Amenti Suncrown - Zenith PitchIn many ways Amenti Suncrown could be considered an internet phenomenon. The group met and formed over the internet; their debut release, Zenith Pitch, was created by swapping files back and forth; copies were distributed free to a number of web users who expressed an interest. Fortunately one of those 1000 copies wormed its way into the possession of Compulsion online, and we've become more than enamoured with their blend of strange electronics. Zenith Pitch inhabits a twilight world of twisted electronics. Over the course of 70 minutes the solar trinity of Amenti Suncrown mix layers of electronics with erratic rhythms and synthesised samples. It's a heavily processed piece of work where fragments of sound are blurred, stretched and replayed into the melange of glitches, bleeps, electro rumbles and drones. Zenith Pitch is a shape-shifting soundworld that rarely maintains a stillness preferring its sounds to hang and dissolve into the ether. What makes Zenith Pitch so good though is its combination of acoustic and electronic instrumentation. On 'Ozone Flowers' plucked Spanish styled guitar plays over backpedaling sonic wizardry, or on 'Deep Green Man' a melodic flute dances over mammoth electronic shudders. Environmental sounds are contrasted with the unhurried pulse like beats and free-falling shards of sound on 'Dione (Questioned)'. At times Amenti Suncrown call to mind some of the stronger and stranger exponents of electronic musics. On the whole though Zenith Pitch is an ambitious piece of work and an audacious step for a debut but Amenti Suncrown pull it off more than convincingly.
We met up with the three members over the internet, naturally, to discover more about Amenti Suncrown.
i) Who or what is Amenti Suncrown? What does Amenti Suncrown mean to you? What does each member bring to Amenti Suncrown?
RG: Amenti Suncrown is a trio consisting of Russell Goodwin, J.Paul Morton and Gary A. Ayres. Russ lives in Los Angeles; Paul and Gary live in Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK, though both Paul and Gary originate from Scotland. Paul and Gary have worked together on previous projects since 1998, but Amenti Suncrown was formed in the autumn of 2000 after Russ and Paul 'met' on the Internet. They quickly discovered common creative interests. Gary then joined the conversation, and the three decided to embark upon an online musical project based on their shared enthusiasm for creative sonic experimentation.
GAA: The name Amenti Suncrown perhaps suggests the coming together of darkness and light. As for what we all bring….well, that's very subjective, but I'd say Russ brings enthusiasm, I bring scepticism and Paul brings balance!
JPM: Amenti Suncrown are three people who are discovering that what they have in common are their differences, and that this is what makes it work. There are some occult overtones intended by the name, but for me it is a more poetic and surrealist thing that involves the idea of The Black Sun, of Jung's process of individuation, of lovely pagan sunny things...
ii) What are the individual member's previous musical histories?
RG: Music has always been a large part of my life. I grew up with a mother who was a Pastor of a Pentecostal Holiness church and used to play drums in church when I was just 10 years old. Back in the 80's I remember my mother burning records and playing them backwards in church saying they had satanic messages. I became quite obsessed with the whole idea of "Back Masking". When I was 14 or so I remember listening to a Flock of Seagulls tape I had and my tape deck had eaten my tape somehow; the next thing I knew everything started playing backwards. I remember the event quite clearly, because the lyrics were saying "Mama Mama I keep having nightmares" but backwards the very clear message played through my speakers saying "here comes Satan, everyone knew, they knew, they knew." I went through my entire cassette collection from Foreigner to Joan Armatrading, carefully duplicating the effect, and playing everything backwards. It was great fun! I used to find all the weird messages I could and cut them out of tapes and line them up on my floor then tape them together with scotch tape and wind them around the wheels of my TDK cassettes. This was the first "experimental" music I ever created.
