Embracing Imperfection: Lung Dart Talk
The rustle of wheat fields, the overgrown patchwork green and corroded brown football posts of vacant parks, forlorn garages facing each other down a suburban back street, all docile scenes set underneath an obstinate, ash-grey sky.
The first few shots of Joe Wilson’s video for ‘Wrung Out’ – a song taken from Lung Dart’s debut record ‘As I Lay Drying’ – manages to capture all the prosaic minutiae of a typically English topography. The same attentiveness to naturalism is ingrained in the sounds that accompany Wilson’s vision. Surging winds, the muffle of an adjusted microphone, the hollow restraint of a piano that sounds as if it was recorded in an abandoned church and the swirling layers of choral voices mourning a private but relatable pain.
Together these static anti-postcards, backed by an aural assemblage of the natural and exceptional, come close to presenting what life and heartbreak in England often resembles; an endless melancholic Sunday of the spirit – not the onerous melodrama Morrissey envisioned – but the real, unfiltered one, with the quiet intermissions and neglected subtleties of the everyday given due prominence.
Elsewhere, on ‘Home’, domestic stirrings (chimes, running water) open a heartsore spiritual that suggests an embattled sense of devotion. Similarly on ‘Squeeze’, the final track of ‘As I Lay Drying’, the sound of fireworks sparkling and bursting apart are set alongside a miraculously bereft voice that soars despite it all, processed and placed in a vacuum and ennobled by a procession of piano, organ and strings. These are stunning moments amongst many in the Lung Dart material, a project with an undaunted sense of ambition conveyed in ideas that range from recording ‘the sounds of the bowels of Wembley Stadium at 4am’ for their debut LP to uniting a lone heavy-hearted voice with the aural scenery of a night bus on ‘Thinking About Rilke on the N63’
Embodying environmental vividity through nuanced found sound and a modern chamber pop fit for millennial estrangement, Tim Clay and James Rapson have been making music together since meeting through a friend at Leeds Uni, where they both attended music courses. After slowly realising they shared a lot of opinions about music and life, the seeds of their collaboration were fully sown when they bonded over Arthur Russell, YouTube, recording sounds on their phones, and making ‘weird’ productions on Logic.
Besides these activities both Clay and Rapson have been playing instruments for approximately ten years, experience which has meant that their collaboration has always been a joint effort, less about the co-operation of individual specialities and more about a fluid interchange: ‘We both sing, play piano, guitar, bass and we both write songs and produce. I used to play drums and James plays saxophone. Some songs are full collaborations and some are one us on our own.’
What distinguishes many of these songs are the sonic treatments applied to them, an approach to form that acknowledges the unsound and the discomposed, composition as decomposition. Often the effect is one of cavernous reiteration and unexpected disruption. They explain their attraction to such sounds as one rooted in their appreciation of the work of Alan Lomax and William Basinski, yet there’s a confrontation of their own too, a recognition of the irrefutable imperfections and inevitabilities of perception and existence: ‘I suppose we're drawn to those kinds of sounds for quite a few reasons. It's important to us to try and make songs exist in a space – and if you play a sound in any space that isn't treated like a studio then it's going to have imperfections. some of the stuff that we bonded over listening to would be things like alan lomax archive recordings, where there'd just be a mic recording some gospel singers, and the recordings would be unclear, grainy, distorted, the levels wouldn't be quite right, but in this perfect way. these quick and weathered recordings have more beauty than if the same singers were recorded in a sterile environment. they were documenting something real, and life is imperfect and should be reflected as such. With some tracks we've done it's about taking something to the very edge of being nice, taking something simple and then degrading it to a point that if it went a bit further it wouldn't be nice to listen to anymore. because everything decays and it's beautiful.’
The space the duo have created is one where echoes ring out endlessly, structures unravel, arrangements are littered with chance interjection and background ambience and songs often end abruptly. Instead of a separation between instrumental sounds and the sounds of the everyday, they’re combined, with the former attaining a keener semblance of verisimilitude and the latter taking on a greater aspect of romanticism and vitality. Yet their approach isn’t based on enforcing order on either. It’s more a case of allowing the intended and the incidental to feed off one another. Additionally their interest in found sound stems from a fascination with the sounds that many of us encounter daily but rarely notice, rather than a preoccupation with a prescribed end result: ‘I think our interest in found sound is just about finding sounds and noises really fascinating and beautiful, I think normal day to day sounds are underrated. people don't pay attention to them. I was getting weird looks for standing at the bottom of an escalator a while ago, cos it was a bit broken and was making a really cool rhythmic loop. I suppose it's the whole 'rain on the bedroom window' thing taken to the next level. we realised that each other were making these recordings of stuff on our phones and basically egged each other on with it.’
