Interview with Mark Wastell


Mark Wastell is a London based musician who has been working in contemporary music since the early 1990’s, making his initial concerts with the trio IST featuring Rhodri Davies and Simon H. Fell. 

During this period he also became a member of Derek Bailey’s Company, Evan Parker’s String Orchestra and Chris Burn’s Ensemble. 

He co-formed The Sealed Knot with Rhodri Davies and Burkhard Beins in 2000. 

He has been a member of other notable groups over the years including Assumed Possibilities, The Scotch of St. James, +minus and Oceans of Silver and Blood. Mark also helms The Seen, a metamorphic large group which has incorporated over 100 musicians since its inception in 2003. 

He has performed and recorded extensively and his varied resume includes projects with John Butcher, Lasse Marhaug, John Tilbury, Mattin, Mark Sanders, Tony Conrad, Tim Barnes, Bernhard Günter, Keith Rowe, John Zorn, Peter Kowald, Joachim Nordwall, Otomo Yoshihide, Paul Dunmall, David Toop, Alan Wilkinson, Max Eastley, Hugh Davies, Julie Tippetts, Alan Skidmore, Mike Cooper, Chris Abrahams, Stewart Lee, Clive Bell, Arild Andersen and David Sylvian. 

Mark also runs the Confront Recordings record label which has released over 170 albums to date.

I asked Mark few questions about his work:

1.     How has been your musical path leading up to where you stand at the moment? Throughout a career, you have probably walked through trial and error – acquiring knowledge, getting rid of the elements that you deemed not useful. How did it work in your case?

The process is never ending. It’s not exactly a case of did …. but does. Every day there are issues. Decisions to be made on what’s important. What’s not. What to keep and what to reject. And the stuff you reject at any one moment, do you then re-visit it at another time? And what of the elements that are kept, at that moment deemed important - do they remain or are they eventually overridden by other factors thus becoming redundant. The activity of selection never ceases. When I reflect on the early years, I think I made - or attempted to make - more concrete decisions. Ones that I what resolutely adhere to. At least for a set period of time. A defined moment of work in process. In more recent years, I’m much more fluid. Things can change and do change swiftly. It’s something I don’t question any more. I ride it out. I now recognise that the errors are of equal importance as the successes. All one and the same.

2.     What has left an inspirational imprint on your work in a way that you still feel has been a turning point, something you cannot overlook?

As a musician, I’m self-taught, an autodidact. No formal education. My classroom was the club space and the concert hall. My tutors, the musicians. I put myself in front of the music. A great inspiration to this was the artist Robert Ryman. He became interested in the abstract movement in the middle fifties and took a job as a gallery guard at MoMa in New York to be close to the paintings. Soon after he bought his own art materials and began experimenting. I figured I could do similar in relation to music. I still reflect on that moment. His example enabled me to take my step forward.

3.     How improvisation with others influences your own workshop: skill set and a push towards discovering new territories?

Much like the response to question 1, the situation is constantly evolving. Playing itself out, week to week. New performance opportunities are created, musicians come in and out of your orbit. Each of those feeds your own development. New languages formed, some retained, some discarded. You take these strategies on to the next. There is always something exciting about a new combination but I also get a lot out of long standing relationships. They are the ones to judge yourself by. Are you still developing within the comfort of that familiarity?

4.     Music has been under the influence of many factors, especially how is it been distributed – how does it affect your publishing activity?

The advance in digital distribution of the music has certainly made a positive impact in recent years. I was a little late to the party, always having a preference for physical product but I realise now that the two market places can co-exist happily. It’s not one over the other. Digital is like radio, the music reaches a lot of people fast and effectively, just a click or two on the keyboard. Since launching in 2017, the Confront bandcamp site has had over 72,000 plays. The music reaches a vast audience. Physical releases take longer to propagate. They are laboured over. Invested in financially. Manufactured. The end result, the finished article, is hopefully desirable. Attractive enough for folk to buy. I’m enjoying both processes. Each are very positive for the label and the music it represents.

5.     When I listen to your work – there is a specific sense of intimacy between you and your instrument. How does it work to get the best out of this relationship?

I’ve always attempted to get inside, to really feel, to be at one with the instrument. In its simplest form. Natural. It’s like a deep meditation. Once in that state, your potential is limitless.

6.     What is the ultimate challenge for you at the moment in terms of composition and achieving things within and without what you do?

My productivity is quite high, I like to release lots of records and organise concerts. I have a release schedule that is always full. Maybe the biggest challenge is keeping people engaged with what Confront is doing. Sometimes your activity can slip under the radar. But having been at it for twenty five years there’s a loyalty that has established itself globally and thankfully a continued interest in what the label is doing. My job is to sustain that positivity.


Popular Posts