Sweep on drugs - and why he doesn't take them. Also writing music, the state of the business, the banned version of All Things Bright and Beautiful, hearing yourself on Classic FM with someone else's name attached, and many other bizarre facets of being a musician. Also such matters as why it's dangerous to play Amazing Grace. And the curious case of The Lesbian Death Chant.
CS: First of all, of course, the question `Why Sweep?'
Sweep: Yes, it's nothing to do with glove puppets. :D I'd had some rather disconcerting experiences on the Internet and I wanted an anonymous screen-name to post with. I was looking at the Moog forums and wanted to answer a question someone had about an early Moog album, so on the spur of the moment I thought up a synthesizer-related name, not expecting to still be using it years later. I used to do a thing with filter sweeps on the Korg MS20, using both filters with the resonance brought up, with echo. Hence Sweep. But I kept using the name and it stuck. When a musician I respect greatly turned to someone to introduce me and said `hey, it's Sweep,' I realised the name had stuck.
CS: For those who weren't brought up on British children's TV, Sweep was a glove-puppet, along with Sooty. I believe there actually is a Sooty, now? :D
Sweep: :D Yes, but he came later, oddly enough. He's a black Labrador and he already had that name long before I knew him. He belongs to someone else, but I walk him regularly and he often stays with me. He doesn't mind the weird music. :D He lies on my feet to be close while I'm recording sometimes.
CS: Tell me about the music. How does someone listen to your music? What would you say to someone who's coming to it for the first time and maybe feels a bit baffled?
Sweep: Like `where's the tune?' or `can you dance to it?' or whatever. :D
CS: Yes, :D Although you're laughing I notice there's no arrogance or anything like that involved. You don't seem to feel superior to people who might be baffled. There's no pretentiousness or superior attitude about you, I'm glad to say.
Sweep: Thanks. I hope not, anyway. It sounds like you've experienced that with quite a few musicians? But that kind of attitude seems to me to come from defensiveness with many people. I don't need to feel defensive or superior. I just make the music that I want to make, and it's free for people if they want it. If they don't, well, that's ok too.
But yes, you've made a good point. How does a person listen to what I do? That really opens up the whole area of what I'm trying to do and why I do it that way.
The really important things in my music are tone-colour and texture. That becomes more and more central the weirder the music gets. :D Essentially the focus is on how the sounds relate to each other, and what happens within each individual sound.
So at times there may not be much making sense if you listen in terms of tunes and so on. But if you listen to how the sounds develop and how they relate to each other, it makes more sense.
CS: So is this why you like electronic instruments - because of the different sound colours they give you? Different textures?
Sweep: Yes, exactly. That and the control I have over the process of a note. One thing that's very important for me in music is the way a sound develops over time. This is true of all music, not just electronic music. If you listen to, say, a master cellist at work, there's so much attention to the shape of a single note - how sharply or how softly it begins, how it swells and sustains, how it finally fades away, or abruptly ends. And the tone colour changes subtly with those developments of the shape of the note.
So it isn't just a matter of pitch and duration. It isn't just `oh, that's an A.' A note is a living thing - or it should be, if it's really music.
CS: So there's really something very traditional in your music, despite the use of electronics? You get control over tone colour and so on, but you work in ways a player of a more traditional instrument would work, by the sound of it? That would explain why your electronic music sounds so human and feeling. And I think it's interesting that you mentioned the cello as an example, because you play that instrument as well.
Sweep: Yes. I really don't see any distinction between an electronic instrument and an acoustic one. To me, an instrument is something that enables someone to make sounds and develop them. I've mentioned control, but it's more than just control. With a good instrument there's a kind of dialogue between the musician and the instrument itself. Even with a virtuoso I don't see it as someone making the instrument bend to the player's will.
I actually saw that happening one time in a way that really brought it home to me. I won't mention the player by name, but he's a brilliant and highly respected classical violinist. He and a pianist were playing works by Brahms, and the technical perfection was very much in evidence. But what wasn't in evidence was the richness and aliveness of a violin playing well-composed music. Behind the virtuoso playing there was this terrible will and minutely precise control, and all the life seemed to be forced out of the music because of it. Compare that with someone like Menuhin and you can hear the difference. With Menuhin - or a host of other people who could be used as good examples here - there's a feeling of aliveness because there's space in the music for the specific qualities of the instrument, a response to the sound, an interplay, not just a control element. Of course there's beautiful control, but it's control in continual motion, not the control of someone who seems to have Brahms in a wrestling hold. I realised a lot that night - things I'd seen and heard before, but it was all very clear as it all happened just a few feet away and in such a vivid way.
CS: Can you say a bit more about what you mean about responding to the sound?
Sweep: Yes, when someone plays a note and they're alive to the beauty of the tone as it comes from the instrument, and they quicken inside and play from that feeling of the beauty of the sound, that to me makes good music. It isn't just making the instrument do something; it's responding to how the instrument sounds. An interplay, like lovers.
CS: How does someone develop that?
Sweep: Well certainly by not letting ego take over and making the music a demonstration of minute skill at making the instrument bend to your will. :D The skill is in the response.
What I'd advise any musician is to forget all about pitch and duration for a moment. Just play a note and feel how it sounds - how the sound works in terms of varying colours and textures, how it changes over time. How it lives, essentially. Just play single tones and find how the instrument wants to be played. I don't mean anything mystical with that. It's simply a matter of how the instrument makes sound, in relation with the player.
CS: So don't just plonk a note?
Sweep: Exactly. :D Every plonk is a failure to really be a musician. And many people are just tune-players and not musicians. I've sometimes thought I'd like to audition musicians by asking them to play just a single note, to see what they do when asked to do that. It'd soon sort out the people who know what music really is.
CS: Are some instruments better than others for that? I don't mean, say, a good or a bad piano. I mean is piano better than penny whistle for that, or cello better than an organ? Or can they all have something?
Sweep: We're getting to how I choose instruments, and how I orchestrate. Yes, some instruments are better in an absolute sense, and some are better in certain contexts.
The two most responsive instruments in the absolute sense, in my experience, are the synthesizer and the sitar. But that's partly down to me and how I feel about sound, and the sounds that are right for me to make. A cello or violin would be in that category when played by someone who can really make them sing.
But in the context of the music, it all depends. That `all depends' thing is what orchestration's really all about. Sometimes a relatively unresponsive instrument is just what's needed at a certain point. It can be a mere matter of tone colour - you need that sound at that point in the music, and that sound happens to come from an instrument that's of limited expression. But electronic music shows how that isn't the full story. Sometimes you can limit the range of expressiveness with a certain tone-colour, and it's the limitation as well as the tone-colour that carries the effect.
