Interview: Robin Storey (Rapoon)

"Many star-crossed aeons ago, I knew Robin when he was part of what we nowadays might name a "multi-media collective" who operated in the city I grew up in, Newcastle-Upon-Type in the UK - although very few people called it "UK" in those days. We never worked together, but we always got along when we met. Neither he nor I can remember the last time we actually met in person, but it was, undoubtedly, a very long time ago. And perhaps that is a bad thing. Herewith, then, a series of questions I put to him which I have utilised many times with others; deceptively simple they most certainly are, and it is always a delightfully unpredictable matter as to what will be directly addressed and what will be fudged over. Robin answered in the same demeanour and character that I know of old, and whatever you might make of what and how he answers, his genuine being shines through in accord with what I know from experience to be the case. And he is simply a very nice man. You may fill in information from internet sources" Andrew M. McKenzie.

1. Why do you do what you do?

I do what I do because if I didn’t I wouldn’t exist. Like the tree falling in a forest with no one to hear it. If I didn’t do what I do I wouldn’t be here. I don’t mean that I care about other people noticing my existence, I mean I do what I do for myself. I spent some time as a drug addict when I was younger. For a while it was a lovely world of half-existence. It wasn’t a dream world, it was just a state of being which didn’t interact much with this physical reality. It was a waste of time. I don’t like wasting time. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy doing nothing. Actually, I think it is almost impossible to really “do nothing”. Your brain is always doing something. Sometimes I wish my brain would shut the fuck up, but mostly it keeps me entertained. Quite often it surprises me, other times it seems to let me down. I don’t get bored. There are a million things I know nothing about.

2. Why is it you do what you do?

Ever since I first got a pencil and a piece of paper and made a mark with the pencil it seemed natural to wonder “ what happens if I make another mark, but I do it this way”. I taught myself to draw and paint when I was young. As soon as I had finished a drawing or a painting I wondered what the next one would be and if I could make it better than the last one. Somewhere around the age of twenty I started making “music” as well as painting. The reason I do what I do is that I am always wondering what the next thing I do will look like or sound like. I have no idea beforehand. The process starts by making a mark or a sound. I am always curious as to what will be next.

3. What is it that you do?

The answer is pretty much the same whether it is music or painting. I start with nothing and give myself free reign to do whatever comes out. Naturally, and with as little real time editing as possible. I want to find out what’s there in that moment, in this particular circumstance. Out of all the millions of possibilities what will it be that will occur? I try to be simply conduit for the actualisation of a piece of art or music. Inevitably there will be some editing and refinement later but the pieces I am most enamoured with are the ones where there is the least post production. In technical and practical terms I can give an example of a recent album where I used a new piece of equipment for the first time. One of the initial things I always do when I have a new “instrument” is erase every preset and sound that exists on it. I then load it with sounds I have recorded and designed myself. I rarely read a manual. I love the process of experimenting and discovering what a new piece of gear can do. It’s not important what this piece of equipment was. The fact that it could be played in real time is enough. The entire album that came from these first interactions virtually produced itself. Spoken words and even “songs” were created in real time with no preconceptions.

I was aware as I was putting together the final CD that many people would be puzzled about the seeming departure from what has come to be expected of the musical project Rapoon. However I don’t wish to tie myself to any particular genre/sub genre, movement or whatever. I have been lucky enough to, mostly, get away with this and produce the music that I find interesting at the time. There are a few very irritating people who seem to think of themselves as qualified to pass public judgement on other people’s work. I am thinking of one person in particular here. I gave up reading his frequently negative reviews and commentaries. Not only did he always miss the point of whatever piece he was talking about, he always, without fail, got the technical processes entirely wrong. So in answer to your question “what is your reaction/response if people apply labels and definition of what you do with which you disagree?”

If it is an informed and impartial criticism from someone I respect then I will perhaps pay a little attention to it but probably will not change my mind. If it is from someone who’s opinion I have no reason to respect then it’s simply “fuck off... I don’t care what you think.”

4. You partially/sort of answered the next set, but: How? is the next step - I'm not interested in a gear breakdown in this context, but rather, a Modus Operandi - do you have methods which you have developed to create? To get into the state to do so? techniques that suggested themselves to you? Is there a specific kind of approach? I do know that people develop such things often unconsciously, and one of the things that also happens is that after a length of time, it becomes hard or even impossible to say how you do things - even though you do them often and effortlessly! If you have such techniques / methods / whatever, do you think they are transferable or applicable to others?

I ‘go to work’ almost every day. By that I mean I go into my studio and switch everything on and start playing something, or fiddle around creating a sound or a loop. If it’s not inspiring I put it to one side and start something else. I recently bought myself an electronic mesh head drum kit. I taught myself to play and recorded everything I was doing.

Some great loops have come from those recordings. I have never “learned “ how to play an instrument, I think instruments teach you how to play them.

It is not very often that there is no inspiration when I go to work, but there are an awful lot of recordings that will never see the light of day. They get forgotten about. Sometimes when I am feeling a bit uninspired or stuck, I trawl through the hard drives and play random sound files. Almost always I stumble across something that I have forgotten about and utilise it in a different direction. The direction that seems worth exploring at that moment. It is often worth changing the way you make and record the sounds. Limiting the number and type of instruments and recording everything live on portable handheld recorder, for example, will produce very different recordings to those done in the studio.

I try not to get stuck in one routine. I love getting new instruments that I have never played before almost as much as I love getting new bits of equipment and finding out what they can do.

