It's all too rare that we touch on the endlessly entertaining topic of attempting to summon Satan in a Ransom Note interview. Thankfully, a chat with William Yates is far stranger than you're typical electronica interview. Under his Memotone alias, the 25 year old Bristol-based producer has prepared Chime Hours, another album of sinister drone and murky electronics. The record draws it's influence from the rural folk traditions that have long existed in the darkened fields of the English countryside, creating an atmosphere of dread and dangerous possibility. A watch of the recently released video to album track Ritual gives you a fair idea of what to expect:
We caught up with Yates to talk about the age old darkness infecting his sound, to learn just what Chime Hours really are, and to hear what happens when you burn a bible...
I was interested to hear you recorded some local folk rituals for the record, can you tell us about those? What was going on and why?
The name of the event I made my initial field recordings at is called the Filly Loo. It's predominantly a folk dance festival that takes place in Ashmore, a small village in Dorset known for being home to one of the highest bodies of water in the south of England (the village pond) at 700ft above sea level. It is the highest village in Dorset. Whether that has any relevance to the festivities being held there I don't know (I have read that in folklore, water has a long history of supernatural belief and is often believed to be a passageway for ghosts and spirits to enter the physical world.*) The day is filled with different dances, firstly led by a Green Man who calls on the village folk to join in. There are cakes and teas and bric-a-brak stalls, children playing around the pond, morris dancers and general good cheer. Then, as darkness falls suddenly everything begins to subdue until the sky is a dark blue and the complete silence is suddenly broken by a wavering pipe motif, played from within the darkness and accompanied by one slowly beaten drum. This marks the start of the Abbot's Bromley Horn Dance. From the far side of the pond a trail of burning torches, held by young girls, starts making it's way slowly towards the crowd. The torches lead in a group of antlered men performing a silent, synchronised dance followed by a 'fool' in a tall pointed hat who slowly spirals and twists around them without making a noise. They are joined by a Maid Marion and a hobby-horse. All the time the pipe melody lures them towards the darkness of the woods that the player has started to recede into. The drum becomes almost lost in its own reverberating tones as it moves further and further away, and the pipe sounds more and more as if it's being played by a ghost. The antlered men and their procession weave there way through the crowd and through the centre of the small village and off into the complete darkness of the trees until silence is all that's left once again.
(taken from the 'Dark Dorset' Blog.)
*”Such water sources are often connected with sightings of a White Lady, a ghostly figure, perhaps of the displaced water spirit or goddess. Hence ‘Filly Loo’ may be a corruption of the French ‘La Fille de l'Eau’, which means ‘Maiden of the Water’. As near to Ashmore village there was once a well with an ash tree growing above it, called Washers Pit. Two stories are connected with it, one telling of a White Lady who haunts the well and the nearby road, and the other recounting how the cook from the big house had a prophetic dream and rode out to this spot, coming in time to save a lady dressed in white who was hanging from the ash tree. This story is recounted by Edward William Watson, in his 1859 publication "Ashmore, Co. Dorset: a history of the parish with index to the registers, 1651 to 1820".
This is the first electronic record I’ve heard that takes it’s influence from the Middle Ages- why the Middle Ages? And how does that influence translate to the music?
That's quite a tricky question. I suppose being English and growing up in ancient countryside, I've always felt history has been alive in my environment. The album isn't a meditation on the middle ages, but it is infused with the grit, darkness and magic my brain imagines of that time. The album is a reflection of the past acting as a window into the future.
Can you explain what Chime Hours are?
It is said in English folklore, that people born at certain times during a day could see ghosts. For the most part people agreed that the time of note was midnight, but it varied from region to region. The chime hours often correspond with the hours of monastic prayer, when the bells were tolled. Lending the 'chime'. In Ireland, people born during the chime hours would be gifted the second sight.
Have you ever seen a ghost, or something similarly unexplainable?
When I was a kid (probably from the ages 9-14) I was really into ghosts and black magic and all that stuff. Me and my friends would actively go out searching for ghosts and chasing our fear. Living in the countryside there was plenty of ghosts about for us, naturally. Ancient woods, abandoned buildings, long dark roads. We would see how long into the night we could stay out amongst it all, only to find once we'd reached the hight of fear, the ghosts would certainly follow us home anyway. During that period, one night when me my little sister and my elder sister were home alone I burnt a bible and read some passages from the charred pages, in a priestly voice. My little sister giggling as I summoned the devil. Only when we heard hooves coming along the garden path did I stop to hold my breath and my sister fell silent. We were in my bedroom with the window wide open on the garden, letting in the pitch darkness from outside. When the hooves stopped We could hear a hoarse breathing from just below the open window. Breath after breath seeming to get louder and louder. Huuuuuggghhh - eeeehhhhhh, Huuuuuuugghgghhhhh – eeeehhhhh. Naturally, I drew my Samaria sword and quickly knocked on my elder sisters bedroom door. She was sleeping as she had work the next day. She came out of her room annoyed but could clearly see the fear on my face and decided to placate me. She came into my room and walked over to the window. Huuuuuuuuuggghhhh – eeeeeeeehhhhhh!!! She turned to us with fear in her eyes. My older sister, notable for being sound of reason, full of fear. That was enough to make it all that much worse. She whipped back into her bedroom and came back with a torch. At this point I don't know if the fear has altered my memory but I distinctly remember the torch light on the window frame as she shone it out and then the light just disappearing as if she was shining it into an endless void. She closed the window ran downstairs and locked the door. --- A phone call later my dad had be summoned back home (from the pub a village across where he was meeting a friend). When he arrived he was quick to calm us, turning what had been a momentarily mortifying moment (m.m.m) into a joke even, saying it was probably an escapee sheep or maybe even just a hedgehog as they tend to make very strange sounds when they're mating. Suffice to say I made him go out and see, which he confidently did. Looping the house and a small lap of the surrounding woods. Nothing to be seen or heard but disturbed pigeons and distant tawny owl.
