Interview With Ishq (Matt Hillier)

Interview with Ishq (Matt Hillier)

Matt Hillier is the not only the UK’s, but one of the world’s most accomplished and prolific Ambient artists. Most widely known for music produced under his Ishq moniker featuring Jacqueline Kersley, Matt has also released music on classic electronic labels such as Dakini, Interchill and Aleph Zero. Matt also launched and runs the Virtual Records label, primarily as an outlet for all of his varying projects, under pseudonyms such as Omni Vu Deity, Elve, Ishvara and Yunomi. Virtual Records has also served as a vehicle to introduce us to artists such as Sinepearl, Vataff Project and Neil Butler’s Experiments In Silence.

In the past 20 years Matt has collaborated with many of today’s leading ambient composers such as Lee Antony Norris and Matt Coldrick, he now boasts an impressively varied catalogue of over 50 albums in every area and sub-genre of ambient music. It matters not which Ishq project you approach, the listener is rewarded with music that takes the head on a truly fantastical journey.  Sometimes cold and distant, sometimes warm and lush, often synthetic and cosmic, the constant to all Virtual and Ishq related releases is the sense of the “Other” an immersion into worlds at once connected yet paradoxically estranged from the here and now. Seriously psychedelic music for the serious listener!

With huge projects lined up for the future  and the imminent launch of two new labels which promise to focus on new directions, it seemed an ideal time to grab some time with Matt to find out exactly what was going down.  Matt kindly agreed to take time out of his hectic production schedule in picturesque Cornwall to share with us his thoughts on the future of his music, art, production methods, inspirations, and on everything in between. For more information, available releases and further history on Ishq and Virtual records please check the dedicated Ishq artist page and Virtual Records label page here at Psilowave.

It is with great pleasure and honour that we share with you an interview with Matt Hillier, no doubt the most psychedelic and creative electronic ambient producer working today. Introductions over:  let’s get amongst it:

Background:

Psilowave: Hi Matt, thanks for taking the time to partake in this interview, let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the music business, in particular what led you into the ambient / electronic realms?

Matt:   I really stumbled into the music business via Jake Stephenson who introduced me to Kinetix Records and after a number of years where I was just messing around with tape recordings and guitars and participating in psychedelic jams using all sorts of weird stuff including home keyboards with a few mates.

The ambient and electronic music influence came about off the back of what was happening in the late 80’s and early 90’s. At the time we were messing around with instruments. Ambient and chillout were a big part of that back then and I slowly found I gravitated more toward that and experimentation.

Psilowave: Are you classically trained in music or in any particular instrument? Have you had any formal electronics and synthesis / modern studio technique training or are you self taught in driving a studio?

Matt:  No training, I did learn Guitar for a few years when I was young but then shifted into synthesis and sampling and that took over, I just picked up techniques and processes as I explored creatively and the same applies to the studio.

Psilowave: Musically speaking what have been the highs and lows in the last 20 years?

Matt:  The high for me is always working on the music and the low is usually shortly after it’s released, but its more the nature of expending so much energy into something and then releasing it.

I never really approached making music as a career and it’s a hard question to answer as I do not relate to creativity as a career with highs and lows and more just one stream of creative output.

Psilowave: 20 Years is a long time in what is often an unforgiving and brutal game. What inspires you to keep on producing?

Matt:  I was always more into doing this for the creative buzz and freedom of expression, and if the source of inspiration is limitless and you just focus on that, you’re constantly inspired.

The digital nature of music now and people’s attitudes have changed things for me, personally and economically, but I am still driven by the same thing really which is creative spirit and not much else.

The Present / Music:

Psilowave: Okay we have to start here… It was with great sadness we learnt about your plans to hibernate Virtual Records. First of all can you talk us through that decision, and (fingers crossed) will Virtual rise again in the future?

Matt:   Virtual is kind of in Hibernation but not,  I really do not know what I will do week on week and my main feeling was that I wanted to explore new sounds and styles and also some new label ideas so that’s why I stepped back from Virtual a bit.

I think at the last count there were around 25 unreleased Virtual albums with various amounts of work to finish them so there will be more sometime.