GAA: I've always loved music. When I was at school I studied flute according to the classical tradition, which I grew to progressively dislike. My teacher and I got bored with each other, but I think that was due to the fact that I found the tradition very closed and restrictive and so didn't develop as he would have wished. I then picked up the acoustic guitar (which I still play sometimes) but at the same time I was listening to music through the 70's and 80's which was full of analogue synth sounds that I would have liked to emulate but didn't have the technology to get anywhere near, so the guitar was never completely satisfying to me either. Throughout all this I would play the flute from time to time in a freer, more improvisational way. I enjoyed this, but didn't have the technology to record it. Then - as recently as 1998 - I met Paul, who was using an analogue 8-track at the time, in a very creative way. This was a dream come true for me. It was liberating to at last be able to record the kind of sounds I liked. Since then, he and I have both got into using computers, and of course have met Russ, resulting in Amenti Suncrown. The whole digital musical arena has been a tremendous - and very recent - initiation for me.
JPM: I've been an obsessive collector of music since about the age of 12, but didn't start making music until my 20's when I met my good friend Jim McGrath in Glasgow, through T.O.P.Y. We put on a sort of multi-media performance in the Transmission Gallery as part of their Festival Of Plagiarism, using multiple 4-track recorders, mixers, video and slide projectors. It was a fairly crude affair, but apparently an enjoyable experience for all, including those who left because they said it was too intense! Later Jim and I, with our friend Kenny, became Abraxas. My involvement was fairly minimal, mostly due to my moving to the other end of the country. Abraxas put out a couple of CD's, which were distributed by WSD, and can to this day be found in bargain bins round the country! After leaving Glasgow, I bought a wee 4-track, followed by an 8-track, working mostly with loops made on an Amiga computer. I still go back to my old Amiga now and then. The hypnotic and hallucinatory effects of repetitive loops of sound still hold a great fascination for me. Gary and I connected through our shared taste in unusual musics, something which is understandably rare on the small Channel Island on which we live. Apart from Gary I don't recall ever having met another Current 93 fan here, though there may be some hiding in a cave somewhere.
iii) Amenti Suncrown were formed over the Internet. Can you explain how this occurred? Why did you decide to collaborate together?
RG: I was a member of the Coil List and noticed there were a lot of other musicians out there who wanted to share their work as well, so I started the Coil List Musicians Page. I met J.P. Morton on the Coil List and was really impressed by his work. He has a great ear for rhythms and I saw right away this was something my own work could benefit from. We thought it might be fun to collaborate on a piece, and I was then introduced online via email to J.P's musical partner Gary Ayres. After The first piece we created, 'Pollen', I realized I had been missing something in my personal musical experiments-working with these two Scottish guys has really brought the music to life I think.
GAA: Yes, for all of us in fact…
JPM: As I remember it, I sent Gary a link to the Coil Musicians page that Russ had set up, along with a mention that Russ's stuff sounded interesting. Gary liked it as well and proposed contacting Russ to suggest a collaboration. By then Russ had already voiced his interest in the music which Gary and I had submitted for the page. Now it turns out that our mutual enthusiasms for each others work have led to some very interesting developments!
iv) Can you describe how Amenti Suncrown approach the process of songwriting?
RG: Because we can't really sit down together, we each just do our own thing at home. We have no rules at all as far as the creation process goes. Whenever one of us comes up with something that we like-either a song or a fragment of a song-we'll send it along to the other guys, and let them take a hammer to it. This is not always easy!
I'm often initially disappointed by the editing and cutting that gets done, but that's just because I'm so attached to my own work! Once I get over the shock, I usually find that they've really improved the track. Each of us cuts away some of the unessential ingredients, and then adds their own contributions. And because each of us have quite different and distinct musical tastes, songs can sometimes be changed quite radically by the time they've made the rounds. Gary came up with a voting method that we use to select which tracks make it on an album, where we each vote on the quality of a track. So only the ones with the highest score make it on a release, which means that the albums end up being much more of a collective project than it would be if we each picked our favorite tracks.
GAA: Yes, there's often the need to let go of something one has lovingly created. And when I've sent something to the others, my heart is usually in my mouth when I'm checking my e-mail - I'm so scared they won't like it! The debate is often forthright but never acrimonious. However, it's not always a hammer that we take to each others' contributions - it's often a much gentler instrument. A paintbrush, for example.
