Issue 22 / 2013

Noise Annoys: A Brief Discussion with William Bennett

Richard Johnson

What constitutes ?noise? or not is a matter forever subject to debate, both inside and?outside the realms of music. For me, I would have to contend it is any sound that?interferes with something I am trying to do at any given time, such as the wheezing,?hacking or drunken babble of a person on a bus preventing me from working my way?through a book. In this sense, it is entirely subjective or perhaps even self-centred.?However, it would be rather hard to dedicate a magazine or book to the subject of ?noise??in music and not include William Bennett, the man responsible for having founded?both Whitehouse and, in more recent years, Cut Hands; two disparate yet inadvertently?intertwined explorations in to what many have deemed ?extreme? sound that has, in?reality, always been far more than just this.

William Bennett is an artist who has always, since Whitehouse formed in 1980, found his?work attacked or swathed in plumes of controversy, and often for little reason other than?its not adhering to the many conventions to be found even amongst the areas of music?or art of which it has been, perhaps unwittingly, a part of. Never one to bow down to his?detractors or apologise for the simple fact his music is driven to explore places many are?afraid to tread, he steadfastly remains one of the few most single-minded and visionary?musicians to have emanated from those still much hallowed years when new maps were?being drawn or even ripped apart in music.

While Cut Hands may seemingly make for a slightly less ferocious cousin to Whitehouse,?due to the employment of very carefully constructed and complex rhythms alongside the?crackle and fizz of sometimes still abrasive electronic fissures, it has paid witness to both?William Bennett?s finally being accepted as an artist clearly dedicated to his own path?whilst still given to either pricking or heightening sensibilities. Illustrating that his music,?and the concepts behind it, can still bewilder, beguile or take one into a space permeated?with thought-provoking questions, Cut Hands remains very much on the trajectory?William commenced with Whitehouse and is no less exciting for it.

Preferring to shy away from the subject of ?noise? and, in turn, what this may or may?not mean to each and every one of us, I felt it would be interesting enough simply to?interview William Bennett as an artist in his own right. An artist very much given to?caring about what he does right down to the last detail. This alone renders him a rare?breed in music. And I prefer to deem him very much an artist who has worked with, and?teased, the confines of music. To declare this work ?noise? appears extremely lazy and?serves it a grave injustice as far as I?m concerned.

But each to their own.


William Bennett, fot. Elevate Festival (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

fot. Elevate Festival (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Richard Johnson: You seem to be playing live shows more than ever these days with Cut Hands.?Considering Whitehouse generally played more sporadically, how are you finding?this… especially when weighing up the fact the CH set is stricter and timed to suit?the backing film? Is there any room in the set for a modicum of spontaneity? I can?t?imagine you?d want to just play exactly the same set every night, after all.

William Bennet: Not singing makes a huge difference! believe me, 3 or 4 back-to-back shows like that?and your voice is totally fucked, it?s too demanding ? with Cut Hands everything is?spontaneous as the visuals are automated by the sound I?m making, and in turn I?m doing?live mixing on those visuals; I?ve also changed the emphasis on the set now to increase?the intensity level even higher.

Can you see Cut Hands? live show developing into new areas? You have mentioned?the possibility of live drums and even dancers before.

Oh yes, this is something I?m still very much looking at! we?ve had [Cut Hands? cover?artist and William?s partner – RJ] Mimsy dancing at a few select shows and that seemed?to go down well; it?d be fun to have 2 or 3 dancers and some live percussion added to the?current mix ? some of these rhythms are pretty challenging to play live.

And what about expanding into the inclusion of vocals? Not necessarily your own,?given what you said, but…

Absolutely! I definitely envisage some female vocals at some stage, when I find the right?voice – it could be amazing if done right.

The Cut Hands live experience is, of course, very different to that of Whitehouse?from an audience perspective. I realise, of course, that Whitehouse is not over, as?such, but does what you glean personally from both CH and Whitehouse differ in?any way? If so, how?

As Cut Hands evolves, it?s becoming much more difficult to imagine ever doing a?Whitehouse type live experience again, although I did do some vocals with Zeitkratzer?(on their interpretation of ?Daddo?) ? one of the nice aspects of Cut Hands is how much I?can be part of the audience experience myself, that?s really gratifying.

What do you hope the audience gets from a Cut Hands performance?

It?s difficult to be more specific than say that they have an amazing time, I wouldn?t?presume much more than that ? for my own part, at a show I like to be taken outside of?my comfort zone and to be inspired and enjoy incredible new potentially transformational?experiences ? I?ll be delighted if anyone shares that, however, as I said I certainly?wouldn?t presume that.

