Sonic Catering interview (February 2003) by Alessandro Bianco for MIELE Magazine
1. Can you tell us shortly about the Sonic Catering Band? When did it all start and how many members are taking part in this project?
The Sonic Catering Band is named as such to save us the tedium of having to describe what we sound like, what we are about or any of that bullshit. The band came about in February 1996. I got together with my friend from school, Jonathan Fletcher, only the two of us didn't know how to mic-up a stove, meaning we had to get John's older brother Colin on board who is an undisputed genius in electronics and unpunctuality. Our first public performance was in September 1998. By this time, John had left and Tim Kirby joined as a permanent member. Our first record appeared in August 1999. The current line-up consists of Ádám Csenger, Colin Fletcher, Dan Hayhurst, Tim Kirby, Colin Potter, Zsolt Sorés, myself - Peter Strickland and Pál Tóth. It should be noted that certain band members have never met each other, let alone worked together.
2. How do you compose? In your music it seems to me there are different kinds of influences, from minimalism to improvised passing through the industrial scene... is there any group or musician that influenced you in a special way?
You could argue that what we're practicing is the antithesis of experimental music as most of our recordings have followed a very strict formula in that we let a given recipe dictate how a certain track will sound and develop. The recipe is our bible, our musical score, our physical lifeline. It also gives us something to blame if we don't come up with a very good track. A typical Sonic Catering session involves three phases: cooking and recording the meal in question; selecting and processing the raw sounds we want to use and finally, editing and layering. Raw sonic and culinary ingredients both become transformed into something thoroughly other both on plate and headphones.
Influences - Since this is an Italian publication, I'll wax lyrical about Franco Battiato. His 'Café-Table-Musik' from 1977 still gets a hands down A+ from me every time I hear it. If that wasn't enough, he hits the G-spot even harder the year after with my personal favourite, 'Jukebox.' That whole period of experimentation for him in the 70's is so undocumented. Why? A lot of us from England could name at least five all-out classic albums by him, only our knowledge is all from word of mouth. He's quite a big name in Italy, but only for the bland pop he's produced since 1978. I'd get more enjoyment listening to Vasco Rossi. But Franco is still the Father when it comes to cut-up surrealism, prog-out action and hypnotic repetition. I'll stop before I get started on the equally A-grade 'M. Elle Le Gladiator.'
1960's/1970's Italy is just as significant if not more so than the same period in Germany. Aside from Battiato, you had other trailblazers such as Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, not forgetting Ennio Morricone who could either turn to blissful pop or mind bending avant-garde with schizophrenic ease. And for pre-electro thrills, you had Giorgio Moroder circa 'E=MC˛' although maybe that was more to do with Munich. The Italian Cramps label was also paramount in distributing works by John Cage, Martin Davorin Jagodic, Alvin Lucier and Costin Miereanu to name a few. Some of the strangest stuff I've heard has been on that label, some of the most unlistenable too.
In terms of the album, our main influence is The Gyor Girls' Choir. I listened to their version of Kodály's 'Mountain Nights' endlessly when I first arrived in Hungary. I thought the human voice couldn't get anymore pure and ethereal than Ligeti's choral work until I heard 'Mountain Nights.' Their singing comes from somewhere else and their influence can be felt on quite a large chunk of our album.
I went to Gyor in Transdanubia twice to see if I could find the choir only to realise that their conductor, Miklós Szabó was based right under my nose at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. I played him our 'White Light from an Oven Above' track which owes a lot to his choir. He listened to it in this opulent art nouveau cloakroom with headphones on and showed some mild interest, only when someone politely announces that they are almost eighty years old and very busy, you have to read between the lines.
3. What relation do you have with food? Do you like to cook or is it just something you connect to the music?
It was important to anchor our music with a universal reference both conceptually and aurally. I'd hope that we offer the uninitiated a bridge into another world via the smell of the cooking. We are opening up the world of electro-acoustics and musique concrčte through a very accessible conceptual entry point without having to compromise the sound itself. Food is the perfect metaphor for sound construction and in no uncertain terms we were outwardly displaying our working methods through the culinary analogy. Our primary interest was the sound and the cooking has too often served only as a proverbial coat hanger. It seemed that sometimes our recipes were totally incongruous to what we were trying to convey with the sound. The concept was there, but not the spirit. I now get more embarrassed by a bad recipe than a bad track.
