The Well-Tempered vector rescanner? A new audiovisual release finds poetry in vintage video synthesis and scan processors – and launches a new AV platform for ATOM TM.
nuuun, a collaboration between Atom (raster, formerly Raster-Noton) and Americans Jahnavi Stenflo and Nathan Jantz, have produced a “current suite.” These are all recorded live – sound and visuals alike – in Uwe Schmidt’s Chilean studio.
Minimalistic, exposed presentation of electronic elements is nothing new to the Raster crowd, who are known for bringing this raw aesthetic to their work. You could read that as part punk aesthetic, part fascination with visual imagery, rooted in the collective’s history in East Germany’s underground. But as these elements cycle back, now there’s a fresh interest in working with vectors as medium (see link below, in fact). As we move from novelty to more refined technique, more artists are finding ways of turning these technologies into instruments.
And it’s really the fact that these are instruments – a chamber trio, in title and construct – that’s essential to the work here. It’s not just about the impression of the tech, in other words, but the fact that working on technique brings the different media closer together. As nuuun describe the release:
Informed and inspired by Scan Processors of the early 1970’s such as the Rutt/Etra video synthesizer, “Current Suite No.1” uses the oscillographic medium as an opportunity to bring the observer closer to the signal. Through a technique known as “vector-rescanning”, one can program and produce complex encoded wave forms that can only be observed through and captured from analog vector displays. These signals modulate an electron-beam of a cathode-ray tube where the resulting phosphorescent traces reveal a world of hidden forms. Both the music and imagery in each of these videos were recorded as live compositions, as if they were intertwined two-way conversations between sound and visual form to produce a unique synesthetic experience.
“These signals modulate an electron-beam of a cathode-ray tube where the resulting phosphorescent traces reveal a world of hidden forms.”
Even with lots of prominent festivals, audiovisual work – and putting visuals on equal footing with music – still faces an uphill battle. Online music distribution isn’t really geared for AV work; it’s not even obvious how audiovisual work is meant to be uploaded and disseminated apart from channels like YouTube or Vimeo. So it’s also worth noting that Atom is promising that NN will be a platform for more audiovisual work. We’ll see what that brings.
Of course, NOTON and Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto) already has a rich fine art / high-end media art career going, and the “raster-media” launched by Olaf Bender in 2017 describes itself as a “platform – a network covering the overlapping border areas of pop, art, and science.” We at least saw raster continue to present installations and other works, extending their footprint beyond just the usual routine of record releases.
There’s perhaps not a lot that can be done about the fleeting value of music in distribution, but then music has always been ephemeral. Let’s look at it this way – for those of us who see sound as interconnected with image and science, any conduit to that work is welcome. So watch this space.
Virtual reality and augmented reality promise new horizons for music. But one studio is delivering apps you’ll actually want to use – including collaborations with artists like Matmos, Safety Scissors, Robert Lippok, Patrick Russell, Ami Yamasaki, and Patrick Higgins (of Zs).
Consumer-accessible graphics hardware and computation – particularly on mobile – is finally keeping up with the demands of immersive 3D visuals and sound. That includes virtual reality (when you completely block out the outside world, most often using goggles), and mixed reality or augmented reality, which blends views of the world around you with 3D imagery. (Microsoft seems to prefer “mixed reality,” and still has you wearing some googles; Apple likes “augmented reality,” even if that harkens back to some old apps that did weird things with markers and tags. I think I’ve got that right.)
And indeed, we’ve seen this stuff highlighted a lot recently, from game and PC companies talking VR (including via Steam), Facebook showing off Oculus (the Kickstarter-funded project it acquired), and this week Apple making augmented reality a major selling point of its coming iOS releases and developer tools.
But what is this stuff actually for?
That question is still open to creative interpretation. What New York City-based studio Planeta is doing is showing off something artful, not just a tech demo.
They’ve got two apps now, one for VR, and one for AR.
Fields is intended both for listening and creation. Sounds form spatial “sculptures,” which you can build up on your own by assembling loops or recording sounds, then mix with the environment around you – as viewed through the display of your iOS device. There’s a lovely, poetic trailer:
Unlike the sound toys we saw just after the release of the original iPhone App Store, though, they’re partnering with composers and musicians to make sure Fields gets used creatively. It’s a bit like turning it into a (mobile) venue. So in addition to Matmos, you get creations by the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto collaborator, or Robert Lippok (of Raster Media, née Raster-Noton).
But if you think you have something to say, too, and you aren’t one of those artists, you can also share your own creations as videos, constructed from original sounds and motion captured with your device’s camera and mic.
The developers are Field are also partnering with the Guggenheim to showcase the app. And they’re also helping Berlin’s Monom space, which is powered by the 4DSOUND spatial audio system, to deliver sounds that otherwise would have to get squashed into a bland stereo mix. The ability to appreciate spatial works outside of limited installation venues may help listeners get deeper with the music, and take the experience home.
The results can be totally crazy. Here’s one example:
Pitchfork go into some detail as to how this app came about:
We’ve seen some clumsy attempts at VR for music before. Generally, they involve rethinking an interface that already works perfectly well in hardware controllers or onscreen with a mouse, and “reimagining” them in a way that … makes them slightly stupid to use.
It seems this is far better. I’ve yet to give this a try myself – you need Oculus Rift or HTC Vive hardware – but at the very least, the concept is right. The instrument begins as a kind of 3D physics game involving percussion, with elaborate floating clockwork worlds, and builds a kind of surreal ambient music around those Escher-Magritte fantasies. So the music emerges from the interface, instead of bending an existing musical paradigm to awkward VR gimmicks.
And it’s just five bucks, meaning if you’ve bought the hardware, I guess you’ll just go get it!
And it’s really, as it should be, about composition and architecture. Designer Dan Brewster tells the Oculus Blog about inspiration found in Japan:
One space in particular, created by Tadao Ando for Benesse House and consisting of an enclosed circle of water beneath a circle of open sky, felt perfectly suited to VR and inspired the environment of Drops.
Brewster and team paired with experimental composers – Patrick Russell and Patrick Higgins – to construct a world that is musically composed. I always recoil a bit when people separate technology from music, or engineering from other dimensions of tech projects. But here, we get at what it is they’re really missing – form and composition. You wouldn’t take the engineering out of a building – that’d hurt your head a lot when it collapses on you – but at the same time, you wouldn’t judge a building based on engineering alone. And maybe that’s what’s needed in the VR/AR field.
Clot magazine goes into some more detail about where Drops and this studio fit into the bigger picture, including talking to composer Robert Lippok. (Robert also, unprompted by me, name drops our own collaboration on 4DSOUND.)
Robert based this piece, he says, on an experiment he did with students. (He’s done a series of workshops and the like looking about music as an isolated element, and connecting it to architecture and memory.)
We were talking about imagining sound. Sounds from memories, sound from every day live and unheard sounds. Later than we started to create sonic events just with words, which we translated into some tracks. “Drawing from Memory” is a sonic interpretations of one of those sound / word pieces. FIELDS makes is now possible to unfold the individual parts of this composition and frees it in the same time from its one-directional existence as track on a CD. I should do this with all of my pieces. I see a snowstorm of possibilities.”
Check out that whole article, as it’s also a great read:
Miami-born Uchi is a fresh face as LA collective BL_K NOISE meet up with Berlin’s Raster – and that’s a perfect time to catch up with her and reflect.
Dive in, commit. It’s that moment when the mixer fader is up and you start your live set, the let’s-screw-up-our-lives risk-taking bigger moments we make sometimes for musical passion. It’s the willingness to screw up live and screw up life, maybe.
That sums up why a lot of us are here as well as anything. And so that makes Uchi’s approach refreshing. Just as your email promo inbox is full of drab, sound-alike techno and washes of disinterested distorted ambience, Uchi kind of doesn’t follow any rules. Her DJ sets are diverse and daring, her live sets going deep and abstract and back again. And she talks to us a bit here about that abandon.
It’s also paying off. Uchi has gone from being known in Miami to becoming a regular at Berlin’s most sought-after slots – including Berghain’s upstairs Panorama Bar and its darker, weirder new ground floor Säule. But the best part is, I think we don’t know quite what she’ll do next. There’s a couple of EPs, a full-length album, and various podcasts coming and … well, the hell with predictability. The artists you want to watch are the ones that will surprise you.
