interview conducted October 2008.
Dark ambent progenitor and Crow and Underworld soundtracker Brian Williams, aka Lustmord, released [ O T H E R ] on Hydra Head a couple months ago, but its creepy twists and turns are a more fitting autumn listen, so I decided to ask the Los Angeles-based Welshman a few questions about its 80 minutes of eerie haunted house creaks and drones.
You've soundtracked a number of films. When you're working on a non-soundtrack collection like [ O T H E R ] do you have visuals in mind? Are the sounds attached to visuals that we don't see? How do you approach an album differently than you would a soundtrack?
They're very different approaches. For soundtracks (sound-to-picture) the role of sound is to augment the visuals and the storyline. For an album, the music alone is responsible for creating and sustaining the narrative-- sound is one of many elements and it's role can be more or less important depending on what else is going on (dialogue, scenery, sound effects).
For an album the sound is the purpose. With sound-to-picture the dynamic of the sound is dictated by what is going on on-screen. Most often if the music is doing its job properly you shouldn't really notice that it's there, but it adds dimension and emotion that the scene would otherwise lack. When working on an album, sounds are created to be noticed, though sometimes subtly so.
I have no visuals in mind for Lustmord-- the sound is meant to evoke a place rather than an image. Lustmord, by the way, is what I do, and things like soundtracks are day jobs that help actually pay the bills.
I saw this at your site: "None of my work has a 'story' or is a 'soundtrack' to any narrative. Each is structured around very specific ideas, some of which resurface and/or cross-reference..." That said, I don't necessarily mean soundtracking a narrative-- more affixing the sounds to images or ideas. What are some of the ideas that resurface in your work? Without giving too much away, what are some of the concepts behind [ O T H E R ]?
The albums are always planned in advance before recording begins. I always know how each is going to start, where it's going to go and how it's going to end. [ O T H E R ], like all of the albums, started as a central concept of which the sounds, titles, artwork and sleeve-notes serve as a whole, each containing different clues, keys, and cyphers. The specifics are there, but I prefer that the listeners find out what those are for themselves. It's an important part of the process. Perhaps nobody will ever figure it out, but that's not the point. Occasionally somebody will pick up on at least part of it.
There are underlying themes and some albums cross-reference each other. [ O T H E R ] is a continuation of concepts explored a couple of decades earlier. One central theme is that our world (or rather universal) view is very limited, that there are some things that we'll never be able to comprehend, and which are by definition unknowable. It's a question of perspective. One element of the music is to reflect some sense of this, to take you to a place between the things we know... in some ways to create a sense of place that the listener can experience and explore, a place that only exists when the music is playing. What you do when you get there is up to you, though as mentioned previously, there are some clues and guides here and there. The music takes you there and guides you back.
Your past work has included field recordings. Were any of the sounds on [ O T H E R ] created via this sort of source material?
No specific field recordings were done for [ O T H E R ], but I did incorporate a couple of older field recordings to tie in some of the concepts from previous albums. Field recordings have recently mostly consisted of recording impulse responses to recreate some specific spaces. Past field recordings have mostly been an integral part of the concepts I was exploring and it became a real pain in the proverbial ass to deal with some of them, so I adjusted some of the approaches accordingly. Also the availability of tools to capture impulse responses for convolution reverbs made them largely redundant, though I still record them occasionally.
I'm curious about what you might be reading these days. Did any texts find their way into [ O T H E R ]? The different sections have titles-- "Testament", "Element", "Godeater", "Dark Awakening". I'm curious how these go their names. "Er Ub Us"?
I read a broad range of subjects, both fiction and nonfiction, and usually have a pile of books next to the bed. Nothing particularly outstanding at the moment. Obviously years of reading and soaking up the environment around us has a direct affect on the ideas I explore, but it's more a matter of the whole and filtering rather than specific works. I appreciate the question about the titles, but again there's a reason for them and it's counterproductive to explain everything.
Can you be more specific about the books you've been/are you reading? Or even the general subjects.
I read a broad range of subjects, and have an extensive library. Notable sections include forensics, improvised munitions, behavioral science, camouflage, toy robots, clandestine activity, etc. Specific to Lustmord, reading references include cosmology, symbolism, theology, occult, infrasound, psychoacoustics and scientific breakthroughs amongst many others. Fictional authors I enjoyed range from J.G. Ballard to Mervyn Peake. Some examples of favorites include Neil Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, Haruki Murakami's The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum. Two authors I'm watching at the moment are David Mitchell and China Mieville.
A very direct influence were Throbbing Gristle and SPK, who I knew as friends before I started working with sound, and who not only showed by example what could be done, but also actively encouraged me to do it myself and were very supportive when I started to do so. A big influence musically is 70s dub (Joe Gibbs, King Tubby, and Lee Perry in particular) and Kraftwerk. You may not hear it, but it's there. When I'm influenced by something, I don't set out to imitate it. The kind of music that I like and listen too is far removed from the music that I've influenced myself, so the last thing I'd listen to is the sound of my imitators. Besides, I don't find imitation the least bit interesting.
[ O T H E R ] includes guest spots from Adam Jones, Aaron Turner, and Buzz Osborne. How did you decide to include them? Aaron runs Hydra Head and you've worked with the Melvins and King Buzzo in the past. You've done quite a bit of work with Tool. How did these relationships start?