I seem to remember Wendy Carlos saying with one of her Bach arrangements she used a non-responsive keyboard part underneath parts with the more usual touch-responsive keyboards. That worked better in that particular context.
It's maybe a bit like arranging Bach for a modern piano, as Glen Gould used to do. He'd say you had to decide how much piano needed to be in the playing at certain points. A modern piano has expressive possibilities that keyboard instruments Bach wrote for didn't have. You can sometimes use that extra expressiveness, but sometimes you have to limit it, to make the expression of the music true to what Bach intended when he wrote.
CS: What about voices? It seems the voice is perhaps the most expressive instrument?
Sweep: It's funny you should mention voices. I was just thinking about that - the way some modern singers think they're putting expression into the singing when they warble all over the place. I think Steve Hillage called it `wiggly singing' or something like that, which is very apposite. It doesn't become expressive that way; it's just wiggly for it's own sake. You can tear up and down the pitch range with arpeggios on every syllable, but that doesn't make it expressive. A really good singer just feels the meaning of the words and the feeling comes through genuinely.
It's the same with playing an instrument. Technique is a great help, but it isn't the main thing. The main thing is to feel, and if you're authentic yourself, the music will be genuine.
CS: Back to that one note again.
Sweep: Exactly. I remember when I first got the Moog synth. It's got the most wonderful keyboard, smooth like warm butter, you just float up and down it, and it's very tempting to do the whole prog rock keyboard thing - or a flashy version of it, anyway. When you really listen to someone like Rick Wakeman he's much subtler than that, and it's the relative lengths of the notes that make a lot of the difference between playing a phrase and just playing scales.
But basically you can tear up and down the keyboard like lightning, but after a while you start to realise you just need a few notes - a few carefully shaped notes.
That's where the specific elements of synthesizer come into play. There's control over the entire envelope of the sound - how it starts, fast and hard or slowly growing, and how it moves, how the tone changes (with the filter and so on), how the pitch may alter. You have all of that with other instruments to a greater or lesser degree. With the synthesizer it's complete control, but it isn't always as organic and as easily controllable as with other instruments, so you can have total control but not have it in the way you need to make thesounds you want to make. There are pluses and minuses, and really it's just a matter of a synthesizer being just one more instrument among many.
CS: So that's why you'll sometimes use synthesizer cello and sometimes real cello, for example?
Sweep: Yes, it's a matter of what the music needs. With a synth or a sampler I can do things a cello can't do, or things it could only do in the hands of someone much better than me (I have a lot more skill and experience with keyboards and synths than with the cello), but at other times what's needed is the specific character of the cello, and it makes far more sense to simply play the cello than to try to get that same quality another way. It's the same with flutes and percussion instruments. Sometimes you can do something quite different and unique electronically, but at other times you just can't quite get what the original instrument does with ease. So I just play whatever's needed. What matters is the music, not the means I use to make it.
CS: So it's not just a matter of imitating an instrument with a synthesizer? It's a whole new area? I mean when you make sounds that are like traditional instruments, not just purely electronic sounds.
Sweep: Yes. For me it doesn't matter if I imitate another instrument exactly. I rather like the way I can approach an instrument in unorthodox ways. Once I used saxophone samples for an organ-like keyboard part, because the sound was so much more expressive than an organ and a much nicer texture. You'd never get a group of sax players to play that part. It didn't even sound like sax.
But on the other hand you can play any instrument unorthodoxly. I remember when I was originally studying electronic music, the guy teaching us got a certain sound with the VCS3 and a guy who was there was quite surprised because, as he said, he'd been doing that with his oboe. It wasn't an oboe sound. If you heard him playing it you'd wonder what on earth it was.
And with sampling it's even better, because the boundaries between instruments simply disappear. In fact the boundaries between sounds and instruments disappear, as they do in my piece `Grey Seal,' where the sounds of various sea creatures become music in the way human beings play music.
That, surely, is the ultimate in response - a human being responding to the rest of the natural world by meeting the sounds of other creatures and turning them into a kind of music that never existed before.
CS: It's response, not just making the animals play sound tricks.... It does sound like music, definitely.
Sweep: Yes, it's certainly not a trick, like playing Beethoven with a pig's squeal for a laugh. The music and the sounds become something new, but not inappropriate. It really is a meeting, and sharing. It isn't man lording it over the rest of the animal world, as he so often thinks he has a right to do. It's a sharing. We're all the same DNA. We belong together.
CS: When you listen to how you made music out of the Grey Seal's sound, the original sound is a sort of farting honk, but your notes have a much more refined beauty to them.
Sweep: That's the control over the shape and tone of a sound that's so important to music. What happens in those notes is shaping over time, with the tonal qualities of the seal in there. It's like the difference between speech and singing. I turned the seal sounds into song, the way a singer turns the tonal qualities of their voice from a speaking thing into something more refined and musical.
But something that's very important in my music, that we keep touching on and that needs bringing out clearly, is the way a sound evolves over time. Any sound, and the more consistently and harmoniously it evolves, the more musical it is. It may be a C sharp or whatever, but at least as important as the pitch is that it isn't just a solid block of sound at that pitch for a certain duration. Every note has a shape, and changes in tone. Some instruments have that more than others. What I try to do in my music is to focus on that aspect of music and make it more apparent. Synthesizers help with that, because you can slow things down and exaggerate them, but the music itself focuses on shape and texture. Not just the shape of a composition, but the shape of every note. Not just the different tone-colours of the orchestration at different points, but the tone-colours within a single note and between sounds happening at the same time. I'm trying to make that audible to people.
CS: Regarding orchestration, Wendy Carlos has commented on how the art of orchestration is so important for electronic music. She's basically taken the newer sounds of synthesizers and put the in their proper context with the development of musical history. It's interesting to hear you focus on exactly the same issues, because your music is totally different from hers and not so traditional.
Sweep: Wendy is one of those real authorities - someone who knows what the essential things are. You're right, of course; my music and hers are often very different, and of course she's done classical arrrangements to place the synthesizer in the history of instrument development. But the main point is the same as for all music, precisely because synthesizers are real musical instruments - composition, orchestration, and ultimately, feeling. That's what it always comes down it - or up to, maybe we should say, because this is the ultimate, and something very lofty. But there are different ways to achieve that, and my way is very different from Wendy Carlos' way, or anyone else's. There are different things to be done, and I'm a different person.
CS: You're not an imitator, but you listen and learn....