JPM: I think of our work as a pleasant kind of alchemy: one person creates something for transmission into the ether, from whence it gets snatched up by the other 2 guys, who then transform that creation into something else. The changes are sometimes extreme! But even very subtle changes can have a fascinating impact on the work. The process itself is endlessly inspiring, and the fact that you have NO IDEA what your creation will look like when it comes back to you gives the whole affair a nice air of mystery. Not being in the same room with the others - or even the same hemisphere! - can be very frustrating at times, but it keeps me guessing!
v) Amenti Suncrown have exploited the potential of Internet technologies: utilizing email, audio files, Internet music players. In terms of composition, distribution, exposure has the Internet been a help or hindrance?
RG: The Internet has definitely been the cornerstone of our operation.
GAA: Agreed. It gives one the best of both worlds: the stimulation and cross-fertilization of working with the others, as well as the space to develop one's own ideas. The whole technology enables an approach which I think of as 'compositional'. I really like that, my earlier remarks about the classical tradition notwithstanding.
JPM: The net has been essential in every aspect of Amenti Suncrown's growth. The limitations of its use have provided us with a process that we all seem to really like. And of course it has allowed our music to be heard all over the world before the first album had even been conceived. Much of the credit for that is due to Russ's skills in web-design.
vi) How would you describe / categorise the sound of Amenti Suncrown?
RG: I really have no idea what genre we're going to end up being stuck into. We're each just doing our own thing and letting it go where it goes. I suppose at the moment it might be considered experimental music.
GAA: I also see it as quite eclectic - quoting from different genres, as it were, alongside its own unique personality.
JPM: God knows! How about Snuffjazz?
vii) What are each member's prime influences? Musically? Philosophically? Other?
RG: Musically I'd have to put Joan Armatrading at the top of the list. I really don't know much of anything about new or experimental music. I really love Elton John, Iron Butterfly, Neil Diamond, Tiny Tim, Venom, and Danzig just to name a few. Just recently I've been really excited by Klaus Nomi, and Baby Dee. I don't read much, although this summer a friend gave me a copy of Richard Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, and I can't seem to put it down.
GAA: Musically (in loose chronological order): T. Rex, David Bowie, Debussy, Ravel, The Incredible String Band, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Keith Jarrett, Arvo Part, lots of stuff on the ECM label, David Sylvian, the underrated Scottish improv trio Green Room and many pieces of obscure exotica - both ethnic and electronic - that I have copied over the years from friends' record and CD collections. Also, currently, some things that Paul has introduced me to: Lustmord, musique concrete (for example Parmegiani) and electroacoustic music. To name but a few, as they say.
Philosophically: generally, I try to avoid overidentifying with specific belief systems, particularly those of an all-embracing kind, as they are all provisional and while some are useful, some are pretty dubious. I like Lyotard's definition of postmodernism: 'Incredulity towards metanarratives'. However, I'm quite drawn to Buddhism and Zen (which is scarcely a belief system at all), as well as systems theory, social construction theory and chaos theory. Even on the simplest level, there's quite a 'butterfly effect' in our working process.
Other: Kandinsky deserves a mention, as does Miro.
JPM: The work and attitude of William S. Burroughs, Current 93 in all it's guises, Coil, electroacoustic music like that of Bernard Parmegiani and Francois Bayle, "minimalism" from Steve Reich, Glass and Wim Mertens. J.G. Ballard, Max Ernst, Hans Bellmer, Georges Bataille, Surrealism and Dada in general, cinema. Lots and lots of influences, coming from all over the place.
viii) Could you tell us about the forthcoming release, Golden Nadir?
RG: Nadir is the point of the heavens diametrically opposite to the zenith. The title of our first album Zenith Pitch came about from a phrase from the book Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley. Golden Nadir is a far darker release than Zenith Pitch. As I contributed to the release I tried to find the beauty in the saddest times of my life.