When we started, cooking was just a means of staying alive. I didn't really know what cooking was beyond heating up some beans. Sonic Catering in 1996 and '97 was just one culinary abortion after another. It was easier to get my Mum or my then girlfriend in. Now I'm far more adept in the kitchen than I am in the studio. I think in some ways what has prevented the band from moving on in a culinary sense is the vegetarian quotient. If you're seriously going to engage with a country's culinary culture then you have to get blood on your hands. Sacrificial offerings still play a very important part in a multitude of different cultures and religions. I used to read about Shintoism and other Far East religions' incorporation of ritual and sacrifice when it came to food. In the West, food is seen as either incidental to the culture or we simply appropriate from other countries.
In a sense, food is a remarkably accurate indicator of a culture's identity or more poignantly, it's erosion. You only need to witness the amount of Western fast food outlets sprouting up like weeds throughout Eastern Europe to see how virulent capitalist homogeny can be and how paradoxically its financial and aesthetic grip is not too dissimilar in its uniformity to that of the Communist era. You can understand a very poor country such as Romania that has undergone a savage transition from Communism, needing an economic adrenalin shot in the form of several fast food outlets. And it is very easy for us as foreigners to criticise. The exotic thrill of going into or even working in a fast food outlet for a Romanian ten or so years ago must be tantamount to what it is for us to go into the Carpathian Mountains for the first time. But long term, you have to ask a lot of questions.
'Fast Food Nation' by Eric Schlosser certainly puts the case forward for a lot you would've known, suspected and more. After reading it, it's no longer the animals I feel so sorry for. On that note, I should mention that contrary to what our records purport, most Sonic Catering members are carnivores. I don't really have an issue with livestock being killed for food, but I do have an issue with how most of those animals are treated when they are alive, hence the fact I don't eat meat or poultry. Saying that, sometimes you have little choice when the stuff is already on your plate. One thing I can't stand about certain vegetarians is their refusal to eat meat if it's already on their plate. If you're a hog and you're going to get slaughtered and you end up in the bin just because some principled vegetarian wants to make a point, you're not going to take too kindly to that. Colin in the band takes that argument one step further. I used to argue with him about his predilection for certain pasties, both on an olfactory and ethical level. His reasoning is that by consuming mechanically-recovered meat, you are efficiently cleaning up all the by-products that nobody wants to know about in their steak or whatever. The demand has already been created by the more fussy meat-eaters and Colin is just making sure that the rest of the animal carcass has gone to a needy stomach instead of a bin. Are those the words of an altruistic vegetarian in disguise or is this guy trying to pull the wool over my eyes?
But going back a little; I have thought seriously about doing some kind of sonic culinary travelogue; fully embracing anything to do with meat and not doing any processing with the sounds. We've done a few things which have appropriated Far East religions in a very loose sense, what with very austere sounds and silence, but this is dilettante hocus-pocus. We should get out there and do the real thing. I attempted something in Sarajevo when I was staying with a Muslim woman in the hills, only I ended up with egg on my face mainly due to the language barrier. I thought she understood that I wanted to record her cooking a special meat dish and after coming back from a brief sojourn to get batteries for my recorder, the dish was already made. A double whammy there as I also got food poisoning. Bosnia-Hercegovina is the perfect starting place for a sonic catering odyssey in that it's the first predominantly Eastern culture in Europe in terms of geographical bearings and then you can travel through the Balkans and on into Turkey, through Northern Iraq and Iran onwards. That would be a dream come true and then do it every ten years, more as an anthropological than sonic pursuit.
4. Do the compositions reflect in some way the recipe you are working with or is it only a way you use to make your music?
The best example of a track inherently displaying the character of its recipe is 'Bodypop.' Popcorn isn't exactly a high-class dish and we responded accordingly with a pretty low-class electro dance number. I really love 'Bodypop' - that was definitely our party track, spreading positivity all over the world.
5. Can you tell us about your collaborations? You have been working with Clare Connors and with Michael Prime. They seem to have two very different approches to the music; how was it to work with them?
Contrary to what has been written, none of us have ever worked with Michael Prime. We did a split Christmas single together several years ago, only that was a case of us going off to make a Christmas Pudding to record and Mike climbing up a tree to find some Mistletoe to record. His background in ecology and natural history brings in a unique perspective on how he works with sound. It's no put-on when he uses plants as his source material, partly to demonstrate how subtle internal or external environmental factors can affect the fluctuation of sound. His interviews are always fascinating, drawing your attention to what is beyond the scope of your ears and eyes. Both him and Francisco López are redefining our interpretations of wildlife recording through their recordings and essays. 'La Selva' by López and 'L-Fields' by Prime are exemplary in that respect. 'L-Fields' is without question the first inherently psychedelic album in its bioelectrical use of psychoactive plants.
