“It was the most horrific, 10-minute-long, weird piece of shit I have ever heard in my life… So I sent him a message and asked him if he wanted to work with me.”
Tom Scholefield is a phenomenally productive visual artist, musician, and 3D animator. Over the past few years, he has collaborated with a wild ostentation of musicians ranging from Oneohtrix Point Never, Lone, and Mogwai, to a number of artists on the ever-expanding Warp roster. Earlier this year, Scholefield released his debut full-length through Planet Mu under his Konx-om-Pax moniker. Regional Surrealism is a remarkable blend of experimental, electronic sounds that seems to invoke an excitingly complex set of reactions from its audience, while also working as a means of creative release for the audio architect in question.
TMT spoke to Scholefield over the phone while he quaffed a quick pint and waited on some visuals to render.
What are you rendering this evening? Have you been working on something special?
A wee bit. I’ve been working with Laurel Halo on her tour visuals from the album for her European dates. It’s like a 45-minute-long piece that will play behind her when she is performing live, so lots of abstract simulations. It’s all very colorful.
She used an amazing anime image for her Hyperdub release this year. Does that tie in with her live visuals thematically?
Some of it has got a bit of manga vibe, just with the general spec of the color palettes it looks quite manga-esque, and so it kinda fits in. But I have also just finished a short film for Channel 4, a thing that I am doing through “Lucky Me.” That’s the first time I have had to do everything myself; I wrote it, directed it, shot it, I did the 3D animation and the sound design. There are a couple of characters in it too, like an alien under a bridge in Glasgow, which is interesting! I think that is going to be on Channel 4 in a few weeks, hopefully.
Are you focused more on the visual side of things at the moment, as opposed to making music?
I am definitely working on more short-film projects that I am able to soundtrack myself, so I think putting an album out was a way of easing off from the visual side of things to get a break from it all. But then, I have got back into this visual stuff in an attempt to try and direct more, I think.
From what I understand, Herzog and Kubrick are particularly influential for you. Does that play into your visuals at all?
I really like the relationship that Herzog had with the musicians he worked with. You don’t really get that much in cinema anymore. Most soundtracks to films are forgettable crap, but back in the day, it was always a big thing that you knew the theme tune, like John Carpenter would always work with particular people and make memorable theme tunes and stuff. I kinda want to bring that back a bit more, to get good music for those visuals.
I saw you the other week at Corsica in London for the Planet Mu takeover. I went to watch your set without really having an idea what sort of stuff you were going to be playing or what was going to be happening there. With Venetian Snares on the bill, it seemed like a bit of an odd fit.
Yeah, I knew it was going to be like that. I knew I was going to be the odd one out.
So how did that feel, being on such a specific roster?
I’ve never, ever bothered about fitting in anywhere. I just like doing my own thing most of the time. I knew that night was going to be pretty mental, so I just wanted to play broken acid and bass tracks and just have something a bit more accessible. I kinda like just straight-up, simple, Chicago House and rave tunes, nothing too intense. I enjoy making people dance and having a good party atmosphere rather than… well, Venetian Snares. I can appreciate his music, of course, but I don’t really like going to see these sorts of things that much; it’s just too intense. I like dancing, and I like making girls dance.
Well, it looked like you were doing a pretty good job!
Yeah, well, London crowds from my experience are always pretty hard to please. They are not as enthusiastic and they don’t go as crazy as crowds elsewhere, but I think I played plenty of stuff that got a really good reaction. So I was quite chuffed with getting a bit of crowd interaction, and that is always quite difficult in London, but yeah it seemed to be busy for the whole set.
Cover art for Oneohtrix Point Never’s Rifts
When you do a live set, do you consider playing some of the darker, slower stuff from your album?
Yeah, at the moment when I DJ, it’s all “party.” But when I do more of a “live” thing, I DJ my own music and play live synths over the top. I am also controlling the visuals, and it’s all fairly ambient with a bit of heavy noise stuff. I played an ambient show a few weeks ago, and it worked well. It’s great when I support bands and stuff, and I have the visuals projected over myself and in the background. But I have started to make more danceable stuff for my live sets actually, just in the last few weeks, and that works quite well.
So what is it like when you are playing the ambient stuff in front of the visuals? Do you get locked into what you are playing and cut out from the audience?
Sometimes I get really zoned in and I forget where I am, and that is a very good thing; it is a sort of self-induced trance. And that is always good. I notice that a lot of people at my shows tend to lie about on the floor, or just sit down and totally zone out to it, and I think that is great, that is perfect. I think that happened the last time I played with Oneohtrix; it was just people zoning out to it and it was really nice, but it was all about the environment I suppose and that comes with doing an ambient set.
The album has been out for quite a few months now and it has been described in the press as being a dark record. Would you agree with that description?
I would say that it is more melancholic than dark, but all of the tracks kind of make me feel quite happy; they make me feel content. They are not “super-happy” or anything, but they do make me feel peaceful.
So how about the processes you went through to record the music? You mentioned that the music helped you to take a break from all the visuals. Did you find it therapeutic?
I would tend to have a long day of doing 3D animation or things that would be very intense, and I would come home and my brain would still be buzzing and I would still be in the mood for making stuff. But I would kind of want to calm down a bit, so I would make some music before going to bed and just try and knock myself out or develop something that would relax my brain a bit, so a lot of it comes from that I think. And the processes are all a bit blurry. I can’t really remember how I make most of my stuff, it’s all very in the moment, but I don’t mind about forgetting, because it means you don’t repeat yourself.
You just fiddle about with stuff, and then you go, “I like that, I’ll record that,” and then sometimes I will have lost files… and I will try to do it again, but it will never be the same. But I was reading an interview with Autechre, and they were going on about how sometimes they wish they could “un-hear” things to start a new process, because sometimes you can get too locked into what you are doing and you can’t add to it, because you are too familiar with it. So I kinda like working quickly. The quicker you can make something sometimes, the better. Or you could get the general outline, and then go back and define it later with broader strokes.
