Nigel Ayers: Nocturnal Emissions Interview

ayers.jpg (4459bytes) We appreciate having the opportunity to question Nigel Ayers, the man behind Nocturnal Emissions and many collaborations and other projects of sound and word

He's just released "Futurist Antiquarianism" and despite what he says, we think he's a bit more than just "ordinary".

photos by Charlotte Richardson

AmbiEntrance: What factors shaped you into the artist you are today? What kept you from being an "ordinary" person?

Ayers: Persistance, persistance, sheer hard work and most of all, stick-to-it-ability.

AmbiEntrance: Persistence in... what, specifically?

Ayers: I presume you mean doing the things an "artist" does prevents a person from being an "ordinary person". I'd argue, however, that what I do is firmly rooted in the "ordinary" and that I was an "ordinary" person. The fact that some of the products I have made, as a result of all that hard work, and the help of other people can be labelled as "extraordinary" doesn't mean that I am not an ordinary person. In fact if you saw me in the street and I wasn't wearing my silver trousers, top hat and feather boa, you'd probably never recognise me.

AmbiEntrance: How did you come to choose the moniker of "Nocturnal Emissions"?

Ayers: I don't know. It's just something I woke up with one night.

AmbiEntrance: Of your many Nocturnal Emissions releases, which is the most "definitive" would you say, and why?

Ayers: Electropunk Karaoke. It says it all.

AmbiEntrance: I've not heard Electropunk Karaoke, but it says you "rap and rant your way through a selection of cranked up block rocking classics". What's all this?

Ayers: Well it's time you did hear it then. It's just what it says on the box.

AmbiEntrance: What were your original musical goals, and what are your present goals?

Ayers: My original goal was to change the face of music as we know it. In that I have been very successful. My current goal is to turn the world upside down and then back the right way up again.

AmbiEntrance: 1998/99 were times of 3-way collaborations for you; i.e. "Oedipus Brain Foil" (w/ Randy Greif and Robin Storey) and "Mesmeric Enabling Device" (w/ John Everall and Mick Harris). What do you feel are the pros (and the cons) of these types of group projects?

Ayers: They work rather like the Surrealist parlour game of "Exquiste Corpses" where someone draws a head on a piece of paper, then folds it over for the next person to draw the body, and the next person to draw the legs. Music making for me is always collaborative and a surrender of individual ego, a process of integration.

The pros on these kinds of group projects is they're very easy to do, and its something to do with those tapes that you just CAN'T finish. The cons include the terrible danger of other people getting the credit for the good bits that I did, plus other people messing with my work and doing it all wrong. But as "I" don't have an individual ego, this doesn't bother "me".

AmbiEntrance: "Mesmeric Enabling Device" was a bit darker than your "normal" output; what's the story behind those pieces?

Ayers: You'll have to ask Mick and John about that. I don't know what they get up to.

AmbiEntrance: Robin Storey said (in our OBF interview) that his material was "mercilessly chopped and changed"; were you as thorough when remixing Everall/Harris's source sounds?

Ayers: "I" was in an altered state of consciousness at the time and have no recollection of the process involved, only that I woke up three weeks later with a terrible headache and a strange blue glow emanating from my bedchamber.

AmbiEntrance: What do you mean when you say "altered state of consciousness"?

Ayers: It's a very bad turn of phrase, sorry. That would imply that humans are usually in a particular "frame of mind", which they aren't. And it would also imply that "consciousness" was a thing to be in, rather than a process. Right now, I don't actually remember the detail of working on that particular CD.

AmbiEntrance: How would you compare/contrast working with each duo (Grief/Storey vs. Everall/Harris)?

Ayers: Working with Grief and Storey was like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute when you're not not sure whether its taken off or not - whereas working with Everall and Harris was like settling into a comfy settee waiting for your favourite TV programme to come on...when suddenly you realise that what you're watching isn't a TV programme, it's real life and you're really sitting in a traffic island watching the traffic.

AmbiEntrance: Soleilmoon recently re-released 1987's "The World is my Womb", about which you said " I think the record is still strong, sometimes for reasons that weren't my intentions at the time." Can you elaborate on this?

Ayers: In other words, I think the record is still strong and this is mostly intentional. It was built to last.

AmbiEntrance: Also you mentioned, "... a theme I've retuned to in my writing recently (is) negotiating the territory of one place using a map of another." Is this particular project "THE POWER OF THE MAP" in your Network News site?

