It took a long time to British artist Monty Adkinsto arrive at an appropriate name for this project. He started it at the beginning of lockdown in April 2020 and it slowly took shape over the course of a year. Monty came up with a couple of different names, but none seemed quite right. In the end the name emerged from several different ideas coming together. Firstly, He has always been influenced by visual art that expresses stark emotions —be it the expressionism of Edvard Munch, the anamorphic drawings of Fred Deux, paintings of Francis Bacon, or more recent work by Dariusz Zawadzki or Zdzisław Beksiński. He finds Munch’s “The Scream” (1893) as stark as any painting by Zawadzki or Beksinki, expressing the same kind of raw emotion —but an emotion that we ‘hear’ silently. Secondly, during lockdown, probably like a lot of people, Monty watched a lot of movies –including a lot of sci-fi. Ever since he was young, he has been interested in the sense of awe that space inspires —its size and unforgiveness, as well as its beauty. The idea of travelling to alien landscapes, the technology needed to get there, and what it would be like has always fascinated him. So, the idea behind the name —with a nod to Munch of course (‘skrika’ being the Swedish word for ‘scream’), is to illustrate some of these ideas in sound; an alien sci-fi world that conjours both silent awe and unease, is as detailed in its sound design as Zawadzki’s paintings and Deux’s drawing are, but also reflects the vulnerability of what it means to be human. The debut album “Fifth “Nature” released on Cryo Chamber became a precious production for lovers of Dark-Ambient and Cinematic music. I talked about it with Monty Adkins.
(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: Skrika sounds as a new sonic experience and I dare to say a new challenge in your career. What brought you to set up Skrika and what are the main source of inspiration for this project?
Monty: A long time ago now, I started off as a composer of acousmatic music, so recording, manipulating, and designing unusual sounds has been in my DNA for a good while. In 2006 my work became more Ambient, introverted, and focused a lot on instrumental sound –often anything I could get my hands on and play in the studio. In 2018 I felt that this particular path had run its course. I felt as though I was beginning to repeat myself and that’s never a good thing. After a year or so of trying a number of different ideas this project just clicked. In fact, I realized that much of my previous work had much in common with this new project —it was a case of just shifting the focus.
With Skrika I want to create something that has a really strong sense of sound design, that particularly reflects the atmosphere of the dark surreal Gothic landscapes of Beksiński and Zawadzki. In essence, I wanted to create a soundworld for these detailed and unsettling paintings.
Q: Skrika’s debut album “Fifth Nature” is a conceptual work and the first album of a series. Tell us a bit more about the concept and how did you transpose the concept into sounds and music? What did you try to express by the title “Fifth Nature”?
Monty: “Fifth Nature” is the first of a series of albums set in the far distant future. It depicts failed technological attempts to restore balance to the Earth that have left its ecosystems fragile. Its population is divided between the ‘Lemmites’ who think that further synthetic biological intervention is the answer, and the ‘Atom Priesthood’ who worship the purity of nature. Each of the tracks is a scene in this story. As storms rage around her, Cerria, a synbio necromancer communes with spirits to foretell Earth’s fate (“Black Earth”). Meanwhile, the high priest Atom-Yn sings of the blood moon tetrad and the end of days (“Apokrytein”). Gradually the vast network of machines that purify the atmosphere and enable life to continue on Earth grind to a halt (“Mechanics Of Desolation”). Despite Cerria’s and Atom-Yn’s attempts to save their followers many perish (“Seventh Extinction”). Unable to survive on Earth any longer, Cerria and Atom-Yn reconcile and with a few brave souls take flight into the further most reaches of space seeking new planets to inhabit (“Flight Of Souls”).
To translate this into sound I first recorded Peyee Chen as Cerria and Girilal Baars as Atom-Yn. Both are amazing singers. With Girilal, I also recorded a range of strange vocal sounds which I heavily transformed. I also recorded a lot of environmental sounds, hitting and scraping things from my kitchen and garage, instruments I have around —particularly effects on bass clarinet, and of course a lot of synths.
The title of the album came from extending John Hunt’s and Lola Sheppard’s ideas about nature and technology, particularly that in order to survive on a future Earth, or another planet, that humans will deliberately enhance themselves and their environment not through cyberware but more fundamentally through synthetic biology and genetic engineering.
Q: The vocals (& effects) are for sure one of the main characteristics and –strengths of “Fifth Nature”. What did you try by this aspect of the work and how did the production of the vocal parts happened?
Monty: Although it’s been a really long time since I’ve used the voice in a track, from that start I knew that I wanted the ‘human’ to be at the core of the album. If you put a voice or a choir in a track and there is an immediate connection and resonance. But I also wanted to use the voice to express the more unsettled and dramatic parts of the album. This is where the weird vocal sounds Girilal produced came in. I spent ages editing, processing and manipulating these, resampling them, and using them as wavetables in Serum to create unearthly sounds. It was a lot of work but amazing fun.
Q: What makes the difference between Skrika and your other music projects? Did you discover new things/ideas etc?
Monty: With the Skrika project I’ve been working with a variety of new things including new synths such as Vital, DeltaV-Audio’s SpaceCraft granular synth and some new spectral tools from Alex Harker –an amazing coder and good friend in Huddersfield. The aim with this project is really to push the sense of sound design to create immersive dark atmospheres. Alongside the new tools I’ve tried are the usual suspects –a lot of Reaktor, it’s been my goto toolbox for a longtime for manipulating samples and synthesis.
So, yes, I’ve learned a lot and tried a lot of new things, made a lot of sounds that didn’t make it into “Fifth Nature” but may well find a place in the second album in the series. Even if they don’t, making and discovering is still a great way of spending time. You never know when one small tweak of a parameter will give you ‘that’ sound you’ve been looking for.
Q: Back to the concept, which is meant as a futuristic vision, but it also feels a bit as a mirror to the world we’re living in today. What’s your opinion and what’s your perception of this world regarding themes like Technology, Politics & Brexit, the ongoing pandemic, climate change etc?
Monty: I think like writings of J.G. Ballard and more recent novels by William Gibson there is always a strong element of the present in any projected future. Your list covers a lot of things that are affecting a lot of people in the world right now. The thing that I think unites them is how things are better when people work together and overcome differences.
Whilst we can’t all be Greta Thunberg we can all make a small change. I find new technology hugely exciting —from ways to keep in touch across the world, the new tools I use to make music, to the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope, however, there is of course a dark side to technology which is something I also explore in these albums.
Brexit is something to be discussed only over numerous drinks!
Q: I noticed you’re already busy working on the writing of the next album. How do you expect the conceptual side of the series and the music evolving?
Monty: Well I don’t want to give too much away but I been thinking a lot about sci-fi writer James Blish’s ideas around pantropy –the adaptation of humans in various ways to live on other exo-planets rather than simply terraforming planets to be earth-like. So, this project depicts Cerria and her followers arriving and adapting to a new life on a strange planet –along with a few unexpected surprises along the way. Again, there is a real focus on Cinematic sound design and building atmospheres.
Recordings that have been especially rich are my 14-year old son making some wonderful sounds with his voice, a 2-meter long tube of drainpipe, and ice on a frozen stream. The sound world is broader than “Fifth Nature” with some tracks being more Cinematic whilst others are stark and barren. Although I came up with all of the ideas and track titles before recording anything, I’m about halfway through the album now, hopefully for release later in 2022.
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