[sic] Magazine

The Last Interview? – Portal

MMM059 Portal – Home Recording is Killing Music (free mp3 download)

“So, this is it. I have it in mind, right now, that this will be the final word on my musical activities under the name Portal. I’m not going to ‘do a Bowie’ and announce my retirement, only to retract it at a later date, but at this point in time, I can’t imagine wanting to use the name Portal again”

After thirteen years of recording under the name Portal, Make Mine Music founder Scott Sinfield has decided to retire the name, having grown tired of the associations and expectations that go with it, and of the name itself. With all of Portal’s many album and single releases now sold out, Scott decided to commemorate this retirement with a huge free mp3 giveaway.

Home Recording is Killing Music (MMM059) is a download-only collection of 100 tracks, taking in every Portal album, EP, 7” and limited edition release. The collection takes the form of a blog, with detailed notes and other information about each of the recordings, and the location of each zipped file. Listeners should feel free to download, share and enjoy these tracks in an entirely guilt-free manner, in keeping with the spirit in which they were given away.

“Home Recording is Killing Music” is available, completely free of charge, from his blogspot (link below)

[sic] Magazine’s Brett Spaceman and Jon Leonard caught up with Scott Sinfield to press him further on the Portal retirement, free music, influences and rebirth as Ringinglow.

Spaceman: In your blog you explain why you decided to ‘retire’ the portal name. You felt it somehow became outdated. Can you expand on that for us?

Scott Sinfield : As I said in the blog, I was never that fond of the name, really, but I was at a loss to think of anything better! Had I known in 1998, when I first sent a few tapes out to a couple of small UK indies, that I’d later release records and CDs, record a Peel session and play live under the name Portal, I’d probably have waited until I’d thought of something better. I didn’t give the name that much thought when I first typed it onto a cassette inlay to send to Dom Martin at Earworm Records, who went on to release the first Portal 7″. It was merely a word picked out of a notebook of lyric and song ideas, initially taken from a passage in an Oliver Sack’s book, that just seemed to fit. After the first 7″ got such a good response, the name sort of stuck. Before “Options” was released, I almost changed the name, but one of my friends pointed out that I’d worked so hard to get the name and my music known, that it seemed a shame to discard it. But still the thought that the name was a bit “Dungeons & Dragons” persisted, and as “Options” began to feel like a nice place to call time on Portal, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. I much prefer the name I’m currently using, Ringinglow, which is taken from a town in the English Peak District where I used to go walking, and is also the title of a beautiful piece of music by Roger Eno.

Spaceman: You titled the blog piece and the downloadable back catalogue Home Recording Is Killing Music. Now I’m old enough to remember the origin of that line with cassettes and home taping etc Is it an ironic stab at today’s scaremongers re downloading? Has downloading harmed Portal or your label Make Mine Music?

Scott at work

Scott : I called the archive “Home Recording is Killing Music”, as you say, in recognition of the old ‘home taping’ warnings on records and tapes, but also because all of my music has been recorded at home – not being a trained musician, I was doing my bit to kill music!! Regarding downloads, I’ve increasingly come to believe that there are those people in the world who will buy music and those who will download it for free. I’m sure that downloading has affected Portal and MMM to some extent – it certainly has done for the more popular bands on the label like Epic45 and Piano Magic, which is all the more annoying because of the way that the label works. Illegal downloads of MMM releases really do take money straight from the artist’s pocket, directly – the artists get all of the money from MMM releases because there is no middle man. As regards Portal, I never set out to make money from it – it’s always been a hobby – so I don’t lose sleep over illegal downloads of Portal stuff. I just hope people enjoy the music for what it is.

Spaceman: The blog quickly shifts into a celebration with page after page of ‘sleevenotes’ for each recording. Something for the fans or something off your chest?

