Memotone is the project of Bristol-based composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Will Yates. Three years after Collected Ideas On People, he released a new album titled Invisible Ctities which is out via Diskotopia. Inspired by the atmosphere of the Italo Calvino novel of the same name, the sound is a rainbow and a melting pot of colours and styles: the elegant electronic lines, the fluid and liquid ambient lines, the jazz and exotic vibes and the dynamic rhythms changes.
A brilliant aesthetic and a perfect combination which turns his music in to something near to the written narrative. We had a talk with him and we asked him about the new album, the theme of the experimentation in music, and much more. Check the full streaming of Invisible Cities and read the full story below.
Can you tell me about your new record “Invisble Cities”, and the process behind creating it?
Invisible Cities is my 5th “official” Memotone album (released on physical format…). I recorded it between April and July of 2019, and I feel like that natural period of growth and regeneration can be heard in the music. It seems I often take a long longer to write and EP than I do an album. EP’s come together slowly over a year maybe as I make things that don’t belong to any particular BODY of work, whereas when I’m writing an album I’m bound up in a frenzy of creativity and ideas that has a real direction to it and can often conceive and complete an album within three months, working on it daily. Invisible Cities was like this. I suddenly had a valve open up within me and everything just came pouring out. Each track is seeded, usually while I’m drifting off to sleep. Then the next day I’m up and trying to create the idea in a presentable way.
The main concept being borrowed from Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’ of course. I was reading and re-reading Invisible Cities during the process, trying to retain the clarity of the musical ideas I initially had. It’s a record that I wanted to create worlds for the listener. Sometimes there are more obvious cues in the music, to situate the landscapes being described, but often it’s open to personal interpretation and memory reference.
The new album is inspired by Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”. What did you like about that novel?
For people who haven’t read or heard of Invisible Cities, it is presented as a dialogue between Marco Polo and the Mongol Emporer Kublai Kahn. Kublai has sent Marco off to explore the world, return, and describe the cities and places he has discovered.
Not only is this book a boundless portal for the imagination, but it’s also deeply insightful, almost like some abstract spiritual text or Zen writings, where all you need to know is presented before you, but it’s tied up in such a way that you have to make the discovery yourself, which only solidifies it’s important to you on a personal level. Also, the book itself defies genre classification while borrowing from numerous styles and retaining integrity resonates deeply with me. Being someone who is constantly in flux between genres myself. And I think my record also reflects that, hopefully with its integrity intact.
There is a paragraph in the book that completely flips the perception, where suddenly it’s suggested that instead of a conversation being held between an emperor and an explorer, perhaps they are merely two homeless people, high out of their minds, collecting up bits of old rubbish and waste and seeing all the treasures of the east glimmer before them. I love this play on the fickle nature of perception, again – something I tried to work into the music. One of my favourite lines from the book (although there are many) is: “it is not the voice that commands the story; it is the ear” – And I tried to embue that within each track. No matter what I’m creating, how good or bad it might be or where I’m trying to lead the listener – ultimately it is the listening that completes and creates worth within the art, not the music itself.
You worked with Matt Lyne for the stunning video of the track “Where Memory is Traded”. What is the story behind the track and the video?
I actually didn’t work with Matt on the video. I was presented with it on the day it went out! But I was really happy to allow him and the team to create something without my involvement. It’s far more interesting for me to see what the music brings out in other people, rather than recycling my ideas that hare already present in the music. – I think Matt did a great job though and brought in a very coherent thread from the album, focusing on memory – and in his video – on the unreliability or memories.
How important is experimentation for your work? What is your way to give new shape to your sound and what is your concept of experimentation in music and art?
Experimentation is an integral feature of my creative output. I am a self-taught musician, and so I have only learned through experimentation and observation. I think the definition of ‘experimental’ within music has warped what I would consider the “true” meaning of the word to be. People consider “experimental music” to be potentially obtuse and directionless. To have risen from chance rather than from concise intellectual process (what hasn’t!?) – but I think that’s misguided. I feel, through experimentation, you can find a purer form of expression that dissolves stylistic boundaries or preconceived rules. Once you’ve found something “other” in the mass of rubbish you’ve discovered, trying to implement that in a way that can resonate with other people is just the same as writing (creating) any other style of music (art). It’s incredibly difficult to remove the creative process from conditioned thinking and retain clarity of expression. Experimentation is one way to circumvent preconceptions and generate unburdened expression.
You are from Bristol. What can you tell us about the current Bristol music scene? You’re also part of the local collective Avon Terror Corps, right?
I have been living in Bristol for the past 7 years, but grew up in the woods not far from here and visited the city a fair bit in my youth. There are many facets to the “scene” in Bristol. It’s such a creative and independent city that it seems almost all musical styles and disciplines have a corner to thrive in.
