Blanck Mass: "I was trying to paint a picture of my grieving process"
It’s been a decade now since Fuck Buttons founder, Benjamin John Power, rode out on what’s become a highly esteemed solo project. Blanck Mass revels in the world-building facility of the ambient genre; each album is lovingly constructed and seeks to cultivate a wide-open feeling of space around the listener. Power’s latest album, In Ferneaux, consists of two twenty-minute phases, each taking a circuitous path through a mental space full of modulators, synth lines and – most notably – field recordings, which haunt the album intermittently throughout.
To better understand the man behind the soundscapes, Miles Ellingham talked to Power about the new album, his creative process and multitudinous collection of sound recordings.
Your music is quite transportive, like you’re trying to create some new world for listeners. Can you describe the world of In Ferneaux?
I like the idea that listeners can form their own relationship with my music and paint their own picture from the sounds. It’s something I thoroughly encourage. With that said I almost feel that describing how I see the world would be hypocritical, but I will say that in my head In Ferneaux paints a landscape of ‘Grief in motion’; of my personal grieving process.
Why did you choose to compartmentalise the work into two phases? Why not just one continuous thing?
I believe in chapters, in a narrative sense. The movements are saying two quite different things. ‘Phase I’ is very alien in experience; you are entering an unknown space, whereas ‘Phase II’ explores a very physical, human and almost reactionary place. There is also a very physical logistical reason for doing so in that I still consume a lot of my music on vinyl.
Are there ghosts present in this new album?
There are echoes of people, places, emotions and experiences, so in that sense; yes, plenty of Ghosts
There’s a tension in In Ferneaux between the organic (rainforest sounds, cicadas, etc.) and the synthetic (sounds of static breakdown and machinery). How did you go about choosing the field recordings you used?
I have hundreds of folders of field recordings I have collected throughout the years. Going through them all brought back a lot of memories and was a highly emotive process. It was like looking through an old family photo album full of friends and family, some of whom might now be lost. The selection process went through many edits and usually the selected recordings were chosen because of the way they made me feel and how they spoke to me about the process.
Tell us the story behind that recorded conversation – I read it’s the sound of a preacher?
They aren’t a preacher, but a person with faith – something I don’t personally share with them but the message still says the same. This conversation helped me turn a corner and was the catalyst to create In Ferneaux. They talk about the fact I don’t know how to handle "The misery on the way to the blessing". It was highly illuminating and paved the way towards the creation of the record. It felt right and apt that this conversation made it’s way onto the record, being a crucial part of not only it’s creation but it’s genesis.
Were you trying to mimic a drug experience with the record?
I was trying to paint a picture of my grieving process before and during isolation using physical artefacts from times when sharing the experience would have been possible. In that sense I was not trying to mimic a drug experience, but more sharing a personal physical and mental space.
So, this is your pandemic album. Can you answer the obligatory question about how Coronavirus global meltdown has affected your work?
Playing live shows is my bread and butter. That has had a huge impact on not only me, but every artist in the world. Lockdown did however present me with an opportunity to create and share this record. For years now I have wanted to share all the field recordings I have made in some shape or form, but now seemed like a very apt time to do so.
In Ferneaux obviously doesn’t function in the traditional way that an album’s supposed to – it isn’t broken up into songs. This way of doing things is still considered quite avant-garde, but do you think it speaks to how the music industry is changing in a post-digital world?
I think the pace at which we process cultural information nowadays does blur the lines to some degree. The experience of modern day consumption in itself could be considered avant-garde. Sometimes the space in-between can be more profound and hold equal (or greater) meaning.
Is there a film-maker you’d like to work with?
Plenty. I’d love to work with Nick Rowland again. A few other directors I admire would be Lynne Ramsay, Yorgos Lanthimos, Ali Abbasi, the list goes on.
You've spoken publicly about an "Element of hope’ to In Ferneaux – what did you mean by that?
Creating In Ferneaux was incredibly cathartic for me. It proved to be a very significant tool in processing grief. In that sense it has acted as a huge stepping stone and an optimism ingrained within; for that reason there is an undercurrent of hope embedded in the record.
In Ferneaux is out now via Sacred Bones.