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Dollars to Pounds: Gwilym Gold

Dollars to Pounds is a bi-weekly column with a look at the best of what’s happening in the UK. This Kim Taylor Bennett talks with Gwilym Gold about his experimental solo work.

Allow me to introduce North Dakota’s most infamous and eccentric criminal, Gwilym Gold. From his first heist back in 1852 till his arrest in 1861 he confounded the law, robbing banks in 17 states and leaving eerie, cryptic vinyl recordings in empty bank vaults and raided safety deposit boxes. Only now have these peculiar compositions have been pulled together for the first time.

Not really. But that’s totally the narrative I imagined based on the photo, above. You may be familiar with the London-born Gold’s former band Golden Silvers and their still peerless retro-synth pop tune "Arrow of Eros" (the sound of summer 2009). Now Gold’s gone solo and the music he creates is wildly different to his former outfit’s output. He's embraced a more electronic, experimental and woozily ambient bent. His hypnotic tones are frequently manipulated, suspended in a spacious sonic swoon. Along with producer Lexxx (Björk, Wild Beasts), Gold has invented a new musical format called Bronze. Every time you listen a song, it’s a new experience. Bronze morphs the tune in subtle and unpredictable ways so you never hear the same songs twice. Sound confusing? Download his song "Flesh Freeze" in the Bronze format and have a listen for yourself. I’ll let Gwilym explain:

When did idea for Bronze come about?
About a year and a half ago. Lexxx builds a lot of his own software to make sounds and sometimes the software affected the music as it was playing. Every different run through the process would generate new, interesting sounds, so I thought, couldn’t it be doing it while you’re listening?

And it was then that you got a scientist from Goldsmiths University involved—
Dr. Mick Grierson. He is actually a doctor, not like Dr. Dre. Lexxx built a prototype and it worked well, but it didn’t go as far as we wanted it to. Also the important thing was we couldn’t distribute it like that because no one has the program that can run it. With Dr. Mick we felt like we’d found the person who understood it, and he agreed to build it for us.

How would you describe the Bronze format in the most straightforward way?
It’s been quite funny because a few of the first pieces written had explanations of how it works which weren’t right, and some of the following pieces just reeled it off. It irritates me when people say Bronze remixes—I don’t think it does that at all. The main idea is that the songs are in a constant state of regeneration. The possibilities are endless; it’s down to the choices you make. So a hi-hat pattern, it’s not just that patternrather every single sound in that pattern will have its own law and generate a new pattern from that.

Are you worried that the interest in the format will overshadow actual music?
With the first release we made a concerted effort to make sure it wasn’t a showpiece for the software. We know it’s not a new idea. [Brian Eno has worked on “generative music”.] Bronze format gives people something to write about, but if it’s not creating music that you can feel, what’s the point?

Really it’s about the innovation still serving the song.
Yes. It was born out of a genuinely musical idea, not a need or want to do something technologically different. We feel that it makes the music more vital because it exists in motion as you’re listening to it. For us, listening to the traditional recordings don’t feel the same, they don’t have the same vitality. It feels like the songs have an anchor on it. With Bronze it feels like it’s set free. Given the times we live in why does all music exist in one way? It feels that at every point the formats that have existed for music have influenced the music that’s being made. So it doesn’t even feel radical, it feels natural.

How will Bronze be released? Will people play it on a traditional stereo system?
The devices people listen to music on are capable of doing a lot more than playing just one sound. In the past with old regenerative music ideas it’s been quite prohibitive because you have to get it on a floppy disc. Bronze will work on PC, Mac, iPhone and ipad. We want to get it to work on as many platforms as possible. We want people to listen to it on their hifi.

Lexxx produced the Golden Silvers debut album. How do you feel when you look back on that music now?
The band was fun but at the time I was focused on learning the craft of songwriting. I don’t regret the process, but I didn’t really play in a way where I was proud of the results on an aesthetic level. Like it wasn’t a fully formed thing in my head and maybe it wasn’t really representative of the music I’m really interested in sound-wise. I got to know Lexx quite well when he produced Golden Silvers and he was more aware of the music I was interested in, so we thought we’ve got to make sure that this is a fully-formed thing. Not to shit on the band, but to me this felt more formative.

How does it feel to be performing onstage by yourself now?
I really wasn’t that comfortable performing certain elements with Golden Silvers. Especially some of the things we became known for, the songs that people liked. To earn money when I was a teenager I played in a bar— jazz, blues or whatever people wanted. It feels better to me, being on my own. Live performance is quite a natural analogy for what Bronze does because in a way Bronze performs the song.

I decided I wasn’t going to make it into some technological show. A performance is more engaging if as much as possible is being performed. I remember reading this Steve Reich interview and when he was asked about the future of music everyone thought he’d come up with some big concept. He simply said the future of music would be about people playing or singing.

Dollars to Pounds: Gwilym Gold