January is definitely when we celebrate new music gear, thanks to Anaheim, California’s massive NAMM convention show. But then why not celebrate new noises, too? BLK_NOISE has assembled for Saturday a party made up of artists willing to push their electronic instruments until they hurt. From team USA, you’ve got Richard Devine, Surachai. From Germany, label Raster – the imprint formerly known as Raster Noton – Grischa Lichtenberger, and label co-founder Byetone. (Carsten Nicolai aka Raster Noton is going solo again, reverting his label to Noton.) And then there’s secretive BLK_NOISE anchor Belief Defect, who have feet in both Berlin and LA.
PK: What’s the set you’re preparing for LA? I loved this noise set that just streamed from Halcyon [in New York].
Uchi: I don’t know what happened there! It’s so weird! I have the recording of it myself; I gotta hear it and see!
I think for this show I’m going to use somewhat similar setup I’ve been using for most noise shows these days, a narrow selection of stuff, and complete improvisation — or zero preliminary sequencing. It’s the first time I’ll try an AV setup, which is exciting!
It seems like you’ve had some pretty significant shifts in your life, your musical direction … especially as some of the folks who will be hearing you in LA as well as our readers may not know you yet, what’s the trajectory been from Miami to Berlin? How did you get where you are currently?
Yeah, I guess there’s been a lot of changes the last couple of years. I lived in Miami since age 10, up until college. After I finished a degree in Computer Science, I took DJing (obtained from radio hosting at University) more seriously, as well as actually working on something I used to do for fun — (Ableton fiddling) making music.
The Boiler Room set came about from Juan Del Valle, now a friend. His influence was to convince me to make a live set. That being said, it was my first live set ever, and it was on Boiler Room – lol! BUT it was a great way to learn how to use hardware! Then Berlin came after the release on Plangent Records, which made the first gig in Panorama Bar happen. That made me decide not to get a flight home, basically.
The interesting thing is that just before I left Miami, everything had already started changing. I was pretty active in the noise scene, which was a whole different level of exploration in music, the exact opposite of composition and programming or what I used to make the Boiler Room set. Noise changed also the way I record, too. It seems I find single takes, and master out mixes more interesting than spending hours on a single detail or mixing down. I guess trying to finish ideas in one day if the case has a lot of details, otherwise just simple pressing record (mistakes included) and room recordings.
I made the album and the last couple EPs basically playing them. Since moving to Europe, which changed literally everything about what I knew, and also playing for promoters in different cities, I’ve had the chance to do something different. Nowadays, I’m combining all influences together — noise improvisation, changing patterns, speed, writing melodies or lack thereof, depending on so many different things. For instance where, when, and for whom each show is prepared for, relative to time, and where things are for me at the moment — it’s never the same. I’m still figuring it out, but if there is something to expect, it should be to expect something new.
These Saüle appearances have been great … in this age and (city!) people can cling to a somewhat narrow and clasutrophobic view of genre, so that’s a relief. Can you talk a little bit about you’ve been playing lately?
Well, I guess Säule was a bit of the turning point. It made me realize its not far-fetched to combine everything into one presentation. Funny you say claustrophobic view of genre! That puts it a bit better in perspective actually. I think the first time was probably one of the most liberating DJ sets of my life, the first time I felt like myself. The struggle of genre has been real for a really long time, but thanks to that lately, I reeeally don’t care for dance floor “rules” too much, and follow just, whatever feels right at the time. I’m curious to what you would describe those gigs as.
Mmm, eclectic? This is why I wouldn’t really call myself a music journalist, just a musician. So to that — what are you using to play for this live set? Not just to sort of get gear-focused, but instead — what does this mean as far as instrumentation, as composition?
For sure, it will be a Moog Mother [Mother-32 synthesizer] running, pitching it sporadically, plus vocal whale sounds … maybe some screaming. Also some Koma Elektronik noises generated from the Field Kit [“electro-acoustic workstation”] and BD101 [analog gate-delay pedal] as main effects, messing with any signal sent to the aux [input] of the Field Kit.
I guess as “composition,” I suppose breaking it down by frequency – the vocal stuff is a lot of mid-range melodic, of course, with a ton of reverb and delay, the Moog for low-end and the Koma stuff for texture, high-pitch screeching, and pulsating static. These have been my favorite pieces of gear to use for noise shows. I made the last album using the Moog heavily, so it’s kind of been my main instrument for almost two years, along with Koma stuff which is heaven for noise freaks — the Moog sounds on another level! And some classic reverb and distortion pedals, Boss DS-1 [distortion pedal, since 1978] and Eventide Space.
What do those instruments mean to you; how do they impact how you play spontaneously?
They are my children!!! I supposed their user interface totally affects how they are played. For example, the large knobs of the Mother and the semi-modular part for patching and combining it with it with the BD10 light sensor (which kind of acts like a theremin), and putting that in the Field Kit mixer, which has got a life of its own. The signals kind of bounce with each other. Feed-backing is waaay fun. Also, the continuity of LFO’s makes it easy to do multiple things at once. Whatever instruments I’m using at the moment play a really large role in every live set, if not the biggest role. I hope to be switching to full-on modular this year! Wish me luck.
If you’re in LA, check out the event! I wrote about Belief Defect’s live rig here and for Native Instruments; now it’s America’s turn to get that live. Co-hosted with Decibel Festival:
Belief Defect’s dark, grungy, distorted sounds come from hardware modulars in tandem with Reaktor and Maschine. Here’s how the Raster artists make it work.
Belief Defect is a duo from two known techno artists, minus their usual identities, with a full-length out on Raster (the label formerly known as Raster-Noton). It digresses from techno into aggressively crunchy left-field sonic tableau and gothic song constructions. There are some video excerpts from their stunning live debut at Berlin’s Atonal Festival, featuring visuals by OKTAform:
They’ve got analog modulars in the studio and onstage, but a whole lot of the live set’s sounds emanate from computers – and the computer pulls the live show together. That’s no less expressive or performative – on the contrary, the combination with Maschine hardware means easy access to playing percussion live and controlling parameters.
Native Instruments asked me to do an in-depth interview for the new NI Blog, to get to talk about their music. The full interview:
They’ve got a diverse setup: modular gear across two studios, Bitwig Studio running some stems (and useful in the studio for interfacing with modulars), a Nord Drum connected via MIDI, and then one laptop running Maschine and Reaktor that ties it all together.
Here are some tips picked up from that interview and reviewing the Reaktor patch at the heart of their album and live rig:
1. Embrace your Dr. Frankenstein.
Patching together something from existing stuff to get what you want can give you a tool that gets used and reused. In this case, Belief Defect used some familiar Reaktor ensemble bits to produce their versatile drum kit and effects combo.
2. Saturator love.
Don’t overlook the simple. A lot of the sound of Belief Defect is clever, economical use of the distinctive sound of delay, reverb, filter, and distortion. The distortion, for instance, is the sound of Reaktor’s built-in Saturator 2 module, which is routed after the filter. I suspect that’s not accidental – by not overcomplicating layers of effects, it frees up the artists to use their ears, focus on their source material, and dial in just the sound they want.
And remember if you’re playing with the excellent Reaktor Blocks, you can always modify a module using these tried-and-true bits and pieces from the Reaktor library.
For more saturation, check out the free download they recommend, which you can drop into your Blocks modular rig, too:
Also included with Reaktor 6, Molekular is its own modular multi-effects environment. Belief Defect used it on vocals via the harmonic quantizer. And it’s “free” once you have Reaktor – waiting to be used, or even picked apart.
“Using the harmonic quantizer, and then going crazy and have everything not drift into gibberish was just amazing.”
Maschine clips in the upper left trigger snapshots in Reaktor – simple, effective,
4. Maschine can act as a controller and snapshot recall for Reaktor.
One challenge I suspect for some Reaktor users is, whereas your patching and sound design process is initially all about the mouse and computer, when you play you want to get tangible. Here, Belief Defect have used Reaktor inside Maschine. Then the Maschine pads trigger drum sounds, and the encoders control parameters.
