Growing Up In The Dark Peaks : A Conversation With Simon Pott

When you step into the musical world of Simon Pott’s Isvisible Isinvisible, there’s a sense of wonder and mystery. It’s a wheezing, pulsating universe of buzzing circuits, synthetic rhythms, mechanical drones and vague nods to science fiction. Pott orchestrates these analog musical narratives mostly thru modular synthesizers(and seemingly lots of patience and trial and error, as you’ll hear.) Composing via modular synth is a path not for the impatient. It’s a constantly changing and evolving instrument, and despite it’s necessity for a mad musical scientist to control and manipulate it it very much has a mind of its own.

Simon Pott is indeed a mad musical scientist, having spent years working with the instrument made famous(or infamous) with names like Buchla, Moog, and ARP; as well as players like Pauline Oliveros, Klaus Schulze, Morton Subotnick Suzanne Ciani, Kraftwerk, and Tangerine Dream. The difference between Pott and those famous players is that he builds rather beautiful musical landscapes as opposed to the more obscure sonic worlds of his predecessors. Simon Pott’s debut with Burning Witches Records, simply titled Isvisible Isinvisible is an exquisite slice of analog beauty. He has this knack for creating these all-encompassing pieces of music that sound more like modular symphonies, rather than just well drawn synth pieces. There’s an epic quality to his work that makes his songs feel more like companion pieces to a much bigger artistic arc.

Besides his release with Burning Witches, he also self-released Ghosts of Furness Vale late last year(available for download right here.) It’s yet another example of the electronic beauty Pott creates.

I had the pleasure of talking with Simon Pott about his musical beginnings, influences, his process, and where he grew up(which plays a big role in the composer he has become.) Grab a cuppa and enjoy.


J. Hubner: So where are you from? Where did you grow up?

Simon Pott: I was born in Manchester and lived around and about there in the Greater Manchester area until moving to the Isle of Man in my teens.

I did spend a good chunk of my youth living in a village called Furness Vale about 15 miles from the centre of Manchester, and in the shadow of the Peak District (The Dark Peaks).

Memories of living there have influenced my music quite deeply. Most of the tracks on my last couple of albums have a tie to Furness Vale in one way or another.

J. Hubner: Were you interested in music as a kid? Did you take music lessons when you were young?

Simon Pott: I never had music lessons, but I was massively influenced by music as a kid.

After the usual kids records, like The Wombles, Jungle Book and so on I moved onto a lifelong love of ABBA, and by the time I was 8 I’d diversified and become a tiny little punk, Buzzcocks, The Sex Pistols etc, but obviously still loved ABBA and The Wombles.

By the time I was a teenager I was deeply entrenched in the Post Punk scene, specifically the Manchester scene, Joy Division, Magazine, The Fall and so on along with a very healthy interest in The Human League, Tubeway Army, Throbbing Gristle, Soft Cell and Status Quo…

By my late teens I was discovering the older bands that had influenced the bands that I was into, bands like Can, Faust, Neu, Amon Duul II, Tangerine Dream, The Velvet Underground and so on… it’s all music that I still love to this day.

J. Hubner: Do you remember the first record you bought with your own money?

Simon Pott: The first single I bought with my own pocket money was S.O.S. by ABBA. Took me quite a while to save for it so it was probably a year after it was released or something, I think I got about 5p a week off my Dad back then.

I spent most of my money on a few singles, but it wasn’t until December 1977 that I bought my first album with a combination of pocket money and some Christmas money. I bought Never Mind The Bollocks by The Sex Pistols…. I had to hide it from my Dad, and only bring it out to play when he was out. Although I’m sure he knew.

J. Hubner: Prior to your work under the Isvisible Isinvisible moniker, did you play in any proper bands? Punk rock band in a garage? Playing techno music in a club? Phil Collins cover band?

Simon Pott: I’ve been making music in one form or another for most of my life.

I guess from the early days before I was in a band I made noisy music with my synths, fuzz bass and drum machine, I think I sounded like Throbbing Gristle or something, in reality it was awful though.

Most of the bands I was in could be described as post punk/post rock, and the last band I was in (The Chasms) was probably best described as experimental.

We didn’t rehearse or record in a garage, it was a big old freezing cold barn at extreme volume. Fun times.

None of the bands I was in really got anywhere, the most successful(!?) of which being The Chasms who were voted into the John Peel Festive 50 (now curated by Dandelion Radio) top 5 for 4 years on the trot, culminating in a 2nd place, just as we broke up.

