PETER KEMBER (SONIC BOOM)
(Spacemen 3, Spectrum )
answers the MUSIC WORKS Questionnaire
Are formal qualifications the ones that mean almost nothing ? I have none so. Just a few O levels & some design qualifications I got before I dropped out. I left school at 16, did a year at art school then dropped out to head into music. I don’t believe they’re as important as real world skills. But, that depends on your teachers too, and its not hard & fast in my mind. I was asked to teach a music course at Oxford University, based on real world skills not qualifications. That might illustrate my point as best I can. I don’t see much of an accurate connect between qualifications & job satisfaction.
2. CREATIVE LIFE HIGHLIGHTS?
I feel privileged to have had the chance to work with a lot of talented people. My friendship with Delia Derbyshire is one I hold very dear. Her mind, and her vibe were beautiful places to experience & she taught me so much. Teaching is nothing without good teachers, and she was naturally brilliant at it. She was one of the smartest women I ever met & I miss her constantly. Working with Noah Lennox (panda bear) is also a real high point. He’s a very understated sort of person, but who constantly impresses me with his depth of perception & perspective. very generous & beautifuly spirited. Working with Simeon from Silver Apples was another high point – a truly original & ground breaking musician & songwriter – and another truly beautiful soul. I’ve worked with a lot of people, and most of them were generous and good and made great music. travelers on the same paths I travel My collaborations are mostly highlighted in my mind. I’ve been incredibly lucky, but I think if you go looking – luck follows ….
3. WHAT AMBITIONS DO YOU STILL HAVE TO FULFIL?
I’m not sure ambition is the right word. It suggests ‘getting ahead. I never cared too much for that, my ambition was to work hard to avoid a ‘ real job ‘ to be professionally self-unemployed. I achieved that a long time ago, and I’ve lived my life within the parameters of that. My aim was always to communicate with other people. I believe if you speak to the soul, other souls will speak to you. My life feels rich in a way neither ambition nor money can improve.
4. SONGS YOU WISH YOU HAD WRITTEN?
There’s a song many people think I did write, by an odd ball genius from Houston Texas called Mayo Thompson of the Red Crayola, titled Transparent Radiation. I’ve sung it since it was recorded by Spacemen 3 in 1987 and I’ve performed and sung it pretty much ever since. It’s a beautiful Joycean weave through deep & psychedelically inspired perceptions, means almost everything & almost nothing, and lays down bread crumb trails of possibilities for the mind to explore & re-form. It has a plasticity of language that I think is next level. I’d also have given a left arm or 2 to have written “first cut is the deepest” by Cat Stevens. How a teenage boy wrote such an exposed and succinct encapsulation of unrequited love is mind blowing to me. I think there are some things that are intrinsically understood by us , that we lose contact with as life experience blurs the focus – and this sees someone sum up such a universal emotion so succinctly its moving. I like PP Arnold’s version the best.
5. DESERT ISLAND DISCS?
On a desert island ?? Alice Coltrane , Fela Kuti & Esquivel.
6. FAVOURITE ARTISTS/BANDS OF ALL TIME?
Thats too many to list. I’m deeply passionate and have been engaged with music since an early age. I still feel the same way when I listen to ‘Everyday’ by Buddy Holly , or ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ by the Who or hundreds of others as I did as a kid. I have thousands of records, but I don’t keep things unless they really resonate. I might not listen to something for a few years, but I know when I’m ready it’ll deliver for me again & music soothes my soul as deeply now as ever. I have a lot of favourites…..
7. WHAT MUSIC ARE YOU LISTENING TO NOW?
George Faith -to be a lover, OMD – Architechture & Morality, The Temptations -Greatest Hits, Flying Lizards -Fourth Wall, Troubadours de Roi Baudoin – Missa Luba, Sam `Cooke – greatest hits, Beatles Magical Mystery Tour .
8. THE LAST BOOK YOU READ?
Operating manual for Spaceship Earth – Buckminster Fuller
Finding & making ‘ready mades ‘ in the Duchampian tradition. Looking for plants that have been discarded on the green waste piles. Cruising the back roads, just vibing ….. I get a lot of enjoyment from just exploring, seeing what the day might bring. I think the best things in life sometimes happen when u have least expectation, so I like to go out with no real aim or purpose when I’m able .
10. VINYL, CASSETTE, CD, MP3, WEB STREAMING?
Yes, no, yes, yes, not much .
11. MUSIC IN THE AGE OF THE INTERNET (RELEASE, PROMOTION, GIG…) ??
I guess it depends on your perception of what the internet is. I would’nt frame music in that way. Music is the beauty spot. The internet is merely a road to take you there. Evidence so far suggests that what the internet has brought to music is negligible. It might help pop eat itself, but there’s little evidence to show that its enabled anything more that a different way to do the same thing. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s my perception as of today.
12. WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL MOTTO?
When I was a kid, the school I attended had been designed & decorated by Pugin – who was a medieval revivalist of sorts in architecture . The dining room had many flowing words around the edge of the ceiling painted in gold leaf. There was one phrase that always resonated with me. I have no idea who’s motto it was, but I adopted & absorbed it in some way. Work as if you’ll live for ever, Live as if you’ll die tomorrow .
