It was a real sliding doors moment. At the turn of the century, while walking down Portobello Road in London I passed a savagely hip hairdressers – Children of Vision – and on the spur of the moment decided to get a trim. As luck would have it, Ian Griffiths (founder and sole constant member of Kontakte) was assigned to me. As chat inevitably turned to music, we discovered much common ground and established a lifelong friendship.
Kontakte inspired by Stockhausen
At that time, Ian was playing keys and/or bass with a few outfits while formulating plans for Kontakte. The band name came after watching the German electronic-maverick Karlheinz Stockhausen perform his seminal work Kontakte back in 2005 in London’s Old Billingsgate fish market.
Fast forward more than 20 years and Kontakte’s fourth and final LP is due for release. It’s been both a painstaking and painful process. Ian tasked himself with completing the work he and his erstwhile musical partner, Stuart Low, had started. Tragically, Stuart suddenly died in early 2020.
Please read below for Ian’s account of his motivation and methods to complete a masterpiece in post-rock electronica. The self-produced promotional film The Insurgent Virtue is at the end of this article for your viewing pleasure.
This blog’s first venture into music publishing
Finite Methodologies For Denouement marks a major landmark for this blog. Even Butterflies Make A Sound is proudly co-releasing the twin-disc LP. I am immensely proud to help my dear friend to close the final chapter on this book. Since receiving the final mix, I have listened to it incessantly – simply awestruck. I’m not sure if it’s because I have skin in the game, but I think it’s Kontakte’s best work. I think the somewhat limited nature of the material at hand and little time to re-work pieces has resulted in a tightly focused album.
Multi CD albums and posthumous recordings
This release recalls two records by other artists: Zaireeka by The Flaming Lips and Bird Machine by Sparklehorse. The Flaming Lips’ eighth studio album comprised four CDs designed to be played simultaneously on separate audio systems. The latest Sparklehorse LP was released after Mark Linkous’s family and close collaborators finalised the tracks Linkous was working on before his sudden death.
Of note also, is the recent work by Stephen Morris (New Order/Joy Division) and Peter Saville, the Factory Records co-founder and visual artist. They have used the late Ian Curtis’s vocals in a new art project.
A work is finished when an artist realises his intentionsRembrandt
Ian Griffiths: By our own standards, Kontakte hasn’t or hadn’t really been active since 2016. Other than to get this music out, I’ll be honest, there wasn’t a strong drive to continue at that point.
Stuart Low RIP
In 2016, I kept the machine rolling after after a decade of hard slog. I knew Stuart had music he wanted to record and release. I’m so glad that he managed to get down what he did. It would be an even more heart-breaking story if he hadn’t managed to get some of these tracks finished. We spent so much time talking about it, trying to work out how it would see the light of day. He had tunes knocking about for years, which we eventually worked up. Some we were playing live; a couple of others were demos.
Since his death, it’s been a huge ask and somewhat emotional task to work through it all. However, I felt I owed it to him to finally release it all.
When things became difficult for him towards the end in 2019, he’d disappear and I couldn’t contact him. Everything just stopped. Then he’d be back, bursting with energy, guns blazing, and recording the most sublime things. His guitar playing on this stuff is Stuart at his absolute best. Whether it’s visceral or fragile, it’s 100% honest and heartfelt. The trouble was though he would never send me quality versions or the original files. He would simply send MP3s to me via WhatsApp to listen to, no matter how much I begged.
Many recordings lost after Stuart’s death
After Stuart passed, unfortunately, all the original recording projects were lost and irretrievable. Remarkably, what makes up a lot of the album are things I’ve had to pull out of my phone! It sounds ridiculous I know. But that is all I ever had to work with, which at times just made it even more challenging technically. Some of the tracks were finished tunes; some were just ideas. So, I spent most of two years grappling with it and piecing it all together to make something sound coherent.
Many of the tunes that Stuart chose to work with he’d been telling me about for years. One he apparently first wrote in 2002, years before we’d even met. Before I realised, some of my own stuff I dated back to demos from around 2003/4. It’s as if we were both grappling with our younger selves, trying to connect with something more innocent and youthful.
The crescendo of the entire record however does sit with a more contemporary track ‘All Watched Over’/’The Gesture Of Defiant Camaraderie’. A track re-visited from our third LP These Machines.
Former Kontake members happy to help out
Former members of Kontakte, Ben Worth and Gary McDermott, have been a massive help and added some ideas and parts to help glue some tracks together. That was quite poignant to have them involved, it helped it to feel like it’s all come full circle. Stuart’s cousin Andrew Taylor has mastered it all for me. That was another nice touch as he and Stuart were very close. From where we were, to where we are now, I think it sounds pretty good considering how it all started and the journey this music has been on. I might even go so far as to say… we’ve saved the best till last.
The LP concept explained
The album has a vague concept. The title attempts to suggest how I was working with a small and limited (finite) amount of material, which was always going to make up the last of what we could release, hence ‘denouement’. This is a bowing-out. In terms of the tunes, there were initially about five or six. I started to create soundscapes and more ambient pieces to connect the ‘tunes’ together. This began to morph until these pieces started to build and sound good by themselves, so they became a more prominent part of the album while still framing the heavier pieces. Then I started making more ambient pieces… then started playing around with the original tracks – juxtaposed with the ambient pieces – before I knew it, I effectively had two albums worth in front of me!
Two discs = one LP
What needs to be clear is that this is essentially one album. One ‘performance’. You’re gonna need two stereos. Synchronise and listen to the two discs simultaneously. Alternatively, play each version as a singular piece. I would be perfectly happy for people to choose to do this; however, the ‘artist’s instruction’ is for you to listen to them side-by-side. Simultaneously.
Unfortunately, Stuart and I never discussed this; we never got that far down the road together to discuss how we would release this stuff. The idea of releasing it as a ‘twin album’ (not a double album) just evolved from the active making of this stuff. I’m pretty sure Stuart would both love and hate this idea, but it needs to be challenging.
Listening to my deceased friend play the guitar over and over for the past three years now has been incredibly hard; therefore, I make no apologies for making it an equally challenging album for people to listen to. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Will it come across as pretentious? No idea. All I know is this is our music and in a daft way it needs to be slightly… untouchable… It should be available in a way that is also difficult and may take time for others to fully grasp and hopefully appreciate.
Commerciality be gone
What I can tell you is that Stuart had one hell of a sense of humour; anyone who ever met him knew that. I know he would be cracking up now at the fact I’m prepared (to an extent) to sabotage all this hard work at the insistence of orchestrating how the listener should best hear the album. He couldn’t care less about the commerciality of our music; he just wanted to play and wanted it to sound as best it possibly could. I’m sure he’ll be smiling down on this release and agree that the concept is far more important than getting bogged down and obsessed about the commerciality of it all.
Posthumous music was never part of the Kontakte plan. It’s absurd even now to think about it and to try and understand that Stuart isn’t here to see this. This is the recording of my mate playing his heart out while at the same time his life spiralled out of control.
Hence, there was never a question that I wouldn’t self-release this music. It’s so personal that I don’t think I could have faced handing it over to someone else to release who perhaps never knew Stuart.
I’m now ready to let it all go. There is the sense that by self-releasing it’s also kept close to home. It’s certainly very close to my heart. And I thank Stuart for everything he was able to give to it.
The Insurgent Virtue
Finite Methodologies For Denouement by Kontakte will be available on Bandcamp from 28 October 2023. Click the button below to pre-order a copy of the strictly limited edition CD (fifty copies only) at bargain £10 each (+ P+P).