J. Hubner: So where did your love/interest in modular synths begin? What was the catalyst to go that route? I’ve watched some of your Youtube videos and I’m completely mesmerized by them. I find what you do quite beautiful, really. 

Simon Pott: Thank you. It’s basically all down to Richard Quirk who I was in The Chasms with. Along with some killer guitars and amps he had lots of old synths and vintage effects, which I loved. But he also had a few modular synth rigs in different formats, Eurorack, Bugbrand and so on. And he lent me one of his small(ish) Eurorack set-ups made up of mainly Doepfer modules and I fell in love with it. I ended up buying it off him, which sent me down this empty pocketed path I find myself on now.

J. Hubner: My first exposure to your work was with your Burning Witches cassette release earlier in the year. How did you get involved with Darren and Gary? You are in very good company over there.

Simon Pott: I used to run a record label for several years, and in that time I did enough promotion work to last a lifetime, so I’ve not really bothered promoting my own music. But I found myself with 3 albums I was really happy with, for one of them (Ghosts of Furness Vale) I decided to just do what I normally do and put it out on Bandcamp myself. That left me with two albums which got me thinking a bit about what I wanted to do with them, either stagger the releases on Bandcamp, or actually send it to people to see what they think.

I had a good think and decided to get in touch with Burning Witches as I had recently discovered them and absolutely loved what they were doing. So I sent them an album of the more ambient tracks and to my surprise they loved it.

We got talking and I mentioned I had another album of more Krautrock based tracks, they asked to hear it and they suggested a double album, which became the self titled ‘isvisible isinvisible’ album. Which I’m absolutely over the moon about.

J. Hubner: Let’s talk about the album. I think it’s a brilliant bit of analog bliss. Dense, dark, and with a progressive lean to it. What was the process like in creating that album? How long had you been composing the pieces that made up the record? 

Simon Pott: As mentioned, if the Burning Witches guys hadn’t intervened, it would have been two separate albums. So I’m grateful to them for seeing it as a double album, which I think works very well, and something I hadn’t even considered.

The tracks were selected from recordings made over about 18 months. I generally seem have around 50 tracks or so that I’m thinking about, the majority of which I’ll not even start mixing.

Some of the tracks were written and recorded in just a couple of days, and some over the space of a few weeks. Sometimes more depending on the complexity (or density) of the track, and my ability to bend the will of the modular to mine.

Sometimes it can take weeks to make it do exactly what I want, and sometimes I can’t get it to do what I want at all, but it will surprise me with something unexpected.

Once I’m happy with what I’m hearing and it’s as close as I can get to what I had in mind, then I’ll hit record and that’s it, a live recording that I’ll just edit down to what I want without any overdubs or additional effects.

I’m not sure if the way I work is the best for most people, and I’m sure I could probably improve several tracks with a bit of overdubbing, but I’m happy working this way.

J. Hubner: I would say don’t change a thing. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working. Even down to the instrumentation. Speaking of which, there’s quite an impressive list of instruments listed on your Bandcamp page of everything that went in to creating the album. If you had to pick just one piece of equipment as essential over all else, what would it be? And why?

Simon Pott: Well, obviously there’s the modular synth, that’s currently spread out over 5 racks or cases. But taking that out of the equation, my favourite bit of kit is my Marshall Time Modulator Model 5002. It’s a completely unique effect that has a sound that I just can’t recreate with any other bit of gear.

Ah, can I have 2 bits of gear?

I have several sequencers as part of the modular synth, but I also have an external cv and gate sequencer, the Koma Komplex, which is a stunning bit of kit that provides the modular with so much control. Love it.

J. Hubner: What’s the concept behind the epic “Behind The Studded Oak Door”? At nearly 15 minutes it feels like a moment the album works up to. 

Simon Pott: Funny you should say the album was working up to it as I nearly changed the running order at the last minute to make that the very last track, kinda wish I had done now. Although it also works as the introduction to the ambient(ish) Isinvisible side of the tape.

‘Behind The Studded Oak Door’ is influenced by my time in Furness Vale as a kid. My Dad worked for a local family, and on Christmas day they’d invite all their family from around the UK to their big old house to join them for their Christmas dinner, and me and my Dad were always invited (for some reason). The house was rumoured to be in the Domesday Book, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not.

Anyway, outside the house it’s surrounded by ancient woods, and inside was like a rabbit warren of rooms and corridors, and every room had a big old studded oak door, my imagination ran riot.

