Musician, sound artist (and teacher) Mark Williamson's most recent work sees him take inspiration from his surroundings. Under the guise of Spaceship, he uses field recordings, found sounds and portable synths to craft a sonic exploration of the geological history of a landscape near his home of Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
More specifically focused on the Upper Calder Valley and Cliviger Gorge, The LP entitled Outcrops triggered a renewed interest in geology for Mark, who studied Earth Sciences at university in the 90s, and sees him explore the different phases of these local outcrops across each track.
Having also produced several albums under his own name, he's built up a sprawling discography with releases on WIAIWYA, Forged River Recordings, Apollolaan and The Dark Outside. Perfectly placed to ease us into the new week, we invited Mark to take control of today’s Monday Is OK mix: an hour of warm and atmospheric soundscapes...
Please introduce yourself... Who are you, where are you, what are you?
I’m Mark Williamson and I’m in Todmorden in West Yorkshire. I make music as Spaceship and have been for a long time. It’s evolved into this landscape based material, which I mostly record by taking an iPad, a midi keyboard and other portable instruments out into the field and recording out there. It works for me. I made a record called Outcrops last year all about the geological history of the valley I live in and I’m beginning to plan the next one now.
Tell us about the Monday mixtape you’ve put together for us. If it were to be drawn what would it look like?
A ray of light shining through the trees of a conifer plantation and illuminating a stagnant pond.
If it were a food what would it be?
What would be the ideal setting to listen to the mix?
Walking across the moors from Todmorden to Haworth. It’s a walk I’ve never done, but I intend to do it soon with this mix as a soundtrack.
What should we be wearing?
Sturdy outdoor wear. Gore-tex, good boots, a warm hat and a rucksack packed with sandwiches, a flask of tea and emergency navigational equipment.
Where was it recorded?
In the back room of my house in Todmorden, overlooking Scaitcliffe Clough.
Are you on the same wavelength as the boomtown rats or do you actually like Mondays?
As well as musician, I’m also a teacher. Mondays can be a challenge. Tuesday’s are good though. Good things happen on a Tuesday.
Who got you hooked on electronic music?
My school friends. When we were 17 or 18 we went from Mudhoney and Soundgarden to Orbital and Eat Static in very short time. Growing up in Blackpool, all the clubs were awful so we used to go to the Megadog nights in Manchester every month and sometimes to Herbal Tea Party. After that a few of us ended up at University in Liverpool where it was all about Voodoo on a Saturday night. That kind of opened the door to more experimental forms.
Who would you say are your biggest influences and what are you hoping to achieve with your music?
That’s tricky. With the last album, I had a bit of an idea that I wanted to take elements of Sunn 0))) and elements of Richard Skelton’s landscape based stuff I guess. My friend Matthew Shaw is a big influence, I think he introduced me to the idea of using field recordings and actually recording music in the field. Also, I should mention the prehistorian Aubrey Burl, whose books have taken me to some amazing places, some of which I’ve recorded at. And the KLF.
What were your original aspirations as musicians and how do you think you're shaping up?
I wanted to make electronic music that wasn’t a slave to computers. I wanted to play the instruments and I wanted it to pretty glamorous. The music is still following that vision, I’m still working on the glamourous bit.
What was the first electronic record you heard and how did it make you feel?
I’m not sure. I remember hearing something that may have been Jean Michel Jarre when I was really young. It made me feel I like I was listening to music from outer space. Which I guess was the point.
How does your brain work when making music? How does it work when you aren’t?
When making music; on pure instinct, I have no idea what’s going to come out until I start. When I’m not; I’m really sure that it does, at least not very well.
What were the first and last records you bought?
I bought all the novelty singles when I was a kid in the 80s, but if we’re going with LPs, the first would’ve been Led Zeppelin I. Me and my school friends were getting into rock and metal and I decided I should start my record collection at, what I believed at the time to be, the beginning. I think the last physical LP I bought was Justin Hopper & Sharron Kraus with The Belbury Poly - Chanctonbury Rings. It’s a wonderful and evocative record.
What are you obsessed with at the moment?
If you could travel in time...where in time would you go? Why?
I’d travel to the time when everyone thought analogue synthesizers were crap and you could get them for a fiver at a car boot sale or fish them out of skips outside university music departments and there was no internet for people to look up what they were worth. That’s today’s time travel idea. Tomorrow’s will probably be different.
Some self help questions for a Monday...
Am I excited to dive into the challenges that I have lined up for the week?
I’m facing a lot of challenges at the moment. I’m not excited, but I’m ready.
Am I looking forward to engaging with the people I am meeting or working with?
We’re studying Beowulf in my day job. I get very excited about the writing it helps the kids to produce. Also it’s our local free improvisation night on Tuesday so I’m excited about playing a bit of clarinet at that.
Am I going to my dream job?
My day job is the job I knew I’d always end up doing and it often brings a lot of light into my life. Also, after doing it for a good few years, I now know how I can do it and still make and perform music.
Am I being compensated fairly for the value I bring to my job?
Of course not, I’m a teacher in the UK!
Do I feel energised, rested, and confident?
It’s Saturday lunchtime, I’ve had a lie in and these answers seem ok, so yes!
If you were trapped on a desert island with one other person, who would you choose? How long would it be before you eat them?
That guy who sailed those replica boats, Thor Heyerdahl. He’d get me out of there so I wouldn’t have to eat him.
Your doctor says you need more exercise....what do you take up for exercise?
I’ve been swimming in the local pool a fair bit recently. There’s an old reservoir near here that is the home of ‘Britain’s highest beach’. I should get up there more often.
What's your answer to everything?
Anything else we need to discuss?
Any ideas what I should make for dinner tonight?
Alison Cotton - The Last Sense to Leave Painted in
Shadows - If You Destroy Fear
High Aura’d - All the Spirits that Dance
Hannah Peel - Life is on the Horizon
Matthew Shaw - Among the Never Setting Stars
The Leaf Library - High Light
Ursula K. Le Guin - Long Singing
The Sly and Unseen - Cold Wind on Erringden Moor
Preston Field Audio - River Phase
Michael Tanner - A Sussex Nocturne: Southease
Julia Wolfe - LAD: 1
Spaceship - The Stones Speak of Short Lives
Richard Skelton - Threads Across the River