"Pop Eats Itself"
by Shane Danielsen
The Current Six Thresholds. The Vocal Fabric of the Singer Rosa Silber. Under the Angel’s Wing On a Steep Path ... No doubt about it, Paul Klee had a way with names.
One day in New York, visiting a Klee retrospective at the Guggenheim, David Bridie and Helen Mountfort liked one of his titles (Dance You Monster to My Soft Song) enough to borrow it for a then-unnamed instrumental. Bridie insisted on inserting the word "stupid" before monster, ostensibly on a whim (though partly, one suspects, to lessen the chance of being sued by the artist’s estate). Now it’s the opening track of MFTCC’s second album, Brood: the reference point in an album eclectic enough to draw inspiration from reactionary Victorian politics (Throwing it Away), British post-punk (their excellent cover of Magazine’s Song from Under the Floorboards) and Brownlow Medal winners past (Jimmy Stynes). And Paul Klee, of course, with whom they share an apparently playful, almost childlike quality that only serves to mask a darker and more idiosyncratic world view.
It is a good thing to discuss fine art with a fellow aficionado, but for some reason Mountfort seems curiously unwilling to participate. "David and I started the band," Mountfort explains, "and we run it together in a kind of benign dictatorship. We’ve tried working in a kind of democratic atmosphere, and it’s always a nightmare, making decisions by committee. So we’ve subtly manipulated this one to suit ourselves. Our own devious ends."
Paul Klee, I point out, never relied much on others. Sure, he hung out with Kandinsky and Marc for a while, ran with the Blaue Reiter crowd. He even traveled to Tunisia with Macke in 1914. But essentially he was a loner, and was such was spared the need for consensus. Hearing this, Mountfort makes a polite, faintly interested sound and again swiftly changes the subject back to her band, herself:
"You might notice," she says quickly, "that the others’ roles on this album are much stronger. Because the first album was written before the band really existed, and recorded very quickly - almost entirely live, in fact - there wasn’t a lot of input from the other members. Whereas this time we did a lot of preproduction and everyone had a chance to work out their own parts, make suggestions."
Not many people know that Klee was a musician himself, a highly accomplished violinist. Indeed, this background is evident in some of the compositions of his middle period between 1925-1932 - the strictly delineated, geometric divisions of colour in works like ‘Fire in the Evening’ replicating the major and minor keys of an harmonic system.
Curiously, Mountfort seems unmoved by this revelation. In fact, she audibly stifles a yawn.
"I think, for us, the challenge was to use the studio environment to its fullest. To employ more over-dubbing, get a fuller sound. And to make the string parts have more of a quartet feel, not just two lines, violin and cello. Last time we only used 12 tracks; this time we were running out of room..."
Through variations of colour and texture, Paul Klee sought to replicate the
tonal variety of a piano keyboard, a fixed but fluent system of visual grammar. As both an academic and a practitioner, his theories of music and an art were inextricably entwined.
But Mountfort’s musical obsession apparently knows no bounds. She is talking again, and not about Klee.
"We didn’t want to repeat ourselves. Someone said to me the other day that
every record you make is, to some extent, a reaction to the one before it, and that’s probably very TRUE of Brood as well. The last thing we wanted to do was just tread water."
[MFTCC appear tonight and tomorrow night at the Harbourside Brasserie.]