Psilowave: Much of the Ishq sound is lush and pastoral, invoking sun dappled, drowsy afternoons, or dewy morning landscapes, especially the light series. How much does Cornwall and its surrounding environment inspire you?

Matt:  Its less Cornwall specifically and more the English landscape, but Cornwall does play into it as the place has a strong energy, it’s a little deeper than just the landscape and more what’s hidden within the landscape, and also the landscape within us which inspires and informs but it’s all imagination really and what we evoke with that.

Psilowave: Conversely: where does the inspiration come from for the more “out there” music, in particular the Virtual Space series? Are you interested in Science (fact and fiction), the cosmos, quantum physics etc…? Are these inspirations?

Matt:  Science fiction books and films but also the imagination, when it goes interplanetary and tunes into that dimension and imagery.

Psilowave: Whether working in evolving soundscapes, or electronic abstract tones and sound sculptures, there is a pervading sense of the psychedelic, an “otherness” about all of your output. Would we be correct in assuming that the psychedelic realm has influenced you and your music? If so what are your thoughts and feelings on the current state of the psychedelic scene, both musically and scientifically?

ishq tren CDMatt:  Psychedelics were one key indeed and they defined the setting I anticipated the music would work in, also to a point early on and still do to some degree.

Psychedelics open the imagination up to new perspective and dimension and then you start to reflect and work with that.

The psychedelic scene still has the anarchy and that’s the essence for me of it, but I do not feel part of any one scene really and generally I exist on the periphery of things.

The psychedelic research side I think is evolving now nicely due to the work of a lot of people and I am sure one day these substances will find their place back in medicine, though this is already happening via social aspects of use really.

Psilowave: Can you talk us through any other projects you are working on? Can you tell us about plans for the new Ektaphone label and what direction it will take? Will it be a vehicle for your own projects or will there be releases from other artists?

Matt: I am working on a few new Imprints including some for Kinetic music next,  largely so I have some labels for the upbeat stuff planned and other genres and a way to release that stuff with different designs and formats etc .

Ektaphone was started more for work I do using only really old equipment, with tape and kind of inspired by stuff like Krautrock and early German Electronic music and the 1970’s old retro art and photography etc… But with my own take on it I hope and it will become a focus sometime .

Psilowave: After orchid and in particular with the start of virtual releases (Magik Square of the Sun etc…) the music became much less structured and freeform. What made you decide to take that path?

Matt: After Orchid I just felt I wanted to go more freeform for a while, I get bored easily in a creative sense and felt slowly that the more structured style of work I do limited my creative freedom so I explored other forms and workflows etc…

A big drive for me is creative freedom, its why I make art and self release it and why I also do more formless music and experimental work a lot. I dislike the sense that I am conforming to style, but I tend to bounce back into older forms of work when I get bored of the experimental side and it offers me a way to keep moving and shifting as well creatively and enjoying the process.

Psilowave: On to the technical side of things. Can you talk us through the current studio set up?  We know already that a true analogue signal path is important to you; can you talk about what synths / samplers / effects / processors and sequencer you favour? 

ishq i7x in memoriam CD

Matt:  I work with Cubase 8 and Ableton in tandem mostly as midi and audio recorders based around a mixing desk, with a lot of different hardware and software.

I use both analogue and digital technology, but I prefer the sound of hardware as that’s what my ears grew up with and I like the sound more of older studio recordings and also “bedroom” recordings and low grade recordings with flaws, in the same way I prefer old analogue photos to digital ones but it’s not a judgement of one being better,  just a preference.

I change workflow a lot as part of the creative process and tend to focus on specific small groups of instruments sometimes in projects so I have no fixed studio setup or process.

The analogue aspect is that my ears are just more into it, I prefer working with hardware mixers and effects but I do work with tons of software also, but most of what I do hits a mixing desk at some point.

Psilowave: So many electronic artists lately are working completely “in the box” and with the current power of the big sequencers, plug in effects, processors and soft synths it’s hard to argue a case for outboard. Do you work with software much? If so what are your thoughts on modern soft synths?

Matt:  Personally I think pure software music and hardware music do sound very different and that’s a reason to argue for using hardware as much as software, but it’s all relative to our personal taste, and for me personal taste means very little and is not something that defines quality of a thing or how good or bad it is. For me it’s all good.