Sweep: Very definitely. Every sound is some kind of learning process. And there's so much to be learned from people like Wendy Carlos, or Tim Blake, or a myriad others. There are things to be learned negatively as well, like the brilliant violin virtuoso I mentioned who showed me what not to do with music, how you can be brilliant and yet kill it. I'm not that brilliant. :D But anyone can kill music by not feeling it, by just playing notes and forcing ego onto it. And anyone can make real music, even with an indifferent instrument and not much technique. The better the instrument and the technique, the better the music is likely to be, but it isn't a direct relationship. I'd rather hear one single note played with a real love of the sound and character of the instrument than a whole piece played brilliantly but without those qualities.
CS: I think that leads us on nicely to other people playing music, and the whole music industry.
You keep out of the music business to be independent. Tell me more about that.
Sweep: It was never a conscious decision - at least, not until a few years ago. The only conscious decision was the one to not follow a music career many years ago and get a steady job instead, but even then I was thinking about not wanting to get pushed into a different kind of music from the one I wanted to do. In retrospect I don't know if it was a wise decision. The work situation has been a source of stress ever since, and the music business was a better thing to be in then than it is now.
CS: Did you have any opportunity to go down the commercial line, signing to a record company?
Sweep: I had some interest from a big company, but they wouldn't have taken me on to do the stuff I was doing then. In retrospect it surprises me a bit that they kept me informed about the progress of my demo instead of just returning it, dumbstruck. :D
CS: Why `dumbstruck'?
Sweep: I was in my Stockhausen phase, or something. It was a bit far out, with a lot of dissonance. I've mellowed since then. :D
CS: I know you spent quite a number of years not making much music before you returned to it. I'm a bit surprised because music seems to be so much a part of you. What happened after your decision to get a `steady job' instead of pursuing music further?
Sweep: Well, basically the fact that there were no steady jobs, and not much money. I went to college, which should have helped, but I graduated in the first bitter years of the Thatcher regime. Unemployment was rising alarmingly, and I found myself without experience and also too highly qualified to be allowed in at the bottom to gain experience. I wanted to start at the bottom, but employers always seemed to think I wouldn't fit in or would soon leave. That changed as they encountered more and more graduates who were desperate for work. There were no graduate training schemes back then.
I tried all sorts of different things, and also tried academic work. I survived and eventually got myself settled in work and proved myself, and I did some academic work, but higher education had contracted more than most other fields.
CS: You did some academic publishing?
Sweep: Yes, a few articles on psychology and comparative religion, but mainly for the sheer sake of it, for love of the subject and so on. There's no payment for articles like that. It's part of the academic system where you benefit indirectly because it helps your career. But of course when you haven't got a career you don't benefit in any material way.
CS: You thought of emigrating....
Sweep: Yes. I applied to all the universities in New Zealand and had some interest from one of them, but it didn't come to anything. If I'd done that after the academic publishing, though, I may have been in a stronger position. But New Zealand might have been my future at that point.
CS: And the music at that point? As I said, it seems so much a part of you that I'm puzzled how you seem to have let it lie.
Sweep: I still made music a little bit, but without very good instruments or recording equipment. But really you've hit on something - music being a part of me. It isn't quite like that.
What it is, is that something spiritual and creative is the `part of me' that you identify now with the music. Music is a major form of that, and yes, it's vital to me. But the music is one possible expression of the creative spirituality, and for those years when music wasn't a very practical side of things I worked with other expressions.
But eventually I came back to it, as you know, and invested in better instruments and recording equipment. In the meantime things had got cheaper as well, and good results were financially within reach at last.
CS: So now you're making music again, more than ever, but as we said you keep out of the business side of things. Was the decision is fully conscious, to keep out?
Sweep: Well, it might be nice to get paid, but I really do think the price would be too high. I'd rather just have an income from something else and provide free music, or maybe even sell some music but without worrying about whether I can live on what comes in. And it's nice to `release' something by simply putting it up on the website and saying, hey, it's here.
CS: What about live gigs? You never do them?
Sweep: Sometimes people have asked. Maybe I will at some point, but I usually overdub everything, so it isn't really practical. I did do some experiments with digital delays, though, and live recording of sequences, changing the sound and accompanying myself, building up layers. So it could be done, maybe.
CS: You had an offer to support someone from Tangerine Dream, live?
Sweep: Well, yes, but I wasn't really in a position to get involved with that gig, and I was also a bit concerned about messing up in front of someone I respect, when it was my first ever live gig. I didn't really have the gear to do a gig like that, either, at that time. I was making good recorded music, but with very slender means back then.
CS: I get the feeling a Sweep concert just isn't going to happen. Maybe you'll surprise us all, sometime?
Sweep: Well, maybe.
CS: So how do you connect with the people listening to your music?
Sweep: Well it's partly people I know anyway, and partly other people who make music. Word gets round when people play something of mine and their friends ask what it is. And there's also the Internet community of musicians and people who are on websites where music is discussed.
CS: So is that better or worse than having hordes of screaming fans?
Sweep: Better. Much better, actually. It's good to relate to people who like my music directly, just as ordinary people. People just tell me what they like - or don't like - while the music's playing, or when we happen to meet socially, or if it's the net they can send me an email or whatever.
CS: So you're not a screaming fan yourself, anyway. :D
Sweep: :D I respect musicians whose music I like. I don't necessarily agree with them on other things, though. In fact they needn't even be people I like, though I must say I've found over the years that I do actually like some of my favourite musicians as people, and that does add extra dimensions to the music.
CS: Do you think some musicians keep their distance because they may not be liked by their fans?
Sweep: Oh, I'm sure they do. Rightly or wrongly. I'm sure there are people who have confidence problems and fear their fans wouldn't like them if they really knew them. Then there are people who have to pretend to be something they're not because of record company pressures to live up to an image. That must be pretty awful. In any case there are always pressures to be civil to people when you don't feel like it. Obviously we all have that, but when you have fans there's extra pressure. In any case you can be on perfectly good, civilised terms with someone but not connect as people. That can be a problem between idolising fans and the musicians they idolise. There may not be any shortcomings in the musician, with confidence or with human failings, but they know very well that their fans are likely to be disappointed on a human level anyway. Fans tend to think their idol would like them just because they like their idol.
I don't have any of that - by not really having fans. :D
CS: I know you have certain views about fan excesses.... Some of the stories you've mentioned, like the guy who thought he was a friend of the family....
