Brisbane laptop musician Andrew Tuttle records as Anonymeye. He’s known as something of an Australian equivalent to the much championed ‘laptop folk’ sub-section of experimental music. But where other mainly Western folk traditions have been appropriated or reconstructed into revisions of themselves, Tuttle, as Anonymeye, more often deconstructs, his steel-string acoustic guitar reduced to an often brutal digital decay. At other times, particularly in his beat-focused 2006 debut, Anonymeye Motel, Tuttle calls on his love of pop and the interesting end of ’90s electronic music to prescribe new contexts again for these folk ‘reconfigurations.’
With a second album to be released on Sound&Fury in April 2009, The Disambiguation of Anonymeye, Tuttle is converging and extending these influences, taking the guitar and its proponents in Anonymeye into a wider, darker catchment of manipulations.
Anonymeye’s evolutions, however, have been unified by a curious fascination with the very regular and ordinary existence of ‘middle’ Australia. When I first picked up Anonymeye Motel, I was struck by its commitment to this aesthetic, from the cover art’s framed picture of a post-War Australian motel, to the tacky font, liner notes disguised as an instruction worksheet and the tracklisting transformed into a room service menu, with complete descriptions of their ingredients. The CD itself came pouched in its own piece of motel memorabilia: green pool table felt.
The packaging seemed oddly alien for something so distinctly Australian. So often, it seems that Australian musicians are attempting to escape their origins by engaging in an international sound aesthetic. Tuttle occupies a space that is both heavily contemporary and staunchly local – at one moment allowing country-esque open tuning improvisations, and in others ripping at the very fabric of the sound, coming across as a jilted take on the distortion-heavy processing of experimental luminaries Christian Fennesz and Greg Davis.
It is apt, then, that the beginning of the project, in a geographical sense, almost mirrors this duality. Tuttle explains, “I started working on Anonymeye in 2004 as a result of going on tour to Europe with some friends, Brisbane ex-pat noise duo Kunt, and wanting to have some of my own music so I wouldn’t have as many moments of downtime. I’d played in various bands, but never anything solo. It was a fairly spontaneous beginning, and one that I’d only really started to think about after about half a dozen shows.
“The earliest Anonymeye material was quite sample-based, kind of a country ‘glitch-hop’ constructed around copyright-free or at least not too obviously copyrighted sounds and grabs from op shop records and online databases. I had wanted to combine my interest in country music and eccentric Australiana with cut-up electronic beats and my own vocals. Over time, I gradually phased out sampling in favour of a more organic approach, preferring to use the acoustic guitar as the primary sound source, with live sampling and looping of these sounds.”
Certainly, this interest in “eccentric Australiana” is one that becomes probably the most distinctive extension of Andrew Tuttle’s character into the music itself. I’ve always pictured an adolescent Tuttle in the 1990s, taking in the East Coast on a family holiday, packaging these little memories, artifacts of times and places that are more often regarded with distaste – Australia’ reputation for being culturally (and otherwise) barren.
“The distinctive natural beauty of Australia is hard to ignore, with the long open stretches of highway and its beach culture. As well as this natural beauty, I’m also inspired by the quirks of Australian culture, the humour, the spirit, and the faded glories of many of our coastal tourist strips.”
“I think there’s a lack of pretension and an endearing camaraderie through the Australian underground creative community, which is probably both positively and negatively influenced by our geographical isolation.
“While my interest in Australia and Australiana is probably less obvious in Anonymeye’s themes than it was around the time of Anonymeye Motel, I think it is hard for the location one lives and travels in not to inspire creatively.”
The material produced after Anonymeye Motel almost entirely eschewed beat-based arrangements, and with it, went some of the focus on a suburban or semi-rural Australian aesthetic. It would probably be unfair to label this as a conscious choice of Tuttle’s, as all three of his releases since the debut have been administered by external parties: Australian labels Sound&Fury, HellosQuare and Curt.
The packaging of the first of these, Phase Two, released on Sound&Fury, run by recently converted rural hermit Adam D. Mills, turned attention away from the human elements of the Australian landscape, taking on the kind of pastoral focus that is, by comparison, quite popular among Australia’ experimental musicians. Encased in the regular wax-sealed, handmade envelope of the sound&fury CD-R series is a motion blurred photograph of a nondescript field, which, at a stretch, could be categorised as the movement from the ‘motel’ into the natural environment.
It is both opposite and parallel to the musical progression over the same time. Phase Two, and the split releases with ex-pat British electronic musician, Part Timer (HellosQuare) and Nottingham guitarist Cam Deas (Curt), saw more rhythmically piloted electronic processing give way to heavily eroded drones and free time, delay-based processing. This freedom was itself manifested by a shift in attitudes that Tuttle experienced.
“I have as much love for pop music and beat based music as I do for experimental and folk music, but since the release of Anonymeye Motel I’ve found myself not wanting to be boxed in by a defined, rigid structure when composing and performing. When I first started Anonymeye, sound sources aside, there was structurally very little different from other music I had made up to that point.”
“Since then, I’ve appreciated the difficulties and rewards of creating music, at least for Anonymeye, that has a slow but definite design.
“The tracks I recorded for the Sound&Fury, Curt and hellosQuare releases are three of my favourite longer form improvisations for acoustic guitar and signal processing, albeit edited down somewhat. These are similar to my live performances, in that the relationship between the guitar and the computer is total, with both elements equally important to the end sound.
“I’ve found that the Anonymeye studio albums have incorporated less of this one-take improvisatory relationship. Additionally, as I’ve performed and improvised more, I have felt much more comfortable with my processing abilities. It is a never ending journey full of change, comfort, inadequacy and inspiration, but it is proving worthwhile thus far.”
