Text by CLOT Magazine
London-based duo Barkum deer are presenting our next mixtape instalment with a mix that mirrors what it feels to listen to the world around us as if it were music.
Barkum Deer are Louis Giannamore and Jenny Ames, two talented musicians who met in a London house share and bonded over their love of early Renaissance music, black metal, and Björk. Amid the bleak reality of a winter lockdown, the pair found a space for creative collaboration unencumbered by deadlines or expectations, fuelled by the catharsis of experimentation.
Jenny graduated from the RCA and as a classically trained viola player, has performed with Björk, Floating Points and Mica Levi, while Louis is a drummer, producer, and graduate of Berklee College of Music who’s collaborated with the likes of Gang of Youths, Master Peace, and First Light Records labelmate Kinn.
Earlier this year, they released their debut self-titled album Barkum Deer (First Light Records, 2022), a dense half-hour trip into bass-rich drones, anxious strings and skittering electronic flourishes. Viola, drums, Jenny’s voice, and found samples (creaking doors and dusty footsteps) all combine to form a beautifully cinematic and abstract exploration.
The track’s sound is designed with a special awareness that makes it something really special, endowing the compositions with a haunting enduring physicality. In some tracks, travelling pulsating drums make you feel like galloping on a horse’s back at 100 miles per hour; in others, it’s the viola pulsating or stretching, with its string’s sound plunging into one body, pungently expanding and contracting within.
About the mix they have prepared for us, the whole of it is enveloped in found sounds and field recordings recorded by Louis: I’ve been on tour for most of 2022 with a band called Gang Of Youths, so I have had the opportunity to capture sounds from all over the world. There is a thunderstorm that you’ll hear in there I luckily timed and captured perfectly, Louis shares.
The mix opens with a live version of their song ‘Folding Fog’ and an alternative version of -also theirs- ‘Labyrinth’, which is found exclusively on the CD format of the album. Following, there are two solo pieces by Jenny and Louis, both of which can be found online. To round it off, they say, we have a roughly mixed, unreleased song for Barkum Deer. It’s not even finished, but I love the way it sounds. Referring to my comment earlier, I’ve been trying to teach my ears to listen to the world around us as if it were music. I feel this mix mirrors that. I’m chuffed about it.
You recently released your debut album, the self-titled Barkum Deer. What was the creative process like for the production? And what were you technically and conceptually exploring with it?
The album is one big and happy accident. I love that it is. Jenny and I set out to write music and jam together, but the snowball just kept rolling. We experimented extensively with unorthodox ways of recording Jenny’s viola, trying different synths with granular effects, capturing field recordings and manipulating the audio. We’d try something else new, repeat, and suddenly, we’re left with these songs we really liked!
The whole process was fun and liberating. Conceptually, I’ve always advocated for discovering the beauty within imperfections and trying not to be a f***, which I believe is a subtle art. I think you’ve got to break a few boundaries if you want to create uniqueness. I’m so god damn proud of these songs because we implemented our childlike sense of exploration into the writing process.
What were the challenges of producing an album during the pandemic, and how has your process changed for you now?
Honestly, we were limited in challenges, weirdly. We lived together in a home studio at the time, which made the production process pretty trouble-free. With the pandemic in full swing, what else could we do besides stay home and make weird ambient music? If anything, dealing with CPU overload, losing stems, and microphone bleed were common challenges. I’m sure Jenny also struggled to play with cold fingers (we wrote the album in wintertime). Considering we live apart now, I presume the challenges and creative processes would differ. Who knows, our next album could be a total ‘180’. We’re yet to unearth that yet, but time will tell.
How would you say you complement each other’s work?
Before Barkum Deer, I had always wanted to work with stringed instruments and dip my toe into the classical world. Then, along comes Jenny, whom, firstly, is a savage viola player, but then I find out she had played with one of my favourite artists – Mica Levi.
We have scarily similar music tastes and are both offensively ADHD. Jenny writes her own music (which is brilliant), as do I (maybe not so brilliant), but she is/was the icing on the cake I had been missing and longing for in my music. I can’t speak on her behalf, but not having Jenny in my compositions is like a salad without salad dressing.
What are your main inspirations for your productions these days, and in which direction do you see your interests develop after this release?
Like this debut album of ours, I hope we continue experimenting and creating more happy accidents. Music is fun that way. I’m currently reading ‘The Sound Book’ by Trevor Cox, which has hugely inspired me to search for sounds in hard-to-reach places and listen to the world as if listening to music; nature, cities, air vents, bird calls, creaky floorboards, an echoey cave etc. I hope my compositions become subject to that.
I had a conversation with a musician friend on this recently; they enjoy using a high-end recording studio as you have the ability to achieve whatever you want sonically. I agree entirely, but for me, the personal struggle, the imperfections, and the DIY-ness is what I love – it gives the music a story (that’s the youthful 11-year-old rat I once was who loved hardcore speaking).
Barkum Deer is no stranger to being DIY, and that is why I believe that every album will sound different. I do also write scores for films and feel like that influence has bled into Barkum Deer’s sound, horror scores especially; I love horror. Recently, however, I’ve been binging a lot of PJ Harvey and Perfume Genius’ new album. It’s so good.
What is your relationship with technology and the analogue for your productions nowadays? And how do you cope with technology (screen/digital) overload?
I want to throw my phone into a river! I hate how I’m so dependent on it and how much of a f***ing consumer I am! Despite that, I’d say I’m quite good at stepping away from it; because of the composition and music production work I do (which I love doing, of course), it does mean more screens. Whenever I’m a bit stressed or brain-fried from work, I’ll go for a walk and listen to music. It’s generic, but it really helps me.
Sometimes I just need to pick up a physical instrument. I’ve got my drum kit, my piano and sometimes my bass – just a 20-30 minute break where I’ll play for playing sake. I try to apply that same interactivity to my songwriting process too, once again, so I can feel like a kid playing with a toy. Kids don’t play with laptops and interfaces; they like shiny things that make noises.