We met Clare Connors through her involvement with The Balanescu Quartet. I was always quite a big Peter Greenaway fan and I saw the potential for some tenuous culinary link between The Balanescu Quartet and us knowing that they played on 'The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover' soundtrack. Clare's arrangements on Spiritualized's 'Pure Phase' and 'Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space' albums also had quite an effect on me. It started off with Clare performing a 'remix' for our 'Artificial Additives' album and then we carried on just messing around essentially, rehearsing for this gig we were going to do together at London's Lux Cinema in 1999. I wasn't really there at the time, despite my physical presence. I was supposed to turn up with a blender on one occasion only I forgot the bottom half, so we made do with a power drill I had instead. Because we were just recording rehearsals for our own reference, we didn't really consider anything beyond hitting the record button, only some of the pieces were so beautiful in their immediacy that we knew that this could never be recreated. We cleaned the tapes up as much as we could and it's just been pressed-up as a rather lovely 10" and without the power drill too.
6. Can you introduce us to your "The First Supper" release?
The First Supper was our first project - a five-course dinner packaged into five separate 10" records (starter, soup, main course, side dish and dessert) in a pizza box. Each 10" course came with two variations on that specific dish with the recipe printed on the sleeve. A learning experience for us all. There are things we would've done differently both in terms of sound and packaging. The recipes and our cooking left a lot to be desired too as mentioned earlier. But we're still incredibly proud of having realised the whole project. It took a long time - from 1996 to 1999, partly because of the cost. Everything seemed to work conceptually, right down to the 10"s themselves being the size of standard plates. We tried to match the timings of the records to how long it would take one to eat each dish. The packaging was blatantly ripped-off from what you see on any food you buy. I was heavily anti-art at the time and wanted to take the food manufacturing route and make the whole band as faceless, nameless and uniform as possible. I wanted the records with their standard gingham colour-coded design to look plain and mass produced. In hindsight, they don't look plain enough. Image is always paramount even if it is a non-image.
7. You have been producing the 7" Purely Practical of the Bohman Brothers on your Peripheral Conserve label, how did you come across them? How important in your work is it to produce other artists' work?
I came across Adam Bohman one night at Michael Prime's house. I used to see him when I was living in Brixton getting on night buses with an ungodly array of sticks, canes and other paraphernalia protruding from a laundry bag. I didn't know who he was then, only he had LMC written all over him. I used to go to the Bonnington Café sometimes where both Adam and his brother Jonathan would host their Monday night concerts. One night in March last year the brothers performed 'Purely Practical' and I instantly begged them to let me put it out on my label. It's one of the strangest things I've ever heard - two gentlemen in their early forties with a nice line in tweeds reading from DIY catalogues as if it was a Gnostic mantra. The quality of the recording is very distinctive too as they do all their stuff at home on tape. It sounds as if it was beamed down from some 1970's BBC Public Information Service. I still can't get my head around what possessed them. I bow down before The Bohman Brothers. They have something you and I don't and lots of it too. They look incredible as well which is always important. One of the highlights of last year was taking them to the Rudas Baths in Budapest. Whether they're in loincloths or tweeds, they cut it like no one else.
Putting out records by other people is no more financially insane than putting out our own. There are certain recordings you come across that you know no one else will touch, so I guess a nurturing instinct overshadows any financial rationality. Saying that, when I was putting The Bohman Brothers single together, I was convinced that this was just a labour of love and no one would be interested. It turned out to be the most successful and fastest selling release on the label and is close to selling-out. When we put together, 'Artificial Additives' we were convinced we could press and sell 1000 copies given that five of the people on that album can easily sell that much by themselves. It turned out to be our worst selling release by a mile. It's impossible to predict what will or won't sell which ultimately is a healthy thing, otherwise you end up motivated by the wrong things. Money though does always come into the equation no matter how pure your motives are and when due to circumstances, you can only press very small numbers, it's more of a loss margin you have to be thinking about than profit. My day jobs and record sales combined could never sustain the Peripheral Conserve label. It gets to the point of seriously encroaching on your quality of life. Making music doesn't have to cost much now. Manufacturing is the hurdle. I've just got a few more releases to finish off, then someone else can put out our work if they want. One of the releases should be very special if it materialises. I can't say too much about it for that very reason, but it will revolve around piano music by this old raconteur in Budapest who used to compose jingles for the Hungarian National Radio in the 1970's and at the dawn of capitalism he became destitute. He's quite a legend in certain quarters of Budapest for one reason or another. His whole life story would make a film, depending on which version you believe. From the second minute he started talking to me in a bar, I knew he was a genius. From that night on, it took me nine months to get his number, so you see, you might have to wait a while for this one if it appears.
