Originally intended to be published Spectrum Magazine Issue 6# which was cancelled before publication
Eventually published in Goth Nation (Australia) Issue 1# 2002 and Degenerate Magazine (Finland) Issue 3# 2003
Isomer may at this point in time be a relatively unknown name, but the fact remains that sole member David Tonkin is producing some damn solid dark ambient/ heavy electronics music, which is an almost a non-existent style and/ or scene within the Australian musical landscape. Regardless, Isomer managed to garnered the attention of premier Deutsch label Tesco Organisation, who have subsequently signed the project and are releasing the official debut CD “The Serpent Age” (reviewed elsewhere in these pages). Following on with this interview, David provided some interesting insight.
NAME(s)/ AGE(s): David Tonkin, 26
LOCATION: Adelaide, South Australia
YEAR PROJECT WAS FORMED: circa 2000
LIST OF RELEASES:
- Semblance of Perfection CS (self-released)
- Sedation CS (self-released)
- The Lotus Eaters CS (self-released & Smell the Stench)
- Compilation track: Dissonant Structures CD (Cranial Fracture Recording
- Forthcoming: Serpent Age CD (Tesco Organisation)
Given that Isomer is quite a new project it will be a name known to very few who read this interview. Nonetheless please introduce yourself, the project and the musical path you traversed that lead to what Isomer has become today?
Initially I just needed to focus my energies into something creative. Other than basic piano as a kid, I never took any formal musical training. I came into dark ambient/noise/pe/whatever music through a couple of CMI releases, and they sort of inspired me to explore for myself those sorts of textures. I bought a second-hand Akai S2000 sampler and basic MIDI keyboard, found a couple of PC programs and had a go. That was around the year 2000. The results were pretty hit-and-miss, but they served their purpose, giving me some sort of release, and I had fun doing it. Basically whatever came out I put down on tape. It varied from light-hearted novelty pieces to noise to dark ambient and death industrial. Serpent Age is much more focussed in intent and sound, and I put more effort into making it a complete package.
When you first started releasing material in the ambient/ industrial genres it was done so under your own name. It was not until later that you took the project name of Isomer. Why the shift in focus to entity away from you as an individual?
I just found I was sitting on a number of tracks with no moniker to use in distributing Semblance of Perfection, so I used my own name. I guess also I wasn’t really concerned with creating a recognisable mark or image. By the time I had put together the tracks for Sedation, I had found the definition of an isomer was analogous to the sorts of ideas I was exploring, so started to use that.
Given that your early tapes were rather eclectic in scope, it was not until you recorded your debut CD that Isomer gained a clear focus and direction. Obviously this was a conscious effort, but what made you focus your sound towards a dark ambient/heavy electronics fusion?
On a basic level, it was partly a result of the programs I was using. Until then I had only been using the S2000, a demo version of Fruity Loops and Audio Mulch. When I got my hands on a full version of Fruity Loops (with you and a couple of others!) I had access to a much wider variety of sounds, generators and effects, the sampler took a back seat and I let fly on the PC. I guess it also reflected a change in attitude and approach on my part. I’d gained more confidence in what I was doing, and took the production of Serpent Age much more seriously.
Can we expect drastic stylistic changes to Isomer’s direction and sound in future?
I’ve been drawn to more noisy material lately, so I imagine that will filter through pretty soon. Some vocal treatments maybe?
In the review of your debut CD I made a comments regarding the track title ‘every man a star’ implying that it could be said that some shine more brightly then others. What is your view of this perception, or is the track title to be taken in a more literal manner? (with regard to the theory that all life has been derived from exploded star matter).
It’s a reference to personal strength and energy; that fundamentally you can really only rely on yourself and your own reserves. “Be a light unto yourself”. You can always look to religion, philosophies and other people for guidance and inspiration, but first and foremost strength must come from within. But yeah, I’d agree that some do shine more brightly than others!!
Likewise the first track ‘Star of Sarajevo’ may imply an interest in matters surrounding the conflicts within a particular region of Eastern Europe. Is this at all the case?
My wife is a Bosnian Serb from Sarajevo who migrated out here to Australia with her family in ‘93 after being forced from home. I’ve developed a great respect for the generosity, honour and integrity of the Serbs since then, and the track’s a homage to them. Of all the peoples of the Balkans and of Europe at large since WW2, I don’t think any have been demonised and ostracised to the extent the Serbs have, largely as a result of the work of public relations firms, the rivers of shit that came from the US and NATO, and the complicity and involvement of the Western media. So much of what filtered through to us was and still is tainted, and ‘Star of Sarajevo’ is a personal response to that.
Additionally many of the track titles refer to the sun and the cosmos, with the preliminary album artwork partially reflecting this. I would also assume that there is a concept behind the whole album if not simply a common theme between track. Please comment. Also how will the final album artwork differ from that of the promo version?
