Bill Gould’s 'Talking Book' Released 10 Years Ago
On May 24th 2011 Bill Gould released the album The Talking Book via Koolarrow Records.
'The atmosphere that haunts the world of The Talking Book is as palpable as the dust that clogs the grooves of the grainy, crackling vinyl that Bill Gould & Jared Blum have mined for this, their first collaborative work. The Talking Book has the melancholy, sepia-toned feel of a faded old photograph found in a strangers house, full of old ghosts, almost-forgotten memories and a real sense of encroaching decay.' Bearded Magazine | 2011
The original TB project is the combined vision of Bill and conceptual artist Jared Blum, of the SF based mid-fi sound collage label Gigante Sound. The pair met in 2005 standing in line on Hamburger Tuesday in the Lower Haight San Francisco. They began to discuss music and eventually Bill was drafted in to help Jared with mixing and mastering on various projects. Inevitably the two musicians moved from production to creation and The Talking Book was born.
The Talking book is essentially a collection of abstract expressionistic recordings which play like the soundtrack to a movie. It is dark and atmospheric yet still retains an underlying warmth with rich sonic textures and distinctive melodies.
'If you're familiar with musique concrete, or experimental or ambient-ish music, you can hear it in there, so that's probably an easy way to describe it. But it has differences here and there; Jared's pretty proficient at it. I've listened to experimental music for a long time, maybe thirty years, but never really applied myself to it. So I wanted, as a novice in this experience, to bring some of my own aesthetic into something that somebody else does ... and it was a real and true collaboration.To describe Talking Book to somebody else, I guess I'd say: if you listen to a soundtrack with some of my own creative aesthetic, I guess' Bill Gould | SF Weekly | 2011
The duo developed a unique way to present the soundscapes to a live audience - 'blending real visuals and human spontaneity with the rich textures and deep sonic fabric that characterized the album.' However to complete their vision and bring their noise to the stage they required a third like-minded member, Dominic Cramp (AKA Lord Tang!).
A visual accompaniment was projected behind the working musicians created by Roland Quelvin.
In 2015, to celebrate the 5th anniversary of this wonderful recording we had a chat with Jared Blum about the album production and working with Bill.
Jared Blum Interview
It's been five years since 'Talking Book' was released. When was the last time you listened to the album?
Hmm. Not in a while! I tend not to listen to my older records that much usually because I hear stuff I would’ve done differently and it’s distracting…but I have listened to some of the live shows we’ve played over the past few years. Actually, just the other day we (Dom, Bill and I) just listened to some sections of a live show we did in Araraquara, Brazil in 2013… Three quarters of the show was all new stuff we wrote for that tour. So we went back and picked out the ones we are going to attempt to re create for the next project.
Would you agree there is a timeless quality to soundscapes such as these?
Absolutely…that record and most of my soundscapey- avant stuff tends to be less “modern” sounding. I like the sound of old and dusty. Tape is your friend.
Would you say the album is more artistic expression or mechanical experiment?
A bit of both I guess. The mechanical stuff is just the turntable playing the records super slow…the artistic side is finding those little bits to work with. Using slow records can be tricky because a lot of it can sound like mud, but there might be one little riff or loop off on entire record that can be gold. Then you can build a song off of one sample. Back to mechanical, you can then take some of those slow sounds and sample them and turning them into drones, which are what gives the sounds texture. You can’t get that from a synth or a preset.
Can you explain how you went about creating the various sounds on 'Talking Book’?
Well, the focus of the record at first was to utilize this old turntable I have (The Talking Book Record Player for the Blind) that plays records at 8 1/3 and 16 1/3 RPMs. I had been doing a project called Beaks Plinth which was basically a collage of these sounds from it. It basically turns any record into instant doom! But we weren’t going for a doom thing necessarily. We sampled old exotica, easy listening, world records from Japan, Africa, Aboriganial, Korea, Cambodia, some Brazilian percussion stuff and just crap i found at the SF library, thrift stores and Amoeba music for a $1. Then cut that stuff up, collage and overdub. We then added layers of guitars, synths, pianos and drum machines to fill out the sound.
The album is distinctly melancholy in feel and yet still radiates an underlying warmth. Did you draw on any particular influences to create the mood?
I think that’s because it’s not just a doom/drone record. It’s got a lot of subtle melodies and shifts parts a lot and progresses. There’s movement to it, so you kind of go down this sink hole with us…Sometimes you come up for air until the next wave comes and drags you back down. In terms of influences, compositionally; no one in particular. It's more cinematic collage or a radio play soundtrack.. Actually for this one I kept thinking about Tarkovsky films, Russia in general. Desolate spaces, Chernobyl type places. I tend to write long flowing sessions pretty freeform, going into a lot of directions. I then go back and split things up and work on them separately. In terms of influences sonically, I guess at that time...Tim Hecker, Osaka Bondage, Philip Jeck, Edward Artmiev, Focus Group and Vladimir Ussachevsky were what I was listening to when we did this. The sounds themselves tend to be the influences really. I think the “warmth” also has to do with it not being a synth album where things are quantized and tightened.. It has a looseness to it, a very human quality. The sounds are jangled and a bit fucked which informed us on how we wrote parts around them.
