Southeast London duo, Raf and O (aliases Raf Mantelli and Richard Smith) experiment between the air, place and space that occupies where nature's breath is conjoined by manufactured ambient excercises. Their emergence was made known with the Has The Air Gone Walking? 10" and their take on David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane classic, "Lady Grinning Soul"; where Mantelli and Smith explore the connecting fields and magneticism between the acoustic and electronic relations. Preparing Time Machine for release this spring, we present you the video debut of their title track from director Luigi Altilia.
With silver space lining, stainless steel kettles and 3-D spectacles adorned; we enter the Raf and O, "Time Machine" trip. Raf sits and stands alone in the void of darkness, dressed in space rave attire and accompanied by her acoustic. Flashes of O (aka Richard) can be seen catering to the percussion, both acoustic and electronic, as strobes spin and flash the action forward into the future. The strums and subtle poly-rhythmic drum arrangement and programming create the sound of two desert nomads walking the earth in quest of finding new waters, and perhaps new time zones. Raf's vocals and the production slowly spin, and twirl; whispering their song like tomorrow's cautionary lullabies sent backward to today as an omen of intrigue.
We were honored to chat with Raf Mantelli to discuss the dichotomy between her and Richard that comprises the center core of Raf and O's sound.
As a creative duo, what shifted and changed in your creative process between Has The Air Gone Walking? and Time Machine?
Musicianship-wise, Richard and I have essentially shifted our roles since working on previous releases. At the time of Has the Air Gone Walking? for example my focus for externalizing ideas was essentially based around my vocals and an old Juno 106 analogue synth, whilst Richard was mainly expressing his ideas via fretless bass. Now my main focus alongside vocals has become or shall I say has returned to an old batted acoustic guitar with a good pick up whilst Richard has shifted to synths and drums. The passion for the electronics is still very much there for the both of us in as much as we are always trying to add these elements onto the acoustics via applying triggers onto drums for example, or driving electronics through my guitar, and we love how they interface, drive and mess with the digital and analogue sonics.
How do you two describe your creative process?
It's sort of organic. I come up with a song very often based around my vocal and guitar picking, then Richard and I start to envisage the sound-world around it and trying stuff out in the room, searching for the tones versus a rhythm world, with effects, pedal, triggers, instruments and various devices until we feel a picture we belong to, starts shaping up. When we are happy with the direction we start to refine the vision.
How did you all go about the curations for the minimalist video for the title track, "Time Machine"?
Initially we brainstormed ideas around the concept of time, mechanical clockwork, springs, stuff that has hung around with us for a while, music boxes, rotations, mechanical ballerinas and mannequins etc. From there, a bit of a genie in the bottle concept developed on how we communicate and (thankfully) still rely on some physical post. The idea of the Time Machine in a virtual world didn't really do it, but posting one, felt like something that was much more beautiful, even romantic perhaps and could repeat ad infinitum. We did a lot of organic playing with light and strobes on set to reflect the mood within the track and called on Luigi Altilia who has documented our live performances to film us. As for editing we stuck purely to cutting and simple transitions instead of relying on post-editing effects.
What attracts you both to the time machine concept? Is it something like a parallel between the acoustic and electronic continuum of your sound experiments to the space/time continuum?
Time seems to be a recurrent element in our work, a bit of an obsession with — Does time exists or not? Certainly the action of creation allows you to escape the tyranny of time. There is a brilliant phrase that always comes to mind: 'Time is what stops everything from happening at once'. A "Time Machine" may allow you to see and experience time independently from time itself. A never-ending fascinating subject and there may be a connection between this subject and the sound experiments…
What is the story behind the lemons on the platter in the "Time Machine" video?
Oh yes, they are in fact oranges, one is re-colored to a lime. In short: a Doppler inspired nod to ‘Oranges and Lemons’, forward and reverse passage of time, internal segmentation which originally influenced the cutting of the film; a sort of organic clock cameo.
The latest from the Southeast London scenes?
It's a good time for the Southeast London scene right now, a hub of creativity ever growing and intense in energy.
What is next in the cards for Raf and O?
We're about to play the fabulous Cabaret Futura and we are launching our album Time Machine at Shoreditch Church April 4. More performances on the way and a few surprises coming up. We've also been writing new material and future releases are shaping….
Raf and O's Time Machine EP will be available March 24 with their album available April 21 from Telephone Records.