Have you seen anybody else live in recent years who has achieved this for you?

An obvious example is seeing Incapacitants, their 30th?or two ago was unbelievable even in a context where you think you?ve got all the bases?in noise covered; another less obvious example would be some of the performances in?this year?s Sonic Protest, especially like Ursula Bogner (featuring Jan Jelinek & Andrew?Pekler)…

There appears to be a thread running of transcendence between both some of the?images in the films you use and even certain sonic arcs sewn into the music itself. I?mean, there are points in your music which seem to want to transport the listener?beyond the ?self?, in the same way as those in the films are led to a hypnotic state. Is?this a conscious thing on your part? If so, what is it about this relationship between?the listener and the idea of being transported by music (or other factors) that so?interests you? You are, by your own admission, something of a control freak who?gives the impression of forever wishing to remain in control, after all…

It?s true to say I?m definitely a bit of a control freak in creative or artistic contexts, with?very fixed ideas about how things should be done, or where things should be taken ??beyond that however, am pretty relaxed about most things in life or what life can throw?at you; with regards to altered states, hypnotic phenomena are occurring whether we?intend them or not, sometimes the transcendence I?m looking for is much more to do with?breaking the state of trance rather than entering into a new one.

I can imagine one of your old contemporaries, such as Genesis P-Orridge, saying?something like the last point, but I fully understand what you mean. Do you think?certain music, then, can achieve this?

Music definitely has the potential for this, even though it seems to be only rarely achieved?since the bar is often set so low, where expectations are already pretty low; lower than?say for a lot of people who would wish to experience that in for example a church or in a?movie or with hallucinogenics.

Following on from that, then, Cut Hands is more flexible than Whitehouse in the?sense of you working with other labels, though. Why are you more relaxed about Cut?Hands in this respect?

Before Cut Hands, it might have be a symptom of a longstanding stubbornness that after?withholding so long made it impossible to relent? it?s a good question and I?m not really?sure of the answer!

Well, I guess you?ve met a good number of decent people over the years. Perhaps?you?ve learnt to trust some of them more?

Rather than being a question of trust, it?s true that with experience does come a clearer?sense of what people you want to be with and do things with.

A couple of years ago, you also did a mix for FACT magazine. Another departure,?in some ways, for you. Did you enjoy doing this? Would you do another? You?ve?also done some remixes for others as well, right?

Yes, I?ve done a few now; for example, another similar one with African percussion was?made for MACBA, there was also the original ?Cut Hands? mix I made ? recently, I did?one for Made Like A Tree (from Seattle); a few Cut Hands remix projects too.

Considering both how Whitehouse has progressed in more recent times, and Cut?Hands? music, has your attitude to composition changed a lot over the years? Is?there a difference in this respect between both, too?

There are obvious musical differences now I?m working with time signatures and more?traditional beats and rhythms, nevertheless I still take a pretty conceptual approach to?making music ? Whitehouse songs were always more musically structured than some may?realise.

I believe that this was more noticeable in later Whitehouse work, actually. What is it?about the exploration of sound that so attracts you?

It?s through exploration that you find new things, that?s exciting, I never understood?experimental music that doesn?t experiment, and likewise along with experimentation?comes the responsibility to entertain on some level: you can?t have the arrogance not to?as if there wasn?t an audience that on some level you depend on, the not having of which?would make an absolute difference to what you do.

Would I be right in believing you enjoy playing live more than recording?

Recording is more stressful and much harder work, that?s for sure (especially the way I?do things), however the rewards can be huge, when and if you finally get it right, or even?just arrive at some killer new sounds, that thought is what gets you excited and keeps you?going into the night.

Do you ever return to your older releases/material? How do you feel about it when/if?you do?

This just happened at the festival in Nancy working with the Zeitkratzer orchestra;?Reinhold chose some surprising choice of pieces I?d not heard in a long time?(like Daddo, Foreplay, and The White Whip etc.) and it was certainly odd hearing?them again and actually they sounded much better than I?d initially feared.

It took you a long, long time to get taken more seriously as an artist by some of?the music press and other factions within the whole sorry industry. Obviously, this?brings with it many benefits, but what do you think about this?

To a certain extent, still I feel this music (including of course the music of so many?others?) is highly disenfranchised; there?s almost zero support from TV and radio in the?UK, the barest of crumbs from the various arts councils, and yes some recognition from?only the outer reaches of the press ? as I said, that applies to a lot of music happening?here right now, especially pitiful when things are at a particularly creative ebb; that all?said, you get totally used to that to the point where you expect absolutely nothing and just?get on with doing what you do.

