Interview with Atom Eye


Introducing us to her ‘Trilogy’, Phantom‘s Elsie Martins returns with the solo project Atom Eye. Exploring this dark and rich world, listeners get in touch with a complete art experience, where cinema and music are strictly related. Elsie took some time to introduce the project, her influences and inspirations, and some tips for a bunch of directors worth-checking. Out Feb. 6th, the first part of the Trilogy can be streamed and downloaed on her website.

What is the main difference for you between being in a band, or a duo in Phantom’s case, or a solo project?

My experience writing in Phantom was a solitary one but also, and unfortunately, not one without compromise. So I created Atom Eye because I wanted  the opportunity  take the ideas I created and push them further,  to give them the lease of life that they deserve.  I wanted to leave conventions  & conventional song structures behind and explore what was really underlying the last record that I wrote: the cinematic element.

The soundtrack element,so often referred to in my previous work, is now central to how I create as opposed to being an element of it. This is ultimately to biggest difference….and with that Atom Eye offers a lot more possibilities for me to develop and feel fulfilled creatively.

Which was the origin of your ‘Trilogy 120’? Why did you decide to divide it into three different parts?

I wanted to offer the work in small introductory elements, it’s also an opportunity for me to explore  the    different moods I can create  –  3 short films, each with their unique individually crafted soundtrack felt right for me.

How has your sound evolved between parts I, II and III?

All 3 parts explore a similar theme. As a starting point I wanted to carry on working with field recordings ( I could never get bored of capturing sounds around me and giving them a new lease of life) I really enjoy playing with raw recordings and giving them new textures –  with that in mind  –  I became fascinated with the process, and ended up wanting to experience a more “manual” approach –  hence the use of reel to reel to manipulate the recordings. There’s something deeply satisfying about it, tweaking loops manually was something I had never done before and I suppose the Trilogy is my first experience with reel to reel tape loops –  so in that sense the parts’ sound and textures  were   at the core of the  compositions   –  that in itself is a new way of working for me. The end result was marrying tape loops with instruments I am more familiar with like guitars, keys with an added world percussion  element . My sound became more and more experimental as I went along, and I think is likely to continue into future pieces of work.

How are soundtracks and film elements included into the creative process? Why did you decide to focus more on cinematic features on the Trilogy?

Soundtracks really fascinate me. I read an interview with John Carpenter and he says that it’s the silence in the sound that makes a Horror score really shine, and I think there’s something in that. I remember working with the long cast of old band members that have come in and out through the years and one of the staple things I used to tell them was “play the silence”  –  of course what I really meant to say was that when a track breathes it’s that much more compelling and effective. So maybe I have always really wanted to write a horror film soundtrack 🙂 It just felt completely natural for me to focus on cinematic tones for Trilogy 120.

You decided to collaborate with two artists involved in the cinematic industry. How was it to work with musicians such as Pete Lockett, Fabio Barbato, Simon Turner and the director Davide  Caselli?

Finding the right percussionists was not an easy task. Pete Lockett is one of the best out there and  listening to his work I just knew that he had the right sensibility. He’s worked with everyone from Bjork to scoring James Bond films, his sound is versatile but also rooted in passion –  so I was very touched when he liked the demos I played him. He’s added a truly wonderful energy to the piece. Fabio was also another great find, he’s really into experimental sounds and is really akin to thinking out of the box –  the studio session was great fun, he turned up with a metal foil sheet – that’s when I thought yes! Simon has a really quirky, unpredictable and playful sound –  I think he really enjoys working outside the box as well –  I’ve always looked up to that experimental element in his work-  so it felt right to have him on board for Part III. He’s written scores for Derek Jarman and scored the BFI’s restoration of The Great White Silence so I can learn a lot from him too. He’s got an ear for the unusual  so I knew that he’d be perfect. As for Davide, he’s got an eye for surrealism. The press campaign is an homage to Paul Nouge and the film will have a touch of La Jetee about it –  our inspirations comes for the same place but we work with different mediums so again it felt right to join forces.

I wanted Atom Eye to have a revolving cast of guest appearances and I’m very flattered that I’ve been able to work with all of them –  it’s a great start to the whole project.

Trilogy 120 is also a collaborative project with film makers. Why did you decide to create the visual score to your EP? How much importance do you give to the visual part of music?

You might have to  ask   Davide that question…we work closely together but we also leave each other the space to do what we do best –  he’s very good at creating a visual narrative and I make the moods that creep up behind you. I think the visual element is very important –  the music is really what ties is all in –  your eye are focused on the images and the music gets you on a more subliminal level but you need the images to steer you away. Visually Part I is an homage to La Jetee –  a short film I really love.

I read that among your inspirations you quote Max Ernst, Baschet Brothers and the novel Nausea. How do you think music and art can interact between each other?

Music and art are one of the same, they have always made perfect partners. My mother is a painter and her tutor once ( addressing a group of painters) said ” art is an exercise in judgement, if I could make musicians of you all, it would be to your advantage as painters. Everything is in harmony in nature, a little too much, or a little less, disturbs the scale and strikes a discordant note“. That says it all for me.

Could you name the film directors who inspired you the most?

I’m tend to lean towards European arthouse….it’s all about the subtleties, the under currents that really get you feeling something dark and wonderful. Peter Strickland’s Katalin Varga (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3veoHBezbro)   had a very interesting soundtrack by Stephen Stapleton (Nurse With Wound).

I also loved the Temptation of St Tony by director Veiko Õunpuu; a visually stunning film, absolutely masterfully crafted  which would have been a dream to score! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2t_reNMqRrc

Beau Travail ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u65lNJP5yik) by Claire Denis had a memorable feeling of open space   and was shrouded in desire but in a setting you wouldn’t expect –  a very introspective film and something that resonated with me creatively. I think some of Daron Aronofsky’s work is quite interesting  (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, Black Swan.).. although  all visually, thematically and emotionally very different, all are interesting ( scored by Clint Mansell of Pop Will Eat Itself) –  It would be interesting for me to push myself to work in different styles.

I find Michael Haneke’s films deeply disturbing and yet so compelling  (Cache, The Time of the Wolf, White Ribbon) –   I think Atom Eye would be perfect for his work.

The David Fincher / Trent Reznor recent collaborations have been quite good too (The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (remake)… and I also really like Film Noir. Noir tends to have dark, rich and multi-layered textures  which suits the mood of the music I create more than ‘songs’, so I think a  N oir trilogy would be a great match and also quite interesting to score. I love Sunset Boulevard, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.

And of course I can’t answer that question without mentioning David Lynch –  a reference often cited in my previous work and one that I have always been flattered to be tagged to.

Have you ever thought about creating a complete experience such as Bjork’s ‘Biophilia’? How would you structure it?

I would love to do something of that magnitude, creatively it would be one of the most challenging projects-  I like the idea of music becoming  part of a technology that relies on users interacting with it –  and creating a truly multi-dimensional experience. If I was given the opportunity to do something of that scale I would probably look to join forces with charities and add a “feel good”  or “giving back” element to the whole thing. I would see it as a perfect opportunity to help those around me-  after all art has a strong influential voice –   fuelled with passion.  Part I of Trilogy 120 is available as a free download on my website – and if you browse through the site you’ll see an Ethos page where I  call on the kindness of people to make donations to some of the charities that I admire, should they wish to.

What does the future look like for Atom Eye?

A lot of film commissions! I’m in the process of talking to film makers and working on a feature length soundtrack…so keep your ears and eyes peeled.

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