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Interviews

Russell Mills: Paintings In Sound

By Published: November 3, 2005
RM: Many people have flatteringly said that much of what I do for installation soundworks or that Undark does, would be perfectly used in soundtrack or sound design for films or TV. I would naturally be very interested in working in these territories or having extant pieces used in them but so far have not been approached by anyone to do so. Ever the optimist, I live in hope...

AAJ: You've been collaborating with Brian Eno for almost 20 years. One of your earlier works More Dark Than Shark was inspired by his work. What drew you to his work?

RM Many aspects of his work, his approach and his ceaselessly curious mind have endeared me to his music and his ideas since I first saw him performing with Roxy Music. To me he seemed like the real spark of imaginative experimentation in the group and in interviews I recognized a kindred spirit, an intellect who enjoyed high and low culture and who came at ideas from interesting angles. Since our first meeting in 1975 we have worked together on many projects and we still communicate and exchange ideas.

Despite his incredibly heavy workload, he is very generous with his time and support and has one of the liveliest and most interesting minds I've ever encountered. Like Schwitters, he is that rare artist who is not afraid to actually pursue his own ideas, no matter what the prevailing fashion or style. This is a rare quality in today's "lowest common denominator media landscape in which celebrity and shallow notoriety is elevated and genuine talent, commitment, innovation and merit is ignored or ridiculed.

AAJ: You had the opportunity to work with David Toop both on his books and albums and you took part in Sonic Boom, that was curated by him. What impression have his works such as Ocean of Sound or Haunted Weather made on you?

RM: David has this incredible ability to weave really fascinating facts into stories that imperceptibly slide between fiction and fact. His knowledge and understanding of music, historically, socially, culturally and emotionally, is extremely broad and his curiosity and enthusiasm infective. His writing in his influential books and his numerous insightful magazine articles gently and deceptively suck you into new worlds.

I think that his time at art school has shaped his mind into a particularly unique engine as it has with many musicians I know who also started out in an English art school. The English art schools of the '60s and early '70s were hotbeds of experimentation and creative rebellion which manifested itself in totally new ways of looking at the world and more specifically culture and its place and potential in the increasingly commercial world.

AAJ: At the moment you are working on your next release. Does the direction of the new album reflect your listening tastes?

RM: I'm not sure that my recent listening choices have influenced the direction of the current Undark recording project; this is hard for me to determine at this point. There have been many records and tracks that have excited me but I'm not interested in emulating them. I want the tracks that we (Tom Smyth, Mike Fearon and I) are working on to be ours, unlike anything else but themselves. However I suspect that there will be critics out there who will dissect every snare snap and every minimal bleep and declare it to be influenced by another record!

For your interest my listening over the past year has consisted mostly of Arvo Pärt, Martin Grech, Björk, Nine Inch Nails, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake, Eno, Sylvian abd Biosphere, amongst many others. However I think that my reading matter inspires more ideas than my listening tastes. I've been reading the prose and poetry of Seamus Heaney, Tony Harrison, and Robin Robertson and the novels of W.G. Sebald, Iain Sinclair, Flann O'Brian and Jeanette Winterson as well as essays by Andrei Tarkovsky, John Berger, Elias Canetti, Susan Sontag, Gaston Bachelard, and texts by Samuel Beckett. Other sources of inspiration are books on clouds, biology, natural history and anthropology and my twelve year-old son Sam's Beano comics. Also, as I mentioned before, nature is probably the most significant mentor I have.

AAJ: What else are you working on currently or in the near future?

RM: I have a new installation called "Hold" opening at the Palazzo delle Papesse Centre for Contemporary Art in Siena on October 9. This is a collaboration with Italian video artist Petulia Mattioli, which also includes a new sound piece mixed by Eraldo Bernocchi with contributions from Bill Laswell, Harold Budd, the Ethiopian vocalist Gigi and from Mike Fearon and myself. Also with my usual collaborator Ian Walton, I'm devising a new installation for the Silo Espaço Cultural, a huge cylindrical building in Oporto for March 2005. I have lecturing commitments to the Royal College of Art in London where I am a Visiting Tutor and to Glasgow School of Art in Scotland where I am Visiting Professor.


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