Psilowave: Any pieces of hardware or software that you couldn’t live without?

Matt: No, but Ableton for midi and sample processing, Eventide effects , a few choice old boxes like the Kurzweil sampler but too much stuff to mention really, I guess if I had to choose  it would my sample library and just one old sampler.

Psilowave: Most used / favourite synth (hard or soft)?

Matt:  it’s impossible to say… One aspect of my work is I tend to sample synths a lot and do a lot of re-synthesis and also use a lot of resampling of other sound sources.

I use Korg Physical modelling a lot and have also Roland Variphrase over the years, Eventide effects, Reaktor a fair bit, loads of old analogue poly synths and some older modular stuff.

Psilowave: Due to the cerebral nature of your music, how does the Ishq sound translate live?

Matt: At the odd, very special event and time and place it has worked really well, but I felt a lot of my music was recorded more for detailed listening and even mixed for headphones, so it does not always translate to PA systems, but my focus has not been that much on making music for events or PA systems though that has shifted with some projects now.

Psilowave: On the back of that; any live gigs planned for the near future / 2020?

Matt:  I think not and maybe not for some time for various reasons, but as the nature of things is change I am sure I will return to do more live gigs eventually but I think with more kinetic energy and not pure ambient unless the setting feels right.

Psilowave: Due to the very limited nature of many of the Virtual releases, the second hand market can go a bit crazy on prices, I know many of Psilowave’s customers who have recently woken up to Ishq / Virtual have made requests for CD’s from the Virtual back catalogue. Any plans to ever re-issue older releases?

Matt:  I am challenged by reissues as I feel it can undermine the limited nature of the originals as art works, but it’s a tricky issue as I also dislike hyper inflation and Discogs prices can be insane and the idea people who find your works later on having to miss out on them at fair prices I also do not like so I am undecided.

I think it’s more likely once the final Virtual releases are out a box set or 4 will appear on some other imprint but I feel that’s best for a distant future and part of me never looks back.

Psilowave: For the trainspotters… can you divulge where some of the obscure and often very British vocal samples that feature in your music are dug up from, Space 1999 and Tomorrows World  have been identified. Have you ever stumbled into any copyright issues? There are two strong sides to the copyright argument with recorded sound, what are your thoughts?

ishqamatics spacebound CD

Matt:  From lots of obscure films as mentioned , radio shows , TV , endless sources. In all honesty I totally forget some days what the sources are, but yes stuff like Space 1999 etc and radio 4 and old films.

Copyright is not an issue really unless you start selling Big Time and in volume and sampling well know acts as loops in a blatant way.

I keep an open mind on copyright more as a man made mental concept but I relate to the need for it as far as finished works are concerned so people’s incomes are sustainable and they are not ripped off by people for money.

With sampling  I tend to focus more on the outcome as ‘ art ‘ when people do it and  there’s innovative ways of sampling and there’s lazy ways but the main consideration is what was created from it ?

I come back a bit to this idea of creative freedom and that one can do whatever one likes really as long as it does not exploit someone else’s hard work in a  way that effects them.

Psilowave: Regarding vocals, some of the most beautiful and transcendent Ishq tracks have featured Jacqueline’s ethereal vocals; is there any plans for more music featuring vocals? Have you ever considered lyrics in a track?

Matt:  Someday possibly , lyrics are trickier, it’s been considered many times, it may happen but I always found ‘ words ‘ become ‘ obvious ‘ and as I like music that sounds from another planet or dimension I like best the use of vocals which invoke other languages, made up words and sonifications are likely on some future works.

Psilowave: Do the myriad of alter ego’s reflect different moods or styles of your music?

Matt:  Different moods and styles but more different dimensions and inspirations as well, different aspects of me, different muses and forces maybe and so on.

Psilowave: Of the 50+ releases which is your personal favourite musically? And which means the most to you?

Matt:  I think the 2 Elve albums, as it’s a landscape I like most in my head and relates most to the natural world I feel but again this changes over time, I have a weird disconnect from past works, once released I tend to never reconsider them and very rarely listen to them .

Psilowave: With track names such as “Neocortex nanobots in a self absorbing la la land” how do you go about naming tracks?

