Inspiration is hard work.
It’s early December and the first snow of winter is falling across the west coast of Scotland. Friends tweet their excitement, their child-like hopes for a white Christmas, posting images of blurry snow on lamp-lit streets. At her home in the north of Glasgow, Noise Artist Elizabeth Veldon stands in her garden, recording the sound of the snow falling.
Veldon is one of the most prolific and talented Noise Artists working today. Her work includes some of the most beautiful, brilliant, challenging and powerful soundscapes recorded. Her albums, such as A Blasted Victoriana, work on multiple levels offering up an intelligent critique of history, politics and sex. Others, including the beautifully mesmeric Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, a haunting celebration of the winter solstice.
When asked about her background, Veldon says there’s not much to tell. She was born in Scotland, into ‘a poor village with massive unemployment and a strict demarcation between Catholic and Protestant .’ This she says ‘probably led to my less than forgiving approach to religious belief.’ Veldon moved to Cambridge to study English Literature at college. It was as a student that her interests in the themes of gender, sexuality, feminist critical theory, poetry and politics, which would influence her musical work.
Returning to Scotland, Elizabeth met her partner 8 years ago. Her partner has been ‘a guiding force in my music.’ Over 6 years ago, Veldon started recorded her first CD. It sold out, and was collected by the Scottish National Library. From this Veldon started recording on a weekly then a daily basis. ‘I launched my bandcamp site around a year-and-a-half ago and since then have uploaded over 100 albums to it. I also formed my own label Black Circle records’ around 1 year ago, as a way to publish music based upon ideas of co-operation, collaboration and community.’
Paul Gallagher: When did you become interested in music and creating noise music/soundscapes? What were the key moments/influences?
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘I’ve always been interested in music, but I suppose this really took off when I met my present partner and two people obsessed with music got together.
‘I don’t know exactly when I became interested in making music but I remember why: I wanted to show that it was possible to make music without studios or finances, a kind of democratisation of the music making process. I began posting these on myspace (back in the days when everyone used myspace) and got positive feedback so I kept going. Originally I improvised tracks by playing multiple pieces by other artists over each other and recorded this to tape using a stereo with no speakers connected. This was then recorded back to my computer and then used as one of the tracks in a second layer and so on and so on until I had a completed piece.
‘As I began taking this process seriously, I started to think of it in terms of John Cage’s Fontana Mix, and began half-jokingly referring to it as Fontana Mix Without A Score, and John Cage has stayed my primary influence since then. I think it’s his belief that music is that which is produced by an artist or composer that most captures my imagination.
‘This led me to try to produce music that echoed the ideas of Pure Abstraction that is something which was not inspired by an external object or sensation. It was this that led me to experiment with feedback and wave forms.
‘More often than not the germ of a work comes from something read in a book or something I hear. For instance The English And Their Dogs came about from my partner saying ‘The Germans love children the way the English love their dogs’. While Satan Is A Very Poor Fellow was inspired by the cover of a book about German artists in exile during and after World War Two.
‘Other influences have included geometric abstractionism (in that it gave me a way to think about producing abstract music), 90’s feminist punk such as Bikini Kill, Derek Jarman (for his fearlessness) and early music.
‘That sounds like the most pretentious list of influences ever.
‘Lately I’ve found myself interested in landscape and finding inspiration from that and then, of course, there’s politics which is always present in everything I do.’
Paul Gallagher: How important is politics?
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘Politics is deadly important to me. To a large extent I am a political artist.
‘I think music can be used as a political tool, as a form of activism.
‘Too often people refuse to engage politically with music and allow often deeply questionable things to go unchallenged. For instance, there is the whole rape obsession in Noise, the complete and utter objectification of women that seems to have been borrowed from Whitehouse but without their critical approach or the degree of Islamaphobia in some areas Harsh Noise and Metal.
‘Often these ideas are so ingrained that those using the imagery do not see it’s problematic nature such as when I recently challenged someone over language that could have been viewed as misogynistic and they where not even aware that they had used the language. Sometimes, however, the use of these ideas and imagery are deliberate and challenging them leaves you open to abuse or even threats of violence as I and some of the people i collaborate with have found.’
Paul Gallagher: Were there others who similar interests or were you creating on your own?
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘When I first started out making music I was entirely on my own, but soon an artist called Gordon Laidlaw started taking an interest in the early tape loops and began giving me advice. Without his input I would never have continued making music.’
Paul Gallagher: What was the response to your Noise Music?
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘The response to my earliest work was very positive and has largely continued that way.
‘I’ve had a few blips along the way, but those have been more often about how I theorise the role of the artist - such as when I received bad press for calling musicians ‘artists’ as this was seen as pretentious and elitist, though that was never my intention and the whole reason I started making music and the reason I started up my label Black Circle Records was in reaction against elitism.