Group A on Maschine houses the Reaktor ensemble. Macro controls are mapped consistently, so that turning the third encoder always has the same result. Then Reaktor snapshots are triggered from clips, so that each track can have presets ready to go.
This is so significant, in fact, that I’ll be looking at this in some future tutorials. (Reaktor also pairs nicely with Ableton Push in the same way; I’ve done that live with Reaktor Blocks rigs. Since what you lose going virtual is hands-on control, this gets it back – and handles that preset recall that analog modulars, cough, don’t exactly do.)
5. Maschine can also act as a bridge to hardware.
On a separate group, Belief Defect control their Nord Drum – this time using MIDI CC messages mapped to encoders. That group is color-coded Nord red (cute).
Belief Defect, the duo, in disguise. (You… might recognize them in the video, if you know them.)
6. Build a committed relationship.
Well, with an instrument, that is. By practicing with that one Reaktor ensemble, they built a coherent sound, tied the album together, and then had room to play – live and in the studio – by really making it an instrument and an extension of themselves. The drum sounds they point out lasted ten years. On the hardware side, there’s a parallel – like talking about taking their Buchla Music Easel out to work on.
Demian Licht is building a portal – one connecting us to a new future, one scrapping the parts of society holding people back, one linking the world. She’s not just making techno – she’s making a statement about the future with her music and practice, one that resonates with Detroit’s pioneers and the bleeding-edge aspirations of a new generation today.
Oh, and there’s some strange physical portal involved, too, one purportedly located at the geographic center of Mexico – uh, maybe. But you might want to watch that spot.
So, not only did we want to hear more about Demian Licht’s approach to music after being wowed by her Female Criminals series (now up to two volumes plus one excellent remix album), we wanted to hear about her thoughts on society, too. Demian is one of the top Ableton trainers you’ll find worldwide, and her knowledge and skills go well beyond just using that one tool into deep explorations of sound and meaning.
We take a look inside her studio, and get some of this knowledge transmitted directly our way, too – and have a glimpse at some of the emerging scene in Mexico and her own next audiovisual opus. And lately you were probably thinking the future was looking dim.
Peter: Let’s start with the theme “Female Criminals.” I know you had these personas in mind in the first volume. How has that evolved in volume 2? What’s your connection to the theme, or what are we hearing in this release?
Demian: Female Criminals is my script to explore sonically the deepest side of the female mind: the dark side, the savage, the intuitive, the mystical — skills of women by nature, but that have been suppressed by society for centuries.
Vol. 1 has been my first approach to exploring the ‘criminal’ side of the female mind. I am using this term not as an obscure way to think about it; it’s more in the sense of the ‘forbidden’ which has been imposed by society by blocking the real nature and power of the female mind. With this mindset, Vol. 2 narrates the history of a crime made by a woman from the desire to the act.
There’s to me a really cinematic quality to the music. Can you tell us a bit about the different vocal sample sources in these tracks? What about instrumentation, too, also connecting to the theme?
Definitely, and that was my main intention. I’ve always been interested in the cinema field; I want it to translate the cinematic language into a sonic experience. For this volume, I’ve re-sampled a piece of a wonderful Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho, that has touched me really deeply. I’ve used a ‘secret weapon’ inside Native Instruments Reaktor to completely change the structure and sound of the piece. I’ve used some of the edited results of this experiment to construct the history of Vol. 2. 3.
I can imagine these tracks both in a listening sense but also for the dance floor – do you DJ with these, as well? Or how do you see the role of the DJ in your work?
I’ve always presented my work as live. I am interested in exploring the challenges and possibilities of performing live electronic music. All mixes and podcasts I’ve done have used Ableton. However, I’m starting to receive some interesting proposals for DJ sets, such as BBC Radio, for instance.
Probably now is the time to start challenge me further as a DJ.
You’re a certified trainer, and of course came out and participated in their conference Loop here in Berlin with us in the fall. Is there a relationship between being an educator and a producer for you? Has that technical development been something you apply in your music production? Does it inform your creativity?
Totally. My knowledge in this field started when I decided to study sound engineering. But when I felt I really mastered the concepts and techniques related to music production was when I learned to transmit this knowledge to other people.
Of course, working as a trainer, you’ve got people on a different level. Where do you start with them? How far in do you get, or what have you found is most useful to people working with you?
Yes, I’ve worked with people of all kind of backgrounds, musical preferences, and ages. To give you a broader perspective about what I teach, it starts from electronic music history (extremely important) — Theremin, Musique concrète, Krautrock, etc. — to essential audio digital/analog theory, Ableton workflow, signal processing, synthesis, into designing a granular sampler in [Native Instruments] Reaktor.
I think my main teaching skill is that I try to make technical concepts easier to digest.
You’ve talked in other interviews and even in the label statement about your relationship to Mexico. I know both feelings about sexism and the change in the country are things I’ve spoken at length with my Mexican friends and colleagues about … and, for that matter, with other Americans about the state of these issues in our own country.
Given everyone is describing this as some kind of change, what’s your sense of the current moment in your city and nation?
Through history, particularly within Mexican and Latin American culture which I come from, the female figure has had a passive role inside society. The Female Criminals trilogy is my statement to shunt this misconception.
We are living in a moment of worldwide changes. I believe it’s time to break down old paradigms, to be able to arrive into the next level as a society, as humanity. Besides, I’ve received comments from people that don’t know me very well including the label boss of a well-respected label (which I won’t mention) referring to me as ‘bro’ or [saying “well done, ‘man’,” as my name is asexual and in some press pictures you can’t see my face. But mainly I think because my music aesthetic is not ‘effeminate’. Therefore, this is a well proof of it. No labels, no paradigms anymore.
Is music something that can play a role in this societal change? What does that mean for you individually versus as part of a larger scene or community?
It’s a process. With the Female Criminals releases, I’ve had feedback from all over the world, which to be honest I’m very impressed by, as I’ve been doing everything in a very independent way as I’m not on a big label. On the road, I’ve had help from friends, producers that I appreciate a lot, such as Ian McDonnell aka Eomac, who has given me advice and contacts to be able to understand how the music industry works. But in general, I’ve made everything by myself, like producing my videos, tours, etc., with my label Motus Records.
I remember a particular message from an Asian girl who wrote me through my Facebook page saying ‘You are the future’. It was really stunning to me. From the early beginning, the electronic music field has been the way to challenge myself,evolve as a human, and provoke movement ‘motus’. (“Movement” in Latin)
I truly believe music and specifically electronic music as technology could be the path to take humanity to the next level, as music is probably the only link that connects all cultures of the world. So, by sharing the vision exposed earlier by Jeff Mills and techno producers from Detroit, I’m on this field as I visualize advancement, progress, and future ‘Zukunft’ by using electronic music and technology as a vehicle to make it happen.
I think my brief impression of Mexico City was, like so many of my Berlin-based friends, really of a rich sonic environment (the city itself) and then a terrific array of musical talent in the scene. What impact has it had on you working there? What influence has Mexico had?
I’m not living in Mexico City anymore. I recently moved to a city close by, and I’m planning to move to a town which probably is the most beautiful and mystical in Mexico, located at the country’s center, called San Miguel de Allende. It’s near Tequisquiapan, where there’s a strange monument that marks the center of the country — a kind of portal.
I have projects in the near future in this place intending to connect Mexico with the world (and other worlds) by using technology and avant-garde music as a link.
But by being born, growing up, making sound engineering studies, and living in Mexico City, I realize that even with the chaos, pollution, criminality, social and politics problems, Mexico City is a colorful place, full of life and future. This city has given me the strength to survive in any place in the world, as you must be very bold and fearless to survive in it.
Any artists or other elements of the scene in Mexico City we should check out? (Anywhere to go when we’re hopefully back?)
In terms of artists based in Mexico City, I advice to check out Dig-it, AAAA and A_rp. In terms of places to explore, definitely the main one is the Museum of Anthropology which personally is my favorite in the world. You will find the powerful heritage and wisdom of all the ancient cultures that built the beginning of Mexican history.
Can you tell us a bit about the artists on the remix album? These aren’t necessarily names I know, and there’s some great stuff there, as well.