One of the more unusual situations in which this interest has been gratified was during a stint of agency work they undertook together, a time which led to the inclusion of a noteworthy field recording on ‘As I Lay Drying’: ‘we both used to do agency work, after a while the agency accepted that we came as a pair, so we'd be posted out to locations together. that could either be pouring pints for tories at lords cricket ground or night shifts lugging furniture around wembley. the wembley night shifts were the best of a bad bunch actually, because for anyone who has worked in hospitality you'll know that 98% of the front of house managers in these places are terrible power hungry toads.’ Tories, night shifts and managerial toads; the shittier certainties. Yet it’s fitting that a duo so beguiled by the neglected details of the everyday have drawn something unique (namely, a field recording of an empty 90,000 seat football stadium) from an experience some of us have probably tolerated, at one time or another, and most of us would like to avoid.
The opportunity for encounters like these is one that the duo seem constantly alert to, to the possibility of contact with those memorable environments which possess an anomalous quality. But they also reveal the special moments that can occur in even the most quotidian setting: ‘You can come across some real gems on public transport, especially living in London. I was on the tube the other day and there were loads of drunk kiwis, about 20. and suddenly one of them started singing, and then the rest joined in. they were so good, the guys and girls had different harmonies, it must be a song they learnt at school or something, a Maori song I think, I dunno. but everyone knew all the words and it sounded great.’
As for where they take these recordings and what they do with them, their process is dependent on the myriad nature of their intention: ‘It [our editing] depends on the recording and what we're aiming to achieve with it. sometimes you cut a bit out and use it as a rhythm, or a spoken loop, sometimes it's about creating an environment for that song to live in. the same recording could be used in multiple songs in completely different ways, for different purposes.’ On their latest EP the results of that process range from the tender choral uplift of ‘Camberwell Now’ to the aqueous drip and smothered gurgling of ‘In The Sink’ (literally a forty second recording of someone pissing around in a sink) to the frayed, piano-led dolour of ‘Cold Tea Syndrome’. Amongst these songs there’s a fullness of voice which suggests benign, phantasmal choirs, and in the interludes the sound of an unknown religious speaker, a voice calmly repeating the word ‘Hey’ and a reverb-heavy hit of feedback all emerge at different junctures.
According to what they’ve signalled as a fundamental aspiration, they like to create a space or environment for a song ‘to live in’, and listening to their work, it’s an intent that sounds like a fulfilled promise. Theirs is a space that feels domestic and intimate yet open to serendipitous interferences; a terrain that feels familiar yet altered. With this, and their form for unconventional field recording, in mind, it’s easy to imagine any number of run-of-the-mill locales being channelled for inspiration; a Wetherspoons at closing time, one of those town centre arcades no one goes to anymore, a market at some point of commotion. Their work feels entwined with the fabric of the commonplace; with scenes like these. But in that connection they extract the unusual and combine what they uncover with works that – like the material of their admirations, Basinski, Russell and Lomax – sound impromptu, warm and momentous.
Their own personal circumstances also reflect a connection, not with any site in particular, but with an area, specifically South East London: ‘I feel connected to Peckham, I’ve lived in south east for quite a while now and have always enjoyed it, 90% of my friends live around here.’ Yet living and working in London and the impact this has, has posed a quandary, even if they’re relatively happy to stay where they are: ‘That’s a constant inner conflict. Whether to move somewhere cheaper… but where else would we go? there's places that would give a better quality of life in terms of being able to make music every day and have spare cash, or even be able to save money. But London is fun and it's nice to be around so much life.’
Despite the overall contentment with which they speak of London, they do mention a desire to explore other places and record in different environments: ‘More than anything I’d like to mix up the location a bit, it'd be great to have the opportunity to live somewhere else for a while and make music there.’ It’s a desire that was, to some extent, recently satiated by a tenure at the PRAH foundation in Margate, a space ran by the label that put out their debut: 'It's a really nice house with keyboards, an electric piano and a projector in, so for me it was a sanctuary as I was able to just think about music for a week. I could get up, have breakfast and then sit at the piano for an hour, which is a luxury I don't have normally.’
With or without luxuries like these, they’ve already made an often stunning collection of work that can lay claim to the idea of valorising what many would deem inconsequential, of salvaging the ignored, and placing their discoveries into fervent, mutable song forms.
Yet, as they attest, there’s much more they’d like to do and much more they have in mind in the near future, from a desire to make recordings and write pieces on a ‘container ship’ to significant collaborations and other varied projects: ‘We just did a version of alexis taylor's 'i'm ready', for his record with(out) piano. we took his song and tried to make it into our version of a one mic recording of a community choir in rehearsals. we did about 10 vocal tracks each, and then layered up loads of foley-esque recordings of us sitting down and standing up, a phone going off, people walking around etc. we're also working on a record of piano exercises at the moment. music that creates a mood but doesn't try to hold your attention. that'll be out quite soon. after that there'll be another EP, some sound pieces, an As I Lay Drying remix tape, some post night out kick drum stuff.’
It all amounts to a year of purposeful, prolific activity: ‘I suppose this year is about us putting out a range of stuff so we can – 1. cleanse ourselves of all this music we make, and 2. have a catalogue of stuff behind us that enables us to do whatever we want going forward and for it to make sense to the people listening.’
The notion of innovating whilst at the same time making sense to people is an ideal that, in many ways, they’ve already realised. By recording the world around them – from basins to stadiums, from night buses to community choirs – and embracing imperfection, the sense their music makes is all too real.
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