"Nostromo" by Sleep Research Facility is undoubtedly one of the finest works of dark/space ambient out there and with the imminent release of the new CD by SRF (Dead Weather Machine and DWM:ReHeat), it seemed high time to find out who was behind such beautifully disturbing sounds. Little did I know that I'd soon be squeezing sounds out of silence and broken heaters! Thanks go to Kevin SRF for his brilliantly dry comments and for taking the time to participate in the interview.
Heathen Harvest: Firstly, Sleep Research Facility don't seem to have got the exposure that I think is warranted so some readers may not have much knowledge of SRF's music. Can you give us a quick view of what SRF are about musically? Why did you choose Sleep Research Facility as a name for your project?
It's kind of crazy to think that SRF would have got much exposure at all, as there's only been the one low-key release so far (not including the very recent Manifold Records
discs) -- so it is pretty flattering to think that anyone thinks it deserves exposure at all and also great when I get a positive response. Basically, SRF is more an excercise in self-indulgence than anything else. I like to listen to music, or at least noise of some kind when I'm crashing out, and after a while I thought I'd have some fun designing my own sounds to suit that purpose. There were other albums I liked to use for passing out to, but sometimes there would be elements that would break the drift - loud sudden bursts in the mix, things that sounded like structured tracks, sometimes rhythmic tracks, that sort of thing. I'd already been playing about with other kinds or electronic music (minimal techno, pseudo Orb
-esque ambience, different sorts of stuff), and thought I would distill what I really liked in that extreme-drift sound into something I could enjoy falling asleep to myself. Everything is road-tested on my own drowsy ears and if others like it too then that's just a total plus. I guess that might give you an indication of where the name comes from as well. It all might seem a bit clinical as a project, but I try to make it more interesting than just something a therapist might give to an insomniac.
HH: Those that have heard of SRF will probably know you through the Nostromo CD that was released by Cold Spring Records a while ago. This was, as the name suggests, promoted as a soundtrack prelude to the Alien film. Why did you choose to follow such a concept? Does Alien, or the imagery in the film, have any special place for you?
“Soundtrack prelude to the Alien film”, that's a terrific description. Yeah, "Alien" is my favourite film (I'm big into films and I really like good incidental music) and as a quiet haunting environment the ship "Nostromo", on which the story takes place, is second to none. Also, it seems to me to be really highlighted during the film's first moments – those introductory slow panning shots, there's a strange sense of abandonment so the whole project is kind of inspired by this opening sequence of scenes. Also one can't help but always associate deep space travel with some kind of hyper-sleep or suspended animation, so that theme is almost automatically present as well, though that wasn't really a deciding factor in choosing the subject matter (it's really about the ship, not the people sleeping in it). I suppose I tried to create an aural equivalent of these sensations one might feel, all alone exploring this vast dark place, cut off from everything and everyone -- nothing (apparently) happening, just you and the environment, no distraction, no conversation, not really overtly nightmarish but still curiously tense in some otherworldly and dreamlike way -- something lurks in the shadows but it never jumps right out to scare you, it's maybe a bit like sneaking around in the dead of night when everyone else is asleep, which can be fun and at the same time maybe a bit un-nerving in a compelling sort of way.
HH: SRF now have two new releases on Manifold Records. I believe that one of these was scheduled to be a bonus disc but has now been released as a CD in its own right? Can you give us some details behind these two albums?
I'd had this three minute recording of malfunctioning heater/blower which I'd made by swinging a cheap mic in front of it at different angles resulting in different timbres and noises, and a friend had recently sorted me out with some new sampling software so I started to play about with this just for fun, the whole utilisation of a single obscure sound source to re-synthesize new noises and build tracks out garbage. Vince Harrigan from Manifold got in touch to ask me if there was anything I'd been working on which I might like to submit to his label for possible release (he was really supportive of "Nostromo" when it came out) so I sent him these sampled regurgitations. He liked it a lot and we agreed that it would be released on Manifold if I wanted to polish up a full project out of it - hence the DeadWeatherMachine CD
was conceived. Something Manifold is noted for doing is limited edition discs (in the region of 100 units) which go alongside the general releases. When "DeadWeatherMachine" was completed Vince suggested that if I had more sounds still on the go that I do an additional mix for this limited edition series, so I continued resampling and reworking the noise into further fifty minute slice of wandering textures. When he got the final master for this (eventually christened the DWM Re:Heat CD
) he thought it was sufficiently good enough to press up as a second general release, going the whole distance and getting 1000 units produced instead of the originally intended limited-edition 100. Naturally, I was pretty happy about this.