I regularly start a new series of paintings and this works well in resetting the music creation process. Painting acts as a kind of stop/pause button. Painting has its own creation processes and although a lot are interchangeable with those in music creation, painting is also a very distinctive and separate medium to work in. I try to give as much time as possible to each.

It is also true to say that music acts as a similar stop/pause button to the act of painting. Each refreshes the other. I hope so.

I know Brian Eno made a series of cards which were intended to help others in the creative process but I don’t feel I am able to offer any advice or insights which would be applicable for others.

I think it has taken me a long time to be able to describe what I do.

I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it 30 years ago.

I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing?

5. Who? - many aspects of that as you like - do you have a notion of making something for yourself? for others? Who actually makes the work - seeing as how the divisions between processes are really rather arbitrary...? Who would you “like” to reach that you don't?

I primarily make both music and art for myself. I need to find it interesting and I need to find out where it will lead. If I am not interested in it myself I can’t see how anyone else could be, so it is essential that I find it absorbing and surprising.

I genuinely love starting a new project. It’s a whole new adventure. I have a little more difficulty in closing a project. I don’t mean finishing, I mean being satisfied with the end result. I have learned to put some space between making a final decision. I now start something new and then go back to the last project. It helps if you take a break. You can over listen to something.

Once a project is finished and I have sent it off to the label, as sure as I can be that it is the best I could do at the time, I hardly ever listen to it again. In fact I quite often forget about it completely. I did a radio interview in Prague a number of years ago. I arrived at the station and was greeted and shown into the studio. There was some music playing as I waited for the interview to begin. I remember thinking while I was waiting, “this music is pretty good” then it took an unexpected turn and it got even better. “I wish I had done this“ I thought as it continued for another few minutes. When it ended the radio host welcomed me on air and asked me if that was one of my favorite albums. ”Was that mine?” I asked, genuinely surprised. “Yes” said the host “did you not recognize it?” He looked a little bewildered “No!” - I said I didn’t.

I can think of only one other occasion when this happened. When I was listening to the music without any critical attachment to it. I enjoyed it then also, until I suddenly realized it was mine and then I was suddenly listening to it in a very different way.

So although I say I do the music for myself it is not completely without detachment.

6. Who actually makes the work?

For the music and mastering that would be entirely myself. For the CD artwork and packaging, in most cases I do almost everything. Some labels like to have a design style that they use for their label profile and in these instances I usually just supply them with some artwork to use in whatever way they like.

Most of the time I design the artwork myself as it usually has a cross reference with the music. Design and layout done in Photoshop.

For ltd. edition artwork releases, again I do almost all the work myself. For those with U.M.P. label, Yuen does a lot of the work on manufacturing the actual boxes etc. although there are many releases where I have made everything. Printed/Painted wooden panels, printed fabric bags etc.

I used to teach at an artists printmaking workshop here in Newcastle so I know how to screen print. I have a small table top screen printing set up here at home. I like screen printing. Thankfully all the inks are water based these days so no more nasty ,cancerous fumes to cope with.

7. Who would I like to reach that I don’t?

I have always felt like an outsider, even in the relatively small world of our “genre”, whatever that is? Post-industrial-Ambient-...

I would have quite liked to keep up the project Hank & Slim I had going with Nigel Ayers. I think the world could do with more experimental electronic country music. I don’t actually listen to any music that is within the genre I tend to be placed in. I don’t listen to much music at all, but I do occasionally listen to some things, a bit of country music amongst them.

8. What if it all ends tomorrow?

I have often pondered this question, or rather a variation of it. What if there were suddenly no labels interested in releasing any of my music and what if there were no-one interested in listening to it? Would I still make it?

I think the answer would still be yes but I am not sure that I would be doing it with the same intent.

I would probably be tempted to join an avantgarde jazz band but then, mercifully, think better of it.

I love gardening. I like growing things and letting things grow. My garden is covered in wildflowers.

I would spend more time gardening and reading books about the mysteries of the universe and the nature of reality, and/or I would drink even more wine than I do at the moment and watch comedy programs that none of my friends seem to find funny e.g. “Norsemen.”

9. What if it was all a dream?

For some time now I have been regularly visiting a dream world which is very similar to this one. Sometimes I am aware that it is a dream world and sometimes I am not. When I wake up from this dream world I feel very tired. I don’t feel like I have been asleep at all. I feel like I have just done a night shift in another reality. I can remember some little details but generally I can’t remember very much about what happened while I was away, supposedly asleep. I am pretty sure where I am now is just another dreamworld.

10. What if  it all became insanely popular?

Quite often while I am watching a film or a tv show with my wife I will get up at a boring point in the show and head out of the room to check my emails - “where are you going?” My wife asks. “To see if I am still a million bucks shy of being a millionaire,” is my usual reply. So far I remain far short of that million bucks but I remain insanely optimistic.

11. What if you discovered you had unconsciously copied another person's work?

I would be very disappointed at first and then I would think, maybe they copied mine? The shysters.

What if you were forced at gun-point to "translate" your work into another medium you have never used before? What would that be, and what would it look like?

Clothing/fashion: tribal, ritual costumes with hundreds of tiny coloured beads sewn into intricate repeating patterns.

Elaborate headdresses, again with hundreds of tiny beads and feathers.

Lines and lines of people standing in disquieting poses all wearing these costumes.

A drone camera rises and flies slowly over the lines of people. In total silence.

12. What if the "secret of life" were revealed to you tomorrow?

I would put it in a post on Facebook. It would get about 100 likes. Most people wouldn’t even read it.

They would just put the 'like.'

Official website of Rapoon

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