8. I've seen in one track you have been working with Steve Stapleton, what relationship do you have with him/Nurse with Wound and in general how do you fit into the English underground experimental scene?
I first knew Steve Stapleton back in 1996, albeit in a very limited capacity. It wasn't until 2001, that I actually got to stay with him in Ireland for a few days around the time he was doing a remix and some artwork for us. It was a little like visiting the kingdom of the Jedi Knight, what with his little round dark glasses and the pointy beard. He is one of music's great visionaries and that is only the half of it if you are lucky enough to see where he lives. I've never come across anyone who throws so much love and energy into everything they do. The whole environment in which his family live is thoroughly unique and inspiring, though I imagine it's not all beer and skittles when it comes to winter. He is still seen by so many of us as a figurehead, not only for his music, but for his dissemination of other peoples' work through the legendary Nurse with Wound list. He introduced me to the Italian Cramps label, Franco Battiato and The Paris Sisters for which I am eternally grateful for. I'm not so grateful for having been subjected to the likes of Guru Guru and Xhol's infamous 'Motherfuckers GMBG & CO KG' album. That stuff would be confiscated if he had neighbours. But beyond the remix and a short stay with him at the time, I don't really know him at all. It was just one of those rare treats in life.
I don't have any real gauge of how we figure in the English underground, especially as I'm hardly a resident anymore. I don't think we figure at all since you can't buy our records in England. I tend to stick with Anomalous Records in the States for the sake of a peaceful life. Our sales are usually in the low hundreds which will give you some idea of how insignificant we are. I think our name is more known than our music. I had a lot of fun when I was in London and there was definitely a certain urgency and excitement about being surrounded by people doing similar things. People such as Alex Holmes from They Came from the Stars; I Saw Them and Vanishing Breed were on an endless quest, but he's also another example of someone who quit London for more Eastern shores. Our split singles and remix album certainly reflect that London period, but I really wanted to live another life elsewhere whilst I still had the chance and London wages don't go very far towards the rent regardless of whether you're putting out records or not. It's the best decision I made, though I'm hopelessly out of touch now. The last record I bought was a Devo compilation, which doesn't shed too much light on any 2002 music explosions.
9.Which is your best recipe? Which is the one that sorted out as to be the best track and the one you would like to work at and you haven't done yet?
We did a track called, 'Interculinary Dimension' which derived its sounds from a Balkan soup. We slowed down the electric hand whisk we were using on the cucumber/garlic mix and multi-tracked it at different frequencies to produce a UFO drone swallowed whole. It was disarmingly quick and easy to make both the food and the track. Quite an exception in output relating to input. Here's the recipe:
3 garlic cloves
75g walnut pieces
40g bread pieces
30ml sunflower oil
400ml sheep's yoghurt
110ml cold water
10ml lemon juice
25ml olive oil
handful of fresh dill
50g pine nuts
Cut cucumber in two and peel half of it.
Dice cucumber flesh and set aside.
Crush garlic and salt together, adding walnuts and bread.
Add sunflower oil and mix well.
Transfer mixture into large bowl and beat in yoghurt and diced cucumber.
Add cold water and lemon juice.
Garnish with olive oil, dill and pine nuts.
As for the recipe we haven't got round to doing yet; maybe something really obvious like a full English breakfast.
10. Do you know of other people working in the same way?
There are quite a few jokers now who have come to our attention, doing similar stuff. I tend to turn a blind eye to all these wacky chefs thinking how original they are miking-up their pans and serving food to the audience. Daytime television is theirs for the taking. In terms of people who are really trying to move things on and redefine how we interpret non-instrumental sound and music, we'll happily nominate Matt Herbert, Francisco López , Matmos, Michael Prime, The First Viennese Vegetable Orchestra and Matt Wand. But going back to the Italians again, the template was there with the Futurists almost a hundred years ago.
