Talvihorros, or Ben Chatwin to his friends, is an artist I first came across via his 2009 album ‘Some Ambulance’, an expert collision of brilliant musicianship and a seemingly bottomless pit of fresh ideas. Since then, Chatwin and his music has gone from strength to strength, from the beguiling ‘Music in Four Movements’ on Hibernate Recordings to equally confounding ‘Solo Guitar Improvisation II’ on Rural Colours (a Free Download composition which I compared to Jonny Greenwood, no less. Here, Ben discusses his Talvihorros project; its origins, its influences and his future plans. There are several records in the pipeline and much more music to come from his band Inca Gold, in which he performs six string duties. Read on, to find out more.
Hi Ben, can you explain a bit about how you’re Talvihorros project came to be. Also the name is intriguing, what does it mean?
I started out in bands from the age of about 15 and, after a few years, realized that playing in bands was often more frustrating than it was productive so I set about composing alone. With the ease that technology makes recording now, especially at home, I found working alone and the possibilities this brought with it exciting. I’m not sure if I ever set out to sound like anything in particular but over the years the Talvihorros project has become my main musical outlet. For me it’s grown into a study of the possibilities of the guitar, both acoustic and electric. Few tracks are composed away from the guitar, whether it sounds like it or not. I really enjoy the challenge of integrating electronics in a way that enhances the acoustic or ‘real’ world. It’s a journey and I enjoy trying different approaches with each album/ EP I make. The name ‘Talvihorros’ comes from a friend I worked with around the time of my first demo, I was looking for a word that wouldn’t mean anything to many people but that ignited something in me – after many offerings in many different languages Talvihorros in Finnish won out – it means Hibernate.
If you were to pick a Talvihorros album for a new listener what you recommend?
I guess ‘Some Ambulance’ is the most instantly accessible release so far as it features short pieces in an almost song-like format. Melody plays an important part in this record so it’s a good way in for an uninitiated listener. As a response to making this – I wanted the follow up ‘Music In Four Movements’ to be a more challenging and overall a very different listening experience. I wanted to show compositions that move slowly over long time frames in more of a textural and conceptual way. The next album ‘Descent Into Delta’ is a different move again, sitting perhaps somewhere between the two releases. More melodic and easy going than ‘Music In Four Movements’ but also not quite as short and song like as ‘Some Ambulance’.
‘Some Ambulance’ is my favourite record of yours and I really admired the expert instrumentation and production. What equipment and instruments did you use in its recording?
It was recorded over a 6 month period in the winter of 2007/2008, in a modest home studio (in one corner of my bedroom) in an ex-council flat in Hackney, London. At that time I was using cheap budget equipment to record on and I can hear that in the record – there is a lo-fi kind of vibe that I just couldn’t shake off. The main instruments used were my electric guitar, my housemate’s acoustic guitar, a small 5 watt, old Japanese amp and some pedals. I used my Roland Juno 6 a lot around this time – especially for the arpeggio stuff (like The Blue Cathedral and A Rural Place). A Yamaha SK10 organ would have been used quite a bit too (probably the main sounds of Handwriting Parts I & II). I think I bought a big wooden glockenspiel towards the end of making the album and it was tried out on the last track I wrote (Hope/Again/Sleep). There is some Banjo on Etude III too which was another instrument borrowed from a friend. I think I was lent a Bass Guitar too but not sure if it ever got used. It was all recorded on a very old PC, that struggled quite a bit – I remember my final mix of Etude III was a real headache as my computer just couldn’t play it, too many tracks of audio. I’ve always wanted to remix that track on the equipment I have now, but I’m not sure I’ll ever go back and touch any of that stuff. Luckily I got some commercial work shortly after this release, which paid for a bunch of nice equipment that is now housed in a dedicated room in my house in East London. Glad to be out of that flat – had a real bad damp problem.
Who are your main influences when composing Talvihorros music? Would you agree that there’s a strong connection with Steve Reich in an album like ‘Some Ambulance?