Scott : It was the former – I wanted to make the archive as comprehensive as possible and perhaps give some insight into the tracks. Whilst writing the notes gave me the opportunity to set a few things straight that I thought had perhaps been misinterpreted, it wasn’t a huge cathartic exercise or anything. The sleeve notes were more based on what thoughts or memories sprang to mind as I listened to the tracks, many of which I’d not heard in years or even listened to since they were recorded. And the archive was a nice way of bringing closure to the Portal project, tidying up the loose ends and putting everything into one place.

Spaceman: Why are you giving everything away for free?

Home Recording Is Killing Music

Scott : Several reasons, really. As I said before, Portal has never been financially motivated. Making money is way down my list of priorities, in terms of how I live my life and in terms of my music-making. I’ve always had full-time employment to provide my day-to-day sustenance and Portal was just a hobby that kind of took off. Happily, every Portal release has gone into profit, so I’ve not lost money, but I’ve certainly not made a living from doing music, or even come close. I also thought it would be a nice “Thank you” to people who had bought my music over the years, which is why I included so many unreleased and rare tracks. I suppose there’s also an element that because I don’t really like downloads as a format (I’m a definite fan of vinyl and CDs), I feel uneasy about charging for them. With the music I hold dearest as a fan, things like 80s’ 4AD and Factory releases, the sleeves are such an integral part of the recordings, and downloads just don’t have that quality. I can’t value something as much when it doesn’t have a physical presence, I guess.

Spaceman: Portal music is surprisingly varied. Some ambient, some almost electropop. Who were your influences going into music and how have you changed over the course of your career?

Scott : My influences are very varied, which is reflected in the music I write. My biggest influences have remained remarkably static through all of the time that I recorded as Portal – I’m still listening predominantly to the same music today as I was in 1998, which is the same music as ten years before that – Cocteau Twins, New Order, This Mortal Coil, Wire, The Cure, The Human League, The Durutti Column, Kraftwerk, Young Marble Giants… Of course, I’ve listened to other lots of other music over the years, which I’m sure has had an influence too. Certainly when I was writing and recording “Waves & Echoes”, I was listening to some quite minimal electronica, artists like Laub, Liebe ist Cool and To Rococo Rot, but there’s still plenty of my longstanding influences in there too, alongside lots of other stuff from Miles Davis to Steve Reich, Sonic Youth to Claude Debussy, all of which I was listening to concurrently.


Jon Leonard: My two favourite Portal albums would be ‘Promise’ and ‘Waves & Echoes’. At the time they seemed almost polar opposite in terms of moods; the former being lighter and more commercially viable whilst the latter is experimental and dark. Does this reflect your own mood at the time?

Scott : Yeah, definitely, although I think both albums are very experimental, albeit with different outcomes. With “Promise”, I wanted to try anything that came to mind. I tend to have a motto for each Portal recording and with “Promise”, it was “there are no rules.” That’s why it’s all over the place, stylistically. I’d also just bought my first half decent drum machine and been given a sampler, which meant that I could experiment far more than I had been able to do on “Reprise”, which had been done with hardly any gear at all. It was an optimistic time in terms of the music, even if at the time I wasn’t much enjoying where I was living or my full-time job. The music was an escape and I threw myself into it 100%, joyfully trying all manner of things. “Waves & Echoes” was intentionally a lot darker – I wanted to write some overtly political lyrics, something that I felt was missing in a lot of music. I’m a political person and I found that I couldn’t possibly NOT write about what was happening at the time, in relation to the US/UK invasion of Iraq, growing consumerism and what I saw as the unveiling of Tony Blair and New Labour’s true colours. To push the words forward in the songs, I stripped the music back, and made it more jarring at times, more uncomfortable, to match the lyrical content. It wasn’t meant to be an easy listen. It wasn’t really a happy time for me personally either, though, as Rachel (the singer on many of the Portal tracks) and I had separated as a couple during the recording and were trying to find a way of staying friends and working together still, which no doubt filtered into the recordings. “Waves & Echoes” is probably the Portal album of which I’m most proud, though.

