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Breath, reinterpretation, community. Wil Baines pores over the layers of Andrew PM Hunt’s latest works.
Andrew PM Hunt is a prolific composer and electronic musician who has been an active light in the Liverpool community for over a decade now. His work as DIALECT (one of his many musical projects) has been an exploration in mixing his constantly evolving personal production style with whatever impetus crosses his eye. Sonically, this latest project Under~Between is an exploration of electronic and acoustic performances latticed together into some of the most widely accessible music I’ve had the pleasure to come across. Exploring motifs of breath, reinterpretation and community – it is to be consumed whole.
Beginning our conversation, we talk over a mutual interest in music, technology and its fringes (or rather its trendy ‘bangs’). I ask Andrew to explain a little about where his latest project materialised from, and what drove the noticeable differences from the previous works in his canon.
“In about 2017, I was asked to do a concert with Immix Ensemble, who are a chamber group here in Liverpool who specialise in collaboration,” he begins. “I did this concert where I wrote a new piece for them, and they did different arrangements of older pieces of mine. It went really, really well, and so the next year I was asked to be a composer-in-residence for their concert series… So it’s kinda like a live electronics and chamber group thing, and we did maybe five concerts together over the year, and that was kind of the start of this whole new album project.”
Speaking to Andrew only briefly, I start to realise that maybe he is starting to say this record is about letting people in; a sentiment that I believe listeners will hold even more dear to themselves after the last year. He goes onto explain that, after concluding these concerts, he immediately had ideas of dramatically reinterpreting their contents. “The majority of 2019 I spent in the studio, working with individual members of the ensemble, plus a whole host of other people from the Liverpool music community,” he notes. “Particularly the improvised music community, to reinvent some of these pieces and also invent new ones.”
Dialect’s music is one of drawing inspiration from the world around him, changing where he chooses to focus his gaze. Something that is also evident across whatever “musical crime fighting identity” he dons in each of his projects. He mentions the word introspective multiple times during our exchange, but I believe maybe a more fitting term may be ‘omnispective’ – such are the number of perspectives within his work.
We go on to talk about the sounds that made up the record. I drop a technical term for classifying instruments into my question and it prompts a smile – I think the atmosphere of our conversation has confidently passed some kind of litmus test. “Naturally working with a group like Immix affected the palette of sounds I was using very considerably, which is part of the reason why the record sounds, on the surface at least, very different from Loose Blooms.”
Referring to his previous release from 2018, we briefly ponder any similarities between the two records that are important to him, and possibly over his career in general. He speaks about his keenness, throughout his work, to reject the idea that sounds considered to be ‘organic’ are good and preferable and those made by technology are inferior. This is a moot point for him, and he goes on to point out that something like a saxophone at some point was the pinnacle of music technology. I agree, and he thus underlines what we call his “sonic thumbprint”. He details how this directly influenced Under~Between:
“There’s something obviously inherently natural about the pace and phrasing of a human breath,” he says. “On an almost unconscious level we recognise a certain ‘natural-ness’ to the length of human exhalation – and that was something I was trying to work into the record over the second half of 2019.”
It occurs to me, as he confirms, that the process of collaboration with the members of Immix Ensemble, and his own experience as a session saxophone player, has played a huge role in shaping not only the sound of this latest record, but also the way in which Andrew has produced and arranged the tracks. Expanding on this clear motif of human respiration and its intricacies he continues: “I became aware of this tendency towards sounds where you can really hear air moving in and out; and you really get a sense of breath, and with that sense of breath a sense of life and vitality.”
He goes on to pinpoint the track Flame Not Stone and discusses how he begins the track with what he calls ‘vocalese’, how that is a fragile and overtly intimate sound, which goes on to trigger various MIDI events and creates a web of sounds derived from the human breath.
“When you’re often working with electronics,” he notes, “the derivation of sound can be quite obscured, and often that’s the pleasure in it, but I think there’s something really grounding about hearing a sound that you can intuitively understand as being from a human body. I’ve kind of always had that in my music one way or another, but there’s more of a use of it in this record.”
Andrew continues to expand that this sense of conversation or dialogue between electronic and ‘live’ instruments – or rather acoustic instruments – is one that he hopes can be heard across the record. He explains that he often seeks to have sounds ‘mimic’ other sounds. I picture a parrot, a mockingbird and a lyrebird sitting together in the mix; apart from they’re all Andrew and, although the image begins to slightly disturb me, I understand what he describes as “referential loops”.
As he goes on to explain, Andrew is somebody that has a particularly outward perspective in his influences. This has manifested in many ways. He discusses the idea that in our society today distinctions between categories in all forms are blurrier than ever, how that is often a great thing, but that we are constantly surrounded by people attempting to organise that chaos for one reason or another.
I note how I think that his music is certainly a meditation on that and go on to ask if his art could be interpreted in a way that is a certain angle on environmental activism. He says: “I think in many ways those topics are best served by trying to avoid being didactic in what you’re doing, you affect people most deeply when you are able to engage both their imaginations and inspire their own realisations, their own epiphanies, and that is often best done in a slightly more indirect way because it allows a listener more agency… those conclusions are always going to be more firm than when somebody has been told what to think.”
This sentiment is certainly one to be admired, and one that he is keen to reinforce. “Themes of environmentalism, or certainly an obsession with the natural world, is very much baked into the music that I’m making,” he adds. “But art should be more open-ended than that, in my opinion. Personally, I get more out of art that leaves space for somebody to explore it in their own head.”
Many creatives, or in fact anybody, can relate to this idea of gratification and impact. It is something that we both note as having enjoyed in many records. “The danger is always in over-composing things or over-producing things,” he replies. “I have to fight against that all the time when I’m working – to be like, ‘Oh no, I’ve spelt it out too much’, or I’ve told people what it is.”
These interpretations are partially aided by the visual accompaniment for Under~Between, directed by Sara Ludy. In keeping with the theme of visual accompaniment to his productions, though his chief medium as an artist is sound, he outlines the desire to create and integrate moving images into his music – creating moving images from the perspective of sound, or vice-versa, what he calls “essentially sound collage”. He underlines what is quite a complex notion in a jovial manner: “I’m trying to create a profound sense of vagueness. As we’ve said before, in the vagueness is where people find their own realisations and that’s what I think is important.”
As our conversation draws to a close, we touch upon how Andrew started to feel almost arbitrary to be arranging sounds on their own and how, in part, that sentiment is also where the more collaborative nature of Under~Between came from. Trying to introduce frictions and differences, to let that manifest an event otherwise inaccessible alone. In passing reference to a previous interview with Bido Lito! I ask if this practice is going to be a significant feature of his art going forward.
“As the years have gone on, I’m certainly less interested in constructing any kind of mythos or anything like this, that type of artifice, not least because it’s a distraction on a practical level, but it’s kind of a distraction from doing the work. Some people are really into that kind of thing. I don’t inherently have a problem with that, but over time I’ve become more interested in getting on with the work, meeting people, exchanging ideas and the community that comes from listening to other people.”
Andrew PM Hunt has become a perfect example of an artist that is both extremely malleable and impressively unique in his practice. He is in a constant state of influential flux and the results are fantastic. His latest record is further evidence of that.
Under~Between is available now via RVNG Intl.