Features Interviews

Karen & Peter Interview: “The writing is grounded very powerfully in the music”

We talk to the poet and sound artist on their excellent debut collaboration LP.

Who says file sharing isn’t a wonderful thing? For starters, we wouldn’t be graced with half of the collaborations that have materialised over the past three years or so had it not been for this particular phenomena.

And another fine collaboration has emerged in the fashion in the way of poet, Karen Schoemer, and visual sound artist, Peter Taylor, who release their beautiful debut long-player, Aggro Dolce.

Preceding the release of Aggro Dolce, both artists have been hugely prominent over the years. Schoemer, a feverish collaborator having worked alongside Oli Heffernan on his Ivan the Tolerable project, Minutemen legend Mike Watt as the duo Jaded Azurites, and fronting the seemingly lost band within the world of SST, Sky Furrows, who released their self-titled debut album in 2020.

Taylor meanwhile has his own solid repertoire, producing music over the last two decades as Mortuus Auris & the Black Hand/ MAbH, as well as working across an array of disciplines, including photography, animation, illustration and painting.

Together, they raise the bar with Aggro Dolce. An ethereal dream-state affair that unravels like half-forgotten dreams.

These recordings are delicate. Seven compositions that are almost like having a butterfly in the palm of your hand, starting with the beautifully crafted title track. Then there’s the eerie hum of Taconic Gate which is like walking through the rain sodden streets of Berlin.

On Do You Remember the Factory that Burned? and Grief Forest, Schoemer’s striking poetry evokes the kind of imagery George Bowling stumbled across all those years later in Orwell’s Coming Up For Air.

Filled with industrial echoes, Weekend in the Berkshires sees Schoemer’s words intersect suburbia with working class grit. A contrast to Truth is in Sounds, as Schoemer opens the song with the words, “Do you want to sleep together? Underground?” It’s something out of the warped world of Haruki Murakmi.

Such as the nature of this collaboration, between Schoemer’s poetry and Taylor’s soundscapes, the meaning and colour throughout the world of Aggro Dolce will change with every listen.

In the lead-up to the release of Aggro Dolce, Schomer and Taylor answered some of our questions about the album and the inspirations behind it.

Some Gift: An Interview with Enablers

Sun 13: How did you two cross paths, I understand you’ve not yet met in person?

Peter Taylor: “I discovered Karen’s work through Sky Furrows via band members, Eric Hardiman and Mike Griffin. I have released a record with Mike on Eric’s Tape Drift label and have been friends via social media with the pair ever since. I loved Karen’s writing and vocal delivery and thought she would be someone great to collaborate with. As we live almost three and a half thousand miles apart, sadly we haven’t (yet) had the opportunity to meet in person. I messaged Karen via Facebook back in September 2019 proposing a collaboration.”

S13: Can you tell us about the process of Aggro Dolce?

PT: “Once we had the initial idea set, we agreed that I would compose a selection of instrumental pieces first so that Karen could spend time with them before creating poems to accompany the music. I was just out of full time work so spent a feverish week compiling seven tracks from field recordings I had taken in the Calder Valley, samples from old vinyl I had bought on my trip, and upright piano and synth recordings I had made at home. After seven months of listening and over 100 drafts Karen returned with the finished poems. After recording the vocals Karen emailed them and I spent the next few weeks mixing them with my sounds.”

S13: With your lyrics, Karen, are they snippets of poetry you’ve had over the years, or were they specifically written for these songs?

Karen Schoemer: “I sometimes bring finished poems into collaborations – I do that with bassist Mike Watt in a duo called Jaded Azurites. But I sort of prefer writing to music, because music has such instant emotional colour, and because rhythm is a huge part of poetry. This work originated entirely in the music. Peter’s recordings hit me very hard. They were moody and desolate and delicate. At the time, I had just emergency vacated from an apartment in upstate New York because it had been overrun with mold after a period of heavy rain. I had to throw most of my belongings away, including hundreds of books and most of my furniture. So I was in a crisis, really, and had found emergency housing in a nearby town and was walking around exploring it. The town has a lot of industrial traces from the nineteenth century –abandoned mill buildings and crumbling stonework. I asked Peter about his influences and he mentioned that that was on his mind as well. It was a perfect fit.

“My process is laborious. I free write like crazy and then sift through pages and pages to find unconscious declarations or unintended word constructions. I worried that he would think I was blowing him off, because it took so long! But I wrote specifically to each piece of music, listening for months, as he says. So the writing is grounded very powerfully in the music, as well as in these forces and disruptions in my life.”

