Name: Richard Talbot aka Prospector Sound
Occupation: Producer, composer, sound artist
Recent release: Prospector Sound's Red Sargasso is out 4/29 via The Ambient Zone.
If you enjoyed this interview with Richard Talbot aka Prospector Sound and would like to find out more, visit the website of his main band, Marconi Union.
[Read our Marconi Union interview]
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it?
I can’t remember a specific time, but I’ve always had an interest in sound, places, memories and the connections between them. It can be like a form of time travel, where you hear a random sound or piece of music and instantly your mind takes you somewhere else, either an imaginary place or a real one.
The other aspect of music and sound that was very important to me, was that it could also act as an escape route from everyday life and allow you to travel to places that only existed in your mind.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances using sound in an unusal or remarkable way captured your imagination in the beginning?
The first record that made me think about the nature of sound was Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. At that impressionable age it didn’t sound like anything I’d ever heard before and had a sense of mystery and power that totally caught my imagination.
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?
I grew up on the outskirts of nowhere and I was always looking either for an escape route or a more exotic or cinematic alternative to a very humdrum existence. I found that music offered that.
It perhaps wasn’t that healthy to be as consumed with music as I then was but it did allow me a very exciting life - if only in my mind!
Working predominantly with field recordings and sound can be an incisive step / transition. Aside from musical considerations, there can also be personal motivations for looking for alternatives. Was this the case for you, and if so, in which way?
This sounds like something a therapist might ask!
I’m not sure I’ve made an incisive step or transition. When I look back over my music, I think all I’ve really done is refine the same set of very simple ideas that I started with. I certainly haven’t made any quantum leaps stylistically and actually I’m happy with that. A lot of artists spend time trying to work out what they want to achieve. I was really fortunate that right from the start I knew what I wanted to do and I’ve followed that route since then. I think that’s unlikely to change in the near future because I’m still fascinated by those ideas and I think there’s a lot left to explore.
Of course, I am also very fortunate that I have another musical life as a member of Marconi Union and there I get an entirely different musical experience working with other musicians and experimenting with different styles of music.
I should clarify that I’m not a purist about field recordings and while they constitute an element of what I do, it is by no means the largest part. I use sounds that conjure up images that inspire me. Whether they are from field recordings or conventional instruments is largely irrelevant to me. The source of the sounds is less interesting than their effect. I also use a lot of processing which often renders raw sounds unrecognisable in their final form.
How would you describe the shift of moving towards music which places the focus foremost on sound, both from your perspective as a listener and a creator?
I would not say I ever made a shift in this, my own music has always been like that and it’s a large part of my contribution to Marconi Union’s music. The main difference is that I’m collaborating with other musicians and together we want to explore different directions and ideas.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and working with sound? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
When I started making music I wasn’t really well versed in what you call the ‘tradition’ or aware of ideas like Soundscaping, Ambient Music and Acoustic Ecologists - that developed over time.
But I’m not particularly interested in making “academic music” or in authenticity, my aim is to just make something that inspires people’s imagination and I don’t really feel the need to be linked to a certain genre or category.
What are the sounds that you find yourself most drawn to? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
That’s quite difficult because it depends on context, but I do have a recurring fondness for warm evolving drones that sit low in the mix and provide a foundation for other high register sounds ...
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, from instruments via software tools and recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you personally starting from your first studio/first instruments and equipment? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Over the years I’ve bought relatively little equipment, I got my first synth, a Korg DS8, in the eighties and it was always my main instrument until it died about ten years ago. Since then my main keyboard has been a Nord Wave which I bought because it allowed you to import sounds. I also use a variety of spatial effects which provides a range of processing options.
So it’s pretty clear that my primary musical interest is textural rather than rhythmic. For instance I’ve never owned a hardware drum machine. Recently, I’ve found myself working more ‘in the box’ using Ableton Live. I particularly like the generative possibilities of asynchronous loops which I used on my recent track, "Laguna". Ableton also has follow actions which offer an easy way to experiment with chance. These are pretty well documented techniques but they can still produce great results.
