Autamata is the brainchild of Dublin-based artist/producer Ken McHugh. My Sanctuary was recorded over a year-long period whilst the producer was working on various other musical projects. Ken describes the album as, "A manifold of sounds that merge to create an aural journey of mixed experiences and emotions".
Having reached a point where the marriage of live instrumentation and electronic programming came naturally and fluently, Ken began to incorporate all these influences into Autamata and set about making his debut album, at the same time establishing his own record label, Lefthand Records. One year on and My Sanctuary is born.
The album was built up from layers of electronic music, structured into songs featuring guest vocalists, Carol Keogh, Cathy Davey and my wee nephew Michael who got to 'be a robot' for a while", Ken explains. "I even decided to sing on a couple of the numbers myself."
All clichés aside, Ken really does make the music for himself as a soundtrack to his own life and experiences. Realising that he was making the equivalent of an album's worth of music a year, he decided to share this music with the rest of the world, each album documenting his creative vision of that time regardless of musical trends and styles.
Although his background is in traditional Irish/ folk music, playing around Ireland as a youngster with his family's band, Ken quickly discovered Nirvana and Pixies and started "banging it out in a few garage guitar bands". A post-school stint studying sound-engineering introduced the budding technophile to the world of synthesizers and samplers, when he began taking in everything from hiphop to ambient, electronica to pop and dance. Work in a number of recording studios raised money for Ken to buy his own equipment and that was the beginning of the road that brings us to his 'sanctuary'.
His current influences range from Bjork/Stina Nordenstam through to Orbital, Aphex twin and the Future Sound of London. The producers he most admires include Brian Wilson, Nelle Hooper, Timbaland and the Neptunes.
The advent of modern technology has allowed Ken McHugh the autonomy to create music in the studio, and he is now intent on taking that technology into the live arena, rehearsing with a 3 piece band and giddying up ready to start gigging early next year, with a full-on visual presentation.
In his Dublin studio, Area 51, in recent years Ken has worked with a host of local and international acts: David Kitt's 'The Big Romance', Creative Controle, Naimee Coleman, Moya Brennan ,various dance, pop, R'n'B projects, and a few movie soundtracks.
He is currently working on Conor McPhearsons new feature length film "The Actors" starring Michael Caine.
Autamata is the creation of Dublin-based artist/producer Ken McHugh.
Even Ken McHugh - aka autamata - doesn't quite know how to describe the breathtaking eclecticism of his debut album, My Sanctuary. "A lot of people ask me and I still haven't worked out the answer," he admits. "It's influenced by just about everything I've ever heard and you can't even begin to pigeon-hole it. The only answer I have is that I hope you can put it on and by the end you feel you've been taken somewhere."
Actually, it's a record that via its beguiling mix of real instruments and electronic programming takes you to an entire gazetteer of contrasting map references: Country/City. Happy/Sad. Pastoral/Urban. Acoustic/Electronic. Noisy/Ethereal.
From the limpid beauty of 'Out Of This' to the irresistible electro-pop beats of 'Jellyman', Autamata introduces the Bjork-influenced experimentalism of 'Registered User' and the joyful Lambchop-meets-Lemon Jelly vibe of 'Jive County'. Add to this the floating trip-hop of 'Let's Normalise' and change direction once more with the clanging industrial beats of 'Little Green Men' and its extraordinary orchestral coda.
My Sanctuary is a record that as soon as you think you know where it is headed, then it immediately takes a no-hand-signals left-turn somewhere else entirely.
This proved too much for the major labels who wanted to sign autamata. "They all liked different things about it," Ken recalls. "Then they all said, 'but we can't put out a record like this. There are too many ideas. You've got to concentrate on one style'."
Of course, in the real world, real people don't compartmentalise music in such narrow-minded fashion. "Exactly," Ken says. "The only people who think like that are marketing people. So I told them to piss-off and decided to put the record out myself."
My Sanctuary was released in Ireland on his own Left Hand Records in 2003 to wonderful critical acclaim and has now been picked up by the London-based independent, RGR.
Hot Press readers poll voted it 'Best debut' & 'Best dance act', the Irish Independent claimed My Sanctuary as 'One of the best Irish albums of recent years' and the Irish Times agreed; 'Altogether a real treat'.
Yet given Ken McHugh's own personal musical odyssey, the kaleidoscopic diversity of My Sanctuary becomes far less surprising. Born in Co. Mayo in West Ireland, he grew up playing Irish traditional music. At school he got into the Pixies and Nirvana and played in rock bands. After moving to Dublin, he discovered sampling, dance music and breakbeats and fell under the spell of acts such as Orbital. When he grew bored with that, he became fascinated by the sonic adventures of Bjork and Stina Nordenstam. Then he fell under the three minute pop perfection song-spell of Brian Wilson.
Working in various Dublin studios provided both on-the-job training and the cash to buy his own equipment and set up his own studio, which he calls Area 51. His artistry continued to develop via producing records for other artists, including acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter David Kitt's album, The Big Romance.
All the time he was making his own music and biding his own time until he was convinced he was ready. "I felt like I was serving my apprenticeship," he says.
My Sanctuary was recorded over a year long period, while he was also working on other projects. Originally, he had conceived it as a purely instrumental album. "I had some very chilled rhythms and beats and noises. But then I realised I also wanted something you could whistle in the shower and so I moved to a more song-based approach."
