We recently caught up with John and Nick from iceclaw, a Melbourne-based band, who are playing at Q Bank Gallery on the 14th and 15th of October as part of The Unconformity festival. Check out their music here, including the recently released new album.
QBG: I’m going to start with a very broad question. Why does iceclaw make music? Is it to present an idea or emotion or to change people or to change yourself or to enjoy what you’re doing or is the answer very broad? Are there multiple answers?[pullquote]We like to explore sonic possibilities.[/pullquote]
iceclaw [Nick]: We like to explore sonic possibilities. iceclaw makes music because it’s fun and it’s a bit of a release. I’ve always played music and iceclaw is creative in a completely new direction for me.
QBG: It seems like you’re more avant-garde. You are being creative more than anything else.
iceclaw [Nick]: Well, I suppose, but it’s just being in the moment and being in tune and you can sort of lose yourself in it.
QBG: So, in the moment and in tune? Are those the two criteria?
iceclaw [Nick]: No doubt they’re important. In the moment and in tune with those around you.
QBG: Right, right.
iceclaw [John]: We do generally ‘tune up’ as well. [Laughter]
iceclaw [Nick]: That’s after the fact, sometimes. [Laughter] But being in tune with what’s happening in the room and each other. It’s about exploring textures and tones. I studied composition and all that is just forethought and planning and this is sort of the antithesis of that. It happens in the moment. It comes and goes. What attracted me to it initially was it was a really exciting new way to compose. We’ve been doing it for several years now, every Thursday. It’s something I look forward to, kind of almost need now. It’s just a time out and it’s a nice place to be.
QBG: So, it’s a creative outlet because you know basically we live in this world where we don’t really have many creative outlets. Is there a message you are trying to convey?[pullquote]It’s about creating a particular atmosphere. [/pullquote]
iceclaw [John]: It’s about creating a particular atmosphere. We aim for a state where we’re not conscious. That’s the idea, especially when we’re performing. We record live, nothing is prerecorded or predetermined in any way. In a way, I would imagine that whoever is responding to it would be perhaps in a similar headspace. But it’s not necessary as long as I’m in it and Nick as well. I don’t really think about the audience too much.
QBG: I understand. It sounds very similar to what happens in jazz where it’s about the artists engaging with each other, listening to each other. The pressure is just to make something in the moment rather than make something permanent. Is that how you see it? More like a jazz performance?
iceclaw [John]: What we do definitely sits within improvisational music, much like experimental jazz, but the output is quite different. Improvisation often involves a highly technical kind of virtuosic performance and knowing your scales backwards and doodling and all that sort of stuff which is not what I see iceclaw being. It’s more about shapes and contours of sound rather than being able to fiddle up and down a fretboard or keyboard.
QBG: So it differs from what in jazz is called ‘cutting’, where they cut into each other and try to outdo each other.
iceclaw [John]: Yeah, none of that’s going on, but if it does happen, it’s very slow and very subconscious.
iceclaw [Nick]: It happens [cutting] about every 7 to 8 mins. [Laughter]
QBG: Is that how you have discovered you do your best music?
iceclaw [Nick]: Yeah, just seeing where it takes us. I think it’s not a predetermined soundscape at all.
QBG: And how much is determined by how you’re feeling that day or is that where you talk about when you’re in tune with the moment.
iceclaw [John]: Well, that’s a good question, but I try to switch off the day.
QBG: So it then comes through unconsciously.[pullquote]I find our best moments are ones that in a way paradoxically we’ve never recorded or we’re just about to record. [/pullquote]
iceclaw [John]: I’m sure some of it does. I think it has to come through in some way. And even when we record, the performances are different. There’s a fair bit of time spent setting up the room, the microphones and the levels, and the lighting, so you have to be switched on, but that is very different to what happens when the record button’s hit.
I find our best moments are ones that in a way paradoxically we’ve never recorded or we’re just about to record. We record a lot so over time we start selecting which are the ones that we like and we start building up a bit of a bank of tracks and they vary from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. When we play live, we usually play 13-15 minutes tracks. That’s the sort of frequency of track changes.
QBG: If you don’t play on the Thursday for some reason, you can’t meet up, what happens? I suppose I’m asking, does the routine help?
iceclaw [John]: Of course, it’s like being match fit. If Thursday doesn’t work, we often reschedule, but Thursday is like the default.
QBG: If you could do the same thing as iceclaw in a different medium, what would it be? I think yours [John] is probably light of some kind.
iceclaw [John]: Yeah, well certainly from a visual art background that’s where I would go. Lighting has always interested me even during my small stint in art school. Most of the focus was on the object on the wall or some sculptural piece and the lighting was just what the lighting was in the gallery. It wasn’t discussed or thought of. But obviously the light is essential because you wouldn’t actually see the thing without it so that’s where I started getting really interested in different wavelengths of light and different ways of presenting light.
QBG: But for lighting, there is a connection with music isn’t there, with the rhythms that can come from lighting?
iceclaw [John]: Yeah, sure. They both, in some way, escape the physical world. For iceclaw, lighting is very important in creating a space that’s conducive to exploring new worlds.[pullquote]I’ve always been very interested in music outside its entertainment function. [/pullquote]
iceclaw [Nick]: Thinking while that discussion was happening that for me I’ve always been very interested in music outside its entertainment function. Obviously, there are a multitude of functions that music has. I feel that there’s a definite lean towards performance and entertainment. When I was studying music I came across Palestrina and early polyphonic church music. The music wasn’t written at all to be listened to in a way that is appreciated. It was written to provide a general atmosphere of worship. So Palestrina and other musicians at the time were writing this music to put people in the right frame of mind to be in a church. It wasn’t about going “Ooh, I love this part” or “I love it when it does this”. It wasn’t an entertainment thing at all. So, for me, iceclaw is quite a bit like that. It’s about creating an atmosphere and it’s about letting go. Hopefully, its function for an audience is the capacity to free them up a bit as well. It’s less looking at virtuosic technique (as John said) or whatever else, it is more a sense. It’s like meditation, but with sound that you control, unconsciously.
QBG: I think iceclaw is perfect for a gallery. It transports you to a different space completely, a very contemplative space.
iceclaw [Nick]: Well, that’s definitely the intent, for me anyway. It’s about the journey, the transportation and providing an atmosphere rather than a performance.
QBG: Do you have to be transported before you can transport others, in many ways?[pullquote]Sound is such an important way that we experience the world, but it goes beyond that for me.[/pullquote]
iceclaw [John]: I think so but I think it’s a fallacy as well to expect others to be completely there with you. The audience is having their own experience and any transportation induced by sounds is wonderful but very personal. I guess it’s conceivable that you might not be that into it, but some people are really digging it, and vice versa. Sound is such an important way that we experience the world, but it goes beyond that for me. It’s the associations produced in response to sound.