I’ve known Mark Harwood for a long time. You can read more about that in the Cyclic Selects he kindly did for us a few years back. He’s released music as DJ Quokenzocker and more recently as Astor, which blurs field recordings with the physical process of recording itself, as well as electronics, and a variety of weird sonic techniques. His most recent album is under his own name though, and this is significant. He sent A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name to me a couple of months ago. Its semi confessional structure with abstract field recordings, odd low key instrumentation and weirdly pitched anecdotal memories really threw me. I couldn’t work out if it was emotionally, almost painfully raw, or if the weirdness and abstraction were some form of emotional cloak, and it just gave the appearance of being uncomfortably intimate. It did however elicit quite an emotional impact. I was anxious, confused, though also really intrigued – yet I had absolutely no idea what it was or how to even begin to write about it. I can’t think of another time where I was this literally lost for words.
So I copped out, didn’t write a review and instead reached out to him to try and get a sense about what was going on in his world and how a work like A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name could ever come to exist. And if I’m being honest I was also a little bit worried about him.
Cyclic Defrost: Are you okay?
Mark Harwood: Yes. I’m fine. Thank you.
Cyclic Defrost: I ask because it seems like you’re having a midlife or existential crisis. What makes you desire to share it, and what has it been like to release it into the world?
Mark Harwood: Had. Maybe. Who knows? Life can throw things you don’t see coming. I had a lot of that last year. We have all had that this year. The desire to explore such themes came from a means of trying to be honest. Not all ‘music’ should be feel good and carve your mind into a particular form. I wanted to explore the fringes most ignore or pretend are not there. I was actually terrified to release this lp. When I received the test pressings and listened to those it did cross my mind that this is insane, but the response has been great. I have people write to say they can relate to the mood and this internal dialogue / anguish, this hazy paranoid fever that lurks within this record is something I share with others it seems. I was happy when it was out. It does it’s thing now. Nothing more for me to do about it.
Cyclic Defrost: To what extent was the process of creating A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name cathartic? I wonder if the act of working through the material, editing and mixing, reflected a similar process with some emotional issues. How do you feel about artists who use their art to process and work through their issues?
Mark Harwood: I’m not sure it was ‘cathartic’ but it was something I felt I had to do. I had all these internal dialogues rolling around in my brain every day so the spoken word parts were recorded very quickly whereby I pressed record and just let all these things pour out on their own terms. It is more a psychological exploration with no particular conclusion. It was constructed with no predetermined effect on the listener. It does seem to be aligned within the realm of tragedy (tragi-comedy) but I personally don’t feel there is any resolution, cathartic or otherwise.
Cyclic Defrost: With lines like “I used to be called a faggot by the girls in my school,” it’s brutally honest. Was it important for you to make it so raw or revealing? And is it revealing? What do you think caused you to reflect on your school experience – even offering a copy of your school report?
Mark Harwood: I once read an article on anxiety and that the root of all anguish is memory. It explained that people who suffer from an extreme form of Amnesia have very little anxiety as they can no longer recall these things that would bite away at a ‘regular’ human. In this sense I was accessing painful memories from early on, but also pleasant ones like the part about the lizard. I used to love seeing blue tongue lizards when playing in the school yard.
I find it fascinating that you can be sitting in a car in London in 2019 and suddenly a very vivid memory from 1985 suburban Melbourne comes to the fore. The record jumps around time and the extremes of human existence, both the gold and the dirt. Having said this I don’t know why I got stuck on school issues, likely they were some of the most prominent incidents of that stage of development. Outside of school I was a pretty quiet kid, either riding my bike alone or staying indoors listening to music and reading books, so less ‘action’ there. The school report appeared when working on the artwork, I was just going through a box of old things and this appeared. I forgot I had kept this. I did poorly at High School and subsequently re-reading all these teachers tear me apart I very much enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed the one I reproduced for the insert which is the summary of my performance in year 11 drama class. It was so perfect in describing my character, my ‘performances’ today and this record. I decided to include it as a facsimile which became the full stop to finishing the album.
Cyclic Defrost: It does seem more personal, notwithstanding the use of your own name as the artist, it’s also peppered with spoken reflections. I’m curious about some of your sound sources and their meaning to you?
