Welcome to the latest Jupiter Room Transmissions and this time I am delighted to welcome an old friend of the show, Stephen James Buckley aka Polypores who has compiled a beautiful, eclectic ambient mix and answered some questions for The Jupiter Room.
I first saw (and met) Stephen in October 2015 when he played one of the very first Emotion Wave nights at the Well Space in Liverpool. Back then Polypores sounded quite different; the setup, ethos, sound, and concept was more towards hauntology, cold-war soundscapes, and vintage public information films. Check out his early releases such as The Investigation and A Shunned Place. Stephen has come a long way in the intervening years and his sound has evolved into something more organic.
Utilising modular systems to create seemingly living, breathing soundscapes, Polypores has moved closer to the realms of Tangerine Dream often evoking the dense atmospheres of Phaedra and Rubycon. He has conjured sonic eco-systems on many of his recent releases; notably Silver System Studies, Flora, the lush Azure, Shpongos, and Small Moves Ellie. This sound is one of sequencers and arpeggiations, of cascades and bubbling streams of ambience.
The last time I interviewed Polypores was in 2017 and it was fascinating to catch up with Stephen five years on. The world has changed a lot in that time and Stephen’s music reflects that passage of time. He has matured as a writer, producer, and performer, he has become more assured and more comfortable in himself. This is evident when watching his live performances; Stephen seems more at ease and assured despite controlling and wrangling a frighteningly complicated and multi-coloured setup of modules, patch leads, and twinkling lights. The Polypores live experience is atmospheric, and hypnotic, there is a journey to be undertaken and Stephen acts as a confident and skilled guide, often supported by back-projected visuals adding an extra layer of immersion.
A prolific producer, Polypores can be found on some of the the most exciting underground electronic music labels out there, such as Castles In Space, Polytechnic Youth, Concrète Tapes, and Behind The Sky Music. With such a rich plethora of creative output it’s no surprise that Stephen also has a Subscription service which gives the subscriber access to exclusive releases and all sorts of other sonic goodies. I urge you to check it out, there are rich seams of gems to be found and the community is fun and vibrant.
Stephen very kindly answered some questions for The Jupiter Room, giving us a fascinating insight into the man and his music.
Hello Stephen, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I make music under the name Polypores, using (primarily but not exclusively) modular synthesizers. I’m based in Preston, and I talk a lot.
What is your earliest musical memory?
Being terrified and fascinated by Jeff Wayne’s War of The Worlds.
What did you grow up listening to?
Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, Gerry Rafferty, Queen, Iron Maiden, Guns ‘n Roses, Nirvana, Hole, The Wildhearts, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails. That takes me to pretty much the end of my teenage years, although I’d by no means “grown up” by that point.
Where do you tend to draw your inspiration from, both musical and non-musical?
Musical – It varies a lot really. I don’t necessarily always try to force an influence (as in, “I’m going to record a track that sounds like ___ “), sometimes I think influence can creep in without you realising it, like you’re absorbing everything you listen to and then it gets processed by your brain and spat out as something quite different. I try to bring in elements from music that isn’t necessarily electronic, because if you only listen to one thing/genre then your music is going to become very stale. So in recent years I’ve been getting a lot more into the weirder side of Jazz – stuff like Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders- which has been an influence on recent albums.
In terms of non-musical, that’s changed a bit since we last spoke. The earlier Polypores albums tended to have more of a theme, a concept which tied them together, a frame I could hang the music on. But over the last couple of years I’ve been heading more towards making music for music’s sake, without there necessarily being a theme or concept.
Having said that, I have no doubt that the media I consume feeds into the music in some way. I like a lot of sci-fi and fantasy stuff, and tend towards the more esoteric subject matter in my non-fiction reading/viewing. Last year I discovered a fantastic podcast called Weird Studies that covers all sorts of fascinating topics and areas of investigation, a lot of which have probably fed into the music somehow.
I think environment is also a big factor. I love getting out into the countryside and getting a bit lost, away from people and noise. I feel like the albums I make are like that in a sense – they’re all worlds you can escape to. Each one is like a different level of a video game, with it’s own look and feel. It’s all about losing myself – and hopefully that resonates with others too.
I’m also often inspired by the equipment itself. I find the modular synthesizer (which I’ve used for about 2 and a half years) to be particularly inspiring. A lot of my ideas come from just messing around and experimenting on that – what starts out as a question (“what happens if I plug X into Y via Z, then run those through A and B in parallel?”) can eventually become a piece of music – even the basis for a whole album.
Do you have a favourite time of day or night to write/record?
I tend to do it mostly at night these days. I like to have something to look forward to at the end of a day, and it’s my favourite thing to do.
Does your live setup differ to your studio setup and if so, how?
Not at all really. In the earlier days of Polypores all of my recording was multitracked, so I needed a completely different setup to play live. Now i just record everything live at once, so I’m not even doing any mixing afterwards. It’s more about capturing a performance than creating a production. For some reason I don’t like the idea of doing something in the studio that I couldn’t do live.