Matt:  With a degree of cynicism in the case of that album and humour, but with other releases I am trying to intuit words that feel like the music or invoke the vision that inspired the music and sometimes I just make things up, but usually it has to resonate with the sounds or fit a concept somehow.

Psilowave: Apart from Lee Norris are there any other collaborations on the horizon? Is there any artist who you would love to collaborate with?

Matt:  One or 2 are in progress but sadly very slow for various reasons and largely due to the economics of music x time and space and cost of living now and I decided to move away from collaboration a bit for this reason.

In terms of working with people there are so many I would be happy to work with but I prefer to work in sessions and jam really when I do collaborate.

Psilowave: Checking liner notes on many of the releases it is apparent that several albums are created over a long period of time. How does the process of an album come together? Do you work on several albums at the same time? Do some projects get left to gestate and reworked?

Matt:  I work on stupid amounts of music all at once , I tend to have loads of album concepts in folders  work on one project / album and then in that process I find tracks for other projects or which fit other albums better and I move them over, so it’s like a perpetual creative process of working multiple albums and tracks between each other and I tend to focus down on one album when I feel it’s close to finishing or I choose albums to finish as I feel drawn to them.

I really do not like this workflow but sometimes I struggle to write an album from start to finish, and I like the energy you get from working this way on multiple projects and seeing how time changes things.

The plus side is that slow cooking albums over many years often creates a stronger identity to a work, but the downside is its very hard to return sometimes to partially finished works  as the instinct is to keep starting new works and moving forwards.

Psilowave: With an ever changing music delivery landscape, what advice would you offer to upcoming electronic artists looking to get their music “out there”?

Matt:  Just do what you will and focus 100% on the music, enjoy it,  make art you resonate with and release it as you can in the simplest way possible and in a  fluid way.

Psilowave: Do you still offer mastering services and do you consider mastering an art or science? Outside of ambient in the mainstream, mastering has fallen foul of what has been termed “loudness wars” with finished albums having incredibly “hot” signals,  can you offer some thoughts on the mastering process.

Matt:  I still do some mastering but very little as I am just focused so much on making music.

Art or Science? A bit of both. 

As a process it’s really two fold Correcting and Enhancing.

The whole ‘ Loudness ‘ wars thing is insane really.

Psilowave: How do you feel about how much ambient has subdivided into genres (as all electronic genres have)? There seems to be a large movement towards the darker side of ambient, which perhaps has evolved within the guitar driven and metal genres, separately away from the electronic scene. Do labels such as Cryo Chamber interest you?

Matt:  I feel confused, In truth as soon as the term’ Ambient ‘ was created the game was over, I think Eno was having a private joke at everyone else’s expense and still is a bit.

It’s like Bird song is ambient, so is the sound of a train hitting a stationary car, I just slowly found less and less need to categorise music into genres and any music style works for me if it has energy I can relate to. It’s all good.

Psilowave: What are you listening to currently that excites you or simply you enjoy? Can you recommend any artists or labels that we should be checking out?

Matt: Been listening a lot to really early experimental electronic music and also experimental techno lately, too much stuff to mention, I can drift very rapidly through loads of different forms of music and appreciate most to some degree, but I seem to gravitate toward music that’s on the edge a bit and not mainstream and often not of a genre, more ‘ odd one out ‘ type acts .

I really like Krautrock and German electronic music from early on , early avant garde stuff , all sorts of classical , anything interesting really , tons of Jazz at times then none for months.

The Phuture:

Psilowave: Will hard copy (CD / Vinyl) survive, or will it eventually fall under the weight of download?

Matt:  I think it will be with us until the world ends, download has its merits but we need the artefacts also.

Psilowave: Any plans to board the current trend and re-issue any old releases or drop any new material onto vinyl?

Matt:  Yes in time!

Psilowave: With the best will and pressing processes in the modern world vinyl still often comes with an inherent level of noise which is compounded with trendy splattered and coloured discs and it is prone to collect surface noise, do you feel that your music in particular the quieter and more intricate productions translate to the vinyl medium?

Matt:  Some music translates to vinyl and some I feel does not, I think some of my work will and a lot of past recordings will not for various reasons.

