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Sound Collector Article Archive

Issue 02...

Third Eye Foundation: Elements of Reconstruction

Keith York

Matt Elliott’s incarnation as The Third Eye Foundation has more in common with left-field jungle producers, like Plug, Squarepusher (not the Aphex Twin derivations of either though), or Tricky & DJ Spooky, than his Bristol guitar-based compatriots, Crescent, Amp, AMP, KS Kollective, Movietone, Flying Saucer Attack, Teenagers in Trouble, or Hood (the latter two of which Matt is producing for). Matt spends more time exploring frantic breakbeats as the foundation from which to build fragile, skeletal frameworks, than thinking about how a guitar should be used within (or consequently, removed from) a new piece.

When queried about how The Third Eye Foundation rides atop a fence between two genres (jungle, post-rock) that couldn’t be more polarized, Matt quips "I’m just a lover of music....I really do just love music, as long as, it has some soul or emotion attached to it." It’s hard to draw a breath in to describe Matt’s explorations as music in its properly-defined forms.

Historically, Matt entered (or exited...) the sphere of atmospheric music by collaborating with early incarnations of Flying Saucer Attack (witnessed by Matt’s FSA remix on his album In Version). He worked with his then-girlfriend and partner, Debbie Parsons, on creating Semtex, In Version, and Ghost albums. Across these noisy, varied and texturally-complex ventures, Debbie added her Elizabeth Frazier-esque wordplay in a form simultaneously elegant and sultry, as well as, exhausting, confusing, and disturbed.

In the Spring of ’98, we witness the Third Eye Foundation releasing its second title for the US label Merge, Sound of Violence, while Matt leaves Bristol to tour England (with ‘mates Hood) and Belgium, leaving behind a new (as yet unreleased) album’s worth of material, at the Domino headquarters, to be realized in the coming months. Matt wants to talk about his new album, material from which he is showcasing on his current and future tours, leaving behind his past releases, as if a chapter of The Third Eye Foundation saga is closed. This brings a close to an era that he describes as disturbing and lo-fi.

"I’ve finished off the lo-fi era. Sound of Violence is the jumping-off point for what is very disturbing. With my new album, I bought lots of new equipment that has changed what I can do and what The Third Eye Foundation can sound like," soapboxes Matt. It seems that the miniscule sales of his release have amassed enough cash from Domino to expand his collection of primary recording equipment that he professes will change his sound, more than his ideas on change can determine on their own. Why are you changing the sound? "After about six or eight months after the recordings are finished, you find yourself in a state that you don’t want to hear it all over again. It’s what pushed me into a much more hi-fi way of making music," he states. Matt wants to make more music to share with others, music that isn’t so difficult for him to listen to.

Matt recently ditched the old, Roland W30 sampler in favor of a newer Akai system, loaded with RAM. He admits the birth of The Third Eye Foundation sound was due mainly to technology. While not setting out to create the revolutionary mixing of breakbeats and layers of white-noise, six-string distortion, he found himself with primitive technology (W30 and a 4-track), drawing parameters around what he and partner Debbie could create. "A shortage of equipment led to the early merging of drum ‘n’ bass and loads of effects," Matt sputters as he stands on a cold street at a toll phone in wintry Manchester. It is rare that one credits their creative brilliance to mishaps instead of insecurity perseverance.

In the past, Matt had explored the boundaries of the six-string guitar to make atmospheres, not statements: departing from terse, punctuated, rhythmic phrases. The Third Eye Foundation released its 4-track experimentations initially as the Semtex LP, that was later followed by the other worldly dynamics of In Version, which showcased his initial upgrade in technology to an 8-track recorder. All the while, and through his Universal Cooler single, The Third Eye Foundation was still toying with guitar treble. With the newer releases, Ghost and Sound of Violence, we see less and less amp noise and more sampler ideas. Matt is evolving.

"The new stuff is about getting sucked into something. Something charms you at first, yet it’s different (and as disturbing) than the other stuff I’ve done," he says. When asked what he finds to be disturbing (of his own definition) in his own music, Matt follows with, "It charms you by being easy to listen to, but then it changes." Changes indeed. The Third Eye Foundation has changed.

