Both as a solo artist under his Blanck Mass alias, and as one half of influential noise rock outfit Fuck Buttons, Benjamin John Power has spent nearly two decades creating forward-thinking music that skirts around the peripheries of techno, noise rock and ambient.
Throughout that time, Power has built up a catalogue of field recordings, captured throughout years of travelling and touring, which formed a library of sounds that has finally made its way into his recorded output, providing much of the source material for his latest album, In Ferneaux.
Marking a slight break from the more techno-adjacent sound of his previous albums, In Ferneaux is presented as two continuous sides of music, each of which seamlessly transitions from noisy, synth-driven grooves to sedate atmospheric moments focussed around snatches of ambient sound and unprocessed field recordings.
We caught up with Power to find out how he found inspiration in his library of sounds, and the ways lockdown has impacted his music making.
With In Ferneaux you worked a lot of field recordings and real world textures into your tracks – what is it that these kinds of sounds bring to a project that appeals to you?
“I have been collecting field recordings of a decade plus’ worth of travel, and always knew that I wanted to do something with these longer pieces for some type of release. This record is very personal to me and I do understand that to a degree it’s perhaps the most self-indulgent thing I have made to date.
“I think that with the more unprocessed field recordings it’s possible to inhabit a space and also somebody else’s mental state during their time within that space. To me it feels extremely honest and raw.”
Can you tell us a little about how you built your library of field recordings - do you go to specific places knowing you want to capture the sound, or are they the product of things you’ve stumbled upon by chance?
“There have been times in the past where I have travelled to specific places in order to capture the sounds of the environment but more often than not these are never quite as interesting as the chance encounters that present themselves. In the same way that one would take a photograph of something strange and interesting on their phone, I have been for a long time collecting interesting sounds that I have stumbled upon or wanted to record the sound from a poignant or internist situation I might happen to find myself in.
“It’s a way of keeping a sonic diary and listening back through the library often brings up feelings and emotions that I find a photo might not be able to.”
From a songwriting point of view, where do found samples/textures tend to fit into your creative process?
“With In Ferneaux, I tended to focus in on one particular sound that had a resonance for me and build upon or around that as a foundation. In this sense, it’s absolutely no different to how I have worked on my other records. The main difference here is that the initial sounds might be longer and less processed in places and I almost always started with the field recording first.”
Can you tell us a little about the technical aspects of your sampling process – what gear do you use to record sounds, and what applications do you use to organise/edit them?
“The actual equipment used to capture the field recordings is almost irrelevant as with the majority of my creative process, any initial sounds are heavily processed and end up sounding really quite different to how they started out. Creating In Ferneaux was no different in this aspect.
“Saying that, one piece of equipment which has been a travel companion to me for a decade or so is the Tascam DR-40. It’s not too expensive a piece of equipment and it’s proven its worth.
"I also have a Jez Riley French hydrophone which I have had great milage out of. I even will often just use my phone to make a recording if I find myself stuck.”
How much processing do you tend to apply to your recordings? Are there any go-to effects or techniques that get used regularly?
“Generally quite a lot of processing goes on. It certainly has for me historically, although on the new record there are moments of particular resonance that are totally unprocessed. I felt leaving them as they were made the most sense to me as they had an inherent emotional weight that did not call out for any special hand-holding.
“Go-to effects? Not really. The process when manipulating my recordings is highly explorative so I don’t have some kind of staple effects chain or anything like that. I am a big fan of hardware though and for the past few years I have been very keen on the Empress SuperDelay.”
Can you tell us a little about the decision to create the latest album as two long pieces rather than individual songs - what was it that made this album suit that format, as opposed to the way you’ve structured your previous records?
“Narrative has always played a huge part in whatever I have created musically. I’m also a big fan of long-form works in general and the pieces on In Ferneaux relate very closely to their neighbours.
"To me, it’s more about creating a complete stream of consciousness, as opposed to it being a number of pieces to be experienced individually.”
Aside from samples, can you tell us a little about your music making setup – where do you create your music and what are the main tools you use?
“I live in East Lothian, Scotland, where I have my studio. My setup changes quite a lot as I don’t really have a go-to piece of equipment. I am a fan of the tactility of hardware, though, and coming from a ‘noise’ background I do still love guitar pedals.
"I must admit though, that for the past few years I’ve been very keen on the Dave Smith OB-6 synth. That one is definitely part of my staple and I do find myself gravitating back towards it often. I love the tactility.”
You’ve described the recent album as a product of lockdown isolation – how has the past year of pandemic affected your relationship with music making?
“It’s quite hard to say how it’s affected my relationship with music making and it’s hard to see any shift in my ‘ideology’ regarding that, because throughout the whole of lockdown I haven’t really given myself a break from writing. It’s been the one thing keeping me sane to a degree. I guess touring and traveling presents an opportunity to take myself out of the studio and reflect. I’m sure that all of these experiences do shape what we do in some way so I’m sure there will be some influence.
“I just can’t say exactly what I think this will be right now. I guess for the last year I haven’t really ‘felt’ very techno so haven’t made any techno, if that makes sense. Perhaps that will change when I get to be around it again, to live it.”
At the time of writing it’s looking like – hopefully – live music will start up again soon. Do you have plans to perform In Ferneaux live, and will your approach to live performance be any different to what you did pre-pandemic?
“I’d love to, but there hasn’t been any plans to do so yet. In an ideal situation I’d love to perform In Ferneaux with an orchestra. That’s something I’ve not done before in a live setting and is kind of a dream of mine.”
Blanck Mass’s In Ferneaux is available now via Sacred Bones.