If I release any Vinyl here it will be largely recorded for that medium and knowing what works where… As much of what I have released to date was recorded for CD and I did not consider the implications of pressing to vinyl.

Psilowave: Here at Psilowave hard copy remains king, (vinyl or CD) and always will be. Do you feel CD is still a valid music delivery medium?

Matt:  I am still into CD as a delivery system but also more so as an archive system, I like shelves of books, CD’s and vinyl, it’s a library of art for me, a collection of paintings, what they bring to a space and home.

I also really like odd mediums, mini CD, tape, weird boxes of stuff, artefacts.

Psilowave: Any plans to expand into sample packs, soft synths or even hardware patch production?

Matt:  Yes and I have done a few things like this.

Psilowave: Is there any music remaining in the archives as yet unreleased?

Matt:  About 100 albums last time I looked with lots of experimental music, but also a lot of really strong Ishq music and some electronica and also some dance music going back 20 years.

Psilowave: Ambient as a genre has courted some genres outside of ambient and gone through some changes – ethno / drone / psybient / glitch etc… How do you see the future of ambient?

Matt:  Geometric sonic shapes and light installations which alter time and space and act as portals into other dimensions. Harmonising electrified forms. 

No genre or sub genre, just magical use of sound to effect change in the listener at mental and emotional levels. Art

Psilowave: Art, photography and digital image manipulation have featured greatly with all your releases and recently with the issue of the art card inserts in the Box Sets. Ishq seems to be evolving artistically, can you discus your art projects, and is there any plans for a book or posters / prints of your imagery?

Matt:  I just released some posters and work more and more on images and collages, but its secondary to music, I like photography and also doing my own art as its easier for me, and also I think it allows me to embellish the music in my own way with my own vision. I work with music a lot in a visual sense and often with landscape or location in mind as much as energy.

I hope to release a book of art sometime and also more prints and things.

Psilowave:  Again, touching on the psychedelic angle, much of your imagery has a psychedelic feel, have entheogens influenced your art?

Matt:  I guess so, though probably more the wandering I did a lot in nature on them and that kind of thing… The imagery and energy that talks back to us in those moments. It’s not so much whats taken as what communicates back and how we then build a relationship with that and creatively work with that.

Psilowave:  Are you inspired by visionary artists such as Alex Grey, Luke Brown and Andy Thomas? Which artists inspire you?

Matt:  I do relate to a lot of the Visionary artists but also a lot of the 50’s and 60’s artists and back through time. It all has its merits.

The Other:

Psilowave: We are fascinated with phenomena and the inherent strangeness of existence, do you have any interest in phenomena, such as UFO’s, interdimensional entities etc.. If so any thoughts you want to share?

Matt:  Always interested, but I tend to avoid being too polarised in belief and non belief, I keep an open mind but it’s all so much data for the brain and these days I find myself trying to slowly rid myself of mental noise  / content of all kinds and get into just observing more and thinking less, I’m more interested in the stuff that’s free like nature.

Psilowave: Self transforming machine elves… Yes or No?  (Do you give any credence to the raps of Mckenna and Lilly etc..?)

Matt:  Anything can be true in the imagination or astral dimension, but I think direct experience is the key and essentially it cannot be explained in words really .It’s all good.

Psilowave: The universe / multiverse – Intelligent design or Chaos? Any credence in the simulation theory?

Matt: All of it.  I believe and disbelieve it all as I do not tend to go there mentally now, it’s hard to explain….. A Zen thing really , beyond detail, knowledge,  facts and things where everything exists potentially but potentially not!

My answer is 9 minus 9 if I had to give one.

Psilowave: Is the universe / multiverse finite or infinite?

Matt:  It’s both at the same time, maybe and neither, unless we think otherwise. It could all be in the mind and all that really exists is when no mind exists.

Personal:

Psilowave: Do you have family, pets, do you find time for a “normal” family life?

Matt:  Yes, I have a family and daughter, normal is usually once a week when things then tend to get quite abnormal.

Psilowave: Do you find time to get out to clubs or gigs? If so what venues, clubs currently inspire you?

Matt:  No as much as I would like, mostly at events I play at, it’s Cornwall!

