Artist InterviewsInterviews

Kibuka / Nohno: an interview with Dean Dennis & Jose Snook

Kibuka / Nohno

“Kibuka is a new project from Dean Dennis and collaborator Snook. Dean is known for his work with Clock DVA, TAGC, Sector and, most recently, Nohno. Kibuka provides an outlet for the more beat driven and anti-social side of the artists’ personalities and stylistically it draws upon Dennis’ earlier work with Clock DVA and early Sector.
Sound tracks for conspiracy theorists & the dispossessed.”
– adapted from the Kibuka official website

1 – A few years ago, you shifted musical direction and initiated a new project, Nohno. Now we are witnessing another shift with Kibuka, although the two projects certainly have their similarities. What prompted the move away from the Nohno moniker? Would you call it more of a musical or rather an ideological progression?

Dean: In fact we haven’t moved away from the Nohno project, we are still continuing with Nohno. When Nohno began it saw the start of a collaboration between myself and Snook. Due to the dynamics & exchange of energy in this partnership the music was quite diverse even with the first release. As the collaboration grew then so did the diversity of the music. We were concerned that by having this amount of variety within one project we would become confusing to everyone but ourselves, or worse, would start to become constricted by the pressure to try to maintain a more uniform body of work.

Perhaps “progression” is not an appropriate term to describe this shift since it would assume we took a linear course. When what happened was a dynamic expansion both musically & ideologically.

2 – Where does the gap between your two recent projects lie? Can you describe their parallels, intersections, tangential diversions?

Dean: This is quite difficult to answer; because both projects involve the same line up, we can’t help but sound like ourselves.

There are definite parallels between the two projects. Perhaps the most obvious is the way in which we build the music, trying to establish soundscapes with open narratives that evoke corresponding emotions. This of course is nothing unique. Both Kibuka and Nohno attempt to develop a counterbalance with shades of light & dark, contrasting atmospheres and emotions. This results in material that has a particular complexity & density. Across both projects the processes involved in the construction of material is the same.

There is an intersection in the use of voice samples that provide additional elements to spark the imagination or convey a particular narrative. The use of the bass guitar is also becoming increasingly important in both projects after it was largely neglected in my previous Sector project.

Snook: Perhaps the easiest way to sum up the tangential diversions is to say that each project reflects a different space: Kibuka is much more concerned with the external world and could be described as anthropological exploration. Nohno is more concerned with the internal world and psychological exploration.

It is around these broad concepts that we try to shape the music. Kibuka is therefore much more direct, punchy and is influenced by those genres that seem to be appropriate to those concerns. Nohno is more abstract, atmospheric, lighter in touch, using a different approach to rhythm in particular.

Kibuka / Nohno3 – Let’s discuss names. Kibuka and “Dystopia” versus Nohno and “Metropolis” – I sense a certain investment in urbanism mixed with societal commentary, not to mention a hint of Japanese thematics (after all, Kibuka was released on a label called Kodama). Can you shed some light on this?

Dean: It is strange how patterns begin to take shape. Names are always difficult to decide upon. When we settled upon the name Kibuka it was primarily because we enjoyed the sound of the word & also the forms of the letters. The story behind the name was interesting and had a comic tragedy about it.

It was only after we started to promote the new project that a friend pointed out that it was an anagram for “Kabuki” so we ended up with yet another link to Japanese thematics, and in particular, Japanese theatre.

Snook: You could say that with the two releases there has been a concern with the urban. “Metropolis” was much more about narrating the inner lives of individuals existing in a sprawling imaginary city, not so much a critique or commentary but more of an exploration.

Dean: “Dystopia” takes a broader global view. While we were developing the Kibuka material it seemed as if the world was more & more descending into chaos and becoming a dehumanised nightmare. A Future Fiction that was no longer imaginary, as if all the sci-fi & conspiracy theories I’d ever read were invading reality & the truth was being given a cosmetic twist. The material in “Dystopia” inevitably became more of a critique.

Snook: In making “Dystopia” we were not trying to make a connection back to “Metropolis”.

Dean: With regards to emerging Japanese themes: we do have an interest in studying elements of Japanese history & culture. In our opinion the Japanese have been the most successful Asian nation with regards to making their culture accessible globally.

