21 June 2023 Read

Paul Abbott interview

Ahead of his Three Day Residency entitled SLIP at OTO on the 27, 28 & 29 of June, we spoke to musician and percussionist Paul Abbott about his practice, his work over the past few years and what to expect for the residency. 

Paul's recent and ongoing collaborations include: XT with Seymour Wright; XT+Pat Thomas; XT+Anne GillisX Ray Hex TetF.R.David, very good* & Rosmarie with Will Holder; film sound for Keira GreeneRian Treanor Duo; RP Boo Trio with XT; The Creaking Breeze Ensemble with Nathaniel Mackey; yPLO with Micheal Speers and performances with Cara Tolmie. SLIP will be his first significant solo residency in some time, and will explore music as a complex ecology of the real and imaginary, physical and affective, improvised and written: through a number of fictional characters and dramatic environments.

Further details on the residency, as well as tickets can be found here. The event is free for OTO members! 



Since leaving London a lot has happened: you moved to Porto, then settled in Brussels, all the while in completion of a phd. Do you feel these last few years have changed or altered your practice?

Yes, an obvious thing to say perhaps, but it's been an intense time for most people.. (Covid, Brexit..) It has been a dynamic period for sure, but I feel very lucky to have had a relatively untroubled time compared to so many. So much has changed, and at the same time many things continue to feel so similar or consistent: which has been renewed food for thought, and without wanting to trivialise, somehow can relate in ways to musical questions (which are life questions of course) to do with rhythm, repetition, sameness, difference, among other things.

For a while I have been drawn to the phrase/idea "oscillations everywhere" to exemplify something to do with how things may always be. Like when moving the body, or ways we might make sounds, or organise musical material: it has felt that sometimes you can register what changes more sensitively by staying still, at other times by moving more dynamically to notice what appears similar or consistent in very different situations.

To be really general, it feels to me like everything changes all the time, in ways which we can approach, feel, at different scales, intensities, temporalities, places etc. Music has felt to me like a unique way in to investigate this complex ecology.

I'm interested in what feels constant, consistent, in contrast with what seems to demonstrate more explicit transformations ... and that sticking with/within some material and conceptual limits can sometimes help focus an investigation of these things. For me the 'drum kit' has been a vehicle, a lens, a "draped frame"(!) increasingly, for this investigation. The continued returning to play and re-learn this relatively consistent drum-kit instrument, has helped me to notice details about how things are effected - musically, emotionally - as the context of regular practice, or public performance has changed. When I think of Porto I think (among other things) of dampness, hills and the sea, the effect that humidity and later-ness had on the ideas and music that seemed to emerge.

Having the combination of moving further away from what was, for me, once regular contact with a close-knit community at/through OTO.. and Covid.. and moving more around the languages of Spain, Portugal and Brussels (and writing, in a very specific way, and then less so) has meant I have thought alot about the significance of proximity, contact, non-verbal communication, in various ways. Finding ways to listen to the body becoming more important.

Your playing of "real and imaginary drums" is a term you have used for some time now to describe what you do. Similarly you use the term "real and imaginary environments" to give context to what happens in your releases. Could you explain what you mean by this?

I find those phrases quite funny, like "organic environment(s), a comedy of vibrations and signs," which I've used elsewhere, and could also be applied to this residency. I've always enjoyed music and other stuff that seemed to have a load of different kinds of humour active at the same time: things are funny, strange, serious, light, slow, sad all at the same time, along the way. Those phrases and the way of thinking/playing they seem to allow have been useful.

I think imagination is a whole-body thing, and I'm really interested in exploring the inter-relationships between our physical engagement with materials we use to make things, do stuff (music) and the language that might accompany that activity in some way.

It has felt to me that using strange language can make strange, perhaps unexpected music emerge; and similarly, unorthodox maybe non-verbal music making can engender peculiar language, and so on. I'm sure this is pretty obvious(!) to anyone outside of already formalised contexts, who alone or in groups makes music or anything else.

I also think there are simultaneously real and imaginary aspects to things, and this contrast, which we can play with, can set up some usefully weird energy. For example to play the drum kit whilst imagining it is a collection of vegetables, that each might have a different mood or age, perhaps in a room with no gravity... might stimulate some interesting drum-playing!


To use a quote by you, your work is "a process considering sound, the body, imagination, and language through music." Part of this has been employing fictional characters. These appear in your releases 'Nsular' and 'Ductus', and will appear too in the residency. Could you talk a little bit about these characters?

I have not had any traditional musical training - for this and other reasons I feel troubled in the presence of musically conventional ways of organising material - notation, time signatures or whatever. But I like experimenting with organising material, and after many years experience improvising this became an interesting issue. I wanted a way to 'persuade' or guide the possibility of something happening - my activity or the events of an algorithmic composition - for example, but without the certainty or formalism. It felt to me, during playing, that certain ideas had a particular sort of shape, but more than the form of a line (I love diagrams!). I was increasingly exposed to (some brilliant) writing and trying to write (less brilliant) a bit myself, and the characters then entered the scene as a more wobbly, and therefore appropriate option. Since then while increasingly writing alongside (before/after) playing the drums, the characters continue bleed, ooze, leap - both ways - back and forth from body and page... alot of slipping.

