It’s been a while since Adelaide-based ambient project Hollow Press has released anything new. It’s been seven months to be precise. That’s not a very long time, but Shaun McNamara issued four releases last year, so something had to give.
‘In Dreams’ is taken from a new full-length album called In Your Nature. Like much of McNamara’s early material it flits between stationary ambiance and more stately, subtlely melodic instrumentals. Embedded below is an example of the former. It’s like standing at the foot of a towering chrome skyscraper in a grey, foggy plain.
It’s only February, but Adelaide producer Hollow Press already has at least two releases scheduled for the year: one is a free remix album, and the other is a collection of new material courtesy of Wood & Wire. The album has no title or release date at present, but there is this preview video for a track called ‘Memory Lapse’. The video features footage from L’Etoile de Mer / Poison / Emak Bakia by Man Ray, and together with the music it resembles what might happen if W.G Sebald and William Basinski ever collaborated. Wouldn’t that be nice.
Adelaide’s Hollow Press has a new full-length CD-R called Between Us, and US label Drug Arts has once again released it. Hollow Press has had a pretty busy year: Luke Telford reviewed his other 2012 album a couple of months back, noting that it “[feels] like a homage to the errant beauty that sometimes arises from urban abjection”. The approach hasn’t changed dramatically on Between Us, but the track embedded below stands out in all its lunatic ward glory.
The CD-R is available to purchase now through Drug Arts, and you can choose to buy the digital edition if you so wish. Polish photographer Sonjia Firlej has once again provided the cover photography for this record. Read our interview with Hollow Press here.
Hollow Press is the work of Adelaide’s Shaun McNamara. It’s his only musical work to date, so if his name seems as familiar to you as it did to me, you needn’t go searching.
So far, Hollow Press has two releases – an EP called Empathy and a long player called Fleeting Joy [reviewed here]. Each presents a series of mood-focused dreamscapes for the listener to lean into and explore on their own terms. Through tinny laptop speakers, the music sounds quietly foreboding and monotonous – up close, it becomes a potent, immersive experience. Close your eyes for even 20 seconds of ‘Elysium’, and you can begin to peer into the forlorn, sublime limbo that birthed these tracks.
The impression of McNamara channeling the fallout between discrete spaces is mirrored by the two forms his music takes. Much of his music is devoted to a kind of gloriously devolved beatscape that shares certain things with witch house or minimal techno, but dispenses with the sensuousness and forward motion of those tags. The music’s other approach eschews rhythm entirely in favour of dense digital texture and seething ambient spaces. A prevailing sense of resignation and quiet hope bridges the two settings. It’s potent, and occasionally challenging, but richly rewards the time you spend with it.
Why the name Hollow Press?
I’m a big fan of Grouper, I think Liz Harris is amazing. She has a song called ‘Hollow Press’. It’s not a favourite song of mine but I really like the title.
Why did you start Hollow Press? Were you trying to express or address anything in particular?
I started the project at the beginning of 2012. At first it was something I didn’t think would take off, more of just a hobby. I want Hollow Press to remain an ideal of creative expression and celebrate the general freedom of experimentation. I appreciate artistic individuality as opposed to conformity and I hope that clearly comes across in my music.
Your music feels as though it addresses the quietly oppressive nature of the internet and its associated data saturation. How does your experience of digital culture impact on your work?
Since my music heavily involves sampling and data manipulation, digital culture is extremely important. And because of the digital age, I’ve been able to connect with people all over the world. I only had Fleeting Joy online for about four weeks when I was contacted with the prospect of joining US label Drug Arts. This type of connection with people from around the world inspires me to continue making music.
How important is ‘texture’ in your music?
It’s extremely important. I want my sound to have its own environment and I think each layer plays an important role. I enjoy taking sounds from everyday environments – a door opening, a person walking up stairs, trees swaying in the wind, tape hiss, etc. Manipulating those sounds is one of the most enjoyable aspects I’ve experienced while being Hollow Press. I like knowing that I can make music without a regular instrument, but instead with sounds from the everyday world.
The ambient passages in your music are incredibly affecting – you can’t listen to them closely without them changing your mood somehow. Is this the goal with Hollow Press: to create a mood for the listener? When you begin work on a track, what do you envision for it?
I don’t ever want to enforce a particular mood, because I want to leave that to the listener to decide. I don’t want people getting depressed when they listen to Fleeting Joy, I want them to be able to enjoy it without falling down a gloomy hole. I want there to be a connection with the listener – if they are willing to let themselves experience it. When I begin to work on a track, I visualise a soundscape that is fairly intimate, with low frequency rumbles, machine noises, distorted voices – things like that. I envision making sounds that can be enjoyed and appreciated by people with open minds.
Do you draw on dream experiences when you write? Was there some other subconscious environment that you were trying to dial into when writing Fleeting Joy?
I love that escape from reality, removing yourself from the world. I like places that are quiet and sleep is one of those unique places. Fleeting Joy is like a taping of my subconscious in some piece of my world.
Why the ‘Fire Walk With Me’ track? Is it a cover, or more of an homage?
It’s not a cover, but I do like David Lynch. As you’ve noticed, I’ve sampled voices from Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, two of my favourite Lynch films. I like the surreal nature of his films.
Actually, your music sometimes has an implicitly cinematic feel to it. Do you ever begin with particular images in mind?