The artists that I have invited to remix Female Criminals vol. 1 are the ones who I feel are more related with my music aesthetics. I find them to be honest artists taking risks with their work in the current Mexican music scene.
For instance, Dig-it is releasing amazing techno music with his label Vector Functions; AAAA is touring in South America with international artists, and Ar_p is pushing boundaries with his live act.
Lastly, I want to ask about this theme of violence in music, and particularly techno. We talk a lot about adding darkness or demons to the music somehow. And yet somehow the experience can be the reverse – the darker or more violent the music can get, sometimes, the more grounding it can be to listen and dance to, at least for me.
What’s the experience of violence as an emotion in this music? Is it catharsis? Is it related to real violence, or has it become emotionally something else for you? I don’t mean to take the title too literally – but as it’s satisfying for me to listen to, I’m curious what your emotional connection is?
‘Dark’ or ‘obscure’ is the easiest way to describe powerful, driven, wild, forward-thinking music. Personally. this is the only kind of music that can provoke me.
I need to feel a kind of visceral-ism within music to be able to feel attracted to it, or touched by it. I’m not interested in music for ‘entertainment’ or recreation, maybe because I feel I am a kind of demon — a demon of the light.
Demian also tells us she’s got an AV project ready to go:
On this March 25th I will premiere my new A/V show alongside Olaf Bender aka Byetone co-founder of German label Raster-Noton. The premiere will be hosted by an event called Ciclo in a particular place which possess an occult power called Convento Ex-Teresa located exactly in the center of Mexico City, where Mexican history has begun.
And to give you a taste of her cinema work, here’s her original video for “Domina” – material that will be incorporated into that show:
Audiovisual experimentalist Robin Fox has been busy. In 2016, the Australian composer and laser charmer toured Europe, presented his latest show RGB to Atonal Festival, performed at the inaugural MUTEK.JP Tokyo, and opened an organization (alongside Byron Scullin) meant to “open a wormhole into the history of electronic music” via rare synthesizers, MESS (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio).
And at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, he has premiered an installation of macro proportions. “Sky Light” took over Melbourne’s night sky with a reverie of laser beams shining from the city’s highest towers, connecting dots to turn the capital into a huge audiovisual installation. To add to the thrill-inducing experience, Fox composed new music on the Buchla synthesizer especially conceived for the hyper-spatial occasion).
Over the summer during Atonal festival, we chatted casually with Robin about his future projects, key moments in his artistic process, and some beautiful influential books and concepts. The voice recorder did stay on, and that’s very fortunate, because now we’re sharing with you a piece that professes fascination for electronic music with every turn of phrase.
Robin Fox at Atonal.
Anahit: Did you come here straight from the airport?
Robin: Yeah, I played last night in Turin – the same show you saw with Atom, “Double Vision”, was last night – so I haven’t had much sleep.
I remember when I saw the show at CTM Festival 2015, I was very amused by the lyrics. “Mr Fox will make you see in RGB” was a lovely moment in the show. How did that rhyme come up?
Atom [Uwe Schmidt] has an amazing sense of humor – throughout his whole career, actually – the earlier techno works that he did always show that and, of course, Señor Coconut.
That’s the one where he’s doing the Kraftwerk covers.
Indeed. In his work, he always has those – as he calls them – moments of tension, where he likes to break what’s happening, and leave people with the sense that they have experienced something strange. In that piece, “Double Vision”, there were a couple of moments where we made the piece remotely, because he lives in Santiago, and I live in Melbourne, so it was a really long distance collaboration, happening a lot over the internet. Then we had a short period of time in Krakow before the premiere, where we finally were physically in the same place.
He wrote this beautiful pop song, “RGB”, for the middle of the piece. He also proposed a moment where everything stops, and there are just images of boxers, who don’t connect [their] punches, and it’s really slow and totally changes the whole pace. I remember when he suggested these things I thought he was kind of crazy, but I think he has a brilliant instinct for humor – and for the way it can work really beautifully without being cheap. He’s an amazing collaborator.
One of my favorite satirical commentaries of his, and a really obsessive track about pop culture, is “Stop Imperialist Pop” – it’s on this Atom line of humor.
That’s right. But I’m a total hypocrite, because I love that song and I also love Lady Gaga.
That makes two of us. But I don’t find it to be actually hateful towards pop.
I’m not really sure about that. (laughs)
Now back to Double Vision, there was also an animation, as far as I remember – adapted to the lyrics. How did that come about?
When we started working together, I was just working on a new solo project, which was an extension of my old laser work. I had been using a single green laser, and I started working with red – blue – green lasers, because I wanted to split the visual spectrum up like that.
So I was working with audiovisual materials, and he was working with video – there was some real connection in the way we were working. I was interested in this very direct, electrical, synesthetic relationship between the sound and the image. And he was, as well, particularly in the way he performs video and sound simultaneously live, so there is a physical connection that he forges between sound and image. When we came together to write that piece, we both brought a lot of information from the solo work that we do in our other projects. So I guess he wrote the song about RGB because it resonated with him — because of the way RGB is represented in all computer formats, in pixel form.
How did you decide on switching from green laser work to something involving the RGB color standard?
The work that I’ve done with green lasers is about sound and geometry, because there was no color. And I wanted to start to work with an expanded sense of color. That totally changed the way I work. I used to make sounds, and then visualize them with the green laser. Now, I almost draw pictures of electrical signal, and then listen to them. So I draw pictures of electricity with the lasers and then translate that into sound – it’s almost like hieroglyphics, or pictograms.
The solo show I’m doing here at Atonal is the solo show that I was working on when I started working with Atom. So it’s basically a red laser, a green, and a blue one, all controlled separately, and all of the sound that you hear is also the electrical signal that you see. So it’s what I like to call a mechanical synesthesia.
The concept of synesthesia is central to your work. Is it an intention you bear in mind before proceeding with production, like a vector? And I’ve read that this interest was initially related to your experience with an oscilloscope?
That’s right. The way I started looking at sound first was with an oscilloscope. So you plug in the left and right of the audio signal into the x- and y- axes, and then look at the sound.
Also, when I studied music at university I used to write compositions on paper – and I was quite frustrated with that, and so I started to examine why. I wrote a short thesis about graphic notation and drawing sound, even with notation – so even when I was interested in more traditional music and I was studying that form, what interested me about it was how can you draw it. How can you express something in a non-linguistic, gestural form?
For me, something like music notation is a linguistic paradigm. It’s very much a language – and a lot of composers of the 20th century that I looked into then were interested in shifting traditional notation into a more graphic form. So I was into that even before I got a computer.
And you studied sound, as well.
Not always. I also studied Law and Literature first. But music was always around in my household. My mother was a composer as well, she wrote computer music in the 1980s, so she used to make music on the big mainframe computers, and my stepfather ran the Computer Music Department at the university in Melbourne, where I studied.
I was interested in sense perception, and also I had this childhood experience of synesthesia through my mother, so it was always there – and then there was this chance encounter with the oscilloscope, so it was a combination of those things.
It was something that was already in my mind, but then it became real in that moment, and synesthesia became something that was no longer a romantic, mystical idea – it became a very tangible and real connection, between sound and vision – that could be experienced without having this cross model association as a neurological condition – you could experience it simply by putting sound into a oscilloscope and looking at it. That’s how it all began.
Somehow that’s why the brain recognizes it as something like an archetype that you knew forever.
I think archetype is a good description actually. I think that when I first experienced this mechanical synesthesia with an oscilloscope, there was something really powerful in that moment. It was just like a second and it all came together. It was like a jolt in my brain, and I knew there’s something in that connection, that I wanted to work with – which I did, for 15 years or so.
Did you come across this more by trial and error, or did you have like a neuro-insight about how the brain converts the same signal by sight and hearing?
It’s actually a combination of both things. I was always interested in sense perception, because I was interested in writing music. I was interested in the way you perceive information as a human being. There’s a great book James J. Gibson, written in the 60s, called “The Senses Considered as a Perceptual System”. That book was talking about sense perception as a complete ecology, as a whole way of being in the world, rather than that very western scientific method of isolating the hearing and the sight and the touch and separating them out and working out how they work independently of one another.
So it’s like the way we work on genetics at the moment, splitting it all up and figuring out exactly what each piece does. I’m sure in the end it’ll work out that it’s something to do with the whole thing that we missed by zooming in on the picture.
