Photo PAUL HEARTFIELD
Chris Carter is pretty blunt—brutal, even—when we ask him what album he most associates with the better days of his old band Throbbing Gristle.
“There aren’t any—not for me, at least. I think that question is best answered by someone with less of an emotional attachment to TG than myself. If I’m honest there were few ‘best days’ in TG; at least not for us, in the eye of the storm. Anyone who’s read Cosey’s autobiography will know it was a constant rollercoaster of emotions, power plays, and psychological/physical battles.
He continues, “For me the best times were being with Cosey and us both being madly in love—completely fuck struck actually. And I really cherished the friendship I had with Sleazy, platonic but very close. Of course now with the perspectival distance of time, I can see that as a band what an effect we had on people, on society and the musical landscape, we were definitely a force to be reckoned with.”
While that may be true, Carter isn’t done remaking electronic and experimental music in his own image. Aside from the producer/synthesist’s ongoing work alongside longtime romantic/creative partner Cosey Fanni Tutti, Carter recently dropped an extensive collection of solo cuts (Chemistry Lessons, Vol. 1) on Mute Records. To put it all in perspective, we asked the London native to relate life, love and loss back to his record collection. Here’s what he had to say, starting with a lightning round and proper Spotify playlist….
THE RECORD THAT SAYS MORE ABOUT ME THAN WORDS EVER COULD
I don’t have one. You’d have to listen to the 40 or so albums I’ve made to try and figure me out. Good luck with that.
THE RECORD I HOPE TO NEVER, EVER HEAR AGAIN
Anything country/Western. It makes my skin crawl and hurts my brain.
THE RECORD EVERYONE WOULD BE SURPRISED I OWN (AND LOVE)
Maybe not such a big secret any longer, but I own most of Enya’s albums. And funnily enough, we now know she has some of our Carter Tutti albums.
THE RECORD I GOT MY SON INTO
I don’t think Nick likes anything we like, which I completely get. He is his own person and I wouldn’t expect him to. I don’t like much of my parents’ taste in music either.
THE RECORD THAT OPENED A DOOR TO ANOTHER UNIVERSE
Electronic Meditation by Tangerine Dream (with Klaus Schulze).
THE RECORD EVERYONE SHOULD OWN
What an awful concept. There isn’t one and there shouldn’t be one.
THE RECORD I BOUGHT SIMPLY BECAUSE IT LOOKED COOL
I don’t think I’ve bought anything—a record or otherwise—to look cool. Oh wait, yes, I have some cool Beatnik sunglasses. Very round, very black. Love them…. They look real cool.
Ambient field recordings mixed with minimalist Moog synth melodies, sequences, and effects. Ambient before there was ambient; New Age before there was New Age. Released in 1972, Sonic Seasonings was a really underrated but groundbreaking album. There was nothing quite like it before, so nothing to reference it to. I think the only reason it got any recognition at all was because of the success of Carlos’ previous Well-Tempered Synthesizer album but I don’t think many people really understood what the point of it was—like there has to be any point? The concept of mixing field recordings and electronics inspired me to perform something similar live—my solo Waveforms show.
(Columbia Masterworks, 1968)
It’s a pretty naff cover by any standards, but it was Switched-On Bach by Walter (then) / Wendy (now) Carlos. I could have done without the bloke in a period costume and big wig, but all those knobs, all those sockets…. Mmm, yummy—1960s synth porn at its best. The album wasn’t bad, either.
A Saucerful of Secrets
I don’t consider myself a musician, personally. Of course I make music, but the emphasis is on ‘make’. I know I have a good ear for melody and rhythm, but I am borderline musically dyslexic. Even after 50 years or so, I can’t remember what the notes are on a keyboard and I have them all labelled. Sometimes when I look at the keys all the black notes look the same distance apart, so I have trouble seeing octaves. I make music using any means necessary and my workflow is more like a visual artist; I start with a basecoat of rhythm and apply layers of melody and texture on top… mostly by ear.
Having said that, and to answer your question, I guess the first time I thought, ‘Wow, I wish I could do that,’ was when I was 16 and went to see Pink Floyd play at the Fishmongers Arms in North London. It was a small pub gig; I was right up front and so enthralled by the sounds and the visuals. The whole experience was mind-blowing. Admittedly I’d also dropped a tab of acid, but well… what’s not to like?
Dancing Queen 7”
Back in the day, Cosey wasn’t a massive ABBA fan. This was very early on in our surreptitious romantic relationship. But she knew I loved ABBA and accepted from me a gift of their “Dancing Queen” 7-inch single to remember me by. She would dance to it in one of her stripping routines and wore this fantastic skin-tight green lurex costume—a sight to behold. It became our secret song and whenever we heard it (which was a lot in the 1970s), we’d give each other these knowing looks.
