Mild-mannered librarian by day, by late-afternoon Vancouver Island’s Stephen Wolf turns into the mild-mannered basement recordist named Partli Cloudi. A weaver of detailed audio tapestries, adding his own acoustic flourishes and electronic embellishments to a secret world of woozy found-sound, Wolf exudes the mystique of the mystical artiste who lives on the fringes. It’s the sort with a facade of eccentricity that people feel compelled to chip away at in order to discover the real person hiding within. Well, let me tell you, I’ve known Stephen for a long time and there is no end to the onion-like layers you could peel away. And if you did peel him down to the core, you’d find you were right back where you started because it’s not a facade. Stephen is one of those rare genuinely deep dudes whose zen-like demeanor and quiet wisdom isn’t an affectation.
I caught up with him (or, like always, tried to catch up to where he’s at) to discuss Watermelon Cauliflower, his second release on Arachnidiscs Recordings. And, of course, I forgot to ask him exactly what a “watermelon cauliflower” is.
Arachnidiscs Recordings: It’s been a while since I left Vancouver Island. There wasn’t much of a weirdo music scene there at the time, but what did exist was pretty tight-knit. What’s it like now?
Partli Cloudi: I am probably the last person to ask about a scene of any kind, being somewhat socially inept and challenged geographically by living on the outskirts of a small town. But if by weirdo you mean music that is not based on peer acceptance and/or the pursuit of peanuts, then I don’t think there is any scene.
Not to say there aren’t interesting artists all over doing great things in isolation that zero to few people will ever hear. But when you typically have to wade through the dominant culture and dominant sub-culture just to hear music outside of the conventions of rock etc, then you quickly tire with the realization of how alone you are.
My brother and I went to hear David Behrman speak at the University of Victoria a few months ago and we were the only non-students, in other words the only non-mandated attendees. Gordon Mumma was sitting beside David and they reminisced while they presented a slide show of his old electronic contraptions and played some pre-recorded samples. That same night I went to an indie rock basement show and the place was packed full of free-range hipsters posing in front of each other, taking selfies, and talking over the music, was that a scene?
ADR: That would be the definition of a capital-S Scene. It’s interesting what you’re implying about “peer acceptance” being a factor even with people making weird music. I know when I write or record something, it’s often through the filter of “What would Stephen think of this?” which, although I trust your judgement, I know isn’t exactly a productive filter to have in place. I also usually completely ignore it. Anyway, are you saying, even if your peers are creative weirdos, that the moment peer acceptance enters the equation the art is corrupted?
PC: For a weirdo to have peers would negate the weirdo’s weirdness, so it may technically be impossible. But it is not like art has ever been sacred and free from the corruption of getting paid, or getting laid or even just fed. I would concede that audiences essentially want to be entertained, but it is the duty of the artist to decide how far to pander and how far to challenge.
ADR: Watermelon Cauliflower, at first blush, seems to have zero discernible pandering. It’s one WTF moment after another. But it also doesn’t break from the forms people enjoyed about the previous album (Two Moron Ever Nose). Was that conscious? Were you giving the few people who bought Two Moron Ever Nose what they wanted?
PC: I would get nervous at the idea that someone is listening, so I probably would block any idea of audience out. Having no audience (perceived or otherwise) is more freeing. No consciousness was used in the making of this recording. I try to convert imagination into sound and back again, once I get to a freed state it begins to create itself, I might only awaken to clean up and hope that this time the tape machine was recording.
ADR: Okay, let’s maybe talk about about “the making of this recording” as you put it. I like to think I’m pretty well versed in this kind of thing, but I have trouble picking out what’s a sample, a found-sound and what is you actually playing an instrument. What’s your modus operandi?
PC: I do a lot of field recordings and have a huge collection of cassettes, many made on top of pre-recorded sources: music, audiobooks or thrift store mixtapes, then overdubbed with basement jams, old demos, or rhythms taken from rehearsals of other bands, with bits leaking into different surfaces and/or finally overdubbed by myself in my basement. Afterwards I wire up all my recorders into an ancient PC with an old version of Sound Forge you gave me 15 years ago, and essentially I play the 4-track recorders into it to make the end products. I like delay pedals as a means of time travel, but sampler technology is black hole that is already filled up. Since I stay away from most things digital, degredation and tape hiss can be a problem and an opportunity. It is super time consuming and does not lend itself to any precision, I really have no idea where anything is going to end up, no two takes are ever the same.
ADR: One of those situations where technological limitations leads to inspiration?
PC: Yeah, but I feel like I have way more technology than I can handle.
ADR: Getting back to what you were saying about not recording for an audience. It reminded me of some things I’ve be thinking about lately. About why we do this at all. What’s the point of making our music available to an audience? Why do you make these recordings and why do you make them public?
PC: I guess it is same question as to why we are here? Why exist? I was born into a fragile body that has an intense need to eat, breathe, paint and create rickety rotten soundscapes. I cannot escape it, and feel like I am dying inside if I try to stop. The process is not all sunshine and kittens and in fact is probably detrimental to my health and prosperity — I pray somebody somewhere in the vast continuum of time and space needs a Partli Cloudi recording for a some mysterious divine purpose, otherwise it is all for nothing.
If you’re interested in more of Stephen’s views on music, his blog Shelf Dwindle is one of the best repositories of music writing alive today. Also, you can listen to the below podcast episode where we sat down to discuss (and slaughter) the “sacred cows” of rock’n’roll.
Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Jakob Rehlinger.