Adam is a good friend of mine after we got to know each other through a very roundabout way. He introduced me to Buzz when he brought him over to my place one day and, as you probably know, that led to my recording an album with Melvins. Buzz in turn suggested Hydra Head as a potential label when I was looking for a new home for Lustmord, which lead to meeting and becoming friends with Aaron. Having those three people specifically on the album tied in with a multilayered concept based on Trinity from the previous (limited) album Juggernaut, as well as with ideas for guitar specific to [ O T H E R ]. There's also the fact that they're friends of mine, and nothing beats working with friends. All the better if they actually have talent.
What do the guest live guitars bring to your overall palette? The other sounds can seemingly be conjured sans a living being, but the guitars immediately connote a player or an author. Laptop music is often criticized as seeming sterile or dead, but in dark ambient, that can be a good thing: You almost want the music to fee like it's not the work of humans. On "Er Ub Us", for example, the moment the guitars chime in, you picture a player. Have you thought about this?
I know what you mean and I was aware of it while planning the album. It was a conscious decision. Lustmord has always meant to sound like nothing you can compare. For this album guitars were incorporated for various reason, both conceptual, and also simply as an experiment. You could argue whether it worked or not, but I think it's important to try new things regardless. I'm pleased with the results.
Your name, "Lustmord," aka "lust murder," makes me think of Peter Sotos, and then Whitehouse. That's what led me to ask about texts. Are you at all interested in authors like Sotos... or Marquis de Sade?
Hell no. I read The 120 Days of Sodom from beginning to end when I was a teenager, which was pretty masochistic of me come to think of it, as it bored me to tears. And I appreciate the irony. I've only read a little Sotos early on and found it to be pretentious nonsense.
Well, speaking of Whitehouse: You've been active in the music scene since 1980, or thereabouts, via SPK. David Tibet is still active, as is NWW and Genesis P-Orridge via his projects. It's been almost 20 years since you released Heresy. How have you guys managed such longevity? Clearly, you can't speak for them specifically, but I find it interesting that that scene has managed to develop and shift and continue in different forms.
I know what you mean, but personally I'd argue that Gen is hardly relevant today. In my case, I've always tried to create something that's timeless rather than aiming for a specific genre or fashion tied to the present and I think that helps. I don't know if I succeed, but I try, and I presume I've gotten close as people still discover and consider relevant things that I did 20 years ago... but only time will tell. You could also attribute it to sheer pigheadedness I suppose. Either way you have to be more than a little bit crazy to keep doing what you're doing when it's against the norm, but then I'm sure I'll be recognized a couple of hundred years after I'm dead, so everything will work out. Kidding aside, you do have to be aware when you're doing this stuff that what you create has the potential to be around long after you've gone and somebody might discover it long after you created it-- so you should at least try and make it half decent.
As for that "scene," I know what you're referring too, but we never thought of ourselves as such, we just knew and supported each other. People like Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Cabaret Voltaire, Nurse With Wound, Current 93. One or two became full of themselves and more competitive later on, but mostly we were on the same side and would watch each others backs, as it should be. I've never understood why most people aren't like that and it was refreshing to experience it again when I got to know Tool, Melvins and now the Hydra Head guys. We're all in this together and mostly working towards the same kind of goals even if our approaches might be different.
Your first live appearance in 25 years was at a Church of Satan high mass on 6/6/06, which resulted in Rising. What's your connection to Satanism? I interview a number of black metal artists who are proponents of Satanism as a philosophy or as a way of practicing ritual. Do you have this sort of relationship with it? Or was it more for the atmosphere/aesthetic?
I'm an atheist, and a hard-line one at that. I have no need for a god or a belief system based on the idea of "one." I'm a born skeptic, so the "ultimate truth" of science doesn't convince me either. All we have are ideas, theories and beliefs-- they're all equally flawed and they are all subject to any given perspective and "enlightenment" based on known "facts" at any given time in history. It seems to me that there are some things we will never know because they are by definition unknowable, and while many people seem to have the need of a belief system to somehow cover that void, I personally find the fact that things can actually be unknowable in itself very interesting and it would do us good if more people were humbled by such things.
I do have a healthy sense of humor and when the Church of Satan calls you up and asks you to perform live at their first ever public ritual, on their 40th anniversary, 25 years since I'd played live as Lustmord-- and on 06/06/06 how can you say no? Although I was amused to be asked to perform at the ritual-- like all projects I undertake-- I took the work seriously. Rather than have them resorting to some prerecorded, cliché music, I created what I thought would be a sound of their own for the mass (including specific requests for elements from my back catalog), that gave it some gravity and set the right tone.
Nobody tried to convert me to their way of thinking-- which is more than can be said of fundamental Christian types -- and they took my comments in good humor and I respect them for that. Some people seem to think it means I'm a Satanist or whatever. Can't say I care.
Do you listen to any black metal? I'm thinking of it as music that clearly involves dark ambience, but in a different way.
I find black metal to be rather silly overall and I've never been interested in anything that is so limited in its parameters and which requires a strict uniform. I always find it amusing how so many "outsider" scenes are so desperate to conform to their own narrow guidelines including dress code. I suppose there are one or two interesting people in that scene, but most seem to be imitators, and I can never see the point in imitation. As for black metal and Satanism: To believe in Satan don't you need to believe in the literal truth of the Bible? Enough said.
Any plans for Halloween?
I'm reliably informed that my music is a staple at many haunted houses at this time of year, so I'll be steering clear of those. I've managed to ignore Halloween for most of the last couple of decades (apart from that one time when we broke into Universal Studios Orlando on Halloween night) and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to do so again.