11. Can you give as your 10 favourite dishes?
I have a really nice recipe passed on to me by a friend called Jozef Cseres. I have this on tape too. It's a Slovakian Sheeps' Cheese Special. You make the gnocchi yourself by grating raw potatoes and mashing them up with flour into balls. You boil the gnocchi balls and in another pan, you mix the Sheeps' Cheese with full cream and a little milk and then mix. Fantastic.
Another one to get you salivating is a Hungarian spread known as körözött which comes from Liptauer cheese which you press through a sieve and then mix with butter, salt, red paprika and finely chopped onions. Pál Tóth makes killer körözött. Every Sunday we go to his apartment to drink beer, eat körözött and listen to The New Blockaders.
For a quick protein fix, I make an omelette using two eggs, with goats' cheese sprinkled on top, along with chopped red onions, tomatoes, pine nuts and a liberal dashing of pomegranate juice. It's far quicker, cheaper and healthier than a ready-meal. I do try and watch my diet now that I'm leaving my twenties behind. I know my body is changing just by the fact I can't handle heavy drinking anymore and that my dentist's receptionist knows my voice on the phone. I've had to cut down my chocolate intake quite drastically. I used to get through twelve bars a day for years - almost as expensive as smoking. I'm now down to two or three and I'm working on getting it down to one. My body is so accustomed to getting a regular sugar fix, so I guess for my fourth choice of favourite dish, I'll nominate anything with chocolate, but I'd rather not go into anymore detail than that. I'm trying to steer my mind onto other things.
Sag Ponir is another favourite; spinach fried with cumin and cottage cheese.
Grilled aubergine slices drizzled with balsamic vinegar is always a winner. Make sure you sprinkle plenty of chopped and diced red onion, cucumber and tomato.
Penne pasta mixed in with sun-dried tomato paste, fried baby spinach and pine nuts and then baked in the oven with a grated cheddar topping and bread crumbs.
Puff pastry filled with capers and boiled spinach is extra formidable if you dip it into avocado/pomegranate juice paste. Not to everyone's taste.
For you non-vegetarians, scallop soup made with coconut milk and fresh ginger grated in will have you barking for more.
For the tenth recipe, I'll pick anything flesh free from Claudia Roden's 'The Book of Jewish Food.' I've only just started reading it, but already it comes highly recommended in its interweaving of history, cultural traditions and food in Jewish communities throughout the world. I also have a soft-spot for the 1950's American Betty Crocker cook books. They're filled with a host of useful extra-curricular tips for the kitchen, such as 'notice humorous and interesting incidents to relate at dinnertime when family is together.'
12. Do you play gigs? What are your plans for the future?
We stopped performing live at the end of 2001 for a number of reasons. Ultimately, we felt we weren't capable of maintaining the kind of intensity we initially envisaged. I wanted live gigs to be a sensory assault. I'd seen My Bloody Valentine and Crash Worship in the early 1990's and found both bands incredibly cathartic. Seeing Crash Worship was like being thrown into a Jodorowsky film. I only saw them twice in New York, at Brownies and The Cooler in 1994. The whole set-up was not too dissimilar to what Boredoms are doing now, what with the en masse drum work-outs, only more rudimentary and less disciplined. What made the whole thing with Crash Worship so disorientating was the volume, relentlessness and their crazed entourage. I used to know this girl called Otter who used to do her 'Trip and Go-Naked' striptease at The Pyramid with Baby Dee on accordian. The first time I met her was at a Crash Worship performance, totally naked, lying on a bed of exotic fruit covered in blood and red wine. People were either cutting themselves up that night or having pigs' blood thrown at them. There was a real sense of 'what the hell am I doing here?' I'd never been to a Joe Coleman or G.G. Allin performance, so this was as extreme as it got for me.
A Sonic Catering performance was civilised in comparison. Besides, we don't believe in throwing food let alone blood or shit. But at the back of our collective mind, we were always trying to recreate that thrill with blenders and high volume sizzling. Now and again we'd hit on something approaching that rock n' roll surge, but more often than not, we were wondering why we even bothered turning up. It just seemed that stopping was the right thing to do. Trashing food blenders onstage is compulsory when you're 25 but not when you're 30. I also got so sick of having to worry about the food as well as the sound. A venue will have a PA, but what about a decent place to wash your vegetables?