All Structures Align: Distance and Departure

S13: It’s an album that I’d consider to be a dream state album. You manage to teleport the listener into your own world. That’s quite a difficult thing to do in this day and age. Was that the intention?

PT: “I’m not sure it was ever an intention, but the very nature of the sound and the vocal delivery most definitely lends itself to creating a trancelike state.”

KS: “I think Peter’s constructions are highly fluid and often shift unexpectedly. Disturbing moments erupt out of calm ones. I tried to pay attention to those shifts and align them with shifts in the words. Maybe it’s just the combination of non-verbal and verbal, both communicating but not necessarily in linear, objective ways.”

S13: In this regard, by extension,  I would consider you world builders. Would you see it this way?

PT: “I’d say that in all my musical and visual works, however abstract, I want to build something that resonates as an alien or an imagined state or vista. For me the creative process is about escapism through a daydream state – something I wish to share with the consumer of the end product. Being a lucid dreamer it’s fun to channel my imagination into tangible artworks.”  

KS: “World building reminds me of writing classes! Yes: you want to launch the reader/audience into a place that is fully operational and vivid, even if it’s complex and contradictory. As in science fiction! Which is a kind of literature I never read! But yes, trying to use concrete details that allow the reader/listener to feel present but also active and contributing his/her/their own memories, references, ideas.”

Karen & Peter - Aggro Dolce

S13: Open spaces and landscape feel like big influences with these recordings. Did you have this idea from the outset?

PT: “I spend a lot of time in my own mind and suffer greatly from ruminating and falling into spirals of negativity. Landscape and open spaces offer a diversion from harmful thoughts as my senses are engulfed by something greater than me. Wide skies, hills and mountains, or open water are environments of great healing for me. Even a busy city full of people and towering buildings can be a haven from my internal dialogue. I had just taken a solo walking trip to the Calder Valley, which I try to do every other year, where I had taken a number of field recordings and photographs. This was fresh in my mind and provided some of the source materials for the record. I had also read Benjamin MyersUnder the Rock which gave some historic background to my meanderings.”

KS: “I’m very, very place-y. I do a lot of ’field writing’ — I go to a location repeatedly with a notebook over the course of several days and see what the environment brings out.”

S13: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think it applies to Aggro Dolce more than most albums. How do you see the relationship between sound and space?

KS: “I wish I had something other than pseudo-philosophic babble to offer. What you’re leaving out is time. Sound moving through space requires time. Sound, space and time all possess volume. The human brain travels all three in reckless, giddy ways that we then desperately try to order and structuralize. Peter’s music hits me as if I’m standing at the edge of something. It has perspective and dimension. And a lot of my writing is a sort of consciousness speaking, rather than a character. There can be a disembodied quality, like thoughts let out of a cage. So they can roam and move in ways that a bumbling physical body can’t.”

S13: Obviously you’ve both been in various projects throughout the years. Has your approach to songwriting and composition changed over the years?

PT: “I have quite a set method when it comes to working on a musical project. It usually takes place when I find a location that I want to record. I then set about visiting local charity shops to find old records to sample. Then I take the field recordings and samples and work them alongside improvised piano, keyboards and various other instruments I have lying around. My pallet of instruments has shrunk somewhat over the years as I have moved from place to place. Once I can afford to settle in a bigger house I will aim to build a collection of weird and wonderful instruments as I love to experiment with acoustic sounds.”

KS: “I hope I’m around and you ask me for poems! That sounds very exciting!

“I just try to write better. I try to excise the less helpful bits and be as ruthless with my work as I can stand to be. Writing is wonderfully cumulative over the course of a lifetime. I hear things that I was very impressed with myself over, and realise they didn’t work. I hope I’m less sentimentally attached to my preciously birthed words than I used to be.”

S13: Again, you’ve both been heavy collaborators over the years. Do you see collaboration as a different way to enter new sound worlds and also to progress your own ideas?

PT: “Most definitely. I needed to think about space more than ever before and I think this has helped my compositions going forward. One of the things I loved about working with Karen was the excitement and anticipation as I waited for each poem. It was a joy to finally get them and hear how beautifully they worked with my sounds. Mixing the final tracks gave me so much more than any solo project has.”

KS: “Myself as well. Musicians are the most wonderful people in the universe. They’re incredibly generous. I guess when I am invited to collaborate I feel loved, and that’s a good mindset for work, even painful or emotionally difficult work.”

S13: Are there plans to release more music together?

PT: “I do hope so!”

KS: “Yes, please, Peter!”

Aggro Dolce is out now via Cruel Nature. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

2 replies on “Karen & Peter Interview: “The writing is grounded very powerfully in the music””

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