Interview: Anji Cheung

Photo by Jose Ramón Caamaño

I listen to so many artists that wield a vivid sense of atmosphere, but London’s Anji Cheung goes one step further. Through a process of negative exposure – wafting sound into the spaces between imaginary walls and imaginary objects – she generates sonic spaces that are rich and tactile enough to walk through, using smeared guitar, voices, synths and field recordings to illuminate every weathered notch on the walls of subterranean caves; every moonlit twinkle of moisture that border those descendent shafts to nowhere.

Her new cassette Spirit As Creature came out on Utech last month. It’s beautiful for its mirage of rebounding overtones and inter-swirled instrument textures, and occasionally unsettling for its thumps of imminent calamity and howls of phantom anguish. Below, Anji and I discuss the occult, circadian rhythm and flecks of gold. Be sure to check out her music on Bandcamp.

In an interview with Aurora Borealis, you noted that “some things [music] you write and other pieces make you write them”. What was the direction of flow in the case of Spirit As Creature?

Spirit is well balanced. I was about to down tools for a while when the opportunity to do this came along. Once I started writing it was a considered process of tinkering and exploring but it was news to me to find it so ready to manifest.

Your record Daughter Of Fortitude was recorded during a “beautiful summer”. What was the context for assembling Spirit As Creature, in terms of where and when this record came together?

It was under very similar circumstances to be honest. In between jobs, at home, reading, enjoying summer; the only difference was I had been convalescing after some major surgery. I work-out and pay reasonable attention to nutrition, so recovered super quickly but there were limits on my upper body movement for a short time and it was really frustrating. I think some of that restriction comes through in Spirit. I can sense the trapped energy waiting to be expressed. 

How did you come to the title of Spirit As Creature?

I read it in an essay about Georges Bataille and it stuck with me. I’ve read some of his work and his thoughts on a descent into our animal nature catalysing an annihilation and rebirth of spirit, I find interesting and rousing. It’s the proverbial turning shit into gold, numinous alchemy, which I suspect has as many paths as there are people. 

Your music has such a strong sense of place and location. There’s almost an echolocative aspect to your work, where each sound illuminates textures and shapes in stereo space; I build a tactile sense of my surroundings through listening. Do you feel that your music has a connection to concepts of space and location? Does this music conjure any ideas of place for you, or do you derive inspiration from any particular spaces?

It is connected to space and location but largely of the imagination; Spirit is firmly based there and it’s labyrinthine, subterranean and black with dark greens and flecks of gold. Internal imagery is often the precursor to the sounds I make and not the other way round. To date I think I have only written one piece with an actual place in mind and even then it was about the atmosphere that place induces. Once I’m in that mode we’re back in the realms of imagination and the subconscious.

What does your creation process look like? Do you have a dedicated space, time of day or environment for composing your music? Do you do anything in particular to stimulate a state of mind that’s most conducive to creating it (that is, if such an optimal state even exists)?

It’s subject to change depending on mood and circumstances but generally speaking, everything ends up happening in my front room – that’s my makeshift studio. I work temporary jobs specifically so in between them I can take chunks of time off and work on music, which for me requires solitude and freedom. I’m disciplined and work on material during normal working hours. Experience has taught me that keeping some routine and working with my circadian rhythms is best. I still write material and collect field recordings when I’m doing 9-5 but the lion’s share of activity happens when I’m free from that constraint.

PHOTO BY AGATA URBANIAK

In an interview with The Quietus a few years back, you expressed a connection with Coil’s description of their craft as “ritual music for the accumulation of energy”. Do you still feel a connection to this idea? If so, does this process play any role or function outside of the creation of music? 

My “sitting in the sun and drinking GnT” interview – I was doing some serious riffing that afternoon but the answer is yes, I do still connect – at least with Coil’s music, if not directly with that particular statement. The occult continues to be the way I view and move through the Universe.

What does your live performance setup look like at the moment? Do you consider your music on record to be a different entity to your music in performance?

I did consider recorded and live as separate entities but the lines are blurring now. My set up has never been fixed any particular way. As one thing breaks or I get bored, something else inevitably takes its place. My mixer died on me after the KTL show, so I decided to replace it with a Mac which is great for writing and performing. It’s cut my gear significantly for now and that makes me uber happy. I prefer to travel light through life. I need to find/make a device that will replace my guitar. I still want the sounds you can get from bowing a guitar but without the weight and bulk. So, currently; field recordings, synth and samples are pre-recorded and then manipulated live whilst guitar and vox are done there and then.

Is it possible to describe or articulate the sensation of performing this music live?

It’s best for me when I’m doing it the way I would at home, just playing and indulging in the sounds but gig environments aren’t always conducive to that kind of mind set. When you’re engrossed you reveal more of yourself; instinctual is far more valuable and captivating for me than the product of intellect alone. That didn’t answer your question though and I’m not entirely sure I can. When I’m not feeling so aware of my surroundings as I have just described, it’s energising and comforting. When I’m more present, I’m usually over thinking it and wondering if my levels sound good out front or if a cable is going to die on me again.

What other records are you listening to at the moment?

Tourist Gaze – To Grow Across Meetings, Cremation Lily – Lovers Against the Rocks, Old Tower – Rise of the Spectre, Tongues of Light – Channelled Messages at the End of History, Kevin Gan Yuen – Uncloaked Infinite, Futura – Your First Memory is Already Gone.

What’s next for you and your music?

I’ve been wanting to put sound to visuals for ages. I wrote some ideas down in 2014 and I still haven’t embarked on those projects, probably due to what I perceive as the enormity of the task if done solo. Presently I’d prefer to collaborate with someone that uses visuals as their mode of expression. A collaboration and meeting of ideas appeals to me more right now.