Metronome Features

Interview: Group Listening discuss their new ambient album

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A collaboration between Stephen Black, aka Sweet Baboo, and experimental jazz musician Paul Jones, Group Listening have gifted the world with an album of ambient reworkings of some electronic classics. We caught up with the duo before they perform here on Friday 22 March.

How did the concept for Clarinet & Piano: Selected Works Vol. 1 come about?

It was down the pub. We were talking about playing some classical music, just for the fun of it. I thought it might be interesting to take some electronic pieces and represent them with clarinet and piano, but not unadorned like a straight-up classical recording. We wanted to have fun with the production, use a lot more live processes.

There’s an overarching feeling of optimism to the album, at least to me…

I can tell you that we had a lovely time recording it in a very small studio in west Wales. There was one moment where we pumped what we’d just recorded out through the speakers so loud that you could hear it outside. We then put a microphone outside – one of those big ones with a woolly sleeve – and recorded what we’d just played but with the ambience of the outdoors. However, on one field recording we picked up two people having a domestic, they must have been quarter of a mile away. That didn’t make it onto
the record.


The album has a beauty to it – it’s raw yet not rough…

It was about striking a balance. I was, kind of pretentiously, interested in having dogma whereby we weren’t allowed to overdub, or to do this or that. I think we only deviated from that with The Happy Whistler, we used a drum machine because it was integral to the original Raymond Scott song – if would have been noticeably absent. We tried to minimise post-production. It’s really interesting because it lends quite an improvisatory approach to doing the live shows; live is quite different in so much as we expand and contract the pieces, we sometimes take quite a lot of liberties with the original structure.

How difficult is it to get the sound right with just the clarinet and the piano in the more contemporary venues?

We’ve got quite a self-contained set-up. We bring pretty much everything we need, lots of small, quite low powered amplifiers. It’s just the two of us but we manipulate quite a few things on stage. I have got an 8-track tape recorder and we run lots of field recordings through it, drum tracks, and Stephen’s got pedals and a cassette recorder as well. It’s quite a big sound for two people, there’s quite a lot going on.

Read more articles and interviews in issue two of our magazine online. Group Listening come to Metronome on Friday 22 March – buy tickets now.