> Interview: Canaan Balsam - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Interview: Canaan Balsam

Canaan Balsam explores the ‘liminal zone between the harshness of industrial and beatific serenity of devotional music’. He released his debut album Cruise Utopia in July 2021, and his second album is due February 2023. SNACK caught up with the artist before Glasgow and Edinburgh shows to break down sounds, hopes and mantras.

How has 2022 been for Canaan Balsam?

Trying to get the record across the finish line has been a struggle. I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that the common agent in all of my artistic misery is my own misfortunate character. Other than that, the year has flown in.  As Jean de La Bruyère liked to say ‘Pal, those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.’ 

You’re playing the Wodawater Soundworks event in Glad Café, do you approach an event like this in your usual way? 

Modular synthesis is a raw and naked form of noise making. It’s the cleanest of all palettes. You commence with the most potential of any electronic instrument to create something ‘new’, you are the alchemist, the base elements lie before you. It has, however, become codified into this craft form, worse still, a lifestyle accoutrement like vinyl and craft ale.

There is of course, a vibrant counter-current of younger musicians utilising the form in new and wilder ways, but it is still often pitched as a daunting practice to step into.  Therefore, it is deadly that Wodawater is making the method more accessible and presenting a platform to newer artists via their workshops – some of which will be on the bill. I think the crew behind Wodawater are really working to build a new kind of soft revolution, a catalyst that will birth many a great noise.  Kudos too to Wavetable Edinburgh for providing a similar platform in the east coast.

You’re supporting Eyes of Others in Sneaky Pete’s on December 4th – what’s your biggest challenge in devising a support set? 

It was kind of Eyes of Others to offer, and I would recommend the gig on the basis that John is very much on the precipice of greatness, and it would be a decisive time to check out his music live!

With regards to the challenge, I think the most important thing when supporting someone with a different sound, is to not bend your work to try and appease their audience. The audience is not yours, which at once, is both liberating and terrifying. Second guessing what an audience will react to, or reshaping your sound to meet their perceived expectation is a fool’s errand. I have alighted on a commercially bankrupt sound, so the juvenile idea of winning over the home crowd is ridiculous. It is like taking a fight on the undercard. You are not going to upstage the championship bout; you want to silence the crowd’s chatter whilst reducing the number of times you get punched in the face.

Are you surprised Sneaky Pete’s let you in considering in a former guise you got them shut down? 

The hammer never complains of the noise. Just the nail. Besides, as Craig D. Lounsbrough once said quite disagreeably: ‘If we do not protect the quiet around us, there will always be noise within us.’ We want the noise within us.  Unless they are talking about tinnitus, then fair enough.

Either way, I will still be asking for the subs to be turned up.  

(To clarify, the question relates to a performance from one of Canaan’s former bands playing loudly, not as someone complaining to the council about noise.)

There’s the possibility of a new album from you in 2023 isn’t there? 

A second album will (finally) be out on a new label in February. 

It is a gentle record (with a lot of distortion). I think making soft and tender music can be a radical statement, almost a political one. To seek to create a music that speaks to solidarity, that in a quiet manner offers solace, a brief step outside of this world; not a meditation, or a background ambient shimmer, or anything vague. I have an unrealisable ambition to create an almost religious intensity of serenity. A music you could wear like an amulet, like a spell, like a medal around your neck.

Anything else in the works you can share with us? Any music or artists you’ve really appreciated this year? 

For the last three years I’ve been working on a Halloween themed radio show for EH-FM, which has since descended – via a ludicrous amount of occult research into the unholy myths of Kirkcaldy – into a revised soundtrack to 90’s horror short which I found to be too perfect a collision of circumstance and utter dis-believability.

This year there have been a lot of Scotland based artists that are producing incredible work. TRSSX, Euan Dalgarno, Jordan Stanley, Stables, CLAIR, and of course Eyes of Others.

What does Canaan Balsam hope for in 2023?

The past few years have withered my expectations, and eroded my youthful hopes. My main hope/wildest ambition is an artistic one, I wish to de-weaponise extreme noise. To seduce it away from the grim, macho-ism of power electronics and industrial tropes. To use the clash of frequencies, the cut and drop of wavelengths, the whistling feedback, and sinking soles of the sub frequencies, as a transformative, cathartic journey. To take someone’s hand through the storm, to get to the very eye of it and allow one to stare up in wonder and terror, and then step slowly away. Backwards from the void.  Always step backwards from the void – that’s my mantra.

Canaan Balsam plays Glasgow’s Glad Café on 29th November as part of the Wodawater Soundworks event and Edinburgh’s Sneaky Pete’s on 4th December, supporting Eyes of Others.

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