2011 heralds the eagerly anticipated return of Plaid with their stunning new album Scintilli. Andy Turner and Ed Handley took a moment to speak with James Knapman about the inception of their latest collection of creative sparks.
(September 2011) Just as 2010 saw the return of Warp Records heavy hitters Autechre with Oversteps and Move of Ten, so 2011 heralds the eagerly anticipated return of Plaid with their stunning new album Scintilli. Visit igloomag.com’s Newswire for the “35 Summers” video and download “Missing” in MP3 format. Andy Turner and Ed Handley took a moment to speak with James Knapman about the inception of their latest collection of creative sparks.
Igloo Magazine :: After Spokes way back in 2003, everything went quiet on the Plaid album front. What was it that prompted the rest?
Plaid :: We were working on various collaborative projects; a DVD release with the video artist Bob Jaroc, two feature films for the director Michael Arias, a piece called “Rubber Time” for performances with the Southbank Gamelan Players, a promotional piece for an animation house called Capacity and other new works for Felix’s Machines. We built a new studio space. Children and family life has also been time well spent.
Igloo :: Okay so there was Greedy Baby but that was actually a collaborative project and an ambitious audio/visual one at that. You also created the Tekkonkinkreet and Heaven’s Door film soundtracks. What was the allure of writing music for film over standalone albums?
Plaid :: It was a learning process, it’s less self-indulgent. We gained a great deal from these very different experiences. The chance to work on Tekkonkinkreet was particularly exciting as anyone who’s seen it would know. It was also a fairly gentle introduction to soundtracking as we were able to work with animatics from an early stage. Live action features are far more intensive.
Igloo :: You also toured extensively and your live sets have always been packed with material that has never seen an official release; any one Plaid gig could be a complete surprise. Did you use your gigs, as many do, to test out new tracks or was it a conscious decision to play unique material?
Plaid :: We did try a lot of ideas out live. Some didn’t end up on the album as they became widely available online, others didn’t really fit the release. We play live quite often and want to keep it fresh for ourselves as much as for the audience.
Igloo :: When and why did you decide it was time to work on a new album, and did you have a vision going in for the way it would sound?
Plaid :: We weren’t driven by a concept this time. We wanted to produce something that was more minimal in terms of instrumentation, had complexity but also had a spark that moved us initially. We used a variety of new synthesis techniques as they became available to us. We hope the album has an acoustic feel overall, we’ve tried very hard to build on human errors. We are always writing, some of the earliest ideas that made it to the recording were started 3 years ago.
Igloo :: How aware do you find yourselves of the current musical climate when working on a new album, and do you find that it colours the music that you make in any way?
Plaid :: Hopefully we’re not too aware or influenced by the musical climate. We’re lucky enough to be given a pretty open remit by our audience and label. We don’t feel obligated or even driven to emulate others, even though we are often impressed and moved by others’ work.
Igloo :: You’ve mentioned in the past that writing a new Plaid album is quite an intense, meticulous process. How would you describe your working methods, and have they changed substantially over the years?
Plaid :: These days the process is far more protracted. There isn’t a need to bounce a mix down on the evening it’s written as used to be the case. We try to keep the initial spark that drove us to write a piece but making something complex but natural sounding takes many tweaks. We’re not as easily pleased as we used to be.
Igloo :: You’ve said in the past that you always strive to make every Plaid album different from the last. As successful as you have been at this, like a watermark, there’s still always something uniquely Plaid about everything you’ve done. How do you manage to do that?
Plaid :: We spent 3 years of our lives writing it. You can never escape from yourself, well briefly in the best moments perhaps. Our tastes make the watermark and although they change subtly as new experiences are absorbed, our first musical love affairs are always fondly remembered.
Igloo :: The reading of the word Scintilli as ‘I am many sparks’ makes for an evocative title, as suggestive of the varied nature of the tracks on the album as it is the brevity of many of them. At thirteen tracks, there’s just as much new material as any of your albums, but by the Plaid benchmark this album is short. Was that a conscious decision – to make something faster paced?
Plaid :: There were other tracks we could have submitted but we felt the album had enough detail without this time. We felt the individual pieces had more variation than previous work and it felt complete as is. It would also have been easy to add minutes to tracks but we didn’t want unnecessary repetitions.
Igloo :: The greater diversity of styles and textures on Scintilli harkens back to the days of Not For Threes and Rest Proof Clockwork and feels more playful than Spokes or Double Figure, an approach to content reminiscent of Orbital’s The Altogether. Did the name inform the content of the album or vice-versa?
Plaid :: If anything, the name refers to the feeling we have when we’re moved by a piece of music. This is the sign we’re on the right track. Most people have it, often described as having goose bumps. It’s a feeling of excitement, almost a high. It’s strange that it can be evoked by almost any musical style. Like internal sparks.
Igloo :: You’ve always had a talent for manipulating vocals as if they were an instrument rather than a means to simply deliver lyrics. The press release refers to your “occasional” use of vocals but on Scintilli there are four tracks that prominently feature them. Do you typically start writing a track with a vocal element in mind, and how do you generally approach incorporating vocals into your music?
Plaid :: We do use voice as an expressive instrument. The vocal synthesizer we used for this project allows for a great deal of expression. The lyrics are difficult if not impossible to work out but that’s not particularly important to us. It’s always the musicality of a piece that will attract us first even when the vocal tracks are prominently mixed.
If anything, the name [Scintilli] refers to the feeling we have when we’re moved by a piece of music. This is the sign we’re on the right track. Most people have it, often described as having goose bumps. It’s a feeling of excitement, almost a high. It’s strange that it can be evoked by almost any musical style. Like internal sparks.
Igloo :: What are you looking forward to most once Scintilli officially launches on 26th September?
Plaid :: We’re looking forward to the tour that will start in October. We’re presenting the work quite differently. Also getting a finished vinyl pressing is quite a thrill. We haven’t had a release on vinyl since Spokes and we still prefer listening to music this way. It adds a character to the recordings that can’t be emulated well digitally.
Igloo :: What inspires you to keep making music as Plaid?
Plaid :: It’s the best job in the world for us. It’s not a way to make our fortune and we do contemplate other careers from time to time but ultimately there’s a balance between quality of life and money. You can choose to work for the man and be financially comfortable or be free to spend your time as you please. We opt for the latter.
Igloo :: You’re about to go on a major tour. What can people expect from the live Plaid experience this time around?
Plaid :: We’re remixing the material on the album to allow us freedom to build the shows as we feel is right for the night. The video is midi triggered so we’re not tied to any particular form. In general it’ll be a louder more percussively led performance. There’s a lot of room for error. The mistakes often turn out to be the best moments on reflection.
Igloo :: One last question. Can you ever have too much harpsichord, glockenspiel or chimes in a record: true or false? ;)
Plaid :: That’s not possible… :) We’re huge fans of tuned percussion, does that come across?
…in the best possible way of course! Many thanks to thank Ed and Andy for taking the time out to talk to us.
Scintilli is available to pre-order now on 2xLP, CD in special Muda na Mono packaging, and as a special LP-T package (i.e. t-shirt plus digital download) via Warp. All pre-orders from Bleep will receive an immediate digital download of the full release. [Release page | Tour schedule]