What particularly attracts us to Japanese culture is that there appears to us to be a continuity in the influences that early belief systems, spirituality and philosophy have upon their modern culture. Or at least the art, literature, film, manga & anime that is made available in the West.

Snook: We also find it appealing that within the Japanese psyche there seems to be an awareness and recognition of the whole breadth of the subtleties of human emotion & feeling. This seems to be missing in Britain. Somehow these subtleties became overlooked, so for example to describe a very specific feeling in the English language we need to use a whole sentence as opposed to one word. We hope that through the Nohno project we can at some point start to explore these subtleties.

4 – To construct these musically complex narratives that end up being emotionally generative you make extensive use of vocal samples. Can you discuss your sources and the ways in which you anticipate these elements communicating the narratives you intend, open or otherwise?

Dean: We hope that the use of samples will convey something of the meaning we intend without being too literal or obvious: aiming to provide clues and hints rather than a complete description. Some material is less open to interpretation but generally we’d rather let the audience develop their own narratives inspired by the mood of the music and their own experience & imagination.

Snook: Finding the appropriate sample for a piece of music involves a huge trawl of the net. I stick to source material that is in the public domain or that is pretty obscure, including religious podcasts, public health information, radio phone-ins, lectures, poetry readings. It is a painstaking process: each sample has to sit well with the music in terms of the sound quality of the voice, the mood it conveys, and also has to provide cues for the narrative. Often a twenty-minute sample will only provide six or so words.

We made some use of samples from a number of speeches made by George W. Bush. There was a certain amount of satisfaction gained by turning the original intentions of the message on their head. In “Cell by Cell” & “Future Fiction” the narratives are more transparent through the use of these samples.

Others are less obvious and deliberately kept open to a number of interpretations. The samples for “True Colours” were taken from a lecture about lie detection and how to use this as a game for amusement. When we were making “True Colours” we were thinking about post-9/11 interrogation centres, interrogation techniques in general and those in particular that use music as a form of torture. We decided to use the trivial and cosy motif, “Is your favourite colour Orange?”, to give a viewpoint of a less than cosy subject.

“Monstrous” was inspired by the demonization by the media of certain communities in the UK and uses samples from a reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

When we are working on Nohno material our approach to the use of samples is usually more abstract and the narratives often deliberately more open. We try to use samples from a variety of different languages. One reason being an attempt to kick against the dominance of the English language. Another being an attempt to communicate at a different level of perception through the use of words that are unfamiliar or are made to sound unfamiliar.

5 – This sense that the world has been accelerating its descent into chaos, fast becoming a dehumanized nightmare as omnipresent as the notion of globalization itself, is not unfamiliar to me, and I’m convinced many others feel likewise. Considering this, in what way is “Dystopia” a critique from a broader global view? Is it ultimately optimistic or pessimistic?

Dean: “Dystopia” broadly questions the dominant global viewpoint and the various messages of fear that we are fed everyday. In a way the opening track, “Sucking Up That Stuff”, says it all. We are expected to suck up all the fear mongering and come to believe that, for example, the proliferation of surveillance is for our own benefit, that one nation or faith is “bad” whilst another is “good”, or that without the latest gadget we are worthless. What is most dehumanising are paranoia and the consequences of that paranoia. It was this descent into fear we were interested in exploring.

As a whole I would say that “Dystopia” is ultimately optimistic. Although the atmospherics & the narratives of most of the songs are reflective of our feeling that there is a lot wrong in the world, the music is energetic & full of life. The darkness is counterbalanced. It probably sounds very clichéd to say this, but I feel that the music reflects the optimism & spirit of humanity: despite the feeling of impending doom there is always the spirit to continue against all adversity and to fight against fear. In short, there is always a glimmer of hope.

6 – Globally accessible culture, the impression that we live in a world in which borders and cultural gaps no longer matter. A subtlety of expression found lacking in one’s own cultural identity. The shift from centre toward periphery. These are rather topical and related points to address. Do you feel the tension between ‘us’ and the ‘other’ has to some extent been dissolved now, at the beginning of the 21st century, or has it in fact simply altered focus? How do you see yourselves operating within this idiom?

Dean: It is true that global culture is now more accessible for those of us who live in more prosperous situations. There is the feeling that cultural gaps can be bridged. Individuals now have the opportunity to communicate directly with each other & circumvent the mediated stereotypes. All this may contribute in some small way to dissolving the tensions between “us” & the “other”. But I would say that this would only occur when individuals are less inclined to hold fixed perceptions and who are curious in the first place.

