Chris Wade | Interview | The Book Of Moods
Chris Wade’s latest release is a multimedia project combining a book of his photographs and drawings and a soundtrack he composed especially to accompany your enjoyment of the book.
Jeff Penczak chats with Chris about this new feather in his increasingly busy musical cap!
Your new project is a multimedia concept that combines several of your favourite pastimes: music, drawing, and photography. Are these all local images from your neighbourhood or around your home in Leeds or do they include scenes from vacations or other travels?
Chris Wade: Most of them are from days out and various travels across Yorkshire. My partner, daughter and I often stay for nights away in obscure parts of the UK, so some of them were taken there. Others were taken in York in the winter. York is such a mysterious place that you cannot help but take snaps while you’re walking around its streets. But others are from further afield. One picture is taken in Malaga in Spain, the flute player in the woods, and the one of the giant clown was near Liverpool. One of the drawings is also from a photo I took in Malaga, just a detail of the top of a bar I walked past in Malaga market. A really obscure little part of the photo I zoomed in on.
How long did you compile the photographs and were they taken especially with a book in mind?
Some photos were plucked out of my folders on my PC, but I did the drawings especially for the book. I wanted to try and capture a certain mood, one that I couldn’t quite describe fully. I took pictures and worked off of the photos with the drawings. I was after that combination of eeriness and comfort. Hard to get it into words, but I think haunting photos and drawings do kind of capture that vibe I was after. I was also having fun combining sound and image, how one influences the other and often compliments it.
Were there other photos that were “in the running” so to speak – under consideration, but eventually dropped for these final images?
No, I just got it down to this collection. I wanted there to be enough to focus on while the music plays in the background. All these were perfectly fitting to the overall concept, at least I felt.
I’ve often commented that your music is occasionally cinematic in that it conjures images that could be from a film or used as a soundtrack. And you have already scored some of your own films. How did you decide that you wanted to present still images instead of filming them?
I just fancied doing something totally new. I’ve done a couple of EPs that had filmed mini movies free with them, ‘Watch the Moon’ and ‘In Your Dream’, and like you say, I did do music for my four surreal art films. But this was just interesting to me because it was totally new. I love drawing, it’s so relaxing, and I felt some people might like to look at these pictures to some music accompaniment. I do like to try new things if I can. If I think it’s beyond my reach I will probably give up early on, but this was something I enjoyed doing because there was no pressure on me at all. It was about being creatively free. All my work is about that actually.
Was the accompanying soundtrack specifically composed to fit your personal mood that the images evoked, or did you use some recordings you already had composed that didn’t quite fit on your regular albums?
No, all the music was totally new. I just did each piece one by one and then put it all together into one track. I know it sounds a bit pretentious, but I did look at the pictures for a while, and I came up with chord progressions and sounds either on the guitar or keyboard that I felt matched them. That was really fun to do. Totally new for me. It was interesting that the pictures actually influenced me musically.
I’m sure you’ve taken thousands of photos on your walks or vacations or other travels – what was it about these that inspired you to assemble them into a book?
I was out one day with my daughter and partner, in York actually, and we were walking by this river. It had such an odd feeling. It was winter, so it was already dark at four, but there was a lot of activity behind us in the streets. By the river part it was eerily quiet and calm though. I just got this weird feeling, a mix of creepiness and comfort. My partner Linzi, who is an artist, was taking pictures for fun as well. It was a nice day. When I got back I looked at my pictures and thought it was a good idea to give this thing a go, mixing sound with images to create a mood. I was really excited about it. I did it all quite quickly actually because I was so revved up. I drew all my pictures in a few days, drawing for six hours at a stretch, and I did the music the following week.
Have any of your “collectors” as you call us recognized any of the photos and contacted you to share their own moods when they came across the image in situ (on location)?
No they haven’t actually. Even my partner couldn’t recognise where some of them were taken, and she was with me when I took the bloody things!
Are the images specifically organized to accompany the music? And without any cues (the soundtrack is one continuous 20-minute track as opposed to, say, 18 individual tracks to correspond with each image), is it left to the reader to determine when they want to turn the page to look at the next image?
Yeah, it’s definitely up to the reader/viewer. I just wanted it to be loose. You can sit back and look at these weird little images with the music in the background helping with the mood. My main idea was the fact that everything is so fast these days and about speedy consumption; streaming, scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, not really stopping for too long to take stuff in. I liked the idea that my collectors might get this book and CD and just take a little time out to look through the pictures and unwind to the music. It might have been a misguided idea to some people, but I loved the fact it was a new area for me. I’d love to do something similar in the future actually, but also explore it a little differently.
