Words: Tommy Horner & Chad Greggor.

Rival Consoles' builds his set up to a dramatic finale before decomposing it again in waves of droning synths that make the steamed windows of Bristol's Fire Station rattle and buzz: a venue well reflecting this unstately, shapeshifting city where club culture cannot be doused. His set, performing at Bristol's Simple Things festival, follows a narrative full of peaks and troughs like a paperback novel, where plot devices and character development are expressed solely through sonically-induced moods. It is one well-thumbed by an engrossed crowd, reading their faces.

We find out later from artist Ryan Lee West that he uses the same synth pioneered by John Carpenter - the intrepid explorer of '80s electronica in compositions for his seminal and titanically trashy horror films. Carpenter also appears on the Simple Things bill, a unique festival celebrating acts ranging from mosh-pit inciting trio Death Grips to the equally audacious Anna Meredith, who - with horn section bass-lines amid swells of synth fit for a theatrical stage - brews up her own storm that defies any categorization. One also featuring a band most likely bored of our topic of questioning herein, especially given their namesake show's reawakening: Twin Peaks.

John Carpenter

John Carpenter's presence, and the accolades recently heaped on '80s throwback series Stranger Things whose pastiche includes him in its palette, opens up a dialogue about the effect of cinema and TV on musicians today. That theme tune is a case in point for the absolute whirlwind of affection for modern televisual epics, birthing often parodic yet wildly awesome reproductions and remixes i.e. by Luke Million. What of music less direct in its duality with visual things? What part do visuals play, if any, strange or otherwise, in the writing of musicians on the bill? Or alternatively, in a visually saturated world, is music the offer of an escape into a sense blind to it all? Maybe it is just us that see a story, trying to trace its imaginary plotlines. Perhaps it is this sense of story in minds seeking hidden meanings - conspiracies even when we are told there is no meaning - that draws us to see musicians, our favourite prophets and pariahs.

In terms of those specifically composing in collaboration with the visual arts, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of S U R V I V E were recruited to create the Stranger Things score after their song 'Dirge' was used to soundtrack the pitch trailer. The fact that the score was commissioned in advance means that film and music were created together, making the score an indispensable part of the whole experience. Besides the obvious homage to John Carpenter's sound, this method bears another similarity. Carpenter, who wrote, directed and scored several of his best-known films himself - including Halloween and Escape From New York - crafted a complete audio and visual collaboration from his individual vision. A film recently such as Frank shouts back to this, telling the fictional story of a band intricately tied to a fantastical yet fictional album they are producing. The vinyl release was practically a bestseller.

Anna Meredith

Speaking to Ryan, then to Anna, we wanted to know where visuals played a part in their alternative though comparatively orchestral music; is it anachronistic on our part to 'see' the story and determine there must have been one? Or, to identify the influences of directors either Carpenter or contemporary, from comparisons rooted in nothing more than an inescapable cultural consciousness we share? In short: yes. The long answer spins a different yarn. About her writing process, which always starts with 'sketches' of the piece, the first thing for Anna "is draw a timeline. I draw these maps of the piece before I've written a note. I know it's going to be a five-minute track so I will draw the contours of it. It's a visual representation, almost as if it's telling a story." The sketches themselves are utilitarian rather than cinematic, she tells us. "I don't tend to have an image like, I'm going to write a big symphonic score for a starship battle. That sort of stuff comes from people afterwards. Like this track is for dinosaurs having a fight in a space station - I wouldn't quite know what to do with that. I mean once I had an image of seals at a disco, I could imagine all these lolloping seals..."

Whilst we sit and wonder what Youtube commenter foresaw the joining of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and Westworld franchises, Anna Meredith explains that she's often pleased with how people interpret her songs visually. Even if she didn't see them in that way originally, "I'm always up for people seeing stuff in a new context." With this blank canvas approach in mind, music without image gives the listener freedom to interpret the story behind the sound, even to hold up a mirror to what may have been subliminal in the artist. Anna's Scottish Album of the Year 'Varmints' has indeed been used in adverts, and in a fashion show which set her "creepy, xylophone-y, pizzicato stuff" to a Hansel and Gretel nightmare on the catwalk. "They obviously thought it had that same spiky, creepy-fairytale quality," Anna relates with a bemused shrug, assuring us that when she wrote the lines that wasn't to be read between them. Not that it was misread either. Other act Suuns' reaction to their chart entry '2020' being used of late in the trailer for a new SAS-training, "are you tough enough" show goes without comment.

