Where does one start with Whirling Hall Of Knives? In many ways, it’s simply a choose your own adventure scenario.
The Irish duo, consisting of Barry Murphy (The Last Sound) and Stephen Gethings (Nwyvre, Sound Breaking, Magnetize) have been building their own world of electronic madness for the last 16 years, which has resulted in 15 albums.
It’s a body of work that should be more celebrated than it is, with the pair running the gauntlet between diesel-powered IDM bangers (Seacht – 2016 and Decate 2017), sinewy spatial drones (Electric Lava and Saw the Recurent Future – both 2015), and green house acid trips (Ovoidulations and Oo – both 2020). Records that have seen Murphy and Gethings use Whirling Hall Of Knives as a vehicle to take us into distorted new worlds.
It’s euphoria for degenerates like us that are drawn to that type of thing, I guess, and Whirling Hall Of Knives have been the chief initiations of it.
Which brings us to their latest offering, Blown Vestige, released last month via Cruel Nature Records; the fourth WHOK release on the Newcastle label.
Blown Vestige sees Whirling Hall Of Knives produce some of their finest cuts yet. With a series of sharp reflections (Deconthroat, title track), heady drones (FrisPIF), dub-infused post-rock (All Eyes Down), grimy warehouse domination (Dropship), and wispy static dispatches seemingly from another planet (None Receiving and Saw-tail), it’s not a stretch to suggest that Blown Vestige is the best bits of Whirling Hall Of Knives rolled into 36 minutes.
That choose your own adventure scenario? Perhaps there is no better place to start than right here.
Via email, we asked Murphy and Gethings some questions about Blown Vestige and their journey since the beginning of Whirling Hall Of Knives. In true fashion, many of their answers are in collaboration form.
S13: Can you remember the first time the two of you met and how long was it from that point until you began making music together?
Whirling Hall of Knives: “Around 2004 at a night called Bleep run by Alan O’Boyle (Of One, Decal, Legion Of Two). In terms of working together, we were supposed to be no more than a one-off collaboration for a single live set at the 2006 Dublin Electronic Arts Festival, but after that it got a little out of hand.”
S13: What were the key ideas behind Blown Vestige?
WHOK: “Loss. Fatigue. Missed opportunities. Spaceships.”
S13: It’s a dramatic shift from your previous work. Was this something you were consciously thinking about during the writing and recording process?
Barry Murphy: “Well we have some even more mellow recent stuff out there such as the Ovoidulations and Oo albums from 2020, but yes it became clear early on that this wouldn’t be (entirely) splattered with horrific noise and beats.”
Stephen Gethings: “I don’t see it as a dramatic shift really, we haven’t yet got to the Laughing Stock phase of throwing babies, bathwater and distortion pedals out.”
S13: Someone described it as Surgeon jamming with the Dead C, which I thought was quite fitting. There’s some Fennesz influence in there, too, I think. What were you both listening to before recording this?
WHOK: “That was a quote we think from Byron Coley in The Wire several years ago that sounded good so we’ve shamelessly traded on it since!”
BM: “For me when in WHOK mode it tends to be a reaction against what I’m (involuntarily) hearing rather than being sparked off by similar sounding music.”
SG: “For me, Blown Vestige was informed by the rock/electronics crossover of the early ’90s – Main, Scorn, Koner, EAR – that type of thing.”
S13: All Eyes Down really underpins the album and feels like a centrepiece for me. Do you remember writing this one?
WHOK: “It’s all a blur to be honest but this one ended up with some live drums from our mate and frequent collaborator, Bryan O’Connell, so it sounds a bit more band-like. A dash of one-take shaky vocalising to further humanise it and no huge mood changes or tonal shifts, keeping it focused and short.”
S13: Dropship is a bit of an outlier on the album; the ‘banger’ I guess you could say. Can you tell us about it?
WHOK: “This also had some loops of Bryan’s drumming but they ended up being mangled to sound more like a hard tech-y synth line, so when the live drum sound went out that probably informed the rest of it Not a massively original thought but the dropship descent scene in the movie Aliens came to mind, so that was the title sorted.”
S13: With the pandemic, I think people have a new found appreciation for open spaces and I feel like this album really feeds into that, particularly with the title track. Did open spaces and environment influence the album at all?
WHOK: “Yeah with things being so claustrophobic for so long you can finally be excused for adding excessive reverb to everything for once, so there’s some unashamedly wide-screen stuff on here.”
S13: You’ve made 15 albums now. What are your key ideas behind your approach to making music as Whirling Hall of Knives?
WHOK: “It’s pretty unspoken really – when working on something if the answer is yes to ‘is this track finished?’ then it goes in the pot and will appear in some form as soon as possible. Rough edges and ‘mistakes’ are usually left alone so there are very few polished sounding tracks in the discography – corrosion and general murk prevails.”
S13: And how much comprise is there in a collaboration, and how is it different from cre1ating both as Magnetize and The Last Sound?
WHOK: “There’s a bit of telepathy at this stage, so when we are actively working on something it gets done quite quickly and painlessly. Compromises are usually made over tiny contentious details whereas the bigger picture is easier to complete.”
BM: “When it became clear that we were an active ongoing project, The Last Sound basically morphed into an imaginary space pop band, so most of my noisier/darker leanings transferred to WHOK and it became very easy to separate the two modes of working.”
SG: “Magnetize has been out of commission for over 10 years, for the last few years I’ve been lashing out some live improv’ tech-noise as Nwyvre and edits of mega-hits as Sound Breaking Sky. Thinking about it, maybe Nywvre has become my outlet for the more beat/noise driven stuff and that’s why WHOK is becoming easier-listening?”
S13: This is your fourth release for Cruel Nature Records. Just how important are labels like CNR to the independent artistic landscape?
WHOK: “Vitally important. There’s an extremely varied and rapidly expanding catalogue of Cruel Nature releases which would not be possible for a vinyl-only label (unless they had unlimited funding and zero business sense).
“In Ireland the Fort Evil Fruit label follows a similar path – wild variances but yet still somehow keeping a coherent aesthetic to the high release rate. There are certainly fewer risks when dealing with 50 tapes or whatever and with the musicians – for better or worse! – having complete artistic control you get an interesting ecosystem.”
S13: I assume you are both always working on something whether it be for this project or others. What are the plans for the rest of 2022?
WHOK: “We’ve put out a single track every new year’s eve for the past few years but other than that, when the next surge of activity takes hold we’ll have another EP or album together before long. Nwyvre is on a roll recently so hopefully more of that seeing the light soon and there are multiple releases from The Last Sound in a perpetual state of near-completion…”
Blown Vestige is out now via Cruel Nature Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.