What type of synesthesia was your mother experiencing?
It was sound and color and number, so there were three things. Every sound had a number and a color. And every color had a number and a sound. So it goes in a loop. You know, synesthesia is romanticized in the arts as a kind of creative gift, but when I got interested in it, later in life, and I talked to my mother about it more seriously, it was almost more like a mild form of autism – in the sense that she said ‘you can’t switch it off.’ And sometimes you don’t want to make that association, so she described it actually more as a barrage. But it had helped in her career as a singer, for example, because she made perfect pitch associations so she could sing in perfect pitch whenever she wanted very easily.
Was she also making music?
Is it released somewhere? There’s a growing interest now in the work of female electronic musicians and composers.
Yes, it’s an interest I’ve had for a long time, via my mother as well. She passed away a few years now, but she did leave a legacy of a few pieces. She didn’t make a lot of pieces, but the ones that she left behind are quite beautiful. I have to find them all, and I should make them publicly available. I helped her put together a CD before she died of all the pieces that she wanted to have remembered. And there is one composition that’s for electronics and brass ensemble and a choir, because she used to sing and write beautiful choral music, this piece called “Maze Songs”, which I don’t think has ever been performed properly – maybe before I die I’ll make that happen.
Now I definitely want to hear that record – I’ll ask you for a track of your choice; it would be great if we could share it.
Sure. My favorite one is called “Death of an Insect”. It is based on a poem of the same name. It’s a short poem about a bird killing a beetle. It’s a brief poem, but it’s quite dark.
She turned her voice into a bird through electronic manipulation and it’s quite dramatic. Do you know Trevor Wishart? He wrote an amazing book called “On Sonic Art”. He had this practice in the 60s and 70s, of merging sound fields that shouldn’t sit together. An obvious example is crossfading together the sound of the city and the sound of a jungle, so you get this sense of an intermingled space.
How do you define your working relationship with technology? How did you come into electronic music?
When I was a child, all the newest things would arrive in the house, for testing [via his father’s university position]. So I had access to samplers when I was very young.
I would just get obsessed with things. There was a sampler that had a car crash sound, and I used to play that car crash sound for hours. There was also a cat sample, so there was a car crash and a cat meowing, so I remember alternating those sounds musically. Then, I was a drummer in my teens. I still love to drum – I think I was never as happy as while playing the drums. It’s like meditation: you lose sense of time even if you should be kicking time – which is also probably why I was never a good drummer. You lose sense of space; it’s really beautiful.
Now I work a lot with analog synthesizers. I think it’s a very similar meditation. The journey of making electronic music with these analog machines, where you start with nothing and gradually you build a sound, and you hear something that you’ve never heard before.
How do you work with it now? Do you, for example, work on redesigning every possible setting in Ableton and stuff like that, or what software do you use?
Believe it or not, I don’t use Ableton except every now and then – and I think it’s incredible. When I decided to work with computer music, I decided to learn one thing, and that was Max/MSP, and it’s more about building things from scratch. So I thought, if I learn this particular thing, I can do anything. Now, with Max for Live you can integrate this creativity into Ableton.
In terms of work, for me, it was always building things from scratch, in the end — finding the simplest possible way to do things. And the way that I work with the RGB show is so simple that it’s almost stupid. It’s just like taking the voltage that makes an image, plugging it into a mixer and then turning it up. And that creates this incredible connection between the sound and the image. But it’s also the most simple and direct way you can do that.
Would you describe synesthesia as a leitmotif you seek in your musical work?
It’s interesting because the synesthetic work that I do has been the most visible. So it’s what I do in public the most. But I’m constantly making music, so I also make a lot of music for contemporary dance, and I was actually adding it up recently. I think in the last five or six years I made ten contemporary dance soundtracks which I need to release.
I think sound is at the heart of what I love. I get frustrated sometimes about this misunderstanding that I am some kind of lighting designer. I’ve actually done some lighting designs and it’s not for me. Too much paperwork! For me, sound is at the basis of everything. I spend a lot of time in the studio, working on sound and music and generating sound, also a lot of field recordings – the last Editions Mego release was “A Small Prometheus” which was mainly the soundtrack to a dance work by Stephanie Lake with a focus on recordings of heat, and intensity.
How did you record heat?
There are a lot of ways to record heat. Some are obvious, and I like to start with an obvious premise because it’s that kernel that often leads to more interesting development. So I started with just the striking of a match and recordings of fire – which is not particularly radical, but it was quite beautiful to do it and to analyze those sounds and try to work with them compositionally.
The next experiment was to fill up a bath with water and put some bricks at the bottom to hold down a fire blanket, and then put hydrophones in the water, and shotgun microphones on top of the surface. Then I got some hot coals from a barbeque, and plunged the hot coals into the water. You get what you would expect [at first], which is a hiss, like when you put water over a hot pan. That’s an amazing attack anyway, but then as the hot rocks settled into the water – the recording is about 2 minutes long – suddenly it starts to sound like you’re at the beach, the sound of the sea and birds, even. It sounds really natural and organic, and strange. And from there it changes into these almost electronic tones, moving through the water. So that’s another way of recording heat or at least heat dissipating through another physical system.
Also, when I was on tour once, during that process, every hotel I stayed in I recorded the electric kettle. I did this because each one has a slightly different ramp time. They actually sound quite similar, but they take a different amount o time to come to the boil. It’s always this low, filtered white noise to begin with, and then it grows into a bubbling sound, then there’s the click – and it turns off. So each one has that form, but each takes a different path. So I recorded twenty of these kettles. The idea was that maybe I could transform them into some multi channel, massive kettle.
Like the hundred metronomes of Ligeti.
Exactly. And the rhythmic event would happen at the end, when they all click out in various timings. So those recordings formed the basis of a track from A Small Prometheus.
These days I’m working a lot with analog synthesizers. I just started an organization called MESS with my colleague Byron Scullin– that’s Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio. It’s a not for profit organization, a studio that’s set up for access, not for profit. Basically people become members, and gain access to an incredible collection of antique (and new) electronic musical instruments, things that individuals could never really afford, but we managed to find collectors and musicians willing to contribute their collections for public use.
I don’t like the word museum though, partly because there’s a problem with museums and electronic musical instruments particularly, because when an electronic musical instrument goes to a museum, the policy is that it never gets switched on.
Yeah, it’s the death of it. Old synthesizers are like old cars, if you don’t start them, and play with them, they actually stop working. So the idea that they go into a museum and can’t be turned on just in case it breaks them makes no sense. What’s the point of looking at a synthesizer?
So MESS is definitely not a museum, in the sense that it is a collection of musical instruments that all function and work and are accessible to be played. They’re constantly being repaired; some are older than I am, and they need care! But it’s been a very rewarding experience to set that up. It’s taken a lot of the last couple of years of my life, actually.
Did you have a lot of artists in residency already?
We just had a short artist in residency with Puce Mary. She came to the studio and made some really fantastic stuff. She came over just as I started this tour, so I only got to spend a day with her. We have other residencies planned; we’re definitely hosting people from all over the place. Chris Clark from WARP records is there quite regularly, because he lives some of his time in Melbourne. We also are lucky enough to have Keith Fullerton Whitman who lives in Melbourne now as well, so Melbourne is becoming like a place for great electronic sound making.
Last but not least, I wanted to ask about the evolution from the more apocalyptic music you were doing before, to the more technology-oriented, abstract or sensory. Is it a change of philosophy?
The one thing that nobody can avoid is getting old, and the difference between people is how they decide to do it. I am a strong believer in the fact that people change, as they move through life. So I definitely don’t have the same sonic energy to put out as I had when I was making those earlier records.
Was it more a rage impulse?
Not really, we (Anthony Pateras and I) used to have an incredibly good time making music, there was a real sense of joy. Even when we were making stuff that would be considered noise, maybe even bordering on harsh noise (laughs) we never really went there. To us, it was very ecstatic, in a way – it was a statement of life, not of the negation of life.
