Seaworthy: Mess and Noise (2010)
Artist On Artist: Seaworthy & Sophie Hutchings

Backed by a soundtrack of Red House Painters, Sparklehorse and an overworked espresso machine, SEAWORTHY (aka Cam Webb) and SOPHIE HUTCHINGS met in a Newtown cafe to exchange notes on the evocative world of instrumental music ahead of the launch of their respective albums. Becalmed (Preservation) is the debut release from Hutchings and Two Lakes (12k) is the latest release from Seaworthy in collaboration with West Australian artist Matt Rösner.

Sophie: Tell me about this new album. It’s a really nostalgic sounding album, really thought provoking.

Cam: Matt and I travelled down the south coast of NSW to where two coastal lakes sat within a national park. We set out to do some field recording as well as performance pieces.

Sophie: How did you work out how and what to record at the lakes?

Cam: We both had portable recorders and we set out to sample the sounds at a range of different environments. Sometimes we were perched at the end of the rock shelf, recording the sound of waves with hydrophones; others, we were shoving microphones into clumps of vegetation beside the lake.

Sophie: How many hours of field recordings did you come back with?

Cam: Maybe up to four hours of raw field recordings. We could have easily made an album out of that material but we wanted to bring each of our distinctive voices to the album: my guitar work and the tonal electronics of Matt.

Sophie: You could almost think of Two Lakes as a mixture of science and art on this record. What do you think of that point of view?

Cam: My day job is an environmental scientist and I can’t always shake away my science brain completely when recording. The way in which I might sample insect populations from different habitats is pretty similar to how we went about trying to record sound samples of each environment. We tried for recording from as many different perspectives as we could. Recording the sounds in different ways. In the same way you may fool around with recording an instrument like a guitar or piano, we were trying to record the natural environment in a different way.

Cam: When you were recording Becalmed, did you just sit down and play or did you go into the studio space with charts and strongly mapped out plans of recording?

Sophie: It’s hard to look back and analyse the recording process but they definitely had core elements or structure that I was then able to develop around that in the studio. For example, the organ on ‘Aftermost’ was something that wasn't at all planned. The piece was completely different. It was originally all piano and I sat late at night playing over the top of the piano and the organ has now become the main instrument hand in hand with the cello. Those moments I really enjoyed as they led the piece down a different path to become what it is now. Other pieces on the album were written a long time ago and happen to stick around in my memory, which is rare for me unless I document it straight away.

Cam: How did you prepare the material before heading off to the studio to record?

Sophie. A few of the pieces only came together a couple of weeks prior to recording and others were vaguely there in my memory. When I'm playing I never view it as something that's going to be a fully composed piece. One kind of sound can take one kind of direction. I then tend to play around in circles until the piece takes on a personality of its own and I can start to build a relationship with the piece. It’s hard for me to describe how I go about structuring the songs. I like repetitiveness so, at times when I’ve found something I think sounds nice, I’ll play with repetition of a particular sound and try to decide if I will keep the track and build something more from that starting point. In the end, they speak for themselves and I really enjoy the natural process they take.

Cam: Could you give me a couple of examples of tracks from the album that you felt needed a little extra material to bring out their personality?

Sophie: ‘Sunlight Zone’ was a track that I always intended to have lots of space and lots of room and I really liked the idea of adding some atmospheric violin. ‘It Remains’ was a little different. I had a definite melody in mind and things like adding textural layers underneath pieces like ‘Portrait of Haller’ came much later while mixing. That was really exciting: discovering those sounds and working them into the mood of the piece.

Cam: So when you’re playing or composing you don’t ever have any emotional or visual cues?

Sophie: I don’t think about anything while I’m writing. Eventually, I do. I have a very strong connection with them emotionally but you don't need to explain or see something visually straight away to feel that. When the songs start to form their personality and they come into their own, often it’s only then that the titles of the songs present themselves.

Sophie: Do you ever get strange ideas popping into your head while you’re playing live?

Cam: A couple of times I start thinking about where I can get some dinner after the set. I really try to keep my mind in the music while I’m playing, there is nothing specific but I certainly find I perform better if I have my mind on a certainly feeling or emotion. I often have a complicated setup with loop pedals and a laptop and it is all too easy to get caught up in the physicality of the performance and making sure all the right buttons are pressed at the right time. Sometimes that creates a little disconnect with the music and I want to avoid that as much as I can.

Sophie: It's funny the things that can pop into your head while you’re playing! I could tell you a few, generally to play well I have to be fully immersed in the music so that the performance comes through my music. It can be strange having to play at a specific time. You’re forced to be in a particular place at a particular time and it removes the freedom you’d have if you were just performing in your lounge room. It just takes getting used to, that’s all.

Cam: I think it is that rigidity that I find difficult to come to terms with for studio recordings.

Sophie: It was hard to get into the headspace sometimes while I was recording. There was a pretty stark difference between the two spaces I recorded in, one in the rural south coast of NSW and the other in the city. I always prefer recording at night. I feel more reflective and can get in the right headspace. For the first hour or so of the session in the city studio I really struggled to get into the right creative headspace. Over time though, I really fell in love with the studio’s piano, and once that happened everything started coming together.

Cam: So what do you listen to these days?

Sophie: A lot that’s nothing like my music! My father used to blast jazz and my older brothers have always been into alternative music. So a big mixture really. I do really love instrumental music though, so I guess music like The Rachels, Arvo Part and bands like Red Red Meat.

Cam: Who do you see as your musical contemporaries?

Sophie: Um, I wouldn't really like to say but I guess there definitely must be someone. What about you?

Cam: I see a lot of the local electronic artists including Oren Ambarchi and Lawrence English as sharing some common ground, but I also feel a strong aesthetic similarity with many of the folk singers. Grand Salvo, in particular, and even though their music may be composed in a very different way there can be an emotional similarity. I’ve also played shows with some pretty loud artists too including Love of Diagrams, Birchville Cat Motel and Ohana. From a distance it may seem weird but sometimes I do feel like Seaworthy’s music can dovetail into some common aesthetic ground with those artists.

Sophie: How was the process of combining field recordings and improvisations while you were away on the south coast? Pretty different to recording in a studio, I imagine.

Cam: Great. We were there to record and only record. We worked on material from around six in the morning until 10 at night. There are no distractions and it allowed us to be very focused, completely immersed in the recording process. We didn’t want to come home with hours of recordings but no direction towards finishing the album as soon as we could. Everyday, when we returned from sessions of field recording, we’d quickly sort through what we’d captured and start working on some improvisations and performances building on the feel of those recordings. It was that uncertainty of what field recordings we were going to be able to capture that was really pretty inspiring. We didn’t know what we were going to get? Was it going to rain, was it going to be windy, were the animals all asleep?

Sophie: Was there anything in particular that inspired this album, its very “Australian” sounding?

Cam: There was certainly a level of nostalgia. I virtually grew up there – [you’d] surf, sleep and eat – so there is definitely that nostalgic aspect to it as well as the connection to a specific environment and place. I really like the ecological aspects of the lakes, their current state is only ever temporary and so fragile and they can be dramatically changed by the whims of the weather and environments. There is a certain similarity to Seaworthy’s music on some levels, sometime noisy, brash and busy, sometimes quiet and introspective.

Sophie: I like that. I’ve been listening to it a lot at night time … It’s really nice.