John Foxx And The Maths are playing in Madrid on 26 May – check here for more details: HERE
Here’s a new interview by KSK magazine with John in the run up to the concert.
Or you can read the full English transcript below.
1. – How do you define John Foxx, as an artist?.
Foxx: Oh, I think he’s an outsider with his own agenda – someone in the margins – and determined to stay there. Always a little bemused by what the mainstream does.
2. – In mid-late eighties the first digital synthesizers began to appear. At first we thought it would be the end of the analog era in terms of music making, but nearly thirty years later, there now appears to be a perfect combination of analog and digital, for the creating and composing of music. What do you think about all this, since you have seen and experienced it all as John Foxx over the years?
It has been a fascinating journey, from the beginning of synthesizer music, then through the digital area, when analogue synthesizers were almost forgotten.
Now we are recovering that original analogue sound world through new digital technology. It is rather like rediscovering an Amazon forest after it has been forgotten for decades.
3. – In the late eighties, what induced you to take a break of more than a decade from music?
It felt comfortable to remain anonymous. A great luxury. I walked and explored the city. I lived like a ghost for five or more years. This gave me a new set of ideas and perspectives and eventually, a new, more useful version of myself. I think the previous version was completely worn out – but I didn’t have a replacement. So I had to wait.
Very slowly, this new person emerged, formed from all those years of walking and exploration.
I think this sort of thing happens to many people at some time in their life. You simply have to wait and allow your instincts to realign you properly, before you can begin to function effectively again.
4. – During this period, did you write or collaborate with other artists or musicians?
Mostly, I returned to visual arts – photography and image making. I was fortunate to have complete freedom to work on the very first computer imaging system, some years before Photoshop became available, so I could make quite new combinations of images. Some of the images appeared as book covers in the UK and America. I also wrote many sections of a book – “The Quiet Man”, worked on my Cathedral Oceans project and made some recordings of piano music with Harold Budd, an artist I have a great admiration for.
Eventually I felt ready to re-emerge, so I released two records in 1997. Since then, I’ve been working on various films, music and imagery – from ‘Tiny Colour Movies’ to ‘Interplay’ with Benge last year, and now ‘The Shape of Things’.
5. – The year 2011 could be defined as a creative year especially for John Foxx. Would you say this present era is beginning to appreciate your principles as a creator of music?
It seems that the world has moved into alignment with what I’ve been doing.
It’s always fascinating what new generations choose to base their music on. It seems that some of them have chosen mine.
6. – No doubt, you are an “icon” of electronic music of several generations, and inspired hundreds of artists. Are you flattered or afraid that? Do you feel “committed” to what the public expects of each new release, are you ever afraid that you may disappoint them if you pursue something unpopular or difficult?
I can only make music that interests me. It has to feel like an adventure, otherwise it’s not worth doing. If other people enjoy the results I’m naturally very pleased.
If you consider other opinions too much, you can become paralysed. I find it is more practical to follow my own instincts and enthusiasms.
7. – There are many fans who are also creators of music and would like to know what inspires you to compose music, when do you record? How is a typical day of John Foxx?
I get most of my ideas from walking in the city – usually London. At its best, this is an almost dreamlike, experience. You may witness small dramas, meet people by coincidence. The city is the greatest source of stories.
All my songs are really concerned with a man a woman and a city. They seem to be written from the point of view of the quiet man, who is someone living anonymously in a modern city, trying to maintain some sort of dignity against the odds, ever hopeful of romance. As I suppose we all are.
Working with Benge has been a great inspiration recently, then playing live with Hannah and Serafina accelerated everything even more. This is the best band I’ve ever worked with. Benge is very good thinker – completely dedicated to sound and music and synthesis, and Hannah and Serafina are ferociously good. I get lots of ideas from simply hearing them all play.
8. – In Spain, you are very appreciated as an artist. The last time you appeared in concert was thirty years ago in Madrid (apart from acting in other disciplines – presenting “Tiny Colour Movies” in Caixaforum – Barcelona / 2008). Do you think there is any specific reason for remaining memorable to Spain, is this perhaps something to do with our country itself?
I feel a great affinity with Spain, and I hope this may be some sort of unconscious recognition of this.
I first arrived in your country in 1966. I had hitch-hiked from the North of England, across France. I was seventeen years old and wanted to see the country of Picasso, Bunuel, Dali and Gaudi. They were all formative influences on me.
