Words & Beyond: Rupert Clervaux In Conversation

"The repetitive readings of the same kinds of poems at funerals, weddings and memorials suggests a kind of disingenuous going-through-the-motions, but I also suspect that as long poetry holds that rearguard position at the very least, it retains the potential to have a wider social and political role, beyond the rarefied world of poetry itself…"

Words & Beyond: Rupert Clervaux In Conversation

"The repetitive readings of the same kinds of poems at funerals, weddings and memorials suggests a kind of disingenuous going-through-the-motions, but I also suspect that as long poetry holds that rearguard position at the very least, it retains the potential to have a wider social and political role, beyond the rarefied world of poetry itself…"

Last month marked the release of the first long form album on Nic Tasker's record label Whities, an imprint which as evolved and grown dramatically since formation several years ago. It's somewhat surprising that this was the first album to be released via the label, which has become a beacon for experimental creativity and abstract, leftfield elecctronic music... However, for those who may have already listened, it all makes perfect sense. 

Rupert Clervaux is a name with which you may or may not be familiar, an experimental musician and poet who has operated under a number of guises and names in recent times. He has released left of centre, ethereal dream like enchantments for the likes of Berceuse Heroique and Laura Lies In under the name CVX - these are odd and interesting listens for the pensive, thoughtful mind. Composed of interesting samples and musicality, they offer an insight into a sphere of influence which had led Rupert to where he is today. Whilst he holds an interest in 'dance' and 'electronic' music his own evolution through creativity transcends such concepts and genres, becoming something else entirely. 

The new album was released under his own name and titled "After Masterpieces". A thoughtful affair built of haunting poetry, futuristic allure and otherwordly soundscapes which play out like a piece of prose rather than as a singular album. 

It's a hypnotic and abstract affair built across a seven year period and it shows depth of character and individuality galore. 

We had a chat with Rupert about the nature of the body of work... In some cases we'd simply pull a few quotes to tell his story, however, this back and forth in its entirety offers a deep rooted insight into a musician and poet whom we feel is of the utmost importance. 

Please explain the process by which you put together your first long form album, did it require a different approach to previous work?

"This album has been in the background for about 7 years––and some of the first drafts of the poems date back even further than that. So the process has been a slow one… but most definitely not slow in the sense of tortured, heroic toil! Both my desire and ability to work on it seemed to come in waves, not always concurrently, so I worked sporadically, sometimes leaving pieces untouched for months at a time. Where previous releases and collaborations have captured contained periods of work, this one is more like a slow exposure, melding together years of interests and activity. I think I needed the time to imagine ways for the music and words to live alongside each other, to compliment one another…  and perhaps the most distinct difference to previous projects is that I’m reading my own poetry. At first I was the same as anyone else––horrified and disheartened by the sound of my own voice recorded. But persistence (and the long search for the best combination of microphones!) led to a genuinely disarming, almost psycho-analytical, experience of learning how to recite the poems in a natural way that felt like I was the same person that wrote them."

The origin of language and aesthetics is a thematic concept prevalent throughout the piece - was this a conscious decision and if so why?

"One definite consistency I have, in terms of writing, is that I never set out a theme in advance and then address it directly… it always begins with instinctive expression, but with the expectation that certain themes will naturally muster, based on what I’m reading or thinking about. The most important outcome of this is that, instead of being isolated and abstracted, they stay intertwined, interactive and somehow feel more lifelike (to me at least..!)  Given the sheer volume of influences that have informed and helped shape this record over time, it was perhaps inevitable that the themes that did surface were both numerous and universal. So it wasn’t conscious, but the origin of language has always been fascinating to me as one of those unsolved, and perhaps unsolvable, mysteries. I essentially follow Osip Mandelshtam’s speculative approach to the problem. Some exemplary lines of his close the opening piece––it’s a kind of excavating metaphor which suggests that language emerged from music in the way that Aphrodite was formed from the foaming waves…

Aesthetics is a less common theme for me, but it came to be prevalent in the poems as I slowly worked and reworked them, culminating in a line of questioning that sits at the core of the record: what types of artistic expression are appropriate to the Information Age we now live in? What kinds of expression are appropriate in a time of ecological catastrophe…? What expression can accommodate a reality in which we build vast underground depositories for nuclear waste that will outlive our generation by thousands of years…? The ‘masterpiece’ is seen in this way as the aesthetic form of out-dated religious, political, and even scientific, grand narratives." 