At a global level the fact still remains that for hegemonies to persist it is necessary to cultivate that sense of “us” & the “other”. I think unfortunately the perpetuation of notions of insuperable difference will never disappear. As you suggest they merely continue to shift focus.

Snook: How do we see ourselves operating within this? By considering the “other” as much as the “us”. And also by attempting to examine the existence of the idiom itself.

Kibuka / Nohno

7 – On the Kibuka website you describe the project as “old school arts & crafts brought up to date for the 21st century”. Can you deconstruct this for your audience? To what extent does this statement refer to your musical influences, inspiration, or development, if at all?

Dean: “Dystopia” is deeply rooted in several genres of the ’80s & ’90s. We wanted to celebrate a range of music that has been part of our histories. We were not referencing any specific influences and could not provide you with a list of name checks. We were more reflecting a general “experience & enjoyment”. Whilst doing this we did not want to merely make derivatives but wanted to bring them into the 21st century to make the music relevant for today.

During the making of “Dystopia” I was also aware that there were and would always be comparisons made to my previous work. Naturally people will be reminded of my past projects because I put part of myself in those works, either in collaboration with others or as an individual. But I am always concerned with moving my work forward, not to replicate what I have done in the past and would hope that others would recognise this.

The term “old school” also refers to the methods used. Really I am still using the same processes I have always used, but have been able to develop & build upon these particularly in the last few years. We also prefer to hand craft all the elements ourselves, and take time to develop the tracks. This seemed pretty old school to me, particularly when you think about what happened in the late ’90s, early 2000’s when a lot of artists & labels seemed to be churning out material and not necessarily thinking too much about the quality they were offering their audience.

8 – Your mention of old school methods and handcrafted elements prompts a question for the tech-heads. Soft synths versus hardware: do you have a preference? What are your chosen tools of the trade and do you perhaps have a wish list? Also, how would you say your creative process, in terms of constructing sounds, textures and beats, has evolved or changed between previous and current projects?

Dean: We tend to use a combination of both hardware & soft synths, so maybe we’re not so old school in that respect. I prefer the sound quality that can be achieved from hardware, but soft synths also have their place, particularly in terms of convenience and studio space. Snook favours using soft synths, more possibly due to our difference in height!

Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to be able to start to re-equip my studio after managing with the bare minimum. At the moment my chosen tools of the trade are: Korg Triton; Alesis Andromeda; Roland Vsynth GT; Korg MS2000; Matrix 1000, Wal Midi Bass MB4; Fender Jazz 4 String; Sandberg 5 string and an old Yamaha CS2X, which I still use for sequencing. We use a Mac with Logic Pro, plus a variety of other software for sample design.

I’m not much of a tech-head myself; I am also quite impatient, so I tend to avoid any hardware that interferes with my flow.

Our wish list keeps on growing but at the moment we’re looking at developing the performance side of the work, which has meant a change in priorities and we’re still busy doing the research.

When I started Nohno I wanted to start to develop my work in a new direction, hoping to create a deeper and more complex sound. With this I looked at how I could work with the overall structure of each track with the aim of building tension & relief and contrasting emotions into the work. As a consequence the use of melodic elements has become increasingly more important as a starting point. With the addition of Snook we are able to develop these elements further, along with other textural & rhythmic elements.

I have also started to make much more use of the bass in the mix; previously this was used pre-production for developing ideas, chords & melodies and for occasional Midi sequencing.

Perhaps a major change for Nohno has been in the approach to the rhythmic elements. I was wanting to move away from the four-to-the-floor that had characterised some of the later Sector work, and so started a long journey in developing breakbeats & adaptations of these; I’m still developing this side. My actual method of constructing the drum patterns has not changed: still laboriously playing into a keyboard.

Perhaps what is more important to the evolution of the music is my state of mind and the conditions in which we are now able to work.

9 – Backing up a bit: speaking of music rooted in the final decades of the 20th century, do you have an ideal audience? Where do you see your music “fitting in” here and now, at the dawn of the 21st century, or would you rather avoid such distinctions and set your work loose upon an unsuspecting world, to be enjoyed by those drawn to its meaning or simply to its groove?

