Name: O Yuki Conjugate
Members: Roger Horberry (RH), Andrew Hulme (AH)
Occupation: Sound artists, producers, performers
Current release: O Yuki Conjugate's Equator, a re-release of their previously CD only 1995 album, is available via Aguirre Records.
If you enjoyed this interview with O Yuki Conjugate and would like to stay up to date on their work, visit their insightful official website. The band is also on Facebook, and Soundcloud.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
RH: Sources of inspiration don’t play any role at all in my music making. I’m 100% instinctive, feeling my way forward without a plan, just playing, listening very closely and jumping on anything interesting that emerges.
AH: Personally speaking I find dreams are good for narratives, like the text I used for Sleepwalker, this was a movement through a series of anxiety dreams.
The impulse to create seems eternal and never ending. It’s inexplicable, like a calling, something you can’t help or stop. I’ve tried not to do it and I always come back to it. It seems to give life some kind of meaning.
I think I first realised it as a cure for boredom as a teenager and haven’t been able to kick the habit ever since.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
AH: There’s no need to have a concrete idea or a visualisation with us. Occasionally we do, but mostly it’s a case of working on material that finds it’s own theme.
Having said that we had a concept for A Tension of Opposites that was about us both being able to explore our interests which were short form and long form seperately, to explore the creative tension between us. It took covid lockdowns for us to actual realise this concept when we were forced into it. After that we named the music to our own indidual themes.
Chance is most usual with us but planning has happened before. Both Into Dark Water and Peyote were done in expensive studios. When you have financial and time constraints you have to plan in advance, but always knowing to leave something for the inspiration that happens in the studio.
RH: I’ve no idea how something will end when I start. I don't want to have. The whole point is to explore some creative territory without preconceptions and to shut off my rational mind as much as possible. Whenever I’ve tried to work toward a preconceived goal it falls flat or sounds derivative.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
RH: I definitely set up my tools ready to capture happy accidents. I’ve learned the hard way that chance favours the prepared mind, so I need to be able to drop into record mode with one button press, not twenty minutes rewiring.
AH: Very little research or demo versions happen these days, mostly because the quality you can now produce at home is pristine. We don’t write our material, it just happens by inspiration. One of us will record something, pass it to the other and it goes backwards and forwards until finished. It then gets put aside for later consideration. We don’t often know how or when, if at all, the piece will be used. We have completed material from all eras of our 40 year existence, just waiting for its moment to shine.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
RH: God no. When I sit down to play I expect the muse to show up on time, every time. Not that she does of course.
AH: I can’t admit to any rituals apart from clearing my head of the day’s junk.
Over the years we’ve had many different methods of creating our music. When we did the ambient side of Scene in Mirage this was pure studio experimentation based around loops. With Into Dark Water & Peyote we partly wrote the tracks first and then improvised. Equator was a collation of completed pieces and atmospheres over a two year period.
Sleepwalker came from our live set of 4 years ago, the tracks honed over 24 performances. We recorded a studio verison of it and didn’t think it had the energy of the live set so released that instead. Each method is different and we try to change with each release.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
AH: We start with a sound, or a melody line, or a drum beat. This inspires the music that follows, that is then arranged and edited and eventually a piece emerges. The first note or sound is often the most exciting as it’s full of potential. I will often just play until I hear something that can be isolated and worked on. An unsual chord or a glitch in the software.
Our recent 12” was called Artefacts because it began with the computer freezing and artefacting the sound. Chance occurences are what are most inspiring. But more than that, it’s about recognising the potential of chance occurences.
RH: If you go with the play aesthetic I described earlier, then the first note holds no fear. The trick is to start anywhere, get stuff going, and improve it as you go along. Worrying about perfection is a mug’s game. There is no perfect first note.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
RH: Well, er, gradually. Adding and subtracting, trying this against that, seeing what combinations work and which don’t. It’s important to stay open to chance ideas and be prepared to revise even your most cherished bits.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
RH: In an ideal world I’d always just follow where the idea takes itself. I try to avoid thinking too much about anything and like to get into some sort of flow state where the magic just happens and I’m able to surprise myself. That doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but that’s the ideal.
AH: I totally agree that the process takes over. I don’t trust my playing or writing and want chance to take over because I trust my ears to tell me what works and what doesn’t. The random process is our favourite.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
AH: Follow them. What else is there to do? If you dictate what something should be then theory takes over from practice and that usually leads to a dry result. Whatever creative endeavour you’re in I believe you should always use your instinct and be inspired. Listen to the material because once it’s begun it starts to talk to you as if it had a life of its own.
RH: Deciding what to do with the ideas that pop up during the creative process is all about trying to assess their potential. Are they genuinely a road worth going down? You rarely know for sure, so instinct plays a big part.
I’ve ruined many, many promising ideas by allowing myself to drift off on some tangent that didn’t work out, then finding myself unable to get back to where things were sane. Some tech enables you to go back to saved states, but in complex systems with multiple elements that’s rarely a total solution.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
RH: There’s zero spirituality in my creative process. Instead creativity happens when I’m somehow able to achieve flow and bypass my conscious mind. I’m seeking a sort of absence, not presence.
AH: Is this the tricky ‘deep’ question where we get tripped up into revealing that we’re secret buddhists? Or just accountants?
Personally I want to find the spot where you trip out and the music becomes something ‘other’. I remember thinking after we’d done Peyote (the album, not the fungi), is this us? How did we do this? We’d somehow gone so far along the creative route that we came out the other side into a new world. That’s when you’re really creating I think, when you’ve gone to the other side.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
RH: I feel very strongly this is one of the worst aspects of digital. You can do anything at any time, so how do you know when you're done? Well, you don’t. You can’t. So instead I try to be very alert to whatever slight sense of completion I can get from a piece. If it feels even slightly finished then it probably is.
AH: For me it’s like a painting, it could go on forever. A deadline is certainly the best way of forcing the endless finessing process to a finish.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
AH: I think hearing it on a completely different system helps. The change of environment cleanses the ears.
RH: I’m not a great one for going back and tinkering, only because I’ve managed to ruin tracks too often when I’ve tried that. When it’s done, it’s done.
We call our music ‘dirty ambient’, and part of that is learning to love the imperfections that come from working quickly and instinctively. In this respect I liked the old analogue recording studio environment, where studio time was so expensive you tended to not go back. That focussed the mind in a way I now really appreciate.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
RH: There’s no real distinction between recording and mixing for me, so depending on the track I can be very involved. Mastering is a very specialised skill – at least good mastering is – and I leave that to people know what they’re doing, because I certainly don’t.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
RH: I try to avoid post-release emptiness by always having something to work on, even if it’s just a tiny germ of an idea or a new bit of kit to learn. It’s about always looking forward to the next thing.
AH: No not at all. Once released I very rarely listen to the finished thing. It’s a case of job done, onto the next one, and so on. It’s never ending really.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
RH: Is making a track different to making a great coffee? It must be – a track can potentially be anything, a coffee, even a brilliant one, has to feature certain elements in a certain order. You could write a decent algorithm that described coffee making, I don’t think you could do that for music.
As for what music expresses for me, I’m forced to say it give my soul an outlet that it seems to need and doesn’t get elsewhere in my life. I do it because I have to if I want to feel anywhere near happy.
AH: Mundane tasks don’t involve the creation of other worlds. In one sense creativity is about perfecting a technique, like a cup of coffee, but the music is going to be there forever. And what you’re searching for is something timeless.