This is a really hard question to answer as it’s not like I consciously listen to music and try to make mine sound like it, there are so many differing factors at play, it’s like asking to sum up someone’s personality using only their favourite films for example. I studied music so I have listened intently to so much music from all over the world for many years now. I’m sure all of it is in there somewhere and comes out at some point in a weird amalgamation that (hopefully) is my own. I often wonder if the guitar playing of someone like Billy Corgan or Jonny Greenwood is as much of an influence as Steve Reich as I grew up learning those pieces on the guitar.
there is definitely a strong connection to Steve Reich. He controls time in a wonderful way.
You are right though – there is definitely a strong connection to Steve Reich. Hearing his music for the first time at college (it was ‘Phase Organs’) was definitely a major experience for me and even more so when I hunted out ‘Music For 18 Musicians’, the way the fast rhythmical interplay combine to make these slower-moving melodic shifts is amazing and something I try to achieve in certain pieces for sure. I remember being played ‘Its Gonna Rain’ at University and it blew my mind that an idea that simple could create all the textures and sound worlds that exist in that piece. A defining moment for me as a listener, as such, phasing is something I am always interested in exploring as a composer. For me Steve Reich controls time in a wonderful way.
Are your influences solely musical or do you take inspiration from other areas?
I think time and place are a major influence, sitting in a particular room or (as in the case of Some Ambulance) my bedroom composing is definitely going to have an impact on the sound of the music I make. I find visiting new areas to be a really inspirational thing as it makes you see things that you would otherwise take for granted in a totally fresh way. I find I often compose with either a general feeling for a place or something more visual in my head that I try to re-create with the music. Film is also a big influence on me and soundtrack work is an area I would like to explore further. I’ve be involved with live improvisation to film as well as composing for short film, both of which I enjoyed immensely. Music is a very powerful tool for heightening the emotional impact of something visual and it’s something I hope to delve into deeper in the future.
When recording a piece like ‘Solo Guitar Improvisation II’ do you have a clear goal in your mind or is it more arbitrary than that, as suggested in the improvisation part of the title?
Since I was first asked to play live, the conundrum of taking the music I make at home out into a live setting has continued. Initially, I started trying to recreate a small studio set-up live utilizing a mixing desk, guitar, keyboard and effects but found it too complicated and not fun at all. As it was always my goal not to use a laptop I realized the simpler I kept the setup live the more I enjoyed it. Musically speaking I think I’m a guitarist first and foremost, it’s the instrument that feels most comfortable in my hands. So working with just an electric guitar and a few pedals in a live setting is now a very exciting prospect for me. I’ve found that, rather than trying to recreate studio pieces live, the more improvisational I make it the more successful the piece is, firstly, and, secondly, the more I enjoy the experience. So in answer to your question ‘Solo Guitar Improvisation II’ was a pure improvisation – I just started playing and that’s what came out.
What have you got planned for the rest of 2011 and further into the future with the Talvihorros project?
I wanted to release 3 full length albums this year but (unsurprisingly) I don’t think it’s going to happen. I do however have another tape lined up of improvised guitar work for The Offices of Moore and Moore label that’s been in the pipeline for a while. My next full length is called ‘Descent Into Delta’ and all going to plan will be released on LP and CD in August through Hibernate. It features 5 tracks that started out as live improvised guitar parts but this time around have been edited, added to, structured and composed into something that will hopefully work well as a deep and rewarding listen. To support the release I will be doing a short UK tour with Matthew Collings who has an extremely good album well overdue for release. I am looking forward to this a great deal and hope myself and Matt can also work into our sets a short collaboration as I think there could be a lot of potential there. Im also looking into adding a live drummer/percussionist to my live shows for this tour to make them more dynamic and powerful, this is something that I will be working on over the coming months. I’m well underway on two other full-length albums, although whether they will see a release this year is looking more and more unlikely. One is an album that I feel like I’ve been writing all my life (and in some ways I have) it’s a collection of short acoustic guitar pieces balanced with a strong or harsh electronic element. Etude III and IV from Some Ambulance were written in this style. Etude I and II were on the first demo I ever made, incidentally I’ve reworked Etude II to be a longer more developed piece for a short film so a version of this may well make it onto that album. The other album is more of a conceptual album about the Genesis, seven tracks – one each for God’s seven days of Creation. Currently this is heading in a very dark and noisy direction.