Did Regional Surrealism take a long time to compile, was it a project you kept going back to?
Yeah, some of the tracks are six or seven years old and some of the tracks are quite new, but I compiled it in a few months, like it was just a case of sending stuff to Mike [Paradinas of Planet Mu] and then working together. We worked quite closely on the tracklisting and the order with what went in and what didn’t go in, so that took a few months, and when I had written all of the tunes, it was just a case of just cutting it down until it was something that worked as an album.
I saw each song as being like a painting, so it was just different brush strokes and techniques to create a bigger picture. I mean, each song is like a different scene in a film, so it is all… everything is meant to be aesthetically a bit different, but still come together as a whole. Yeah, I just have a short attention span and I can’t make everything the same, because that’s just boring, so I always try and change things when I make a new bit of music.
It’s interesting when you say that they sound like different pieces for different films. Whenever I listen to the album, I always encounter particular visualizations. There is almost a kind of David Lynch vibe in a lot of places, but that is completely subjective of course.
Yeah, I have heard loads of different opinions from people. It’s quite funny how there are so many descriptions of my music. But I think that is good because I like tons of stuff; I like so many different things and I think [Regional Surrealism] is a diluted version of my own interests, which are reflected here.
You also use some very peculiar sample material. “Sura-Tura-Gnose-Cosi” stuck out for me, with its rather absurd approach to the story of Lazarus.
Oh yeah, that is just a load of nonsense to be honest. I first heard City Scum Shot, a kind of underground noise dude in New York, who I discovered on Myspace. I heard some of his music and it was pretty much some of the most disturbing spoken-word shit I have ever heard. It kind of read like a horror movie. He did one piece called the “The Bamboo Vein” that was about a guy that was sexually attracted to animals, and he used to shag them and then orgasm when blood squirted out. It was the most horrific, 10-minute-long, weird piece of shit I have ever heard in my life. It really freaked me out, it was really disturbing… So I sent him a message and asked him if he wanted to work with me. I asked him about doing a weird, Satanic, Lord’s prayer type thing — it’s a bit of a homage to a Nick Cave and that’s what I had in mind — a monotonous, prayer-type thing with a really relaxing track underneath, and I was into doing stuff like that so basically it was a kind of nod to Nick. But content-wise, I would say it was nonsense, I just like the textures and noise, without listening to the actual content — it was just a bit daft and weird, that’s all.
What about the samples you use on other recordings?
I don’t think there are too many samples on the new one. But I did sample a random Bollywood clip off of YouTube video from my laptop speakers before. I have no idea what it is, but most of it is all played, or synthesized actually. But the last track on [Regional Surrealism] actually comes from a children’s story tape that I have had since I was about 3. I remembered it, and I went back to my mum and dad’s house and looked through the attic and found the tape and ended up sampling a wee melody bit, and then added more onto the bass-line and slowed it down and made it really, spaced-out. So, that is the sound of my childhood pretty much. I also mixed bits and bobs from old BBC idents from YouTube and added them. I did that on one of the first records — there was an old 1970s jingle on that, which I slowed down… I tend to slow everything down… a lot.
Recording from the laptop speakers sounds interesting. Are you into the degradation of music quality as an aesthetic?
Yeah, I kind of fuck with it a lot, then try something with tape or have a room recording. I like using Macbook pro laptops because they record things easily, so it is easy to get a really shitty room recording. I just like putting things through other things in order to slow them down, and just try and mess them up as much as possible to just give the sound a bit more texture.
Artwork from Regional Surrealism
What about the battle between nature and technology that appears on the cover of Regional Surrealism, would you say that was a major theme in any of your work?
I don’t think this is a conscious idea of mine; it is probably more of a subconscious thing. But I have been thinking about this a lot more recently. I live in the city and it’s really grimey and harsh and horrible, but my music makes me think of being out in the countryside and being surrounded by green things. So there is definitely that sort of “industrial verses nature” type thing going on in my head — I think it is almost an escapist sort of thing as well.
So do you find inspiration through being in the forest and among nature?
Yes, there is something relaxing about it — a kind of zen-type tranquility you get when you go out in the middle of the country, a few hours’ drive away from Glasgow. Yes, it is more calm, I guess, when I go out into the country.
How did you manage to get involved with creating the album covers for other musicians? Was it a case of coming straight out of university, or did you hit the workplace straight away after college?
Yes, I just kind of stumbled into it after I graduated art school. I did a thing for Warp when I was in art school so that was a good calling card, and I got a lot of attention after dealing with them, which made things easier. But since then, I have just been doing bits and bobs.
So where do you see the direction of some of the people you have worked with, or even electronic music generally, in terms of technological development and massive alterations in consumer behavior?
I don’t really think about it on a larger scale outside of my own stuff, if you know what I mean. I never really pay attention to the bigger picture. I am more interested in personal development so that I am able to keep myself interested in things. I struggle to think outside of my own little box. As far as the Planet Mu roster goes, I am still independent, but one of the reasons that I decided they were a good label for this record was after working with Kuedo. I just loved his album so much and it seemed like a similar aesthetic to what I was doing, so that’s why I went to Planet Mu. I also like Mike Paradinis and his old stuff, and I was just a fan of the label in general. Yeah, it’s a good home.
What can our readers expect to hear from you in the coming months? What have you got in store?
Keep your eyes out on Channel 4 for something weird. There will be something out with them online as well, I think. But other than that, I have just come to the end of loads of big projects so… I think I need to go on holiday.
Where are you going to go?
I don’t know, probably somewhere really shit — and hot — to drink cocktails.