A Q&A with Carter Tutti Void
Last May Mute Records took over Camden’s Roundhouse as part of the Short Circuit festival. Many of the label’s biggest names were there, but by far the most interesting performance of the night came from the union of Throbbing Gristle’s Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Factory Floor’s Nik Void; billed as Carter Tutti Void, the trio performed in the venue’s tiny studio theatre. On paper it was a dream collaboration; through their work in Throbbing Gristle and as a duo, Chris & Cosey (or Carter Tutti as they primarily perform now) are pioneers in both industrial music and the synthwave sounds of the 80s. Void meanwhile is guitarist in Factory Floor, one of the few bands of the past 30 years who’ve come anywhere near filling the void left by Throbbing Gristle.
The results were even better than the collaboration suggested; Juno Plus scribe Scott Wilson was there to see the original performance, and he noted at the time that “Void seemed to work almost telepathically in unison with Tutti and Carter, which was particularly impressive given the 30 years of experience the couple have working with each other”. Carter manipulated brittle rhythms with a table laden with gear flanked by Tutti and Void, whose guitars created sounds with what Wilson described as a “uniquely metallic quality” which were as “compelling as anything that could have been created by a synthesiser”.
In January it was announced by Mute that the live performance was to be released. Titled Transverse, the word means, quite literally, two things crossing each other; it’s an apt encapsulation of the collaboration, which brings two generations together, each offering their own perspectives on the industrial sound, with artwork that captures the hypnotic nature of the music itself. With the release imminent, Scott talked to all three on the phone to ask them about them about the project…
SW – How did you guys feel about the positive, excited reaction to your performance at the Roundhouse?
CFT – I think we were all quite overwhelmed to be honest. Because when you go and play live, you never know what the atmosphere’s going to be like – there’s always surprises, but that room just had such a fantastic energy.
SW – Obviously a lot of people couldn’t get in because it was such a small space – was it your decision to do it in the smaller room or was it Mute?
CC – No that was Mute’s decision unfortunately, and we’re really sorry that all those people who wanted to see us couldn’t. But although that room is quite small, the only other option at the Roundhouse is the big room which wouldn’t have been right for what we wanted to do. We would have lost a lot of the intensity and energy of the performance.
SW – Could you just give me a bit of background about how the collaboration came about?
NV – I had a relationship with Chris & Cosey dating back year or two before the gig. We did the Cosey Club at the ICA where Chris & Cosey came, and that’s the first time they saw us play as Factory Floor. Later on Mute asked Chris & Cosey to do a collaboration with another Mute artist, and I’d been on Mute Records for a while, and, fortunately, they asked me to join them in the Roundhouse.
SW – Were there any initial improvisation sessions in the lead up to the gig?
CFT – Well no, we just jumped in really. Chris had some rhythms, and we said “let’s play the rhythms and see what happens”, and that’s what we did. And that seemed to work really well. I don’t think there’s anything any of us did that we didn’t like, which is quite unusual, because even in Throbbing Gristle we’d often say to the other members “I don’t know about that”, or they’d say the same to us, but we never had that with Nik.
CC – We spent three days in our studio in Norfolk, and I had some basic rhythmic ideas that I played to the two girls, and we just started experimenting over those rhythms and refining them a little – I wouldn’t call it rehearsing, but we just played constantly for three days. We just took what we had to The Roundhouse and just flew by the seat of our pants.
CFT – I think the purpose of coming to the studio was just get a connection between the three of us. So that was the purpose of the studio time – writing a track then recounting it on stage is not what any of us are interested in doing.
SW – I just wanted to ask about the rhythms, because what really struck me about it was that it was held together by this fairly rigid 4/4 pulse. The music of Factory Floor is quite driving, and obviously Chris, in your earlier music you’ve experimented with those kind of rhythms, but why did you decide to go down the road of making the collaboration very rhythmic?
CC – Prior to the proposal by Mute I’d been working on other rhythmic projects, and I had some rhythms left over from a Throbbing Gristle thing that we’d been doing, and as Throbbing Gristle had come to an end I had some spare rhythms we could play. I played them when Nik came, and I don’t think Cosey had even heard them, and they just seemed to fit what we were doing. So I had those rhythms, and I changed them as I went along, modified them slightly.
SW – A lot of the stuff that you’ve done, Chris, as Throbbing Gristle and as yourself very much predated a lot of techno. You recently did a remix for Perc – obviously the music made a long time ago has influenced artists making techno, do you find that techno is influencing you back in any way in turn.
CC – Possibly yeah, but I don’t listen to techno, so probably not! I mean, I don’t consciously listen to it – I don’t listen to a lot of music really. There’s this weird thing where you’re in the studio, especially on an album or an intense project is that you tend not to listen to much other music when you’re working on it, and we’ve been working on projects quite a lot lately. So apart from the radio and TV I don’t usually sit down and listen to other music, particularly techno. Maybe subconsciously things I’ve heard may go in, but I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious thing.
