Interview: African Ghost Valley

I am overwhelmed by African Ghost Valley. Their improvisation is like a light shined directly into my eyes – a deluge of present tense, as if trying to salvage as much of the NOW as possible before it perishes into the past. Their releases come thick and fast – at the time of writing, there are already four records in 2018 that bear their name – and each is a jagged mash of sampling and effects, with chimes collapsed into delays, synthesisers and voices crushed under distortion, drones navigating a maze of broken wires.

Their latest record is Colony on Natural Sciences. I’m delighted to be able to premiere the track “Barre” on ATTN, which hopefully gives you a taste of the duo’s effect-drenched flow state. Below, AGV and I discuss landing a spaceship, hiding under the covers and finding freedom in the Black Bunker.

The album was recorded in a space called the Black Bunker, which resides beneath a multi-storey car park. Could you tell me about the space, and whether there were any particular facets of the bunker that impressed upon how Colony turned out?

This space is where we have worked since the beginning. In a parking lot, hidden from the world above. We would say that it is important in our process and a really good fuel for the project.

Colony had been done at Black Bunker. Just the two of us together playing with concrete sound sources, coming from our field recordings sessions, our synthz and stuff that we are stocking at the studio: instruments, steel bars, guitars, bits and pieces, record players…

The process has been simple since the beginning. Sound is an exploration and we never go in with a pre-defined idea. The energy of the moment is the main thing. And from that we are composing, jamming, doing, scratching and sampling ourselves through different devices like SP 404 samplers, mixer effects, pedals and hardwares only.

The computer is only really used for the production and edits, which is a big part of the project too.

Catching the energy, listening to it after and seeing where our minds are going…sometimes we even fall asleep listening to our stuffs, ambient, drone or noisy, and we make our way like that. Between dreams and reality. No pressure even if we produce a lot. We are at Black Bunker to be free and feel it.

Magic place, rough, isolated in a location that nobody knows except the ones that are invited…

By my calculation, this is your third release of 2018 already, following the January releases of AKI your collaboration with memotone (please correct me if I’m wrong on this!). Do you have any thoughts on what enables you to produce music so prolifically? Does working quickly have a particular appeal to you?

Between January and February we released AKI on Søvn records, a collaboration project with Memotone on Tandem Tapes and also a split tape on Forwind records (released 1st Feb 2018) for the collection Angry Ambient Artists.

So this will be our fourth release: Colony on Natural Sciences.

We are functioning, as we said, with the energy, and not defining what we are doing or gonna use – so like that, there’s no routine. It is a sincere process and we have not changed in three years. This kind of magic we have is no secret. We speak about it sometimes but not too much, and so for us it is a treasure. It doesn’t mean that it is all pink but we respect each other and that’s it.

If we were feeling any effort we would have to stop. We are doing a music that reflects also that a flow; a real and natural tension, something also a bit apocalyptic in some aspects as is said often in reviews.

Linking to that, we have to say that one of our ideas is putting ourselves into the situation of two guys stuck in a bunker, and that after the bomb we would try to still create to share, to survive and still, even if everything had been destroyed, do some primitive noises: music. Primitives are really part of us. Future primitives.

A bit like when you are a kid and you are putting yourself under the covers in bed and you invent a story that some bad guys are around and looking for you… it’s just a question of imagination in fact. Vital and essential.

We do many things quickly at the same time without thinking about them, and after that we regroup and try to make sense of each release. Also we release everywhere from Indonesia to Canada, US, UK, Germany, so this feeling that we can touch people around the world and in different type of labels styles is very nice for us.

This reflects who we are and where we’re coming from – multiple roots in Canada, Europe and Africa, and our families are around the world.

Of course, such profuse output is only possible with consistent musical chemistry. There’s such a vibrant dynamic between you both on Colony. Can you pick out one particular facet of the other (Childe about Gabriel, Gabriel about Childe) that you enjoy or admire, in terms of the way they work with sound?

Gab on Childe:

I like our exchanges and discussion on music, sci-fi movies, comics and other childhood memories. Those are inspiring moments for Childe and me. Childe’s way of listening and letting it go is something I appreciate and that we feel part of our process of creation.

Childe on Gab:

I agree with Gab that our way of being is that sharing, but also he did not mention a big part of our collaboration that is laughing, joking which it is totally part of us.

And important point is that we did not know each other when we started the project three years ago. We’d only heard about each other, and one of the beautiful parts of this adventure is that we became friends – a real friendship and this is great.

As a listener, I sense an incredible urgency within this material. It feels like you’re throttling the present moment with both hands. Do you feel this urgency as the performers of this material? What does it feel like to be making this music?

It is a good feeling and a very opening mind project. Each time we are in front of an opening desert, sometimes a battlefield, sometimes a jungle, sometimes we feel that the music and sounds are telling us about being in space and sometimes in a spaceship that needs to land somewhere…or just the evocation of a street of Cairo.

We are not stuck in any preconceived ideas.

We know what instruments or microphones or pedals or sources we want to play and experiment with. We are hungry for that and are inspired by that too.

But yes, the secret is playing. Doing and having an experience. It is primitive as said before and we like it like that.

We do not define our sound, so it is hard to really tell you a precise thing as we do not want to be clear and we are not. Anyway, life is blurry and beautiful and we try that too.

Have you observed any changes in the way in which you contemplate or approach improvisation over the years, either inside or outside the context of African Ghost Valley?

Improvisation had always been the root of the project and this keeps us excited. We go to see friends playing in that scene, listening to some stuff too and also we love other sources like Jonas Mekas the filmmaker, the ones who leave space for life and accidents, like Bela Tarr or movies about sci-fi that are a bit cheap even, Z movies.

Improvisation, accident, catching the moment…this is the heart of African Ghost Valley.

On a similar note, how have your equipment setups changed over the course of AGV (if at all)?

Our setup has been the same since the start. We have been hunting the same sonic fantasy from the beginning with the same weapons: five SP 404 Roland samplers that we feed with many sounds. What has changed is the way we are recording. We are using  a bit more table effects…

No limit is the idea.

What records have you been listening to recently?

Iggy Pop – New Values
Secret Chiefs 3 – Perichoresis
Delia Gonzales + Gavin Russom – Days of Mars

What’s next for you and your music?

Other releases are coming and we hope to play more gigs as now we have a booker. We hope to play in some experimental noise festivals and concretely to work on more tracks. Let’s see where it will bring us! From the Black Bunker to…