Sunday, June 17, 2018

Interview: J.R. Moore / Black Mountain Transmitter

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I would like to welcome to The Plutonian, J.R. Moore! J.R. Moore is the one-man band behind the mysteriously dark and sinister Black Mountain Transmitter albums. Black Mountain Transmitter plays like a cross between the best 1970’s horror soundtracks and ambient/noise bands like Bastard Noise or The Haxan Cloak. I highly recommend Plutonian readers to check out his work.

Thanks Scott. A pleasure to be here.

I know as a lifelong industrial/noise/dark ambient fan, it’s difficult talking to random people about what kind of music I like and listen to since they literally don’t have any kind of way to relate to pop music, or why anyone would want to listen to something that sounds like a jackhammer going through metal. When you have people over, usually they don’t want to listen to the new Merzbow or Lustmord album. You end up kind of being a secret obsessive, listening to albums by yourself and ordering all kinds of obscure albums through the mail. Can you talk about what first got you interested in this kind of music and your experiences being a fan of non-mainstream music?

When I was around 12 years old a music teacher at school put on a record and introduced us to  Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. That was a serious mind-blowing experience hearing that piece at that age, to say the least. I'm certain it warped my young brain and started my interest in those kinds of sounds.  I was already a horror addict by then so that was the only frame of reference I had for something that sounded like that; "Scary Music".

Growing up in Northern Ireland through the 1980's and early '90's it was very difficult to find music outside the mainstream. Information was scarce, occasionally a review or name drop in a music magazine article, but albums were almost impossible to track down. Thankfully the central library had a decent sized section of modern classical LPs which I loaned and copied to cassette, obsessively writing down their liner notes. When I moved to London to study for a few years it became much easier to buy a lot of music I'd only ever read about. The record shops there were a hell of a lot better than the ones at home! Now everything is online, YouTube is stuffed with rips of even the most obscure experimental music. I often wonder what it would have been like if I'd had access to something like that all those years ago.

I'm lucky in that most of my friends have quite similar tastes, so it's not usually a problem to play a lot of weird stuff when we get together.  I do listen to a very wide range of music though, some of which is even mainstream. My tastes can often surprise people.

I remember the first time I listened to bands like Einsturzende Neubauten, Dissecting Table, Skinny Puppy, etc and how mind-blowing they were. What are some of the most influential bands/albums on you?

In my early teens, I stumbled across a copy of Tangerine Dream's "Ricochet" LP at a local library and immediately became obsessed with them. That was a big entryway into atmospheric electronic music for me and I still cite their albums from the 1970's as a major influence.  A few years later discovering the music of early Industrial acts like Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Cabaret Voltaire and Neubauten was another milestone. The early encounter with Penderecki had also led me to further explore the work of modern composers like Cage, Stockhausen, Ligeti, and Xenakis. A lot of what they were doing in the 1950s and 60s was even further out than the Industrial stuff. Of course the film soundtracks of John Carpenter & Alan Howarth, Fabio Frizzi and Goblin were also of great importance. Special mention has to go to Carl Zittrer's wacked out, ghoulish electronic score to "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things". Absolute perfection!

I don't make any distinctions between genres. I can rate a nasty piece of electronic sound from a horror film alongside anything by a 'highbrow' composer. If it sounds good, it sounds good.

I know you are also a big fan of horror in fiction. Some of your albums titles like Black Goat of the Woods, or The Unsettled Dust, pay homage to classic horror short stories. What are some of your favorite stories in the horror genre?

I like to drop those little references into my work, it's kind of like paying my dues to the things that have influenced me. If it leads anyone who might not already be aware to track down a particular book, story or film then all the better.

Like so many others I discovered Stephen King ('Salem's Lot, The Stand and It are all favourites), and through him, Lovecraft in my early teens. "The Colour Out of Space" is still probably my favourite of HPL's for its descriptions of that terribly blighted backwoods landscape and the horrors inside the farmhouse. A masterful work. I originally heard of Thomas Ligotti in the early 2000's through his connection with Current 93 and bought the huge The Nightmare Factory collection. It's hard to describe the impact of reading that had on me. It's almost impossible to pick a favourite Ligotti piece, but "The Shadow At the Bottom Of the World is one I often return to and read every year on the first day of Autumn. The Bungalow House is another  I've re-read countless times. Perfection. Over the past few years, I've been discovering many contemporary writers and it's hard to keep up with the recommendations that regularly appear on facebook posts. Matthew M. Bartlett's Gateways To Abomination was the big discovery of the past few years for me with his totally original and absolutely demented style. That he was also writing about goats, woods and transmitters seemed like some weird synchronicity. Christopher Slatsky's Alectroymancer collection and Jon Padgett's Secret Of Ventriloquism (The Infusorium was a highlight for me) were other stand-out reads from the past few years. I recently finished Brian Evenson's "A Collapse Of Horses", the subtly disintegrating and warping realities of his pieces are hard to shake off. I'm currently finishing up Jonathan Raab's The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre and loving its crazy gonzo spirit. Then I have a copy of Livia Llewellyn's "Furnace" waiting to get started on, the title story was a favourite in another collection.

My main problem is I'm a slow reader and don't get as much time as I'd like to read beyond an hour or so in the evening. There are probably more books at home than I'll ever get through, yet every week they keep piling up!