I think doing After Dinner speeches would be the next appropriate step for us in terms of live appearances. I'd really love to get into that. We'd be lucky if we got the equivalent of 15 Euros for most gigs, which doesn't even cover your food or transport costs. You can get a good few hundred Euros for an After Dinner speech and you just turn up with your best neckerchief on and maybe a pack of playing cards if you run out of things to say. But for the majority of the world who missed out on our live capers, we've culled two hours of very classy material for a forthcoming live double CD on Nicolas Genital Grinder's Absurd label. He has quite a legacy in issuing and disseminating noise music. The first Merzbow CD I bought was part produced by him, so it's quite an honour to have his approval and get to hear all his bad jokes. One of the live CDs is a collage of our most intense and ridiculous moments and the other is a whole unedited performance we did in Geneva which is about the only gig we did that went according to plan. It's the steak au poivre of live albums. We've taken out all the fat, gristle and waste, leaving you with a super-lean offering. I had the idea of following Colin's pasty ethos by compiling the hours of dire live footage we scrapped and putting out several of these CDs for sale in petrol stations.
Our plans for the future involve getting the album completed for now. The last year in Hungary has been a huge influence on it. The atmosphere of the studio we use is certainly creeping into the recordings. It's situated on a Danube island. You have to take a low rickety footbridge to get there. It's beautiful during winter nights with all the mist. The engineer used to work for the Hungarian National Radio in the 1970's and has a few tales of his own about my piano player friend mentioned earlier. Some of our recordings have involved 1" tape and because that stuff is so rare and expensive, the engineer erases old reels from the radio. It feels like we're aiding him in a bid to erase Hungarian socialist history. I made a few personal tapes of stuff before it got erased. He had this hour long reel from a 70's political conference with all the translators multi-tracked, so you had these very stern voices in Russian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romanian, etc. and once you run a little reverb through it all, the whole thing sounds vast. Anyway, I'm digressing. I don't know what will happen beyond the album. When we started, we were adamant that we'd stop after The First Supper. The whole thing was just meant to be a one-off experiment and I thought we'd be through by the end of 1997, only as you can see, we got a little carried away.
13. You are living in Budapest, how different is the music scene in Hungary, and how do people react toward your music?
There is a very active scene in Hungary centred around a publication called 'Magyar Muhely' which begun in 1962 six years after the uprising. The initial covert spirit of Magyar Muhely is there, but this is now more to do with indifference than repression. However, persistence pays and 'Magyar Muhely' is highly regarded as a comprehensive publication on art, performance art, literature, music, film and philosophy. There are very strong links with people in both Slovakia and Austria which also extends to the Heyermears Discorbie label and Tilos Radio which is on the verge of becoming legal. If you really want to know what 'underground' means, talk to some of these guys who have spent six months in jail under the Communists just for indulging in a little performance art. There are some interesting bands over there; Budapastis, SKY, én, The Abstract Monarchy Trio. Someone will always turn up to one of these events and pull off some brief performance art frenzy just to throw everyone out of whack. A lot of those guys now guest on Sonic Catering recordings. They're definitely adding a different dimension to our sound and they seem to warm enough to the project just by the sheer fact that they're involved.
14. Can you give us the recipe that gives you more satisfaction in working with and that the result you found to be especially successful?
We don't give away trade secrets.
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Sonic Catering interview (August 2002) by Christos Carras for OVERDUB
1. Why did you choose this specific concept with gastronomy about your band?
- The whole Sonic Catering idea came about because of a dream I had in early 1996 in which I attended a performance centred around the amplification of cooking. The sounds I was hearing blew my mind. A whole array of colossal cauldrons brimming with boiling water and hot oil sizzling from an army of pans into the ether. It was the most hallucinogenic sounding thing, yet it's something I've heard almost every day of my life. That's what really got me - the fact that this wasn't some way out electronic sound. It's a very familiar domestic sound which a dream threw out of context. It proved that you can find the extraordinary within the ordinary and since then, I've been forever chasing that sound with varying degrees of success. In a sense though, cooking is a perfect analogy for sound construction in that you are working with raw material that has to be chopped and processed to achieve an orally/aurally edible result. Cooking is the perfect metaphor for what we do and we get a meal thrown in at the end of a recording session too. It's an accessible conceptual entry point to what is otherwise not accessible music.
2. Does it sometimes become limiting in the way you compose your music?
- - We find it almost liberating - the fact that you are restricted to one set of sounds. There's no performance involved in the cooking of a meal. What's recorded is a pure document and we have to make something from that. To me that's far more exciting than having an array of samplers and keyboards or whatever. I wouldn't know where to start if I was in any other band. Whereas with Sonic Catering, we are guided in a sense by the recipe. It's the equivalent of a musical score for us.
