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Bruce Gilbert interview

WMO, 1995

The following excerpts come from an interview with Bruce Gilbert [BG] held in a London pub on November 23rd 1995 with Kevin Eden, Mary J. Owen and Charles Snider [Q].

Q: When you were approached to be the resident DJ at Disobey did you set yourself any brief as to how you would go about the task, having not done it before?

BG: I had no idea what I'd like to play. This was a very formal position as I was concerned. Then I had to think about what would a DJ in a club called Disobey play. Certainly not what was currently available and certainly not 'dance' material. Within a few hours of thinking about it, it became clear the only area that is was certainly neglected was early electronica, to use a vulgar word for it. Early '50s and '60s formal and academic electronic music. This seemed to be the ideal area to get away from my own concerns but at the same, time totally direct my own concerns. I would use them in exactly the same way a 'normal DJ' would use records except most of the material was non-rhythmic. I would mix them the same way as I would do anything else. I would have complete freedom to mess around but it would be live and in real time. It would be material that I would not necessarily have listened to beforehand because I don't have any means to listen to it. And it would be a refreshing and enlightening experience for me. The DJ situation at Disobey is that there are four, sometimes more, channels available for this material to be mixed in a fairly disrespectful way. This is heretical for train spotters, but for me it was all raw material and at the same time wonderful, wonderful sound.

Q: You also started to (finally) perform live. What is the reason behind using a garden shed?

BG: The use of the word 'shed' was an in-language thing for the tower of effects that Graham and I had. It was a word to describe disappearing into our little worlds in Wire whilst nothing else was going on when we recorded. It seemed an obvious step to literally make a shed, once the question of playing live on my own became a possibility. It's terribly attractive because not only does it afford total privacy, or more privacy while performing live—there is very little to actually see when I am inside it—but also the added absurdity of a structure with in a structure: an inappropriate object in a club. It seems totally obvious that if I hadn't of done it, Graham would have. Plus there is the English obsession with the Garden Shed. It is an escape. The cliche of the hen-pecked husband going to the shed to create his own world. It's the laboratory.

Q: Has being exposed to all the music you've played as The Beekeeper affected your own work?

BG: Certainly and completely. I thought I had approached sounds for their own sake before. But certainly in terms of manipulating other peoples sounds I have found a new sonic landscape. but I don't sample these landscapes. I'm seeking them with the limited resources I have. If I was interested in lack of gesture before, I'm even more interested in lack of deliberate gesture—and accident. It has brought me to another stage. It's been a learning curve, whether it's been good or not I don't know. It has been unavoidable. I have to accept the fact that I've been exposed to these things and it has affected the work. But hopefully in an innocent way.

Q: Ab Ovo does sound like a different direction. Why has it been four years since Music For Fruit?

BG: I had been working on things which were almost a continuation of that. I think because of the exposure to this way of manipulating, for all intents and purposes, abstract noises, as well as academic and performed sounds with The Beekeeper. I suppose it has encouraged me to look at everything as possible which I thought I was doing before hand. But having manipulated others peoples thing without any guilt, because I didn't have an excuse I was a DJ, it freed a lot of stuff... it made me freer with the idea of having the limited facilities to make noises at home. I could actually hone in some of these probably quite vulgar and unpleasant noises. I could see the value in them in a minimalist way. Being informed by academic material is a very strange thing. I'm glad I wasn't informed by it, shall we say, during the Dome period or pre-1990 for that matter. I feel that Ab Ovo is a very innocent reaction after being exposed to the history of electronic music.

Q: You have a single out on the Sub Pop Label: Instant Shed Vol. One. Is it a sample of your DJ technique?

BG: Not really. It's a bit of a very slight and minuscule conceptual piece. The original idea was to have two one-sided 7" which should strictly be played at the same time. But now the 'A' and 'B' sides should be played at the same time. There are instructions on the disc which say that one side should be recorded and played at the some time as the other side. Very complicated! But for most people this is an available option. The idea was that it would be like noodles in a sachet—one side would be the noodles, and the other side would be the sachet that you added. They do work together—I've tested it!

Q: Another project due for release in 1996 is the long-awaited Orr by Gilbert/Hampson/Kendall.

BG: It was started some time ago—it was supposed to be a guitar only thing which I think it probably still is. But like a lot of these things, between the time it takes to start it and to realise what it really was—we weren't' in a position to spend six months in a studio in the south of France; I think it was actually three days in Harrow Road! Anyway, Paul had the opportunity to look at it, with Robert's and my approval, and really start to work with the basic stuff. This is a technique which I thoroughly approved of: to have things lying around all the time and them look at them from time to time and mutate it, brutalise it and fiddle with it until you have something that reflects what we really wanted. All the sounds are, apart from one or two samples, guitar. We decided against calling it Guitar Only—it sounds a bit too... organic!

Q: Also due next year is an album for the Sahko label, Frequency Variations. This dates back to 1974.

BG: It's an antique from ancient history. It was made from a rehearsal for a series of performances which never happened. I was a technician at art school in Watford Art School and in the sound studio they had some fairly primitive equipment, but for the time it was okay—BBC standard sort of stuff. There was a particular student, Ron West, who was equally interested in sound for its own sake. We borrowed some noise generators from the science department and thought it would be a jolly good idea to be as anti-pub rock as we could. At the same time one of the future members of Wire, George Gill, was at the same college and was giving lunch time concerts with his acoustic guitar! So we thought this was a good antidote: to be as inappropriate as we could in an art school or outside performance. Unfortunately we never got to do the performance.

Q: Your spoken-word album The Haring is to be finally released next year on WMO.

BG: Yes, this something I've always been interested in. There are certain things which one writes which have to be spoken or have to be with music. There are certain things that can only exist on the written page because they don't work in any other way. So I continue to write. I had planned to do one with Mute but always thought they would think that it was not a particularly valuable object. So it was with some surprise and gratification that WMO said "how about it?"

Q: You've had a few extracurricular activities such as the Gilbertpossstenger performances and also with Panasonic on their John Peel session.

BG: Apparently opposite ends of the sonic spectrum, but very similar. I've known Band of Susans for a very long time. So when they said that they'd like me to play guitar, it filled me with absolute horror. I love the guitar, which means I should not play it. It's one of my rules. So when they said this I found it irresistible. The same happened with Panasonic. I didn't have anything to offer which was a direct musical or sonic contribution. So I was manipulating some kind of input from what they were already doing. I feel much happier with that in a collaboration than contributing note 'A' or note 'B'.

Q: Wir recently collaborated with Erasure. How did this come about?

BG: When Gareth Jones first sidled up to me at Disobey and suggested it, my first thought was that it is such a revolting idea. But within the same time, I thought "yes, with such an inappropriate idea, it must be a good idea!" It was an inimitable opportunity to pass up. In the end it was a treat because I actually saw Graham play bass in god knows how long! And it was actually enjoyable playing guitar with Colin. We do have an affinity playing together. Something we had totally forgotten about. We do lock together and lock with Graham. In the end we all enjoyed the experience.

Q: So is Wire's future on, off, ad hoc?

BG: Nobody's really discounting anything. But really everyone has their own work to do. At the same time, there is always going to be this link or bond. The Erasure project made us realise it. But with anything, it has to be the right place, the right time and for the right reasons.

Kevin Eden