Orkus Magazine interview with Martin Hall by Manuela Ausserhofer (October 2013)
On October 4, 2013, Martin Hall’s album Phasewide, Exit Signs was released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In this relation the German magazine Orkus made an interview with Hall that was featured as one of the main stories in the October edition of the magazine.
Preceding the European release of the album several German, Italian and Polish sites had already published a line of excellent reviews. Orkus Magazine itself pronounced Phasewide, Exit Signs to be “intoxicating” in its review of the record.
The following is a translation of the interview that is featured in a slightly shorter form in the German magazine. The interview is conducted by Manuela Ausserhofer, editor of Orkus. If you want to read the full article featured in the October 2013 edition of Orkus, please buy the e-Magazine or printed version here.
I hadn’t released a solo album in seven years, so it was important to me that this record captured a high degree of presence. You should be able to hear a recording breathe when you listen to it. Having worked with music for a long time there’s always a risk of becoming familiar with the process and I couldn’t afford that this time. I don’t feel particular comfortable in a formal studio situation and I wanted to challenge this. Sometimes I’d cancel a session halfway through, if I knew that I’d lost focus. I had to make sure that the new record kept a certain “seismographic” quality to it – in the sense that it should pass on the hesitancy and fragility of life rather than just to offer a safe display of abilities. When you write and record a song, it should be a biopsy of your soul. To me nothing less is acceptable. Manners won’t get you very far. You need to invest all of yourself if you want to pass something on.
You are such a talented person. You play so many instruments; you write books. Can you tell our readers more about your activities? And how would you describe the style of the music that you are making? Could we call it Modern Classic?
I guess you could. Last year I recorded an album with mezzo-soprano Andrea Pellegrini and pianist Tanja Zapolski and this release was received as a so-called classical record although the songs were quite radical outbursts – titles such as ”MILFs, Cum and Schopenhauer” and ”Dead Horses on a Beach” might give you a sense of the nature of the project. When I afterwards set out to record my new solo album, I wanted to use classical instrumentation as well, but in a more subdued and quiet way. I’ve always had a problem with categories, so I’m probably not the best to tell you which style of music I’m making. It can become a serious problem if people – the media in general or a larger audience – begin to expect only one thing from you as an artist. I’ve had periods with chart success, but somehow I always ended up releasing a potentially career-destroying avant-garde project in the wake of a success. This is how I work. I need to explore things. So are we dealing with Goth, God or Goethe? I don’t know. I mean, seen from my point of view Mozart was the biggest glam rock star ever and Liberace was a first class burlesque artist. You’re always defined according to the time and circumstance you find yourself in, but “das Ding an sich” doesn’t exist.
Can you remember the moment – the actual first moment – when you decided to make music? How old have you been and which ideas did you have?
One night when I was six years old my parents went to the cinema and brought me along as well. The trailer before the night’s feature film was the trailer for Stanley Kubrick’s upcoming 2001 – A Space Odyssey and the soundtrack featured Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra”. I was completely blown away by the visuals and the music. Then my family moved to Spain where we lived for a year – it was during generalísimo Franco’s leadership and it was not a very pleasant experience. When I came back to Denmark glam rock was emerging and I loved every aspect of it: All this gender bender space age sexuality and guys wearing make-up and high heels. The music and the Fellini’sh excess of this period really appealed to a pre-teenager like me. And then punk happened! I mean, what more could you ask for? Even though I didn’t feel particularly talented, nothing else mattered from that point on. So – Strauss, Stravinsky or Sex Pistols, you choose, ‘cause I can’t.
Why have you called the album “Phasewide, Exit Signs”. What does that mean?
You’re the first to ask. It’s obviously a fairly abstract title, but the term “phasewide” is about making space, being able to breathe, in a confined situation. On a personal level I’ve had a sense of things coming to an end lately – like one chapter is closing and another is about to begin. I have no idea where it might take me, so it’s a mixed feeling of unsettlement and relief. It’s like being in a hotel room in a foreign country late at night, lying in the dark watching the faintly glowing exit sign above the door.
What do you want to present with this album? Is there a concept in it? And it would be great if you could tell us something about the production? Have you worked together with some interesting persons?
Phasewide, Exit Signs is probably the most “stripped” album I have ever made. More than anything it’s a “state of mind” record … a quiet, almost fragile sounding release. It was recorded on different locations around the world and is characterized by an occasional almost sketch-like production. During the process I’ve used dictaphones and old-fashioned cassette machines to get the right sound across or simply to capture the right moment at some desolate site. Both musically and lyrically the album is soaked by a strong sense of isolation although the many different places used during the recordings have obviously had great impact on the album as a whole. Working with Othon Mataragas, which you might know from his works with Marc Almond and Current 93, was a great experience – he’s a fantastic pianist and a wonderful person. We also share a similar background of mixing so-called classical and electronic ways of working.
Can you chose again one or two songs from the new album and tell us the story of it?
The vocal track on “Tin Music” is recorded in a hotel room in Poland after performing at The Podlasie Opera in Białystok. I was exhausted when I got back to my room late at night, but it had been such an uplifting experience to play at this old opera house that I had to stay up for a little while longer. It was quite a warm night and there was this old church just opposite my hotel window, a beautiful building, and a hum of voices somewhere far away. The moment had a huge impact on me. I’m very grateful to have been able to record Phasewide in this manner – on different locations around the world. My favourite song on the album, ”Muted Cries”, was partly recorded in Montreal, Canada … of all possible places in a street called Rue Champagne. Sounds kitsch, doesn’t it? Anyway, at the other end of the spectrum you have something like the recording session with the brass band on “Red Lips, Marble Eyes”: Suddenly you’re confronted with these six guys with horns and marching drums packed into a small room with you. For a minute I felt like panicking.
Beside the music you are also a writer. I read that there is a new release called “Memo” 2013. Can you tell us something about this piece and about the other book releases of you?
“Memo” is a new writing, a short piece of poetry written earlier this year. The text is combined with a graphic illustration that I made towards this end. I started writing very early. Music has always been about communication to me – about communicating a feeling or a statement of life. Music with inane or insensitive lyrics has always put me off. In the beginning my writing served as an extension for my lyrics, but then it grew into something more. When I write books or essays I do so in Danish, which is a very different way of working compared to writing in English. When I wrote my “magnum opus”, a two-volume book called The last Romantic in 2005, it was really an attempt to tell the story of a whole generation – my generation, the 80’s generation – something that required a bit more space than a song allows. However, sometimes less is more, and I really appreciate when the right set of words are put into music … when a few lines are able to express what volumes of encyclopedias can’t. It’s very uplifting when someone has the ability to hint something enormous in a subtle, discrete way.
Orkus Magazine 10/2013 was released on September 25 in 62.500 copies.