3. In your site you mention that The Sonic Catering Band is a project more than a band. Why?
- Perhaps after six years it's become more of a band than a project.
We initially wanted to explore the cooking concept just live in restaurants and do The First Supper project (a five course meal, documented in five separate 10" records in a pizza box) and then split up. We had no interest in doing the traditional band thing. As far as we were concerned, we were exploring a particular concept but in a band context, not an art one. We wanted to take art out of its gallery context and present what were more conceptual than musical pieces on record. And likewise with cooking - take it out of its domestic context and put it on record. Needless to say, being not one thing or the other hasn't done us any favours. People still like their art dressed up as art and their music dressed up as music. In a way, the music side of things got the better of us. The more time we spent in the studio, the more we got to learn how to work our way around it. The whole thing has become an addiction in every sense, because we certainly suffer more than benefit from being in this band. But the unfortunate thing is more ideas keep coming up and we never seem to get round to splitting up as we promised.
4. Do you have enemies? If yes, whom?
- Enemies are there to be ignored, not acknowledged.
5. Do you have a special recipe for the readers of overdub. How would you imagine this recipe as a music piece?
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp of sesame seed paste
2 tbsp lemon juice
˝ tsp of ground cumin
pinch of salt and black pepper
1 tsp of pomegranate oil
Cook aubergines thoroughly under a grill until the flesh is soft. Peel off the skin and squeeze water out from flesh. Put aubergine flesh into a food blender along with other ingredients. Use resulting mixture as a dip.
This track has ample opportunity for a noise assault, what with the blender, assuming you're that way inclined. Or you could just let all that sizzling work its magic.
6. Which is the current line up of The Sonic Catering Band. Which other projects/ bands are you involved in?
- The current line-up which has remained steady for the last four years is Colin Fletcher, Tim Kirby and myself (Peter Strickland). Colin is in about seven other bands; I lose count. Tim's other project is en-eye. He's mainly known for his remixes, including one for us, but I think he's gradually getting his own material together. I had a brief stint in They Came from the Stars; I Saw Them - it felt almost like one of those foreign exchanges, as three of their members guested in our band, not to mention a remix they did for us. A lot of members have come and gone in our band. It was always meant to be a loose network, but it always revolves around the core of three long-term members. When we started in 1996, we wanted to emulate Zoviet France by remaining anonymous. After six years of doing that, we've decided to come out the closet. Cynics will say our egos got the better of us and what's more, they're probably right. We genuinely wanted our 'band photo' to be the image of two microphones and a hob. It worked for a while, but at the same time all of us put a lot of work in and we feel like acknowledging ourselves now and again.
7. Could you describe a live set of the Sonic Catering Band?
- Initially, we wanted to perform in the kitchens of restaurants, hidden away from the public and pumping out the culinary sounds at muzak volume. Whatever the diners chose on the menu would dictate how the sound would progress. It seemed a unique way of performing, but no one was willing to put us on until ironically our very last performance at Geneva's Moloko restaurant. Our live set up until then revolved around the three of us in chefs' wear standing in complete confusion behind a bank of analogue reel to reel delays, samplers, home-made autowahs and electronic chopping boards wired to an array of blenders, hobs and popcorn machines. It's bad enough cooking for a hungry audience without having to worry about making a suitable sonic accompaniment at the same time. We only performed 12 times before we decided to stop doing it. When certain promoters only pay you ten pounds, (which doesn't even cover petrol let alone the food) and the DJ gets eighty pounds for bringing a few records along on the tube, it makes you pretty fucking sick. Besides, we were too hit and miss for a paying audience and washing up your equipment after a gig is not what rock n' roll's about. For those of you who missed out on the experience, we're putting together two CDs of live material for the Greek label, Absurd. It's a dream Sonic Catering performance pieced together from all our live tapes. The only thing missing is the food.
8. In which music family/ category do you think that the Sonic Catering Band are closer to and why?
- I've seen our band classed under so many different categories - space rock, plunderphonics, electronica, avant-garde, even dance at one point. Our band name is self-descriptive enough. That was the whole point. We didn't want to be yet another band who describe themselves as sounding a little like Faust crossed with Serge Gainsbourg or whatever on acid. You know, you see that in every other ad or press release. We file ourselves under Sonic Catering. That's what we do. It doesn't take much imagination to guess what we sound like. There are quite a few people experimenting with culinary sounds and I'm sure we are not the first. I remember being insanely jealous of Matthew Herbet (Dr. Rockit) as he got to the public post before us. I went with Colin to see Dr. Rockit perform back in early 1997 to see what the competition was like. I'd never been so depressed to find myself loving something. He's got a lot more talent, humour and invention on his side than so many other people I could mention.