Dean: To be honest I always found it a thankless task to try to examine where my projects fit so I’m probably going to skip it in this century too. If you try to identify yourself within a framework or with a particular audience, you can become limited by that framework.

Yes, we much prefer to let the music loose and leave it for others to decide where it fits within their own experience. I’d hope that the music will be appreciated & enjoyed by a diverse audience who may value the spirit in which it was made and are able to connect with it on a number of levels: dancing while they make their breakfasts or do the housework or immersing themselves in its layers whilst gazing at the stars.

10 – Dean, it’s acknowledged by both fans and yourself that your formative years as part of Clock DVA had great impact on how you developed as an artist. “Dystopia” is a bit nostalgic, then; not only does it include a dedication in memory of Nick Sanderson (“Theta”), but also a contribution from Paul Browse (the “Chimera” remix). Do you mind discussing why these special features came about?

Kibuka / NohnoDean: Of course it is true that Clock DVA was important in how I developed as an artist, but it was by no means one-way traffic. All personnel contributed to the way in which Clock DVA developed. From my recollection the music of Clock DVA was always the result of a collaborative process and we all brought something to the mix from the outset, as can be clearly demonstrated by the changes in style throughout the various line-ups.

The main thing I still value about Clock DVA was that I was able produce the type of music I was excited by with like-minded individuals. And once we entered the post-“Advantage” stage I was able to move on from the bass and to develop new ways of composing & producing music: moving into electronics. This was to have lasting importance.

To be totally frank the impact of recurrent fallout from my involvement with Clock DVA has been far from positive over the years so I’m not sure that “nostalgia” is an apt way to introduce the subject of the special features. It implies a yearning for that past. Which is something I certainly do not have. The special features came about through friendships that were forged many years ago: friendships that are still important & relevant to me now.

Nick Sanderson very sadly died last year. I have always had very fond memories of Nick, particularly from our days on tour with Jeffrey Lee Pierce. We lost touch a few years ago. “Theta” was influenced by those memories of him, the regret that we’d lost contact and my sadness about his death. It seemed fitting that the release should be dedicated jointly to him and another friend we lost.

Paul and I have remained good friends over the years and I have great respect for his work. We have often talked about making some work together and have periodically sent material & mixes back and forth. We (Snook & I) had intended to include remixes in “Dystopia”, so it seemed like a great opportunity to realise these intentions and include Paul & Spiralized in the project. Similarly the remix by Lustmord occurred through reasons of friendship. I wanted to include other remixes but there was not the space on the CD.

11 – Alright, I must admit I’ve been sort of sitting on this query from the outset. Who are you, Snook? It seems that, besides collaborating on the album and contributing to conceptual design, you play a more significant role in both Kibuka and Nohno than I was previously aware. What is your background and how did you and Dean end up crossing paths? Are there any solo projects we should know about?

Snook: Dean & I first crossed paths many years ago in Sheffield whilst Dean was on a break from touring with the Jeffrey Lee Pierce Quartet. We have been close since then, but we always had different career paths and operated very independently.

My creative focus has always been in visual art. Whilst lecturing I was given the chance to develop skills in the use of digital imaging & video software. Since then I have used a computer as my weapon of choice. Working with video got me into sound & sample design. This interest grew, resulting in the creation of sound installations to compliment my visual material.

When Dean decided to finish Sector and start Nohno we agreed I would join him, initially working with sample & sound design. Over the last three years my role has grown and I’m more active in shaping the music. But I have to stress that I am not a musician. It is unlikely you will ever hear any solo music projects coming from me. My solo projects are still based around digital visual media & sound. But this is developing into a more collaborative endeavour, with both Dean & I working together on sound installation projects.

At the moment I’m also finding it a great contrast to start printmaking again, it makes a change to work with a very traditional, slow & methodical process.

12 – You’ve established that we can expect more from both Kibuka and Nohno in the future. Is there an indication of how long fans must wait before the next release? And to follow up on a hint you dropped earlier, are there plans for either project to play live? What would that entail, exactly?

Dean: We are currently working on the next Nohno release and expect this to be out in October/November 2009. This will be an audio CD plus a separate DVD release with video works including a short film that we will provide the score for.

We will also be making a Nohno “EP” and unreleased Kibuka material available for free download before the end of the year.

