Interview: cktrl on creating a soundscape for I ♥ Campbell

By in Features





South London multi-instrumentalist and producer Bradley Miller, aka cktrl (an abbreviation of “can’t keep to reality”) is known for stunning classical reimagination. 

His latest work, a soundscape for his longtime friend Campbell Addy’s debut solo exhibition, I Campbell, delves deep into love and relationships through a shifting sonic landscape. Orchestral reinvention bridging throwback trip-hop mutations, blues interludes and haunting vocal samples all accompany participants through the “immersive” show.

VF’s Becky Rogers spoke with cktrl about what goes into crafting a soundscape, his friendship with Campbell Addy and having freedom within your work.

What drew you to work on the soundscape for I ♥ Campbell?

Campbell [Addy] is a good friend of mine and I always like collaborating with friends. He’s an incredible talent, so anything that he needs from me, I’ll show up. I’m here for my bredrin! 

What influenced your soundscape?

Campbell gave me so much freedom and it got me going. [I Campbell] is his most vulnerable work to date and he’s really putting himself out there emotionally and that’s what I do within my craft and process. I had a lot of freedom to express his being, and from being good friends with him, I know his moods, so I let that lead the process.

The emotions put into the creation also stem from the project’s name, so I centred it around different feelings of love. It’s not your usual narrations that we put around it and instead, more the relationship of love with yourself and others. It also deals with your emotions and where you are at certain points, and how you love yourself differently depending on your mood. 

How did you find having complete freedom and control over the piece?

The first week is just overthinking. I’m thinking, “should I do this, or should I do that, or maybe they’re not going to like that”, but when you’re given freedom, you start asking questions and that brings limitations [to what you want to do]. I had to step out of it and tell myself, “he’s trusted me to do this and obviously I can do it”.

You’re known for your instrumentation. What can we hear within the soundscape?

It’s very varied. There are solo instruments, so clarinet, saxophone, cello, double bass, violin, harp and guitar. Then also drum machines, 808s and beats, but also sound design elements from field recordings taken from my trips to Jamaica over the years. So basically everything–it’s all in there!

zero by cktrl artwork, photographed by Campbell Addy

With so much going on sonically, how did you find fitting all of the elements together?

It wasn’t hard at all. I was looking at it in the way of being informed by love and relationships with ourselves and our moods.

With that, life is happening and it’s this beautiful chaos all the time. When parts collide in a way that makes you uncomfortable or irksome, it’s what happens in a day. We’re here, making it work. 

Also, I don’t really consider others when making work like this–it’s very personal to me. If I like it, then this is it. You always hope that when you put something together it resonates, but if it doesn’t, that’s fine. I rate it!

How did you find balancing your soundscape with Campbell’s work?

We work together a lot so it came naturally. Even if it didn’t work, it would. Or if we had reservations about certain bits, it would still work for both of us. Nothing’s ever forced.

We have so much trust in each other, too. If we’re working on something new together, there are not that many questions. It’s more ideas and then once we start, it’s happening and it’s fine. 

How does your process for writing music for an audio-visual project differ from your own solo recorded releases?

The main difference is that there’s a deadline. There’s no pressure with my releases–I start many things, park them for years and then come back to finish them later on. You can’t really do that if it’s due next week.

There’s also a compromise between how you would finish something and having to make peace with letting it be. A lot of people don’t do it, but I would like to keep things changing. For example, throughout the exhibition, I might just change [the soundscape] because I can. It doesn’t need to be static.

For solo releases, we spend so much time on them to be a timeless thing that doesn’t change, but there’s freedom in this.

I ♥ Campbell runs until June 4 at 180 Studios. Tickets are available now from the 180 The Strand website.