Working with these characters has allowed me to simultaneously approach investigating things to do with body, imagination, language, music: without dividing things up or separating these aspects from each other. Leaving things messy and entangled, whilst trying to deal with form and specificity: wanting to have some things feel or respond differently to other things at other times etc. I learn a bit more about these characters, the more we all work together. It's an odd relationship.

The characters are like shapes, containers, little choreographies, but affected by the weather, maybe what they ate, the news, their friends. They can stimulate a bundle of possible behaviours, a tendency to act a certain way, a temperament, and like organisms and people, have some malleability and responsiveness to an environment. I continue to learn what it is they are, what we can do together, or don't really want to do, what our respective limits or affordances are.

I don't really like, or believe in the idea of a solo performance: maybe this is also obvious but it feels to me that however 'remote,' what happens always comes out of a shared situation. An 'independent'/'solo' performance is maybe just to do with a kind of distance to the tangible or publicly-acknowledged influence of others. It turned out working with these characters helps get inside this problem, in ways I am continuing to discover: helpfully challenging whatever character "I" am at the time.

As the characters developed in various projects, so did developing what I've called elsewhere 'dramatic environments' to host them/us. When I've been working on these I've spent more time thinking about the different kinds of space these characters might inhabit, and how that might effect their 'playing', as a way to structure then in groups or relations. Kind of like inviting some people to join you in a field, somewhere, but you don't know who will turn up, the mood they will be in, if the field is quite boring, or if any body will do anything together. So for this residency I have kind of littered the room (in this case 'garden') with various fictional friends and/or obstacles..

This residency is your first significant residency in OTO since your Tender Interval series in the OTO Project Space in the mid-to-late 2010s. How does this residency compare to that series, and what might we expect from the upcoming 3 days?

For those Tender Interval performances, I lived very close to, and would regularly work in the OTO project space. This meant I had a number of days, for each iteration of the performance to set things up around the space, and I had some time (weeks) between each event to clarify the composition of what might happen next. For this residency I have been quite excited, in contrast (but grounded in a long and close relationship to OTO) to develop the work remotely.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to do this residency at OTO.

I'm always interested in non-standard or strange ways we might learn how we can make music, and communicate, especially in a non-verbal way. I have always found the very special community (in the broadest sense) in/around OTO to be uniquely trusting and supportive, and tolerant(!) - in making a space for and cultivating this kind of ongoing exploration.

So I'll be making the most of this amazing opportunity to work/play in this context by spending the wealth of time available to explore how things might feel, together or subjectively, what works and might not, what might balance or fall over ... and how we all contribute to that. It's a chance to go deeper or stretch out some of the ideas and sounds which grew out of other projects, other situations: to feel that stuff in a more spacious context, to see what it might mean.

Specifically, like Tender Interval, the residency events will be "composed of recurring ingredients," this time: acoustic and 'hybrid' drum kits, algorithmic composition, body movement, some shuffling and likely numerous slips, various fictional characters and imaginary architectures..

During all this I will be trying to stick with and return to some basic 'ingredients' - simple movements, combinations of sounds, character behaviours - to see how the situation (audience, room, me) re-shapes these things and the music it produces.

I'm not exactly sure what will happen - that will be produced by the specific energies of each evening - but it will start in a fictional 'Garden' - in some sort of (fictional!) viscous and bubbling-mud.

Since Tender Interval I’ve been developing an instrument (sounds pretty boring but a ‘custom hybrid-drums setup’) which grew/grows - very idiosyncraticaly - from continuing to explore acoustic drums, synthetic sounds, physical movement, and the characterisations mentioned above: together in various ways. I continue to find awkwardness and instability with this instrument. It produces odd combinations of rhythms, sounds, and stimulates drum kit-body movements which challenged my habits. This is also something I’ll be exploring during the residency.

I've assembled a bunch of fictional characters specifically for these events - crystal, lleaf, reiy.F, reiy.C, strike, nee, qosel, sphu, aahn - who I will play/will play me, once - or various times - at some point(s) during the three evening events. These characters will communicate using different kinds of movement and drum kit/s.

I've also prepared the conditions for some other sounds to potentially make an appearance, to maybe support or antagonise what is happening. I'm calling these the 'whether/weather elements' - who's names are: seeds, reCrystals, lugZ, membranes, loNek, kymear, acm. But I don't really know what exactly will 'appear,' or when.

Given your long-relationship with OTO, including countless performances, releases and collaborations in the space, how do you feel the space of OTO is relevant in particular to the 3 days of your residency?

See above?! The space of OTO - architecture, people, history, what I can imagine and what we will all experience/make together - is totally integral to how I have been able to prepare and what will happen on the three evenings.

Because of the specific conditions of OTO, to me this is a uniquely challenging and generous situation. As I mention above, I have been developing the work remotely, but in a way that would not at all be possible without such a long relationship to the space. I am far more familiar with the OTO space than any other I have performed in, since my time in London(!), and I look forward to celebrating all this during the residency.