There are some interesting collaborations in the pipeline, including work with Nicolas Faure (of Snowblood Records, Asmorod and Hana), and the development of a music festival. I also recently reconnected with an old contact; this could result in a very interesting collaboration. If this does happen, you can be sure I’ll shout it from the rooftops.

After the next Nohno release we will be working on a film score and we’re taking a break from making any new releases for a year or so. We’ll be focusing upon developing the performance side of the projects & developing sound and/or moving image installations.

We are preparing for performance with Nohno material. At the moment it is difficult to describe exactly what this will entail. Any performance will involve visuals made by Lorraine Butler & Snook. We have been exploring the potential of using MAX/MSP & Jitter for performance work. This could be very interesting if we can use it to hook up visuals with the MIDI bass, or it could be a recipe for disaster.

Kibuka / Nohno13 – Where is your current base of operations? Still good old Sheffield?

Snook: No we left “good old Sheffield” about five years ago. Living & working in the Northeast of England, which has proved to be a great move.

14 – Finally, you had expressed interest in discussing file sharing. I’m sure you can bring different perspectives to the table on this subject, from the viewpoints of both the visual and musical artist. Where are the limits of acceptable free interchange of artistically produced material? Can you suggest a compromise in this digital age, or, failing that, how do you foresee the rights of producer, user and abuser evolving in connection with each other in the future?

Snook: To put it succinctly, I would say free interchange should be limited by consent and occur within a framework that ensures that the originators of authentic work retain rights to control how this work is distributed, presented, consumed, or the extent to which it may be adapted or integrated into new work.

I realise that to many this will seem an archaic idea. In this digital age there is a general push being made to drastically erode copyrights and to make any work freely available in any way, shape, or form for public benefit. But to me it seems that those who benefit most financially from piracy & unauthorised downloading are those who are most vociferous in their claims that copyright needs to be abolished and that any work should be “freely available”. It also appears that those who have the least to lose through the erosion of copyrights are those who are either the most complacent or most complicit.

If work is made truly freely available how will the cost of its production be recovered? Any plans to compensate producers for the loss of income through “free availability” (at the moment piracy) seems to ignore the independent sector and focus upon those with the most financial power. The proliferation of file sharing has become very useful in strengthening the dominance of mainstream music, movies and other media. At the moment I am thinking that this may not be such a coincidence. Independent production & the distribution of alternate viewpoints struggles to survive in a climate where making any contribution to the cost of production of the work is largely avoided. This seems to counter the anti-copyright arguments that claim that copyright restricts freedom of expression.

Free interchange in terms of what constitutes “fair use” does need to be rethought carefully in this digital age. Stories of Grannies being prosecuted for posting videos of kittens dancing to Britney Spears really plays into the hands of those who seek to benefit from the erosion of copyrights. It is also punishing a pretty innocuous activity. But this is such a complex issue that there is not the space here to open a debate.

Unfortunately we’ll have to disappoint you in terms of us having alternative perspectives regarding file sharing from the viewpoint of both the visual and musical artist. The consensual sharing of files is of benefit to both fields; the non-consensual sharing of files is detrimental to both. I heave a sigh of relief that it is difficult to produce a high-quality facsimile of a hand-produced piece of visual art.

Dean: At the moment, in terms of our own development, we do not see any meaningful or mutually beneficial compromise emerging between producer, user and abuser. What compromise can be made with those who take or distribute work without consent with the aim of exploiting it for their own financial gain?

As producers we are told we need to adapt to the attitudes of the new consumer. The consumer who does not want to pay the producer anything and would rather risk malware, viruses or being scammed just so they can download pirated material. How do you compromise with those who try to justify their actions with lame, naïve or hypocritical excuses? How do you adapt to these attitudes from an economic & business perspective? Do you lower your production values? Do you take a more throwaway approach to your work & cut costs and just supply crap? In the end those who only download illegally will get the products they deserve.

If you are serious about your work and respect your “fans” there are no compromises worth making with those users. The only thing you can do is to make use of this culture for the promotion of your work, which is not really making a compromise.

Far better to fight the abusers. Far better to try to develop a deeper connection with those who continue to value & support the production of new work. Far more rewarding to value this group as part of your development as a producer, and to try to ensure that you provide these people with the quality of work & product they deserve.

Relevant links

Kibuka @ MySpace
Nohno @ MySpace

— interview by Dutton Hauhart (Spring 2009)

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