With a monicker inspired by an old kids radio show, Listen
With Sarah's varied palette of electronics, found sounds
and spirit of playful experimentation caused a certain John
Peel to sit up and take notice, including the bleating,
meowing 'Animal Hop' in his final Festive Fifty.
We caught up with the creative brain behind the music, Sarah
Nelson, to talk about heroes, Peel approval, and arsey goats.
How are you?
How would you describe your music to the unitiated?
I'd describe it literally as "computer music":
music made on a computer, using electronic and acoustic
sounds. I'm reluctant to call it anything other than
music inspired by all kinds of other music, but I'll
admit to eclectic, quirky and a bit experimental. So far,
it has varied between techno, dance, drum n bass and ambient,
with influences that include medieval, funk, classical,
hippy, blues and prog rock, plus occasional animal sounds
and childhood memories. Made-up genre descriptions could
include "esoteric electronic eclectica, medieval farmyard
techno, pastoral drum n bass and ambient dance blues."
record shops, look for it in the electronica (quirky, experimental,
leftfield or downtempo) sections, or even under 'dance
music' (some people dance to my music, especially
Dance music is dead - discuss.
This depends what we mean by dance music and what world
we inhabit. I imagine Cossack or Afro-Cuban dancers would
disagree, for example. Perhaps some people are making less
money from something they refer to as 'dance music,'
but I'm pretty sure there are still plenty of people
around the world who want to dance. I don't pay much
attention to media trends. Fashions come and go, but music
and dancing have been around for a long time. I can't
see either of them dying out just yet. Surely not? I predict
a waltz revival in the near future.
What do you draw inspiration from when creating music?
The British countryside, birdsong, good music, bad music,
silence, everyday sounds, a skillful DJ mix, contrast, harmony,
discord, the need to express and create something beyond
words, the desire to hear something I've never heard
before, love, beauty, joy, sadness, coffee, mary jane, TV
& films (Spaced, South Park, Tarantino, David Lynch),
a good radio show, animals, comedy, the absurd, the inner
voices, cooking, the oneness of all things (or the desire
to see it)...
Who are your musical heroes and why?
I have many - here's a smallish selection:
Beethoven, for his passion and tenderness
and his expression of contrasts. From banging to exquisite
melody. Hendrix, for bringing music from
another planet. Scott Joplin, for his beautiful
syncopations. Dr John, for his honey-dripping
boogie-woogie fingers (even though they hurt him now). He's
turned many music lovers on to the joys of Professor
Longhair and the roots of New Orleans funk. He's
also rather cuddly. Aphex Twin: Beethoven
meets David Lynch in the 20th/21st century? From banging
to exquisite melody. John Peel, for his
eclecticism and open-mindedness to music. His shows provided
education of the mid-expanding kind. People Like
Us (aka Vicki Bennett) for creating whole new art
forms. Delia Derbyshire, for her electronic
pioneering. Tangerine Dream, for making
the machines sing. Ivor Cutler, I wish
he'd taught at my school. Philip Glass,
for delicious repetitions and keyboard meditations. Simple
yet profound. Arnold Schoenberg for talking
so much sense in only 30 pages (that's all I've
read so far).
keyboard heroes include:
Booker T Jones, for understated yet deeply
groovy Hammond playing. Billy Preston –
quite possibly the funkiest keyboard player ever. Shirley
Scott - queen of the Hammond. Professor
Longhair – master of the loose and shuffling.
Plus Dave Sinclair (Caravan), Greg
Rolie (Santana), Ray Manzerek
(Doors) & Keith Emerson…
their fine techno: Jeff Mills, the Tresor
and Shitkatapult labels, and the Blizzard
heroes include Venetian Snares, Shitmat
& John Shuttleworth.
How did it feel when Animal Hop got into the festive fifty
I felt surprised, delighted, mildly hysterical, proud, honoured
and sad because Peel wasn't there.
SXP: Who do you think, if anyone, is carrying on the good
work of John Peel?
Who could? Many of us hoped Andy Kershaw might take over
Peel's BBC slots (with his lovely voice, easy manner
and musical knowledge), but it was probably never on the
cards and I'm not sure I'd wish it on him. To
replace something we need to understand its true value,
which I doubt the BBC could, in the case of John Peel. They
didn't create him, after all. I imagine the old Peel
team is doing its best behind scenes, within limitations,
and Rob DB plays good stuff.
I suspect many people are endeavouring to keep the spirit
of Peel alive in their own ways, with various interpretations
of what this means. Perhaps this includes everyone who makes
up their own mind about music and remains open to strange
new sounds, and everyone who seeks out and buys records
and cds from independent artists, labels and shops?
people do good things:
Marcelle van Hoof plays fine new music on her internet radio
show, Another Nice Mess, which has been running for almost
20 years: www.anothernicemess.com.
- great freeform radio from New York.
- good ears and fine service.
- refreshing language.
You use many different sound sources for your music, but
one recurring theme is the use of animal noises. What lies
I think only 2 tracks contain actual animal sounds (Animal
Hop and Frogs Sing, Birds Dance), but several of the titles
involve animals (My Crow's Soft Sounds, My Dog's
Got No Nose). The animal sounds in my head must have filtered
into the music. You're right, I'm definitely
a fan of animal noises. Sheep probably have something to
do with it, their bleats and blarts never fail to make me
smile. My folks have kept sheep for quite a few years. I
also love birdsong and it's particularly abundant
where I live, all day long, deep joy. I do prefer animal
chatter to human chatter.
have a bit of a St. Francis of Assisi fantasy, where all
kinds of animals hang out with me of their own free will
(if they have free will) and form a spontaneous animal orchestra.
can probably learn a lot from animals, if we stop projecting
our human values onto them. Animals don't have a work
ethic. They don't drink coffee, or use alarm clocks
and guilt to override their natural urge to rest when tired.
You'll find 2 articles about this on my links page
So what's your favourite animal and why?
I don't have a favourite as such, but I seem to have
a particular fondness for sheep (I was born under the sign
of the Ram). They have great voices. I love dogs for their
unashamed friendliness and goats for their arsey-ness. I'm
even learning to love moths, despite their strange desire
to head-butt light bulbs and die on the carpet. I probably
feel a special connection to the locals, like foxes, deer,
sheep, owls, bats and pigs, but I love them all…komodo
dragons, elephants, whales, frogs, wombats and sloths.
Finally, what's in the pipeline for the future?
I'll be releasing a limited edition 7" in the
autumn, which will include:
NICE MIX" - a celebration of unexpected technical
faults or spontaneous "art events." This track
was originally created for the internet radio show "Another
Nice Mess" and made entirely from samples of this
show, the John Peel Show and a little Laurel & Hardy.
In honour of those "right place, right time, wrong
that, something I don't yet know.
Ian Roullier, 08/2005