Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Audiovisual duo Sculpture create their mixed media collages through a matrix of analogue and digital machinery, all ultimately controlled by hand, always at the periphery of instability. On stage, animator and video director Reuben Sutherland spins self-made zoetrope picture discs on a turntable whilst filming them, the Victorian “wheel of the devil” co-opted to digitally project swathes of psychedelic imagery. These flashing animations cavort with Dan Hayhurst’s aural compositions, the raw material mostly captured from miles of tape sourced via eBay and car boot sales. These reels are unspooled, cut up, and fed into the array of digital and analogue hardware that Hayhurst controls as one modular instrument, where they bounce amongst through software sequences and digital samples. The result being a techno-inflected, glitching wash of electronic pop that repurposes these snatched slivers of found sound to gleeful effect.
Sculpture also release their creations physically, their third LP ‘Slime Code’ put out via a limited cassette run on patten’s Kaleidoscope label, whilst the digital copy was placed online for free download. This weekend Sculpture join Forest Swords, Haxan Cloak and Raime amongst many other highlights on the bill of the Portugese exploratory sound and visual arts festival, Semibreve.
For this Found Sound, Hayhurst dug into his tape stash at random to create the below collage.
How did you compose this Found Sound sequence?
Dan Hayhurst: "I was just trying ideas out as the tapes came out of the pile. I thought it would be interesting to illustrate how finding these things reveals latent possibilities and how you can spontaneously riff on that. The first and fifth tape loops aren't adjusted. The second one has tape echo feedback, the third is a physically manipulated loop, and the fourth a piano loop processed with a digital delay line."
How did you begin using tape samples to make your music?
Hayhurst: "I was missing making music in bands where you've got unruly humans to surprise you, so I looked for input from outside conscious control. Also a reel to reel tape recorder is a good tactile instrument. You can manipulate the sound just by grabbing hold of the tape, which puts every single software controller ever designed to shame really, and of course, these old tapes are a fascinating reservoir of weird and inspiring sounds."
Do you aim to tell a narrative of your own making through these manipulations?
Hayhurst: "I aim to travel away from 'myself'. I'm excited about these doorways that are sort of 'gifted' to you via somebody else's trace emotions, forging unplanned juxtapositions and collisions."
Do you make an effort to find out the history of the recordings you dig up?
Hayhurst: "The history thing is weird. I'm more destructive than anything. An archivist's worst nightmare. Sometimes I find stuff and I can't wreck it, though, so I stash it somewhere. I found an audio letter recorded in the late 60s, labelled 'Pronunciation of Cirencester'. It held a councillor’s voice explicating some local history, attempting ancient dialects and reciting Shakespeare. I found this guy's relatives online and sent them this bizarre artefact."
Have you ever found anything really disturbing amongst the samples?
Hayhurst: "I have some tapes which appear to be recordings of drugged experimental subjects performing cognition tests. There is this one moment after about 15 minutes of a zombified-sounding bloke abjectly reciting names of vegetables, strings of random numbers, and then body parts; and you're listening to this thinking, 'what the fuck?', then the scientist goes, ‘Right, that's the end of the list. Now it's time for the injection.'"
Can it feel like a conversation with the dead?
Hayhurst: "I think there's a kind of language in this detritus. There's all this information in the universe with latent possibilities, so when you juxtapose this with contemporary electronic techniques I think you can generate a powerful energy."
Will Sculpture keep releasing music primarily via limited physical runs matched with free digital copies?
Hayhurst: "Generally I'd prefer if these things were very easily available and cheap. The cassettes we made for Kaleidoscope were interesting, because essentially the seven tapes were the master tapes for the (free, unlimited) digital edition, and then followed by the vinyl reissue on Digitalis."
Do you feel people lose a lot of the intent if they listen solely to the digital stream of your last record on Kaleidoscope?
Hayhurst: "Nope. Go for it. There's cool information in the medium, especially with the two zoetropic picture disc LPs we made on Dekorder, but although we have flirted deliberately with it I'm wary about foregrounding media over content. Live performances are where this really makes the most sense with us though."
Sculpture will perform this weekend at Semibreve festival, which takes place on the 15th, 16th and 17th of November in Braga, Portugal. Tickets are still available here.