Psilowave: Are you spiritual? Is spirituality in whatever form it manifests important to you, or inspirational to your music?

Matt: Very hard to say as the term can mean so many things, so it’s really not something that I can answer and best left to others to answer. 

I like a lot of Zen thinking and ideas like Dzogchen and Taoism but I relate to all teachings of a ‘ spiritual ‘ kind, they all have a jewel inside them if you remove bias,  fear, opinion, belief, disbelief,  fixed mentality etc…

I would say the entire universe is spiritual, all creation, all art, everything that exists or ever did.

Psilowave: If you were not a musician or involved in the music industry what would you be doing?

Matt:  I think I would be involved in video or making film, or possibly a glider pilot or Kung Fu master or stuntman!

Psilowave: You can often learn a lot about someone by looking at their record collection and bookshelf? Can you share with us some of your favourite films, books (fiction or nonfiction), Albums or music tracks and why?

Matt:  Aahh… A long list so not fully possible, I like stuff with energy, all genres, all forms, it’s endless.

I really like obscure films, often old British ones, music wise everything that feels like a genuine creative exploration and an invocation of something tangible.

Psilowave: Any recent films or books that have really excited or inspired you that you think we should pick up on?

Matt: Book wise,   I just started all the Burroughs books, film wise lots of older ones really, classic old British and European films and all sorts.

Psilowave: Are you a music or collector of any kind – if so what of?

Matt:  I am of music I guess, science fiction books and odd studio equipment.

Psilowave: Outside of music, do you have any hobbies?

Matt: I am a collector of utterly pointless thought processes, I love wandering and I love food but really the music making and synthesis are the only hobby.

Psilowave: First and last records bought?

Matt:  First record I think was ‘ Sound effects  ‘  by The Jam and last was Wata Igarashi – Stratosphere.

Psilowave: Any vices (that you can discuss) ?

Matt:  All the usual ones possibly in moderation and occasionally totally unmoderated.

Psilowave: Best live gig ever played?

Matt:  Labyrinth Japan as it reminded me the most of old parties, the setting is magic, also the energy of the people and it’s so open minded at a creative level.

Psilowave: Any words of advice for anyone looking to break into the electronic music scene?

Matt:   Do not obsess mentally over your art, the flaws are the beauty, it’s the intention and how it affects the listener that matters, create, flow, let go and avoid motivations that are essentially only going to weaken your art.

Psilowave: If you could revisit any of your earlier works and albums would you change anything?

Matt:  No as this would affect the entire fabric of time and space and I follow the school of thought that a moment in time is perfect and when captured will always be perfect no matter how flawed the mentality says it is and the problem is the thinking and not the art. I see all art as perfect no matter what once it’s finished and even when it’s unfinished.

Psilowave: Have you always lived in Cornwall? How does the countryside / landscape affect your mood and music? Is there any positives in city living?

Matt:  Cornwall for nearly 30 years now but south London prior to that, I think the countryside has a natural space that translates into my work here and I like solitude. Also dead silent places in nature and places with some moodiness and history.

City living… Yes of course it has unique merits – Cities often have the best food! I do like cities a lot but I grew up in the country, the landscape and space is a big part of ‘ me ‘ , I buzz off both really as its all energy.

Psilowave: What spots should any visitors to Cornwall be sure to hit up?

Matt:  Head for the Stone circles and Wishing wells and remote spots. Avoid Lands end as it’s like a Pirate themed low budget Disneyland on bad Acid but actually in some weird way that’s its magic. Go everywhere.

Psilowave: Any final words you would like to share, or anything at all we should know about from Ishqland before we depart?

Matt:  Thanks for taking the time and to everyone for supporting my own idiosyncratic art however you do that and please believe none of what I have said!

All that remains is to thank you for your time and candid responses; I know lots of customers at Psilowave have been waiting patiently to get some insight into the world of Ishq. It’s been an absolute pleasure compiling these questions and formatting this interview.

From all at Psilowave and all our customers, we wish you the very best for the future, success in all your various guises and projects, health, prosperity and most of all happiness.

All currently available Matt Hillier and Ishq related releases are available at the Ishq website – The Ishq Bandcamp page  and of course at Psilowave Here where you will also find many rarer discontinued pieces.

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