Playing HFF Vol.1

Q&A: Steven McInerney (Psyché Tropes / Hackney Film Festival)

One of our favourite releases of the past year was HFF Vol.1 – the debut release on London label Psyché Tropes), we produced a gallery of images and a review of the record. During that time we sent some questions to label and Hackney Film Festival founder Steven McInerney. Here’s what he sent back:

HFF stands for Hackney Film Festival, which you’re the co-founder of. Is there a reason that the label is called Psyché Tropes rather than HFF?
I felt it was necessary to divide both projects to avoid confusion and also to start a new exciting journey. Yes, the first release features 15 artists and musicians who have been involved in the Hackney Film Festival but to name a label HFF doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. I wanted something that would illustrate the kind of sound that would be released.

What inspired you to start Psyché Tropes? Given the festival is four years old, is there a reason why you’ve started now rather than earlier?
The Hackney Film Festival has always existed on the fringe of what traditional film festivals do. From its inception we have had to hold fundraising events in the form of audio/visual gigs. Sound, music and film has always played a fundamental role to the whole operation and this is where the fascination of the audio-visual started for me. HFF Vol. 1 was over two years in the making, so it is not something that came about all of a sudden. When I realised how many diverse and talented artists/friends were involved, I knew there would have to be a release.

In terms of the method – HFF is a vinyl release with no digital or other format release. It was obviously a deliberate decision – why choose vinyl and why only vinyl?
This was a deliberate decision in reference to the decaying of analogue formats which have been part of the film making process. We have now crossed over almost entirely into a non-linear, purely digital realm which can eliminate much of the craft. Most of the tracks on this release originated in an analogue format i.e magnetic tape, optical, modular, etc so it felt natural to do a vinyl only release. You can’t get a more purer format than a quartz crystal reading a physical waveform on vinyl.

Looking at the vinyl release and the music on it as the artwork, to what extent would a multiple format release – say allowing the tracks to be streamed on Spotify – dilute the artistic value?
Philosophically it just wouldn’t work for this release. Online streaming sites such as Spotify exploit independent record labels and artists. In the best case scenario, you receive a free Spotify membership, while these agglomerates profiteer though marketing and advertising. Most of what I listen to, Is not available through these channels so it just doesn’t interest me to support something like Spotify.

The liner notes suggest its absurd to be doing this? Doesn’t it feel more like a natural progression that a festival that openly embraces audio-visual artists would put together a physical release?
From my experience, some people have preconceived ideas of what a ‘Film Festival’ is or can be. So it wouldn’t surprise me that the more conservative types could think it was a slightly strange direction for a film festival to take. But you’re right. In this case it was a natural progression, personally and professionally. Releasing music is a form of communication and artistic vision. This has always been at the heart of HFF.

Talk me through the release, there’s seemingly a deliberate journey and it flows exceptionally well. Why were these tracks selected? What is the journey you’re hoping to take the listener on?
The tracks were selected over a long period of time. Some artists gave me ten to chose from and some made one especially for this release. At this point I had become quite used to film programming with HFF and wanted it to flow in the same way a good film programme flows. I not only wanted to show the similarities in the sounds but highlight the differences as well. As I locked down each track I would then take my bolex out and shoot whatever inspired me visually for each piece. As the film got developed and telecined I was then able to cut each track with its accompanying visual. This is when the project really started materialising into what has become a triad of celluloid and sound.

The first disc is a selection of wayward electronics which is quite reminiscent of the kinds of events we have put on in the past. The latter half of this disc mutates into more of a sonic sculpture which leads into the nether regions of the human psyche. I wanted people to get totally lost in this section. To feel vulnerable in the dark. It’s not until the last track on the second disc that the listener is brought back into the light as you can hear amongst the static, a greater anglia train driver wake you up as you have reached your final destination. The last movement of HFF Vol. 1 gives time for personal disposition and reflection.

How much would you say this is allowing the audio half of audio-visual to stand out on its own? Do you believe there’s a struggle with audio-visual that the audio side tends to be lost or less appreciated as part of a visual medium?
No, I think the two are intrisically connected. For that reason, Psyché Tropes has been established to really discover where the audio and the visual interface with each other. What inspires what? What generates what? I find this research fascinating.

Some would argue that the music is not particularly accessible, and I would say the liner notes convey that message that this is music for a more high brow type of person – to what extent do you think this is inaccessible or that “the arts” deliberately intend to exclude some?
“The Arts” just does its thing and the people who want to come and take part do. For the people who prefer The X-Factor, that’s totally fine. Everything has it’s own perfect place in the universe, and I can only thank the heavens for something like The X-Factor because if it didn’t exist, we probably would not have the other side of the spectrum. I wouldn’t say that this release is high brow or trying to exclude anyone. It just is what it is. The sound of Psyché Tropes is accessible to anyone with a curious ear, an imagination and a willingness to participate.

What’s next from Psyché Tropes? Volume 2? Something different?
There are a few new releases on the horizon, all continuing on with the theme of exploring where the audio and the visual meet. Let’s just say you may find surface: a spectral analysis of a mysterious non-human audio transmission, more birds and infinite tape loops.

Read our review of HFF Vol.1
View our image gallery of HFF Vol.1

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