Interview with Swim:

Colin Newman and Malka Spigel

February 1995
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.
AL:
How has your approach to song structure/and or recording process changed since Minimal Compact/Colin Newman's solo records of the 1980s?
C/M:
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.
AL:
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?
C/M:
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.
AL:
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?

C/M:
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.
AL:
How do you see the influence of John Cage and Brian Eno on your work? Does this continue to inform your projects?
C/M:
Of course everything you've heard either directly of felt in influence has some subtle bearing on what you do. The list is endless.
AL:
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?
C/M:
This was Samy Birnbach's idea. I liked what I heard of his poetry, I even met Bob Kaufman's wife.
AL:
Send back both questions and answers to:"superfly@sfnet.com" and "maverik166@aol.com" so I can download them on a Macdisk. I will have more question in a few days.
C/M:
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 other one.
AL:
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?
C/M:
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).
AL:
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?
C/M:
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 re-incarnation!
AL:
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?
C/M:
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.
AL:
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?
C/M:
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 car, etc.
AL:
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.
C/M:
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.
AL:
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 song?
C/M:
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.
AL:
You have been involved in remixes with SWIM?
C/M:
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 INTENS.
AL:
Could you talk about ROSH BALLATA?
C/M:
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.
AL:
There's a new Colin Newman record on the horizon. Could you also talk about the future activity of SWIM?
C/M:
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!
AL:
That's it. I was confused about who's speaking. As far as the interview goes, would you like to be presented as a collected voice?
C/M:
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!

About 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.



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