(BECAUSE IT DRIVES HER CRAZY)
The Draughtsman’s Contract
Cosey had done some film work on a couple Peter Greenaway films and somehow we’d got invited to see his movie The Draughtsman’s Contract. The soundtrack was by Michael Nyman—one of his best in my opinion. Cosey liked the film but she hated the soundtrack—the repetition in it, one of Nyman’s signature techniques and something I really admire. The influence of the minimalists is in so much of what he does.
Anyway, I got hold of the soundtrack and I have to admit I got ever so slightly obsessed by it, playing it endlessly. Especially the track “Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds”; it was quite selfish of me, I suppose, but that’s how obsessions get you. It would drive Cosey mad; it still does. I’ve always had it on my iTunes playlist, but now I only play on headphones in the house—or if she’s gone out. It sounds great belting out of our studio monitors.
BBC Radiophonic Workshop
The Radiophonic sound design for all those early Dr Who episodes really got into my subconscious and started nagging me to follow that path. But being 10 years old—and not having any income apart from pocket money—made getting my first synth a challenging adventure.
My Old Man’s a Dustman 7”
A true classic of the much-maligned “Proud of Being From London” genre. I can’t hear that song without smiling and thinking of my cockney aunts and aunties and grandparents.
The Ballad of Davy Crockett 7”
I remember sitting on the floor in our living room in the early 1950s, watching Davy Crockett on a small black and white TV while wearing his hat and singing “Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier.” After the show I’d rush out into the garden and run around with a rubber tomahawk chasing my screaming sister. I had that hat for years—happy days.
It has to be “Discipline.” The live version on YouTube that’s had 1.5 million plays is a pretty good example as to why.
Chris & Cosey
October (Love Song)
(Conspiracy International, 1983)
I would start at the beginning, with our very first single. It was upbeat and melodic and had Cosey singing a love song; it couldn’t have been more different than TG.
The Joe Meek Story
Back in the early 1960s, a lot of Joe Meek’s work was very forward-thinking. The studio techniques for the bands he recorded and his own tracks used some really innovative, cutting-edge audio methods and processes that were unheard of (literally) at the times. A shame he turned into a murderer.
The Beach Boys
I don’t think there was any one record in particular. Obviously what I just said about Joe Meek—because he was primarily an audio engineer—but Pet Sounds had some amazingly advanced production concepts that, apart from Brian Wilson’s outstanding composing and production skills, obviously required some seriously knowledgeable audio engineering. A lot of the methods used on that album were actually based on Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound recording methods. Now he had some great engineers at his studios.
A Rainbow in Curved Air
I hadn’t heard A Rainbow in Curved Air for about 20 years, but I accidentally came across it in my iTunes library the other day. It completely stands the test of time—an amazing record, one of the best ‘minimal’ ones ever.
The Land of Make Believe 7”
I would have said ABBA (The Visitors or the Super Trouper album) but they pretty much sum up the ’70s for me, all the connotations and connections to what was going on in my life—joining TG, falling in love with Cosey. But in 1981, I bought the single “The Land Of Make Believe” by Bucks Fizz. I originally got it because I really loved its sound, but it’s an odd song. Its style and delivery couldn’t be more ‘pop’ in the truest sense of the word; it’s short, catchy, and upbeat. But the lyrics are by Pete Sinfield from King Crimson and are anti-Thatcher and an attack on her Tory government. Apart from the political undercurrent (that was missed by most fans of the record, frankly) it’s an extremely accomplished song. The composition, instrumentation, and production (by Andy Hill) are exemplary examples of ’80s gloss. It’s also typical of the pop singles from that time period, in that it was never intended to be played live and the singers only ever performed to playback.
I gave my copy to Vale, the publisher of RE/Search, who asked if there were any good records I’d heard lately when he visited us. I think he was expecting something more esoteric or challenging.
From Russia With Love
(United Artists, 1963)
In 1963—when I was 10—I washed cars and mowed lawns to save enough to buy this James Bond soundtrack.
Feral Vapours of the Silver Ether
(Conspiracy International, 2007)
Our Carter Tutti track “Woven Clouds.” Eleven years on and I still find it near impossible to listen to. This is probably one of our best songs but it was such an emotional struggle recording it, as Cosey was going through some serious health issues and I can’t dissociate my feelings from that period whenever I hear it.
THE RECORD I USED TO PLAY BEFORE PERFORMING A SHOW
Absolutely nothing at all. I’ve never heard of any musicians doing that. Isn’t that what athletes do? I don’t even like talking much sefore a show; I like to zone out a little, but not too much, mind you. I don’t even drink, but being a lifelong teetotaler, I wouldn’t. The worst is when you have some excited promoter or drunk friend who wants to tell you something really deep and meaningful—well it is for them, not so much for you—just before you’re about to walk on stage in front of hundreds of fans expecting you to play your best. But you’re completely distracted thinking, ‘What the fuck was he on about?’
An Electric Storm
That record has some seriously creepy elements, especially if you listen to it on headphones in a darkened room. Love it!
Delia Derbyshire & Anthony Newley
Moogies Bloogies 7”
An ideal inspiration for my Chemistry Lessons sessions!