You’ve worked in music and the creative arts for many years and have been involved in a variety of projects, collaborations and under various monikers - why then do you feel that this is a release with which you are happy to release as ‘Rupert Clervaux’?

"I suppose I was never quite sure when this record would feel ready for release––but from its inception it was always going to be a ‘solo’ LP, primarily because it’s the first time (almost!) that I’m performing my own poetry. My collaborations have tended to be instrumental, and I use my CVX alter-ego for the Zibaldone series to signify that I’m openly and admiringly using other people’s words."

Why did Whities seem like the best place to position the release?

"I’ve known Nic for a while, and I emailed him to suggest working together on one of my more dancefloor-friendly CVX releases… and I just tacked on a link to ‘After Masterpieces’ as a p.s., thinking he might like to listen to it. I suppose primarily because it’s an LP, I’d just presumed it wouldn’t have been a viable option for Whities, but he emailed back immediately to find out what my plans were for it. Within a few days it was all agreed, and its been a great pleasure working with him since, and Alex too who created the incredible artwork. I’m proud for it to be the first full-length on such an influential and widely respected label—and I’m certainly in good company, with Leif’s excellent ‘Loom Dream’ LP coming out hot on the heels of mine." 

"After Masterpieces" on Whities..

Poetry and semantics is as important to your own creative pursuit as music - describe your early influences in literature and writing?

"For someone obviously considered a musician, I have to admit that poetry, and literature in general, feels like the most important aspect of my creative pursuit. My early influences were numerous but I can’t overlook the fact that between the ages of 12 and 17 I went to three different schools and at each one I had to study ’To Kill a Mockingbird’!  Not that that book is an enduring favourite, but something about having that particular text hammered into me successively, from three differing perspectives, gave me an early and firm belief in the power of literature to convey thoughts, emotions and experiences far beyond the ken of the author or character, and deep into the world of the reader. So it was apparent to me at an early age that an inspired imagination is capable of both writing or reading empathetically—and this gives poetry and literature its great and endlessly appealing transformative potential. Outside school, which I essentially hated despite some memorable English teachers, my early reading was mixture a of the Beats, 19th century Russians and J.G. Ballard. Reading the latter’s ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ was an awakening moment––its oblique and spectral scenes, existing on the borders of the non-sensical, showed me an invigorating type of freedom from the constraints of conventional meaning which has been important for me ever since.

When I was about 17 I met his literary agent, completely by chance, and asked if she would pass something onto him if I mailed it to her. She kindly agreed, so I sent what must have seemed like a very precocious poem (called ‘On reading the Atrocity Exhibition’!) and a short note asking if he had any advice for a young writer… weeks passed before a response eventually relieved my growing sense of dejection. It was written on the back of a photo of his cat and he politely thanked me for the poem, declined to offer any specific advice as a matter of principle, but did offer one general suggestion: “…follow your obsessions.” 

The release features a collaboration with Anna Holmer, perhaps best known for her work as ‘Breadwoman’. How has her work impacted your own musical outlook and perspective? What was the collaborative process like?

"Now that I’m lucky enough to be moving onto some further collaborations with Anna, I can really see the immense impact she’s had and continues to have on me… For me it goes back to the jaw-dropping moment that I first heard ’Sirens’––it was so mesmerising I had to drop everything I was doing and focus my complete attention on it (before I realised how perfect the title was!)  Sometime later she released a record on a friend's label and I asked if they could introduce us...  at first, given the themes of the poems, the thought of Breadwoman’s voice on the record seemed too good, too apt to be true, but suddenly I was booking a studio for her in LA and it was all happening. She was extremely easy and open to work with remotely, which we did for her two performances on ‘After Masterpieces’. As soon as I opened the files she sent and started moving them into place it was clear that the project as a whole was being elevated dramatically. To have her traversing that blurred line between musical utterance and actual linguistic meaning on the opening and closing pieces is way beyond what I could have hoped for this album when I first started work on it ...  since then we’ve met a number of times in person, have performed together, and become true friends with plenty of plans for the future." 