It was a strange combination of eerie and welcoming. Eerie due to the surroundings and those big old doors, what’s behind them? And welcoming due to the smells of Christmas and friendly atmosphere. I naturally focused on the eerie.

J. Hubner: There’s something very Gothic about the song, and now with that description it makes so much more sense. I can imagine strange worlds locked away behind those doors. Well, what about “The Level Crossing”, your contribution to Burning Witches’ RSD compilation ‘Communion’? Was that part of that original lot of songs? Or was that something new?

Simon Pott: ‘The level Crossing’ was going to be part of an as unyet completed album. When Burning Witches asked if I had a track for ‘Communion’ I sent them several tracks that I’d completed, and they picked that one, which I think fits perfectly on the album. Some of the others I sent wouldn’t have done at all, so kudos to them.

As it happens shortly after that they started the Burning Witches Vinyl Subscription, so I offered them a bonus digital EP for the people who’d subscribed, which consisted of a couple of tracks from the unfinished album, and a couple of new tracks.

J. Hubner: When composing, what are you pulling inspiration from? Do you look to sci fi novels, film, or are you creating from worlds and stories you’ve built in your head? What’s your creative process like? 

Simon Pott: Basically the process for me starts with imagining a certain sound, either by using a feeling or an image or certain memory, although it’s quite a loose idea. Then experimenting trying to recreate the sound in my head on the modular.

I’ll be messing around with one element and it just leads me down a certain path, sometimes melodic Krautrock based tracks, and sometimes more ambient soundscapes. I then have a feel for how it should work out fully in my head. Then the next step is trying to figure out how to combine all the sounds into a track. So usually it’s sound based ideas I work on rather than melody, although sometimes I do wake up with a tune in my head.

J. Hubner: What are two essential albums you couldn’t live without? 

Simon Pott: Aaargh!!!! So, so difficult.

If I was allowed to have a crate of albums it’ll be something like: (in absolutely no particular order)

 Adam And The Ants – Dirk Wears White Sox

Matthias Schuster – Atemlos

Kraftwerk – Man Machine

ENO – Here Come The Warm Jets

HEKLA – HEKLA

The Stranglers – The Raven

John Foxx – Metamatic

The Cure – Faith

Cindytalk – In This World I&II

The Butthole Surfers – Locust Abortion Technician

Faust – Faust IV

The Velvet Underground – Loaded

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

Cardiacs – Sing to God

The Jesus & Mary Chain – Psychocandy

ABBA – Album

Sparks – No.1 in Heaven

Roxy Music – Roxy Music

Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, You Are The Destroyer

Blondie – Blondie

Neu! – Neu! 2

New Order – Power Corruption & Lies

My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything

The Cramps – Songs The Lord Taught Us

Tubeway Army – Replicas

Gong – Camembert Electrique

Skids – Days in Europa

Big Black – Songs About Fucking

T. Rex – The Slider

The Human League – Travelogue

The Fall —- EVERYTHING!

I know this looks like I only listen to music from the 70’s(ish), but I really don’t. This is just music that informs my own music, which mainly comes from a time that my young brain was forming itself.

I think I’ve missed out loads, and this will be a completely different list of old records tomorrow.

But as I’m only allowed two, I’m going to go for:

Henryk Gorecki – Symphony No.3 (performed by London Sinfonietta and Dawn Upshaw)

I have several recordings of this piece of music, but this version is the most beautiful and emotionally charged piece of music I’ve ever heard. It’s been a favourite of mine since this version was released on CD and cassette in 1992, I had to wait until last year for it to be released on vinyl… it was worth the wait.

Portishead – Third

This is a faultless album. Every single sound on it is absolutely perfect.

J. Hubner: Are you working on anything new? Do you have plans to work with Burning Witches in the future? What does the rest of 2018 look like for Isvisible Isinvisible? 

Simon Pott: I’m working on a couple of albums at the moment.

One I’ll probably release myself on my Bandcamp page, probably just a cassette and download this time. Don’t think I’ll go down the route of making 8-Track cartridges and Reels of tape again, although I’ll see.

The other is for Burning Witches, but I think that may be for release next year.

I’m going to keep on recording and might end up putting out more than one more album this year, will see what happens.


Head over to Simon’s Bandcamp page and download Ghosts of Furness Vale. Then bookmark that site and keep an eye out for new albums. And head to Burning Witches Bandcamp page and download his debut with them, too. Absolutely brilliant work there.

He’s an extremely unique and amazing composer and musician, so let’s support those kinds of artists. What do you say?

 

 

 

 

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