An Interview with Ben Power [2 of 3]

Below is the second piece of my extended interview with Ben Power. Contained herein is an illuminating narrative of Ben’s older project, Vore Complex, as well as some chilling details on how he produces his abrasive noise.

Part II – Affection for Rejection: Cud

Vore Complex was hatched well before Bleach for the Stars. Was Vore Complex (VC) one of your first musical endeavors?

I’d played violin in a string quartet whilst at school, and taken private lessons for 5 years from a friend of the family who gave Scottish bagpipe tuition, as well as occasionally busking in public with a harmonica, but aside from that I was never really seen as a particularly musical child. I did form a gothic rock band in senior school though. We were called ‘Mr Happy’. Didn’t get around to recording anything, but we practiced for a while. It was just a chance for me to test out my lyrical experiments as a vocalist – before that I’d only written poems. It was dire; appallingly bad. It’s also the last time I tolerated a live drummer – one who wasn’t me at least. Guitarists too, the showboating gits. Just my little joke.

Also, in London about a year and a half later, I found myself composing lyrics, playing various keyboards, and writing drum machine rhythms for a darkwave/synth-pop project called ‘Misery in the UK’. I occasionally sang on it too, and in a comparatively ‘melodic’ capacity, but for the most part I handed the responsibility on to a character called Alex Kaos. They were in Mexico at the time, and experiencing some complicated circumstances, so we handled the project by passing bits and pieces back and forth by email. Alex did all the mixing/mastering also. We didn’t play live together, but I would very occasionally cobble together fragments of it from my end, and test them out on – and with – my friend Mick, and indeed the public, generally with a prominent level of improvisation (and narcotics). I had no idea what the sound direction for it was, and possessed limited ambition regarding the whole endeavor. It didn’t last very long. There are a few raw pre-demo recordings of it stored in my archives. The rest is gone, along with Alex.

I often wonder how my old friend is these days. It was quite a stressful and unorthodox time. I did have a few other musical plans though. Vore Complex really began as a re-interpretation of the sort of themes covered by these projects.

Take me back to the moment(s) you began formulating Vore Complex in your skull. What circumstances in your life led you to begin producing music under this moniker?

Oh, autophagia – definitely so; a means to elucidate the public, and take it to fierce levels of irony. I was exhibiting that behavior at the time to a degree unprecedented in medical literature (I’ve checked, numerous times, not that the internet holds more than about 5 or so research papers on the topic, and out of that grouping, only 2 of any cohesive sense). Having just received a series of skin grafts on my right forearm subsequent to having burnt it to the bone with acids, almost to the point of amputation, I was very much of the mindset that I didn’t want anything to improve for myself, in any way; and would indeed actively work towards hindering healing.

Anyway, there isn’t really time to get into too much detail over the cognitive nature of autophagia now – Wikipedia’s got it wrong, or at least partially inaccurate and wildly speculative, but ignores me when I try to send in corrections and first-hand evidence, the smug buggers (typical APA-sourced attitude). Suffice to say that I received multiple skin grafts all in all, having patiently chewed and gnawed the developing tissues out of each new healing site.

My arm took about 7 years to heal, although it could have been slightly quicker, had I been able to allow that. I was remarkably pessimistic, depressed and self-authoritarian with regard to personal ethics in those days too – more so that now actually, though it was nowhere near as refined. I was also a reluctant misanthrope, if still quite idealistic. Beyond all this, I was studying for a philosophy degree; spending a lot of time out on the streets, and becoming very disillusioned with everything I saw around me. I spent a lot of time around Kings Cross, Islington and Camden Town, and then further up the Northern Line and out into the edgelands – the shallow disdain of passers-by, the belligerent ignorance and elitism of the upmarket crowds, and the plastic veneer over everything got to me.

I think VC came about primarily as a means of exploring some of these topics, and reflecting on them, as well as chastising the demographics I felt were responsible for this – it’s worth noting as an aside that much as I would routinely eviscerate myself with some grim determination, I’m not fond of the initial axioms that lead to such practices, and don’t take joy or relief in my ritualized ‘keeping in-check work’ so to speak. I think addiction to endorphin release is a speculative myth, along with rest of those hackneyed psychiatric explanations: any positive sensation or experience would negate the purpose.

Also, I was also getting to attend small gigs, and saw a couple of groups live that inspired me in terms of sound direction – Katscan, Bent USA, Arkam Asylum, Deathboy, Leechwoman, and Je$us Loves Amerika. I love all those guys. I’d say listening pretty solidly to :wumpscut:, Aslan Faction and yelworC on my Walkman played a heavy part too. Intense times. In the end, I never finished my first degree. It got too much.

You take what you call an “eclectic approach to the nature of the ‘consumed’ in a materialist and spiritual context” under Vore Complex. Elaborate on this.

