Listen to the Caretaker below.
You could say that the primary interest of James Leyland Kirby under his Caretaker guise are the haunted, cobwebbed pathways of your mind. In a sense, the sounds on his just out LP An Empty Bliss Beyond This World — entirely consisting of looped and effected samples of ancient ballroom 78s — are about memory, but something different: ghost memory, or memory that lingers in the brain separated from context like walking into and right back out of a movie, leaving with just a sense and feeling. Or dream memory, a snippet remembered days later of something quite spooky and all the more so because you don’t know how it begins or ends. (Kirby’s said that the Caretaker project is inspired by the haunted ballroom of The Shining.)
The press notes for Empty Bliss say the record was inspired by recent research into Alzheimers disease saying that the very distant past is still recoverable in patients with severe memory loss via the last-to-go prefrontal cortex. So imagine that: a memory rising into your awareness than a corpse floating up from the bottom of a brackish pond. Indeed, this is how the record feels: Kirby’s newest Caretaker release, his ninth under the moniker, is ear-wideningly successful. Last week, I e-mailed with him from his home in Berlin.
What is the first song that you can remember hearing in your life?
“Brown Girl In the Ring” by Boney M. I remember it vaguely and through a fog. I was at a party, I asked my parents about it and they seemed to think the guy throwing the party was called Borg Ruby which figures as the whole thing felt scary. I just remember being in the middle of this circle of people who were dancing around. Was probably when it came out too, when the track was as fresh as a daisy.
What do you think makes the relationship between memory and music unique?
It’s unique only in the same way smell works, you listen to something and immediately you can be transported back to a certain time or place unique to that sound. Music is intrinsic to many long lasting memories.
When you are old and you’re mind is slowly going to pot through Alzheimers, what songs do you remember? What surfaces out of the fog for you personally?
Can you imagine?
I dread to think. Maybe I am very unlucky and it will be some horrific records as I own many or maybe something calm. By that point and should that happen to me I doubt I would even be aware, which is a very scary thing. The brain truly is in many ways the unknown and can be a very harrowing place when we fall inside of ourselves.
What are the sources for these pieces (on Empty Bliss)? How did you find them, and choose them?
I was lucky really, I bought everything in one shop in Brooklyn as I was out with the Demdike Stare guys who are big vinyl collectors. Myself, I just tagged along hungover and worse for wear and we ended up in this hipster style shop. It was expensive in there but they had this section of dance band albums. I was just looking through and pulled out what seemed interesting to me and ended up with around ten albums for $5 as they were the cheapest records in the shop. Amazingly when I made it back to Berlin the mood on them all was incredible.
I hadn’t planned to do another Caretaker album as I had already finished a soundtrack for Grant Gee’s upcoming film Patience – After Sebald (which will also be out this year). I worked on working what I had bought all Winter and figured people might like it so decided to slip it out and see.
Can you talk a bit about process? How these songs or bits of songs are processed is very uniquely strange. Almost deceptive. Not in a bad way, but with something like Sick-Love (from Kirby’s earlier project V/Vm), I can hear you very actively in the songs, and here I know you’re doing something very active as well, but it’s almost easy to forget with the Caretaker songs. Can you talk about how what exactly you’re doing with each of these pieces?
All I try to do with everything is create a mood or some tension, be it the old V/Vm releases or these new Caretaker albums. I have an idea in my head when I listen to a phrase of a song and then try and use that phrase to set a new tone well out of its original context. The process in getting there a lot of the time is really unimportant. The main thing is the result and in terms of the new album the overall flow, which I worked for a long time on.
Do you feel that you’re archiving sounds with this record, or repurposing? Are they mutually exclusive?
If you were to listen to all the source albums back to back then these are very different to the end result, sometimes i will just magnify the tiniest phrase and it will loop over and over. Of course when you listen to the source you may recognise this phrase now but without my own reworking it otherwise would probably have gone unnoticed.
Altered Zones has the whole thing posted on SoundCloud for the time being, but you can download/pay for it here.
The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World by alteredzones
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