The Music of ‘The Caretaker’
If there was a tear in the fabric of the universe just for you.
If what you thought was reality just split in the middle like the sleeves an old jacket, just wide enough for you to stick your head in and look around, I don’t what you would see, but this is what I hope it would sound like inside.
The Caretaker is the moniker of fearless sonic voyager, and Englishman James Kirby, who is no stranger to the experimental side of electronic music. His most popular project V/Vm, has been around since the 90’s, and in some ways is about as close to electronic punk as you’re gonna get. Not in that V/Vm’s stuff sounds like punk music of any sort, but making unauthorized noise monstrosities out of popular tunes, getting sued by their lawyers (even though a few of the artists themselves enjoyed the release), and dressing up in a pig mask whilst playing these tracks, rolling around onstage, and often injuring yourself while doing so, is undeniably pretty god damn punk rock.
He also performs under the name Billy Ray Cyrix, who’s Discogs.com profile reads “Not to be confused with Billy Ray Cyrus, indeed Billy Ray Cyrix is a kick in the head of that rotting beast which is country music. Harsh electronics with a kick drum made from the sound of smashing Kenny Rogers and Garth Brooks heads with a huge slab of concrete. Billy Ray has the mental age of a five year old which explains his poor sequencing skills which we all have grown to love.”
Which is what makes it all the more surpising to hear the music of The Caretaker. With a parallel life like that, it’s mildly surprising that this guy would know how to take care of anything. But it’s the Hypnotising beauty of The Caretaker’s albums that keep me coming back.
This particular side project did have slightly more sinister roots than the “Parlorstep” (Don’t worry, that’s not a real genre) it has turned into. The Caretaker was originally inspired by the haunted ballroom scene in “The Shining”, so much inspiration, his first album (c. 1999) is called “Selected Memories from The Haunted Ballroom”, and really pretty much is a horror movie soundtrack all to itself. It however does make it pretty clear that Kirby has this hauntingly beautiful stuff down from the get-go.
Given his past, it’s pretty clear that most likey, all of the tunes produced by The Caretaker are sampled parts of other peoples tunes, some are well-known, but thankfully, the world of DJ’s and hordes of electronic musicians with computers have given the process of creative sampling the artistic respect it deserves, from a portion of people at least, definitely not all (as one Youtube commenter posted: “greatest bullshit of ALL times. put that delay pedal in to your ass.im done with you, care- sucker”). That guy just isn’t cut out for electronic music.
For most people I share The Caretaker with, esspecially the later stuff, the vinyl crackle is the defining feature. Even in the age of intangible media, producers have been adding vinyl crackle in their music for for warmth and that” “earned-it” kinda feel. But I feel like in the music of The Caretaker, the crackle and pop is more than a producing trick designed to elicit an atmosphere, it does do that, but, in my opinion, the degredation of the sound is as much of an instrument as the sample itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the total time it took to create the album was spent on perfecting those elements. Everytime a snap echoes through the soundspace, it gives that space a dimension, encompassing both the sample as well as the listener.
I view The Caretakers music as the warping, repetition and degradation of a physical, memory storing object, the record, being degraded in the same way that our minds degrade our memories over time. When thought of this way, it makes sense that when a documentary about German writer W. G. Sebald, whose work shares many of the same themes, was made, The Caretaker was chosen to compose an original score. Producing some of my favorite of his tracks, as well as convincing me to pick up Sebald’s The Rings Of Saturn.
If you can’t get past the crackle, the sampling, or the repition. I suppose I understand. It’s not for everyone. To me though, there is something so undefiniably beautiful about it. I think it’s the music’s capacity for promoting mental removal and precieved warping of time. Though the songs are often the same loop, repeated to double digits, the tracks either seem to create their own structure in my head, a different one every time, or structure is not needed and just elogating a fleeting moment, turning it over slowly like a coin to be inspected, is enough. Which is pretty good for a guy who wears a pig mask all the time.
Some selected tracks:
From Patience (After Sebald)
(The whole album!)
Though The Caretaker could conceivably be a topic for Vintage Vinyl, as well as Ambiant Transience, there’s only one show on KJHK that spins the best in only electronic music. You can tune in to Input/Output every Thursday night at 10pm.
written by marc schroeder – host of Input/Output.