Guy Sigsworth (born June 14, 1968 – on that day Grateful Dead played live at Fillmore East) is a U.K. based composer, producer and songwriter. In his career to date he has worked with many famous artists, including Seal, Björk, Goldie, Madonna, Britney Spears, Kate Havnevik, Bebel Gilberto, Mozez, David Sylvian and Alanis Morissette. He has also collaborated with many celebrated instrumental musicians, including Talvin Singh, Jon Hassell and Lester Bowie. He was previously a member of the band Frou Frou together with Imogen Heap.
Michael: Yesterday I downloaded an album I’ve never owned or heard before (except for the famous songs on it); Bill Withers´ „Just As I Am“. I’ve never been a Soul fan in the first place, but growing older I do discover, from time to time, old Soul albums. Bill Withers has established, as they say in MOJO, „a lower-key confessional soul style“. That’s what I like here, going for the more intimate moods. On the last track, at the end, the singer is shooting himself. Do you have a knack for certain old Soul records (apart from the nostalgic aspect)?
Guy: I love Bill Withers – you should listen to „I Can’t Write Left-Handed“, from „Live At Carnegie Hall“ – and Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye – the greats. It’s mostly Gospel songs I feel a need to hear again – „People Get Ready“, „Many Rivers To Cross“. Is it nostalgia? Yes, but not just that. Hip Hop is massively indebted to Gospel, for instance …
Michael: A propos nostalgia, and the „wild sixties“. Did you see MOONRISE KINGDOM?
Guy: Not yet. I love Wes Anderson, but he’s not a director many of my friends like, unfortunately. So I only get to see his movies later, on DVD.
Michael: I’m sure you will be blown away (at least impressed) by the music of the movie alone, mixing Benjamin Britten (his music is part of the story, children seem to love Britten here) and old Hank Williams songs, emphasising the outsider feeling of the 12-year old protagonists in the wilderness …
Guy: I love Britten’s music. Many 20th century composers really struggled with composing. The old common musical language was gone; so it felt like you first had to invent your own language before you could write even one note. Webern’s music feels like that. But Britten never seems to have struggled – at least not with the notes. Damn him! There’s a Suffolk connection here – one that connects Britten with Brian Eno and WG Sebald. BTW, have you seen Kevin MacDonald’s „Marley“? I loved that film.
Michael: A fantastic documentary. And MacDonald did this without being a Marley aficionado, more as an outsider working himself slowly into the life of Marley. Being a football fan myself (my club, Borussia Dortmund, is one of the ways to never walk alone :) – and we adopted that old tune via Liverpool) I loved the way he played football with his friends in London with the same intensity he was singing on stage. Besides a lot of other things. What did you especially like here?
Guy: Great personalities, great stories, great music. It was wonderful to see both Bunny Wailer and Lee Perry.
Michael: Yes, Lee dancing in the studio and directing the music. Time is running too fast. We can already look back at 2012, at least the first half. Anything that’s impressed you so far, musically?
Guy: In electronic music, Ninja Tune are my favourite label right now. I like Emika. She’s Czech, living in Berlin. She put out a great single, „Drop The Other“, in 2010. The album finally arrived at the end of 2011. I also like Eskmo. He’s got one trick – making snare drums sound like splintering wood – but it’s a good trick. And Amon Tobin’s „ISAM“ is an amazing work of advanced sound design. Apparently he has a great live show featuring 3D mapping.
I’ve heard some really great process music this year: Seth Horvitz’s „Eight Studies for Automatic Piano“; Marcus Schmickler’s „Palace Of Marvels“; Mark Fell’s „Multistability“; and Cyclo’s „ID“. I guess most listeners will think this is pre-music – research rather than rounded musical statements. And they’ll think it’s cold.
I don’t think my own music is cold, but I’ve always been fascinated by artists who adopt a deliberately severe and cold aesthetic. Some of these artists are incredibly cold – they’re about as emotional as a barcode. Ultimately I’d like to hear these musicians attempt a dialogue between the cold precision of their statistical processes and the messiness of frail, breathing humanity. I guess that should be my mission. If I get round to it.
Michael: That should be your mission, for sure! Let’s talk about metal music, Guy. The last metal album I listened to quite often, was, in my teenager days, the first or second Black Sabbath album. After that, I seemed to have lost the appetite :) Is there anything in this genre, you can recommend? Maybe I can reconnect with my youngster self …
Guy: Try Meshuggah. I’m still listening to their 2008 album, „ObZen“. I recently met the members of the band. They were in London playing a show at the Forum – which was fantastic. I had a really interesting conversation with their rhythm guitarist, Mårten Hagström.