Anna Holmer as Breadwoman...

What role does electronic music play in informing your own taste? Some might be surprised to know that you regularly dj both for radio and live, how does this act as a creative process away from your own production?

"Like most people, I got deeply immersed in various different musical phases as I was growing up—some more embarrassing in hindsight than others!  After years of listening to bands of various kinds and playing drums I started getting into techno at around 17 or 18—a time in London when Steve Bicknell was putting on his Lost parties at Southwark Arches. That regular exposure to DJ sets by the living legends of Detroit and Chicago played a huge role in forming my ongoing tastes a listener, and influencing me as a producer and drummer... I’m 42 now, so those youthful phases have long given way to a synthesis of the best parts of all previous allegiances. I started DJing again relatively recently—but it’s the perfect way to play around with the synthesis of different musical approaches and to pull to together complementary thematic threads. One of the first mixes I did was an audio-rendering of Pessoa’s ‘The Book of Disquiet’ which layered readings of excerpts over music which I hope captured something of the complex modes of Bernardo Soares’s meandering thoughts… that laid down the foundation for what became the Zibaldone series, and the types of mixes I’ve been doing recently for my slot on LYL Radio. So DJing quickly became an important part of the wider creative process––and I suppose it has a natural tendency to veer towards the more electronic realms of my musical interests."

Do you feel that there has been a shift in taste and perspective as more people become drawn to the experimental fringes of electronic music and noise?

"I certainly think there’s been a valuable cross pollination between free jazz electronic, improvisational and experimental music in recent years. (I should really include modern classical in there but I struggle with that genre heading more than most!) You just have to glance through the programme at Cafe Oto to trace the blurring of those lines… and I think there’s a looseness in the scene that exists right now which helps it thrive. People tend not to form into tight groups, and this allows for ever-changing collaborative partnerships and combinations of styles which naturally draw people towards new discoveries.  I can’t speak for anyone else’s taste but it certainly suits me very well, as a listener and a performer. There seems to be a constant stream of good and interesting music being released, by labels that are looking for more subtle and meaningful connections in their catalogues than simply genre continuity. And I’m lucky enough to work regularly with people––Ben Vince, Zoë Mc Pherson, and of course Anna, to name a current few––from different musical backgrounds, and always without any preconceived expectation of what the outcome should be." 

What role does poetry play in an age in which words are promised yet lack sentiment? From a societal or political outlook… 

"This is a very difficult question to answer quickly––it’s interesting that poetry continues to be the way that people choose to publicly mark heightened emotional experiences and events. Of course, the repetitive readings of the same kinds of poems at funerals, weddings and memorials suggests a kind of disingenuous going-through-the-motions, but I also suspect that as long poetry holds that rearguard position at the very least, it retains the potential to have a wider social and political role, beyond the rarefied world of poetry itself… even if someone who takes pleasure in a recital of e.e. cummings one day is no more likely to be buying volume of Thylias Moss or Claudia Rankine the next. 

In a more specific way, in the so-called post-truth era, I think poetry can provide an enlightening perspective on word usage. I always think of poetic meaning as having an ‘elastic’ quality––words and syntax can be stretched to find new angles, make new space––which the poets I love seem to be able to do. But, if you stretch it too far it breaks––and after that it lapses into misuse and the kinds of modes of language employed by despotism and populism. Poetry can help us define that watershed by virtue of its occasional proximity to it… I’m lurching around here, answering a question that really demands an essay in response!––but a couple of references spring to mind. Firstly, Susan Sontag’s unerring conviction that, despite the prevalence and popularity of cheap entertainment, it is nevertheless still the writers and poets that will be remembered by future generations, regardless of how little recognition they were given by their own. Secondly, something Pierre Joris, a poet and also translator of Paul Celan, said––that poets, in the Information Age, are “the last ‘scientists of the whole’, to whom all data whatsoever are of use.”   I could go on…!"


Buy the new album HERE

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