Alien Noises – A conversation with Mu

μ (pronounced ‘mew’) is a South-East London based artist who has for many years been producing some of the darkest and most unsettling drone, ambient and noise soundscapes around. Packed into the tiny basement venue of Vinyl – a wonderfully welcoming cafe, bar, record store and music venue in Deptford that’s full of character – μ opened the night with a spooky drone set using mainly handmade instruments and closed with an all-out power electronics cacophony, as part of the Pre-Easter Intox Extravaganza, a regular event of music and madness.

Weird Metal Blog spoke with μ about the abstract terror of H.P. Lovecraft, life-threatening gigs, surrealist ice-cream van jingles and more…

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First of all, what made you choose the μ symbol as the name for your project?

It’s a Greek character. It was a snotty, mysteriousness, kind of a Prince symbol thing. Also, my surname is Morgan so it’s just one of my initials. I jokingly called myself the KLF of noise music at one point so it ties in with the Discordian dimension. It ties in with lots of things on multiple levels. It looks mysterious but it kind of backfires because you can’t just have one character on social media!

You describe your music as “strange instruments in alien tunings”. The μ symbol goes well with the abstraction and strangeness.

 That well describes the first set I played tonight –  but I’m very varied. Some people would charitably call me eclectic but mostly I have a short attention span and get bored very easily. I do some laptop stuff, collage stuff, noise with pedals. I’m doing another set later which is power electronics, wearing a mask. I also do sound art, electro acoustic stuff. I started doing drone ambient stuff as a teenager – all themed around Lovecraft. It was basically a poor-man’s Lustmord although I’d never heard of him at the time. I was really pissed off when I first heard him and discovered he was better than me! I had no idea what I was doing then – didn’t really know what drone music was or anything. I was just trying to create this really horrifying, terror ambience. Ambient music that wasn’t cheesy like Brian Eno.

It’s interesting that you came to these genres without much prior knowledge. Do you think that’s shaped the way that you produce your music?

 I’ve been shaped by a lot of things. I used to speak on an extreme metal forum with a guy a long time ago called Ross Hagen – now Dr. Ross Hagen. He’s a musicologist who works bits of extreme metal and really obscure stuff into his teaching at a university in America, and he made ambient, drone stuff as Encomiast. He inspired me to use a bass guitar for ambient. It started there.

Then I studied sound art at Middlesex uni – they ran the flagship sonic arts course in this country for a long time – and I carried on experimenting with that sort of thing.

You mentioned Lovecraft earlier. What is it that draws you to making music inspired by Lovecraft?

Lovecraft is obviously hugely inspirational. He had a lot of stock devices and it was more about constructing atmospheres than plots. Obviously we was a singularly mentally-bizarre man who was terrified of absolutely everything and his fiction was very much about trying to convey that. I think he did that very effectively. Lovecraft created his fictional universe to articulate his abstractions of terror, which I think was really quite profound. He was trying to give voice to a nameless fear and the atmosphere that he created was something I really got into as a teenager. I really wanted to express this musically.

I always preferred things like black metal, which is very atmospheric, rather than death metal that’s just crass, boorish – about aggression more than anything else.

Right, totally. I mean Lovecraft is a massive influence on black metal, of course – it’s hard to find a band in that scene that doesn’t at least reference him at some point. What equipment were you using in your atmospheric, Lovecraftian-drone set tonight?

 A bed-spring contraption I made the other day from stuff I had kicking around. The bass thing is supposed to be a fish skeleton – I built it for a production called Father Dagon by Dread Falls Theatre, which is an immersive H.P. Lovecraft horror theatre experience. I went on tour with them, and built these things as visual props that also make scary noises. The bass is meant to sound like wrestling cries from the corpse of a dead whale. Sonically it’s not that much – the body is made of car body filler and bits of skip plank and has no resonance at all. But it looks quite cool. The cymbal thing came together by accident on set from bits I had in a bag.

I usually do overtone throat singing – I’ve been very into that since I first heard Darkthrone’s ‘Kathaarian Life Code’ – but I’ve had a throat infection recently.

So I have a concise set of tools for my horror-drone-ambient sets: strings, springs, metal and vocals. With loads and loads of reverb obviously!

The bedspring device works well – producing those high-pitched screeching noises that stand out from the other instruments.

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That was to add colour to the very dense drone. This whole set I’ve had to build up gradually, because originally I just provided incidental sounds. The first time I played this set I was locked in a cell at a venue called The Island in Bristol, an old police station. People could walk in and see what I was doing but they weren’t supposed to come and watch me play for twenty minutes, although they did end up doing that sometimes.

It’s not quite dense enough yet though. I’m trying to avoid using samples – maybe involving looping with voice or something – but I don’t want to get out a laptop and use a generic drone sample. It’s supposed to be very gestural, very organic.

It sounds like you’ve played a fair few gigs over the years. What’s the most random place you’ve played? Ever had any really crazy gigs?

Last year I played at The Invisible Museum – the first time I played with my mask. It was a squatted pump house in Blackwall. We played in the basement – you had to climb down a big industrial ladder as it was half flooded. There was a strange woman called Geisha Davis who was on Britain’s Got Talent doing weird performance art, with me and a guy called Tim Drage – as Cementimental – playing harsh noise. A load of people were only there for an art showing upstairs, though, so we smashed a load of things up for our set, to a bunch of people who had no idea what was going on!

The organizer actually played in the flooded sub-basement. His equipment is dangerous in a normal venue but he played in a little island, a foot deep in water! It was a really dangerous electrocution-hazard. That was a very strange, strange gig.

What’s the weirdest sound you’ve ever heard?

I have spent the last seventeen years of my life making and listening to weird sounds! A long, long time ago I made a track called ‘Ice Cream Van Damme’. It exploited the fact that Audacity’s noise removal function, if you ran it on the entire piece of audio you had open in the editor, used to mangle it and create all these weird artefacts. A friend of mine shoved a contact mic inside an empty beer can and crankled it around, and put reverb on it. It generated all these strange harmonics that sounded like some sort of surrealist ice-cream van jingle!

I’ve done a lot of things with circuit sniffing and induction coils, too, a lot of things that aren’t really sound spectrum. Electromagnetic frequency spectrum pollution. There’s a lot of very strange things in your everyday environment.

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And it’s that mixture of the strange and the mundane that we find at the core of The Weird. Weird Metal Blog highly recommends catching μ live for a performance guaranteed to be as unpredictable as it is intense. Also, if you’re in Deptford and like a hang-out that’s friendly, quirky and brimming with lovers of music and art, make sure you check out Vinyl.

μ currently has two up-coming performances: ‘Only Anarchists are Pretty’ at The Plough and Harrow, E11 4JU, on March 11 2016 (performing as Lydia Morgan), and ‘Destroy All Artifacts’ at The Montague Arms, SE15 2PA, on March 13 2016.

μ is also the guitarist for Bongdrinker, who describe themselves with too much deprecation as “the most disorganised improv noise doom band in the South East”.

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