Music does not have to be complex or pompous. At times some gentle sounds, some vague rhythms and some slight noise effects are enough. Isnaj Dui Do not need many elements. Just a bit of this and a bit of that. And such can also be discovered on their latest release, entitled Euplexia. Maybe this interview can help to clear matters up a bit.
Where are you from?
I’m from London but now live in West Yorkshire.
Why do you make music?
I just can’t imagine life without music. I started learning recorder when I was 4 and haven’t stopped learning and playing since. I was always very shy at school but when I played flute I lost that and something else just took over. That’s stuck with me since, when I’m playing it’s the only time that everything makes sense.
What is music (to you, in general … )?
At its deepest level music is a very pure way to communicate something that can’t be put into words. On a more superficial but equally important level it’s something that makes you dance, whistle or just enjoy the moment.
What has music been and what is music now?
Music is becoming more and more a commodity and less appreciated as a skill. People expect so much for free now and so many creative outlets are taken for granted as they don’t need to be paid for. Why would anyone buy an album if they can just stream it for free? I hate that attitude but it’s understandable, especially with a generation now growing up who have never had that experience of going to a shop and buying a physical record.
There is also so much work out there and it’s getting harder and harder to sift through everything. Personally I feel there needs to be more appreciation of music as a craft that you have to learn, not just something to emulate. In some ways it’s great that music making has become so accessible in recent years but in other ways it has really suffered from a saturation of (quite often second-rate) releases which has contributed to it becoming something expected rather than treasured.
How would you explain your band name to a stranger?
I couldn’t. It’s made up completely randomly and doesn’t mean anything. Sounds nice though!
On bandcamp there is a small picture of you playing a flute, but you are accompanied a good amount of electronic equipment. What tools/instruments do you use or have been used by you?
I mainly use flute and bass flute but also use a home-made dulcimer, glockenspiel, modified toys, various microphones and an effects unit.
Euplexia, your latest output, has a wide array of facets and concepts. At times the listener feels enthralled by a set of confusing melodies, while at others minimalism or distortion to create a sense of confusion. Do you prefer to be unpredictable? Do you like to take the listener on a trip through strange spheres and atmospheres?
I don’t like albums that sound the same the whole way through and do have quite a contrary nature so I enjoy being unpredictable. While it’s nice to immerse a listener in a piece it’s also good to bring them out of that and offer a change of pace, otherwise you become background music and that’s not what my work is about. Over the past few years I have taken part in lots of different projects and collaborations, from installations to Duodecim (a year-long project where I wrote and recorded a track each month to create a 12-track album). Through working on these different projects I discovered lots of different ways of working and recording and that really affected the way I wrote Euplexia.
This aside, also the name of the release might raise some eye-brows. It is a curious thing to see a piece of music named after a genus of moths. Would you care to elaborate?
After Abstracts on Solitude I decided I didn’t want to imply anything within titles again as a lot of people read into that title which most likely would have had an impact on how they listened to the album. I can’t remember exactly how I came across Euplexia but I think it was through Small Angle Shades (which is the English name for them) but decided that Euplexia worked better as an album title.
It would be not too far-fetched to point to your music as not being overtly cheerful. Even though it cannot be discovered in every one of the compositions, at least some have a certain “melancholic playfulness” to them; expressed through contrasts in dynamics and layers. How would you respond to this?
Again, my contrary nature comes out to play as I will always try to bring out something playful or hopeful in dark pieces, likewise I’ll bring out something dark or sinister from the seemingly more jolly work.
Also the music has a touch of fragility to it, as if it would be on the point of breaking apart. Any comment on this one as well?
Music is such a personal thing and quite often I’ll write as a reaction to something, even if the result doesn’t directly reflect that. Emotions are by their very nature fragile and fleeting and sometimes that comes across in the music. Also my production values are relatively low I suppose, I much prefer the sound of an instrument in a room being played by a human being than some slick sounding sample orchestra. Because everything is recorded as live as possible, with little to no editing, it can sound a lot more fragile and on the brink of collapse than perhaps we’re used to nowadays.
Some of your compositions are exceedingly long and it may be interesting to know how you approach such a piece. Is there a starting point from which you progress onwards or is the length merely an accident of an abundance of ideas that just waited to be explored?
It often depends on the context of the piece and what its purpose is. The long form pieces that I have written for release have generally been designed for release within a certain format and so I aim for a certain length. I’ll usually divide the piece up in some way so that although there may be themes or sounds that run throughout the piece, the melody, harmony or rhythm will change throughout.
Last year I wrote a piece for an hour long installation as part of the UnHyphen series that was specifically designed to immerse the audience in the artwork and sound. That was more challenging as I wanted to use the same short motif throughout the hour without wearing the listener out. I made sure to allow plenty of room to vary the motif as well as changing the underlying textures and playing around with the space by using six speakers.
And while we are at it, how do you attempt to keep up the attention of the listener over such a long period of time? Is there something you would like to stick with the listener?
I like to keep things awkward – rhythms, melodic textures etc all maintain attention longer if they’re irregular than the traditional (Western) two, four, eight that everything usually gets divided into.
In 2013 you participated in the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival. Can you write a bit about this event and about your audio installation?
It’s a week-long festival with loads of events going on throughout the town. The After the Flood installation was part of an exhibition of artworks that had been partially destroyed by the floods in 2012 and the organisers got in touch with Hibernate Records (who I had released on in the past) to ask for a sound aspect to the exhibition. I used hydrophones to record the streams near to the venue and used these as the basis for the track, along with flutes which were also recorded through the hydrophones. The vocal sample was a recording of the daughter of the organisers talking about the floods. It was really sweet as she spoke about a family friend as ‘an angel’ and just gave a really honest account of everything.
The cover arts of your releases are somewhat interesting. Fragmentation, blurriness, enlargement or some kind of obscure drawing, but there is never something definite. How do music and image play together?
As with titles I don’t really like to imply anything in the artwork. The music is quite abstract and can be left to the listener as to what they find within it so I don’t want to influence that with a particular image.
Most of your releases are sold out. Is there a chance to see them re-released at some point?
Haha, I keep changing my mind on this one! Sometimes I think it would be nice to re-release the older albums but at the same time I kind of feel that those pieces were fine at the time but perhaps best left to the past. Having said that, it’ll be 10 years since the debut next year so maybe I’ll do a celebratory box set…!
What about your label Fboxrecords? It appears to be on hiatus, right? At least the homepage does not give the impression of recent activities. So, what would be the status of it?
FBox was only ever set up as when I started the Isnaj Dui project there were so few labels releasing that kind of thing that it seemed easier to put the first release out myself. I don’t have the time or money to dedicate to running a label so I’ve only put out a couple of albums by other artists and now I only release an album if I have a project that’s very personal to me, as with Duodecim in 2012.
Is there a chance to see you live and on stage?
I play live quite regularly, at the moment I have two gigs lined up for November in London and Milton Keynes, hopefully more to come in 2015. I’ll also be playing with a couple of bands I’m in – The Sly & Unseen and The Doomed Bird of Providence – in October and November…
Closing comment if you like
Never stop learning.