Tony D’Oporto aka ‘The Gnome’ (involved with Suffering For Kisses, Crisis Actor…) and Mark Spybey (ex-Zoviet France and involved with projects like Dead Voices On Air, Beehatch, Solaris…) started working together in 2009. Albums got released on Tourette Records and Crime League. It took them seven years to release their seventh album “The Seventh Seal”. This work released by Ant-Zen is mixing elements of Ambient-, Minimal-Electronic and Cinematographic music together. It also sounds as the most accomplished work by the duo; an accessible Experimental production, but also a visionary Ambient work. I got in touch with both protagonists.
(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: By the exception of the compilation “Collective” released in 2019, “The Seventh Seal” is your first new studio album in seven years. How do you explain this hiatus and what incited and inspired you to work on new stuff together?
Mark: I wasn’t really aware of the hiatus to be honest, we are not a typical band, whatever that may mean! We just do things, usually when the Gnome asks me to do something. Gnome sends me music and I listen to it and respond. I’m not a fan of concepts, so for me this project is all about making music together with a friend. Sometimes Tony will say something to me like, ‘more vocals,’ or ‘no drums.’ He’s a Gnome of few words. I like the music that Tony sends to me, I like the fact that it is minimal, compact and well composed. It gives me a free hand to add sounds, to edit and when the mood takes me to add words. In this case, the mood took me and I likely did more vocals than usual. I feel like I need to act with a careful hand working with Tony’s sounds because they sound pretty perfect.
Tony: Both Mark and I have other projects going on that keep us quite busy. As he said, we are not really a band nor do we stick to any format. This music just kind of happens… as it has from the first song we wrote together.
Q: What’s the link between the title of the album and the legendary movie by Ingmar Bergman “The Seventh Seal”? Can you tell us a bit more about the ideas and lyrical content hiding behind this work?
Mark: There isn’t really that much of a link I’m afraid. It’s our seventh album. When I started to think of a sleeve I remembered the classic image from the Bergman film and thought we might try and recreate it. It didn’t happen! Actually, I think the title more likely came from a song by Aphrodites Child, “The Four Horsemen”, a song I love from the early 70’s that featured the unlikely pairing of Demis Roussos and Vangelis.
We recorded this during the height of the first lockdown, so my thoughts were perhaps inspired somewhat by that time. Likely represented best with the song title, “Cancel Your Tomorrows.” I think the principle source of anxiety for me during that time was the ‘I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow’, kind of feeling. Thankfully that didn’t stay around for too long before it was replaced by a ‘I know what is going to happen, because the Politicians are going to make a huge mess that will take forever and a day to clean up.’
I also think there is a glimmer of optimism in the lyrics too. “To Be The Sun In Flight”, for example is likely as close as I have got to writing a happy song. I’m a generally happy person I should add. I love colour, flowers, birds and the sun.
Q: The album has been introduced as ‘a departure from your previous work’. Do you recognize this departure and is it rather intentional or just a natural process/evolution? What makes this album different from previous productions?
Mark: I think it is a departure, but only because it features more ‘songs with words.’ I was also influenced by the choice of equipment I had. I’d bought a few really nice vocal processors that I have chained together, which I used to create double voices and harmonies. That was a bit of a breakthrough moment for me.
Q. I personally experienced “The Seventh Seal” as a true accomplishment; kind of visionary Ambient-Electro. How do you consider this work and what kind of album did you want to compose? How do you perceive Gnome & Spybey as a music project –and especially compared to your other music projects?
Mark: Thank you, that’s most kind of you. I do feel proud of this release. I think it stands tall, taller than the Gnome anyway! I think it plays well as an album, there’s a flow to it. I also think that there are about three songs on it that I’d consider to be some of our best work.
As I said earlier, maybe one of the advantages of this project is that it isn’t really governed by needs or rules. We don’t need to make more records, we likely will. We don’t have to play live, I hope we will. We don’t have to cater to a label’s demands and we don’t really know what the audience needs or wants. We don’t necessarily like the same kind of music. We’re different and tolerant enough to create and manage a bit of tension when it comes round to making music together. I think that helps. I’m only involved in 2 or 3 projects like this, that have a number of releases and a shared history and most seem to work in a similar way. We initiate contact when we want or need to and don’t really have a plan. That’s how I like it.
Tony: Mostly everything I do has a very conventional format. I am a big fan of structure. Working with Mark gives me a chance to step out of that box and do something a little more experimental. We both come from totally different perspectives and influences when it comes to music. I think this makes for an interesting combination.
Q: What’s your way of composing music together? Who’s doing what and what are the different stages to achieve an album?
Mark: As I said earlier Tony sends me some tracks, as separated stems. I listen, sometimes edit and usually add other sounds. If the music calls for vocals I’ll write some lyrics, or sing along until I have a melody. Often I’ll make up lyrics on the fly that are pretty rubbish, record them and then re-write them, if you get my drift. I am not sure I can recall if Tony has ever gone on to rework my ‘finished,’ songs but I do know he will occasionally suggest changes. Sometimes that can go on a bit!
I also think mastering is really important, and we always use the same guy now, my friend Anatoly Grinberg from Moscow. He’s really got a very good ear. Sometimes Tony and I agree to disagree. He might like some songs more than me and vice versa. Usually I feel pretty good about that. At the end of the day, we’re in the game of creating something as a duo and I’m happy to make compromises. Usually! Working for andwith Ant-Zen has also added something too. They have such a strong visual and graphic identity as a label.
Tony: I usually just doodle and come up with weird sounds and/or melodic riffs. I’ll put together some sort of song structure with it then send it over to Mark to complete. It’s gone that way most of the time. He usually takes quite a bit of time, so when he finishes it I generally do not even remember what I did anymore!
Q: What makes the chemistry between both of you? And what do you especially like in each other’s work and approach in composing music?
Mark: Fear and loathing in equal measures. No, I’m joking, it’s actually care and respect. I care for Tony and respect his work. We’ve had a few adventures together and we’ve maintained our friendship despite the fact that it must be nearly 10 years ago since we last saw each other in person. He may have grown a little since then. I’ve certainly grown older.
Tony’s work is for me an important reminder that there is infinite possibility in making the most of limited resources. That’s been a kind of mantra of mine over the years. I appropriate sources, I am not a slave to technology. I’m not interested in wires and buttons. I just make the most of whatever is at hand.
Tony’s compositions are clear and defined. I love his sense of tonality and his ability to ‘paint’ something using as few brush strokes as possible. I think that this is his gift, and I am not sure I know of too many other people who can do this. He’s a minimal composer and I regard that as a great compliment.
Tony: Mark is the only person I have ever had a successful long term collaboration with. In general, I like doing things on my own and directing other people what to do.
I think the way we compose music together over long periods of time, from a distance with very little fuss is what makes it work. We do not need to discuss it much. Like previously stated, it just sort of happens…
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