Ed Clarke has sung in a cathedral choir, witnessed a David Bowie soundcheck, and engineered live sound for Van Der Graaf Generator since 2005. He has recorded Ryuichi Sakamoto’s In The Lobby album and created sound design for Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein, and The Mysteries, each at the National Theatre, and Backbeat, Baby Doll, Fatal Attraction, and Showboat in London’s West End. Ed Clarke was nominated with Underworld for an Olivier Award for his work on Frankenstein.
Clarke is also a recording musician and composer, or organiser of sounds, as he prefers to say. His consummate debut Landscape might be described as electronica with a very personal, somewhat pastoral character. The album is inspired by land, place, light, conditions, seasons and time, motion and stillness, and the varied sounds Clarke hears all around him. Landscape has come together over 7 years.
We asked Ed Clarke to tell us about Landscape…
How did this album come about and take shape?
I had pieces of music I’d written originally as incidental, or underscore, or transition pieces for various theatre shows. Then I started to wonder if they would come together to make a coherent whole. Much of it needed adaptation, to a greater or a lesser extent.
How long has it taken to create Landscape?
Somewhere between three months and seven years - the original of the oldest piece is from a 2013 show.
Is the focus on England as a place?
Short answer: no. If there is a formative idea behind the album it is of mood, atmospherics, ‘the pervading tone or mood of a place’ - but not just of a place, of a situation relative to that place. Thus: sitting by the river on a quiet evening as the late summer sun goes down after a happy and productive day; or travelling home the morning after a fun week, or travelling through a looming and grey former industrial landscape, or a glimpse of frost-lined trees alongside a frozen canal from a train window, or eating outside on an English summer’s day. Most of the tracks, as far as they have specific inspirations, are about locations. And most of those, due to where I have been in recent years, are in the UK.
You are based in West Yorkshire. How does this influence the album?
I’m in West Yorkshire, but right on the border of North Yorkshire, so it’s more rural here than some of the more violently former industrial parts of West Yorkshire. There are still the remnants of mills scattered around the place though, and the specific section of river in the song is actually the flooded part from a weir. It’s also both rural and urban - if you look out of one side of our house you’d think you were in the middle of the countryside, from the other it’s a world of shops and offices and traffic.
Where and how was this album recorded?
Almost entirely in the studio I've built in my basement. Recorded isn’t always the right word. Most of it is absolutely played into a recording device, in this case the computer. Much of it is programmed rather than played … well, okay, this is approximately the process:
The general shape of a piece arrives the way inspiration does, immediately and out of the blue (although it can be forced, too). That is then played into the machine, along with accompaniment if any. Some of it, some elements, are written rather than played. There is a lot of programmed modulation going on in these pieces. Most of what you hear is actually sustained chords, but those are altered and broken down and re-built with time-synced filters, delays, arpeggiation, glitching and other processes. So there is a lot of movement within the sounds employed as well as in the writing of the piece. In a way the modulation stuff provides the rhythmic element more than traditional percussion.
Then there is a good deal of synthesis too - with a couple of exceptions I was trying not to employ ‘fake’ versions of real-world sounds (although certain types of synthesiser tones are now so well known that they almost have an organic quality). It doesn’t really exist until it’s played back - it didn’t ever exist. So it’s not a ‘record’ - in the sense of a taking down of something - of sound, like recording a four-piece band in a room. It’s more an invention of sounds.
How does creating an album compare to theatre work?
Theatre work is strange - writing something that has to be 25 seconds long is sometimes harder than writing something 4 minutes long. Often things cannot be a specific length - scene-changes and actors’ movement varies through the length of a run of shows, so music and sound needs to be able to be flexible with that. And you’re working to fierce deadlines, often actually writing stuff to order in minutes. Or suddenly someone will change something about a process and you’ll have to make something half the length. And you often have to communicate your ideas to people in words, rather than examples. Also theatre rarely has just one thing going on - so something that might sound perfect in the studio can be far too busy and attention-grabbing for the final purpose, especially for under-scoring, and often you end up removing elements almost on the fly.
But the album is intended to be a stand-alone whole, though not necessarily intended to be listened to in isolation. I tried to keep the idea of all the people you see travelling with headphones and ear-buds in mind. The album has no-one else’s input, no-one else’s concepts, is no-one’s plan. The album doesn’t exist until I say it’s finished. Writing for shows you preview stuff to other people - directors mainly - and there are always changes - of tone, of intention, etc; sometimes you’ll play something intended for one moment and a director will say ‘no, but that’s perfect for this section…’ And then the whole thing can start to go in a different direction.
This album is an individual creation. Almost all theatre is a group creation. Half the time, in theatre music, and often specifically in sound design, you are trying not to be noticed, to affect mood and atmosphere without anyone knowing why they’re feeling something. That’s really not the idea with an album.
Ed Clarke’s Landscape — Selected Track Notes…
Evening By A River
There is a river near the bottom of our garden. I like to sit there in the summer evening sunlight whenever the opportunity presents. I was struck by the similarity between the sounds of the birds and the sheep in a nearby field, and the sense of just-missed communication you get from shortwave radio sometimes, so tried to put that sense of a peaceful evening combined with the imperfections of communication into music.
I’d had a very successful week working away, and was on a Sunday morning train heading home, feeling that everything was pretty good with the world for the moment, and it was a perfect early autumn morning - sunny, frosty, slightly misty, and the train was not busy; this is how that felt, as near as I can make it.
A man stands on an empty stage and pours, from jute sacks, what might be earth, or coffee beans, or crumbled bark, and patiently and reverently rakes it into a ceremonial flat landscape. This was part of Vinay Patel’s play An Adventure at the Bush Theatre in 2018 … only the mood of that section of the play was changed, and so this piece was cut.
There’s a part of the train-ride from Hull to Doncaster which takes you past what must once have been a hectic industrial centre, but where now the derelict and abandoned buildings stand, uncertain, like forgotten cathedrals in the fog. Especially in the grey low light of winter.
- Artist: Ed Clarke
- Album title: Landscape
- Label: House Splendid
- Album release May 1st 2020