Very much so. Aside from the personal ties to autophagia, I use ‘vore complex’ as a euphemism for homo sapiens itself – or at least for the rapacious, primal drive in us to use up, corrode and despoil, all whilst accumulating the biggest personal stash of what could only be the spiritual equivalent of shit. I think that’s quite a damning consideration. Mass materialist consumerism and the times when a system for goods and information exchange in the West fails to deliver more than a string of empty possessions, privileges and rights with no direct reference to practicality or merit. George Carlin summed one aspect up well in one of his routines: people spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need. I do believe a capitalist society is for the best pragmatically, at least for the moment (and am no fan of socialist and communist positions on the matter), but I don’t think human nature always allows that to occur in a productive manner. I take it further though; dwelling on the coruscating hubris that tears down any noumenal divide and allows us to shape ourselves as gods. I don’t think we’re ready for that yet; we lack responsibility and accountability for our actions.

My extended VC song-poem, ‘Tongue’, is a cautionary fable covering this idea, from about as deep as I can intellectually penetrate it so far. I often feel this over-consumptive attitude has ties to academic Nihilism and some postmodernist ideologies; a philosophical mindset I tend to thoroughly avoid – though I remain a cosmic pessimist. That’ll take a while longer to form cohesive arguments over though.

Also, just to set the record straight, I’m not into vorarephilia, at all. I have tried to be, if only to keep an open-mind, and put a lot of effort into exploring that resoundingly kinky fetish, but, somehow, although I don’t find it distasteful, it’s just not my cup of tea. That doesn’t stop it hijacking all my YouTube etc. search results though, or prevent people for asking me if I’m affiliated now and again. Recently I’ve got together with the talented and eccentric filmmaker Raymond P. Whalen to explore some of the slight ironies that arise out of this. That the letters ‘v’ and ‘c’ both look like open jaws is a small visual coincidence that hasn’t been lost on me.

How often do you re-work your compositions?

Almost constantly. There’s always something I miss, or could elaborate on, and define more precisely. I don’t tend to use them as songs at all most of the time – at least, when I listen to them myself. Rather I employ the majority of my pieces as memory-joggers, audio-heuristics and memos for an unpublished personal thesis I’ve been writing for a while. Only a hobby, or, more realistically, a vocation. It’s almost a vast, cryptographic tapestry by now; an inter-linked checklist of gripe-points, critical considerations and historical musings. Although aimed at some of the destructive aspects of 3rd wave Feminism, my VC song “Ingot” also deals with the analytical process itself, and how ideas and creations are never quite done (the opposite of that being “Walls” by BFTS). There’s always room for improvement, and a resifting of possibilities. Anything else seems a little lazy and presumptive, at least in my own sphere. Being is doing in this house (not that my partner would necessarily agree with me; she considers me as she considers all men: quite lazy).

Of course, I do release the tracks periodically, but it’s never long until I’ve torn little chunks out of them and re-bolstered the frameworks a bit, ready for another coat of paint. People are extremely good to tolerate this neurosis on my part. It’s not quite a case of me just blasting out the same songs again and again forever – the re-edits and re-constitutions are all markedly different, but I know this thorough (or thoroughly deranged) approach may take a while to get used to. When you’ve written as many songs as I have, you like to get them as close to that apocryphal level of objective completeness as possible, and that takes considerable effort. It gives me something to do too, on slow news days.

 

Tell me about some of your favorite recordings.

The amount of planning and thought I put into the conceptualization – if not always the acoustics – of each song I write is probably too much. It goes down deep each time. It would wither readers if I put in too many examples. Besides, I’m never too pleased with any of my work, much as I listen to it when I’m occasionally bored, or when yearning to jiggle things around a bit – which, in the latter case, is quite a lot.

The one that I could focus on though, and that has been through the most changes (6 iterations now, and counting) is “The Insect Room” by VC. That was quite a perplexing example for me to attempt. The language is deeply allusive and semi-surreal, again to an almost cryptographic level, but I think the narrative is quite clear nonetheless. It’s ultimately a song about revenge, and debts paid, and a reluctant vendetta pursued against an outside party (or group) who once offended me beyond all limits of sanity and forgiveness. Back to my eternal themes of odd goings-on in the quiet places of the world, and underground. It’s only a pipedream – preferably daydream, and highly speculative in places, although I have owned trench raiding whip-clubs of an extremely idiosyncratic bend in the past – and for reasons of some direct practicality at the time, given the nature of the people I had inconvenienced and who they sent round to have a word with me. That was quite a stressful week. I often worry about the impact occult and pseudoscientific topics have on a certain sort of cold, pretentious, sociopathic mind, and if there’s more than one of them… trouble-brewing, basically.

Anyhow, the music itself, in my most-recent take on it, is designed to reflect the dark side of anything New Age – not in a ritual noise sense, or anything too traditionally satanic or typhonian genre-wise. It’s closer to a twisted, backwoods psychedelia. It’s an example of how I would attempt meditative music, or trance-inducing sounds, in a very alien sense of the esoteric. A previous version of “The Insect Room” included a reference to (some) Kekui-worshippers amongst the crowd I wanted to give a good spanking to, but I decided to pull that out, as, much as some of the modern takes on that sort of ritualized veneration of chaotic darkness occasionally brings me a little consternation, especially outside of the obvious – the stereotypical memetics fascinations and online fantasies etc., I think, at base, the practitioners are fairly harmless as eccentric individuals. I wish I could extend that statement. If you listen to the song though, I’d prefer people to draw their own conclusions, and try to see through the waves of unfamiliar language, towards what I was really getting at. If not, at least it’s quite memorable melody-wise.

