Bibio’s new album is just lovely. You should go and buy it. During our interview my smoke alarm went off but he was a sport about it.
(c) Three D World – SPA
Bibio is Stephen James Wilkinson. A prolific producer by anyone’s standards, he’s part of a new wave of artists who seem as adept at traditional musical instruments as he is with technology like samplers and computers that assist in the overall production of a sound that’s hard to pigeonhole. Lazily, the sounds on his new album Mind Bokeh could be described as a mish-mash between Peter Frampton and Boards of Canada but it’s in the title of the LP that we get a much clearer understanding of his influence and purpose on this, his second LP for Warp Records.
‘Bokeh’ (pronounced like ‘bouquet’) is the out of focus region of a photograph. In Japanese it means haze, blur, or even dementia and in this case, the artist is keen on exploring neurological pathways where people experience feelings through sound, somewhat akin to synaesthesia.
“I came across the term fairly early on or maybe mid way (through making the album)”, says Wilkinson. “I have been aware of the effects as long as I can remember but never knew what the term was. Bokeh Is used to describe the spots of light that’s used on my album cover but it’s also used to describe the blurred part of a photograph, like in a portrait where the background is out of focus.”
He’d noticed this effect in films and documentaries before and describes it as “an abstraction of the real world… it’s turned in to a geometric form.”
If this is sounding a little abstract, the best way to describe it, he says, is like glimmers of sunlight coming through a tree’s canopy. Similarly, a listen to the album, which traverses very moody distorted pyschedelia as much as it does sun-drenched folk jams, may sort you out for a better understanding.
“The music inspired the ideas for the imagery, which is why I did the artwork the way I did. I really like that effect and I have tried to build it in to my music,” he says.
The former teacher is fascinated by the senses. Teaching music to teenagers at a college before he got signed to Warp, he says he always used to sneak a bit of psychology in there.
“I wanted to see how students how associated sound and vision,” he says, mirroring label-mate (and director) Steve ‘Flying Lotus’ Ellison’s comments in this magazine about how sounds conjure emotions a few years ago. “There are scientific similarities between sound and light because they are both erratic frequencies. There’s no right or wrong way to perceive them. For example, ‘bass is a warm colour and treble is a cold colour’… that is all in the mind of the listener or viewer.”
He hears other people’s music in the same way, describing the Flying Lotus music, as “not entirely abstract but it’s not entirely synthetic It has very familiar, real-world things in there but has this kaleidoscopic, experimental aspect that results in a multifaceted, shimmering effect.”
Bibio first came to prominence for many with 2009’s Ambivalence Avenue, but he’s released an EP in between full-lengthers and has had several releases previously with US label Mush. He dispels the notion that the label has held back material as charming as Mind Bokeh as a way of quickly introducing him to an audience before really letting him out of the cage. A series of general label scheduling duties has just had the releases come out the way they did, which has allowed him to develop both in studio and in public life.
“Through having to do interviews it made me feel I have more in common with a film director than a performer because I use music as an illusion, like being in a place, so I think of imagery when I compose,” he says.
With a background as a guitarist, at one stage being involved in heavy metal, Wilkinson didn’t touch electronic music until he was sixteen. He couldn’t afford a sampler until he was twenty and got in to computers much later do to the constraints of finances and what the machines were actually capable of achieving at the time. Still, he leans on his instruments mostly when making music as his experiences as a teacher have shown him how lazy people can be in front of a computer monitor.
“I think music software, because it’s visual, young people used it as it’s supposed to be used, so that’s a trap,” says Wilkinson. “Young people put things where it’s supposed to be on the grid, like a jigsaw puzzle,” he says.
A musician first, Wilkinson can still not separate the production side form his output as Bibio, which is really the crux of this generation of artists (James Blake, Jamie xx et al) whose sound is often perceived as being very electronic, when, in a way, it’s the cutting edge production techniques they use on the instruments they play that give the listener the perception they’re listening to beats or dance music.
“I don’t see the production as being a means to capturing the music like, ‘here’s an instrument, I have to produce it,’” he says, “I see it whole thing as the means, rather than production being secondary to the music.”
Admitting he used to think electronic music was rubbish and just ‘pressing buttons,’ he puts this new wave of artistry down to the affordability of technology and how that has led to studio time constraints being virtually non-existent.
“You couldn’t really become a producer very easily back then,” says Wilkinson, speaking of a time somewhere from the seventies and eighties all the way up to a little over ten years ago. “At one time, the term bedroom musician suggested some kind of crappy dance music, where now it could be applied to really well produced pop music that’s done in the bedroom.”
Either way, the listener, like Charlie Sheen, is winning. When you have artists as interested in the finished sound as they are the original melodies they sketch out, the end result is a better product. Seeing such sketches through to the expansive journey to be found on Mind Bokeh is what makes Bibio such a welcome addition to the wonderful Warp roster and the fact that he’s so interested in the psychology of music, ain’t half bad, either.