One of many such tales from my childhood. An incredibly enjoyable childhood it was. Being fed by my dads own ghost stories, some of which are genuinely unsettling. As an adult though I don't believe in “ghosts” so to speak. I think everyone has their own personal ghosts and so responds to different places accordingly. Ones own mind holds the only existence of ghosts. Memory itself is a ghost, I suppose.
Am I right in thinking you’ve worked on some horror soundtracks? Do you have any particular inspiration from that field?
I've only done one to date, but it was incredibly enjoyable. An Eli Roth affiliated web series (in the hope of being taken up be television) directed by Douglas and Hannah Rath, called 'Il Sonnambulo'. You can find out more about it, watch the trailer and all three episodes on the website www.ilsonnambulo.com
I'd love to do more score work certainly and so I'm sure that informs my music in a way.
Stemming from the same fascination in ghosts as a child, I've always loved horror films. I remember seeing 'The Shining' for the first them when I was about eleven. It scared the shit out of me and still has a chilling effect, most notably because of the music. Kubrick had a great ear for music, stealing slices of great early 20th century classical to heighten the dramatics of his films. The Shining is where I first heard Krzysztof Penderecki, Bela Bartok and Ligeti. All of which have made a big impression on me musically. Also the old low budget horror films have probably contributed to my love of lo-fi music.
Do you think electronic music can become a new form of British folk music?
I short, no. The traditions of folk music don't cross pollinate with electronic music. Firstly, folk music is generally transmitted orally. Secondly, it's said traditional folk music isn't owned by anyone, it's passed on from generation to generation, community to community. It's a lot harder to pass on an electronic piece of music to be interpreted and shared by someone else. The nature of computers doesn't lend well to the ethos of folk music. Folk music goes hand in hand with folklore, a term coined by the English antiquarian William Thoms to describe “the traditions, customs, and superstitions of the uncultured classes.” The lower classes. Not everyone has a computer. Not everyone has electricity. I think folk music needs to be immediate and not contrived.
Having said that, I do think it's an interesting question and don't rule out the possibility in the future. Perhaps one day we will all contain an atomic battery and be able to power electronics at the touch of our fingers, electronic devices which transmit there vibrations through our own vocal chords...
I'm sure you could write an essay in answer to this question in fact. Maybe someone has already committed their dissertation to the subject. I'd be interested to hear what someone who really knew what they are talking about had to say on the matter.
What’s you’re process when song writing? Do you record instruments live or work from a laptop?
Everything is recorded live. I use all hardware and real instruments, I even record everything outboard onto a digital recorder or tape deck so keep well clear of the computer for the early part of making a track. Once I've got all my parts down I'll transfer the recordings to my computer and arrange them in Cubase, where I also do minor processing/effects at the final stage. I never use Midi. I don't have anything against computer based music, I am often inspired by it in-fact and admire the wonderful things you can do with it. Especially programmes like Max-MSP. It's just not my approach. I've always called myself a musician rather than a producer, even though I am that now too.
I usually work a piece of music from start to finish rather than building a middle section and working towards and away from it like I know some people do. Quite often a track is born after I've loaded a batch of new recordings (field recordings, ambient recordings or instrumental/vocal bits and pieces I've written) into my sampler (MPC 1000) and play around with them in there. Slowing them down, stretching them out, cutting them up, running them through effects/filters, whatever it happens to be on a give day. That usually leads to the textural base for a track. Then I listen to the sound and see where it takes me. Sometimes I have a destination in mind, other times I just let the piece sort of build itself. Most of my music is written through improvisation on my various instruments. I'll settle on a certain motif or phrase and then record it, move onto something that could accompany it and so on and so on. I don't really have a strategy or repeated method, it all just sort of happens.
Have you got any plans to perform live? Im imagining you could have a fairly theatrical live show if you started to introduce some of the ritual elements visually…
By the time anyone has read this I will probably have already done my first gig since the album being released (up in Leeds). And I've got another here in Bristol (where I live) on the 16th of April (maybe another date already passed??) My music grew out of live performance rather than the other way around. When I started writing music it was on a digital 8 track recorder/looper built into a guitar effects pedal (the Digitech GNX3.) So everything was recorded live, start to finish. I still use loop pedals in my live set now, which again is all hardware – no laptop. In my live show I play a mix of piano, synth, drums, samplers, guitar, bass and effects. Often I won't have the guitar or bass and sometimes no drums, but the piano/synth/samplers/effects are mainstays. I'm not a fan of theatrics though generally. Unless they are completely outlandish. Then I welcome them. But for the most part I just let the music create the theatrics.
What’s next for you?
I've got a cassette album coming out on Bastakiya Tapes (branch of BEDOUIN), then I've got an EP that I need to find a home for and no doubt some more to come on Black Acre. I've been asked to write music with/for the Cambridge chamber choir 'Concanenda' which I'm really looking forward to once I can find the time to fully focus on it. I love choral music. Other than that I want to write a full film score. That's the goal for the next couple of years. And maybe get a release of my vocal project somewhere nice (https://soundcloud.com/william-yates-6)
Will you draw us a picture of the end of the world?