INTERVIEW WITH PROJECT ADORNO 2017
the last few years I have seen a number of music and spoken word acts, and
combinations of the both. There’s
something about the mix of styles which I rather enjoy. However, one group
in particular seemed to touch on themes and ideas which I’ve
always liked or had a fascination with: libraries, Doctor Who and the Pet
first saw Project Adorno when they came down to Torquay while I was hosting
Poetry Island. It was an amazing and funny set of songs and witty banter
which left my head filled with inspiration. Even my grumpy friend Mark, who
did the door for me, bought their cd afterwards. Since then I have eagerly
followed Project Adorno, stalking them via social media to see what they’re
up to. Project Adorno are Russell Thompson and Praveen Manghani.
What are you working on at the moment?
A musical appreciation of the screenwriter Dennis Potter (The Singing
Detective, Pennies From Heaven, etc). It’ll be one continuous suite of
songs, spoken word and ambient music, accompanied by Patrick Keiller-esque
film. In fact, we’ll be doing for the Forest of Dean what Keiller did for
Yes, still very much a work in progress, though some nice bits emerging.
It’ll either become an art-house Keiller-esque film or a quirky version of
The Singing Detective complete with lip-synched songs…somewhere in-between
I suspect. It has been nice to include visuals in some of our recent work.
Just at the moment I’m very taken with the “information” films of
Charles and Ray Eames…
last time we met you were working on a project about film maker Derek Jarman.
How is that going, and why did you choose him?
I was originally fascinated by the whole Super 8 DIY film-making ethos of
Derek Jarman. I particularly loved the grainy look and feel of super 8 film.
That, and his diaries, and his paintings and his house and garden in
Dungeness (an artwork in itself). That’s the thing about Jarman – he had
so many strings to his bow. I was also inspired by his oddball, left-field
creative spirit (which seemed slightly at odds with his well-to-do middle
class background). In 2014 we were asked to curate a film night as part of a
local arts festival – as it was also the twentieth anniversary of his
death we chose Jarman’s “Last of England”. We performed a short
multimedia piece to accompany it and decided to develop it into a full-blown
Edinburgh show. It was only when we started working on the Jarman project
that Russell and I realised we’d both independently admired him in our
respective formative years.
Adorno seem to be fascinated with libraries. That’s no bad thing.
Personally I believe that the downfall of western society began with the
introduction of self service machines in libraries. What is it about
libraries that appeals so much?
You’d better ask Praveen about the machines – it’s all his fault,
I’m afraid. But we do have a song about the perfection of the date-stamp.
My local library still has one available so that people can stamp their own
books if they want. We’re not very progressive in East Sheen. Praveen
works in libraries, I just hang around in them. Is it ‘customer’ or
‘user’ these days? Personally, I’m obsessed with books (which a visit
to my house would confirm) and with a sense of order (which a visit to my
house would not). I’m the sort of person who likes compiling indexes in
their spare time.
Ah the appeal of libraries…don’t get me started…a world of
possibilities, escape and imagination. A place to ponder, pontificate….and
just generally sit and think, or learn, or just be…reading and books are
of course still mainstays…but it’s not just about the “borrowers”
any more (another one for the “customer” vs “user” terminology
debate). I’ll always prefer the date stamp to the self-service machines
but we must move with the times – people now demand computers and wi-fi
and coffee shops so we have to adapt if we want to stay relevant. Libraries
are one of the few places where one can go unchallenged without requiring a
reason to visit and as long as the library remains a place that’s free to
enter and universally available for everyone that’s good enough for me.
Plus they’re now very established at putting on arts events and literature
festivals – a natural home for Project Adorno gigs!
of your most famous songs is about Davros from Doctor Who. You’ve been
working on a new version of this song. How is it different to the original?
It’s actually become a bit more “prog-rock” to my ears –
unintentionally so! Oh, and the opening verse is different to the original
recorded version (something I’ve been meaning to fix for ages).
are your influences?
