Those familiar with Pimmon's tactile electronic music will be bemused by Paul Gough's affecting recounting of childhood memories. Growing up in Merrylands, a working class area about 32 kilometres from Sydney, some of his strongest memories involve sound, like the tractor that dug up the family's backyard when he was three or the sound of a fan that lulled him to sleep; how fitting that even today Gough's sleep is soothed year-round by that same sound. At six, he discovered his mom's reel-to-reel tape player and, fascinated, by ten was recording the television, Top 40, and shortwave signals. Accidentally tuning into an adventurous local radio station at sixteen, Gough discovered Can, Suicide, Captain Beefheart, and Nurse With Wound, and eventually submitted tapes to the late-night radio show “Hot Dog You Bet” where his music got some early exposure.
Having moved beyond such innocent beginnings, Pimmon's music since then has been released by labels like ERS, K-RAA-K, fals.ch, Static Caravan, and Meme. However, it was the 2000 release of Assembler on Christopher Murphy's Fällt label that brought him broader recognition and acclaim. Pimmon's profile increased further when he joined fellow artists Fennesz, Pita, Oren Ambarchi, and Keith Rowe on Afternoon Tea from Mille Plateaux's Ritornell sublabel. (Incidentally, the name ‘Pimmon' originated from a childish in-joke with a friend, but Gough thought it perfect because its blank canvas conjured up nothing in reference to sound.) Given its mercurial qualities, Pimmon's sound is hard to pin down, but that elusiveness is part of what renders it special. Rather than fashioning an electronic array of sound and then statically looping it with modest variations, Pimmon's textural ambience drifts fluidly and hypnotically through myriad episodes of blurry layers, phantom pulses, and grainy static. The end result is a music that's unfamiliar yet engaging, dense and opaque yet infused with aural clarity and richness. To christen his music minimal or microsound is misguided at best since closer inspection reveals an incredible amount of detail in flux at any given moment. He's no purist, however, when it comes to source materials. Well-known for exploiting unconventional sound sources, Gough's just as happy to use old scratched vinyl or battered tapes to construct his tracks. He says, “ I'm very much a plunderphile. I'll use anything and everything in my collection, including crappy cassettes I recorded as a child. It's quite random and this helps me to free my mind for all different possibilities.”
But if it seems like things have been quiet recently on the Pimmon front, you're not entirely wrong. Gough is just now returning from a self-imposed sabbatical to resume performing (future performances include Brisbane in May and an Australian East coast festival in July) and releasing music, a six-month break that he took for personal reasons which goes back, in fact, three years. In his words, “I hit a hole in 2001 and since then my output has been sporadic. Perhaps release-wise it hasn't seemed that way, but as far as me being really in a creative zone like I was from 1998-2000, I feel quite apart from that.” Still, fans needn't fear. There's the recent Snaps*Crackles*Pops full-length from tigerbeat6 plus his installment in Staalplaat's Mort Aux Vaches series. In contrast to the former's ‘pop' sound, the latter's an October 2002 concert recording from Europe, and a good document of Pimmon's live style which emphasizes flowing movements from light to shade and back as opposed to separate self-contained pieces. His work emerges playfully, yet when ideas develop, his focus becomes absolute and consciousness of time and place momentarily falls away during the process. He notes, “It's pretty rare for me to specifically set out and decide this track will sound like this or that. I often find what I do will change as I work, so it's almost more like the track has a life of its own and decides where to go. I work very emotively and intuitively, so often the feelings I've had from the day before will shape what I do.”
Citing tracks from Snaps*Crackles*Pops as examples, Paul explains, “They were all very different, “RTW: Sound of a Finished Kiss” came from two separate live pieces I'd been working on, while track two, “In Einem Teich des Treibstoffs” was a mixture of Django Reinhardt guitar loops with Windows DLL files overtop and a Mac cellular automata program.” When queried about the Moroccan ney and African drum sounds he conjured on “No Jazz For Jokers,” he laughs, “Funnily it's simply an absolute crappy sax sample! There are two of them and I kept changing over time the order of the loop segments. It also has some bland rhythmic track that I fiddled with, lots of PC detritus and the aforementioned sax loops with lots of panned delay — a kind of Terry Riley thing I guess. I love (in case you hadn't noticed) loops of sound; I spend hours listening to files I work on as loops and imagine what might go between the spaces.” Paul's current working setup consists of a home desktop PC and a Dell Notebook for performance. “I still fiddle about with tape manipulation, and then transfer those sounds into the PC. I also use a KORG MS20, for sound creation and manipulation — a creature of habit I'm afraid.”
When asked about the characterization of Snaps*Crackles*Pops as his take on “pop” music, Gough replies, “For me, it's more complex than me doing pop. It's a celebration of what I do through the spectacles of all the wonderful music I've grown up with. I really have a pop heart and listen to things like the Left Banke, the Zombies all the way through to Stereolab via UK jangly pop from the 80s.” Given the attention Fennesz gained with the more directly emotional approach on Endless Summer, might Snaps*Crackles*Pops be regarded as a similar move into a more accessible presentation of Pimmon's music? “Perhaps,” he says, “but I think it still has many harsh elements. Apparently some bloke in France reckons there are lots of “vomit” sounds on it, but I don't deliberately do annoying things, or aim to not please people. I do things because I love them, not to follow some ideal or intellectual process. I certainly don't see Snaps as an Endless Summer.”
Given recent moves towards vocal-based electronica, can Paul imagine his music evolving in that direction? In fact, it's already done so. “I've been working on vocal tracks for about 18 months,” he says, “but I feel it will smack a little of “bandwagon” were I to release anything. I've two works I perform live; I did them when I played the SFMOMA gig in September, 2002. Perhaps I'll finish them off one day. They're with a vocalist who contacted me out of the blue, Kazumi, who has done some vocals with other electronica artists too.” As far as where else he sees his own music going in the future, Gough says that delineating a specific direction is difficult to do. “I feel there has been a slow progression to more harmony and melody and this will continue, albeit in my own fashion. I think “RTW: Sound of a Finished Kiss” is a good signpost. Will I do another Snaps*Crackles*Pops? I don't know. I've a few projects I'm working on, and I seem to be looking to stay with labels I've worked with rather than flit about. Not that the flitting was intentional, more that I took the offers from where they came.”
Incidentally, Gough still resides in Sydney, as he believes that musical approach is more a matter of emotional state than geographical location. In his view, one can be just as remote living in the center of Berlin as anywhere else. Aside from his Pimmon projects, he's worked in radio, a medium he loves, for many years, and presently for ABC Radio National which specializes in documentary/science/arts programs. He explains, “I present two programs on radio in Australia, one nationally called the Quiet Space, which is a showcase for eclectic experimental musics, and I play a more rock set on a Sydney youth station. I think over the last six months I've been listening to more guitar-based stuff and I've been going through old vinyl and enjoying a lot of late 70s/80s stuff. There were some bands in Sydney that I loved around that time and I met up with some of the producers and label people from the time who gave me CDRs. It might be meaningless to others but it was a total nostalgic trip for me: artists like Dead Travel Fast, Systematics, and Scattered Order. Severed Heads was a very, very big influence on me too. Most of the real foundations in my music come from the late 70s/80s.”