A lot of the stuff that I make now is different because that energy has shifted. I just finished a half-hour composition for a piece that I’m doing in Melbourne, where I have 16 lasers mounted on a skyscraper in the Melbourne CBD, and I shoot them into the city, like a constellation. I made a piece of music using a Buchla synthesizer, which you can download and listen to while you walk around the city as an active experience. That’s a meditative piece, and actually melancholic. That surprised me, because I wasn’t trying to make something melancholic, but with the Buchla you always start with an idea and end up somewhere completely different. You know, I’m also making some music now that might be considered quite popular, or tend towards that style as well – which I haven’t released yet.
Popular, in which way?
Music you can dance to, for example. If you come from where I came from, which is the avant-garde, noise community, sometimes putting a beat with something is like selling out, or doing something too easy. There is this idea that everything has to be difficult. I don’t believe that, I don’t believe that everything has to be complicated, anymore. And I think that’s one of the energies that I lost, the energy of radicalizing something for its own sake. And this is why I think it’s about youth actually, because I feel that when I was younger, that radical energy was just there, it was coming out, it wasn’t like a choice, or a thing we were trying to do, we were just doing that, and it made sense, and it felt right. If I was to try do that again now, I don’t think it would feel right, I think it would feel strange, and I think it would feel foreign to me now.
It’s like over years you get to different means of expressing that raw energy. I was listening to noise and black metal when I came across your work. And well, that is a very problematic music to enact in your everyday life, but I think what gets you most hooked is the ecstatic feeling to it.
Yes, that’s adrenaline. I realized something about noise when I read this quote that sound is the fastest sense. When you hear something, it’ is quicker than your vision – and the reason is that sound goes directly to your reptilian brain, so that’s why when you hear a loud noise you get that fright. And what happens to me when I listen to noise, or experience it and particularly when I used to perform it is you’re in a constant state of that adrenalized feeling. That’s a great feeling – and again, doesn’t have to be negative. Adrenaline is often seen as negative but it doesn’t have to be so, it’s quite exhilarating.
Just as mixes need transitions, humans need pauses. So while some of the divisions of time are arbitrary, we need moments to step back and recollect. So CDM asked a cross-selection of producers and DJs to choose music from 2016 to begin our year. Maybe now – as the vacation spirit is wearing off and task lists are looming – maybe now is the time we need those most.
This particular group of humans generally resisted the idea of making charts, as an empty exercise. But I suppose some of those individuals are the very people whose music selections I value most – because they actually reflect on this a bit and choose something meaningful. So, arm twisting where necessary, we got this. Several colleagues included moments of reflection spent over the new year’s holiday looking back across the whole year. Some even did their digging while preparing for New Year’s gigs.
Anyone who says they’ve got the “best” music of the year is probably out of touch with just how much music the planet is making. But here, we have an honest selection of music that moved people. And we get to meet some of the people making those picks. I hope you enjoy.
Alan Oldham to me is the embodiment of electronic music futurism as it has radiated from Detroit. Apart from being an exceptional DJ and producer (as DJ T-1000), he’s also a leading comic book artist and one of the most desirable people anywhere to design your record sleeve. This is someone who can illustrate electronic fantasies in sound or image. So his picks are a wonderful place to start.
Dasha needs little introduction – the Russian native, Berlin-based producer and DJ does a bit of everything, from experimental to techno. She helms the beautifully unique Fullpanda, is brilliant in live electronic performance across genre, and has made appearances on the likes of raster-noton.
And I think Dasha came up with my favorite response to these. She chose just one track – one favorite from the past two years. And she said she doesn’t like the forced exercise of selecting charts and numbering them, or DJs charting their own music – all of which I appreciate. (Though in this case I specifically said to DJs, I was happy to see their own tracks in there, too – because I chose producers I love.)
But here’s her one track – and this one selection says a lot, and is worth some time. (The label is a favorite round here at CDM, Nordanvind Records.)
Korridor – “Somnolence”
Noncompliant (also known as DJ Shiva or Lisa Ess) is a powerhouse of midwest techno and a talent whose moment has come. 2016 was a prelude to what is yet to come, I think, with a Berlin debut and devastating new techno cuts. So apart from a deep insight into politics and unending oasis of empathy, Lisa is your go-to cat when you want grimy, powerful techno.
It’s also worth highlighting some of the picks here. The lose of Cherushii aka Chelsea Faith was not only personally devastating to many, but heart breaking because her music represented some of the richest possibility in the scene now. How that continues will be a topic to come.
I was fortunate to get to seek out Zeno for our new Establishment imprint, because I already knew and loved his music tastes. So drawing on his own rich experimental background and creative taste, here are some more experimental selections for our list. We’ll be talking more to Zeno this week about his own work, too. But of course, I’m especially fond of the Grischa Lichtenberger music here – see our recent interview.
[Epilepsy warning – but otherwise, this video is amazing]
Esther Dune at Berlin’s Gegen party.
Bridging the Amsterdam and Berlin scenes and a regular ring-leader of some of the better appearances literally underground at Tresor, Esther is an unsung techno champion. And like the others here, she’s got a long battle history in labels, production, and DJing. I actually insisted that she select some of her own label and production efforts for that reason – you don’t want to miss them. And it starts with this beautiful, weird track by Jimmy Asquith, the man behind Lobster Theremin records.
You’re probably going to want a record player in order to acquire a lot of this, FYI. Esther’s meticulous personality also means she’s the only one who gave us catalog numbers.
Myles Serge / Duijn & Douglas – Split EP (A1 Myles Serge -The art of shadow thoughts) [Another Earth AE101]
John Heckle – Tribute to a Sun God (B1 Mesopotamia) [Bedouin Records BDN010]
Esther, as I lack a meticulous personality, I’m not totally certain this is the right L.I.E.S. cut, but … it’s also too nice to share if not.
Meanwhile, here’s one of hers – delicious:
And quite fond of this whole John Heckle record:
Hayden Payne, New York-to-Berlin transplant (a phrase associated with NYC now much like “world champion New York Yankees) is one of the brightest up and coming techno acts. His now-regular sets at Berghain are deliciously gothic and adventurous. And I think his taste are a beautiful hype-free window into what’s happening in the international electronic scene, what’s driving the queues at these clubs beyond just hype, and what is genuinely fresh and enjoyable and new. And sure enough, he delivered a lovely reminder of some favorites of mine, ones I’m sure will appeal here.
Apart from liking Grischa’s latest as much as apparently the rest of us do, Kyoka is a person whose live sets and music consistently come up when chatting with the others here. The second raster-noton inclusion on this list apart from Dasha, I added Kyoka because of her intelligence and enthusiasm. So, we’ll get some repetition, but I think well-deserved – these are tracks a lot of us couldn’t stop listening to last year, and may still look forward to savoring this year.
004_241 B – Grischa Lichtenberger
Bound State – Ueno Masaaki
Dark Barker – kangding ray
Twistet In the Wind – Frank Bretschneider
a1_entrance_m_v2 – Eomac
Cause to emit sound – DJ SODEYAMA
Just Face It – DJ Git Hyper
From Moscow to Copenhagen, Anastasia has emerged as a brilliant connector – she’s someone who manages to seem to be everywhere, know everyone, but then apply that social intelligence to greater musical depth. And I asked her here because her sets and mixes are diverse and not just cookie-cutter creations.
yen towers – bid II, posh isolation
ctrls – the wave, token
air max’97 – thrall, decisions
dreams – headhunter, nous disques
rx 101 – 101 reasons, saction
jamaica suk – Depth Between Waves, L.A.G.
melly – skip fire, where to now?
rommek – solvent, blueprint records
ken ishii – extra (7th plain remix), a-ton
imaski – hyperloop, (Establishment)
Photo: Michael Breyer.
Susanne Kirchmyer just played a brutal set at about blank his weekend. To those in the know, she’s simply a legend – a foundation of the European scene. She’s also been active in transforming the face of the scene to come, through her work with Female Pressure.
Now, like Dasha, Susanne straddles experimental and techno, AV performance and dancefloor in her own work. Unlike Dasha, Susanne’s rebellion to “name five to ten tracks” was to go with more instead of less. But that reflects her collections, too, so let’s have at all of it!
