navigating power electronics with PTERYGIUM
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Melbourne’s one-man post-industrial project of Pterygium has found itself in a creative highpoint as of late. Latest release, Stoic Ubiquity, has become a fitting soundtrack to 2020, underscored with dread and claustrophobia, though with a sense of finesse often absent from its genres. With its unpredictable and dynamic live shows on hold due to COVID, I had a chat with the man behind the wheel, Henry (Hank) Gillett, about the future of Pterygium and navigating the post-industrial and power electronics realms on his own terms.
Hi Hank, thanks a lot for taking the time to speak with Discipline Mag. I firstly want to say that your latest release, Stoic Ubiquity, has been a gem within the post-industrial landscape this year. How have you found the overall reception to the album thus far?
Hi Dan, thanks for the invitation, its been received really well. The most common response is that it’s a logical continuation of the last album and that it expands on the techniques, arrangements and textural design found in Concealing The Past. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t simply repeat things I’d already said and sounds I'd already used heavily in the last album and I’m satisfied that Stoic Ubiquity is a steady extension of sonic depth, form and arrangement as well as production and content.
The title, Stoic Ubiquity, seems to lend itself to the idea of a homogenised master narrative, as do the religious elements to the track titles and samples that appear to depict confined struggles. Do you consider this to be a continuation from your previous album, Concealing the Past? What events, experiences or anything else would you cite as inspiration for the theme of this work?
I see the title of the album as an appropriation of the content of each individual track as opposed to a conceptual focal point. I’ve never approached albums in a conceptual manner, instead, create more freeform ideas that amalgamate to create an overall mood, or a bigger idea in itself – That’s simply how the recording process and releases work. The samples are often operate as an abstraction of the initial ideas and their literal perception can be far different from the reasoning behind using them. This album is a continuation from the last. I think it will always be that way, as each record is finished the next deals with something different to the last and covers different ground – The way it should be! I have always been uncomfortable delineating events that may or may not have influenced each record. Last year certainly presented its challenges in my personal life – something I’m sure had some effect on the record. However, I have rarely sat down to write after an event, it’s just never worked like that. Perhaps post experience or event, after some processing has occurred, I may decide to work on new material but again – That all depends on my ideas for music at the time, I never write without an idea to begin with.
On the whole, the record feels fiercely ominous and I’ve found it to be an ideal accompaniment to our COVID ravaged world. Obviously, it was conceived before these recent developments, but do you agree that you’ve inadvertently created a work ripe for the times we live in? Also, do you tend to revisit the works you have created, or do you keep your distance once they have been released?
I’ve actually been working on new material and not listening to Stoic Ubiquity much recently, so I’ve not ever made that connection. Everybody has had their own way of dealing with the COVID-19 virus pandemic. I write the music in solitude and almost never involve other people in the writing process so it would be easy to think that it somehow reflects those times – with all in isolation. The music I’m working on is not functional in that sense but my own ideas and workings serve as an extension of my musical interests and practices. I’m not sure anybody is listening to these records with many people in the room with them – I’ve always thought of my music as music to listen to alone so in that regard, yes, it could be appropriate for the current situation. I do listen to previous work just as much as I listen to others' work, to help understand my own music better and to generate more ideas of where to go next. I’m always trying to make music I would want to listen to anyway so if you can’t listen to your own music it seems a bit pointless.
Another observation of Stoic Ubiquity is its release on Philadelphia’s No Rent Records which marks a step away from your previous label, the esteemed Tesco Organisation. Your placement on NRR is far from ill-fitting, I’m just wondering what led to this move? Also, do you have plans to continue to work with Tesco in the future?
In short, Jason from No Rent approached me shortly after Concealing the Past was released and asked me if I was interested in doing a project. I was already aware of No Rent and had enjoyed a decent handful of things he and Rosie had put out – to mention a few – Symbol to Be Forgotten – FFH, Transverse Presence – Zaimph, My Name is My Name – Koufar, Zyklon and Leather – FFH, Non Uscire – Carlo Guistini. It made sense to expand and work with a label in the USA, potentially to get the music out to a wider and perhaps, slightly different audience. I don’t see working with different labels as permanent – If a label asks for music, it’s a pleasant request and If you are happy to put the work in, it happens. Having a wide variety of releases is also helpful for developing relationships with different people from different parts of the world. I would imagine more work will be done with Tesco Organisation in the future.