Where do you find the sounds you're working with? How do you collect and organise them?
I don’t have a favourite location for collecting sounds, sometimes I just leave a mic recording while I’m working and the use the sounds I capture - breathing, typing and coffee mugs being placed on the desk as a barely audible layer in the mix. I often gather sounds around the house, the kitchen is always rewarding. If I remember correctly, the gong type sounds on Night Formation are tuned and processed samples of saucepans.
On other occasions I go out to busy urban locations or grab sounds in shops and occasionally I’ll record more rural sounds.
From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds? Can you take me through your process on the basis of a project or album that's particularly dear to you?
I don’t have a routine for collecting sounds, occasionally I go out with my recorder or my iPhone and grab lots of different noises then upload into folders on my computer and they can sit there for months until I find them again. By that time I often can’t even identify their source, but if I hear a sound I like, then I’ll reshape it using Ableton or my Octatrack until it has that elusive connection.
I don’t tend to use raw recordings very often, more or less everything gets processed to some degree to enhance the aspects of it that I like. I’m not really interested in trying to replicate something literal. I’m far more interested in suggestion, sounds that trigger memories and emotions that are unique to each listener.
The possibilities of modern production tools have allowed artists to realise ever more refined or extreme sounds. Is there a sound you would personally like to create but haven't been able to yet?
No, because I don’t look for sounds to recreate a memory or trigger an emotion. It is quite the opposite. A sound finds me and if it conveys a certain memory or emotion then that’s all the better.
I did experiment with recording from films using the audio in between the dialogue. It was great fun and after a bit of research I found horror films were predictably the most atmospheric with all sorts of sinister noises. I remember one particular loop that consisted of someone digging a grave!
Ultimately though it felt like plagiarism so I scrapped the samples without using them and abandoned the idea.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
That’s a pretty big question I think you’d need to write a book to answer that!
If we just look at space in a musical context, that alone is complex issue with lots of potential definitions. It could refer to the space or place where the listener hears the music and the way that affects their interpretation of it.
There is also the matter of spatiality within music, the gaps between the sounds, not to mention the use of spatial effects such as reverb or delay to influence our perception of the sonic landscape. If we add in sounds that are taken from specific geographical places or attempt to recreate them, it quickly becomes even more complex.
If we then add issues around sound and composition and the interactions between all these topics, we’re in danger of disappearing down a rabbit hole and not resurfacing for several years!
The idea of acoustic ecology has drawn a lot of attention to the question of how much we are affected by the sound surrounding us. What's your take on this and on acoustic ecology as a movement in general?
I think that’s a really interesting question and it touches on loads of issues. I don’t know masses about acoustic ecology but what I have read has been quite fascinating.
The documentarian approach to sound and place is somewhat antithetical to my interest in sound, which is much more impressionistic. I’m really enthusiastic about the idea that in the future we will have audio records of places and I guess there is the added benefit that these recordings will also document changes in our environment.
I certainly enjoy going to places and taking the time to draw breath, listening to my surroundings and imagining how they have changed over the ages.
We can listen to a pop song or open our window and simply take in the noises of the environment. Without going into the semantics of 'music vs field recordings', in which way are these experiences different and / or connected, do you feel?
Pop songs focus is always on the singer and even where there isn’t a vocalist there is usually an attempt to capture a sense of community.
If we open our window what we are hearing is place, even if we hear human activity it is just part of the larger environment and not a demand on our attention.
From the concept of Nada Brahma to "In the Beginning was the Word", many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you're taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?
Those are much bigger ideas than I focus on when creating my music. My main thoughts when creating are sound, place and imagination.
Sound takes such an important place in the human memory and mind. I have been with my wife for 35 years but when I hear her laugh, the sound always makes me smile.