I thought Un Chien Andalou was the most important avant-garde film ever made – the first true piece of the cinema of the unconscious. Those scenes of empty urban avenues still affect my songwriting.
And Picasso’s early drawings still seem the most beautiful modern works I’ve seen. I still look at them from time to time to remind myself of what is possible. The Gaudi cathedral entrance in Barcelona is the most significant piece of sculpture Europe has produced, outside classical Rome and Greece.
At that time, Spain was a completely exotic country to an Englishman. It was a completely different world. I was entranced. I visited Barcelona and travelled to Figueras and along the coast to Rosas, Ampurias and Cadaques, trying to understand the country of Dali and Picasso. It was a wonderful journey.
I’m not a very nostalgic person, but I do have good memories of those days. The very clear and beautiful sensations of Spain, the landscape, the food, the villages, towns, cities and people I met, brought everything I had experienced through art into a much truer perspective.
So, when my records had some success here I was very pleased.
9. – You are considered a particularly modern and avant-garde artist, with many interests in making and exploring art. Could you tell us about these other aspects of John Foxx that the public may not be aware of?
Well – film has been a major preoccupation and now it’s possible to make this much more easily than before –so I’ve begun to make small films that work with music. The one I’m working on at the moment is called ‘Electricity and Ghosts’ –
I realized recently that we have more ghosts than any previous civilisation. Modern media replays images of people who are long dead, but we still see them walking and talking constantly in our homes, on television screens – Marilyn Monroe, Chaplin, Bogart, Kennedy – and dozens more – these are our modern ghosts.
Each one of us also leaves a trail of ghosts – every time we make a recording of ourselves, we add another one to the thousands that already exist. A recording of any kind –a photograph, a video, even a phone message – is a strange thing – it is a shadow, a ghost, an externalized memory that can easily live longer than us.
So I wanted to make some recordings that acknowledge this ghostly quality.
I’ve used recordings of a piano at home, with all the ambient sounds left in. You can hear faint traces of people walking downstairs through the walls and faint conversations from the street outside.
Plus I’ve added fragments of recordings of various kinds – some I made of empty rooms, and some using the background sounds from home videos and incidental recordings from old cassettes.
So you have a record of piano music and behind it is this shadow record of all these ghosts.
10. – In these times of global economic crises, internet, piracy, etc., how do you see the present and the future of both the music industry, of music and of art (including the artists themselves)?
Well, that’s a very big question – I guess the longer you live the more you begin to realize that change is the only constant.
Popular music has just completed a very exciting era, from the 1950’s to now – very similar to the golden age of Hollywood in the film industry.
Eras pass and new ones are emerging. Music is still in the ascendant – more people listen to more music than ever before – and more different kinds of music, simply because of the technology. It is the means of delivery that has altered, and this has caused much disruption, even confusion – but to musicians, not the users. The film industry is being affected in the same way, and so will publishing – newspapers, books etc.
What concerns me is that Apple are now almost totally in control of the means of distribution of all this media – and when systems gain such power, they usually become distorted by it. So we will see,
New kinds of art are always made possible by small shifts in technology – for instance, portable, large-scale film projection is now possible for the first time, so we are seeing some beautiful new work designed for that. In the near future we’ll have sunsets at both ends of the sky and buildings that appear to dissolve and reform.
It seems to be unexpected combinations of media that cause the most disruption –phones with movie cameras, plus the internet, for instance. Add tweeting and Youtube and the possibilities are terrifying. Everyone will film themselves doing everything from now on, so we will all need to be much more guarded.
I think much more political use will be made of these media – sometimes by outside organizations as well as covert mainstream politics and business.
As for music – Benge and I have recently become interested in the recording studio as a musical instrument, it would be a great evolutionary step to compose music using conventional classical instruments –violin, viola, cello etc., but with musicians who are capable of understanding and reacting to the new possibilities of a modern recording studio as a compositional environment.
This is something that seems to have been ignored by classical players and composers and it seems such a wasted opportunity. An entirely new genre could be developed, so we’ve just begun work with a marvelous classically trained violinist, and the results so far are very exciting.
There is still so much to be explored and I’m beginning to realize a single lifetime is too little. I began work with the band after I left art school in 1975, thinking I would spend just one year in music, then get back to being a painter.
It’s been a very interesting ride so far.
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