GAA: Its origins are more diverse than those of Zenith Pitch. Some of the tracks date from the period when Paul and I were using his analogue 8-track. These have a beautiful, grainy feel, like watching an old movie. Of these my favourite is 'The Tower', which features the laughter of my daughter Stephanie, who was five at the time. On the other hand, we have amazing material like Russ' sparse, electronic 'Tellurium', as well as his collaborations with David and Robert.
JPM: It's certainly darker, and rougher round the edges. Again it has a range of styles: there's Russ's more recent minimal glitchcraft, dark enveloping soundscapes like 'Path Of The Mask', and then uncategorizable stuff like 'The Tower'.
ix) How do you think Amenti Suncrown will develop over the next 5 years?
RG: It's hard to say, I might fall off the earth tomorrow. However, I do know that I intend to keep working with my two Scottish solar brethren until we all fall off the earth.
GAA: Yes - who knows? But I hope that we manage to find opportunities to explore really interesting sonic possibilities, possibly in conjunction with other media, like film.
JPM: I hope we keep traveling outwards in every direction, whilst going deeper inside in search of those beautiful sounds.
ix) Rose McDowall and Robert Lee of Sorrow are to feature on a future release, and Current Ninety Three's David Tibet is to contribute artwork. How did these associations arise? How important are collaborations to Amenti Suncrown?
RG: The association with Sorrow came about simply by being at the right place at the right time. Rose & Robert have been incredibly kind and supportive, and I'm still in shock at the idea of working with them! As for David's contribution, that was really the result of protracted begging! There really are no musicians I admire more than David Tibet. I'm also a huge fan of his artwork, and so when I got the idea of using his work for the cover of the next album, I just hounded him until he submitted! Now that he's agreed though, the heat is really on! I feel like the next album has got to be just perfect to be worthy of his amazing contribution. All such superheroes aside, we are very big on collaborations and collective music-making. We often collaborate with our close friends on individual tracks. My friend David Hazelton is present on a few of the tracks on our Golden Nadir release and on various tracks on the new project we are currently working on. There are quite a few special guests on our Golden Nadir release.
GAA: I hope I'm right in saying that we strive to let guests influence the overall spirit of the music, rather than just play bit-parts, as it were. This will hopefully keep what we do fresh as we go along, by always taking on board new influences.
JPM: Well, the Rose/Robert Lee connection came about from meeting Rose in London at the C93 gigs at the Bloomsbury earlier this year. Tibet's contribution came from the seemingly endless enthusiasm and energy of Russ. Collaborations give an interesting slant to things, other energies to play with. Our approach to all this so far has been so eclectic that we really have had no problems slotting other peoples' contributions into the whole.
x) Will the members of Amenti Suncrown ever met face-to-face? Do you envisage a time when the members of Amenti Suncrown will meet to record or perform together?
RG: We all just met for the first time in London in April and have just recently received an offer to play in California. For now we are quite content as we are and are having a great time watching this whole project develop.
GAA: Having said that, Paul and I do sometimes record Amenti material together, as we live very near to each other. We then send the results to Russ for further development. And Paul and Russ will probably be working together soon in California. I'm looking forward to hearing what they send me! But this so far is the exception rather than the rule. Usually we collaborate online.
JPM: We all met earlier this year, and got on like the proverbial house on fire! We also met John Siddique of Jowonio Productions and have a project with him in the pipeline.
xi) Future plans? Anything else to add?
RG: Just a warm thank you to yourself and all the other people who continue to help us out-especially the great folks at World Serpent and the endlessly enthusiastic people on the Coil list.
GAA: I'll second that.
JPM: There is a film being made for us (hopefully!)-a handmade cameraless film which I'm really looking forward to seeing and contributing to. As well as the work with Jowonio that I mentioned. And I need to learn how to use these bloody computer things a bit better. I would like to add a big thank you to all those who have helped us and given us such positive feedback and enthusiasm.