How did Bill adapt to a radically different way of working than he was used to?
He always seemed really comfortable with it. I basically had a lot of the sections worked out, and then he came in and thew a guitar part on top or a synth thing and it changed the whole feel of it. Then we’d remix stuff and it would be transformed. We also started a couple of tracks from scratch. On “The Morass” he over dubbed 5 Ebow guitar harmonies into this amazing cluster of drones. Sort of a Frippotronics thing. I don’t think he was used to improvising as much and just letting go as much. Certainly live in front of an audience. Since then he’s gotten more into mutating old samples and making amazing melodic pads and textures out of them, which adds a lot to our sound. The tour we did in ’13 had a lot of that going on as well as his guitar parts throughout.
How do think Bill's previous musical experience lent itself to the album?
A couple ways actually. Obviously he’s a great songwriter and instrumentalist, as a well as being able to mix records pretty damn well. FNM always did stuff in their own way never really conforming much to the radio crap and MTV. Especially when using synths and samples. But for me just having that second set of ears, opinions, and compositional ideas was really big. Also, he plays with a lot of feeling in a way I don’t, so all of that combined is huge. He’s also a big fan of older industrial/ experimental stuff ie. Throbbing Gristle, Suicide, Einstürzende Neubauten so it wasn’t that much of a stretch to go there with me.
Did working with Bill change the way you worked on projects thereafter?
Yes. Definitely in terms of mixing and then learning that less is more. No matter how many times you hear that it always helps if someone else tells you that as you’re working. Learning to build stuff up and strip things back has way more impact.
I would say that FNM's recent album 'Sol Invictus' has cinematic moments. Do you think Bill's experience with 'Talking Book' has developed his song writing techniques?
That’s a question for him I guess…I think a lot of those demo songs were actually written before Talking Book actually. I’m not sure though. I think cinematic music has always been with him and the group. This was just an extreme form of that.
Were you surprised with the positive reaction the album received from FNM fans?
I was never quite aware of the FNM fanbase reaction actually. They liked it? Ha. I read some descent reviews from critics, so I was happy about that. I guess the real test was doing it live and the reaction we got from the shows. I think most were all really positive because it was a different then what some FNM fans may have seen live I imagine, and we pulled off a pretty heavy set. The fact that Patton or Trey have been doing experimental music for years probably warmed up some people’s ears to this world I think.
What kind of challenges did you overcome to bring the music to the stage?
We never really thought of it as being a live thing. It happened because Patton heard the record, liked it, and asked if we wanted to do a show with him and Pivixki at the Great American Music Hall in SF. We had no idea how to do it live. I knew we’d need to do play some of it live and improvise or stretch out the stuff. I didn’t want to stand there and “DJ”. So we got Dom whom I was already playing with for years to help out. We had to figure out what was going to be played live and what would be triggered. So we basically did that. Went in and stripped out the sessions and rehearsed. It was pretty good actually and quite heavier than the record! We have the soundboard of that show, one day we’ll release it. Then as we went on it got a lot easier and by the time we got down to South America in ’12 we were improvising a lot and by and ’13 we were doing a lot of new stuff we created in the rehearsal space...so it was all very natural.
It's interesting to watch the group interaction during those live shows after seeing Bill's energy in rock bands. You almost seem like a conductor. Even though the sounds are mostly digital there is a orchestral (if that's the right term) feel to it. Would you agree with that comparison?
Ha. Yeah. I’d love to get to that point of the energy FNM get in their shows or even 1/8 th of it. And actually that has been a big topic in our talks about making new stuff and doing it live. Its tough when you don’t have a live drummer. The energy is so different. Locking bass and guitars with electro drums just doesn’t have that same power. Also there’s no human interaction. Anyway, a lot of the samples or sounds that fuel the songs were in my control so I kinda have to make sure we all hit the changes together. Plus, I tend to be quite animated live.
Do you think the accompanying visuals were essential to the live experience?
Oh yeah. The videos we used for the 2 tours were both pretty weird and visually exciting. They fit the music perfectly. Unless you want look at 3 schlubs standing in front of their laptops and a couple of synths, it’s integral.
Bill described the album as 'a soundtrack with his own creative aesthetic'. How would describe it? Have you as a group considered scoring movies?
For sure, it’s total soundtrack stuff, it just goes a bit further where soundtracks don’t usually go. I mean basically music that’s slower, instrumental, moody often get grouped in the “soundtrack” genre. In my case pretty much all my music, even my recent 80’s pop stuff is soundtrack inspired. Both Bill and I have done soundtrack stuff separately over the years, and we’ve been contacted to do some scoring stuff in the near future.
Would Dominic Cramp be involved in the writing process for future projects?