Stoic Ubiquity seems to have disappeared from Spotify. Is there any particular reason for this? Further, do you hold any opinions on the function of streaming services in today’s music scene?
I was completely unaware that It had disappeared – so no, I can’t give any kind of reason as to why this has happened. I’ve never had any streaming services that I’ve used regularly or paid for. It’s never been much interest to have millions of songs at my fingertips that I don’t care about. I’d rather focus on purchasing physical releases of the music I care about and expanding my interests via labels and artists. I also find most of the music I’m looking for or interested in pursuing is unavailable on Spotify or other services as its too obscure – especially older tapes and vinyl from 20-30 years ago.
What are some noteworthy records, rarities or not, that have entered your collection?
I’ve picked up the following in the past few months:
Rose Pillar - Prurient
With Heart and Hand - Genocide Organ
Deform Process - Proiekt Hat
Tesco Disco Heavy Electronics II
In regard to live performances, the invasion of audience space and complete disregard for the fourth wall is a dangerously confrontational affair. You also include vocals, something which is noticeably absent from your studio output. Being relatively new to live performances, how did they grow to be so radically different from the studio?
In my mind, the studio is where I’m able to meditate on ideas, craft sounds and arrange pieces of music that have a timespan from start to finish – that can be listened to in their entirety as single expositions. The live shows however are very instant and of the moment where the focus is entirely shifted from composition to an individual live animation of how I feel at the time. I haven’t included vocals in my own releases (in an amplified, obvious sense) as I prefer to leave this element open ended for live performances, perhaps in a similar style to a live improvisation performance as to me, live performance and improvisation should go hand in hand. Obviously, I continue to enjoy the works of artists who construct works with vocals that are recreated in a live setting but currently, my own methods do not work like that. There are also things I can only say clearly in live performances using vocals whereas sometimes samples in studio records are more appropriate for other communication. My current performance and composition methods have come very naturally, and I have not had to overthink my approach, just to go with what feels natural and that is as it is currently.
Speaking of performances, in light of our newfound domestic reality, are you planning any local shows as the night economy starts opening back up?
I fully intend on operating and conducting some live performances with other local artists in the future once venues begin to reopen. The last performance before COVID was a great success and come the time, it will be necessary organise more events both in Melbourne and interstate.
It’s no secret that certain parts of Europe and Japan harbour some of experimental music’s most fertile grounds, though in general, how do you find the post-industrial climate in Melbourne and across the rest of the country? Who would you cite as some of the region’s more exciting artists? And is there any convergence between artists here and abroad?
There are some artists in Melbourne that I keep in touch with and discuss projects and releases with, although this is a small group of people and I tend to keep to myself and work alone. There have been many excellent artists and releases over the years throughout Australia although the current scene in Melbourne is sound. Post-industrial music may have a small following in Australia currently but based on anecdotal evidence, I’ve been told it was far more consistent in the past 10 years. A lot of projects have ended or gone on hiatus and I don’t affiliate with a huge number of artists. I’ve always enjoyed Brisbane based, Browning Mummery’s work and have kept in touch with Andy after a show we both played at last year. I also met and developed a friendship with Chris Groves from Cipher productions who is based in Hobart. Performances have been slim in other states of Australia too. I can’t comment on the scenes overseas on a live performance basis but there are still many labels and artists working consistently in Europe, America and Asia with the live performance scene still seemingly quite healthy in USA in particular. Australia has certainly converged with overseas affairs – Chris from Cipher recently appearing on the Noisextra podcast, as well as a plethora of Australian artists touring, releasing and collaborating with artists overseas too. It’s also important to mention magazine editing and production such as yourself and Richard Stevenson from Noise Receptor. Being on the other side of the world makes it so much more compelling when the effort is put in to cover, in detail, huge amounts of the music’s progression in other parts of the world.
Whether disparate or relevant, local or international - what sounds currently inspire or interest you at the moment?
I’m not hugely inspired by other music artists, rather my own experiences and musical ideas but to give you an idea of what I’m finding interesting currently - Linekraft, Puce Mary, Proiekt Hat, Geography of Hell, Mlehst, Ancient Methods, Laughing Gear, Antichrist OST, Roman Sidirov, Ash Pool.
What can we expect from Pterygium in the future? Is there any new work on the horizon?
I’m currently working on a few shorter releases with more full lengths lined up for the future as well. Live shows will resume once venues begin to open again. Details to come shortly – Thanks again for the interview.