10 chosen most significant:
Born In Flamez x Modeselektor – TBF [XLR8]
Perc – Ma [Stroboscopic Artefacts 026]
Monolake – Error (VLSI Version) [Imbalance Computer Music ML-032]
B12 – Core Meltdown [FireScope 003]
Rrose – Emboli [Khemia 002]
Adriana Lopez – En Ningun Lugar [Modularz 25]
Headless Horseman – Under The Earth [the29nov 001]
Annie Hall – Hyssop [Subspec 035]
Sky Deep – Woman & The Gun feat. Hevî [female-pressure – Music- Awareness & Solidarity w- Rojava Revolution]
Annie Hall – Herschel [CPU 00011100]
Other tracks that I wanted to be in the top 10:
Orphx – Blood in the Streets [Sonic Groove LP02]
Alhek – The Voice Of Cement Buildings [Mechanical Thoughts LP01]
Antigone & Francois X – Ready To Escape [DEMENT3D 012]
Scalameriya – Ambidextrous [Genesa 006V]
Angelina Yershova – Immersion [Twin Paradox 003]
Silent Harbour – Dock Operations [Transcendent LP001]
Shlømo – The Ritual [Wolfskuil LTD 029]
Kero / Gotshell – Samaria District [Blueprint 047]
More tracks that I really like:
Simo Cell – Away From Keyboard [Livity Sound 021]
Shifted – Clairvoyance Part II [Drifting Over 001]
Dimi Angélis – Dwarf Planets [Construct Re-Form 012]
Insolate – Renew [Out of Place 002]
Trinity – Orchard [Coincidence 074]
DJ Red – Sweet Silence [Electric Deluxe 047]
Klaudia Gawlas – Obsession [Credo 038]
Etapp Kyle – Ahora [Ostgut Unterton 08]
Actually, 2016 was a very good year listening to the music I collected
Kevin McHugh, aka Ambivalent, but impressing lately as techno act LA4A, is our consummate tasteful last entry here. I appreciate that Kevin actually said he enjoyed picking these for this task. And he’s worth quoting here, because I feel some of his music was the most underrated of the year – even though it was also widely selected by our group of contributors as some of our favorite.
Morphology – Vector Plant – DUM
Physical Therapy – 909 Reasons Why – Delft
Amotik – Terah – Amotik
Avalon Emerson – Glider Gun – Valence
Emmanuel – Masa – Enemy
Vernon Felicity – Defender – Delft
TAFKAMP – I Laf You – Paling Trax
Ambivalent – Whyou (Michael Mayer Remix) – Kompakt
Camea – Signs (Andre Kronert) -Neverwhere
Truncate – Wave 1 – Truncate
Now, this is my kind of New Year’s Resolution. Because listening to all of this makes me want to go discover more and make more music. Unlike those forgotten new year’s gym memberships, this is fitness that is addictive.
And I hope we’ll visit these friends here more throughout the year. That’s a resolution to keep.
Grischa Lichtenberger is working with felt and stencils as well as sound. He’s speaking in hyperlinks, and misusing gear and feeding computers into other computers to form feedback loops. In short, he’s finding a unique and creative materialism in everything he does – and that means we really have to talk to him. So we sent Zuzana Friday to join in a delightfully esoteric conversation with the raster-noton artist. -Ed.
Grischa Lichtenberger is a German musician and sound and installation artist, known for his releases on raster-noton. His immersive live performances oscillate between abrasive, aggressive compositions and intricate structures of beat and melody. Recently, he has released a new triple-EP ‘Spielraum | Allgegenwart | Strahlung’ on raster-noton as a limited-edition vinyl with hand-printed sleeves. The three EPs question the connection between intimacy and the public sphere, but each of them has layers of their own meaning.
I find myself uniquely moved by Grischa Lichtenberger’s work. It’s not only the choice of sounds, their combinations and permutations, but the sense of emotion behind them that strikes me. There’s also playfulness, even cheekiness at moments. Other times, I find beauty, or anxiety, or drama, or a language we’re only learning to understand.
The music is often very physical, with the beats collapsing like detonated structures. Silence and space will swell up, stagger — carve their way to your ears. Melody in turn hastily gushes in percussive patterns, breaks down in waves, or becomes narrative. Grischa does all of this on his new triple-EP consisting of three chapters. We tried to tackle all of them in over a hour long interview.
Grischa speaks in complex, branching sentences, navigating topics and poetic descriptions in a way that mirrors his own process for bringing together his thoughts on a work, whether for a music or an installation. We talked to him about his own work and process, including the triple-EP, but also ranged to topics like Joseph Beuys.
Friday: In ‘Allgegenwart’, you write about the ubiquity of technology and feelings of guilt and a threatening sense of over-complexity. Where do you see humans and technology going?
Grischa: We like to see technology as this tool that fulfills our desires. But of course there’s more and more consciousness about us being overly immersed in the virtual world. Then we have a problem not only with communicating in real life, but also on all these social platforms. Our relationship with them has changed from the early 2000s to now. At the beginning, you had this romantic idea of being able to reach out to people you would never reach. Nowadays, the approach is more cynical and more and more people feel overwhelmed. It’s a trouble that wasn’t there before.
Plus, regarding social platforms, people are concerned about their personal data being misused.
I’d say that the totalitarian discussion of the 20s Century has shifted to the … anonymous or virtual. It’s like an invisible totality.
The first part of your trilogy is called ‘Spielraum’. In the accompanying text, you describe the Spielraum with words like hope and experiment. Do you have your Spielraum, is it your studio?
Sure, the studio is like a playground, where you have things gathered like toys. And more than that, every home is still connected to when I was little and I’d build little shelters from cushions. It’s also about intimacy and what your … private intimate space is like.
If I consider Spielraum as a space where one can be free to play around, at the same time, how do you deal with distractions? Do you turn off your phone when entering the studio?
Through desirable factors. Most of the times, I have my phone on vibration and I don’t push mail and Facebook. But there isn’t a specific preparation in the studio to shut the world out. When I started making music, I used to have internet on one PC and the music and all artworks on another PC. But then the internet became a bigger part of my daily process and it actually can even be a part of the flow. If you have a loop running and you want to let it run for a while and quickly check what’s next with Trump or whatever and go back to the music, there’s no clear boundary that needs to be there for having that flow.
The Spielraum … can address some stuff that is invisible or unspeakable. In doing art, you have a secret space to do whatever you feel like doing, a track without a snare or any silly idea. Even now, when talking about it, it seems almost impossible to defend that idea. But if you just sit there and do the track, you have the feeling that you can try things out and you don’t have to write it down and prove [it].
Yes, there is. For ‘Spielraum’, I used a lot of “incestuous” recording methods, so to speak. I recorded from one computer to another. I recorded with a lot of feedback systems, where one program feeds into the other and also outputs to the other.
For ‘Strahlung’, I used synthesizers more excessively that I used to. I didn’t grow up with them and I don’t really know much about them. I still don’t have any hardware synthesizers, mainly because I don’t have much clue about them and I don’t have a good ear to appreciate the analog quality, even though there is a special materiality to it. But I think all synthesizers have a specific sound, and software synthesizers are still very appealing to me. Also, I once wanted to make a record that could play in the background, which always failed for me [laughs]. So with ‘Strahlung’, I wanted to make one record which I could imagine playing in the living room. And it also corresponds with the idea of the invisible force.
r-n168-2 Artwork. Courtesy the label.
From all three EPs, ‘Strahlung’ is definitely the most friendly; it has these nice melodies, for instance. Actually, the strongest impact on me was the closing track (r-n173 – 8 – 004_1115_26_lv_1_brecs) from ‘Strahlung’, probably because of the contradictory nature of its emotional and melancholic melody and abrasive, mechanical sounds piercing through. Do you remember how you made this track? What was your intention there?
I don’t remember exactly. But this track was actually meant to reconnect the listening circle of the record, its end and the beginning. So I imagined that a listener would listen to it and then start playing the first track of Spielraum again.
Apart from the digital synthesizers, what else have you used for the album — which software, for example?
I used Reason, including its Subtractor synthesizer, which is a really nice one, plus Ableton for most parts of the sequencing. I used [Celemony] Melodyne, for its nice algorithm, where you can manually slide through a polyphonic source without boundaries and divide the material in voices. Although it’s quite complex and I can’t get my head around it, it’s really fascinating.