You are also guitarist in Inca Gold; tell us more about this band?
Well I guess Inca Gold is a very young band (we started late 2010). In many ways we are a very traditional band – a 4 piece with drums, bass, guitar and vocals. We are all good friends and kind of just got sick with the generic nature of what many successful bands do. We felt that, limiting ourselves to traditional instruments and the ‘pop song’ format, we could do something a whole lot more interesting than most of the bands that are coming out of the London music industry machine. Our aim is to be interesting and experimental without being alienating. The plan is to release a triptych of EP’s this year and then see what happens, the idea of documenting the process of a new band writing their first batch of songs was something that I thought would be interesting. So here we are, Inca Gold II is released and we are currently writing and recording sessions for the third and final EP.
We felt that, limiting ourselves to traditional instruments and the ‘pop song’ format, we could do something a whole lot more interesting than most of the bands that are coming out of the London music industry machine
Also in relation to Talvihorros – after a couple of years of making music solo, its great to get back to a more social thing where the focus is playing live in a room rather than in the studio. It can be a very rewarding scenario bouncing ideas of other people and writing songs ‘live’. I feel that Talvihorros has grown into a strong creative outlet for me and so really enjoy being just one / fourth of a writing unit.
Both Inca Gold and Talvihorros are quite generous in giving out legally free music. What’s your stance on the illegal downloading issue?
I could write an essay about this subject arguing both for and against. But ill try to keep it short. Unfortunately we live in an age of diminished sales, where it’s easier to ‘steal’ music than it is to go and buy it. Obviously the lack of money that music sales generate has big consequences on the people that make the music and the labels that put it out. I also think the sheer volume of people making music (especially in the so called experimental/ambient worlds) is also a contributing factor in the decline in the value of music – there is so much music to wade through to find the good stuff.
I think one positive of the download thing is the death of the ‘music industry’ which has been flogging us generic drivel for far too long. However the old model needs to be replaced by a new model in which the people that are making good or popular music need to be rewarded for doing so and I think this has yet to happen. Whether it will over the next few years remains to be seen, I think its looking more and more unlikely as what was the industry is finding other ways to make money away from album sales. The bottom line is – I’m a big fan of the internet and the opportunities it provides, its immediacy and the fact that people can share on such a large scale can be a wonderful thing. There is still an, albeit small, market for physical copies of music – and people that are prepared to pay for music -but I worry about the next generation that have no experience of buying and handling physical records. Why would they value music in the same way as some people in our generation do? It’s a difficult time to be a recording artist but there are other ways to make money – touring and publishing etc.
Moving on, if you were to start your own label is there a particular artist you would make a bee-line for, for its inaugural release?
This is something I think about often and I’m sure at some point will make the jump, having a brother who is such a talented artist and designer it kind of makes sense to go down this route. To be honest, if I were to do this it would be as an outlet to release my own music as I’m not sure if I could release anyone’s music that I actually liked and do it the justice it deserves. I’m a big fan of JasperTX, Ous Mal, Danny Saul, Tom White, Matthew Collings and Paul Corley, so in the spirit of the question perhaps one of those guys.
Final question, what records have you been enjoying recently? I noted you attended the Primavera Sound Festival in Spain, any particular highlights there?
Yeah, Primavera was great – really terrific line-up. I think clear standouts had to be both Suicide and Swans partly due to the sheer volume the stage they were on seemed to be allowed to reach. Being a long-time Suicide fan I was excited to see them but also not expecting much either, how wrong I was. By far one of the most intense, relevant and remarkable performances I have ever seen. Battles also impressed on this stage seemingly not missing Tyondai Braxton as much as I thought they would.
On the smaller stage Glasser, Tune Yards and Gang Gang Dance were highlights. In fact since I got back I’ve been listening to the Glasser album ‘Ring’ an awful lot. A beautifully controlled and powerful voice. I look forward to more from Glasser.
Other albums worth mentioning are:
Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2
Kangding Ray – OR
JasperTX– The Black Sun Transmissions
Barn Owl – Shadowland
Jefre Cantu Ladesma – Love Is A Stream
Kreng – Grimoire