Sounds from Sheffield: Interview with Electronic Artist Mark Fell

Known for combining popular music styles, such as electronic and techno, the Cleveland Museum of Art is proud to welcome artist Mark Fell to Transformer Station on Wednesday, November 13 as part of the CMA Concerts at Transformer Station series. The concert series, curated by Director of City Stages Tom Welsh, strives to showcase eclectic and adventurous music from around the world in the Hingetown arts venue.

"These concerts in the Transformer Station have all been unique and remarkable, and Mark Fell’s will be particularly so because he’s creating an immersive environment through a multi-channel set up," said Welsh.  "I’m excited about how this series is developing – intense and intimate experiences, quite different and, I think, a thrilling addition to the musical landscape in town."

Based in Sheffield, England, Fell studied experimental film and video art at the local polytechnic he reverted to earlier interests in computational technology, music and synthetic sound. In 1998 he initiated a series of critically acclaimed record releases, featuring both collaborative and solo works, on labels including Mille Plateaux, Line, Editions Mego, Raster Noton and Alku. With a particular emphasis on algorithmic and mathematical system, his recent musical practice has become increasingly informed by non-Western music. Uncut magazine called the sound “completely mind-blowing” and The Wire magazine hailed the albums as “amazing.” 

In addition to his creative practice Fell has been involved in a number of academic research projects ranging from computer science to musicology, and as a curator Fell is widely recognized for his contribution to the development of experimental electronic music in Europe.

Before his debut Cleveland performance at Transformer Station, we talked with Fell about making music and making art.

CMA: What can people expect to see and hear when you perform live?

Mark Fell: I do several different kinds of work in a "live" context. Some of this is quite rhythmic with sounds that refer to early techno but has quite unfamiliar patterns. These kinds of works are quite intense. Sometimes I use several speakers and make tonal works, and these can range from meditative, boring, or immersive. Although these tonal works are sometimes quite loud, I'm definitely not part of any noise tradition. So, although the work appears to be loud, it's actually not painful or damaging in anyway. It just fills the physical and spectral space with energy. For the show on the 13th, I'm going to present a tonal work from materials I developed at elektronmusikstudion Sweden. This starts off rather quietly and harmonics are introduced at different spatial positions around the room. I builds into a very full spatial and spectral form. But like I say this won't go anywhere near pain. I'm interested in it being immersive not aggressive.

How does your set differ from playing solo versus with a group (like SND)?

I think presenting solo work is quite different from collaborative work. Generally I ike collaborative work,and I think better ideas come from exchange rather than isolation. Specifically, with my SND project with Mat Steel, we use a rather limited set of components and structures, and the work is more directly related to club musics. My solo work drifts more away from that anchor point.

You studied experimental film – does your visual work inspire your audio work, or perhaps the other way around?

I never studied music, so I have no musical training other than just listening to music and messing about with equipment. Many of my influences are drawn from film and video art, such as the work of Michael Snow or Peter Kubelka. For me, I don't divide what I do into visual or audio work. And if I did have to subcategorise what I do, then I suppose I would do so in terms of things like the traditions they refer to - club music culture, philosophies of one sort or another, and so forth.

Your discography is seemingly endless – how do you stay inspired over the years when it comes to creating music?

I listen to lots of music, and increasingly very diverse types of music. Whenever I hear music, I want to make music. It's the same with film or writing. If I read a good book I want to write a book. If I see a good film, I want to make a film. I don't know why that is. It's a bit of a drawback when it comes to family life.

Tell us about your more 'academic' approach to music in your research. Mainly, does it translate to your performances or recordings, or strictly a practice for off the stage?

I don't really consider myself to be an academic, although I've worked on a number of research projects in academic institutions. Usually I'm there because of my non-academic approach and knowledge, but I am quite an avid reader of philosophy. I enjoy critical analysis of the things that my peers and I are involved in. But for me, critical analysis does not always mean a "word-based" analysis - for me making work in itself is part of a wider critical response to the traditions within which my work is embedded or opposed to.

Music is an art form that the Cleveland Museum of Art celebrates. What do you hope for audience members to come away with after seeing you perform at Transformer Station next week?

I don't really try to engender specific states or reactions. My work is not about making people feel a certain way or communicating some world-view...I guess for the work I'm presenting in Cleveland I would like people to have a pleasant and enriching experience of the sound as it inhabits the space. But if they are totally bored by it, then I'm not going to get upset.

See Mark Fell at Transformer Station: Tickets are $20 ($18 for CMA members) and available online, at the Cleveland Museum of Art box office, and Transformer Station. Please be advised seating is very limited. > Details

Listen to Mark Fell on Spotify: 


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