We would like to thank Dylan L.
ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL
It’s auspicious that Sonic Boom—the solo project and nom-de-producer of Peter Kember (Spectrum, Spacemen 3)—returns in 2020 with its first new LP in three decades. Kember’s drawn to the year’s numerological potency, and this intentionality shines into every corner of All Things Being Equal. It’s a meditative, mathematical record concerned with the interconnectedness of memory, space, consumerism, consciousness—everything. Through regenerative stories told backwards and forwards, Kember explores dichotomies zen and fearsome, reverential of his analog toolkit and protective of the plants and trees that support our lives.
Sonic Boom’s second album and first for Carpark began in 2015 as electronic jams. The original sketches of electronic patterns, sequenced out of modular synths, were so appealing that Stereolab’s Tim Gane encouraged Kember to release them instrumentally. “I nearly did,” confesses Kember, “but the vibe in them was so strong that I couldn’t resist trying to ice the cake.” Three years later, a move to Portugal saw him dusting off the backing tracks, adding vocals inspired by Sam Cooke, The Sandpipers, and the Everly Brothers (which he admits “don’t go far from the turntable pile”), as well as speculative, ominous spoken word segments.
His new home Sintra’s parks and gardens provided a different visual context for Kember’s thoughtful observations, and he thematically incorporated sunshine and nature as well as global protests into the ten resulting tracks. “Music made in sterility sounds sterile,” he says, “And that is my idea of hell.”
An unusually curated gear list accompanies each song, unexpected layers reinforcing the monophonic skeletons. Mystery soundscapes and grinding sweeps were teased from EMS synths, synonymous with and evocative of ‘60s BBC scoring and ‘70s Eno. Pacing basslines oscillating into warbling heartbeats came from a cheap ‘80s Yamaha. A modern OP-1 generated subtle kicks and eerie theremins, while his toy Music Modem—an unused holdover from sessions Kember produced for Beach House and MGMT—finally found its recorded home.
It’s rare to see liner notes where synthesizers rather than humans are credited (other than guest vocal stints from “co-conspirators” Panda Bear and Britta Phillips), but Kember is masterful at finding the unique personality in his machines. “I tried to find the deepest essence of the instruments & let them play,” he offers. What emerges from these considerations on technology and humanity is a honed collection both philosophical and grooving, spacious even as it fills to its brim. It’s distinctly Kember—more than that, it’s distinctly Sonic Boom.
photo: Ian Witchell
When Sonic Boom debuted with 1990’s Spectrum, it was a fresh chance for Peter Kember to go it alone. Poppy psychedelia with lo-fi edges, gridless guitars, and Velvets-obliged scowls marked Kember’s departure from the soon-to-disband Spacemen 3, the influential English psych soul outfit he co-founded in 1982 with Jason Pierce (Spiritualised). Kember’s new solo work hinted at the self-taught experimentation, circuit bending and interest in modular synthesis that would hallmark his career as a producer and performer.
But Kember, a co-conspirator by nature, got lonely alone. Soon enough, Spectrum gave rise to a band of the same name, who toured extensively and recorded several records, including a joint effort with Silver Apples. Next, Kember got busy with E.A.R., an even more experimental and prolific project with a fluctuating lineup that counted among its many members Kevin Shields and electronic music trailblazer Delia Derbyshire, who mentored Kember in audio physics and harmonic series.
The name Sonic Boom did stay in rotation, for solo sets (during which Kember singlehandedly manipulates a tabletop of keyboards, noisemakers and modules), split releases (like 2018’s EP with No Joy), and production work for artists including MGMT, Beach House and Panda Bear. But the list of Sonic Boom solo LPs stalled out after 1990, a rare single entry for an artist whose other projects’ output skews plentiful.
Finally, 2020’s All Things Being Equal updates the Sonic Boom discography with a second notch, and a first for Carpark Records–home to several artists Kember has produced. Recorded and mixed over a half decade, the songs began as instrumental studio sketches in Rugby, UK. “But I wanted to get out of the urban commercialised environment,” Kember explains of his move to a national park in Sintra, Portugal, which he calls “an enchanting area famous for being inspiring.”
His new surroundings inspired the album’s lyrics, which stress humanity’s role in our planet’s “critical collapse,” redress the power of our symbiotic relationship with nature and plants, and riddle over Animist spirituality. Wonderfully layered, drone-based voyages coalesce into hooky showcases for the intrinsic characters of the synths he worked with. “I wanted to mix bright digital with chunky analogue,” says Kember. “Certain instruments have something about their sound that touches me deep, and I’m always trying to focus as much vibe as I can into the songs.”
Although the album shares a project name with his first solo album, Kember’s decades as a forward-thinking producer make this new work more in step with his cutting-edge collaborations than a nostalgic glance at his past. “I learn from everyone I work with, and I wanted to bring what I learnt into this record,” Kember explains. “Everybody thinks about and listens to music in different ways.” With All Things Being Equal, Sonic Boom once again offers us a new way to listen, with music that is textural, full of dimension, and conscious of its place in the galaxy.