Ayers: No, but that does discuss some alternate uses for maps, such as colouring them in with felt pens and claiming you've discovered some archaic monuments of lost civilisations.

AmbiEntrance: Will you tell us about the Network News, your "online digest of guerilla ontology"?

Ayers: You could say it's an outlet for some fortean research I've been carrying out for quite a few years now. It delves into such matter as earth mysteries, the nature of identity and the wanton plagiarism of Nocturnal Emissions music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and his Boyzone stooges.

AmbiEntrance: Are your written works ever published in book form? If so, where would one find them?

Ayers: there are bits in "Mind Invaders" published by Serpent's Tail and "Radiotext(e)" published by Semiotext(e)... (Amazon has them Ithink)

and plenty more to come when I find a sympathetic publisher

AmbiEntrance: What other topics do you write about? If you had to choose between writing or making music, which would you choose, and why?

Ayers: At the moment, while doing this interview, I'm choosing writing. But if you look at it, I'm just bashing keys on a computer whether it's music or writing. I've so far been better paid for my music than my writing, but there again the music that I've done with lyrical content has sold better. I don't want to have to choose and I won't choose. All my adult life I have worked in multimedia. Nowadays I spend a lot of time doing it on a computer.

AmbiEntrance: What about your interest in things "magickal"? How much do these concepts enter into your music?

Ayers: I'm simply aware of the amazing qualities of all the mundane things that make up everyday life - and my music is part of that. I used the word "magickal" because I was advised that it would help me sell more records.

AmbiEntrance: Do you do your own webwork at the Nocturnal Emissions website? How much has the Web helped you in gaining exposure?

Ayers: This may partly answer the last question. In the old days an alchemist or a shaman might study arcane scripts written in the language of angels, or become a medium for disembodied spirits. Instead of casting runes, today's mystics are deeply MIDIevil. Whereas in the old days, the priestess might speak in tongues, these days she speaks HTML. Beds of nails are for wimps, today's fakirs learn Java.

The website is very popular, which is handy because I've found it increasingly difficult getting my products distributed to shops. Not just because they have intelligent qualities that make them sometimes unpopular - but mainly because the independent distributors are so few and far between these days.

AmbiEntrance: Why is your 2000 tour being postponed? Until when?

Ayers: The tour was set up in a fairly eccentric way, by a couple of friends in Germany who wanted to keep it very very underground, just working in squats and small clubs and community centres. I did two tours with them this way before and I enjoyed the intimacy of it, and the edginess was very stimulating - but it's no way to earn a living! This time they found it too hard to keep track of the promoters - so rather than get messed around they decided to cancel it. There are a few small venues I've enjoyed playing in, I think I'll sort a small tour out later in the year and if there's any chance of me covering my costs, I'd like to do a few places in the USA too. Nice, comfortable, well-promoted places.

AmbiEntrance: You were pivotal in resurrecting Vittore Baroni's Lieutenant Murnau; what was your role in this, and why did you choose to do so?

Ayers: It's a case of historification, really. I thought the project was worth dusting off and acknowledging - the idea of an anti-group, a group that existed as a rumour, and really destroying the infantile cult of personality that pop music has been infested with for so long. And credit where credits due,- if it wasn't for Lt Murnau, the KLF would still be supporting Big In Japan.

AmbiEntrance: Since my Lieutenant Murnau review ,Vittore has contacted me and set a few of my misunderstandings straight (which I've appended to the review). At the time, I thought maybe it was all an elaborate hoax on your part... why would I think you'd be part of a hoax? Have you ever been?

Ayers: Heaven only knows why you'd think it was a hoax! I can't say that I've ever been part of any big hoax. I'm more interested in debunking. I am interested in where fiction blurs with fact and becomes something like prophecy. Hoaxes can be good for getting people to think. But often they are just practical jokes carried out by inadequates trying to be clever.

For example the hoaxters that put around the daft idea that money has any value that is anything other than symbolic. Or that rich and famous people should be treated with more respect than peopole who aren't rich and famous.

AmbiEntrance: I've also been listening to "Autonomia"; what were your intentions with this release?

Ayers: To make an amusing electronic beat music CD that was funny and had lots of swearing in it.