Do you compose quickly or do you spend hours tweaking and finessing your tunes?
Pretty quickly I think. I’ll maybe spend an hour or two making a patch, then another hour or so performing the track on it until I’m happy with it. If I’m still not happy with it after 5-6 takes then I just scrap it, take the patch down, and start something completely different. After that it just gets stale, it loses the magic. It’s too rehearsed, the energy is gone. As mentioned before, my focus is now more on performance rather than production. I’m not interested in spending hours tweaking and mixing – I do enough of that kind of thing in my day job!
How has Polypores’ sound developed or evolved over the last 6/7 years?
A lot! Probably a bit too much for some! I sometimes see people saying “I wish he’d do another album like ___” or “He’ll never do an album as good as ___ ” which is kind of upsetting but I’ve got to stay true to myself and what I’m interested in – even if it means making something less popular.
I think when I started out I was making some pretty naïve Ghost Box rip-offs, but after a while I started finding my own way and dropping the whole Hauntology thing because it was very restrictive, to me. It was a foot in the door I guess, and what I was interested in at the time, but I didn’t feel like there were many avenues within it to keep me interested, from a musical point of view. I needed to spread my wings somewhat.
As mentioned before there has been a shift in the way I see myself, from “producer” into “musician” where I’ve become a lot more performance orientated, working a lot more freely and intuitively. A lot more improvisation as opposed to planning. I think the lack of specific themes has also been a bit of a shift, but it’s still very much about creating a “world” into which you can escape and get lost in for 45 minutes.
I think I picked up a fair few fans when I was doing what could loosely be described as “ambient” music, but, again, I got a bit restricted by that. I wanted to try other stuff, so came out with Chaos Blooms, which was kind of crazy and anxiety-provoking. None of the lush tones I’d been known for in the previous couple of records. I guess I just have this overwhelming urge to commit career-suicide every couple of years haha! But plenty of people are still on-board and understand/respect that I’ll keep changing. And I’m tremendously grateful to those people!
Tell us about the mix you’ve done for The Jupiter Room.
It moves from lush ambience into ecstatic jazz via modular synth weirdness and experimental vocal atmospheres. There’s music which sounds like it’s from a 1990s console game, and music that doesn’t include any synthesizers at all. There’s a track by my brother Chris, who has recently started making music as Slobject , and the whole thing ends with a section from my forthcoming album Hyperincandescent, which is two long form sonic tapestry compositions, and will be out via DiN Records on 20th May.
What are you listening to at the moment? Who should we be checking out?
This past few week or so mainly: Alice Coltrane, Slobject, Popol Vuh, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Thomas Ragsdale, The Transcendence Orchestra, PJS, Self Esteem, Golden Retriever, and Hunki Dori.
What are you currently reading?
Just finished – Monolithic Undertow by Harry Sword. Brilliant book about the idea of drone in music, and how it’s permeated popular throughout the ages. A lot of my favourite artists were featured in it and I found some new ones to check out.
Currently reading – Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti. I guess it’s weird fiction (ala Lovecraft) but EXTREMLY dark. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything this unbearably bleak. I can only read it for so long before I have to take a break and read something else to cheer me up.
Previous to that in fiction I read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, which was utterly incredible and I loved every second of it. i don’t want to describe it too much by describing it but it’s become one of my favourite books.
Describe your music in three words
Escape From Reality
What’s your favourite sound?
If I had to pick one (very hard) it would be the overall sound of a forest in the summer, when there’s no people about. The combination of all of the sounds at once creates this kind of overwhelming feeling of growth and life, constantly shifting and rarely repeating. Like this complicated mass of organic sound texture. I guess that’s often what I’m trying to imitate in my music really.
If you could make music history, how would you do it?
To make music that is able to communicate with non-human lifeforms. Be they extra-terrestrial or just on a different plane of existence entirely. I’d be happy with either. Assuming they liked it.
Finally, what’s next you? Where can you see your sound developing? When are you playing live next? Any new releases in the works? Any collaborations or remixes in the pipeline?
Oh man there’s so much. the slowdown in vinyl production meant that I’ve got a lot of things pending release-wise. I’ll try to sum it up as best as i can:
– Playing live at the Capstone Theatre in Liverpool on 30th April supporting Ian Boddy
– Releasing Hyperincandescent via DIN Records on 20th May
– I have another LP out via Castles In Space later this year
– I’ll hopefully have a cassette out after those two as well.
– I’ve just finished a very interesting collaboration with a writer friend. It’s a long way off release yet, but we’re looking at some kind of multimedia project – something that goes way beyond the usual album format.
– A few more gigs later in the year in Sheffield, Coventry, and probably Preston/Lancaster too.
I’m at a rare moment where I’m not actually working on an album. I’m still playing around with ideas and tweaking the patch for my live set at the Capstone. So a lot of jamming and trying out different things, some of which I’ll bring to the performance.
I have no idea where things will go next sonically. I’m working with someone on designing an instrument of sorts, which could take me down some interesting routes, but who knows!
All photos provided by the artist.