Atonal interview: Clock DVA

Atonal interview: Clock DVA

November 10, 2015

Written by:

Beatrice Sommer

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1. Credence

Clock DVA is an industrial, post-punk and EBM group from Sheffield, England, formed in 1978 by Adolphus "Adi" Newton and Steven "Judd" Turner. Along with contemporaries Heaven 17, Clock DVA's name was inspired by the Russian-influenced Nadsat of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange; Dva is the Russian word for "two".

Undergoing various iterations in its long, prolific and varied musical story, Clock DVA has remained committed to an idea of sonic futurism, an investigation of the philosophical implications of musical technologies and, more recently, a yearning for a combined sound and visual experience.

Clock DVA are veterans of Berlin Atonal, having played at the 1990 edition of the festival. In 2015 they returned with a symbiotic audio-visual show and a line-up consisting of Newton, Tez and Panagiotis Tomaras.

We caught up with Adi Newton and TeZ to discuss some of their impressions from the festival, experimental music, stories from their past and much more.

How does it feel to be performing at Atonal among so many new artists considering you've been doing this since 1978?

Adi Newton: It's good that we're doing this show. I mean, it's different than the first show of Atonal, but in essence it is the same - an exploration of new music and possibilities and so on. The fundamental idea to push boundaries is still there, so it's important. I think Atonal is a big platform for people to show what they're up to at the moment, it's bringing a lot of new people into the mix.

Do you find that Atonal helps to shape the tendency towards expression of dark aesthetic through experimental music?

AN: Yeah, it sort of winds it up. I guess it creates more exposure, which is a good thing, and - you know - it's been impossible to find out about these things. It gives a little credence, which is important for the whole thing.

That's the drama – repeating things. That's a problematic thing with humanity. Forgetting and repeating.
Clock DVA
Clock DVA

2. Away

What was it like while you've been away from performing live?

AN: I got to the point where I was a bit disillusioned in some senses with the music scene, particularly the business side of it. Things have changed with digital platforms and I decided to just take some time out. I've just got married and I decided to spend some time doing other things. So, I think it was good because it kind of lets you sit back and you can reflect on what you're doing or what you've done and so on. So then it was interesting to have a break and now to be back again doing new things. I guess it's important sometimes just to step away and think about what you want to do.

But this means you have to rebuild the interest of the audience you've stayed away from.

AN: Yeah. I mean, now I don't think I'm going to stop and take a huge amount of time out. I'll just keep playing live, releasing things. I don't see a necessity to have to put something out, to have to do a tour or a record. I've never believed in that idea in the first place. I think it kind of kills your creativity when you have to do these things. Especially when you're signed to a major label, which we were. We were signed to Polydor and we had a major commitment to schedule records and live tours. So when it all became very much like a machine, it got a point and I remember it well...

There was a huge festival, I forgot what it was called, somewhere in Belgium, there were so many people that you couldn't see how many they were and I remember being at the side of the stage, watching each group taking over the stage and I thought ''oh my God, what am I doing here? I can't do this anymore, I got to get away. I want to do some radical music... jazz, experimental electronic music, push this envelope some more'', so I just left. I think that was the time when the accident in Paris was.

I remember we got at this place that was a Turkish Bath and the Rolling Stones were making a video there that day, so we couldn't do the sound check and I was really angry like ''who the hell are these guys? I have to do the sound check!'' and I asked someone what was happening and they said ''they're shooting a video'' and I say ''what do you mean they're making a video? We're supposed to do the same'' and he said ''well, that's the Rolling Stones''. laughs And you can see Paul in the back in the video. I remember going in one of these rooms and there was Keith Richards. It's very strange... you don't really want to go up to them and say anything. It's impossible, you know...

After that, it all really went kind of weird that day; it was such a weird day. After that, I never wanted to be in that sort of situation again where I was kind of like a commodity for someone, having to make a video, a tour, an album... So I thought ''that's it, I don't want to do it anymore''. I just worked on my own way and when I had something finished and I felt it was good, I'd put it out, however long it would take me to.

*in second photo: Vice Versa; more here

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Clock DVA
Clock DVA

3. Something relevant

And there's also new ideas coming up if you have more time.

AN: Yeah, of course. You have to have a certain amount of thought because you've got to be disciplined and to have a target. We're aware of the nature of things, but not forced.

