Music Interview | posted 04.04.2011
Abstracted Reality
Still Stephen Wilkinson’s approach to electronic music remains inimitably deep. Philipp Kunze met the introverted English to talk about his music and its backgrounds.
Text Philipp Kunze

Those who claimed electronic music to be heart- and soulless nearly felt silent. Still Stephen Wilkinson’s approach to electronic music remains inimitably deep. As Bibio he released Fi , Hand Cranked and Vignetting The Compost on Mush. Those albums had been drawing sketches, outlined extracts but even if it all seemed really vague, in the end they showed life in its diversity. Even if this has to sound tritely, eventually the Brit always explained that his goal was to be able to capture nature and thereby express himself. For that purpose he went to the woods for hours in order to record its voices. After that he went to the studio to create a mixture out of earthly sound scraps and electronic recording devices. With him going to Warp some feared Bibio would exchange the sun sparkling in his eyes with the glittering of money. The artist on the contrary always stressed that it would have been a heartfelt decision – he would have always been admiring Warp. As a matter of fact with Ambivalence Avenue he released a record on the glorious british label, which helped him to get the attention of new fans, without losing the approvement of old ones. A summerly lust for live had displaced the autumnaly melancholy of his older works. Bibio took the sketches of his past albums, developed them, ultimately integrated them in different styles. On Mind Bokeh those styles converge to built more structured songs. At the same time the bright and warm vibe of Ambivalence Avenue was replaced by a nightly, shimmery mood. Reason enough to meet the introverted English and talk about his musical developement. A career he can’t seperate from his inner, personal growth, thus the interview about electronic music has also been one about, yeah well, life.

Lets talk about the album Mind Bokeh . »Bokeh« is a word from the world of photography. What does it mean more specifically?

Bibio : Well »Boke«, without the »h«, is a japanese word which mean blur or haze. Sometimes it can mean dementia. I suppose that that relates to blur, because its like old people are unable to kind of think propably when having that. But »Bokeh«, with the »h«, is a word which is used in photography which refers to the blurred parts of a photograph which is caused by the lense. It has to be SLR camera though. When you have a small part of the depths of the scene which is in focus and the rest is out of focus. So when you take a photograph of a flower and focus on the flower, then backgrounds becomes blurred. That blurred is referred to as Bokeh. Phototgraphers are interested in that because the contrast between the blur and the focused part affect each other.

Its really subjective isnt it?

Bibio: Yeah and therefore it can’t be measured, its nothing you can quantify. It has to do with the subjective feeling for quality wether it’s good or nice or soft or whatever. But sometimes but »Bokeh« is used to describe certain types of photographic imagery. Take the film Taxi Driver for example: In the intro where the credits start, he is driving around in the taxi and the camera is inside the car, focused on him and outside you can see the city- and traffic lights, but they are all out of focus, so they appear as dots. That effect is often referred to as Bokeh.

So what does it mean for your music and the album?

Bibio: I always liked seeing that in films. Because you obviously don’t see it with your eyes normally, its not a natural thing. I’ve always been attracted to that cause its kind of abstract but really it’s reality thats been abstracted somehow. So this is kind of intrest coming from the visual side. I’m also interested in philosphy and psychology. Alan Watts talked about the way we rely on our consciousness – and consciousness is like a focused attention – so when you concetrate on something, you’re focusing your mind of it.I was interested in what happens when you aren’t consciously aware of something. And I don’t mean drunk or drugged up, its more like a state of meditation. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and for a few seconds I see things at my window very differently – it’s very mysterious and very inspiring but then all of a sudden my normal personality kicks in and I start to remember all the things I have to do. So the title Mind Bokeh has multiple meanings, but bokeh of the mind refers to a state of unconsciousness where you not thinking in words or symbols. You’re just experiencing.

I always had the feeling that all of your albums have a strong philosophical background, I felt like Vignetting The Compost felt really graving, full of melancholy, while Ambivalence Avenue was stronger, lighter and experienced with styles more. Mind Bokeh seems to the most urban work to date.

Bibio : Yeah its more man made sounding and there was an intention to do that. Ambivalence Avenue was more summery, outdoors. The idea with Mind Bokeh as an album was to choose tracks that made me think of night time in the city. A more synthetic kind of world of colorful abstracts

I got that idea when listening to the album.

