Badge Epoch :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Before adopting the Badge Époque Ensemble banner and a palette of ’70s prog, jazz rock, and funk, Toronto’s Maximilian Turnbull recorded art rock under the alias Slim Twig. It’s fitting then that he reached for a third designation for Scroll, his new 90 minute audio collage under the Badge Epoch designation. Drawing from nearly a decade of recordings, sessions, snippets, and demos, the album documents Turnbull’s restless experimentation, drifting from minimalist tones to crisp beatwork, from jazzy washes to intense musique concrète freak outs. It’s a document of the transition from the Twig era to the Badge one, but under the steady hand of Andrew “Fleshtone Aura” Zukerman, who assembled the recordings into an avant-garde collage reminiscent of BBC Radiophonic Workshop, it doesn’t across as a mere documentary of stylistic inbetween-ism, but rather a cohesive collage statement that blends contributions from familiar collaborators, including Matthew “Doc” Dunn, Michael Rault, and Badge Époque Ensemble proper, into a vivid and spacious daydream. Turnbull joined us to discuss the new project and its philosophical frameworks. | j woodbury

Aquarium Drunkard: Scroll is a longform, sprawling collection that unties dozens of players and contributors, drawing on material recorded between 2012-2020. Are your musical archives pretty meticulously organized? 

Maximilian Turnbull: There’s a pretty clear demarcation of my meticulousness in this respect, which is the transition from making records as Slim Twig to now presenting records from the Badge rubric. Scroll is a kind of portrait of that transit. The deeper in the past the material is sourced from, the hairier it was to dig out. At least one piece was sourced from mp3 I think. As of now the hard drives are pretty well linked in…

AD: You turned over these archival recordings to Andrew Zukerman of Fleshtone Aura and he assembled them into collage sequences and added Buchla synths. How did you first meet Andrew and what is it about him that made him feel like the right person for this pretty intense task? 

Maximilian Turnbull: I first met Andrew in Toronto, at the Tranzac which is a former social club for Aussie expats and is the bar in town where you can reliably find say, a solo clarinetist playing through a delay pedal for next to no one. The kind of institution our city is now putting to extinction. Andrew and I were both in the orbit of shows there once upon a time and naturally gravitated towards one another. 

As a collagist Andrew has a great knack for gathering marginal bits and colliding them in uncanny, synchronous ways. He also has far out tastes, and a perverse sense of humour. Those must be the qualities I intuited he would bring to the collaboration. 

AD: When I listen to the album, I pick up on the strange dream logic that informs classic cut up/collage albums—the sense that these individual strands connect in ways that don’t necessarily feel logical, but nonetheless cohere. But you actually recorded all this with collaborators, does it sound “disorienting?” Can you hear the different “you’s” that made these original tracks? 

Maximilian Turnbull: Having conceived of my identity in very rigid terms for a long time, I find pleasure in now trying to see how broadly that sense of self can be stretched, particularly in music work. Music puts me in touch with that cosmic identity which is consciousness. It was not the same consciousness that produced all these various pieces of music, which I draw curiosity from rather than disorientation. Perhaps the same set of ears, but not the same consciousness. 

AD: The cover art is really incredible too—what kind of conversations did you have with Zukerman and Meg Remy about that? 

Maximillian Turnbull: Not much in the way of conversation really. Meg [Remy] has been doing my sleeve designs for years now. Because we live together she has a sense of the gestation of the work, and then the things that I appreciate aesthetically. When a record is ready I might have a very sketchy concept, and she’ll then try some things until we’re both struck by something. Andrew came along once the composition was in place and brought his humour to it. Keeps with the concept of compressing multiplicities into a frame of some kind. 

AD: You mention your identity functioning on fixed terms in the past. Was shedding the Slim Twig name part of a transition toward that more expansive view of consciousness you now hold? Or less of a thing, just more like: I wanna change my band name? 

Maximillian Turnbull: I wouldn’t say that I ‘hold’ on to an expansive view of consciousness, but I will say that pursuing a more persona oriented approach eclipsed the possibility of catching the odd expansive feeling. I think the best parts of encounters with music – and perhaps this is true of life in general – are the moments when the self-conscious self is a complete ghost, totally vacated. Releasing a record is almost completely at odds with this state, especially when you centre yourself as the narrative of the music, as I did with Slim Twig. The change between projects was an internal shift, the name shift was a part of that mechanism. 

AD: Given that this record spans so far back, does it allow you a sense of the trajectory your music has taken? How has your relationship with the kind of cosmic oneness that often occurs with musical experience evolved over the years? 

Maximillian Turnbull: Yes, it does. For me, the record is all trajectory, all transit between approaches. At first most of the material didn’t announce itself as being on any album in particular, and then when it started to take that form I began to like the idea of this diversity of material exhibiting many profiles as a way of projecting a sense that identity is a shell game. I don’t think identity exists in nearly as rigid a form as we often like to insist, individually or collectively. This notion of a fluidity that exists in everything, certainly the self, could be one description of ‘cosmic oneness’. At least I try to cultivate that meaning.

AD: The titles are very interesting, flexing some of the humor and playfulness that you’ve highlighted, but “Every Thought is a Prayer” for example, that seems like a title born out of a profound moment, and the song sounds like a reflection of that too—including that freak out at the end. Did Andrew title these songs? Draw from original file names, etc? 

Maximillian Turnbull: The titles seemed like a place where some unifying principles could be hinted at, for the listener who really wants to dive in. I like the idea of music as a communicator for philosophic or spiritually inclined ideas. Those sorts of ideas are often delineated in books, but I think they are more intuitively identified from abstract sensation in everyday life. Music, as a vector for sensation, can provide those sorts of insights quite vividly. My dream is that I can help collect music that stimulates this in a listener…so, by all means throw this on at a party, or while vacuuming, but if you want to get introspective the music is designed to incorporate that purpose as well and the titles are a hint at that. 

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