Originally for me it was all about Pet Shop Boys (I still marvel at the
sleek simplicity of “West End Girls” and that supposed trick of a G
chord with an E in the bass… or perhaps it was the other way round…) and
early eighties electro-pop/disco in general. And of course Frankie Goes to
Hollywood and in particular Trevor Horn. His production techniques and OTT
arrangements and remixes just blew me away – I wanted to do things like
that but was limited both by lack of musical ability and studio technology.
An anologue Fostex 4 track tape recorder just didn’t quite compare to the
(then) state-of-the-art Fairlight sequencer. After that I discovered indie
and realised one could do quite a lot with just a few chords and some
imaginative words. We’ve mutated into more of a song-based cabaret act
over the years and in many ways I think the musical side of things has
become more simplistic and DIY as we’ve progressed. The lyrical content,
whilst always important, has become ever more so – influenced by Momus,
Brel, Aznavour and Jake Thackray amongst others.
read some Adorno. He’s incredibly dull and weighty. I tried to include him
in my masters dissertation just so that it looked good in the bibliography.
Why did you decide to reference him in the band’s name?
All I know is a useful four-word summary someone once gave me: miserable
German, hated jazz. In other words, he despised popular culture. We like to
see Project Adorno as a reconciliation beween high and low art. A modest
little aim, there. We should also mention that there’s something called
the Adorno Project, which monitors the migratory habits of birds. They’re
not us. It’s crazy, though – they’re always getting invited to perform
at cabarets in Brighton, we’re always getting invited to read our paper on
the movements of the Manx shearwater.
It’s all my brother’s fault. He was doing a critical theory degree (or
similar) and he came home one day spouting on about Adorno. We somewhat
pretentiously concocted the name Project Adorno as it sounded good. Then my
brother then decided to go to Germany and I was sort of left with the name,
decided not to change it, and Russell came board. So we both inherited it
really. I’ve mugged up a little on Adorno since then, but must agree,
he’s not an easy read! As Russell says, he appeared to loathe popular
culture, tho’ it would be fascinating to get his view on our work
(especially as we’ve taken his name in vain). People have occasionally
said of us “it’s very accessible on the face of it, but the lyrics
deserve repeated listening as they often contain extra layers of meaning”
(or something like that) – and that’s the best compliment I could hope
are your creative processes? How do the songs come about?
That’s a nice description from my esteemed colleague. Actually I still
have a whole folder full of Russell’s poetry that I’d like to commit to
music one day! What I like about Russell’s lyrics is that he often uses
words that I either don’t understand or that have never before been used
in the medium of popular song – usually both (Coalhole Cover Lover and
Zubenelgenubi are just two such examples). He’s certainly broadened my
vocabulary! I think we’ve both got a passion for the geekier side of
popular culture which helps as reference points. We often each go away and
write things on a particular theme (eg as in recent Potter and Jarman
projects) and then choose the best of these. Tho’ some of my favourite
pieces have emerged more organically with Russell reading a lyric and me
just playing a basic guitar rhythm underneath (When London Shone and Famous
Diplodocus are two that come to mind).
is the future for Project Adorno?
Gosh, there’s a question. As I say, the new multimedia, semi-ambient
approach has great possibilities. I’m interested in places, so a show
based on some sort of travelogue would be interesting. I’d like to do a
show about the A1. That would at least ensure we were listed first in the
Fringe brochure, if nothing else.
I’m quite liking the idea of writing some sort of play (It’s all
Potter’s fault) – it will have to have songs or music in it of course,
so I guess, if it happens, it will end up becoming a musical. Seriously
though we’ve often talked about doing a Project Adorno book – a sort of
creative “history of” as opposed to a biography. Still, I think we
should strive to at least getting a mention on Wikipedia before that
happens! If nothing else we are determined to record and release a new CD
this year – there are loads of songs which need committing “to tape”.
(Tho’ I guess in truth it’s all downloads these days). Anyway, that is a
must. Beyond this I’ve often harboured the ambition of performing Project
Adorno songs with a live orchestra at somewhere like the Royal Festival
Hall…one can dream.
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