You have always embraced many of the arts that confront sensibilities or, again, can?transport people from their different comfort zones, whether music or the likes of?Chris Morris and Doug Stanhope, to use two more contemporary examples. Is the?ongoing marginalisation or stigmatisation of such artists something you care about?outside your own work?

For sure; Doug Stanhope [provocative US standup/social commentator ? RJ] seems to?be doing great, he?s so adept at using social media to maintain an active presence, his?last CD was amazing, I saw him in Sunderland on his last UK tour and he?s so much?more than a stand-up comic (even though he?s a brilliant one too); it?s saddening that a?rare incredible genius like Chris Morris [UK satirist outcast by the mainstream due to?his tackling the media and their relationship to sensitive subject matter ? RJ] isn?t given?the creative opportunities he deserves while rote morons on shows like Never Mind The?Buzzcocks [A tawdry UK music-based panel show given to having mostly low-rate guests?from the worlds of comedy and music ? RJ] et al thrive.

You have become more open in recent years, too, and perhaps fragmented some?of that forever alluring mystique Whitehouse always had in doing so. Why have?you relaxed in this respect? You even, in response to the stupid allegations of?yet another detractor, recently posted a bold and almost definitive statement on?Facebook concerning what you support and do not. It was very revealing…

Part of the earlier mystique can be accounted for [by what I noted earlier], in other?words it wasn?t really a deliberate strategy to hide or anything; we also live in times?where people now have incredibly far-reaching and fast access to information, for better?or for worse I?m not sure.

Yes. We live in deeply paradoxical times in this respect. I cannot help but recall?times myself a number of years ago when people would have this impression of you?being some kind of unapproachable sociopath. You are from this, but it does raise?that old recurring issue of misconception so many have about the artists they like so?much. Perhaps the internet now means many won?t be hassled so much after their?shows by those who thrive on such myths?!

Yes! Well, with such little mainstream exposure in the early years, what were people to?think? All they have is the records to go on; in truth, with a couple of oddball exceptions,?at shows people have pretty much always been great.

What is it about the Congo that interests you so much and fuels Cut Hands?

Haiti especially and also Cuba and Brazil are the real centre of what fascinates me the?most and so much of that leads back to the Congo, it?s such a central part of the musical?culture of those countries ? I accept there?s a degree of romanticisation at play, as?with all loves and passions, however that doesn?t make it any the less fascinating and?inspirational.

Given how much interest there is in Cut Hands now, do you believe you?ll ever have?the time spare for Whitehouse again?

Can?t see that happening, to be honest…

Are you missing Whitehouse at all, though?

Oh yes, for sure – it was really a lot of fun, especially the last 10 years or so, live it was?an experience quite unlike anything else.

Don?t you feel there should be a definitive farewell by Whitehouse, however? A final

album or a tour? It?s a cliche but it does feel as though things have been left hanging

in this respect.

It?s a fair point; farewell shows, even anniversary shows do make me feel a bit queasy?and cynical – you could say that a song like ?Dyad?, and the type of album ?Racket? was,?already intimated as much.

Some of Whitehouse?s work has been reworked/reinterpreted by Zeitkratzer. Can?you tell us something about this project, please?

Even though this last week in Nancy wasn?t the first time, it?s still hard to get used to?getting the opportunity to work with eight world class classical musicians reinterpreting?your songs in such incredibly inventive ways; Reinhold, the project?s founder, had some?unusual song choices this time around and I thought they came out pretty damn well ? I?believe there?ll be another album released of this new material soon.

On Poland?s wonderful Bocian Records, I understand?

Oh, I didn?t know that! That?s great!

You have released one Cut Hands album a year for the last two years, had a couple?of other releases out and, in the meantime, toured extensively. It is a considerable?and admirable work rate. Can you keep this up?

It feels like you?ll drop dead if you stop, what?s really frustrating is how one song like?Madwoman can take literally months to finish.

What have been some of the highlights from these shows during the past two or?three years?

Wow, so many! The last show in Krakow at Unsound, Blackest Ever Black at Corsica, the?recent show at Vittorio Veneto, Barcelona in the pitch darkness of Supersimetria, on the?main stage of Berghain on Reunification Day, and many more…

What?s next for either Cut Hands or Whitehouse?

Madwoman 12? will be out soon on Downwards, the Black Mamba album on double?vinyl (finally!) on Dirter, some more films with soundtrack music are coming out, and?hopefully lots more great shows…

Thanks, William. Always a pleasure to chat with you. We will hopefully see you?back in Poland as soon as possible!

Can?t wait, I miss coming to Poland and it?s been too long already!