In addition to Ken himself, vocalists on the album include Carol Keogh of The Tycho Brahe and Cathy Davey, now signed to Parlophone as a solo artist. Keogh played a particularly important role, singing on half a dozen tracks and contributing lyrics.
And in case you're thinking Autamata is purely a studio-based project, nothing could be further from the truth. A live band featuring drums, bass, guitar and female vocals as well as Ken's own synth's, samplers and background visuals has already made a powerful impact on the Dublin club scene. They have masterfully taken the album from disc to stage with flair and imagination, picking up live reviews along the way hailing Autamata as 'One of the best gigs I've seen in quite some time... mightily impressive (Hot Press March 03).
"I approach my live shows with the same attention to detail as I would in the studio" Ken explains "I rehearse a lot with my band, jamming and trying out new things to really bring the songs to life. Playing live, experimenting, it's the best way to keep developing my songs which is why it's such an important part of what I'm doing with Autamata".
Autamata will be bringing their live show to the UK to tie in with a second single in January and the release of My Sanctuary in February.
"There's so many possibilities in combining live instruments and electronic programming," Ken says. "It seems completely natural to me. It's all music and it can work just as well on stage as it does in the studio."
Music is his sanctuary. Let it be yours too.
Biography#3: "SHORT STORIES"
The astonishing second album from Autamata.
In an age where most bands find one sound and stick to it, Autamata - founded by musician and producer Ken McHugh, and featuring the unmistakeable voices of songwriter-vocalists Carol Keogh and Sarah Verdon - have always stood out. Short Stories, their second album, a sprawling, utterly disparate, breathtakingly ambitious and above all hugely fun exploration of near-limitless musical and emotional terrain, confirms that the band are impossible to shoehorn into anything as boring as one musical genre. If the album has a theme, it's one of love: love lost and love gained. If you like, it's the musical equivalent of a miniature film festival: 13 short films each with its own distinctive characters and its own palpable mood, with all the limitless variation and surprises that implies.
Just as a music lover's vinyl collection, CD rack or iPod will reflect its owner's desire to jump from hip hop to dream-pop to soundclashey disco-rock to folktronica to everything else besides, Ken, Carol and Sarah are modern music lovers whose tastes and greediness for playful experimentation across all musical genres know no bounds. Hence - just like its creators' tastes - Short Stories genre-jumps, too.
Thus, the modernist Peaches-style electroclash aggression of 'Bring It On' segues seamlessly into its complete opposite: the hallucinatory sashay-pop of 'Goldilocks', with its shining, crystalline textures and dreamlike mood; which then itself dissolves into the exquisitely bittersweet remembrance of things past that is 'Skimming Stones'. Elsewhere, depending on your mood, you can groove to squelchy post-Aaliyah slouch-pop about lovers' insecurity ('The Tap'); you can slam-dance to a post-Destiny's Child anthem about how an Independent Woman's attitude adjustment led her to happiness (the filthified whip-crack that is 'Dirtybird'); you can sway to the doomy early-'80s warehouse party last-dance that is 'Summer's Son'; you can laze to the splashy banjo-and-accordion-led sea shanty/cowboy song that is 'Out To Sea'; or you can squint in the beachside setting sun that is 'A Clear View'. And that's only the half of it.
Those familiar with Autamata's debut album, My Sanctuary, will hear a quantum shift in Autamata's approach in the aggressive, in-your-face production and undeniable pop sensibility in evidence on Short Stories. “After writing My Sanctuary,” says Ken, “I took Autamata a step further, and started playing live. It really influenced the way we went about writing this album.” Sure enough, as a result of Autamata's transformation over the last two years from a chiefly studio-based project into one of the nation's finest live bands - merging astonishing musicianship, cracking modernist electro flourishes and two of the country's most distinctive singers - Short Stories bristles with immediacy. Everything from its smashing live drum sound to its fearless head-first embracing of the whole audio spectrum, from cacophony and electro-noise through to intimacy, acoustica and silence, reflects a period spent honing what Autamata do to perfection in a live setting.
Autamata's debut album My Sanctuary exceeded any ambitions even Ken himself might have had for it, bringing with it two landmark music videos from Irish animation legends D.A.D.D.Y. and winning placement in films and adverts on both sides of the Atlantic. Above all, however, its success inspired Ken to play around with his own ideas about music.
“Short Stories, for me, is a compilation made from a two-year period of writing, where Carol, Sarah and myself wrote 20 songs and 10 instrumentals, and then chose our favourites and recorded them. Whereas My Sanctuary was put together by making instrumental tunes first, which we then formed into songs, Short Stories was mainly created the opposite way, writing songs first and playing around with ideas about their sound and feel afterward.
“I like making Autamata albums as musical journeys,” Ken says, “where each track has its own identity -as opposed to a lot of other artists, who seem to find one sound and stick to it. I know this is unconventional,” he says, “but I think things have changed. It's not like it was, where people used to be into only one kind of music, and be part of a particular 'scene'. We're living in a time now where people are really passionate and inquisitive about finding out about all sorts of stuff, and like lots of different styles of music. I know that's what the three of us are like, anyway.”
For people who truly love music, Short Stories has more than a few good yarns to tell."