Graham Reid | | 5 min read
Multi-media artist Neil Johnstone from Britain – who came here in 2017 -- has appeared a few times at Elsewhere, most notably with the wonderfully oceanic album Panthalassa and the more recently with the very different Chalk Dogs.
Where the former – with guitarist Sam Leamy and taonga puoro player Al Fraser – was a majestic, emotional roll of sound and depth with Johnstone on synths, samples and sonic manipulation, Chalk Dogs with Leamy and Steve Garden (adding production textures) is a scouring soundscape of morphing noise and music.
Johnstone refers to himself as “a conceptual artist more than a musician, with a strong fascination for how sound affects us emotionally”.
Both of those albums are very affecting, so it is timely then to ask him a few questions . . .
The first piece of music which really affected you was . . .
The first piece of music I can clearly remember is from when I was four or five five. My mum got me a promotional Flexi disc from Ricicles ( a breakfast cereal in the UK) it was called Noddy at the Seaside which was a story interspersed with songs praising the virtues of this particular cereal. I loved the songs but also found them slightly sinister and disturbing I can still sing the songs to this day .
Your first role models in experimental music were . . .
In some ways growing up in Scotland near Glasgow suited me, I had access to a very vibrant music scene. I think there are so many musos in Glasgow because music can be such an important means of escape.
And I also had older friends at Glasgow Art College in bands who recommended lots of things so I got to hear a lot of music early on. So local experimental Glasgow bands like Edith and the Ladies and The Rites of Shiva definitely influenced me early on as well as better known bands like Cabaret Voltaire and The Residents and more mainstream people like of course Eno. The brilliant thing about those Glasgow bands is they showed me was possible to just go out there and create.
Did you grow up listening to rock music, and if so who or what bands when you were 14?
Yes, absolutely at fourteen I was definitely a heavy metal kid, long hair, leather jacket the works . . . but also with hippy/psychedelic tendencies so some patchouli thrown in there too. At 14 I would be listening to the usual suspects Led Zeppelin , Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Hawkwind all those sorts of bands but also people like Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Steppenwolf, Pink Floyd and Vanilla Fudge.
If music was denied you, your other career choice would be . . .
This is where I need to fess up I don't really think of myself as a musician. I am really much more a conceptual artist with a strong fascination for how sound effects us emotionally and how it can be used to explore abstract ideas like time and consciousness. I think about sound more like a painter thinks about colour. And I am really lucky to work in lots of different creative mediums which is ideal for me, but if I couldn't do that I would like to try my hand at being a fiction writer.
And I do love my day job as a librarian.
The three pieces of innovative music from any period (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear are . . .
Lux Aeterna by György Ligeti
Orowaru by Ross Harris
Wind Words by Stomu Yamashta [which is on this Elsewhere Spotify playlist]
Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange musical memorabilia or instruments at home ...
I met Brian Wilson a few years back thanks to my wife and have a signed copy of Wild Honey which I treasure for several reasons. And I have a lot of weird and wonderful musical instruments dotted about the house.
The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .
Ocean of Sound by David Toop closely followed by This Is Memorial Device: An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Music Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978–1986 by David Keenan
Which is a fictionalised account of the post punk music scene in my home town.
If you could get on stage with anyone it would be?
I honestly love the musicians I work with at the moment and really wouldn't change that.
Al Fraser, Sam Leamy, Ariana Tikao, Jake Church, Erika Grant, Phil Boniface, Emma Bowen, Robert Baldock, Peter Deane and Steve Burridge .
They are all such hugely talented musicians and such lovely creative people that I feel honoured just to work with them.
The three films you'd insist anybody watch because they might understand you better are . . .
Pinocchio - Disney version.
The Man who Fell to Earth by Nicolas Roeg
And Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky.
The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include…).
In Pursuit of Shashamane Land by African Head Charge. reissue
Recent downloads include
Te Rā Ki Te Pō by Riki Gooch and Al Fraser
Cloud Hidden by Susumu Yokota
Born Into This (volume two), the Music of Rattle
air falbh leis na h-eòin – away with the birds by Hanna Tuulikki
One piece of mainstream pop music, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you in that case would be . .
Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys. I adore that track, never grow tired of it .I love the weird optimism it encapsulates.
The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .
The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg). A painting by Leonora Carrington,
You are allowed just two albums of any genre to take on a month-long retreat, they are . . .
For the Roses . Joni Mitchell.
Low by Bowie and Eno.
David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's all we've got . . .” You would spend them where and doing what?
I would spend my time having as much fun as possible with my wife, nephew, sister in law here in Wellington and the rest of my family in Scotland just enjoying each moment. I would also broadcast as much as I could ( I do a monthly slot on Radioactive FM called zero hour) perhaps dragging them all in too.
I am aware that once broadcast that radio waves travel out into space forever. I love the possibility that the last thing known about our civilisation is a radio show I curated picked up billions of years in the future by an alien civilisation a show that is playing a song from Noddy at the Seaside singing " we all like Ricicles there twicicles as nicicles " .
People often speak of certain instrumental pieces as “music for imaginary films”. Is there a piece of your music you could say would fit perfectly in THAT film?
Oh I think our present release Chalk Dogs with Sam Leamy and Steve Garden would fit perfectly over David Lynch's Lost Highway.