Mark Fell

01.10.11

Left: Cover of Mark Fell’s Multistability, 2010. Right: Mat Steel and Mark Fell performing as SND, Sonar Festival, Barcelona, 2009.


Mark Fell is a musician and artist based in Sheffield, UK. One half of the electronic music duo SND, in late 2010 he released two solo albums: Multistability (Raster Noton) and UL8 (Editions Mego). His solo exhibition “Coherence and Proximity” was on view at the Woodmill in South London last December. He performs a new solo work at Espai Cultural Caja Madrid, Barcelona, on January 21 and with SND at Rex Club, Paris, on January 26.

MULTISTABILITY, in theories of psychology and perception, refers to information that cannot be easily resolved into a simple form—it’s a way of describing perceptual ambiguity. Think of the wire-frame cube, which can seem to project into the foreground or recede into the background. Listening to music can be equally subjective. The Multistability album isn’t meant as a musical illustration of the concept, though. I’m less interested in how we resolve what an object is than in the human impulse to discern patterns in our environment. This plays out in the CD artwork, which has a graphic image of lines on the front cover, and which finds similar “lines” in other images reproduced inside: sunlight pouring through a train station and the marks someone has cut into their arm.

The album is divided into two parts. The track titled “Multistability 1A,” for example, has as its counterpart the track “Multistability 1B,” both of which use the same algorithm—albeit on different sounds and in different ways. It’s not an exact replication, and not every track has a partner on the other half of the album. When making music, I am constantly pondering where to take it, having an internal dialogue about the possibilities it presents. Sometimes you want to go down more than one route, and on this record pieces have more than one finished form. This is a method that I have explored before, on the 2005 album Ten Types of Elsewhere, which also presented multiple, unresolved versions of each piece. While the music isn’t overly conceptual, my ideas about it are influenced by the contemporary philosophy and literature that I read, especially theories of identity and language formation.

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Mark Fell, “Multistability 1-B.” From the album Multistability, 2010. (Courtesy Raster Noton, 2010.)

I have never observed a strict dividing line between the sounds I create for albums and the sounds I create for gallery installations, which I began exhibiting in the late 1990s. In fact, it was through my interest in all kinds of visual art—particularly Minimalist sculpture—and in film that I was able to think about the structure of music in a nonmusical way, which was a real breakthrough for me. I was able to leave behind verse-chorus-verse progressions and other traditional forms of pure linearity. I should say that the music I make as a solo artist is necessarily different from what I make with Mat Steel as SND. Mat’s methodical, very cautious, and counterbalances my own tendency to shoot off in many different directions.

The SND project is also a very strict exercise, an exploration of the possibilities inherent in essentially two kinds of sounds, both borrowed from early-’90s house music: electronic percussive sounds and piano and organ chords. On my own, I’m able to go off in various directions, sometimes literally: Space is an important part of what I do. Every venue—a club, a gallery, some other kind of building being used as a club or a gallery—has its own characteristics, and I try to activate each in a unique way, to change the way you perceive it. I don’t respond deliberately to the history of a space, or produce something romantic or sentimental—no recordings of children’s voices “haunting” an abandoned schoolhouse. I’m interested in the sound and look of things in purely aesthetic terms. Although I’m aware that it’s a rather naive position to adopt, in this respect I’m quite happy to be thought of as an old-fashioned modernist.

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Mark Fell, “Multistability 6-A.” From the album Multistability. (Courtesy Raster Noton, 2010.)

— As told to Brian Sholis