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Clark is a manipulator of sound – any sound. He's the sort that's as happy using a thousand pound analogue synthesizer as he is a free VST download. He's the sort that'll get a coveted drum machine, one that gear fetishists can only dream of using, and rough it up to sound nothing like what it's meant to. Basically, he's not reverant with his source material, and that's none more evident than in his use of field recordings and found sounds, which are deployed and reshapen in strange and interesting ways.
Field recordings litter his new, self-titled album – his seventh for Warp Records since 2001. As such, he was a shoe-in for our occasional Found Sound feature, where artists send us their self-sourced field recordings and samples and tell us about their use and process. Here, Clark talks us through an ear-piercing sound of a chair being scraped across the floor, and its surprisingly ravey uses.
Hi, Clark! How's your day going?
Clark: "Good, thanks! I'm currently living in a Tudor house that I rented to do press in that's got properly wonky floors so I keep on waking up a bit dizzy."
Can you talk us through the Found Sound you've sent us?
Clark: "I did a project with my partner for a dance piece called Spacekraft in this amazing abandoned cotton factory that's been turned into a residency space in Leipzig. It had this huge hall. Every day after work (and it was truly a pleasure to go to work), I would make a daft short video of me getting murdered at the end of the journey of the long, atmospheric corridor that led to the stairs.
"I got sensible eventually, and took some pretty high end rifle mics in there, and recorded the sound of me running down this corridor scraping a chair against the floor. There was so much natural resonance and huge reverb on it, I hardly needed to tweak it at all.
"It ended up being the sound that undercuts the cello on the first track of my album. It sounds like a siren or foghorn coming from a ship. It's all over the album, but totally disguised – you probably wouldn't guess where it is. I managed to make it sound like a rave stab at one point. It's fascinating to me that a sound completely removed from the context of human expression and intent, a sound that most people find ugly and flinch from when they hear it in real life (rather like fingers down a blackboard), can suggest so many things and build mood into a track.
"It's also the Chewbacca moaning voice that comes in at the end of Sodium Trimmers. I re-arranged the pitch a bit."
A lot of people will use found sounds and field recordings because it makes their music more 'personal' or 'organic'. Yet you've said that nearly everything you do ends up going through the computer and getting tweaked. Why do you like to use them?
Clark: "I quite often leave them as they are, but just put sub sine tones over them or filter all the top end out, so that they're just like these widescreen montages that sit underneath the track. I use them in very detailed ways (i.e. chopping recordings of snow being stomped on and creating loads of different notation with it) to very broad, almost flippant strokes. Like on one particular track on the album, there's a recording of a thunderstorm, but I almost didn't care about what 'part' of the storm happened where in the track, because it's so quiet. It's there as a purely subliminal device. Also, you don't fuck with thunder. Snow is easier to push around a bit, though."
The hall in Leipzig where Clark recorded his Found Sound.
How do you usually go about the field recording process?
Clark: "I've got two really nice Sennheiser rifle mics, the 8070 and the 8060. One is short range, one is long range. If I want to be bling, I'll use these – they're almost too good sometimes, though, and I'll end up putting lots of plug-ins on them to make the recordings sound a bit more rubbish, which is a bit weird, heh.
"I've also got an old Sony stereo dictaphone that I sometimes prefer. It's cassette as well, so it's really robust. Anything, really – small and portable and cheap is also fine. I'll use anything. It's more the process of going outside and using your ears and brain.
"I guess what I'm saying is I'm no gear snob, and I know what I want from sound, which is basically 95% of getting good results. I think people hide behind equipment when they are a bit uncertain of their ideas."
After seven albums, you've made latest self-titled. Were you just getting bored of thinking of names?
Clark: "Haha, pretty much, yes. It gradually just sank in to reality, in an unquestionable 'this is the eponynous album' kind of way."
What's your favourite sound in the world?
Clark: "Snow, definitely. Snow being scrunched under boots. It's so endlessly satisfying. But then it's never just one sound, it's the whole shebang. The silence in the environment surrounding the noise that you record is always more important, in a way. There's a courtyard in the apartment where I live in Berlin, and basically anything in there sounds amazing, because it's so reverberant and luscious. I'm making it sound like I live in a castle! I do, actually."
Warp Records release 'Clark' on November 3rd 2014 (pre-order).