The community I’m part of is grounded in what I suppose would traditionally be called the “noise” scene. Although it is an amalgamation of many cultures and a coming together of innumerable influences. There is the overriding dub presence, but it’s not a rigid structure. A lot of my friends from the music community here (which include most of the A.T.C guys and gals) are like me in that they have come from a place of experimentation. Even the more academic among them started out fiddling with whatever they could get their hands on. It’s a D.I.Y (but that would more truthfully be translated as Do It Together!) community that’s built on a sense of liberation, mutual encouragement, respect, and positivity. Sometimes, all those combined sounds like someone ripping the throat out of their own mother, sometimes like a new language beyond human comprehension. In Bristol, we’re here for it all.
How are you living in these strange times and what are the main concerns as an artist?
I hope this doesn’t come across as inconsiderate to anyone reading, as I appreciate this is a very hard time for lots of people and I wouldn’t want to be seen as throwing that in anyone’s face. But I’m actually thriving. I love my friends and being out and about socialising, and do energise myself from doing so, but I have never struggled to spend long periods of time alone and find most things energise me. Plus, I live with my girlfriend and my wonderful dog, and we both work from home all the time anyway, so my home life feels almost unchanged.
Personally, I have found the loosening of clock time and the quieter city both very positive experiences. I also find this is a very inspiring time of year (I wrote 4 out of 5 of my albums in Spring) and the crisis hasn’t changed that because my inspiration comes more directly from the wider natural world than from anything else. – However, having said ALL that, I am very concerned for all my more vulnerable friends and the businesses that are struggling to survive through this situation. Not only in the music world but across all walks of life. It will be a devastating blow to many industries but I feel like the live music venues, promoters and wider live industry will suffer some of the worst of it, and probably for the longest. It’s all well and good me feeling enlightened, sitting in my flat – but it doesn’t do much good to the wider populace.
Once I want to get out and play live again or hope to have support from a social music community, me having survived happily through the crisis won’t count for much. So I’m doing what I can to help keep the industry ticking over. Supporting local record shops online, supporting the labels I love, writing music and creating art (I’m an illustrator too..) for charities and donating where I can to what I think is most appropriate. Also just trying to encourage people and keep others positive. I haven’t ever had much money to give but I have an abundance of love.
When this situation will end, I think you’ll go on tour. What kind of shows we can expect from you and what do you like the most when you play live shows compared to the studio sessions? What piece of equipment do you feel is important, also if optional, for your live performances?
I haven’t actually ever done a dedicated Memotone tour. I have toured across Europe as a musician playing in bands, but never had the support to fund a tour of my own. I have always enjoyed playing my stuff live though, and have (what I have been told) is a very impressive live performance. So I will no doubt play a few gigs here and there and get back into the live scene in Bristol, but no tour to speak of.
In the past, when I’ve played live, I use a full hardware/instrumental set up without a computer. I run everything through a mixer and have various things running into loop pedals and sequencers. The Boss RC-50 and MPC 1000 have been the “brain” of my setup since I started playing out live. With an ever-changing arrangement of instruments with me on stage. I’ve played live shows with piano, cello and clarinet, with full drumkit, with multitrack tape machines, with Guzheng zither, with only hardware (synths and drum machines) and with just a Casio keyboard and loop pedals. I did add an Octatrack to the set-up for a little while, but I still haven’t really got my head around it so have been thinking of selling it… I love playing live, but it is stressful.
Not only having to take all my precious equipment out the house and cart it about but also just having to prepare material each time. I do have a few tracks that I often play, but there is always long sections of improvised music or new ideas in each show, so I’m often lost in rehearsals and preparation for a solid week or two in advance. There is always a magic from live performance that is harder to access in the studio, mostly due to energy from the crowd or just from the adrenaline from performing in front of people. It might be much cleaner and more polished in the studio or in rehearsals, but it’s sometimes lacking the MAGIC.
Ritual question. Have you seen or heard anything good recently?
Hahah, OF COURS! There is so much good stuff out there. Here is a list of the last 10 releases I bought.
Exael & Arad Acid – Furi
DJ Python – Mas Amable
Charles Curtis – Performances & Recordings 1998-2018
Bonoit B – Caution 9′ 6” High
The Physics House Band – Metropolis
D.K. – The Goddess Is Dancing
Ben Bodey & Exael – Aphelion Lash
Waswaas – Antidote
YO8TH – Grimescapes
Bokeh Version – Mutual Aid
Plus all the great birdsong that erupted over the last couple of months of course!
As far as things I’ve seen… I just watched the first episode of DEVS by Alex Garland and it was brilliant! Really looking forward to seeing more, and the soundtrack (by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow) is great. – Better Caul Saul has been really good. I watched The Abyss(1989) this week, which I enjoyed again! I discovered this kid called Millii Stewart on Youtube doing a homemade documentaries series called ‘Paranormal Britain’ and I have been enjoying watching those. I also found a Whitebeam (tree) growing out of the trunk of a Yew tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. I’ve spent many years in the woods but I never knew Whitebeam could be parasitic like that. So that was interesting, and I will be doing more research…