Mark Harwood: The sounds and musical components are the clothes line to peg the words on. They’re a backdrop to accentuate the mood, whether it’s paranoid, playful or perplexed. I would say it’s one third things I made, some electronics, farfisa organ etc. One third field recordings I made and one third things I grabbed from elsewhere. film’s, youtube, dvd extra rips etc. Some of these recordings I had been lugging around with me for a couple of years and used as sequences of backing tapes when performing. The romantic melancholic classical part on side A was one of those but I have no idea what that piece of music is nor where it came from. There’s a part at 10:25 mins in Side A where I say (lower in the mix) “I love the stars as they sit high in the sky, I love Bell’s Palsy when it fucks up the eye”. That music was playing in a bathroom at a restaurant in Metz, France. Myself and my partner really like it and stood in the shared part of the bathroom as people came and went about their business. The words I threw on top in this kinda joke Nick Cave way, the first part is something he would say with these grand gestures of his. The second part happened to me, I woke up one day 8 years ago with Bell’s Palsy. And it really fckd up my eye. I was not able to close it fully for 9 or so months and even now I see a distorted me when I laugh in a mirror. These grand ambitions slamming against the reality of things. Christmas confronts mundane chores such as packing up records and labelling the boxes. A lot of the record moves around these elements.
Side B starts with some of my shitty electronic music which falls into a sequence taken from Robert Altman’s 3 Women. I love the way he addresses family in that film. Something I can relate to. The second part of Side 2 addresses the experience I had in Chile towards the end of last year. My tour there happened to coincide with this enormous wild social upheaval. It really was total anarchy and by far the wildest thing i have ever experienced. I had a fckd up head anyway from betrayal in London and fell into this so it was a very extreme state I found myself in. Then being tear gassed repeatedly, shot at my military etc… At this point in the record I am turning around in my head the fantasy of London online political hysteria and opinion vs the brutal violent physical reality of the Chilean movement. There is a small block of music which is very early recordings of The Mapuche of Chile a friend sent me on vimeo. The last part of the lp as it leaves you are field recordings from the protests, but a more calm side of it all, the coughing is from tear gas, the electronics are to depict the disorientation I found myself amongst at this time. Let me be blunt here, I do like completely insane and unhinged music. Things like The Shadow Ring’s ‘Lindus’, that’s really on the spectrum for me and it excites me to enter into, witness and experience such states of mind. Whitehouse’s Cruise would be another good example. I would put the fantastic Barn Sour 7” released on careful catalogue this year in the same category. A friend mentioned Artuad’s ‘To Have Done With The Judgement of God’ after he listened to the album, which in turn made me think of the Fassbinder film, ‘Satan’s Brew’, two other examples that I feel fall into this category.
Cyclic Defrost: What was the process of making it? Did you know what you were doing at the time? Do you know what you’ve done now?
Mark Harwood: It was part conscious and part a free for all. The various sound sources came together fairly quickly as they are laid out in the final work. The spoken word parts were also made in two sessions of pressing record and ranting away. I tend to talk to myself a lot and finding myself trapped alone at home this year only accentuated this and made this part easy. It all came together fairly quickly and ironically with little anxiety.
Cyclic Defrost: “I love the midday coffee,” there’s also the mundane – elements of daily life. What made you desire to include these elements of everyday?
Mark Harwood: No idea to be honest. I do love a cheeky midday coffee though. The narrative covers a vast spectrum from the routine to random, early memory to current daily doings. It’s possible I wanted to cover a range of aspects of ‘living’.
Cyclic Defrost: Many of the field recordings are strange and ill defined, lots of clunking, banging on a table over gentle electronics. For some reason a lot of it makes me anxious. Does this say more about me than you? How did you decide what field recordings to use?
Mark Harwood: I think there’s an undercurrent of edginess to the whole thing but it’s actually rather gentle. It plays on a certain heaven/hell/tension/release dynamic which ultimately could be responsible for a degree of listener unease. Sorry about that.
Cyclic Defrost: Graham Lambkin calls it “a palimpsest of derelict ideas and unloved skits, etched onto the tattered skin of Salmon Run and worn before an audience of no one.” Is he correct? How would you describe A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name? Does it all make sense to you? Is it supposed to?
Mark Harwood: Yes, haha… it all makes perfect sense to me. It is me. It is the sound of me. It could be construed as a study in memory, hope and a flawed existence. It’s not only machines that make glitches.
Cyclic Defrost: What’s the difference between Astor and Mark Harwood? Do you anticipate we might hear more from this Harwood character in the future?
Mark Harwood: Pretty sure I’m gonna stick with the Harwood. He’s more fun.
A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name is out on Penultimate Press. You can find it here.