AmbiEntrance: Obviously the scanned-phone-conversations-as-art concept had already been well-explored by Robin Rimbaud; how would you say yours are different?

Ayers: Autonomia is scanned-phone-conversations-used-as-joke-to-fill-gaps-between-tracks. It's primarily non-serious entertainment.

I get the impression - from your question and from a TV programme I saw about him - that Robin's intention with Scanner is to make some kind of artistic statement. I don't really believe in art, myself.

AmbiEntrance: Where were the conversations intercepted from? What are your thoughts on the individuals involved? Is the listener supposed to pass judgement, or just accept them as everyday normal people? (Frankly these folks frighten me!)

Ayers: Make of it what you will. I was simply set a DAT of the calls in the post. They were scanned in Portland Oregon, a place I have never visited. I'm told that the person doing it just left his DAT machine running all night connected to a mobile phone scanner, then collected together the interesting bits.

I edited them to give an artificial stereo effect. I thought that giving the various voices a "direction" might make them more psychologically involving.

I have been led to believe that Scanner just uses scans as they come off the air, presumably to lend an impression of "authenticity" and "spontaneity" and "daring" to his performances. Fair play to him if that is what he's doing, but in my opinion that's a pretty boring approach. I see "authenticity" and "spontaneity" as very dubious concepts. The voices I've used are so edited that they are a contrivance, akin to the similated "realism" of the TV documentary.

I find them scary, too - but also very comic.

AmbiEntrance: What kind of behind-the-scenes information can you divulge to us about the tracks of "Futurist Antiquarianism"?

Ayers: There isn't any. what you hear is what you get.

AmbiEntrance: What does "Futurist Antiquarianism" mean, anyway?

Ayers: It means that both the past and the future are constantly reconstructed in the present.

My intention was to point out the inherent flaws in the arguments of of those claiming to be following a tradition, or creating an avant-garde.

AmbiEntrance: "Futurist Antiquarianism" is often quite energetically beaty... How do you go about laying down your rhythm tracks?

Ayers: I do them in a few different ways. In Futurist I used a combination of four or five drum machines sequenced both by an Amiga and an Atari program -and a mixture of analog and digital equipment. I use those "obsolete" computers, because they are very reliable and very efficient at what they do, and don't take ages to boot up. Also I've been using them for so long, I don't have to THINK about what I'm doing, I can work physically and intuitively.

I tend to work on a rhythmic sample loop, adding to it, editing to it, recycling it - and messing with the individual sounds within the loop until it becomes something new and fresh with a life of its own. Then I'll mess with the the sequencing of the loops and the various other elements its mixed with.

The process can take several years.

AmbiEntrance: The last three tracks (shetani, on come on, guiding beam) seem to "revisit" each other... what's the reason for this?

Ayers: It was to point out that both the past and the future are constantly reconstructed in the present. My intention was to point out the inherent flaws in the arguments of of those claiming to be following a tradition, or creating an avant-garde.

AmbiEntrance: What sorts of projects are you planning for the future? Any more collaborations?

Ayers: I have two wildly different CDs I've recorded with Robin Storey - one as "The Invisible Universe", the other as "Hank and Slim", waiting for release. I recorded a remix for the German guitar band Deep, which should be out soon. And I have a project as "Transgenic" ready for release.

Yes, I'll continue with collaborations, I like doing them.

AmbiEntrance: Can you tell us what to expect (and when/where) with "The Invisible Universe" and the "Hank and Slim" projects? (Hank and Slim!?)

Ayers: The Invisible Universe is an instrumental techno album -it sounds perhaps a bit like Kraftwerk and Kluster meets a Guy Called Gerald. We have two or three labels interested, and I'm not sure who is going to put it out and when.

The Hank and Slim CD "The World Turned Gingham" is scheduled for release through a new label set up by Soleilmoon. It's to be filed under "avant-garde country and western".

Yes, honestly.

AmbiEntrance: Anything you'd like to add while you "have the mike" here?

Ayers: Yes. I'm campaigning against the inappropriate use of the word "cool". Can people who write computer books use some other word, please?

AmbiEntrance: Thanks for talking with us, Nigel, and keep up the good work!

Ayers: You're welcome, David, and the same to you.

This interview posted March 29, 2000 | Interview Index

AmbiEntrance © 2000-1997 by David J Opdyke (except CD cover art, rights retained by original owners).