I think what was the gateway drug for me getting into industrial/noise etc was at first loving horror film soundtracks. Alien, Eraserhead, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Messiah of Evil, Halloween, etc all have such evocative soundtracks. I think you can make a straight line from the abrasive The Texas Chainsaw Massacre soundtrack to industrial bands like Throbbing Gristle and SPK. Do you think the horror soundtrack was influential on industrial/noise/ambient music?

There is certainly an amount of horror film soundtrack DNA in noise and dark ambient music, especially my own. But I'm certain that both worlds draw on the sounds that were pioneered by the great experimental modern composers with their discordant strings, heavy percussion and Musique Concrète electronic tape noise, a lot of which was made decades before. As I noted earlier, I was watching horror films (and reading horror fiction) from a young age and their soundtracks certainly soaked into my bones. Seeing Chain Saw Massacre and hearing Wayne Bell and Tobe Hooper's ominous, clanking and droning score was an epiphany on a level with hearing the Penderecki at school. Eraserhead was another one that presented a completely original sound world of hissing radiators, air vents, and factory noise. Low budget trashy horror films with primitive electronic/synthesizer scores were another love. When I started buying records I was looking for something that captured the same sort of horrifying sonic thrill so I naturally gravitated towards noise, industrial and experimental.

Do you prefer creating music or playing it live? How has the audience reception of your live performances been?

Live performance is something I only do very occasionally, once or twice a year at most. I avoided it for a long time mainly due to technical reasons. I'm a one-man band and it's not easy to replicate my messy recording processes or bring all my gear and do something live on stage. So my live sets are more like a real-time mixing of recorded material and it takes a lot of work to prepare for a forty minute performance. I do enjoy the aspect of getting out and meeting people at shows and the reaction has always been very positive, even from those who wouldn't normally listen to the sort of thing I do. That aspect does encourage me to do it more often, along with the thrill of hearing what I'm doing through a good loud PA system.  But I'm a studio musician at heart and it's sitting working alone at home that makes me happiest.

How does your recording process work? Are your tracks recorded live and improvised? Or do you work to a pre-arranged structure?

I generally start working from a definite concept and often ideas are sparked by a phrase from something I've been reading, which leads to a feeling for a certain atmosphere I want to create. Recording begins as a haphazard process, usually starting with a single sound around which I'll improvise and build up textures using various synthesizers, bass and guitar,  junk percussion and FX pedals. Over weeks or months these sessions build up on the hard drive and when I feel I have enough sounds to draw from I start to shape a final composition, giving structure to all the previously recorded material. There is a lot of further processing, mangling, decomposing and mixing at this stage. Eventually, I have something polished and ready for release. I'm not constantly working on music, it's something I have to be very much in the mood for and I can go for months at a time without doing anything. Just one of the reasons there have only been a small handful of BMT releases over the past 10 years.

Your Black Mountain Transmitter albums I find to be very evocative and darkly entrancing. They play like soundtracks to horror films not yet created. What is your goal in creating a Black Mountain Transmitter album, what kind of effect would you like to have on your listener?

I have to say if I ever get the chance to soundtrack a horror film I could die happy...
When I started recording I thought of the work as 'imaginary soundtracks'. Now I'm more inclined to see them as having a stand-alone narrative in their own right, something like a Weird Tale in sonic form. Atmosphere is very important to me, as is creating a piece of music which takes the listener on a journey through some haunted landscape. I would hope a BMT recording can have the same effect as watching a good horror film or reading an unsettling piece of fiction. On a side note, I've been particularly awed with the response I've had to my work from various writers in the Horror/Weird field who have told me they enjoy working whilst listening to BMT. Very gratifying to say the least!

How did you come to choose Black Mountain Transmitter as the name of your musical identity?

The Black Mountain Transmitter is a well known local feature which sits amidst the hills around Belfast where I live. It's an old radio and television transmitter, still in use actually. There was always something very evocative about the name when I first heard it as a child. Back then I enjoyed playing with the radio, tuning between stations and hearing static, strange tones and garbled voices; in my mind, those eerie receptions were coming from a rusted and hulking structure sending out mysterious signals from a lonely hillside. When I started recording and was looking for a name for the project it immediately came to mind.

So what does the future hold for Black Mountain Transmitter? Any new projects or news you would like to talk about?

At the moment I'm working on a very special project, soundtracking readings by Matthew M. Bartlett from his "Of Doomful Portent" collection. This will be released on Cadabra Records who are doing stunning work with horror spoken word LPs. Aaron Alfrey is doing the artwork. So, it's a great pleasure and honor to be involved with that. On the 14th July, I'll be performing a live set at the "Witch Cults" one-day event in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England. It's organized by the people behind the Folk Horror Revival Facebook community and features film screenings, talks, and live music. I'm currently waiting on delivery of a repress of the "Black Goat of The Woods" CD. It's been out of print for a few years now but still very much in demand, so I decided to reissue it via my own Lysergic Earwax label and I'm hoping to have it back on sale early July. Lastly, there is a new album in the works. It will be the final part of a trilogy with  "Black Goat" and "Playing With Dead Things". The aim is to have it ready for Autumn or Winter this year but I've been hoping to get it finished and out over the past few years and it still hasn't happened yet.  Life often gets in the way of these plans! I have a few vague ideas for projects after that, time will tell...

Thanks again for inviting me on to The Plutonian.

Find more info and music from Black Mountain Transmitter at https://lysergicearwax.bandcamp.com/


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