Sweep: Yes, that was a good one. That wasn't even a particularly well-known singer, though she had a developing fan-base. That was all about the way people set up fan forums on the net and get into competition with each other, even trampling on the artist if it means being able to get one-up on someone else with a rival website. They'll betray confidences and publish confidential information to get one over on someone else.
One guy listed himself on a fan forum as being a friend of the singer's family. That happened to be a singer and family I knew, and when one of the family phoned me and the fan's name was mentioned I said "Do you know he calls himself a friend of the family now?" The answer came back: "Yes, we saw that. That was the first we knew of it as well." :D
CS: It's funny you say fans will trample on the artist to put one over on other fans.
Sweep: Yes, it's weird. It can be like the artist is a pretext, a platform for the fans' own sense of self-importance.
CS: You were once asked to protect an artist from her fans...?
Sweep: Yes, that was an Internet thing as well. I was about to leave a fans' forum and I was asked by a `friend' of the artist (actually a helper from the record company) to stay so I could protect her interests. I'm sure that was nothing to do with anything about me. It wasn't like I was someone whose voice carried any weight. There was simply a need for someone to have the right priorities, because so many of the fans didn't.
CS: You mean they'd have asked anyone?
Sweep: Oh yes. I'm sure, if they found someone. I just happened to be the normal person they were talking with at the time. :D
CS: You mentioned pressures on artists to be a certain way. Something you wouldn't like for yourself?
Sweep: I suppose we all have to have some kind of persona. It's part of living in a civilised society. But when it becomes your life and you're forced to be something, it gets too much.
It's worse for women, I think, especially because of the sexuality thing....
CS: Men don't have sexuality? :D
Sweep: :D Well, yes, but they aren't usually forced to demean themselves the way women can be.
Then there's the opposite, the innocence thing, if a woman's young enough to have that one forced on her. And sometimes both - sexuality and innocence. Then it gets really stressed, and also a bit sick.
CS: Can you mention some examples?
Sweep: Well, I don't like to mention names because the discussion itself can start adding to the whole pressure....
CS: Actually I've noticed you never name names, at least publicly, where it isn't appropriate, where it might be sensitive.
Sweep: Yes, that's true. I believe in confidentiality. That's true in any area of life - whatever anyone says should be treated that way and not gossiped about, unless the other person is happy about that. But in music, or showbusiness or whatever it becomes so much more important. It's a matter of trust, and especially someone important or well-known doesn't necessarily want to be quoted or not have control over how their opinions or general comments can be spread around.
CS: What if you could win an argument by quoting someone?
Sweep: :D It's sometimes very tempting. To be able to say `well actually the person you so much admire thinks what you're saying is crap.' But I just don't say it. In many cases it wouldn't work anyway because the other person wouldn't believe I'd ever spoken with the musician I was quoting. But whatever, if it would be a breach of trust I'd never even say I've ever spoken with someone. To other musicians sometimes, maybe, people in the public eye themselves, but not even then in some cases. I'd much rather have someone know they can trust me than be winning silly arguments by quoting people I've spoken with privately.
CS: Yes, the argument wouldn't be worth winning....
Sweep: I think it's interesting, actually, how natural and unassuming the `celebrity' people can be, compared with the nobodies who try to be controversial and argumentative. A complete nobody, especially on the Internet, can really come on like they're something, while someone who really is somebody can be totally natural and easy, very friendly, very helpful.
CS: That happened with a synthesiser website?
Sweep: Yes. :D No names mentioned again. I asked a specific technical question about a synth I'd just bought, on a site for users of that synth, and got a silly and abusive reply from a guy who could easily have just given me the piece of information. It wasn't something I could just do a Google search for. I'd already done that but it was a little more involved, but this site was for the experts - or self-proclaimed experts, anyway. So I got all these facetious and silly comments, and someone else added theirs. I then emailed the real expert. Another musician had already introduced me a little while before, and when I got the new synth he encouraged me to ask the expert anything I wanted to. I hadn't wanted to bother him with something that anyone with a depth of experience could answer, but in view of what had happened when I asked the ordinary people I decided to go ahead and ask the real expert. He was very friendly and very helpful. I could have gone back to the facetious nobodies on the website and said who I'd been talking with and which really well-known people he advised, but they wouldn't have believed me and in any case it wasn't worth getting one-up on idiots like that. But the point is, the really top people know they're human and don't make a big thing of what they know. The nobodies think they're somebody if they have a website and bit of specialised knowledge.
CS: Rather like the fans you mentioned before.
Sweep: Yes, with their fancied privileged positions because they know a management email address and get fed the management line so they can pass it on as a bit of free publicity. Or the `friends of the family' who happen to have a phone number and don't get told where to go when they ring up. Sad, really. But very human I suppose. We're in a society where people want to have some link with someone famous, or be on TV even if they humiliate themselves, or whatever.
CS: The cult of celebrity.
Sweep: Exactly. Even being famous for being famous, without having any talent or being any use to anyone else. And so many people want a bit of reflected light to shine on them.
But we were talking about pressures, weren't we? Examples of people being forced by their contracts, their image and so on.
CS: Yes. True of the whole celebrity thing, I'd imagine.
Sweep: Yes. At least, I think it must be, though I only know about certain areas, mostly music. I don't watch TV and there are famous people I've never even heard of. :D
But in music it seems especially rife in the so-called classical crossover area - which is a dignified way of describing easy listening sometimes. Especially when record companies won't allow an artist to step off a very narrow easy listening path and do something even slightly more powerful - like the trouble Hayley Westenra had doing Wuthering Heights. That song was about twenty five years old when she recorded it - that's a quarter of a century when you think about it. And it was a number one hit originally. But it was still too much for her record company and she had to really fight. Oddly enough, her struggle echoed exactly the struggle Kate Bush had to get it released as her first single.
But that happens with all music - as I said, it happened with Kate. The much worse pressure is the image thing - young women (or younger) not just kept firmly in a genre that forbids deviation into something musically stronger, but also made to appear to conform to some idealised ethereal innocence, but with dark hints of sexuality. Fortunately it's not always that extreme (I've described the worst form of it), but the mould is rather like that at its worst.
I remember logging on to Amazon one day and seeing an image of a woman that made me think they were branching out into selling lingerie. Then I realised it was an advert for a CD. Fair enough if it was appropriate to the music, but how many clothes do you need to take off to sing All Things Bright and Beautiful, or Away in a Manger or whatever?