‘I’ve had some incredibly positive reviews both online and in print including one for my label in Magnet Magazine, which was great as it gave some publicity to a number of the people on my label.
‘Lately, I’ve ran into some trouble over the political nature of my music in reference to queer rights and feminist theory which have led to the process of making music being temporarily put on a back burner while I defend my position, but I view these as positive rather than negative things even if it can lead to stress and sometimes even threats of violence.’
Paul Gallagher: I am shocked to hear about the violent threats, what happened?
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘Yes, I got threatened several times over asking a Glasgow rapper to think about the lyrics in his music, about his use of the word “cunt” and his positioning of negative things as female.
‘It’s still ongoing and I was tonight scared to make music the first time I tried but I’m currently making a long piece based on a photograph of our back garden.’
Paul Gallagher: Tell me about the process by which you create music?
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘There is no one set method to making music, though usually it begins with an idea, pun or topic rather than with a melody or a musical phrase.
‘The first step is usually to analyse what I want to speak about. Once I’ve thought of a way to approach the subject, I then look for samples, or create source sounds from scratch. This can involve using source code from photographs as I have done for recent landscape based work (such as A ruined hut beset by the winds, Pine trees in the wind and so on). Or, I capture field recordings which form the basis of the recording.
‘These are then processed using a program called Audiomulch - usually by recording a processed piece and using this to produce a second generation piece (this sometimes goes on for 8 to 10 generations of more and more processed recordings.)
‘I sometimes use instruments, mainly a detunes acoustic guitar or synths.
‘Just now I’m working on a tape with another artist based on the work of Peggy Seeger and some abstract works for a jazz artist to improvise over.
‘The Peggy Seeger piece will be based upon singing some of her songs and scanning pages from a book of her songs. These will be individually processed and then layered together into a single long track. The abstract pieces will be based upon mixing pre-recorded feedback as well as sine wave and square wave improvisations.’
Paul Gallagher: You’ve started performing live, what’s that been like?
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘I made music for a long time before I ever performed it live, and performing still feels odd to me. Partially this is because there is little or nothing to see when I play live and I fear this may be boring for people to watch. I get over this hurdle by, as much as I can, using projections to add some visual element to the performance.’
Paul Gallagher: Tell me about your label Black Circle?
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘My label, Black Circle, was originally set up as a place to put the growing number of collaborations and splits I was being asked to take part in but quickly grew to become a label in it’s own right.
‘The label expresses a lot of my hopes for the Noise and underground music scene, such as the lack of imagery objectifying women’s bodies, the refusal to include hate speech and so on. In addition, I wanted the label to be a collaborative, community based space where individuals where free to discuss any topics they wished in any way they want to. This has led to some fairly high brow stuff such as the audio conversation series that discussed philosophical ideas, direct political work of people like [square] (we agreed on that form of their name), the discussion of contemporary events such as the Assange case and the ability to engage in activism.’
An introduction to the Music of Elizabeth Veldon:
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘Firstly, I would choose towards an Abstract Music 9, which represents an attempt to reproduce the pure abstraction of geometric abstraction in music. The idea was to create music which had no sample, no instruments and no meaning ascribed to it via a title. This was in response to reading a book about Mondrain and his journey towards a form of abstraction, which was not derived from the world around him.
‘This album (Towards An Abstract Music) was my first attempt to compose (for want of a better term) music rather than just create something without structure or thought.’
Elizabeth Veldon: Would you please stop raping me? parts 1 and 2. This has became something of a signature tune for me in that it is passed around as a sort of introduction to my work. It grew out of seeing images of restrained and mutilated women on to many Noise releases and I wrote this response. It represents my ‘angry, political noise’ work.
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘Shalom (for Gad Beck). This represents a shift from Harsh Noise that’s been ongoing in my work for a long time.’
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘A ruined hut beset by the winds. This is the third of three recent works about landscapes near where i live, something i hope to explore more.’
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘Flow My Tears: Notes Towards A New Politics was an album I made in response to the London riots [in 2011] and encapsulates much of my political philosophy, in that it sites the most important site of political discourse as individuals rather than ideology and calls for an end to Left/Right infighting, and party-political-point-scoring, in the hope of improving people’s lifes through a New Politics. Sadly, this has not materialized, though I and some other people believed that it would after the riots - a kind of cleansing by fire.’
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘The album A Blasted Victoriana was my first full length drone / dark ambient work and is wrapped up with several of my long standing interests such as classical music, poverty, patriarchy, class and feminism.’
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘The album Studio Recordings 14th of August 2012 though only two tracks long is a return to ideas of abstraction without meaning ascribed to the music through giving tracks titles but this time it leans more towards a minimalist aesthetic. Someone actually commented that this album reminded them of the band Eleh, which made me very happy indeed.’
For more information about Elizabeth Veldon and Black Circle.
With thanks to Elizabeth Veldon