Personal Documents: Michal Turtle Talks


Relevance is a quality desired by artists and musicians the world over. It can come in many forms. Pioneering innovators who, through improvisation and novel approaches, have created genres stick long in the memory as a result of spearheading compositional structures and laying the groundwork for future musicians. Those who have perfected their artform through years of plying their trade are of course revered by fans and fellow musicians, seen as the prototypical performers for their respective styles. The most obvious, of course, are those current composers and producers whose sonic output is heard the world over, soundtracking festivals, raves and concerts for the modern masses. It’s easy to get lost into the ether as a creative; as a result of inactivity, not quite making it, or simply for lack of talent. Forgotten craft from yesteryear rarely re-surfaces. The musical journey of Michal Turtle, however, is a rare exception to the unfortunate norm of demise and downfall.

Born in the London Borough of Croydon in 1960, Turtle’s introduction to music was grounded in orchestral performance and jazz bands, playing the drums and piano from the age of eight. Soon the National Youth Jazz Orchestra – an institution founded by British saxophonist and composer Bill Ashton in 1965 that has nurtured the talents of artists such as Amy Winehouse and Chris White – called upon the young Londoner to perform. Further education came by way of his scholarship under James Blades at the Royal Academy of Music in London between 1978 and 1981, balancing his studies with his participation in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as well as drumming for Kathy Kirby, the '60s pop artist best known for her rendition of 'Secret Love'. Such accolades demonstrate a thorough classical education, eventually leading to his maiden release, the Music From The Living Room LP on Shout in 1983. From this point, one would expect an individual with such a background and tutelage to springboard into the spotlight, releasing quality sonics for years to come. In Turtle’s case, this was not to be. Fans of the experimental electronic artist had to wait some 32 years for his next release, the Are You Psychic? 12” on Amsterdam-based imprint Music From Memory. Those intervening years saw changes in Turtle’s approach to composition, straying from the avant-garde sounds of his original LP:

“There  were  many  intervening  years  where  I  thought  in  a more  conventional  way.  Since the  MFM’S  releases  I  have  rediscovered  my  old  way  of  working,  which  is  more  about  being  a  musician  and  less  about  constructing  sounds  to  a  formula.  Playing  more  complete  takes  with  little  or  no  editing  afterwards,  not  using loops  in  a  traditional  way  and allowing for  a  degree  of  spontaneity,  that  I  had  not  allowed myself  to  have  previously. I  had  a rethink  about  what  is “wrong” or  a “mistake”,  and  there  was  a  lot  more conceptualising rather  than  just  jamming  along  and  seeing  what  happens.”

Thanks to label boss Jamie Tiller, who bought a copy of the original album, Turtle’s focus was shifted back onto his electronic projects of past epochs. Believing that his old work was “too personal  a  document  for  anyone else  to  want  to  listen  to  or  release;  like  somebody’s diary or personal sketchbook”, it took the influence of Tiller and label partner Tako Reyenga to realise the potential of his work, and re-seek those old techniques of sonic sorcery and musical experimentation. In modest and retrospective thought, Turtle has come to appreciate his old approach, finding contemporary value in past equipment: 

“I  was  using  equipment  which  was  cheap,  basic  and  nasty  by  today’s  standards,  but  many  of  these  are  now  iconic  and  sought  after.  At  the  time  all  I  wanted  to  do  was  get  rid of  stuff  and  upgrade  to “better” equipment.  People’s  interest  today  in  all  that  retro  gear certainly  helps  put  me  in  a  familiar  place  sonically. Perhaps  I  have  the  added  advantage of  being  one  of  those  guys  who  did  it  back  then,  with authentic  dirt  and  noise,  working  in a linear  way  with  four  tracks,  rather  than  in  a  cut  and  paste  blocky  way  with  an  infinite number  of  tracks.”

His three releases on Music From Memory – two compilation albums of archival productions, as well as the aforementioned Are You Psychic? – have gained the British musician cult status amongst leftfield, experimental circles. Further amplifying this modern appreciation of Turtle’s work, his collaborative 12” with Hove saw the British musician release new material recorded in the 21st century. This joint effort was smooth, made easy by Hove’s ability to “play what’s already in [Turtle’s] head” and an admirable “rhythmic sensibility”, and marked a new chapter in the producer’s career. This path back into electronic relevance is not only emblematic of this recent scene-wide interest, but of his set-up and method:

“My  process  has  gone  full  circle.  I  started  in  my  parents  living  room,  then  moved  to  an  8-track  studio  which  I  shared,  and  recorded  customers,  then after  moving  to  Switzerland  I started  working  in  a  24  Track  analogue  (then)  state  of  the  art  facility.  Then  followed various  stints  here  and  there.  For  the  first  pop  album  we  recorded  drums  and  mixed  in  a studio,  but  all  vocals  and  most  other  instruments  were recorded  at  home,  as  were  all subsequent  albums  with  that  band.  Now  I  do  all  the  recording  at  home,  and  sometimes mix  in  a  studio,  mostly  for  the  vibe  as  it  is  still  nice to  hang  out  in  those  environments.”

It wasn’t as though Turtle faded into obscurity. Having moved away from his London home, he was a member of a “quite successful (for Switzerland) pop band”, releasing three CDs and two studio albums. However, this newfound international recognition will see more original composition and performance from the British artist:

“At  some  point  I  would  also  like  to  release  another  album  of  new  music.  There  is  a  lot  of  stuff  done,  and  I  am  writing  new  things  all the  time.  Michal  Turtle  with  HOVE  live will  continue  next  year  with  some  nice  festivals  and  club  gigs.”

Relevance, then, is seemingly unpredictable. Music can defy periodic taste, gaining traction decades after release. Old methods and equipment may gain retro status, becoming valuable and sought after despite technological development. How can one predict the effects of chosen paths and musical routes? The obvious characteristic shared amongst music that has stood the test of time is quality. Quality, an intrinsic feature of Turtle’s work, will never go unnoticed.

Written and produced in 2017, and released earlier this year via Light of Other Days, the three-track HOVE collaboration Greatness in the Catapult marks Turtle's first new material released since those Music From Memory reissues. Below, we're premiering the video for the amazing title track. Enjoy.

Middle of the Road Less Travelled is out now via Light of Other Days, order it here.