CS: Surely you're exaggerating? :D
Sweep: I wish I was. I'm not going to name names as usual, but there really was what I thought to be a lingerie advert by someone who sings All Things Bright and Beautiful. That might not have been pressure. She's not a singer I have any interest in, and for all I know she may have been more than happy to appear that way. In fact I suspect she was. But in many cases pressures do exist, and much worse ones than just looking like a lingerie advert - to take off so much for promotional stuff, videos and so on.
Ok if people want to do that, of course, though it makes you wonder what sort of fan mentality they're appealing to, and whether it should be encouraged. But if a girl gets pressured to take clothes off when it isn't what she wants and it isn't appropriate, that's just plain wrong. But that's just part of the whole range of pressures, musical and social.
I greatly respect any girl who refuses to go along with that, but it isn't easy. There are financial pressures and emotional blackmail.
CS: When you mention All Things Bright and Beautiful I'm reminded of something you've said before about the banned version of that song. And guessing who you meant with the lingerie advert I think there's a cue here for a joke of yours about a tin of green paint.
Sweep: :D Yes, but maybe we'll leave that for another time. Keep people guessing. Green paint? :D
About All Things Bright and Beautiful, maybe I'd better explain about the banned version for people who don't know. When I was at a Church of England primary school we sang that hymn, but our hymn books didn't have the last verse as it was originally written. It was all about keeping people in their social place - something about the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, and how God had decided who was rich and who was poor and had `ordered their estate.' That was unacceptable in the liberated sixties, thankfully, but some of our teachers kept trying to sneak that verse back in. That's why I remember most of it, over forty years later, when I never saw it written in the hymn book.
CS: That's bizarre, and a bit worrying.
Sweep: Well, our teachers were deep-frozen in the Victorian period and then thawed out to save the country from the terrible liberated sixties. We had these weird Victorian women. :D Some very normal teachers as well, but a good few of the weirder ones.
CS: :D Very strange.
Sweep: The hymns were very strange as well, for a child with a literal imagination, anyway, as children do have. That's why surrealism made such sense to me later. I'd been brought up on strange imagery, like Jesus with his sweet head, and so on.
Anyway, let's keep the tin of paint joke for another time.
CS: I'd like to hear you tell that joke at the Classical Brits. In fact I'd like to see you at the Classical Brits.
Sweep: Well maybe I should be, considering the time I heard my music on Classic FM with someone else's name attached....
CS: Yes, that's what I was leading to. What actually happened?
Sweep: Well to be fair I don't think I was actually ripped off, which is why I haven't done anything about this. Well, one reason. The other reason is the only witness I'd have would be the record company, and they wouldn't be likely to be helpful.
What happened was, I was at someone's house one day and they had Classic FM playing. Suddenly I heard something remarkably similar to something of mine. I honestly nearly jumped out of my skin - as they say; I know what that saying means now.
I found out what it was and bought the CD. At first I thought I must have been mistaken, because it didn't sound like me at all - until that one track I'd heard on the radio, and I nearly jumped out of my skin again.
So it could be a coincidence. But if it was a rip-off, how had they heard my music? I found out the composer was writing to a deadline, and within six weeks of writing this piece he'd visited New York, where there happened to be a demo of mine in the classical section of his record company.
I bought a copy of the score, and various indications continued to suggest it wasn't a coincidence that this one piece of his sounded like me. But I'm inclined to think he must have heard my music in the background, or something like that. I don't think it was a deliberate rip-off. But if it was, I still can't really do much about it.
CS: Could you do classical stuff yourself, then?
Sweep: Well, it seems like I already have. :D But yes, seriously, it's a side of my work that maybe I should bring out. There are actually a few more classical pieces that I haven't really given an airing to.
CS: Maybe you need to before someone else does.
Sweep: Well yes, but fortunately they're not in that record company building in New York.
CS: Why were they in New York when you're British, actually?
Sweep: I just happened to have a contact there - or someone else suggested a contact and I followed that through. The composer who was on Classic FM is British as well, by the way.
CS: It must be a weird feeling?
Sweep: Hearing your music with someone else's name attached? Yes, it's like being robbed, burgled, or something. Not very pleasant. Worse, I suppose, because music is your soul.
CS: Going back to music business pressures and so on, you've said something about this - music being what the soul wants to create, and needing to be free for that. I'd like to ask you about how you make music, and I'd like to lead into that by thinking about what music is for you, where it comes from.
Do you hear something in your head and set out to make it real, or just make it up as you go along? :D Or what?
Sweep: Well, a bit of both, maybe. :D Seriously, sometimes it's something I hear in my imagination, maybe fairly clearly, but more often just an idea. Trying that out can mean making it more definite, or it can begin to lead off in a new direction. That's how imagination works in different areas, of course. Once you open up to it, it takes you to places you didn't initially expect.
The other way is the dialogue way. It's not quite making it up as you go along....
CS: Yes, I was making mischief a bit when I asked that.... Really we're back to what you said about music being responsiveness.
Sweep: Yes, that's just what it is, again. It's really a dialogue between me and the music. Sometimes I just sit at a synth or pick up some other instrument and open to whatever the instrument wants to sound like. Once I have a sound, a feel, a few notes, there's something I can respond to. It's like asking the music what it wants to be. Then I need to be open to the answers - and capable of playing whatever the music wants me to play.
CS: What about something specific from your web-page? Hayley Dreams of Japanese Gardens, maybe. It seems you had definite images there, the Japanese gardens and so on....
Sweep: Yes, that's maybe a good example, but maybe also an odd one. What happened there was that I had a piece of music that wanted to be realised, but somehow it wasn't quite happening. I recorded quite a substantial piece - I think it was about eleven minutes or so - with the Japanese imagery in mind. It had the dreamy, echoey and indistinct shakuhachi like the final version, and the koto, but somehow it wasn't quite right. Something was missing. It felt - I don't know.... perfunctory, like I was doing my duty by playing what the imagination asked for, but somehow the magic wasn't there. I wasn't quite in it.
I tried making changes, pulling out sections, re-recording and so on. Then the Hayley Westenra thing came up from totally different circumstances, and out of the blue her tour of Japan was mentioned. I immediately had images of someone thinking of Japan and wondering how it would be, and of course I had all those Japanese images already, and I started from scratch and recorded a completely new piece at that point. I think I started with the koto, and it all just fell together as one. I simply abandoned the original attempt, as the new one had that missing aspect to it.
