Angkorwat, as well as being a 12th century Khmer temple, is the musical project of Niamh Corcoran, a classically-trained musician turned Macbook tune-crafter living in Dublin (in exile from Down). Angkorwat is still in its formative stages, but the songs that have been made available on MySpace have been short, simple compositions bursting their seams with trapped energy and characterised by a certain ghostly, something-wrong feeling. Niamh has agreed to release an album on Osaka Recordings, as well as a nebulous net release on the fantastic Rack and Ruin. Sooner than those, though, you can check her out live at the Box Social on June 14 or in the Academy 2 with Patrick Kelleher on July 18.
Angkorwat – Big/Little Edie
Angkorwat – Sink
Q 0.5 How are you?
I owe a lot of money.
Q1 Nowadays, when everybody has a decent computer and gear is more available, it’s much easier for anyone to make music and have it heard quickly – does the bedroom music explosion devalue music at all by making it so easy to do?
Not at all. The way you phrase the question makes it sound like music is only relevant if it’s made by people who can afford the best recording equipment. Music doesn’t necessarily ask for an industry or to be listened to by millions. Everybody makes it: toddlers banging on pots and pans, old men at the bar. I’ve had better experiences listening to strangers sing on Grafton Street than at gigs. I don’t know that being signed to a label increases the value of the music you’re making.
I think the reality that new artists no longer stand to make a lot of money (even if they do get signed or become famous) means that the old facade of prestige and money gets drained out of the equation when somebody decides to make music. It sounds cliched, but I’m not expecting to make money from this. Which is good, because I won’t. That tension between creativity and an industry doesn’t exist to the same degree, and that’s good. Of course, you now have a band like Camera Obscura with millions of listens of last.fm, but all the members have day jobs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of the best art seems to come out of struggle or conflict, the urgent execution of an idea despite/to spite life’s difficulties. I don’t particularly relish the link between creativity and unhappiness, but it seems to be true in many respects. I work best and fastest when some disaster is going down.
And yeah, with the availability of resources, you’ll get a lot of crap on the internet, but there were and are loads of crap major label acts. Plus, it’s not as if our critical faculties immediately fail us once we’re presented with options. We know what we like.
Q2 Is downloading a good thing? Does the fact that it’s possible to get so much music so easily and for free make it more disposable at all?
I download a lot. I grew up in a village, had no internet ‘til I was 16, had to travel 40 mins on a rickety bus to reach the nearest record shop. Music recommendations came to me by word of mouth, so you had to take your friend’s word for it that Lou Reed was worth blowing your tenner-a-week on. (A lot of Lou Reed isn’t.) On the other hand, I bought a dusty, cracked copy of ‘Screaming Fields of Sonic Love’ [by Sonic Youth] on a whim and it changed my life. Yeah, there was a certain excitement in not knowing what you were going to get, but that’s just nostalgia – really it was just expensive and inconvenient. I suppose that early experience gives me a sense of entitlement about not getting ripped off any more. If I download and love an album, I’ll buy it. You deserve to be able to sample something first before buying it.
As for disposable, there’s at least £500 worth of music gathering dust in my childhood bedroom that I haven’t touched since I gave them their first and only play. I still have no idea where I got the money.
Q3 Is there anything that makes your music quintessentially Irish? Is it intentional?
No. Writing with that approach in mind would be limiting. The name ‘angkorwat’ comes from a Cambodian Buddhist temple. I think a lot of people would rather not be Irish right now. Submerged Irish histories are the only useful ones because only they tell the truth about the past – the kind to do with women, institutional abuse, Travellers and paganism.
Q4 Do you find it difficult to self-edit, or to take a step back from your music and look at it objectively?
I do nothing but self-edit. There are days I love my songs, others I literally want to delete everything and start from scratch. But mistakes are useful. Sometimes when things stall with a song, I walk away from it for about a week. Then I come back with none of the old ideas and can come up with something much better right away. I like that sometimes a song I wrote but now hate can be complimented by somebody and read into in a completely different way. Other people show me different and better ways of looking at what I’ve done.
Q5 Is there a Dublin scene, or even smaller genre-based scenes? Are you a part of one?
I don’t know what exactly constitutes a scene, but there are several bands with several sounds around now. When I came to college five years ago, there were a lot of singer-songwriters, men with acoustic guitars singing love songs. It’s different now. Most of the gig-goers I know have their own projects (more and more of them female) which is great. That said, emigration might stop a quality scene from having the chance to develop.
You have to wonder if Dublin actually deserves to have experimental musicians stay, what with the expense and relative lack of resources compared to the likes of Berlin or Portland. Collectives like Seomra Spraoi and the Box Social which pull people together at little or no cost are vital, but are often temporary.
Q6 Name a non-musical influence on your music.
Q7 Take one of your songs and explain the process of writing it from the beginning to the finished article.
Actually I can’t do that – I move from song to song in 10 minute bursts. Can’t concentrate for very long. I don’t follow easy or obvious melodies. I love cycles and echoes, anything euphoric or primitive. The vocals/lyrics aren’t given particular authority, harmony is my obsession. That said, I only started recording last November, so it’s early days. There are a lot of different things I want to do.
Q8 Has music criticism ever influenced your music, or at least made you think about it differently? I mean proper reviews, but also blogs or even just hearing someone you don’t know talk about you.
Haven’t had any proper reviews yet (not that I’ve noticed anyway). Been pleasantly surprised by appearances on podcasts, though. Anything above complete apathy is fine with me. If somebody criticises what I do, then that’s natural, but it won’t affect what I write.
Q9 Have you ever felt guilty for trying to get other people to take an interest in your music, if you aren’t making the effort with new music yourself?
Nah, I love new music. I’m constantly annoying my friends with weird recommendations they don’t want.
Q10 Would you call yourself a traditionalist with regard to music, either as a listener or in how you go about writing/recording/performing?
Not sure what ‘traditionalism’ actually is in this case. My songs until recently were all recorded on a Macbook with a shitty mic. I used the laptop keys as a keyboard, because I didn’t have a Roland. The lo-fi sound I have now is only because I can’t afford equipment – I love huge, rich sounds. Some lo-fi artists are great but it wouldn’t be an anti-tradition movement I’d necessarily be part of.
I suppose I would be a traditionalist in a sense – I love classical music and was taught violin, piano etc. by a real purist. While I don’t like the snobberies of that community and the dryness of its approach to how things should be done, the intensive training has made it easier for me to tinker with melodies or perform. A certain amount of traditionalism is useful if you know how to exploit it.
Q10.5 What’s something you’re listening to right now?
The Fly Girlz, Da Bratz from Da Ville.