Add N to (X)
Music is an invisible force," states Barry Smith, reciting a maxim from a manifesto for Add N To (X), the group he co-formed with Ann Shenton in 1994. "It's not a quantifiable object," he continues, "and it doesn't exist, but at the same time it exists everywhere. We hear harmony in building sites. We feel that everything from Baroque quartets up until Concorde is the sound of music."
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Inspired by random, violent and sporadic sounds, Add N To (X)'s Barry Smith, Ann Shenton and Steve Claydon see themselves as part of a proud lineage of electronic innovation. It's a path that has been forged since the 1950s by the likes of Edgar Varese, Kraftwerk, Bruce Hack, Walter Carlos, Grandmaster Flash, Leon Theremin and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They describe their own electronic cacophony as an "historical and linear progression in music", the result of an approach they call 'Avant-Hard
'. "Which is the idea that you're abbreviating music into intensity," explains Barry. "By abbreviating something you're taking it to its simplest form, and the easiest way to achieve that is to go back to the original machines. We did that not out of a fetishistic reason, but out of poverty. If you go to a car boot sale, you'll always find an old synthesizer but you won't necessarily find a Gibson guitar."
"There's so much out there to discover especially things that are vilified or seen as obsolete. And we always find that because of their obsolete nature those things are more intrinsically valuable." So it was that a discarded MS20 synthesizer (found by Barry in a bin in Piccadilly Circus) hastened the formation of Add N To X. Barry met Ann while deejaying at an abstract electronica club he was running called 'We Are Electric'. The group played such luminous locations as the ICA in London and a Paris catwalk show. Finding a dysfunctional link in the band, they fired the original third member and retreated to the seclusion of a rehearsal studio for two months. "We had to restructure our ideas," says Ann. "So we had all the keyboards switched on and playing themselves randomly, trying to find the new identity of Add N To X." A core trio was re-established last year with the addition of Steve Claydon. Moving on from the purely electronic forms of their earlier incarnation, the group worked with drummer Rob Alum of the High Llamas on the Add N To X album, 'On The Wires Of Our Nerves' (released early 1998 through Satellite Records). Additionally drummers John Russell and Andy Ramsey are an integral part of their live performances and are featured on the group's debut release for Mute, 'Little Black Rocks In The Sun'.
Steve describes the group dynamics as a "bizarre, creative and contradictory relationship", which gels with their assertion that it's the interaction between themselves and the machines that produces the sound of Add N To X. Choosing to operate the machines live, they view this ongoing relationship as being as fraut, chaotic and symbiotic as any human one.
"It's a battle between us and the machines," exclaims Barry. "These perfect machines matched against our human misbehavior. We think they're extremely intelligent and until we figure out how to work them, they're just sitting there going 'C'mon then!'"
"And if they don't like what we've done to them," adds Ann, "they give us one hell of an electric shock! They bite the hand that plugs them in."
In conversation, the trio constantly cut across each other, defusing statements with sardonic wit and building ideas into grandiose schemes. "The way we make a lot of the tracks is based on lexical synthesesia," explains Steve, "which means that you see imagery as sound and colors."
"There's this perfect science fiction film always going through our heads anyway," adds Barry. "But we're not being retro or trying to recreate the feel of our own science fiction films, like a '70s idea of the future," assures Ann. Forcing Barry to conclude that, "we're trying to physically embrace the future rather than replicate the past. We're aggressive futurists."
Looking to those that dared to dream an improbable future into concrete reality - like the fantastic worlds of HG Wells and Jules Verne and the 'dymaxion' architecture of Buckminster Fuller - Add N To X are currently drawing up schematics for a new generation of tactile sound synthesizers.
While encouraging the dualistic nature of machines, and their innate capability to enhance and destroy life, Add N To X reject the utopian idea of the 'man-machine' and claim to have no interest in the sociological or societal impact of technology.
"In some ways people may feel let down, because we're talking about the future but we are not saying 'we are the future'," says Barry
. "There is no past and there is no future," he continues, "it's just what happens when you turn the machine on
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