Perhaps they can take their cues from the musical transitions? Or did you intentionally not want to lead them along or get into the game of matching a section of the music to a specific image?
I had personal images that matched certain bits in my own head, but I don’t think the viewer/reader needs to know the specifics. I’d like them just to sit back and have a flick through while the music plays. But I like the idea of the music playing off the images, creating weird dynamics and sensations.
Perhaps I’m being too pedantic or delving too far into the concept, but was there ever a concern that a reader might get caught up in timing the reading with the soundtrack and either rushing through the images to ensure they finished by the time the music ended…or spend too much time on one image and get to the end of the soundtrack only to realise they still have 3 or 4 more images to look at? Perhaps a sense of frustration sets in – when am I supposed to go to the next page?
Ah, I see. No, that isn’t pedantic at all, it makes sense. But if you get to the end of the images, you can always go back and focus on another one, maybe if you had a favourite earlier on, while the music still plays. Or you could even shut the book if you’ve seen them all or had enough of looking at them. Any way is good. But I see what you mean about timings and knowing how long to spend on each image. But this idea is freer than that. I’m happy for the music just to float along for certain people. Yet if you can link images with certain bits of the instrumental, that is ideal.
I guess we each become our own film maker when we decide to move to the next image, just as you select how long to hold an image in your films before moving on to the next one? So are you blurring the lines between the act of filmmaking and photography? Film is in fact a series of still images projected at a certain speed to give the illusion of movement, is it not?
Funnily enough I did think of that. At one point I thought of the idea of doing it as a DVD, with the images as a slide show, putting more of them in, with the music playing on the actual disc. Then I decided it would be nice to have the pictures in a little book. It was mainly for me actually, just having some of my pictures in a book with a CD that goes with it. But I did think about the idea of film being made up of thousands of individual images. It’s an interesting concept. It’s interesting to think that one photo is often just a single frame from a film.
How important is it to your concept that specific images are accompanied by a specific section of the music?
Not that important really, because all the images have a similar vibe and I feel the music all has a similar feel as well. I’d like people to go into this however they feel.
Do you feel you are restricting the reader’s imagination or personal mood by presenting the images in the order you do? Would the project be as successful if a reader were to rearrange the images?
I like that idea. I love that you are thinking about it this much. If someone has taken the time out to download the album or get the CD, I’d like to think they could try out whatever they want. Just as much as if they buy a regular album, and they might feel like skipping certain tracks to get to their favourites. I make it for myself primarily, and the fact that anyone at all is interested in it I consider that an honour. They are free to explore the music and images any way they feel.
“I like to experience things, rather than just let things casually float by me”
Why did you choose to compose a soundtrack for the images? Are you holding the reader’s hand and walking them through your own imagination to share your own moods that you felt when you originally took the photograph?
Yes, in a way. I like to think you are guiding them through a different world, a rather unsettling place that is also hazily comforting too. It’s like a dream to me, being taken into a weird dream that is both eerie and pleasant. For me, it walks across that area between the two sensations. I like books, music and films that are haunting because in some ways I am comforted by that feeling. The same reason I would like to read a Paul Auster novel, which usually messes with your mind; or watch a Dario Argento film, which is both horrific and beautiful to watch. I like to experience things, rather than just let things casually float by me.
Do you think it is possible, after reading the book and listening to its soundtrack, to go back and redo the experience and do you think a reader might experience different moods the second or third time through the book?
What I would really love is for them to take another look at the pictures and see new things. Like I wonder if anyone has spotted the flute player in the photo in the woods, or looked at that weird clown that my partner Linzi is driving towards in the photo. Some people might only play it and look at the book once, but I’d love for them to dip back in and see and feel new things. That would be amazing.
Do you think that the soundtrack might influence a reader’s mood? You seem to be examining or questioning a chicken or the egg situation – will the music influence my mood when viewing the photograph and would I have a different mood if I looked at the image without listening to the music?
I like that idea. I was thinking the same thing. I liked to imagine someone not looking at the book and just listening to the sounds, then looking at the pictures without the music. Then they could try again while taking in both, seeing the contrasts and differences. Ultimately though, I’d like to think they will open it and put on the music to enter a different space.