What is this discipline really about?

AN: I think it's developing what you're doing to the point where you're satisfied. You can never be 100% satisfied, but you can always come back and say 'could have done that a little bit more'. I guess it's like painting. You get to the point where you say 'I took it so far and now I want to look at this', so you leave it room of thought for two months or a year and then decide what you have to change. But sometimes you can't have that luxury; it's out when it's done. I think that once you've finished something, that's it. You leave it there and when it's out you don't think of it anymore, you forget it... I never listen to them. Five years or ten year pass and then I listen to it and think ''it's not actually too bad'' laughs

With experimental music it's pretty much always about new technologies and taking advantage of them. Do you think that the audience has to be educated into the technological side of art since most of them can't tell how much work was put into the things they like and sometimes they appreciate things that have been done easily?

AN: Yes, I guess some people will care, of course and some people will just take it as it is, without questioning. I think the experimental scene is now bigger than it used to be. The explosion of Internet and social media networks, YouTube and Sound Cloud, all these things that allow people to put things out immediately on a digital platform without the need of another platform or company to do that for them. But the thing is, it gets a bit saturated. I was talking about this recently with someone and I think technology in some senses made it a lot easier for people to create music, for sure, which is kind of interesting sometimes. The creative process becomes intuitive or results as an accident and there's the aspect of new and the aspect of a lot of similarities as well... the sound of things.

To do something relevant now is much harder. There's so much out there that's been reduced that it's hard to create that sort of uniqueness and that's something you've got to really develop. For me, when I started, I was aware of expressing what I wanted to do. A unique sound is like carving out an area which has been previously unexplored. You create this thing that you put into everything you do and it gives you that kind of cache to go on and gives longevity to music.

So do you feel that the more time is passing, the more pressure is put on you as an artist?

AN: It's not much of a pressure...As an artist, you want to really try to expand what you're doing, take it further in different ways.

photo: Self Portrait with Radials, Adi Newton, 2013

Clock DVA
Clock DVA

4. Old vs new

You've always added the visual side to music. How do you see the importance of having good visual representation for your music? Do you find it necessary to merge the two?

AN: If you use visuals, I think you have to absolutely reflect the sonic, the concept and integrate them dynamically with each other. Although we say the music can be played without the visual, the way we've done things, especially with the USB, you've got the choice where you can listen to the music without having to watch the visuals. But it adds to the experience and helps to take it further by giving it more atmosphere and stimulating the brain in a different way.

TeZ: We use stroboscopic effect because it has a direct effect to the brain, so you want to use the light like you want to use the sound. When you combine the two you create a more specific type of experience. I do a lot of performances on my own in pitch dark with 3D sound, so I think that's another completely different type of experience. I once wanted to do a show with sound only, in complete darkness and I was turned down.

What is your opinion on young artists who take on an old genre?

AN: It depends on people's interests. They go back and look at earlier things.

Maurizio ‘TeZ’ Martinucci: I think the only problem would be if you do something that you think is new and it's just a copy of something that's been done before. If you don't add anything new, some innovation, you are just repeating something and that is like a museum. Okay, you think it would be interesting like learning something from the past, but then maybe there's more dedicated space for this rather than thinking you are doing something new and letting younger people think ''Oh! That is something new!''. It's a very different thing. So, I think it's good to preserve things from the past and to innovate from the past and progress from that, not just repeats things. That's the drama – repeating things. That's a problematic thing with humanity. Forgetting and repeating.

Do you feel there's a risk of doing something too new?

TeZ: laughs That's like a 'Jung-ean' thing. The only problem with something that is too new is that we don't know it. I think there are other types of potential dangers with using new technologies. I'd say there couldn’t be anything too new. The question is ''how can we bring innovation?''. I think it's a question we don't have a real answer to, but we try when we work together to start from our own background and our own experience and to innovate upon that. Doing something that would be too new to us would be like discovering something new for yourself otherwise it'd be boring.

Maybe that's what we try to bring with 'The Konstructor'. The idea behind it is ''how do you construct something?''. The idea is to build something, to make your own tools, to materialize things in a physical way.

*some photos courtesy of Berlin Atonal // credits to Camille Blake

About the Author

Beatrice Sommer

Beatrice is an Anthropology student and everyday life enthusiast. She has an affinity for avant-garde music and is involved in the alternative underground scene of Bucharest.

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