I read Hayley's book after that and discovered her accounts of other trips to Japan. But the important thing is the idea of a place and the way reality develops that idea, either modifying it or changing it completely. It's really about the imaginative Japan, the idea of peaceful but indistinct Japanese gardens, rather than the noisy city or the mundaneness of life. It's not just some Westernised fantasy, though. It connects with the imaginal and the depth in the Japanese psyche that gives rise to something like a Zen garden. There's an element, as well, of a dream Toru Takemitsu had, that gave rise to his piece The Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden. That's the Japanese composer's mind meeting Western surrealism - he was dreaming of a garden in the shape of a tonsure on the head of one of the Surrealist group in Paris, a photo by Man Ray. I think it was of Marcel Douchamp, but I'm not sure now. But all that came together, and thanks to Hayley the music happened.
So that's the imaginative thing finding realisation, but with difficulty, and how the imagination eventually finds its way, and also the dialogue thing. The dialogue happened when I laid down the koto track and responded to it. The flute wanted to be vague and misty, so the echo thing happened. Then it needed something else and I tried different things, eventually using the prepared piano, which was one of those unexpected things that you wouldn't normally think of at the start.
CS: Tell me about the prepared piano. That's the John Cage idea? More surrealism?
Sweep: Well maybe. I hadn't actually thought of that link being in there, but I think you may be right. :D
Yes, the prepared piano was something that I thought John Cage had invented, but I did some more research and found other people had tried it, but he perfected it. The original idea was to create a percussion ensemble in a limited space by turning the piano into a bank of different percussion instruments. Various things are put between the strings to change the tone and sound percussive.
I've always liked the idea, but one problem - for my ears, anyway - is that the sounds often tend to be shortened, deadened a little, and also the piano sonorities don't always come through. I like longer notes and more piano tone.
I found a downloadable set of samples of a prepared piano, and began by allocating those samples to a keyboard. A sort of digital prepared piano - in fact a whole collection of different ones. Then I also added some sounds of my own, and I also experimented with layering those prepared piano banks with normal piano sounds, so I could have one piece of software making the prepared sounds and another at the same time giving me true piano tones, and I could mix them, use the sustain pedal on one or both sets of sounds, and so on. To do that with actual pianos you'd need a warehouse full of different piano frames prepared in different ways, and you'd also need to meticulously score every note and have the prepared and standard pianos played in perfect unison. With my system I can choose a piano and begin playing, then change to a different one if it isn't quite right, or just make changes to some of the sounds to fit the piece I'm playing, and I can play spontaneously and still have perfect unity between prepared and normal pianos.
CS: Is it a lot of work?
Sweep: Yes, very much so initially. Creating a prepared piano bank takes a lot of time, choosing sounds, tailoring them exactly, allocating them to specific parts of the keyboard, sometimes - often - allocating individual sounds to specific keys. Then working out how to play it - and changing things round again. But doing that with actual prepared pianos and then maintaining them would be impossible in practice - that many, with that much preparation. Digital technology is wonderful if you're willing to put in the work of creating something new.
CS: The samples you downloaded - would your prepared piano sound like someone else's who downloaded those samples?
Sweep: Not a chance. :D Actually there's a ready-made one you can buy, but that didn't do what I needed to do, which is why I started to make my own. The chances of someone else setting up their samples in the same way I did is unlikely - choosing which samples to use, putting them on the same keys, and so on. And then I've got my own samples in there as well, so it's ended up pretty unique.
CS: Sometimes you synthesise things, or use samples, and sometimes you use `real' instruments. How do you decide on that?
Sweep: `Real instruments.' Well, you knew I was going to rise to that one. To me a synthesizer is definitely a real instrument. Really anything you can play expressively is a real instrument. But I know what you mean - sometimes a synth or sampler can do what another instrument would do.
I like to transcend boundaries. Sometimes a synth can do things other instruments can't. Other times a different instrument can do things that the synth can't quite get. Crossover is interesting. I often use a keyboard for acoustic guitar parts simply for convenience of recording, though I play guitar. With the cello I sometimes use an actual cello and sometimes samples, or even synthesis. I can do both in the same piece. I have a piece with cello samples and a Moog cello patch I programmed.
For my Sextet, which uses synthesizers and also cello and so on, I played the cello part completely using an actual cello - a `real' cello. In that case the cello part had to be exactly what a cello player would be able to do. I wanted to avoid anything a synth could do that a cello wouldn't normally or naturally do. It depends on the piece
CS: So how did you approach that piece?
Sweep: I think I laid down the piano lines first... Actually no, now I think about it, I started with the synth parts, laying down sections with long gaps, then drawing them gradually together as the three synth parts came together. Then I drew the whole thing together more using piano. I think the cello was next. I simply set up the mics and sat with the cello as the music played, playing each cello part and then waiting silently for the next part. I felt like an orchestral player, playing and then sitting and waiting for my next entry. I don't usually record like that. Then I added the trumpet parts, which are done using FM synthesis.
CS: It sounds like you're quite a good cellist, recording that way.
Sweep: No, actually I'm a crap cellist... :D
Sweep: No, honestly. Probably everything I can do on the cello went into that piece. I'll have to learn more stuff before I can do anything like that again. But you improve when you have music to aspire to. I was responding to the synths and piano parts and that made me reach for better than I'd normally be able to achieve.
Really that's what I do when I don't play an instrument too well. I either stretch myself by aspiring to equal what I've played on other instruments I'm good with, or else I play simple parts and get the instruments I'm good at to do the more difficult parts.
CS: Cello seems an interestingly unlikely instrument, when you play synthesisers and guitar and so on.
Sweep: I always liked the sound of the cello, but actually it was Klaus Schulze who inspired me. I bought an album of his with a cello player, and I imagined the way cello sounds and Moog filters would interact, and I was very disappointed he didn't explore that. Years later I thought about getting a cellist to play something with me. Then I tried making cello sounds with an electric guitar, and then I thought `sod this, why not use a cello if that's what I want?' So I found out about cellos, and went to a shop and tried one, and bought it.
But yes, cello is a bit outside the synth and guitar area. I find you can play certain things because of the music you listen to, then get into other areas and not be flexible enough. I started with rock and so on, and electric guitar is a natural instrument for that, but as time went by I found guitar wasn't the lead sound I most liked, and although I played guitar there was really no need to have that sound just because that's where I started out. In any case I'd always wanted to play synthesiser and I was using a guitar to make strange sounds when I couldn't afford a synth. Now I just use whatever's appropriate. I don't think `I'm a synth player so I should use synths, or a guitarist so I should use a guitar.' I'm a musician. I'll use anything, whatever the music itself wants.
CS: Moving on from your own compositions, I'd like to ask about covers of other people's music. You never seem to do that?