Have you tried, or could a listener try their own experiment and read the book while listening to one of your other albums or are the images and this specific soundtrack indelibly combined as a set piece? Maybe I’m getting a little too far out here, sort of like that old game of watching The Wizard Of Oz to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’?
Haha! That would be brilliant. Some of my albums and EPs are dream-like, or so I have been told anyway, so I could imagine someone listening to one of my earlier releases like ‘In A Strange Slumber’ and flicking through the book of images. That would be an interesting experiment. As long as they don’t watch ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’ while listening to it. That might jar a little!
I hope I’m not giving the game away here, but do the images tell a story or narrative? Or are they simply various images that intrigued you enough to assemble in a book? Perhaps the reader could create their own narrative?
I just wanted it to be ambiguous, like a strange black and white dream. I thought all the pictures had a similar feel to them, quite unsettling in their darkness. There is nothing to link the images apart from the mood, at least to me. But if a reader/viewer saw something in them, like you say, made up their own narrative, that would be brilliant too. You’ve even got me looking at it differently now!
Following that line of thought, could these images be expanded to actually tell a story – perhaps there is a film in there waiting to be fleshed out with additional inserts of linking images?
That would be a very interesting idea, and you’ve got my mind on overload now. There is a certain rhythm to the pictures as well, that they do end up leading to a bleak finale. She drives towards the clown and then ends up at the creepy factory.
Some of the music has an Eastern or Oriental vibe for me – particularly the keyboard segments in the beginning. I haven’t heard that much in your music before. Is that a style you would like to explore further and perhaps incorporate into your albums or was that just an experiment to see how it fit these specific images?
As with all my albums, I didn’t overthink what music I was doing and what sounds I was making. I just was coming up with ideas on the keyboard and liked that sound and melody. I decided to explore that side more because it was just so enjoyable to me the day I was recording it. I mixed in some more familiar sounding acoustic stuff, a little bit of rockiness in that one section, but I found that the keyboard parts fitted the images really well. I was enjoying it so much I stayed in that area for longer.
The music is very Enoesque, ambient, meditative almost – therefore perfect for staring at images! Was it important that it be all instrumental so as not to distract the reader’s imagination or mood by incorporating lyrics?
Yes, definitely, I had that in mind. I wanted bits of it to be creepy, yes, but for the most part I wanted it floaty and unobtrusive. I wanted it to accompany the pictures rather than dominating them, if you know what I mean. Lyrics might have ruined the whole concept.
There’s a beautiful acoustic piece about halfway through the recording which reminded me of some of your recent instrumental passages on your albums. Are you enjoying exploring more instrumental music and leaving the words out so the listener can concentrate on the melodies and moods instead of having to divide their attention between music and lyric?
Yes I love doing instrumentals. They are so liberating. You can literally go anywhere you want. You do not even have to think about the gaps where words will go. Sometimes words are essential in getting out a feeling or a thought, but instrumentals can do the same, if not more, in expressing how you are feeling, or even just trying to establish a certain mood. Just making sounds for fun and to satisfy that creative need you have in you is very rewarding.
I’m guessing that the soundtrack can stand on its own, just as any film soundtrack? But I found myself matching an image to a specific melody or section of the soundtrack? Did that ever occur to you? When you hear a section of the music does it conjure up an image from the book? Or am I just being weird?
No, that’s not weird at all. I love that. That is exactly what I hoped people might do. I have my own images that fit certain pictures too. I like to think individual people could associate certain pictures with certain parts of the instrumental. That makes it personal for each listener/viewer.
The music seems to circle back to themes originally introduced at the beginning. Is that intentional, a suggestion to maybe go back and re-read the book now that specific sound cues have been given to us perhaps forming a continuous loop of sound and vision that suggests how one’s moods can be manipulated by images and sounds. If I change the image or the melody, I can change your mood?
I love that. Yes, it was intentional. I wanted it to come full circle, to give you the feeling that you could even go back to the beginning and look at them all again, re-enter the dream so to speak, and even put the CD back on from the start. It’s like a loop. I wanted it to be hypnotic. I can understand if someone doesn’t get this or doesn’t enjoy it. But it is a bit of an experiment. I like to explore new areas. An album full of songs is interesting and fun to do, but now and then I want to go out and toy with a new concept. And you totally got it! I wanted it to be something you could stay in as long as you wanted, something you could put on repeat and stay inside for a while.