9. What was the motivation behind starting the Peripheral label?
- Starting the Peripheral label (or Peripheral Conserve as it's sometimes known) was one of the necessities of getting our music distributed. We knew from early on we wouldn't get signed and we knew we could just about survive financially as long as we pressed small numbers. The more Sonic Catering records we did, the more keen I was on putting out records by other people. Both United Dairies (Steven Stapleton's label) and the Italian label, Cramps were God-like to me. Cramps was THE label - the uniform packaging, the roster of people - some established and some completely out of this world in every sense. Costin Miereanu and Martin Davorin Jagodic - hardly anyone knows of these people, but Cramps gave them the platform to put out some of the strangest, most beautiful albums ever. I wanted to approach people I found fascinating, but it is an undertaking when you take responsibility for someone else's work. I already let one person down. We were about to put out a beautiful sonic brick piece by Dominic Chennell's Carphology Collective, but we ran into problems with that. We've just put out a single by The Bohman Brothers which I'm thrilled about and at least one more is in the pipeline for this year.
10. Which artists and facts have changed the way you perceive and perform music?
- - Zoviet France were a huge influence on me, not so much in terms of the music, but in how they operated totally outside of the industry. They felt totally unique, the strange packaging and the fact they were anonymous lent an incredible power to the music. I was never in a band nor had any real interest in making music before I came across them and Nurse with Wound. You didn't have to read The Wire to hear about those bands, they had such a wide reach from just sheer word of mouth and that was so mindblowing to me at the time. Beyond music, both reading about and experiencing different cultures' take on cooking has also been a constant source of inspiration. We're starting to feel that the culinary side of things is developing now. When I started the band, my notions of food were very limited and we were using it merely as a conceptual crux. I've become far more interested in how food connects with humanity on so many levels; socially, philosophically, religiously, sexually and politically. The further east you move from England, the more food becomes incorporated into the culture, but then again, the harder it becomes for vegetarians too.
11. It seems that you have a very good knowledge of underground music in general. What are your thoughts on the current state of underground music?
- - The underground is not all its cracked up to be. It'd be far more exciting to exist in the mainstream without compromising your aesthetics. You're not making that much of a cultural leap if you're always preaching to the converted. Ennio Morricone has made some of the most uncompromising, free jazz freak-outs, yet he does it in a mainstream context and the music doesn't lose any of its power because of that. As long as you're carefully considering the context of what you're doing and not just appearing as some novelty act on a talk show, you can't go wrong. I'd much rather aspire to be like Ennio Morricone instead of the usual so-called subversives. The underground is such an open-ended term as it is. Now, any cowboy with a piece of music software and a CD burner can call themselves underground.
12. What is your take about MP3 and the "digital revolution"? Which are the positive / negative aspects?
- - The whole paradox about the digital revolution and affordable technology is that it'll ultimately be the undoing of the people it originally empowered. It pleases me no end that now one can operate totally independently of the music industry in terms of producing and manufacturing their own music from home, but what we have now is literally an infestation of sound. A decade ago, it was a question of 'how do I get a record made?', now it's more a question of 'how do I get my record noticed?' The market is totally saturated. The other factor is the ratio of affordable technology to quality control. If you're saving up for months to get into a studio and press a record, as a general rule, one would be making damn sure they wouldn't be going in for nothing. Now it seems so many people are bunging out any old crap into the market just because it's easy enough to do. It still remains that all this is good for those who are genuinely talented but beyond the financial reach of a studio. At the user-end scale of things, CD-recorders and MP3s are posing quite a healthy threat to the music industry. In a way, I hope the digital revolution puts all those record industry pricks out of business. The music industry feels more like a property market than what should be a forum for disseminating culture. Anything that destabilises the industry is a good thing culturally. It'll also prevent a lot of good people from being heard too, but that's already the case in the current climate. The destabilisation of the industry will at least get rid of all the chancers and arseholes. All you'll have left is people who are seriously devoted to what they love doing whether they're recognised or not. Just like folk music and that survived without an industry.
13. What are your dreams about The Sonic Catering Band?
- To be remembered as a band who mapped out their own territory. To have Sonic Catering recognised as a genre in itself would be the ultimate accolade.
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