For me, Metal is all about riffs; and Meshuggah really know how to write great riffs. „Bleed“ has the most memorable riff I’ve heard since – what? Smells Like Teen Spirit? Some of their really offbeat „math rock“ riffs remind me of the Adrian Belew era King Crimson. Their new album, „Koloss“, is mostly more of the same; though the closing track, „The Last Vigil“, is a beautiful ambient guitar tune that could almost have been on a Brian Eno album.
Michael: Brian will read this, and maybe buy his first metal album since the early 40s of the last century:) In the 80s he had compared (english humour mixed with a small dose of truth) the walls of sound of Heavy Metal with the textures of Ambient Music. Did you listen to Icebreaker reworking Eno’s classic APOLLO?
Guy: Apollo is one of my favourite albums. It’s difficult for me to adjust to this acoustic re-imagining of it – especially „An Ending (Ascent)“ (which I sampled for a Frou Frou song). I have a theory about that tune – which I never dared ask Brian to confirm or deny. I think the whole tune is playing backwards.
Michael: We are strolling around a wide field of genres here. Today, there is more exchange, I think, between genres that were often seem as quite antagonistic a long time ago … the good thing about the post-age of everything …
Guy: I’m not the first to notice that the current Skrillex / Noisia / Knife Party strain of Dubstep / Complextro appeals to the very teenage boys who once would have gotten into Metal. Hence Skrillex and Noisia working with Korn on „The Path Of Totality“. It seems that the newest wavetable software synthesisers have finally overtaken guitars in their ability to make a venomous, hostile, annoy-your-parents racket. That’s really obvious on the Korn album: the synths constantly upstage the guitars. The heaviest guitar sounds around now – even Meshuggah’s wonderful 8-string „djent“ sound – may no longer be heavy enough. A terrifying thought for most of your listeners!
Michael: Think so. And what about a great new jazz album?
Guy: I love Matthew Bourne’s Montauk Variations. His piano playing probably owes as much to Messiaen, John Cage or Ligeti as it does to McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett. Bourne judges mood better than any young pianist I know. Just when the avant-gardism hits the limit of what a generous but unsure listener can comprehend, he’ll resolve into a serenely naive hymn: difficulty and simplicity in perfect balance.
Michael: I like Saltash Bells, John Surman’s new and pure solo work. This jazz veteran is playing everything himself: saxes, clarinets, synthezisers! He has done this quite often! But it never appears as a clever game. He is moving through landscapes of the English southwest (the spaces of his childhood). A kind of neo-romanticism with an open mind … I like the balance between ascetic forms of introspection, memory – and an uninhibited joie de vivre.
Guy: I’ll give it a listen.
Michael: Let’s open the songbook again. I fell for the new song cycles from Paul Buchanan, Fiona Apple, Lambchop and Dan Michaelson (no one knows Dan Michaelson).
Guy: I’ve bought and loved the Paul Buchanan album – Mid-Air. I first listened to it in mid-air, too. It really helped me on a turbulent flight. Isn’t it fascinating to hear how our favourite singers‘ voices age? How they find new ways to touch us even as their vocal range often contracts. Buchanan probably sounded older than his years back in the days of the first Blue Nile album. He’s rounding out beautifully. (BTW have you heard Joni Mitchell’s mature re-recording of „Amelia“? Cigarettes have weathered her throat, and she’s completely lost her high range; yet her ability to touch us with what she has left has actually deepened.)
Michael: Yeah, it’s on Travelogue from 2002. A lot of gravitas in there. Returning to Paul Buchanan and his Mid-Air. Late night music at its best … I remember an interview with him, and he was talking about the moods he’s longing for … of certain black-and-white movies, Hopper paintings … something still and somehow out of time …
Guy: Buchanan endlessly re-writes the same song. But it’s such a beautiful song. We’re always at night in a city that’s a hybrid of Glasgow, Los Angeles and, well, every town (a friend recently told me how well Blue Nile songs seem to fit her current home town of Beijing); we’re feeling regret at our failures in love and life, but still refusing to give up on romance and become cynical or curmudgeonly. Car horns, street lights and stop signs blur and become galaxies. This isn’t sentimental escapism: it’s transcendence.
Michael (with a sigh): Nothing to add to that.
P.S. In August 2012 (exact date will be announced soon), I will broadcast Guy Sigsworth’s PUNKT REMIX w/ Nils Petter Molvaer from last year’s PUNKTFESTIVAL in Kristiansand.