no separating them. I find it hard to believe it's an image composed, that it wasn't born, that it's not alive in front of me. There’s nothing static about that picture. There are very strong devotional and spiritual aspects to The Visitors, we're certainly very drawn to emotional and transcendental effects of sound, how they can envelop and transform you, inhabit you. If it doesn't do that I'm not interested. They're alien lullabies, possession suites perhaps.
SET: All of those things you mentioned, I would say, coming either from Ossian or myself in different concentrations. Also, when you put on a record you’re inviting the makers of that music into your home, in really quite an intimate way. We are allowed access to your home and your ears at all kinds of quiet and personal times of the day and night. Our music doesn’t use the human voice lyrically as a foreground element but we feel very strongly that it carries a personal charge, and that personality is released into your private space when you play it.
Although I enormously enjoy “Sulphur-Tarot-Garden” as an album, I was also curious if there there any plans for to be released in a visual format with the accompanying films?
OB: It would be marvellous if the films were released. There's a wealth of wonderful activity and celebrations focussing on Derek and his work this year. We're not in possession of the full details to be able to say what the plans are entirely, but we’re hoping this may happen.
If you could choose any film to create a new soundtrack for, what would it be?
SET: In order to answer that you would have to think of good films that have bad soundtracks, because you wouldn’t want to remove something that worked. Trouble is, I can’t think of one! Which is interesting, because it suggests that we only like films that have great soundtracks. For instance, the first ever Dario Argento film where I didn’t really like the music was Phenomena, but then I don’t much like the film either. The alternative of course is go with a silent movie, so perhaps Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes.
Would you describe your usual environment as being more “urbane” or “rural”? There seems to be something inherently “rural” in your more recent output, albeit in a magical and eldritch way not Emmerdale Farm or H.E.Bates sort of way.
OB: We live on the coast, in the south of England. When the weather's strong you can hear the waves crashing from our studio. We spend a lot of time walking along the coastal paths, often stopping whilst recording, even if only for ten minutes, to consider what we're doing, to clear our minds. We're also on the other side surrounded by the South Downs, and during the more intensive periods recording Wounded Galaxies I was spending a lot of time cycling into the Downs. It’s very romantic countryside, but wild in places as well. So I'd say our environment is very much a mixture of rural and coastal. I certainly want to disappear more into the countryside, deep into the Downs, or perhaps to the West country. I feel very drawn to that. Michael and Cliff Stapleton live in small villages in Somerset. I find the South Downs a particularly magical and evocative landscape. Our experiences of that landscape certainly feeds into our work, it speaks a lot to me. As a species we're in danger of losing our psychic connection with nature, it's certainly something I hope we're able to re-invoke a little in our music. Our piece The Woods Are Alive with The Smell of His Coming has that very much at its heart.
SET: That’s a tough one, because the associations with either rural or urban locations are secondary for me. I try to open our sounds onto alien vistas. I do think there’s a beauty and majesty in nature that you can feel more strongly in the country than in the city, on the other hand there’s a fever and an energy and a pace that I rather miss from London. But I think wherever I was working, I would always tend to look skywards for my deepest inspiration, either that or through time and memory to a landscape etched along that axis.
Your live performances so far have been special one-offs. Is that how you prefer to approach live performance or is it something you would like to build up into a more regular thing?
OB: We are interested in performing a few more shows, but we don't want it to eclipse our studio work. We're certainly not motivated to tour. We'd like to take our time and just play when it feels right for us, for everything we do to be considered. We're anxious now to keep a feeling of occasion around when we play. The world is drowned in words and sounds, psychic clutter, every little thought and grunt is projected out there, we don't want to add more noise to that pollution.
You now have a few non-album singles and compilation tracks under your belt, any plans to put them out as a compilation at some point?
OB: We intend to release our work with Nurse With Wound on Phantomcode, and our first album, perhaps a number of earlier pieces we still feel positive about. We're very much focussed on new work though and given our temprements in regards to the amount of time these recordings take us, we don't want too many distractions, we don't want to spend too much time focussing on our past work.
SET: There’s probably an album’s worth of songs/tracks that were sidelined along the way because they didn’t fit with the sound/concept for whatever album we were working on at the time, these could be collected together to form a sort of ’shadow’ Cyclobe release one day. Branches off the main route that we never went down, or twigs that snapped off the tree! I have a few really grating and annoying tracks that Ossian can’t bear - I think they would make an excellent EP!
There seems to be a sense of kinship among your peers with your associations with Coil, Nurse With Wound and Current 93. Is there anyone else you would particularly like to work with?
OB: We've always worked with people we feel a great closeness and intimacy with, with our friends, our family. People we feel safe and open with. It's hard to say who I'd personally like to work with outside of that, it's such a fragile and personal experience for me.
SET: I’d love to work with Yoko Ono. The texture of her voice is so wonderful.
OB: Thank you.
“Sulphur-Tarot-Garden” and “The Visitors” come out on vinyl and CD via Phantomcode on March 24th