Wil Bolton on 'Bokeh'

On the 29th of August we will finally be releasing a superb album by Wil Bolton. Wil is a very dear friend and to be working with such a wonderful artist is a true pleasure. Wil has played at many of the Home Normal related events we have had in the UK, and we have followed his music, label (Boltfish), design work, and installations, for many years now. During a recent trip to Tokyo and back again to England, we caught up with him about his latest work, 'Bokeh'.

How are you doing mate? Where are you at right now and what are you up to?

I’m good thanks mate. I’m at home now, but just returned from a two week trip to Tokyo. Had a fantastic time there – took part in a tea ceremony, visited loads of contemporary art galleries and museums, ate some wonderful food and drank a little too much shochu! Also worked on a new photography project and made a bunch of field recordings and video which I plan to put towards a future album.

Please tell us a little bit about your background in music, both growing up and professionally.

I was in a couple of bands at school and university but nothing worked out too well. Then the loan of a 4 track cassette recorder and drum machine, combined with my own electric guitar and a couple of toy keyboards sparked off an interest in solo recording. I messed about with various equipment and ideas for nearly ten years before making anything I felt confident enough to release. My earlier releases were under the Cheju moniker, more beat-based electronica (or IDM if you like!) than my current output. Around 2007 I started working on sound installations for exhibition in art galleries, and a change in listening tastes and a growing interest in environmental sounds and a sense of place lead to me creating more ambient, droney and beatless music. The last Cheju album ‘Waiting for Tomorrow’ (Distant Noise Records, 2009) was a kind of bridge between the two worlds, with half the tracks being beat-based and the other half more ambient, and my next album ‘Time Lapse’ (Hibernate Recordings, 2010) was entirely beatless and the first work I decided to release under my own name.

How did Bokeh come about? What is the concept behind it?

Each track began with a field recording. Those for the tracks 'Bokeh', '1887' and 'Sash' were all recorded in Liverpool where I was living at the time (I’ve recently relocated back to London), while the field recording for ‘Tremadog’ was recorded in the North Wales village of the same name, and the one for 'Pentaprism' was recorded outside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The closing track ‘Moonlight (for Sophie)’ started from a recording of my niece Sophie’s toy telephone and rattles and was completed with affected toy keyboard loops, originally as a kind of lullaby as a present for her first birthday. The album’s title obviously refers to a photographic term, deriving from the Japanese word for blur and used to describe the aesthetic quality of background blur in photographs especially with a shallow depth of field. My work is often informed by visual cues, particularly from the landscapes and architecture of the environments where their initial sounds were recorded. For this album I was particularly interested in parallels between the aural and the visual and between photography and sound – it’s pretty abstract, but when working on these tracks I was constantly thinking in terms of photography, qualities and effects of light, and other visual elements and trying to express these in sound – ideas of foreground and background, texture and detail contrasted with blur and haze, diffraction and fragmentation, focus and framing, fading eyesight and memory.

Can you tell us a little bit about your recording process. What tools do you use? How do you go about creating each work you do?

As mentioned previously, my works almost always begin with a field recording and take inspiration from these environmental sounds. I like to explore the identity of spaces and a sense of place is at the forefront of what I hope to achieve through my work. I use a laptop for recording, editing and mixing the musical elements, but have moved away from digital sound sources and prefer to start with acoustic or analogue electronic instruments – acoustic and electric guitars, analogue synthesizers, glockenspiel, chime bars, bells and so forth. I play these through a string of guitar effects and looper pedals to create melodic loops and drones, using the laptop as a simple multitrack recorder – I tend to ignore the tempo and go off grid and I like to work with loops of different lengths, I love the way this allows tracks to breathe and evolve organically. Once recorded, I do delve into some laptop effects and editing – I still love a bit of DSP (digital signal processing) and I like the contrast of organic tones and loops with more digital processes and effects.

How do you feel about the current independent music scene?

I love it! I think it’s stronger than ever and growing exponentially. Of course it’s harder than ever to make a living from independent or experimental music, but this means that those who persevere are doing it for the love of the music rather than any commercial concerns, and art and commerce rarely bring out the best in one another! Nowadays anyone can write, record, master, release and promote their music with very little means and I think this can only be a good thing. Of course much of what is put out there is not of the highest quality and it is does make it difficult for the brave listener trying to wade through the multitude of new artists and releases. But I think this makes the role of the independent record label as a curator more important than ever. Self-released artist works are great too, but the strong identity and quality control of the best labels means that I know I can grab any release put out by labels like Hibernate, 12k, Time Released Sound, Home Normal and others and know I’m going to enjoy it.

What are some of your favourite listens right now?

My good friend David Newlyn has a couple of recent releases I’ve been really enjoying – ‘Disintegrating Suburban Dream’ on Hibernate (disclaimer – I mastered this!) and ‘Good Luck (Enigma)’ on Sound In Silence. I also recently had the pleasure of mastering Richard Ginns’ album ‘Fall, Rise’ for Twice Removed Records and have been listening to this a lot, gorgeous release and lush cover photography from the very talented Peter Nejedly too. I’ve also been enjoying Taylor Deupree and Stephen Vitiello’s lovely double 10” vinyl release ‘Captiva’, and have been rediscovering some older stuff with Max Richter’s ‘Retrospective’ boxset and the reissue of Sonic Youth’s ‘Daydream Nation’.

What works do you have coming up?

I have an album out this autumn on Sound In Silence. It’s made entirely with processed and layered recordings of an upright piano at my mum’s house along with field recordings made in her garden. It’s fairly minimal and kind of melancholy and pastoral I guess. And work has just finished on the debut album by Le Moors, my collaborative project with Jeff Stonehouse (Listening Mirror / Snoqualmie Falls).


Stream and buy 'Bokeh'

Watch a film by Wil for 'Bokeh' 

Sample 'Bokeh' 

Check out Wil's site