Incendiary have an online chat with Snorkel

I have always thought of Snorkel as some kind of organism or eco system which has it's own set of logic and rules which the musicians are engaging with.


A few months ago we were bowled over by the brilliance of Snorkel's remix LP, One Long Conundrum. we dug further and found their LP, Glass Darkly a tremendous listen too, full of edges and attitude. To our minds, Snorkel are an interesting band indeed; operating on the more experiemntal fringes of your imagination. We mailed Frank Byng and Ben Cowen some questions and this is whjat we got back...


IN: What's the ethos behind Snorkel? It says your records company's site you "explore and develop strategies for improvisation using flexible line- ups".

Frank: Improvisation is and always has been at the core of what we do, although there have always been methods used to 'organize' our material, either by way of studio editing/production or varying compositional methods. Most ideas certainly start as improvisations, often based around a very simple starting point, and we always try to keep this process as an integral part of what we do whether it is live or in the studio. Having said that, the resulting music is what is ultimately important and really what we are doing is trying to compose music in real time, as it were. As far as flexible line-ups goes, we do still collaborate and there are times when the line-up has to change depending on everyone's schedule but this current line-up actually feels more fixed than it ever has.

Ben: With Snorkel, our interest is built around two main principles - groove and improvisation. We try to emphasise texture and rhythm as opposed to harmonic music that reinforces a melodic line. We use modern sonic techniques but prefer to physically sculpt the live performances as opposed to use backing tracks/laptops etc.

IN: How in practise is such a statement made flesh? Easy to find like- minded souls?

Frank: The line up is obviously important. I have always thought of Snorkel as some kind of organism or eco system which has it's own set of logic and rules which the musicians are engaging with. The players obviously all bring their own ideas, skills and influences but we all sort of instinctively know when something sounds like a Snorkel piece and when something is working or not working. Getting the right kind of balance between the kinds of instruments and players has always seemed vital in shaping what we do and I guess there is some kind of an idea of what Snorkel should sound like, although that is hard to define.

Ben: It's flexible in the sense that we're not strict about how that's achieved in terms of instrumentation but obviously how we interact is important. It needs to be a balance of players who have one foot in traditional instrument playing with a sensibility of sound manipulation. Not easy to put your finger on who's right for the band but you have an instinct for it.

IN: And how are your ideas about music changed or challenged by such a process?

Frank: Improvisation, in my mind, always throws up new possibilities and interesting hybrids. The challenge is to make our music interesting for others. Ben: There is often a tension between wanting to create set material and improvising….it's often that a song or a set piece comes from an improvisation rather than sitting down to specifically write a song. It can also be dangerous to recreate an improvisation because it worked the first time round. The main aspect of improvisation is that happens in real time so you have to be alert all the time but trying to listen to what works.

IN: Listening to One Long Conundrum I'm struck by how much you must like Can, or what Plank and Moebius used to do with LPs like Rastakrautpasta. Am I correct?

Frank: Not familiar with The Plank/Moebius record but yes, Can, and the work of Holger Czukay and Leibezeit in particular, are a big influence, although not all the band would necessarily sign up to this. We never set out to sound in any way like Can, and i think the similarity is more in the methodology and approach to collective music making.

IN:It doesn't really sound like a remix LP to these ears. It sounds remarkably coherent - an urban groove record, albeit one encompassing a number of disciplines. Fair comment?

Frank: I think so and hope that is how it is percieved.... It was very much the intention. The idea of the remix was something that never really appealed in the past. It always seemed like a distraction from the original work especially when its aims are commercially driven. But it seems that, certainly within 'experimental music' and the current state of the industry, remixing has become a much more interesting activity....more of a genuine dialogue between like minded artists I suppose. We chose the remixers because we knew they would approach the remixes with the right kind of attitude and because we felt that they would all work together as a coherent and interesting collection. In a sense we are continuously 'curating' our own material and here we are extending this idea to include remixes.

Ben: I think the way all the remixers work is that they can put the remix material 'through' there own process as if they had created those sounds as opposed to putting something 'to' the material.

IN: Tell us why you chose these particular artists on here for the remixes. What do they bring that you value?

Frank: All the artists involved are people we have worked with or shared bills with at gigs and who we are friends with....Crewdson and Robert Logan are both on the same label as us....and, in fact, have both played a gig as a Snorkel member at different times. Sculpture and Rome Pays Off are both acts who, although they haven't released on Slowfoot, are part of the extended family. We have actually remixed for all these artists except Sculpture. Nothing too clever to say here except we love what all these guys are doing and they deserve to be listened too.