Sweep: Well, that's mostly true, but I have done some covers here and there over the years. When I first got a Casio keyboard in about 1982 I did a few Kraftwerk covers - Showroom Dummies I remember doing, and I recall playing about with Autobahn although I didn't ever record that. I may do sometime, though. And a couple of other things that were going on at the time, like Living on the Ceiling [Blancmange] and Joy Division's Ceremony.
On the whole I prefer to make music that's never been made before, though, things only I would do, for whatever that's worth. I make music that I want to hear that no-one else has made. But if I can bring something new and different to a piece, I'll certainly go ahead and do that. But that's where copyright comes in. I did an album of four pieces called The Four Rivers of Paradise that was developed from Miquette Giraudy's Garden of Paradise on Rainbow Dome Musick, but I didn't get a reply to my question about copyright so I can't distribute that one. It was something I wanted to do anyway, and I'm pleased with it for my own sake, but I can't share it with anyone.
CS: Maybe you should do some standards?
Sweep: There might be some mileage in that, actually. Music that's been played a million times before, making it sound new and different. And I think you really have to do that if it's to be worth while.
CS: I'm being mischievous here. Maybe you should do that song that's been done by everybody that you say should carry a health warning?
Sweep [puzzled]: Which one?
CS: Amazing Grace.
Sweep: Oh yeah. :D That. Well, who knows? Maybe, actually.
CS: It'd be an act of courage. :D
Sweep: Yes, maybe I need to explain this for people who haven't been in on our conversations before. Amazing Grace is one of those songs that carries a strong emotional charge for some people, and you can wander into that charged area unknowingly. Or you can try to manipulate it, as a certain young singer did when she was in Texas and called Amazing Grace `the other American national anthem.' She got massive applause for that, as you would in Texas, but it's playing with fire and she got burned after.
Basically you're on relatively safe ground outside America, but if you buy into that emotional area in America and especially in the Southern States you put yourself on the line as 1) not just a believer but a fundamentalist, and 2) a tacit supporter of `the American way,' which can mean anything from eating a MacDonald's to carpet bombing some foreign country. People think they're ok because they have a Christian belief, or they're open to religions generally, but there are a lot of people who take a song like that as a statement of a much more rigid and unyielding kind of religious attitude. They tend to accept people at first singing songs like that because they assume they share the same kind of beliefs - and then things get definitely ugly when they find out you don't have the same religious and political set of notions that they live by.
If I did Amazing Grace and changed it into something new those people would probably be totally unaware of it, but if I went out there and did it they'd welcome me, maybe, and then get nasty when they realised I didn't share their views as they'd assumed, or they'd be suspicious from the start and I'd start getting death threats like Hendrix did when he did The Star Spangled Banner. It's weird, but it really is like that, and at first it doesn't look that way and everything can seem rosy.
So maybe I'll do some kind of standard, but not that one. Something old and folky might be safer. One thing I thought of was The Mists of Islay, which is on Hayley's Odyssey, but there's also an old Scottish thing called An Eriskay Love Lilt that was brought to my attention by an old musical accomplice of mine, Holly Holyoake.
I have an arrangement of that for four voices that I found by chance in a second-hand shop, actually. But never having actually seen four people in love I think it might be better to do it as Holly did, for a single voice. :D I may do that with the Moog carrying the main vocal line, sometime.
But there are a lot of possibilities, actually. I did a tryout recently - another traditional Scottish thing: The Bay of Harris. I wanted to make it sound very open and natural. There's a part of Alan Stivell's Renaissance of the Celtic Harp album where you seem to be standing on a seashore and you can almost taste the salt and feel the openness of the wind. My Bay of Harris performance needs some work, technically, but I got the feel I was after, which was the important thing at that point, so I know where I'm going with this.
CS: There's another old celtic country thing - Irish this time - She Moved Through the Fair. But first, there's another issue with Amazing Grace - the slave-owner story.
Sweep: Yes - though slave-trader rather than owner, if that makes much difference.
The way I first heard it, the song was supposed to have been written by a guy who used to be a slave-trader. You assume, as I did, that he ceased to trade slaves when he had that experience. But actually it seems it was quite different. He wrote Amazing Grace quite early in his life and then blithely continued in the slave trade afterwards.
CS: It seems a bit strange. You'd think he'd be opposed to slavery after that experience of grace.
Sweep: Quite - though I suppose there were pressures not to actually oppose slavery. But you could move over to trading in tea or something. It's said he asked the sailors to treat the slaves better while they were on the ships, but that doesn't make a great deal of difference - and, I know this sounds horrible, but it's a fact and slavery is horrible - slaves were sometimes treated a bit better on the journey to America `so the goods weren't damaged,' so they'd fetch a higher price.
To be fair, I really don't know how it worked out. He may have joined the abolitionist movement later. He may have felt he could do more about a bad situation while still involved in it. I just don't know, and it would take quite a lot of research to really get to the bottom of what was involved. That's a lot of research for a piece of music that I don't especially like and that has all these wrong signals coming from it anyway.
But the fact is, it wasn't that unusual for slave-owners, at least, to have Christian conversions. I read Frederick Douglass, a former American slave, last year. His book is an account of his experiences and the things he saw as a slave, and he said quite a few slave-owners had Christian conversions - and those were the worst owners you could have. They took the Bible as confirmation of their power situation and took the slaves as inferior beings who deserved mistreatment and punishment. His accounts of what that involved are quite harrowing sometimes.
I remember people who were brought up under apartheid in South Africa saying similar things - in our lifetime. They were taught that black people were the descendants of one of Noah's sons who was particularly bad, while the non-blacks were supposedly descended from the good sons of Noah. So you could mistreat black people and they deserved it, according to that justification. It sounds totally mad and stupid - at least I hope it does - but this is how a literal, fundamentalist view of the Bible was misused to justify hatred and abuse. And people converted to that way of thinking became debased, not ennobled by it. It certainly makes you stop and think. It didn't stop Frederick Douglass being a Christian, but it taught him a terrible lesson, and I don't think he'd have made a wrong assumption about Amazing Grace the way we naturally do. Maybe the writer of that hymn wasn't as bad as the people he'd encountered who'd had the same kind of experience, but we don't know for sure and there are a lot of modern assumptions put onto the interpretation of what this hymn is about. It's not what it seems, anyway, and carries a lot of baggage with it.
But you also asked me about She Moved Through the Fair. You want to draw me out on these songs, don't you? :D
Yes, that's the song that really shouldn't be sung by a girl, though I can think of several recordings of it being done that way. Or yes, it could be for a female voice, but surely it'd have to be changed to `he' and not `she' all the way through?