People have told me that before, but I’ve never tried to intentionally make a song that would be suitable for cinema. I suppose my more hushed, ambient songs would be considered cinematic to some. I could see me doing a new score to one of my favourite short films, Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren. That could be fun. But I think I approach music with more of a photographic image in mind, rather than the cinematic image.
Your music has two pronounced settings – moody ambience, and kind of textural, deconstructed hip hop instrumentals. Why do you splice both of these approaches into Hollow Press?
I find it funny that I’ve used some instrumental hip hop beats because I don’t listen to hip hop. But most of the beats I used were dragged through dirt and covered in muck. My first EP was drenched in witch house samples and beats. Ambient music generally doesn’t have any beats, so I guess I thought it would be interesting to mix some in to almost create some sort of sound dilemma or aural confusion. And looking back now, I’m not a huge fan of that EP release. I think it’s okay, but it becomes tiring and dull because there are no spacious qualities. With Fleeting Joy, the beat work seemed to work much better. But my next release will most likely have no beats at all.
What would you identify as the primary influences, or touchstones, for the music you make as Hollow Press?
Cocteau Twins are incredibly inspiring to me because their music was so textured and mysterious. Whenever I listen to them I lose sense of where I am. And, of course, Grouper is an influence, as well as Motion Sickness of Time Travel, His Name is Alive, Lovesliescrushing, Topaz Rags, Valet and aTelecine. I listen to so much music and it’s all inspiring in some way. Some other influences come from Kafka, Camus, and photographic work from the likes of Rebecca Cairns and Sonia Firlej. I think I’m inspired by a lot of things, whether it’s a piece of art or part of nature.
Tell us about the photography you’ve used for the artwork on Empathy and Fleeting Joy. Why did you choose these images?
The artwork is from Polish photographer Sonjia Firlej. She has been incredibly supportive of my music. I will be using more of her photographs for future releases and I’m forever grateful to her. The images that I’ve chosen both feature individuals with their eyes covered – not covered by another, but covered by choice. We don’t have to accept everything that is shoved down our throats or thrown at us to see. We get the right and the freedom to do what we want. Also, I like to look at these photographs as images from a dream.
I imagine some people would write your music off as too difficult, or too dark to really warrant close listening. How would you encourage people to listen to it, and what would you hope they take from it, were they to give it the effort it deserves?
I’m sure a lot of people would find my music boring or too difficult. Some would find it depressive, sure, but I don’t make it for those narrow-minded, conservative types. I encourage those with an open mind to give it a try and see where it might take them.
Fleeting Joy is a dark record, but not a tiresome one. Even in its most muted, desperate moments, it feels eerily familiar.
Its success lies in its balance of rhythmic focus with softly glowing swathes of ambient wash. The latter are heavily digital and palpably emotive, sometimes exhaustingly so. Some (‘Elysium’) play out as evocative vignettes – potent, minor key suspensions a bit like those found on the last Actress record. The others are so delicate and desperate that they barely register. At their most withdrawn (‘Blood-Stained Fields’), they feel like the aural by-product of digital saturation – the sludgy dross seeping from between the seams of a streaming video site or inanely spewing social media feed, or the full-sensory tinnitus that settles after weeks playing a post-apocalyptic shooter. They fit the supreme abjection that days lost in that fizzing abyss impose on a person. When you emerge from such a stint, every real thing you process feels filtered through a kind of perceptive static – dimmed, blurred. Numbed to the detail of the real world, all input becomes muted digital texture, and you want to hold it at arms length.
The record begins so quietly as to almost be absent. ‘Unravel’ opens with a single viscous synth pad and the meditative plod of a processed dial tone, while a distant, sandy hiss ebbs and flows. ‘The metamorphosis’ is laced with a muted, chiming melody, spinning slowly off key, like some distant, twisted mobile. Its ominous drone is punctured with menacing whispers pitched too low to comprehend. They orbit the space between your ears, answering each other as if in ritual call and response, until silenced by a coruscating rift of synth.
In contrast, much of the beat oriented material feels oddly celebratory, in spite of the resiliently stygian mood that unites the record. The off-key vocal samples and brooding drones that spool forth over po-faced beats belie a wary optimism. ‘Tomorrow’ is the best example of this. Its rhythm track is tweaked to sound deliberately flat, like it was ripped to and from a lossy format too many times, but it’s difficult to resist nodding your head to its clipped meter. The woozy melancholy of the portamento synth that laces the track’s upper register is keenly bittersweet.
‘Fire Walk With Me’ is the only track that breaks from the stricture set by rest of the record. Littered with dramatic vocal samples, its quietly snarling bass and stately digi-tympani lend filmic menace and melodrama, while the plastic horns, strings and the fumbling twang of an electric guitar invite allusions to Ennio Morricone or, appropriately, Angelo Badalamenti. It’s evocative in a particularly Lynchian way, but given the context of the surrounding pieces, it feels a little like a dry joke – not an unwelcome move on a record as bleak as this.
Fleeting Joy closes in keeping with its underlying mood: ‘Fade Away’ opens with quiet processed traffic noise that billows into a noxious, drifting synthscape. It recalls the plangent noir passages that litter the Blade Runner soundtrack, but feels resigned to the modern spaces it evokes – both shaken by the magnitude and coldness of its surroundings and humbled by the context they provide.
After a few listens, it begins to feel like a homage to the errant beauty that sometimes arises from urban abjection – to the ‘skippy girls’ clumsily painted on a corrugated iron fence, or to the weed leaf that grows unexpectedly from the cracks in the concrete outside your house.