"I don’t think I would have done this new record if I hadn’t done the others or produced other recordings. I have picked up some cunning, little tricks along the way, tricks I can continue to use. Tricks I have picked up while engineering some indie guitar-bands like Hood, Navigator, and Teenagers in Trouble....no one has asked me to record any breakbeat stuff....yet," Matt confides.

Not only has the technology he employs changed, his approach to the use of skittering, programmed beats has begun its metamorphosis, too. "I have always used drums as a frame, the noise or mood is always more important, but with the new stuff, it’s more like hip-hop BPMs. Ya know, about 80 beats-per-minute is a magic BPM for me. 160 for most people is instant jungle - anything at that beat is jungle. I find it more fun to fade in a jungle beat into what I am already doing, and the new stuff is a lot more subtle like that....and more laid-back than before. Its not more commercial, just more listenable."

While touring the US last year, Matt played a half-dozen shows, to which he claims only 20 or 30 people showed up. Though, joyfully he would later admit, he was floored that people had driven (in some cases) hundreds of miles to witness his digital drama unfold on a stateside stage. Matt lost money on that tour, not having tour support from either label. He lived on the cash from records he sold at gigs. Coming from England, where you can’t travel hundreds of miles, Matt’s ability to remain an enigma to his fans ended with each city he visited. He wishes to return to the states in the coming months, and hopes to make it to the Western shores of the continent to join a friend and filmmaker in Los Angeles, who has employed Matt to create the soundtrack for an upcoming project. Aside from an upcoming album, Matt could become an LA resident for a couple of months, while he constructs (and deconstructs) his latest drum ‘n’ haste.

Matt attributes his interesting outlook on music to the record store, where he is employed, and which is conveniently located below his flat. "I’ve been working there (at Revolver) for seven years, mainly because the owner knows everything about every record ever released. It is really amazing how he has played me all this music over the years. If it wasn’t for him, I would be making Enigma records," Matt admits. I ask him what he has been listening to lately, knowing the record shop allows him to hear everything from the Carter Family to Ed Rush. He replies, "Leila on Reflex, Aphex Twin’s label, is really good stuff; somewhere between me and Tricky."

Matt doesn’t shy away from fun either, he DJs when given the opportunity around town at Bristol clubs and bars, owned or run by his friends.

"So, do your records get any club or radio airplay?" I ask.

"Yeah, DJs in places like Belgium and Germany, where Alec Empire stuff is DJd. I’m not really part of the jungle fraternity, and they are straying into stuff that is really dark and minimal, and forgetting everything in the recent past. If it’s got jungle in it, then good - but now it seems to be more like a metronome," he replies.

I inquire further, "What do you think of the whole Digital Hardcore thing?"

"I have kind of a love/hate relationship with that stuff, sometimes it’s like.... cool, he (Alec Empire) sampled a reggae tune and fucked it up. Then, after several times, you are like, ‘okay already, he sampled a reggae tune and fucked it up, what else,'" Matt laughs.

"So, how can The Third Eye Foundation evolve further? What about going completely digital?"

"I don’t much like computers - things that do too many things. I’d rather have just one thing that does one specific thing really well. I suppose one of these days I am gonna have to break down and get one just to make things a lot easier on myself."

"Beyond The Third Eye Foundation, what about those who have transgressed their creations from guitar sonics to breakbeat manipulation?"

"My new stuff isn’t much different than a more subtle, laid-back, easier listening version of my older stuff. When I listen to my older stuff, bits just don’t work....I wish I had paid more attention to the stuff. I think that record companies haven’t realized that the best records are made by people spending a lot of time in their bedrooms recording. And to that end, not enough people are layering hip-hop atop jungle beats - there’s actually a shortage of that stuff!"

I have to wonder to myself, how many others out there agree with the meshing of dissonant guitar drone with damaged post-rock and breakbeats. In my opinion, the synthesis of these genre/styles proves to be an interesting premise, one that stays above the multiple, musical hybrids presently being created. The Third Eye Foundation is among an increasingly rare breed of folks trying things for the sake of creating: The spirit to derive something new from other "known sources," and to extend oneself beyond parameters readily constructed by music formulae, record companies’ budgets, and what the guys at the pub are going say when they hear your demo.

Keith York owns and operates Silver Girl Records and recently started a subsidiary called Intelligent Recordings devoted to jungle/drum n’ bass.
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