A former member of The Eastern, Ōtautahi-raised Anita Clark has an arm-long CV of credits with most of the indie releases that came out of Ben Edwards‘ studio in Lyttelton’s purple period, her violin mastery featured on recordings of Marlon Williams and Tami Neilson among numerous others. In the solo musician guise of Motte, Clark recently released an album titled ‘Cold & Liquid’, and talks here with Ella Karalus-Glannaz about just some of her creative activities.
Anita Clark’s extensive musical background includes playing with the likes of Don McGlashan and The Phoenix Foundation, Delaney Davidson, Nadia Reid and Lawrence Arabia. A talented multi-instrumentalist, she has been playing the violin since the age of five, but her musical skills also include music production and composition. Alongside adding contributions to the music of others has been a solo career that has seen her sonic style continually evolve from classical and folk through to experimental, and more recently to her work composing for screen and contemporary dance.
The artist name Motte was inspired by Clark’s first project, 2017’s ‘Strange Dreams’, which was recorded on leftover tape.
“I just sat down one night and recorded the whole first album, track after track, until I got to the end of the tape and listened back and thought it was pretty good,” she explains.
From this, Motte (the German word for moth) was born.
While violin dominates that first Motte album, Clark has continually since sought to expand the instrumentation. Released in August 2022, her fourth and latest album ‘Cold & Liquid’ was conceived five years ago, in a period when she had completely lost her voice due to a virus paralysing her vocal cords.
“I started thinking about making an album in the middle of not being able to talk! It was just going to be an instrumental album – I thought maybe I could write for a choir or get other vocals in. I was looking through all my voice memos, just to see if I had anything,” she recalls.
In the event she was able to incorporate her vocals on some tracks whilst leaving others completely instrumental, allowing listeners to immerse themselves in the powerful, intricate cinematic soundscapes she designed.
Intertwined in the nine tracks of ‘Cold & Liquid’ are some intriguing field recordings.
“It became quite a situational thing. Me and Thomas Lambert, who recorded the album, spent the whole afternoon recording a lot of field samples in Christchurch, up Cashmere Hills, in the valley. All of the natural sounds came from there.”
Those sounds of nature include samples like those of harakeke leaves.
“It’s a really dry, scrappy, papery sound. Picking up pebbles and dropping them on logs, peeling bark, anything natural that sounds cool,” she explains. “I just have a natural inclination to make things very cinematic, it becomes part of the world.”
Her album was co-produced and mixed by Ben Edwards at The Sitting Room, and mastered by Chris Chetland.
The two singles Plateau and Only I paint a picture of the overarching tone and feel in ‘Cold & Liquid’. Plateau opens with a fast-paced, violin-driven melody before building more experimental layers leading to an over-driven violin riff. Only I features Motte’s mesmerising vocals, coming in at just the right time to enchant amongst the gentle pairing of guitar and violin.
“I had become more interested in experimental, avant-garde noise music and then this started. It fits into a few genres, but modern classical or neoclassical is how I would describe it.”
Showing further strings to Anita’s bow is her recent composition work for the erotic horror film, To Cut A Mermaid’s Tongue, by Kyah Dove and Robyn Jordaan. That involvement has inspired her to create an album that leans towards horror as a genre.
Creative as well as hands-on, her cover art has been inspired by pictures taken by various friends.
“The artwork was taken by my friend Oliver Briggs from Oamaru. He works at the freezing works there and he’s got access to the temperature control room, which is just the room full of these ice structures, and he took a photograph of that. It looks like a painting because it’s taken on a phone so it’s slightly blurry.”
Field recordings from the works add to the array of interesting sounds on her album.
“He also made me a whole CD’s worth of audio recordings within that room when I asked what it sounded like in there. He set up a mic and I think a 4-track tape recorder, and sent me the recordings on CD by post.”
There is a similar story to the cover of her previous album ‘Strange Dreams’.
“My friend had taken that photo because he was working as a mechanic. That album cover looks like a planet, it looks really other-worldly as well. It’s actually a vat of engine oil with air conditioning coolant!”
In live performance, Motte shines, creating the cavernous, ethereal atmosphere of her album that sees the sound washing over and immersing the audience, and coincidentally vindicating the high regard in which fellow NZ musicians hold her. Not unsurprisingly the gigs attract musical peers from the worlds of pop, folk, electronica and classical music.
“For the album tour, I brought along my friend Luke Scott [Admiral Drowsy],” she reveals. “I sort of handled all the structural stuff, so I played guitar, violin and vocals. I have an SP404 sampler, all the samples go on there, and all my synth lines and the bass lines and anything that I can sort of trigger. Then Luke played live atmospheric stuff.”
The early October took her to venues nationwide that would allow space for her to create a sensual crossover between sound, vision and smell – a diffuser used to spread a custom-made scent that was also for sale alongside other merch – the perfume somehow enveloping audiences in the fresh but earthy sound of the album itself.