Do you go out into the field, the world, to collect many of the sounds that appear in your compositions?

In the past, pretty much everywhere I got access to. So, yes – to a feckless degree, and with limited regard for personal safety. It would be imprudent and disrespectful to parties involved (and also indiscreet) to mention everywhere I’ve recorded sounds, and indeed what’s been going on at the time in some of the recordings, but by now I have quite an extensive sound library accumulated to draw snippets from. Since a lot of my compositions deal with the less salubrious facets of human existence, sometimes to an almost Lovecraftian degree of unsettling horror, it’s natural that I went out of my way, often only armed with a Dictaphone, and tried to pick up a few things you wouldn’t otherwise encounter (hopefully).

Anyway, these days I just plunder that library, or, if I’m really stuck, venture into strange little corners of the online world to reinforce my pieces with secondary source material. I never really use sound banks, or anything too official but I think some sonic artifacts like The Julia Noise and the 52-Hertz whale etc., those infamous unexplained Russian signal tower recordings, and reams of strange cryptozoological yelps, screams and howls have entered into my work. Rude messages left on my voicemail by irate secret society high-graders. Brutal examples of sadism, cruelty and torture – war crimes and hate-preachers. The occult in a more in-depth, real-world evil sense too, and clandestine death cult behaviors, as well as intercepted propaganda and testimonials from hate-groups – Boko Haram and ISIS survivors and escapees etc. Odd noises from the Parisian catacombs or from the underbellies of cities. The last recording ever made by Timothy Treadwell – somewhat inadvertently as he was quite inconvenienced at the time – came in handy for something. As did Operation Wandering Soul. Then there’s those MKUltra test clips from the 70s… the list goes on and on.

There’s not much I haven’t had a good stab at utilizing in some form, including my own body. I don’t really like using movie samples though, when I can help it. I feel the latter is too much of a formulaic comfort blanket for artists, and too shielded from the real.

Describe some of your most valued/cherished sounds you’ve created/found.

I don’t have a most valued sound, however, my favorite, or at least most-memorable approach to songwriting came with the BFTS instrumental, Tooth Plucker. It speaks for itself really – I get bad toothaches on occasion, and have often taken matters into my own hands as it’s hard to get a good dentist around here, or indeed one who doesn’t ask why there are occasionally scraps of human dermis stuck deep behind my molars. For this recording, I used a couple of empty beer cans (a mild swig of anesthetic beforehand is useful I find), a jawharp, the side of my wooden desk, a copy of Reason 4 and Goldwave, some old concert piano recordings I had made from years back, a screwdriver and my teeth. All in various combinations.

The teeth played quite melodiously at first, I might add, but in the end, I had to jack two out, the initial wet sounds and subsequent pain reaction of which I managed to implement into the music at select points. Mercifully, I got all the fresh audio recorded in one take, then manipulated and toyed with it and added some of my trademark noise-sheets and de-tunings.

By the way, I’m not sure anyone else would, but, just in case: I’m not recommending anyone else try this at home – it’s not as quick as all that. However, I’m well used to a sort of erratic, highly eccentric performance art foppishness and felt I managed to quite successfully kill two birds with one stone over that venture. It’s good to find art in unexpected scenarios.

I have other songs featuring that level of brutal creativity, “Swine” being a good example. It’s not quite done yet though, not even to a demo stage. If you find the raw rudiments of it sequestered away anywhere online though, have fun. I’m afraid most of my work contains some human element. Past a certain point, it’s often better for the mind not to ask.

What’s your hardware set up?

No cohesive setup whatsoever. I don’t have a studio. Recordings take place wherever in my house I feel like it, and sometimes outside. I just borrow instruments, tools or gizmos I don’t own, or otherwise acquire them off friends, or boot sales – my bass guitar has never once been officially tuned. I have no grasp of the technical side whatsoever, and couldn’t tell you the terms for anything, let alone many of the manufacturing makes or how it all fits together. This is probably the hardest question for me to answer.

I literally just make it all up as I go along. My M-Audio Oxygen 25 keyboard comes in handy though, for VC at least. Some of my other equipment has been lost or stolen over the years, or imploded. I have a few other keyboards, and a large e-drum kit of some description, though I don’t use them as often anymore. I literally record everything else through PC microphones when indoors, or through that darn ancient Dictaphone otherwise. It’s odd what one can achieve, given this, provided they’re prepared to be arsey enough about it.

******

This concludes part two. The final piece of this interview will discuss a myriad of Ben’s interests and how these influence his compositions. We’ll also get a minuscule peek at his life outside of producing music. It will appear soon.

—————————————

You can check out all of Ben’s Vore Complex records over at his VC Bandcamp page.

Additionally, you can receive intermittent updates on Vore Complex tracks Ben is furiously working on at his VC Facebook page.

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