Scott Sinfield

Jon ‘Visions’ (from ‘Promise’) sounds like a dead ringer for Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Automotivation’. Was this a subconscious influence?

The more I think about this, the more I honestly think it was pure coincidence. Cabaret Voltaire are a band whose music I love – “The Crackdown”, “Drinking Gasoline” and “Micro-phonies” were really important records for me – but I didn’t seek to rip off “Automotivation” and I don’t think I was familiar enough with the track at the time for it to have subconsciously filtered into my own music. Your review at your “Leonard’s Lair” site first made reference to the similarities and I had to dig out the compilation with “Automotivation” on from the depths of my record collection to play it. I’d probably only played the track once or twice before when it first came out in the mid-80s, but you were certainly correct in saying that the two were strikingly similar. That all said, an American website review once noted that a track on the “Tristesse” mini album sounded like Slowdive’s “Waves” and I still have no idea what the Slowdive track sounds like to this day!

Jon:. Could ‘Reprise’ have existed without the Cocteau Twins?

Scott : I’m sure it would have existed without the Cocteau Twins, but it would have sounded completely different. It was probably The Clash or Buzzcocks that first made me want to pick up a guitar in the late 1970s, then The Human League who sparked my interest in electronic music and encouraged me to buy a synth when I was 12 years old, so I would definitely have been making music if the Cocteau Twins hadn’t existed. Certainly when I was on the road to recording the music that I’d later release as Portal, the Cocteaus’ first three albums and early EPs, The Cure’s “Pornography” and Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” were the biggest influences on how I played guitar and structured my music. I guess without the Cocteaus’ influence, it’d have been even more of a melancholic Gothic dirge.

Jon: If you could select any artist from the past and the present to sign to Make Mine Music who would it be?

Scott : From the past, probably Joy Division because their music was so monumentally important to me as a person and in terms of its cultural impact. As for a contemporary artist, probably Radiohead, for being consistently interesting and arguably getting better with each release they do. Of course, they’d have to be prepared to roll their sleeves up and put in the hours with the label, like everyone else. We don’t carry dead weight at MMM, y’know.


Spaceman: You are now recording as Ringinglow and signed with the excellent Chat Blanc. Yet you founded Make Mine Music. Why the label departure? Will the music also be a departure?

Scott : Pascal Asselin, who runs Chat Blanc, records on MMM as Millimetrik and we’ve been friends for years. Portal also contributed to a Chat Blanc compilation a few years ago, so there are strong, established links between us. I guess, with Ringinglow, I just wanted a clean break and the opportunity to do something different, so it was great when Pascal offered to release my forthcoming debut EP. It also gives me the chance to be “just” the artist for one release. I’m sure that Ringinglow will end up on MMM at some point too. I’ve not left the label. As for the music, it’s all still up in the air, but so far I’ve been working in a different way to how I recorded as Portal – I’m using guitars a lot more traditionally, there are far fewer electronics, there’s no sampling and a lot more of it is being recorded live. I also wanted my new music to be more spontaneous, less laboured over than Portal. It also intentionally harks back more strongly to my musical roots.

Jon: Will there be another MMM podcast?


Scott : Yeah, I hope so. I think all three of us (myself, and Ben and Rob from Epic45) enjoyed doing the first one. The response that we’ve had has been overwhelmingly positive too. We’re already spoken about possibilities for future podcasts including the idea that we might get MMM bands to do “sessions” or at least provide totally exclusive versions of tracks. I don’t think any of us has the time for the podcasts to be done that regularly, but I would say that we will do another at some point in the not too distant future.

~[sic] Magazine thanks Scott Sinfield, Make Mine Music and Chat Blanc records. Home recording is killing music is available to download now, completely free of charge at Scotts blogspot. Catch up with his current work at Ringinglow myspace. Read more from Jon here and at his Leonards Lair site.~

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