Name: David Chatton Barker
Occupation: Co-founder of Folklore Tapes
Current Release: The Art of Divination Set of 31 x Mantic Oracle Cards with Cassette
Recommendations: The Tao Te Ching text and the film The Watchers
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with David, more information and music can be found on the Folklore Tapes website http://www.folkloretapes.co.uk/
When did you start with your own label - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
We don’t really consider Folklore Tapes as a label and hopefully as time turns less people will consider it as a label. Starting the project was about using forms within the music world to pour other ideas of art into and this shape is constantly changing. Influences are always so varied, but creating something to share and explore regional anthropologic ideas through a collective of past events, was something that we felt would help us understand more about now. Theo Brown, Fluxus, Topic, and Folkways certainly fed into the river when the project was developing, and continues to inspire…
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as a label curator and the transition towards your own approach? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Like a child, I have always been a sponge, inspired by all that goes on around me, in the immediate landscape as well as tuning into cultures further afield. The process and phase of emulation and learning is an ongoing relationship. The ideas I get from one thing will be translated completely differently in the work I then produce, but there is a seed or a spirit of what originally inspired the piece. As a curator, it’s been easy because the subject material is so much at the fore with each project and that is, essentially, what guides the approach each time. I’m a conduit for the inherent will of the work.
What were your main label-related challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
To properly begin the thing is the biggest challenge; once something has begun, it forges its own momentum, the rest flows naturally on its course. There was no blueprint and no plan, so everything happened naturally without pressure or expectation.
The challenge now is allowing the vessel to develop beyond its limitations and expectation as a ‘label’, into a more multifarious project. We want Folklore Tapes to represent a movement and an experience, rather than a music/sound-making machine.
How do you see the role of labels in the creative process? What is the scope and what are the limitations of what you are capable of doing?
It depends entirely who is the behind the wheel, some labels simply release the work which has been in-waiting to fly into the world (which is great). For us, the creative process is completely grounded in our ethos, because, broadly speaking, it’s a collective process, intuitively led by all involved.
Folklore Tapes generally works as a creative hub that commissions artists rather than straight up musicians, people who work with sound but not necessarily all the time. Inviting a broad church of artists to produce a sound piece when they normally make sculptures will glean really interesting results. The subject material will always be the guiding light through the creative process, but field work and working with tangible materials adds so much to the process of discovery and making.
I don’t believe there are any limitations so long as you don’t define yourself as such. There are several projects scheduled this year that won’t exist as a vinyl record or other sound object but in the live performative field, alongside touring exhibitions and pamphlets.
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the buyers, your own demands in terms of quality?
I ultimately just feel obligations to my own demands but they are parameters and ambitions rooted in the idea that people will hopefully find this work in years and years to come. Because of this, there needs to be a certain approach to the making of the work.
I like to produce work that challenges what I have previously done as well as provide work that people aren’t expecting or even realise they want, or need. There is a responsibility to honour the subject material both by presenting the information correctly along with interesting interpretation.
The whole work has progressed so naturally that there has never been this feeling of obligation or fulfilling demands.
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the music-, music-PR- and music-journalism landscape? How do they affect labels in general and your own take on running a label in particular? What role do social media play for your approach?
Initially I was quite interested in how social media could change the trajectory of the project and it did help in the beginning. I’m sure that if we used all the different social media buttons we’d be more successful, sell more releases and be more well-known.
My feeling is that you can’t maintain the same approach of putting the time in with making things by hand and using social media. If there was someone who took this on this role then okay, but I don’t have the time for it all. So as a result, I’m not that savvy or propelled when it comes to all the PR / promotional avenues.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
As with everything, balance is essential to create the most honest and humble work. I used to be much more masochistic when it came to the labour-intensive work involved in making the editions for each project, doing most of the labour by hand. The honest human touch that goes in to each project is really important, for each to be slightly different and imbued with a sense of the personal.
Recording and editing is all done using a mixture of old and new technologies. We are in a unique time in history, in that we can utilise a huge range of different technologies for different ideas. I have always felt that the idea dictates the medium. We must be aware of burdening ourselves with superfluous technology for the mere sake of using what is available and most current, instead going wherever our impulse takes us.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, including the artists on your label?
Collaboration is an essential part of the creative process and manifesting the collective unconscious.
The majority of my friends are also my collaborators and vice versa; we inhabit the same dimensions of thought and vision as well as physical space. Because of this I will invite a fellow artist or non-artist to join a sound project, not based on their history of working with sound but based on their unique approach as a creative person. As long as this quality is present, then I believe only good and interesting results can come about. Inviting non-sound based artists gives a different dimension to the project and will get people to think differently.
One of the main projects in 2018 is a non-sound project, in the same way this will involve sound artists and non-sound artists alike, shifting the balance. The main point is that we are all artists in one way or another, it just takes a light pointed in the right direction to make this manifest.
In my work, this idea of collaborating with nature is becoming more and more vital. Through this process, my understanding of things is becoming more fluid and the work can take on a less human-centric form.
Can you take me through your process on the basis of a release that's particularly dear to you? How do you decide to release it, what did you start with, what sources did you draw from for all tasks related to it and how did the finished product gradually take shape?
Theo Brown and the Folklore of Dartmoor is the blueprint for our practice. It was our first proper foray into vinyl after a couple years of working with cassettes, as well as our most experimental and extensive field work.
When we started Folklore Tapes, Theo Brown’s work was a constant inspiration to both me and Ian and provided us with a wealth of information on a range of fascinating and forgotten topics. We grew increasingly interested in Theo Brown the person and wanted to pay tribute to her and her endeavours with an expansive special edition set.
Theo documented the tales, myths and legends of her native Devon and we explored this through seven Dartmoor Villages translated onto seven-seven inch records. Sever has become a magical number for us since that project.
We spent several days visiting all the sites, cairns, woods, rivers and ruins around Dartmoor, collecting material in a myriad of ways and processes. Organic material was gathered, 8mm film shot (and buried), photographs taken (and buried), field sounds made, notes and drawings scribed and as much immersion in the landscape as we could give over. The process of weaving all these elements together back in the studio was seamless and pretty quick, we were so absorbed in the place that we literally spilled all the material back out into the box and let it fly. The box set has been the most promoted edition largely because it was for Theo’s legacy and getting her name more widely known.
This was our first project to be awarded arts council funding and it was because of this that we could fully realise our vision and subsequent projects.