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.’
For more information about Elizabeth Veldon and Black Circle.
More from Elizabeth Veldon, plus an introduction to her music, after the jump…