Everything Falls Apart – Ross Tones Interview
(Everything Falls Apart, Totalism CD/LP/DL. Feature for Halloween by AJ Dehany)
Everything Falls Apart is a collaborative album from English producer Ross Tones and Otto Lindholm, the Brussels-based double bass player specialising in drone music and avant-garde modern classical. Especially for Halloween, AJ Dehany spoke to Ross Tones about the uncanny inspirations of the album.
A haunting and unsettling sound world describes a spare sonic landscape of electronics and acoustic bass manipulated in real time into unrecognizable and uncanny forms on eponymous duo album Everything Falls Apart, recalling the inscrutable intensity of bands like Supersilent at the prettier end of noise and the darker end of contemporary electronic classical directions. The closing track of the album takes its title “Wonderfully Desolate” from Rookhope, a village in Weardale described by the poet W. H. Auden as “the most wonderfully desolate of all the dales.”
Originally from Weardale, Ross Tones lived in London, then Bristol, and now lives in Donegal in a place of similarly ‘wonderfully desolate’ evocations: “It’s very similar to where I grew up with lots of peat bogs and moorland and rivers and streams and lakes,” he says. The sense of a personification through setting similarly reminds me of Christine Tobin’s most recent album Returning Weather, an explicit musical historiography of the Irish landscape.
“That’s one of the reasons we went to Donegal as well,” he says, “because the folklore and history are really linked: all the place names are ancient, and you can almost see them like song lines. And yet the improvised sound world of Everything Falls Apart eludes a recognisable topography, and furthermore resists recognisable instrumentation. At times you can hear the bowing of the bass very strongly, but mostly it’s hard to identify what’s going on in the dark soundscapes of the album. Ross explains, “Everything is originally the bass. It’s kind of like a conversation between us on the record with Otto Lindholm. He plays sounds to me, then I record and manipulate them, play them back. Then he then plays over that, and then I process that in a different way and capture that. You’ve got to let it go places, and it’s totally improvised, which is slightly terrifying at times, because we don’t really know where it’s going. We just look at each other and breathe deeply, and then start, and it normally lasts about half an hour. On my side, there’s various effects boxes, and a sampler, and then on his side, he bows, but then he also augments it— he puts pegs and things on the strings, detunes, retunes, and we tend to go from something long to something percussive, and kind of have a conversation like that. You just completely zone out, you don’t really remember that much about it.”
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From these long improvisations, shorter pieces are hewn from unedited sections that seem to find their own meaning as spontaneous composition… and decomposition. ”That’s what “Everything falls apart” means,” he says. “It’s quite descriptive of music, because it finds a point, and then it falls apart, and then it’s rebuilt again. I do think unconsciously you become more empathetic with the other person and you kind of read each other and what they might do at that point. But it’s always the most exciting when you don’t really know.”
The phrase “Everything falls apart” is taken from Mark Z. Danielewski’s Y2K meta-novel House of Leaves, a text that inspires and describes the exploratory approach of the duo’s collaboration. “That’s my favourite book. it kind of relates to you just in normal life walking around. It feels like it lives with you, it’s like a presence, if you know what I mean. I can’t quite describe it, it’s otherworldly, unheimlich (Freud’s term for the uncanny located in the strangeness of the ordinary).”
Ross Tones is surprised when I describe my own listening to the album as kind of soothing, if in an eldritch, unheimlich way. “Wonderfully Desolate” in particular has a very moving emotionality at the end of the journey of the track and the album as a whole… but the duo’s relationship to an audience is unconventional. He notes that the very first words of the book House of Leaves, taking up a single page, are simply the warning “This is not for you.”
He applies this to the music: “It’s almost like, I don’t know, the music can be quite scary. At the live shows we’re seeing a kind of shock on people’s faces; it’s quite an intense, full-on hour. We zone out completely, but the audience would have also gone through that too. You’re not meant to enjoy it. You know what I mean? It’s not necessary. You’ve got to kind of go through periods of anxiousness and slight horror to appreciate the moments of calmness. You have to live through it to appreciate this call that comes out. If you heard it by itself, you’d be like ‘Oh, that’s not particularly pleasant.’ But in the context of everything else, it’s like it’s a breakdown.”
House of Leaves is described as ‘ergodic’ literature, which requires effort from the reader, taken from ergon meaning work and hodos meaning path: the reader has to piece things together. There’s so many different setups that we work with, and then often there’s just beautiful accidents. It’s trying to find people on purpose. I think that’s so often the trajectory to get you there. It’s like: ‘I don’t actually know how we got there, but we did’. It’s always a surprise.”
AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
Release party in Brussels 4 Nov 2023 at Les Ateliers Claus featuring Richard Skelton & Everything Falls Apart