Death Grips

Serving this point with sheer clarity we delve into Anna's TV Guide, learning though whilst sexy that Stranger Things had her frozen in fear; that even Beauty and The Beast was so evocative that it forced her to escape both it and a room of children. "Now I can basically only watch cooking shows," she tells us. "I've got quite into Michael O'Hare. I think he's amazing, I'm obsessed." The conversation, which quickly turns to the merits of Michael O'Hare, concludes with the suggestion of a concept album centred around him: "Consider it done. Every song..." Meredith suggests, as, "he's had many hairstyles over the years, there could be one for each era of Michael O'Hare's whole O'Hare-a. I think he's a rich seam to be plundered. I find a lot of comfort and solace in his work." The mental paralysis of the slightest televisual thrill just doesn't compare creatively to the mind-numbing zen of Michael.

Anna had been known to craft an ode to her Mum's "little Triumph 2000 that had been wired incorrectly... I'd rather write a piece about my mum's indicators than my breakup." So the same with any drama, thus ruling out Carpenter's catalogue; but a "sort of tiny world, an inanimate", all the same. This said, similar to Ryan of Rival Consoles for being involved in commissioned projects for visual art and documentaries in the past, as many more contemporary electronic musicians are being tapped for, they share an experience with the stimulus. On composing for picture, Ryan reflects that "you learn to do more with less... There's a tendency to be virtuosic [in music] but I'm always trying not to over-labour anything."

Rival Consoles

For Ryan, commissions have had more of an effect on his personal approach, now seeking "a sense of narrative maybe, or just the sense that something's being said or communicated." It works well with his "old fashioned... songwriter's perspective," but is perhaps at odds with a generation or more of electronic producers. In a way, "that's similar to Carpenter's technique at doing little things to create tension. Every single tone I use will be slightly muffled or slightly distorted or slightly off, so when there are lots of sounds it creates a tension which runs through all of my music, all of the time." Bashfully he admits from this sentimentality sometimes thinking "fucking hell, this is ... miserable!" It isn't unfamiliar to Anna, working to plot points disembodied from an actual plot. Then we turn from his workflow to cinematography itself. There is David Lynch, though Rival Consoles is not nearly as chaotic, meaning not to disorient or leave anything undeciphered. Like the "iconic '80s" stylings of Stranger Things that are "functional, in a good way", albeit so perfectly matched as to be inseparable from their visual stimulus, Ryan uses his sound to construct a world not contradict it. Although Kubrick's mentality inspires too, where [in The Shining] "instead of being like 'let's put in some minimal quartet', he's putting Béla Bartók in. That takes confidence, letting it slip the other way where the visual serves the music." For Ryan away from his scores, the visual has come to serve his music. For Anna to distract, or detract.

In an age where streaming music online is instantaneous, music is often taken for granted as supplementary noise or an open source to siphon - Simple Things proved that visuals add a unique quality to audio. Maybe for now not immediately inseparable from it, merely informing on it, but growing in such ways into the future. Just like Jackson Pollock's splatter paintings were about enjoying the action of painting together with the final image, it's difficult to enjoy a band such as Death Grips or Three Trapped Tigers without viewing the raw energy and skill behind their visceral, very literally physical live shows. The video-reels accompanying John Carpenter's show were essential to understanding the mood, speed and action behind his 80's-defining style; so too his off-screen work on Lost Themes I & II belies that even they are still backdrops to stories, lacking the storyteller if listened to without him.

It's a tough life for musicians today - if you amass a large enough following to off-set the pitiful Spotify pay rates, widespread pirating and YouTube ripping, or enjoy the spotlight of stardom and its ephemeral endorsements, you might be able to quit your bar-job and go full time. To counteract this, we should see more visual and music collaborations, the modern reinvention of the former supporting the merits of the latter, as artists bring their music out of the digital-ether and back into the real world. An art world, inclusive and communal. The visual arts have rarely ever been more receptive to the cross-fertilising force of a Carpenter character, one that musicians of all stripes should muse on - there are many circles today to move in.