Rhythms Of Life: An Interview With Multi-Disciplinary Artist Kit Monteith

Finding natural cadence in life is second nature. Sometimes we acknowledge it, sometimes we ignore, never faltering in its presence as the daily undercurrent of our world. Multi-disciplinary artist Kit Monteith utilised his extraordinary daily experiences to build his adventurous project and debut album, Audio-Cartographic Experiments Vol#1: Rise and Fall. Documenting his voyage when travelling the globe in 2019, performing as a percussionist for resolute rockers Foals, his 23 blended tracks tell of his story in his way.

In modern times, we are well-versed in recording our memoirs in many forms, but pure sonics frees the mind to visualise imagery rendering it an intimate and focused practice through the ears into the core. As a child, I frequently visited a local museum and headed with gusto straight to the earphones. I was transfixed by the soundscape of a Victorian street. Kit's work goes further by presenting field recordings interwoven with musical responses. There are not many things that hold attention and stop the mind from wandering, but this is one.

Rise and Fall invites you to the tour; you can imagine yourself there and sense the fizzing hubbub while the musical sections, with input from Jeremy Moors and Nico Casal, in places offer a cathartic, soothing release. I commence by wondering was this project planned or did a specific event act as a trigger. Monteith gives clarity, "The initial reason I started making field recordings while on tour was to add to the global sound map on the website citiesandmemory.com. It’s an amazing art project. The other guys on tour knew I was making field recordings from time to time, but I don’t think anyone thought it would develop into an actual album."

Stopping off in five continents adds an exoticism to the art, and a number of the soundscapes feature drumming flavoured with ethnic tones. Kit explains how this arose organically from general noise to his ear poised and ready for melodic sounds found in the environment "A lot of the field recordings I made include musical elements. I think, whenever something musical happened around me, I would take notice and start recording. After a while, I realised that having music within the field recordings would make them feel more like actual tracks and help blend into the album as a whole."

We converse about how dancers and musicians alike constantly find the beat, aware of patterns, often moving to a pulse, bringing us to the question of what came first: the noise or the music? "What you hear on the album and its sequence is the exact order that each part was created. So the first track was written on the first flight out to Mexico. The first field recording was made the day after we landed as I captured the sound of a man selling mangos from his truck," he clarifies.

An iPhone 6 is the modest tool that tech-loving creator used to record almost the entire album. He has no formal training in music, and notation would be impossible. He continues, "It was all written and recorded within different music apps on my phone. The field recordings were made just using the voice notes app." The project moves through a variety of spaces and stimuli, including an art gallery in Barcelona and an LA protest. I appreciated the seamless minute where a train noise mingles into the music.

Monteith figured out all the blending of the recordings and tracks before sending to Stephen James Buckley. "He did an amazing job to help master the record to keep it sounding balanced whilst maintaining the dynamic range that was to needed to make it feel like a real journey. By the way, he releases music under the name Polypores, and it’s stunning."

From a visit to family in Oxford, a heart-melting encounter comes in the form of a sweet and innocent young girl- Kit's niece- saying 'thank you' repeatedly, which sits juxtaposition with an adult conversation, reminding us to look for the simplicity in things. The tune that followed, Tilt To the Light, is tear-inducing. Kit thinks about moving sections for him: "Yeah, that’s probably the most emotional part for me, that’s my niece and the rest of my family captured in that field recording, so it’s very meaningful to me."

"Another moment I love is the Milwaukee basketball game, Yannis and I have been massive fans of basketball since we were kids and it was such an amazing day to go and see a proper NBA game together." This joins other fun elements, causing one to wish they could go out and party again. No times frames, nowhere else to be, just sheer euphoria with friends. It also offers the notion of how fortunate the troop are to visit different corners of our planet.

Poignancy completes the album with A Final Taxi Ride. It delivers a sad, calm feeling of a tangled outlook about the end of any long journey: down that this explorative period is over, but excited for home comforts: a cup of tea in your own bed. I ask if his touring family, Foals (Jack, Yannis, Edwin and Jimmy) and Jeremy (honorary bassist borrowed from Everything Everything), have listened to their legacy yet?

"Yeah, they’ve listened to it. I think for Yannis and Jeremy it was particularly meaningful as they happened to be with me when a lot of the recordings were made. Everyone has a different emotional journey across the tour with highs and lows happening at different times; that’s sort of how it all functions. This is just my story and how it flowed for me. The final return home is big for everyone though, a strange mix of emotions that I know we all struggle with."

The collectable cardboard presentation box includes a map, images and information with vintage typewriter font and a collaboration with Joe Maclaren to create abstract art. Joining the resurgence, the album is on cassette. "I always wanted to create a map for this release and have a key that showed the points on the map where all the field recordings had been made. It all started to snowball a bit with the screen printing and the Polaroid and all, but it is my debut solo album, after all, I had to make it look stunning" he illustrates.

"The beautiful warm warble on the tape is what it’s all about! It’s also a way of creating a physical release that’s actually financially feasible. Pressing vinyl is stupidly expensive for short runs, and you end up having to charge a fortune. Hard to compete with streaming habits if people have to buy your album for upwards of £20. Bandcamp and tape is the future as far as I’m concerned. Ethical and physical and meaningful."

It is fair to say that the determined inventor had a busy and productive 2020, with the release of new material through techno collectives IOE AIE and Dagga Domes, directing video Black Hyena for EE and shorts FBC Transmission for Foals. Now, we pause at Audio-Cartographic Experiments Vol#1: Rise and Fall. We conclude with Kit respecting his year and telling of hopes on the horizon.

"I've found lockdown to be fairly good for me creatively, and I’ve managed to work on a lot of music. However, this project was all finished for the most part before Covid 19, and that's partly why I’m finding it poignant to release now. The label describes it as 'a kind of love song to a way of life indefinitely on hold'. I’ve already begun work on A-CE Vol#2. I’ve decided on a very ambitious plan for the next album; time will tell if I can pull it off."

Digitally Purchase Audio-Cartographic Experiments Vol#1: Rise and Fall here.

Article by Beverley Knight