SW – Just to ask you about what Nik and Cosey were doing with the guitars – I read in a recent interview that the Carter Tutti identity is more about about improvisation and texture, and Nik also, the recent 7” you put out – it seems very texturally focused, obviously it’s intended to degrade over the course of time to change the quality of the sound, is this focus on texture something that you have both bonded over, or is it something you specifically wanted to explore in the collaboration?
CFT – It’s just something we do in our own right. But yeah, it’s far more than just a music thing, and the interesting part of the whole trio if you like is that we have a lot in common in that direction.
SW – So whose idea was it to put out the recording, was it Mute or yourselves?
CFT – We wanted to do it.
CC – We weren’t even sure the gig had been recorded, but as soon as Mute sent us a copy of the recording and we heard it, we thought this is fantastic, we have to release this. Particularly because so many people didn’t get to see it and hear it on the night so we said we have to put this out as soon as possible. We approached Mute and the were really behind the idea as it was their event in a way. It took a long time – although the recording was just what was recorded on the night, but you know how these things can stretch out. So it was our idea, the three of us.
SW – Were you ever worried that some of the impact of the performance might have been lost if it was released as a recording or did that not really worry you?
CC – It was such a physical performance, you’re going to lose some of that anyway. It was one of those performances, you had to have been there to really experience it – we used to say the same thing about Throbbing Gristle really. But that’s not to diminish the effect of the album, because I think it’s a brilliant album.
CFT – The other thing was that all three of us wanted to document it so that it’s signed sealed and delivered by this release.
SW – The name Transverse and the artwork as well, how did you go about thinking about those things retrospectively?
CFT – Well we bandied ideas back and forth between us all, the overarching thing was that the cover and the title would have to reflect the whole concept of us coming together, so the word “Transverse” is really a visual representation of that.
SW – Why the test card image?
CFT – Because it could say anything to anybody – it wasn’t some nice landscape. It was quite a universal image that has an impact on everybody’s eyes.
SW – When you look at the artwork it has quite a trippy effect, is there any significance behind that?
CFT – I personally like the idea that a static thing in a record shop would move when you passed it instead of just sitting there with everything else. Album covers are really important, and there are so many of them now that make you want to give it a second glance, and that one does because it has such an effect on your vision.
CC – It took us a while to actually come to that image because we tried different variations of things that would move that weren’t actually moving that looked 3D without being 3D. But I think it works really well.
NV – Scott, when you said you went to the show, did you get sucked in by the performance, did you start to get a little bit hypnotised by it?
SW – Yeah, definitely, and it was funny, because it wasn’t specifically made as dance music, but a lot of the audience were kind of moving, which wasn’t what I expected, and I think part of that might have been to do with them being somewhat hypnotised by the music.
NV – I think that’s what the artwork does for me – it kind of moves and has a life of its own, and the audience started to move, almost in the same way.
SW – Is that something that you expected would happen?
CFT – I kind of hoped people would get into that, not trance really, because that’s got too many connotations to it, but get into that tribal heartbeat, the common theme we’re driving through.
CC – Being a London audience you’re never sure what you’re going to get, you know what London audiences are like!
SW – Some critics have perceived a gradual shift towards a greater appreciation of darker, more industrial sounds, not just in electronic music, but music in general over the last few years – do you guys think this is the case, and if so where do you think that appreciation is coming from?
CFT – I think it’s just become more acceptable over time.
CC – It’s matured.
CFT – It has matured, and I think people have placed it in more acceptable situations, and I think that’s made it more comfortable if you like to indulge in, which I don’t have a problem with. There’s a lot of music now used in soundtracks and TV series – American Horror Story for example – whenever I listen to that I think it’s like some Throbbing Gristle.
CC – I think people like Trent Reznor have a lot to do with the wider exposure of it, especially with the music he does for soundtracks, that sort of dark industrial sound.
SW – Do you have any plans to collaborate with each other again, or with others?
NV – I think we’re all just very busy, we’ve got full schedules for the rest of the year, but we definitely want to work together because it worked so well the first time. In addition to Factory Floor I’m also working with Peter Gordon from the Love of Life Orchestra. I’m working with him at the moment on a track, but that’s something very different (to the Carter Tutti Void project) because I’m sending files over to him in the US. But I’d really, really love to do something with Chris & Cosey again because it just clicked and felt so natural.
CFT – We’re busy doing Desertshore (upcoming Throbbing Gristle record) with a number of people –
CC – But as Nik says, hopefully next year we can get together and do something else together.
CFT – You never know what’s going to come up.
Interview: Scott Wilson