CS: The Lesbian Death Chant. :D
Sweep: Yes. :D That's what the young female singer in my novel called it, when she was asked to sing it. Surely the girl in the song is dead, which is why she moves so silently, and the wedding day that isn't long off is the death of her lover so he can join her? But in any case there isn't really going to be any wedding day with another girl unless there's something a bit lesbian going on? It seems funny how women can sing that song without apparently thinking that through. Unless there's some other interpretation that escapes me, but I can't imagine what it might be.
So yes, I could do that song, but many of the people who have done it maybe should have changed it round a bit. But it does have potential to be a bit eerie, so it might be a good one to try.
CS: What happened to the novel, by the way?
Sweep: I abandoned it when events in the real world completely overshadowed what I was writing. I was researching some odd aspects of the music business for the novel, and the real events we just totally bizarre - far stranger than the novel and far too weird to turn into fiction. No-one would believe the reality. :D But I miss it sometimes. There were a lot of very funny things in there that I have a good chuckle at sometimes when I'm reminded of them. Maybe I could re-cast it and try again, sometime.
CS: Finally I think I'd better ask about drugs. Your music can be pretty far out - even the cello music, and I half expect your covers of old standards to be bizarre. :D And you seem to have some links with drug-inspired music. What are you on, if anything?
Sweep: Well, chocolate. :D And a small glass of whisky now and then. Actually I don't take drugs and never have. I tried cannabis a long time ago and decided it was a waste of time. I also thought about LSD because I'd heard it could give you deep and profound visions and lead to enlightenment. Reading Timothy Leary cured me of believing that. :D This was all a long time ago, when I was quite young. I also realised what sort of dangers there are, and I realised there are other and - to my mind - better ways to develop insight. There's less of a light-show with meditation and so on, but it's better. Not just safer, but a better result. But I'm really glad I didn't just fry my brain. People have, of course, and it just isn't worth it.
Meditation isn't always safe either, to be fair, if not quite as dangerous. And nor is safety always the most important thing. We owe a lot to people who've explored without being too careful about their safety - though they were courageous rather than foolhardy, generally. You need to take care of yourself whatever you do. I suppose I've taken a few risks with psychological explorations, and also sometimes with the meditation. But I've always been able to keep my head and think where I am and what to do, and drugs wouldn't have given me that option.
So the non-drug routes can be dodgy as well. There's bad advice, people who want to keep things secret for the sake of power, or simply manipulate people, or who may be very good at what they do but lack crucial knowledge, or cling to their traditions and so on.
Over the years I began to realise that I'm actually more psychologically balanced than I would have initially thought I was. I've realised, actually, how good my parents were and how good my upbringing was. And what problems I did have seem to have been healed by the experience. I don't mean I'm perfect, or even better than other people - I have my limitations, my quirks and so on, like anyone does. I also have things I don't regard as quirks that other people sometimes maintain really are problems, like not wanting to get married. I like my own space and my independence. But if someone thinks I really should get married then that side of me is a problem....
CS: Do many people think that's a problem?
Sweep: Well, to anyone who wants me to settle down and marry them, it's a shortcoming. :D
Also it's become more common in recent years, but it's seen as a failure to commit. It can be a failure, but I don't think it always is. And marriage can be a failure to be who you are, if it comes to that. I've seen couples become two half-people, rather than two people deepened and made more complete through their marriage.
But from where I am there are problems with this, it's true. I don't have casual sex or shallow relationships, but that means there's a depth of relationship that doesn't lead to marriage, and that creates tensions of a sort because the resolution of marriage isn't there. But I think that's a problem to be dealt with, not some massive failure in me.
But drugs and music, that's where we were heading.
Yes, sometimes people have thought I must be on drugs, or they've wanted to take drugs while listening to my music. I don't say because I don't take drugs I think no-one else should. I do tend to advise against it, or at least advise a lot of caution, but I'm not into saying other people should live the way that suits me. But as far as my music is concerned, it's made without drugs and you don't need drugs to listen to it. Just open ears and an open mind, hopefully.
CS: Finally, one last question. This has been a very long interview, but certainly an interesting one. It's clarified quite a few questions I've had, anyway, about your music.
Can you tell me what you're listening to at the moment, and also what you may be working on?
Sweep: There's a small number of albums I always listen to - a little group of them that I start the day with or play regularly: Tim Blake's Caldea Music II and Crystal Machine; Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy's Rainbow Dome Musick; Wendy Carlos' Sonic Seasonings; and occasionally Tangerine Dream's Rubycon.
I've also been playing Hayley Westenra's Odyssey a lot lately, mostly the American version which differs slightly from the British one. And Riley Lee's Rainforest Reverie; Klaus Schulze's 1980 live album; and Ash Ra's New Age of Earth. And Brad Gilbert's music from his part of this website. And I listen to Indian music and other world music quite often, and some Western classical. Then there's Kate Bush.... Sarah Deere Jones.... many others.
As well, there's a regular dose of Abba. I have a close friend who's a great Abba fan and we regularly watch their videos or play their CDs.
CS: Two things seem to stand out as unlikely - Hayley Westenra and Abba. :D
Sweep: Yes, I know what you mean. There'll always be something unlikely. I'm always wary of people who don't have a few surprises in their listening.
I like Hayley's voice very much - on Odyssey, anyway - and I like the choice of music and the arrangements on that album, for the most part. Abba I've always liked, though I didn't buy their records at the time. They seem to have finally been recognised as the great songwriters and performers they always were. The arrangements and the recording techniques are something special as well. They worked very hard and very creatively on those songs, and it shows. Also their sense of humour, which many people seem to miss. It's also that dialogue thing again, sharing music with a friend.
As far as my own music is concerned - the second part of your question - I've always got different projects at various stages of completion. There's a massive piece that's a journey through different landscapes and includes a stay in a strange city. That's so vast you can hear the changes of landscape. There are different kinds of birdsong at different points for example, linking with the different topographies - and all the birdsongs are synthesised, so they're species that don't exist anywhere on earth. And several other pieces.
But the next one - unless something else demands to be completed first - is likely to be a piece with the voice of Lauren Edman, an old friend who's worked with Justin Elswick's Sleepthief project alongside some quite established and well-respected artists like Kristy Thirsk and Caroline Lavelle, as well as guesting recently with some other band I can't remember the name of now. Her solo work is brilliant and at some point she'll release an album, but she's a perfectionist so it progresses very slowly. She sent me some voice samples which I'm working with in different ways. I'll probably put that on the web-page if she'll let me.