Dunk Murphy is one half of Ambulance, and one whole of Sunken Foal. His new album under the latter moniker, Fallen Arches, is a work of glorious, breathtaking brilliance. Recalling Panda Bear and Grizzly Bear as much as his IDM forefathers and labelmates (on electronica kingpin µ-Ziq’s Planet µ), the album is a jarringly beautiful experience unlike anything else released by an Irish artist this year. Sunken Foal painstakingly crafts otherworldly noises and textures, merging them with unfathomable rhythms to sew together a tapestry that sounds more like a product of nature than soldered wires and plastic keys. Dunk recently talked to us about happiness, globetrotting, guilty pleasures and which American teen drama he’d most like to soundtrack.
How has Fallen Arches been doing so far?
I’m not quite sure. I’m getting lots of positive feedback and people have been very kind. I am a little apprehensive to check the accounts at this early stage though!
Do you plan to tour the album in Ireland and internationally?
I have been playing a few gigs dotted about the place but I’m withdrawing to the studio for a little while to improve the live set and take a slightly different approach. I’ve a few gigs in the pipeline for January both at home and abroad. I had the honour of playing in Latvia recently, which was a real treat.
There’s something very pastoral, very rural about the Sunken Foal sound. You don’t sound like you’re creating in an urban environment. How much is your music affected by your surroundings?
I spend a lot of my time is a small fishing village on the south east coast. My studio looks right out onto a bizarre rock formation protruding into the sea. I suppose I’d be a robot if that didn’t have some sort of influence on me. But a lot of the record was also written and recorded in Limerick City. I think I tend to lean towards spectrally rich sounds that contain a bit of sonic movement. A lot of ‘urban’ music of late tends to be built from sounds that are slightly more static and cold. I compiled the album from sketches when I was travelling around India, so that trip took me from coconut trees to sloppy overcrowded cities.
The album seems to have a brighter, more optimistic aesthetic than Ambulance. Is creating moods a big proportion of what you do?
Perhaps I’m happier. I eat lots of green vegetables these days and they work wonders for one’s optimism. I tend to look at the mood perceived as a by-product of each piece. Sometimes I’ll begin with a melody that to me is a bit grim. So I’ll try and cheer it up a bit by juxtaposing the styles of the composition with the production. I’m always trying to avoid pure aggression or loved-up bliss. But I’m usually too deeply engrossed in some process to really focus on the mood. My perceptions of the mood in each track tend to be quite different from what other people have told me.
Is your approach to working as Sunken Foal completely different from your work in Ambulance?
Yeah, quite different. With a lot of Ambulance stuff, I’m doing 50% of what needs to be done to complete a track. And that 50% is a reaction to whatever Trev is doing. We (as Ambulance) work with outboard synths and mixing desks. There’s very little multitracking as each track is usually a live performance steered by the two of us straight onto a DAT machine. With the Sunken Foal stuff, I have to multitrack as sadly, there’s only one Dunk Murphy. Plus there is far more acoustic instruments in what I’m doing lately. People are sometimes more familiar with acoustic instrument sounds and so draw a ‘happier’ experience out of the music.
A lot of ‘bedroom’ acts like Sunken Foal are accused of being ambitionless. Is making music a hobby, or do you have goals for the Foal?
That accusation tends to come from people who are big live music fans. I’m not into live music very much. In the current climate it is pretty tough to gain major success without a strong live element but I’m working on that. My Foal Goals are to keep compiling the best records I can and document my progress. However, this music is not just for me. I want as many people to check it out as possible. I think collaboration is the key to getting things done more efficiently so I’m trying to do more of that with the next record. I’d love to have my tunes played in the background of the OC but I’m told they might not fit.
What’s your experience of Planet Mu as a label? With so many artists on a relatively small label do you think it’s easy to get lost? And what’s it like having Mike Paradinas as a boss?
About three or four high profile records on the label came out at the same time as mine so I may have been lost a little there. I like working with Mike P when it comes to creative decisions as he’s very direct and there’s no time wasting. His understanding of music comes in really handy when you’re compiling a record or even mixing a tune. Plus I do all my own artwork and he’s usually a good sounding board for that. The thing is, if there’s a Planet Mu logo on you’re record, you might be guaranteed to sell hundreds of copies with little or no publicity to hardcore fans. So getting to the people out of the loop is the real trick.
Who are your favourite Planet Mu artists?
I’m crazy about the Gasman of late. Myself and Mike have had large discussions about this guys talent and how critics just don’t seem to get him. At this stage he uses all of his awful reviews as his publicity. It’s been a while since Leafcutter John released his ‘Housebound Spirit’ album on the label but I’m a big fan of that one. Surprisingly, Ceefax Acid Crew has demonstrated a far more subtle and sensitive side lately, which has been nice. There’s a Mu record going back years by Slag Boom Van Loon which is never far from my record player.
Where do you find your found sounds?
I don’t really find sounds. I tend to build them. I spend quite a lot of time building percussive impulses with synthesis and sampling. This is because a simple sample of a spoon hitting a chair or whatever is static. With synthesis you can alter that sound over time or bend it to fit better into your mix. If I was to do the old ‘spoony-chair’ sample, I’d probably direct my OCD towards sampling it 128 times and figuring out some sort of process to layer each sample.
You’ve said you don’t wallet-bash when it comes to buying records like a lot of your friends, but what have you been listening to lately that’s been particularly inspirational?
I’ve had ‘Future Days’ by Can going in the car quite a bit. A friend of mine left the Bee Gee’s Greatest Hits in the car a while back and ‘You Should Be Dancing’ is (no longer) my guilty pleasure. Its hard to say, when I’m working with complex digital synthesis I tend to listen to Zeppelin and Dylan. But when I’m writing a tune on the banjo I’ll probably be listening to Drexcyia or Autechre’s last album. My mate Spectac has been playing me new stuff that he’s making and I’m lovin’ that.
What’s coming up next on the Sunken Foal agenda?
I’ve some gigs planned, so myself and Rod Morris who performs live with me need to work out a few more tunes. We try and steer away from pre-programmed sequences and play all the sounds by hand on stage. It’s a bit scary but it gives the electronic sounding stuff a different feel and the audience get to see what’s going on. I’ve just finished a Session for Mary Anne Hobbs’ Experimental show on BBC Radio One so I’m in the middle of arranging remixes of it by other artists. Hopefully we might see it released in the new year. I’ve also a free download E.P. on the way but most of all, I’d like to get back in the studio and get working on the next album.
Sunken Foal’s new album Fallen Arches is out now on Planet Mu.
To hear more go to – http://www.myspace.com/wesunkthefoal