Caught by the River

An Interview with David Chatton Barker

9th March 2018

This week, Fifteen Questions – the online music magazine of Lara C Cory and Tobias Fischer, which interviews artists, makers and shapers of music about perspective, process and approach – published an in-depth conversation with David Chatton Barker, co-founder of Folklore Tapes. They have kindly allowed us to re-publish an excerpt from the interview below. Read on as David talks landscape, psychedelics and fairies…

When did you start with your own label – and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
We don’t really consider Folklore Tapes as a label and hopefully as time turns less people will consider it as a label. Starting the project was about using forms within the music world to pour other ideas of art into and this shape is constantly changing. Influences are always so varied, but creating something to share and explore regional anthropologic ideas through a collective of past events, was something that we felt would help us understand more about now. Theo Brown, Fluxus, Topic, and Folkways certainly fed into the river when the project was developing, and continues to inspire…

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as a label curator and the transition towards your own approach? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Like a child, I have always been a sponge, inspired by all that goes on around me, in the immediate landscape as well as tuning into cultures further afield. The process and phase of emulation and learning is an ongoing relationship. The ideas I get from one thing will be translated completely differently in the work I then produce, but there is a seed or a spirit of what originally inspired the piece. As a curator, it’s been easy because the subject material is so much at the fore with each project and that is, essentially, what guides the approach each time. I’m a conduit for the inherent will of the work.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do the label and other aspects of your life feed back into each other – do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
We live on the side of the South Pennine Moors over 1000 feet above sea level where the elements throw everything at us, unpredictably and all the time. We are a small component in the landscape dominated by plants and animals, mushrooms and mud! The seasons are perceptible in the most minutiae of movements and I find myself getting lost in this.

The only predictable thing to my day is that our 5-month-old son Rowan will wake us (me and Mary) up around six in the morning. This will be followed by a brew or two and playing in and around the bed. During this time the chickens (Sheila, Paulina, Buddy & Kate Bush) will be let out of their shed coop, always a good moment to scoop in some fresh air to the lungs.

Lately, I have taken to going on a walk which involves standing on my head, climbing a hill and swimming in icy water. My time will be split between walking, working, cooking and playing with all of it blending into one amorphous whole.

There are always multiple projects on the hob (sometimes too many!) so each day tends to concentrate on perhaps one or two projects and generally the ones that will be arriving into the world first.

But making time for play is paramount.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I feel fortunate in that I don’t ever really suffer from a block in creativity as such, but I am the master of flitting between several things at once with a sort of childlike pull towards distractions of all sorts. Not trying, non-doing, not putting too much pressure on the act of creation is something I have learnt along the way; finding a balance.

My ideal state of mind for creating is when I am not completely in control and exterior forces are at work guiding my heart and hand without too much thought on my part. The Tao Te Ching is a great pocket text to return to for making sense of the moment; that everything is flowing with its own natural course and not to put up resistance in the face of the natural flow of all things. In this sense, nature has been my greatest friend and mentor, guiding me without effort, showing me without demands.

I certainly have a few techniques and disciplines that I regularly use to aid my practice and fertilise ideas. Meditation, Asana and Pranayama yoga are something I do daily, even if only for a few minutes. Walks over the moors always helps to clarify and shape thoughts. I like to spend time with the plants inside and outside. I take herbs as tinctures and teas regularly and I will try occasionally to take a small dose of psilocybin, as I find this can dissolve some barriers occasionally present in the path.

Having a child has really helped with focus and making windows of time count more each day, as there is that feeling of completely submitting to his eminence, basically, him and his mother are the best distractions going.

How is listening to the actual music and writing or reading about it connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
The majority of the projects involve very process-based ways of working at the location of interest. In that sense, the landscape or research material acts as a secondary composer to the recordings. Much of the time, instruments will be made or set up and played by exterior component. This might be aeolian instruments played by the coastal wind or an instrument played by a river or drips becoming indeterminate percussive beats on water drums. It’s always about letting the place take the lead, letting yourself go and be taken by it.

Essentially, it’s important to attempt some kind of honest collaboration and translation of the world.

Reading about a place inevitably informs you and shapes your experience at the site. If you weren’t aware of a ruin’s reputed hauntings over the years would you experience strange phenomena on your visit? Perhaps something totally different would happen instead. It’s hard not to be led supernaturally down a rabbit hole of experience when you’ve got a vivid imagination and indeed a belief at the core of yourself in what you’re working with.

I draw a lot from each experience, from going out there and exploring, playing and letting myself get led astray. I have been convinced about hearing fairies and of opening up windows through worlds. I’ve had deep consciousness experiences at stone circles and total oneness with the earth on the moors.

It all leads to the feeling that this is truly an adventure through experience and the making of the work is secondary to that experience, that personal relationship. I am not a composer in the way a musician is with writing music, I am more of an interpreter and conduit for what is already around us, I create experiences rather than songs or compositions.

Intuition is the word I’d employ instead of improvisation.

There has been an exponential growth in promotion agencies and there is still a vast landscape for music magazines. What’s your perspective on the music promo- and journalism-system? In how far is it influencing your choice of artists, in how far is it useful for potential buyers, in how far do you feel it is possibly undermining your work?
I must confess to not buying or reading any music magazine either printed or online. I just allow things to come to me naturally from friends or chance discoveries. In a sense, this is me really limiting my knowledge of what’s going on in the music world but I honestly think I’d find it too overwhelming. I find the balance just about right with concentrating on the creative process, the friends who are collaborators and the rest. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in music journalism in so far as it does great work exposing the work of artists and labels and getting people turned on to it.

The whole musical world works so differently to how it once did. On the whole, it seems that people have a handful of sites and blogs they rely on to provide them with the sounds they want. I’d like to see people breaking away from their habits of getting spoon-fed music through the usual channels.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art?
I try to keep an open heart and head, and remain playful. With art, it’s important for me to make work that make other people’s environment and individual situations more enjoyable and to aid in some way.

My stimulation and creative process is shaped by whatever comes my way and by this, I mean I am very receptive to my environment, this can and often does lead me down very unpredictable paths.

My work rarely fits into pigeon holes and perhaps that’s why the term ‘label’ is restricting. I don’t limit myself to any particular medium but it seems that through a lot of the work I make, it’s an approach towards a balance between nature / the environment and being human. I prefer to be merely one component in the overall creative process, preferring to employ the services of nature’s rhythm along with chance-based processes; relinquishing some human responsibility, I suppose.

My everyday life and my art are dissolvable from one minute to the next and I do believe that art is life and vice versa.


If you enjoyed this excerpt, you can read the whole interview here.

By interviewing artists, makers and shapers of music about perspective, process and approach, 15 Questions aims to build an extensive archive documenting one of music’s most turbulent and exciting eras. Going beyond private lives and latest releases, they instead involve production experts, performers, journalists, scientists and composers to discuss what music means, how it’s made, where its limits lie, and why it affects us all so differently and yet remains universal.