I was very much focussing on my resolve and personal strength though the whole process, and I think the sun and its associated imagery and symbols are a powerful representation of these ideas. Together they gelled into the overall “concept” for the album, and I chose the final cover images accordingly. The demo cover featured a seal of the sun over some treated surgery photos. For the Tesco release I’ve used an image of the sun itself and representations of a lion-headed serpent which appears in Roman, Egyptian and early Christian mythology.
I do believe that you produce most of your material using modern computer methods, of which this has come under fire from some post-industrial artists who believe that the use of a PC to create such music is not a positive thing. What is your view on this matter?
I really don’t think it matters how you produce it. There’s no ideological reasoning or intent behind my use of a computer. Actually it’s partly born of necessity – it’s a cheaper alternative for me, as I already had a PC at the time I chose to start toying with sounds. I do sometimes wish I had a rack of knobs to fiddle around with – something more tactile than the click of a mouse button – but I’m happy with what I’m using at the moment, and the results they produce. Certainly in the future I’d like to broaden my pallet a bit.
Do you find composition of tracks difficult? Also prior to commencing a track do you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve or do the tracks tend to evolve on their own accord as you progress through to completion?
Often I find if I encounter difficulties in the initial stages of assembling a track, I probably shouldn’t be forcing it. Sometimes an idea or concept will inspire me to manifest it somehow, but more often than not I just start from a particular sound or sample which I’m taken by, and everything else coalesces around it.
Given that you are now part of a minute (but at least growing) Australian scene how do you view this in its international context? Likewise are there other Australian projects that you have networked with that you would like to mention?
As you yourself would know, it can be a lonely path to tread, but I agree the “scene” does seem to be growing. Two projects I’m really impressed by at the moment are Terra Sancta and Vespertine (at least his album “Transmissions From Antiworld”). New label Cranial Fracture Recordings in New South Wales also look set to be something of a force, so all power to them. I’m also a big fan of Darrin Verhagen’s material (Shinjuku Thief/Filth etc) and much of David Thrussell’s stuff (Black Lung etc). Streicher seems to have made quite a name for himself in some circles (if only for the implied politics), but I’m yet to hear any of his material. Historically speaking, as you know a number of trail blazers and some bigger names also originated in Australia, such as SPK, John Murphy, Strength Through Joy/Ostara etc.
There’s definitely a healthy output of experimental music here, but not much of the darker material. As you put it once, there’s plenty of the chin-stroking, “academic” experimentalism. More broadly speaking, I think your own magazine Spectrum, and a number of dedicated individuals/labels such as Dorobo and Arcane Recordings (RIP) help provide a focal point and draw some international attention, but there’s not much of a recognisable “scene” as such. There is quite a bit of crossover which I find interesting – I stumbled into this sort of music through more straight-edged industrial – but I think there’s still a lot of parochialism and tribalism when it comes to music in Australia – this or any sort. It’s interesting that even though Douglas P has been periodically living and recording in Australia (and just outside my home city of Adelaide) for quite a few years now, no-one really associates him with the country in any meaningful sense. His place of residence is regarded as almost incidental, even though – as I understand it at least – he has drawn some inspiration and peace from living in the Adelaide Hills. Having said that, I guess his heart will always lie with Europe.
I am also under the impression that you are currently and/ or have recently completed University studies focusing on Asiatic matters. In that one track on an early tape contained a sample of a Indonesian Tribesman how much has your study influenced or inspired your compositions?
I finished a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree majoring in Asian Studies a few years ago, and continued teaching in related topics for a brief period. I even gave a couple of lectures on Japanese film and popular music, and included a short discussion of Japanese “underground” culture, playing the students some Masonna and showing a little of the film Tetsuo – that was fun. The sample you refer to was actually a Papua New Guinean tribesman in a doco going nuts as he was about to be baptised by missionaries. Obviously he wasn’t quite sure of his decision! I wouldn’t really say my interest in Asia has directly influenced or inspired any of my music, but I’m always on the lookout for areas in which the two interests coincide. For a short time I was tracking down Asian experimental/industrial material outside the obvious output from Japan. There’s a great cassette of death ambient material called “Xatya” from an Indonesian project, Worldhate.
What releases are on the on the imminent horizon for Isomer?
I’m working on a remix for a friend here in Adelaide with a project called The Spinning Room, and one of the tracks from Serpent Age appeared on the debut compilation release for Cranial Fracture Recordings. But other than that, I’ve been a little too busy to devote a lot of time to Isomer as of late, and I’d rather not do any half-hearted attempts. Planning a wedding certainly hasn’t helped either! I’m only just now settling down after that and am now back at work, so I’m sure soon enough I’ll be more inclined to channel my energies into it again. There’ll always be something on the horizon!!
Finally, are there any further comments you would like to add?
Thanks for your interest!