HH: Moving to the music itself, how do you compose your music? Nostromo was obviously tied to a concept so did this follow through to how the music was written? Is this any different in the new recordings? What do you use to create the music with?
I didn't originally have any intention to become a conceptualist as such (I hate pompous terms like that), but with "Nostromo" and "DeadWeatherMachine" I think I'm discovering that it helps me to formulate ideas if I'm working AROUND something, and not just generating a collection of random noises. The end listener result would probably be the same either way, but if I think about a project thematically it seems to help me generate ideas. From a technical standpoint "Nostromo" is pretty different from "DWM" - the production method was radically different, and I think the end result is reflective of this (especially the "Re:Heat" work). When I was working on "Nostromo" I was using more conventional methods, synthesisers and such to generate things, lots of studio equipment like effects machines, radios, waves of feedback from analogue equipment looping back on itself and a big mixing desk to bind it all together on. When I started "DWM" I was looking to experiment on something completely different not just thematically, but technically as well. So having done the one-off recording of the mis-firing fan, I read this into a computer and started to manipulate it using only about three or four very powerful pieces of software to mutate and mix/layer the sound. DWM was produced almost entirely on the computer (aside from doing the original recording) which really let me probe the depths of digital manipulation. I figure I'm going to work pretty much exclusively in that environment for a while -- it's compact and at the same time ridiculously powerful. A friend was listening to DWM and we had a laugh at the idea of re-inventing SleepResearch_Facility as a project using nothing but the original 3 minute fan recording for future work, endlessly manipulating it into new noises as there really is no end to how far a sound can be bashed about digitally. Not that I want to be perceived as being a production snob in any kind of digital vs. analogue (or vice-versa) argument of course -- it doesn't really matter how it's made, what's important is simply if the end result sounds interesting or not.
HH: What influences, musical or otherwise, do you have? Is there anything specifically that drove you to create your own music?
Influences, mmm... Well, I guess I like things that exhume a minimal aesthetic. That can really be anything. Without getting into specifics, things like empty factories, really interesting works of architecture and design, odd natural or man made noises like the rush of an 8 lane highway heard from three miles away, or thunder (thunder is REALLY good!) – certain things in the world we take for granted sometimes just grab my attention in strange ways. I took a tour of a power plant a few years ago and while everyone was oooing and awwing over the kilowatts-produced-per-hour, all I could think of was that whirring sound of the turbines should be on CD. That's not to say I'm inspired exclusively by what people might think of as *industrial* of course - natural environments can be equally as intriguing - empty frozen tundra, deserts, even jungles all have something interesting to offer the mind conceptually. Some things just hit me in a certain way, and make me want to conjure up a sound that represents it in some personified way (that sounds ridiculously pretentious - I'm not really that artsy-fartsty though... I hope!) As for musical influences, I suppose people who listen to lots of fringe-audio might see similarities to other drift/drone acts, though I don't generally hear something and say *wow, THAT'S what I want to sound like* -- actually, my listening habits are probably not what people might expect... my brother gave me a copy of Tool
's Aenima CD
a few weeks ago and it is currently blowing me away, at night I occasionally stick on some Jon Hassle but like I said, SRF is so self-indulgent that I usually just listen to something weird I've recorded myself. Maybe that's one of the reasons I started to fiddle with music in the first place, pure self-satisfaction?
HH: What's next for SRF? Do you have any upcoming releases or ideas in the pipeline?
There is another project pretty much finished for Cold Spring which is penciled for release just around the beginning of 2005. I think I might like to re-mix a couple of edits, but it's basically complete - titled Deep Frieze
it's a bit like a soundtrack for sitting on an Antarctic ice-flow watching the glaciers go by (yeah, more pseudo-incidental music). Sort of like "Nostromo" in that it's drifting, but perhaps less claustrophobic. And I have an ancient promise to produce a piece for the tiny but well respected Mystery Sea
label in Belgium - again, something is in production, but I'm not rushing it. One more thing I've started toying with recently is yet another re-sampling project which involves reconstituting new textures (again, using purely the software environment) out of an empty/blank/silent recording I made on my laptop one night when I didn't have a mic or synth of any kind to make a noise with... there is an incredible amount of stuff to be found down around the extreme lower end of the decibel level beyond the range of human hearing, in what seems to be a silent passage, when you take the software and amplify it 1000's of times.
HH: Sound interesting! Finally, any last words before we close the interview?
Just really a big thanks to everyone who's supported me and shown enthusiasm for the SRF stuff, it's really encouraging. Sweet dreams!
(Originally by Gaendaal, September 2004)