[Originally published in A Low Hum, October 2006]
Skittery percussion, ethereal drones with metallic resonance, a disturbingly atmospheric sound counter-balanced by human, emotive vocals The Enright House sounds like a dramatic balancing act; much like the crumbling architectural images that adorn his website. But The Enright House’s songs aren’t falling apart at the seams; they’ve been meticulously composed using computer manipulation and display a great depth of ideas and incredible texture.
So who is The Enright House? I wasn’t quite sure myself my exposure to Mark Roberts project had previously been limited to his MySpace recordings and a brief introduction at the last Low Hum show so I asked Mark to give me a little background.
The dry bit: I was born and raised in a small village on the Rhein River in Germany. After finishing school, I moved to Chicago, where I studied music composition, guitar and philosophy. In 2004 I came to New Zealand (where I also have family) to sit for a masters degree in philosophy (aesthetics), which, if all goes well, should be completed by February next year.
Mark’s love and involvement with music was forged at a very early age thanks to a musical family, and carried through his adolescent and teenage years in Germany; where he trained to become a concert performer after taking up classical guitar at the age of just 12.
My mother is an opera singer, and my father, too, had studied music. Mom never believed much in babysitters, so, from the earliest ages on, she would take me with her anywhere she sung. In fact, I think she was singing right through her pregnancy, so I guess that means I kind of got my start in music before I was even properly born.
So far Mark has avoided performing the material in a live environment, as he feels more comfortable presenting the work as a labor-of-love composition; though with a modified approach on more recent recordings, that may change. Recently he has been involved with Tristen and Simon from 5 1/2 Minutes – a local live electronic duo that has grown out of the dark and eclectic Locking Cycle; and writing with Tristen as Off Loving Memories.
The first thing to point out is that, were I planning on playing music off the Broken Hands EP, I would quite possibly hang myself out of sheer frustration. I cannot see how most of those songs would work on stage without the help of other musicians, and I just cannot see having other people involved in such a personal way as to be part of my music. So, for the longest time, I simply shied away from the idea of bringing The Enright House to live audiences.
However, since I started work on the new album about half a year ago, I started realizing that the kind of textures I was using could quite plausibly be reproduced by a single performer and a fair chunk of modern technology, without losing the sense of spontaneity and virtuosity on stage, which, to me, is paramount to the notion of performance. My guitar, for example, is fed through a series of pedals and loop stations, bearing closer resemblance to the console of the challenger space ship (although, hopefully, more reliable than that poor vessel), than it does to a traditional pedal board. I will be using two huge guitar amps running in stereo, radios, cassette players, a synth, and possibly a laptop (though I am still undecided on the latter).
Though noticeably abstract, the material is still very song-orientated. His songs are spiked with poetry and manipulated samples; often with great affect. The cryptic and mysteriously devious ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ relays the interview of a promiscuous young girl; removing the actual sexual overtones of her speech, only the tone and feeling of her voice reveals this context yet her intentions seem almost obvious. It’s this masking that makes The Enright House so special nothing is obvious; yet context seems implied.
A compositional background lies at the heart of The Enright House. With grounding in aesthetics and educated theories on what defines art Mark has a very strong vision for how he can present his music and his architectural photography and artwork reflects this.
If I had to sum up the goal of my music, it would be “the beautification of the derelict.” I carry around with me the same kind of conflict I think many of us do: on the one hand, I despise this world and the people that inhabit it, on the other hand, I adore life and find myself enchanted by how wonderful people can be. For a long time (i.e. during the Broken Hands EP) I thought I could just go about writing pretty indie-pop music – I wanted quite desperately to believe that the world needed music born out of kindness and sweet memories, but after a while, I really felt like a coward for failing to probe beyond the layers of sentiment and nostalgia.
I love this world, yes, but not despite the shit and the piss, the idiocy and irrationality, but because even the basest elements of life are ultimately part of this one unstoppable wave of existence that ever-so-often fills us with appreciation and a sense of awe. I want my music to reflect in a microcosm the way I perceive this world, and thus, despite moments of tenderness and beauty, to find solace also in dissonance and ugliness, noise and desperation. In a way, we are self-destructive creatures that too often end up sabotaging our lives through trivial pursuits and trivial thinking, and, my music, too, is turning out to be ever more self-destructing and auto-sabotaging. Thus, I’ve started using more destructive effects in my music, resorting to extended techniques on my guitar, singing in lower registers than I’m used to, incorporating field recordings of the outside world, and so forth. The goal being to reach an ever greater degree of emotional and sonic complexity, which, however, also leaves space enough for a delicate and traditional moments of beauty.
With a new determined outlook to perform in a live capacity, and talk of interest from an established US independent label; Roberts is looking to the future. With completion of the album now imminent; plans are afoot for it to be released locally, plus nation-wide distribution through Amplifier.co.nz. Look out for The Enright House on independent radio stations across New Zealand.