This is how I imagine interviews with musicians. Very good communication, prompt answers, an ability to communicate even outside of discussing deadlines. Young Portuguese Pedro Pimentel, more known as the mastermind behind the project Wordclock, combines subtle layers of keys, cellos and nyckelharpa with masterfully crafted ambient soundscapes and field recordings to create dreamlike, nostalgic and sometimes temperamental scenes serving as a soundtrack to life, or any pictures in the mind of a listener. Conversation (not only) about music below.
B.: Greetings, Pedro! How’s it going? Any news on the Wordclock front? Some time has passed already, since Heralds album.
Pedro: Many news will come. There has been a lot happening.
B.: Let’s start at the roots. What motivated you to start your own music project and why did you choose this type of music? Tell us something about the history of Wordclock. How did you come up with the name, what does it mean?
Pedro: The name, sorry to disappoint, doesn’t mean much besides the fact that it is a pretty word. Originally really, it is a word from sound engineering technical jargon when said separately. It is a communication signal between equipments, so to speak. I just thought it was a nice junction of words, I liked the sound of it, it was somewhat poetic sounding, so it stayed. I was 18, didn’t really think things a whole lot.
I was just starting my university stay in music, so I wanted to create projects naturally, and there was a lot of things I wanted to do. This happened to be one of the first. Talking about the type of music can be a more difficult topic. At first I was definitely doing it out of interest in so called ambient music, which I had grown enamored with for a while, but I feel like this has shifted a lot over the years. If anything, I think Wordclock is a testament to my own shifting interests and capabilities in music. It has been switching and expanding through albums, I think it progressively grew from trying to be ambient music, to just trying to be music in whatever intuitive way I felt it should be at the time, which still comes with that ambient informed aura, but not limited to just that, it is now dominated by a lot more. I think this does show on the progression of albums, it has been morphing from something abstract to something more defined, in terms of cohesion and intent but also sonically. The amount of work and the amount of just how much thought and consideration goes into it also grew over time from Endless to Heralds and now unto the next thing. I hope it has been maturing and that with each successive try it transforms into something closer to an honest attempt at purposeful creation rather than a loose attempt to appease expectations of trying to be like the things I like or like what the current trends are, which I have been guilty of. In many ways I still fail, but this is a process, and I feel like with each try I step closer to breaking free from it.
B.: I hear, that you are active as a composer even besides Wordclock (soundtrack for the game Noct). Are you planning activities like these even in the future, or was this only a one-time thing?
Pedro: Currently I am composing for a living, so I do a lot of activities like those, but I don’t use the name Wordclock outside of the albums except for that case of Noct, which was one of the first and it was a collaboration with Robin Finck, so at the time I thought it made sense to use the name. I might do a soundtrack under the name Wordclock in the future again, it is not impossible given the right project and music that justifies so.
B.: Do you have any formal education in the music field, or is this just a self-taught hobby for you?
Pedro: I took my bachelor’s in music production at ESMAE in Porto and prior to that I studied classical guitar and theoretical music studies since I was about 14. So there was a fair bit of formal education along the way, both musical and technical. And there still is obviously, I keep learning a lot. I don’t necessarily do music from the information point of view though but that education does bleed into what I do intuitively in some way.
B.: You create strong scenic soundscapes with your music. Where do you draw inspiration from?
Pedro: From experiences, from moods, from ideas I want to convey, from concepts I want to explore, from things I see or things I read or things I hear. From the agglomerate of all of that comes a form of unconscious inspiration later I think.
B.: Let’s move to the particular releases. Are the records concept albums, or is it more like there’s an established general theme and the songs are just accompanying the atmosphere? If there are concepts, what are the albums about?
Pedro: The albums became increasingly something-focused and thought out in some ways. Whereas Endless was just vague and moody, Self Destruction Themes started to reflect something, even though a bit unorganized and unstructured and Heralds was already made to aim towards somewhere. These thoughts and themes are not common between them. Heralds, to put it quickly, was meant to be a sonorous projection of the impact of christian imagery and myth in contemporary times. It was a sort of exploration of the disattachement between the strong presence of the imagery and the archetypes of myths and the everyday surroundings, beyond the institution or the formality of the term christian, just really the core idea behind it and the core of these stories and all of this art, specially for anyone living in Europe, it was a sort of obsession with that setting. The next album is even more aimed and the structure of it means even more, so that aspect has changed a lot.
B.: I am intrigued about the Self Destruction Themes album. The title sounds depressing, although the album itself is dreamier, nevertheless nostalgic. Actually, I think it is kind of bright. Still, I don’t find it to be a suitable soundtrack for a self-destructive behaviour in an individual, if you know what I mean. Is it meant in a different way?
Pedro: I think in its majority it has a very negative undertone. The music in a lot of points can be very ambiguous as to whether it is trying to express something uplifting or malicious or hurtful, I don’t think it never really gives out something bright without a “however” beneath it. Actually I think its brightest points are almost annoyingly naive, and followed by an immediate pullback. „It May Come“ is followed by „When Indecision Strikes“ and „Something More“ is followed by „More Often Than Not“ and to an extent even the song titles are very suggestive, sometimes maybe comically so. That album thrives more on the strange ambiguity of how it sounds. The music itself sounds a bit rotten or decayed, almost like it is self destructing , it doesn’t really belong here or there, it feels like an artifact out of some fever dream. I feel like this ambiguity can create some undertones of anxious feelings or uneasiness, so it largely depends on how you look at it. Originally the album was meant to end at „32 Walls“, but I ended up adding „A Lack of Language“ for some reason which sounds a bit out of place, so it was going to end in a much darker tone. To this day I still view „A Lack of Language“ as a sort of extra, an add-on to the album like ending credits, it still feels like it ends at „32 Walls“. In hindsight, I would have done that.
