Interview with Swim:
Colin Newman and Malka Spigel
by Alexander Laurence
- Alexander Laurence:
- Could you talk about the formation of SWIM?
- Colin Newman/Malka Spigel:
- It was a result of a series of quite natural steps in
which we evolved from being musicians who can record
themselves into being musicians who are releasing not
only our but other people's records. It's like a search
for freedom to be free in creativity in a way that you
never can be on someone else's time. It also mirrors the
time of a healthy self-creating underground which goes
right across all artforms and more or less brought about
by personal computers.
- How has your approach to song structure/and or recording
process changed since Minimal Compact/Colin Newman's solo
records of the 1980s?
- Working with sequencing the way we do makes for much more
of a fusion than with conventional groups. The work
involves more listening and there is some kind of search
for unusual but cohesive structure.
- How much do you wish to incorporate the Internet, the
underground, the "Zine" culture into the idea
of Swim, or with the records you wish to produce?
- Anyone for whom personal computers are a central tool of
trade has some kind of empathy. We are interested in the
idea of alternative distribution (viz. over a wire) and
diffusion of ideas over a vast web. We very much like the
fact that you can be personal with different people on
different levels and yet stay in one place.
- There seems to be no serious alternative/or underground
music being made now. How can you correct this situation?
Do you want to correct it?
- We disagree totally about this statement. It may be true
that tried and tested "indie music" basically
sucks but there is a vibrant underground in electronic
music of all kinds. Present in both Europe and America.
There are a lot of very good records being released.
Right now there is a growing audience for this music.
- How do you see the influence of John Cage and Brian Eno
on your work? Does this continue to inform your projects?
- Of course everything you've heard either directly of felt
in influence has some subtle bearing on what you do. The
list is endless.
- Minimal Compact put to music a poem by San Francisco
poet, Bob Kaufman. Could you, Malka, talk a little about
this man and any interest in American Poetry?
- This was Samy Birnbach's idea. I liked what I heard of
his poetry, I even met Bob Kaufman's wife.
- Send back both questions and answers
"firstname.lastname@example.org" so I can download them on
a Macdisk. I will have more question in a few days.
- Alexander. A guy can't have enough e-mail addresses,
that's what we think! It's such a pity that text is so
limited in expression. We aren't trying to give you a
hard time, honest guv! Chill out! Maverik166 sounds like
a Detroit techno project cool! Much less 70's than the
- I feel that while listening to your records, Malka's work
tends to be more about feelings and emotions, and Colin's
tends to be in question of feelings, ironic, humorous,
complicated. How does that figure in your collaborations?
- This kind of represents where we are coming from not
necessarily where we are right now in terms of
partnership. Are you really referring to lyrics? In terms
of music the way we have been doing it over the last few
years tends to blur the distinctions about who does what
(this is pretty common in Electronic music we think).
- Colin, you have produced many records. How is your
approach as a producer. Do you wish to contaminate or
influence the songs or artists, as in the case of Virgin
Prunes, where there was a Wire sound present, where
before the Virgin Prunes records were more uncontrolled?
- The Virgin Prunes was 13 years ago. I was a different
person then, much less secure and more into controlling
other people's art. It's not so much an issue now,
personally I'm not much into conventional record
production now (it's a pretty redundant art). Nowadays
I'm much more interested in collaboration on many levels
and in a much more free and organic way. I must say that
many of your questions really make us aware how we have
developed into very different people than we were, over
the last few years. Perhaps it's the confidence that our
relationship, our advancing years and our parenthood
gives us. Maybe says Malka. You don't have to die for
- How do you both feel about the idea of progress in music?
Does the progress only exist in relation to technology?
As technology changes, music changes?
- Our experience is that advances in technology have made
us more free to do what we want and be ourselves in it.
We just couldn't be doing what we are doing now 10 years
ago. We are unashamedly pro-technology. We feel it's very
sad how many people of our age (and younger) are trapped
in the past.
- I always felt that there was a classical music influence
on both your work; more specifically an Erik Satie
influence, demonstrated by very simple melodies and
Debussy orchestrations. What do you think?
- What do you mean by this? Which records do you mean?
There wasn't much Satie in "12XU" or "Next
one is Real"! For the last few years we didn't
listen to very much but techno. You should be asking us
this week if Kenny Larkin or Claude Young or Fred
Gianelli have changed our lives. What we listen to in the
- I was thinking of especially Commercial Suicide. Why I
mentioned Eno before was because there was often an
attempt to create atmospheres and incorporation of
different sound sources.
- There seems to be so much in all this which could be
easily resolved by you understanding what context we have
been making music in over the last few years. We like
Brian Eno, he's made some great records but so have other
people. It actually does Brian a great disservice to hold
him up as some kind of God for Art music. He'd be the
first person to contextualise himself within a history of
Electronic music both before and after him.
- When listening to the Wire records of 1985-1990, you
released many versions of the same songs, which
culminated in the Drill and IBTABA records. Were we to
suppose that there are no definitive version of any song,
and furthermore every song is a version of any other
- This was in fact a very 80's concern. Historically we see
the primacy of the narrative song being eroded by
plurality of version. It's hardly an issue now virtually
no-one I know listens to songs any more.
- You have been involved in remixes with SWIM?
- Actually when we started with Oracle, we were trying to
do the remix but not the song, but then that was in the
80's. Recently we released an album
"Oscillating" by Immersion (an abstract
electronic instrumental disc) as Immersion are very
publicity shy we decided to ask a few friends to do
remixes (remixes in techno have a different meaning, with
no song to subvert it's more a case of re-invention) the
thing developed like a bush fire and we have either
received or had promised mixes from just about everyone
we admire in all interesting genres of contemporary
music. These are being released first on vinyl then
compiled onto CD. We can send you more info on this if
you like. We have our own remix/production persona
- Could you talk about ROSH BALLATA?
- I was asked to make a record for the Israeli market,
which seemed pretty absurd at the time because I was
never involved in music in Hebrew and also the Israeli
market is ridiculously unenlightened. We thought to do
make some kind of statement by doing it in our own style
(of the time) in our own space, using our own production
values. As it happens it had minimal impact in Israel
beyond the few cool ones but has actually been pretty
well received in all kinds of other countries with quite
different types of audience for whom the original
"statement" was pretty irrelevant.
- There's a new Colin Newman record on the horizon. Could
you also talk about the future activity of SWIM?
- I have a new 12" "voice" coming out in
March. Perhaps we can mail you our catalogue, we have
enclosed an asscii with this document but the
"proper" version has pics etc.! Suffice to say
we are getting extremely busy. Delay in responding was
due to Colin going to MIDEM!
- That's it. I was confused about who's speaking. As far as
the interview goes, would you like to be presented as a
- One of the disadvantages of the relatively free and easy
communication of e-mail is that people lapse into the
vernacular rather too easily, this added to the social
acceptability of e-mail spelling mistakes (not that we
are particularly good spellers) makes for interesting and
sometimes non-communication. Just an observation by way
of a rather labored joke to start off, by the way none of
us here has the slightest clue what a ground hog day is!
the identity of the speakers - As Malka is a native
Hebrew speaker (not only a different language but a
different script) she is never confident about the
written word so Colin does the typing. However if a
statement is not specifically attributed it comes from
both of us as we do not have any significant artistic
divergence and are very much a partnership. We are both
sitting on the computer doing this together.