Bibio :Thats nice! Its nice when an idea is translated into music. All of the themes I use, actually run accross all of the albums but in different amounts. Vignetting The Compost was more about life and death more than anything. The title itself, »compost«, meaning material which is decomposed and died but then becomes the nutrition for the new living things.So there is that ongoing cycle without stop and start. And the idea of vignetting it – again a term from photography- was to create a small picture that desolves at the edges.
So like that I wanted to show little tiny scenes that are magical, like all those things in everyday life that we think are boring but looked at it in the right way they are actually really beautiful in some way. So Vignetting The Compost was just that in musical form, a lot of little ideas and scenes where put together. And after that album I started to do longer tracks and now on Mind Bokeh I’ ve taken the vignetts out even further so its gone more into: solid track, a gab and another solid track. There are a few vignettes but mostly its one track after another and each of them stands for itself. So I think I like to contrast albums. The idea was to make it different and the next album is going to be different aswell. I already got some ideas.

Do you find it to be annoying or superficial to see your music being described with labels like »organic«, »nature« and »folk» pop up a lot. Or is it more like »okay everybody understood my music«?

Bibio : A lot of the time it feel it to be superficial because it depends on what someone is talking about, if they talking excately. When they talk about my albums Fi or Hand Cranked , I would accept those words and descriptions more because those albums are quite »folky« sound and very influenced by the organic world. What happens it that people copy the terms someones else has used for my first albums. So when people use these terms now I’m thinking »name me a track that sounds folk I don’t think there is one«. I think people tend to label everything folk that involves an accoustic guitar. And I think »no its definitely not folk, there aren’t many folk tracks with a synth bass and a drum machine«.

A Song like Take Of Your Shirt is really unusual for you, is it something you want to do more, or was it more like a one-off, yet recreativ, experience?

Bibio : I suppose it was more like a one-off holiday really. Again it reflects some of my influences like Daft Punk and French House like Alan Braxe which I been into that music since the 90s. And then I got this rock influences from when I was a kid. And you know it was jut one of those days were I grabbed an electric quitar and rocked out and I didn’t expect it to go on an album. But then I played it to people and got a very good response so I decided to put it on the album. I was fully aware that people would think »what’s this, it sounds out of place« because I thought all these things myself, but then I felt that attitude to be very conservative. Its all music to me, I don’t really care what is associated with it. The more you listen to it in the context of the album, the more you get used to it being there. But sure at first people will think its very strange. But just because it sounds so familiar, it has the disorted quitar, the driving kind of beat in it. Buts its pretty much a one-off, not an example of where I’m heading musically.

I think that’s a good fact to be honest. Other song on the album like Excuses , mixing Electro with Hip Hop influenced kind of sounds, sound a bit like Letherette about whome you said youd like them a lot.

Bibio : I’m actually really good friends with them. I’ve known them for about 13 years. So we’ve discovered music at the same time and we always talked about music together and being involved. It’s not a case of me being influenced by Letherette we just share the same kind of influences. I really like their music. I just like Jay Dilla and stuff – it’s more frantic, chaotic, groove based, its all played live on a MPC so it got these human elements, it’s not perfect.
A lot of artists who now make those Hip Hop influenced kind of stuff and also electronic music for a long time has been very rigid and very concise, so I think people have started to get more interested in those »out of time« things. Cause after a long time of hearing those straight kind of beats it gets a bit tireing and people miss that human feeling to it. I was kind of doing that »out of time« kind of Hip Hop stuff since quite some time now, from listening to J.Dilla and Madlib who would play around with time and rhytm.

I recently had the discussion wether it’s okay when artists »travel back in time« to remaster their old stuff, or even change whole elements and then re-release them. Is it something you would consider doing with your old albums?

Bibio : Eeer I think I like to move on, I think I like to leave it as it is and then concentrate on the next thing. Well I’d like to go back to the 60s and use a studio. I quite like doing cover versions or remixes of songs. I did one remix of my own song The Palm Of Your Wave , but all in all I like to move on. My albums are my diary aswell and obviously people hear them and don’t know me or anything but when I listen to Fi it reminds me of the time when I wrote it and where I lived at that time and I don’t really want to interfere with that. And plus I just got a lot of new things I want to explore.

Find Bibio’s Mind Bokeh at CD | LP
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