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Interview: James Grant (Abstract Mutation / Spelunks)

Interview: James Grant (Abstract Mutation / Spelunks)

Interviewed by
Chris Cudby
Friday 6th September, 2013 9:29AM

Ex-Christchurch avant-electronic artist James Grant has recently had a splurge of activity with excellent back to back album releases under his Abstract Mutation and Spelunks monikers (released via 1080p and Crystal Magic respectively). No stranger to the airwaves, Grant played as a member of the Tiger Tones and the Shocking Pinks in the 00s. Currently residing in Melbourne and presiding over the Vinyl Only Tapes label, Grant kindly took some time out to muse over his recent creative outpourings, the value of shareware, reminiscences of being an ex-member of the Shocking Pinks, and more.

You've had two albums come out under different names in the last few weeks from both 1080p and Crystal Magic Records – could you please talk about the differences (if any) between your Abstract Mutation moniker and Spelunks?

Abstract Mutation is mostly process based techno based around live recording from a sampler keyboard and synthesiser via sequencer and loop pedal. Kinda setting up systems (like routing in different ways or particular ideas about types of samples to use, particular techniques) and then improvising around them. I like the mix of tight sequenced parts and loose loop pedal parts. It kinda comes out pretty straight-up but a mix of organic/machine. Spelunks is an older project I haven't done much with for a few years. More composed, using computer to record, arrange and edit stuff; more songs sometimes, really being into making grooves. Serenely Skeptical was the last thing I did, I recorded it in mid 2011 and then kinda sat on it for a while.

Richard (MacFarlane – 1080p label boss) talked about the Abstract Mutation album as having something of a 'PC Gamer vibe' - what relation would that idea have to your sounds?

I used to be really into computer and video games when I was a kid and used to obsessively read technology/games magazines. I was probably more into everything around them than actually playing games. A big part of this was also cover discs which came with game demos and filled up with a bunch of other various stuff to persuade people into buying the magazine. The menus on these were always really interesting to me cuz they'd often try and replicate game-like spaces that you traveled around within to get to the content. PC Gamer c.1997 had this island with like a cave for game demos, a treasure chest for hints etc. I think the idea of how we can create immersive digital atmospheres is really relevant to our lives online c. 2013 and I was thinking about that a lot when making these tracks so it kinda bled in. 
Fraser (Austin - Crystal Magic label boss) has talked about the value of Shareware being a strong concept outside of just PC games in the 1990s and I really agree with that.

How did these two projects come to be released so closely together?

It was just an accident.

What's your relationship with those two labels (1080p /CMR)?

Hmm, I don't know what to say to this one. We're just friends.

You're also the proprietor of the Vinyl Only Tapes label – could you please talk about the label and the artists involved in that? You have other pseudonyms that release through VOT right (eg. Chris)?

VOT is a CD label and the name was something I wrote in a notebook once and thought was funny re: the collectors impulse / music objects. I like being able to get stuff out of my head rather than rolling it around too much. CDRs are easy to post, carry around and can be turned into mp3s easy. They're cheap. If they sit in the bottom of your car and get munched it's no biggie but I have a format for them which is kinda nice as a collection but leaves the covers unique. Most of them are me or me and someone else but I've also released some excellent CDs by With Moths (Richard Marks), WAR.M. (Will MacFarlane), Robert Martelli and WYWYB (Ryan Bennett).

As a teen you were a member of pop/dance group the Tiger Tones – how would you describe your musical trajectory over time (I remember that you were also a member of LOOM with Fraser Austin which had a less 'pop' angle to it)?

I dunno if it's a direct development through styles or sounds, just a bunch of cycling elements that shrink and grow as their relevance to me and everyone around me shifts. I think theres some common things that always seem interesting to me: dance/rhythm, time distortion (long things feeling short and vice versa), human/machine interaction (tech/organic); process and how improvising is part of that (it's always around structures). Getting separate things together in a way that feels like it supersedes the individual parts seems like a pretty universal COOL THING right? Always feels good whether it's people getting on the same wave or a herding a bunch of elements by yourself.

As a gross generalization, it seems like many younger artists from Christchurch have more a focus on electronic and dance music-derived forms than their 'rockier' northern counterparts, why might that be? Did that giant dump of amazing techno records at Penny Lane Records a few years ago a have any influence on your musical development? Or that time Mad Mike (from Underground Resistance) came to Chch?

Hmmm, I'd never really thought of that. That Play Records/Penny Lane DANCE VINYL section was the best thing ever but I mostly just scored a lot of 'classic' records (or by 'classic' artists/labels) and could trace a lot of it just to my older brother's influence. Meeting Mad Mike was amazing but there was nobody really there (?!) just Mark (Wundercastle) Shannon (who runs Dungeon Taxis label) me and a couple of others who I think were organising it?

As an ex-Christchurcher now residing in Melbourne, how would you describe your current musical environment/context? I've noticed that you've been playing with the likes of Tlaotlon and Cartoon, is there an ex-pat musical community in Melbourne right now?

Nah, not that I know of. I have great friends here who are New Zealanders but that's only incidental. To be honest, we're all probably the ones who get weirded out meeting other NZers who've moved here and only seem to associate with each other? I like Melbourne, but it feels pretty similar to home. It only feels super foreign to me sometimes and that's usually in a really pronounced way (I went to the AFL once).

Any good stories about being in the Shocking Pinks?

Seeing Nick (Harte) asleep standing up and midway thru changing CD in his Discman with the lid open and disc in his hand. He's a genius.

What music are you enjoying at the moment?

Been on a big Steely Dan trip again after you posted that video on Facebook. Pan Sonic and Ø. Matthew Brown who makes techno and climbs mountains in Tasmania. Muslimgauze (especially Azzazin). Had a massive Wolfgang Voigt revisit (especially Studio 1 and Gas). Justin Fuller who is also from Melbourne. Kevin Drumm – Imperial Horizon. That slick new Power Nap!

Any further releases / tours planned?

Yeah I have a bunch of Abstract Mutation stuff I'm sitting on, just need to get it together. Editing some recent recording of Offworld which is an ambient project I do with Rob Martelli. I have an butt rockin cyber-metal project called VIRTUOSO which is all based around shredding Rammstein and Deftones guitar samples on my sampler keyboard over super crushed 909 drums. Needa do something with that. Going to organise some shows in New Zealand sometime soon.

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