His interaction with the process of making music seems to have as much to do with informing how he makes music as the actual, musical result of those processes.
“The particular processes I utilise to create music, both technological and intellectual, definitely influence the end result. Of course, this isn’t entirely the case, and I wouldn’ persist with these approaches if I wasn’t happy with the end result; or at least confident of future paths I could explore.”
One important aspect of this process is the primary instrument used for input, Tuttle’s hefty steel string acoustic, which he says helped his musical tours around Europe on a holiday visa appear more legal in the eyes of Dutch customs workers. It has also been as readily identified as anything else, over the past three years, as the primary tool of Anonymeye.
“Though it’s an instrument I still hold with some trepidation, mostly because of overly earnest semi-professional singer-songwriters, their busking counterparts, and MTV Unplugged style performances, the acoustic guitar has largely defined and influenced the music I have made as Anonymeye since around 2006.”
Tuttle offers this with lightness, almost suggesting that the decision to use the instrument was more natural than by any artificial choice. “I was performing with an electric guitar, however, it was used only sparingly in live performance and on recordings, almost as an afterthought. Since then, most of my live performances and recordings as Anonymeye have been heavily reliant on the sounds created from this instrument.
“I use the acoustic guitar in two ways, one as a solo instrument to create structured compositions, and secondly as a sound source to be looped and manipulated through digital processing. The guitar I own has a wonderful tone, which is magnified when using complementary open tuning patterns.”
It’s these open tunings that seem to give most Anonymeye recordings this sense of earthiness, which, in the past, has worked as a strong grounding for other elements.
A notable counterpoint to the acoustic guitar, and this “earthiness” in much of Tuttle’s music, particularly on the forthcoming album, The Disambiguation of Anonymeye is the use of square tones, saw tones and sine tones. The resolution of these two rather disparate elements is a fascinating process to watch unfold. The opening two pieces in the new album explore a more mechanical, confronting sound than has previously been seen from Anonymeye. Short, quickly decaying synth based pieces that immediately, shockingly give way to a third track, beginning with the measured, improvisatory guitar that has previously marked Anonymeye’s style. This piece, and indeed, the rest of the album, sees a remarkable tension between these forces, which had been built up over the releases that separate Anonymeye Hotel and The Disambiguation of Anonymeye.
â€œI’m not sure that I have been able to completely manage a middle point between the guitar and synthesiser and processor yet, but the surprises the constant challenge continually brings I find incredibly rewarding, albeit occasionally frustrating.”
“I have primarily used processed sounds and synthesised sounds as a bedding to the piece I’m working on, as these sounds provide a certain aural density that the acoustic guitar lacks. I’ve found though that I approach both sound sources in a fairly similar manner live, in that as a piece builds all the sounds contained continue to subtly influence each other, and as an extension my thoughts on where to progress from there.”
The Disambiguation of Anonymeye was produced in a number of locations, as per Tuttle’s tendency toward movement (having moved from Brisbane to Melbourne and back to Brisbane, as well as touring Europe twice in two years). One particularly notable home during this period of recording and editing was afforded by an invitation to record at the Centre for Electronic Music in Rotterdam for four days, sparking a number of joking comparisons to Rutger Zuydervelt, the enormously prolific sound designer behind Machinefabriek. While Tuttle did not end up releasing the full profits of this session as an album on its own, the contribution its facilities, housed within the WORM artist-run initiative, made to the shape of the album in its final form is undeniable.
“Before coming to WORM, I had endlessly internally debated how I would approach the session, but when I got there, I reasoned to myself that I would be able to find inspiration from what surrounded me. I had access to a mind boggling array of vintage modular and analogue synthesisers and other equipment. It had the potential to either fail or result in far too many hours of pointless jams, but I managed to recreate an approach of improvisation in a multi-track studio environment. I found myself tweaking with a synthesiser until I found a sound I liked, running to the other side of the room to tweak another synthesiser, run to my guitar, run back to another synthesiser, and so forth, all with the convenience of editing capabilities later on.”
I first caught Anonymeye live quite late in the piece, at the launch of the first Pow Wow release on Sydney label Feral Media, in 2006. At the time, Tuttle was assisted by Jon Tjhia on keys and Alex Nosek on guitar, the two members of Melbourne group ii. It was a curious context to first experience him in action, but ultimately set me on the path of finding the Anonymeye that has its roots in improvisation and in this case, collaboration.
“I enjoy performing live as I get to play in front of a mix of friends and strangers, enjoy other sights and sounds and occasionally travel. The combinations of brief sound checks, bad sound, free drinks and time pressures leave me more prone to error than I would be in the home studio,” he says, with welcome frankness.
“I work fairly similarly at home and playing live, it is just the output volume that ultimately differs.”
The live realm has always been a difficult place for experimental musicians, particularly in this era of offline processing and computer dependent forms of production. Each copes or adapts differently to this environment, and Tuttle’s own approach seems to follow, philosophically, the stylistic basis for the post-Anonymeye Hotel releases.
“Particularly when performing live, although it is wholly improvised, it does follow a kind of internal flowchart structure, in that I know I start at point A and finish within sight of point B, but everything else in between is not so easily defined.”
“Although I love the possibilities of the studio environment, I don’t particularly have the patience to complete flawless opuses and tweak every single sound for eternity.” It seems that this is where the music ultimately springs from, where the “process”, so to speak, finds its genesis. “For better or for worse, I think the risks of imperfection are outweighed by the inspiration I find from taking a risk.”
Anonymye’s The Disambiguation of Anonymeye is available from Sound&Fury.