B.: Do you have a theme chosen for the next record? If yes, what are you planning on exploring this time? When can we look forward to it?
Pedro: I feel safe to say you can expect something early in 2020. I won’t go beyond that for now.
B.: A lot of artists, especially from the Cryo Chamber battalion have side projects in the same genre, but with a slightly different approach (Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun, Flowers for Bodysnatchers and Anihila, Paleowolf and Metatron Omega, Kammarheit and Cities Last Broadcast, etc.). Have you ever thought of creating a platform to channel different moods or to explore different topics, that wouldn’t fit to Wordclock?
Pedro: I’m not sure I’ll be doing that anytime soon, at least not to create something in the same genres. If I find a theme or a sound that I want to explore in this type of music, I’ll do it through Wordclock, I don’t feel like it is necessarily bound to be just one thing, and it hasn’t been, it is not exclusive to a theme.
B.: How did your cooperation with Cryo Chamber start? Did you approach them with your release, or have they contacted you first? Are you content with them?
Pedro: It started way back when I began doing it. At first I found out that Simon (Simon Heath, the owner of Cryo Chamber label and the mind behind Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun, edit.), had his own label, and I really liked Atrium Carceri, it was one of the first things I ever heard in the genre when I was a teenager. This was probably around 2013/2014, the label was still very young and not nearly as big of a thing as it is nowadays. I contacted him and at first I just sent a couple of tracks as a demo of sorts. Simon gave me some good feedback and encouraged me to do an album based on that kind of production. I did do that and sent him, which ended up being Endless, and that was the first Wordclock release. I’m pretty content with them, not only did the label gave me my first push into this but it also always supported and managed everything impeccably, from artwork to pressing, to dealing with everything that is boring to deal with concerning management and sales. Simon was pretty open and accepting to the wild stylistic differences across the albums too, which I really appreciate, so they are cool with trying new approaches and they offer me a platform to put this out there, even if Wordclock has become the project that feels more out of place with the usual label releases.
B.: Speaking of cooperation, Amund Ulvestad plays cello on Self Destruction Themes and Heralds, where also Nuno Craveiro is present on nyckelharpa. How did you get together with these people? And how does the creative process work with them? Do you compose their parts and just show them, what they should play, or do you leave them free to play whatever they want?
Pedro: Amund I met through Svartsinn (Jan Roger Pettersen, a Norwegian dark ambient artist, edit.) out of a need to search for a cello player, and he turned out to be my go to collaborator whenever I need to record strings. Nuno I already knew from university. The process varies wildly between people and depending on what I need. With Nuno the recording was really late in the process of doing Heralds, where I was just looking for an extra texture and sound for some tracks. I just showed him the tracks and we recorded a bunch of his improvisations over them in my studio that I ended up cutting up, editing and turning into bits to use here and there, which gave me some really nice sounds. With Amund some things are composed previously, like „St.George“ from Heralds, and many things are pre-decided, we know ahead that I want a specific articulation or some tremolos for this or a simple growling note for that, but there is also a lot of just bringing him the tracks and he gives me feedback and suggestions of things to do that we end up recording and trying, and some that I edit and transform into other sounds later. He has a really good grasp of the kind of things I want, so it’s really great recording with him.
B.: Have you ever thought of live performances? If yes, how would they look? Would you play complete sets of songs from the albums, or – as a popular form in these genres – would it be improvisation?
Pedro: I have thought of doing it, but I never decided how to. I’d want it to be something visually stimulating and also I wouldn’t want to play the albums, I’d have to do something specific for live based on the material from albums with live players, I think that would be much more interesting than me just being there playing songs from the albums, it’s a hard genre to translate into an interesting live experience. This always ends up becoming something that would be very hard to assemble and also costly, so it keeps being delayed. I can’t promise anything, but I’d like to find a solution for this some day.
B.: What music do you listen to? Could you name your favourite artists in the dark ambient genre? If you wanted to collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Pedro: Lately I’ve been re-listening some of the Norwegian modern jazz musicians like Eivind Aarset and Arve Henriksen and so on, besides that Bibio’s Phantom Brickworks, this weird album called Out of Time by a band named Mamaleek which has some really interesting things in it, some choir music, keeping up with what comes out of new from everywhere too, I don’t know, a lot of things. Beyond Sensory Experience and Atrium Carceri will always remain favorites in dark ambient.
B.: Few years back I thought that it could be very interesting to combine dark ambient with dark jazz, to create a kind of noir atmosphere. Shortly after, it happened. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it started in 2017 with collaborative release of Atrium Carceri and Cities Last Broadcast called Black Corner Den, maybe Phonotek’s Lost in Fog. The dark jazz elements weren’t that strong with these releases, but it was deepened with your Heralds release and went maybe even deeper with a collaboration of Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast and God Body Disconnect – Miles to Midnight year after. In your opinion, why do you think this wave started? Or is this just a coincidence that a lot of noir, dark jazz ambient releases went out in such a short time?
Pedro: I think it was just a coincidence. A collective interest in doing something approaching “jazz”-ish just probably formed overtime by listening to how effective and open for exploration that was through other artists.I personally didn’t intend to do a “jazz” album and in many ways I don’t think I did. I think the inspiration for many people probably came from artists like Bohren, and also the whole Norwegian modern jazz entourage, like Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer and Eivind Aarset and so on. Those guys have been exploring the merging of modern jazz and modern electronic for a much longer time really.
B.: Thank you very much for your time and answers and I wish all the best to you and Wordclock. May your inspiration doesn’t dry out.
Pedro: Thank you very much, it was a pleasure.