For ‘Allgegenwart’, I used a noise suppressor. If you raise the level of a noise suppressor… you can just feed it with the background noise and it will generate a very eerie, ghostly sound, because it tries to find a tonal signal in it. It’s like a synthesizer which isn’t meant to be a synthesizer.
What are other ways for you to generate sound, do you use field recordings or sound banks?
I have an always-extending archive of sounds I use. I don’t use sound banks so much, only sometimes when I want to make a joke about a clap or something, and for instance I just use an 808 clap to have it as a symbolic reference. But normally, I like to live with sounds. I have an old track and many sounds in there, so I just put the track in the sampler, pull a bit out of there and … rework it over and over again. It’s kind of like a collage out of my own productions. I also use field recordings and synthesized sounds. I like this process where you go back to yourself and involve yourself in what you did, not only try to have the best kick drum of all times, but try to find out what the kick drum from 5 years ago means to you. Sometimes, you see ‘Oh, this is much nicer than anything I could have made up!’ and sometimes, you go, ‘what was I thinking? It’s trash!’
Photo: Sebastian Moitrot.
How do you decide which sounds will be composed together, since they range in timbre, texture, and character? How do you choose which sounds fit together in your musical universe?
It’s not accidental; I think about it very much, but I can’t tell any general method. When I have something I want to go on with, like a melody from a synth, then I listen to it and I think about what’s missing until it’s finished. Maybe it’s a bass drum – then I add it so it complements the rest, then I move on to another sound, add it and try if it all fits together.
It’s like painting for me. When you paint something new, you do it regarding what’s already in the painting. For me, the music making process is linear. Most of the time, when I do a track, I go forward, I add EQs, dynamics, plug-ins in massive chains, and I add sounds, and only in moments when I think about it and stop for a while, I can go back, re-evaluate, and correct. But in the creative flow, I tend to add and add, so the context is building itself organically and everything is connected to each other.
Your website resembles a body of work of an inventor with its precise sketches, complex descriptions, photographs and installations. Where do your ideas for installations come from?
Often, there is a room or a context that’s already there. Because mostly, I am approached to contribute to an exhibition or an event. Like this year, I did an installation for a conference about genomes. So at first I try to conceptualize, which means looking into my archive and finding a drawing, painting, or a ready-made object, which fits to the general idea or a context. Then I deal with the room, like I would deal with paintings or levels in a track. Then there are strategies about materials I use – I look into the constructions I have done in the past and look for what could I use for recycling the sculptural elements. Then, if it’s a construction, I make a drawing of how it’s going to be built together. It also depends on my time and resources. The result can be an intense reaction to the room or something spontaneous.
In all my installations, there’s also a very strong reaction to works by Joseph Beuys, because my parents were his students, so I knew his work since I was a kid – I saw his piece ‘I like America and America Likes Me’ – where he imprisoned himself with a coyote in a gallery – when I was five years old. And because Beuys reached me so early in my life, I see him differently than most of the critics. It’s like music, I really liked it and felt the emotional content in there. So since I was 5, I thought ‘Doing art is really nice, you can have this sort of communication’. And when you’re so young, you still have this very present thin line of how language is built and you try to get through to people very clearly. You aren’t sure whether you understand people or whether they understand you. And you can perceive art and music like some sort of solution of this communication problem.
But the way I work with installations is not only homage to Beuys — it’s also a joke. Especially regarding the materials I use. For example, I use a sort of felt, which for Beuys was a mythical and poverty-stricken material. But he used a really high-quality felt. I use a material that looks the same, but it’s actually moving blankets, so they’re more industrial and cheap. I connected with this material because it was permanently laying around in my father workshop, so it’s more natural for me than felt. that felt. And besides this joke, what I also like about the material, is that it looks grey, but when you look closely, it’s actually super colorful, because it’s made of recycled plastic bags. I cling on to it, I know how it behaves, and I often use it for covering up wood constructions or making bigger spatial interventions. These things work like favorite pens or plug-ins.
You printed, stamped and signed all the 500 copies of a special edition of this triple-EP by yourself. Is this personal approach of creating a unique piece of art something you cherish?
When [raster-noton’s] Olaf [Bender] suggested to do this triple-EP and a limited edition, I was super happy, because I like vinyl and because I like having physical objects and not only a digital, ghostly trace. And I liked working on silkscreen very much, as well. I made the designs for the prints by hand and had a very nice day helping printing them. And as we layered the stencils a bit differently for each of the copies; each one is unique. It would be actually interesting to buy two of the vinyls to recognize the differences [laughs].
How would you like to push your work further in the future?
My future plan since I started with raster-noton is to find a way to [better] connect all the different aspects of art. I see that this is still a big difficulty for me, because I have all these ideas and accompanying texts. But many people despise these texts for being too long and overly complex. Of course, I have to learn how to write better, how to make music better or how to paint better, but I would also love to learn how to write better in relation to music and how to make music in relation to painting and have this all connected with one another.
It’s also important that the disciplines aren’t connected too much, because I often find refuge in one discipline when I’m sick of the other for the moment. But just for the communication, I would want different parts of my work to seem to be all more clearly coming from one particular person.
Meditative sonic architecture meets a great work of modern architecture, as Alva Noto and Ryuchi Sakamoto invade Philip Johnson’s iconic Glass House.
There are few locations more emblematic of contemplative modern aesthetic than Philip Johnson’s 1949 residence, a transparent box stripped of much beyond its focused proportions and structure. And that seems a fitting location for the exposed materials of Karsten Nicolai and Sakamoto. Their sounds, like the house, leave exposed sounds transparently suspended in space, each available for extended, thoughtful observation without distraction.
Here, they float sounds electronic, electro-acoustic, and amplified like so many blown bubbles drifting through the air. In a bath of reverberant sustain, that wash of sound seems to inhale and exhale as a gas. It hums and expands, a vast cloud of sound penetrated by sharp, sparkling percussion.
It’s beautiful stuff, and it times nicely with a cloud of red spots affixed to the house in an installation by the one and only legendary dot-obsessed artist, Yayoi Kusama. Kusama’s dots seem a mirror for the pixels and textures of Karsten and the raster-noton crew.
It’s wonderful seeing that play of dots against the cold rectangles of Johnson’s floor plans – defacing that architecture somehow harmoniously.
Few electronic labels or acts have an identity as well defined as raster-noton, and its co-founders Bytone (Olaf Bender) and alva noto (Carsten Nicolai). And I don’t just mean single cycle waveforms or quick bursts of noise, hard-edged projected high contrast geometries or digital aesthetics, though those associations will certainly spring to mind. Even as the label has expanded in its musical scope in recent years, it has retained a sense that aesthetics themselves matter, that its artist roster are capable of painting with sound and exposing the process of using technology.
Understanding where that comes from visually is key to appreciating what it means to be raster-noton. At Barcelona’s SONAR festival last month, I got to sit down with Carsten and Olaf and talk about this visual side, nicely coinciding with the label’s twentieth anniversary year.
I have to say I enjoyed this as much as any panel I think I’ve done; Carsten and Olaf are also exceptionally thoughtful and easy to talk to (contrary to whatever stodgy German stereotype people may imagine).
As evidence of the visual life of the label, there has been recently the “white circle” installation, which I saw at the Halle of Berghain. The visual component was understated – a choreography of a circle of lights, vaguely recalling a birthday cake.
Or here’s Olaf at SONAR in 2009. (Olaf spoke really highly of the SONAR experience over the years).
A few themes emerged from our talk.
I was especially intrigued by the way their visual background influenced their take on music. (That’s especially informative to me, as I feel a bit biased the other way – tending to try to apply musical filters to whatever I see in visual composition, for instance.)
So dealing directly with the visual materials of music itself was important. They talk about using extreme sounds, then viewing those on an oscilloscope in order to work with them – that clearly is inspired in some way by a tendency to process sonic information in the visual spectrum.
They also describe minimalism as a kind of reaction to growing up to DDR broadcast media that centered on propaganda.
And maybe you could view visual performance culture on both sides of the former Cold War as a reaction to that era. If the raster-noton artists sought to expunge propaganda from a minimalist visual language, artists like Emergency Broadcast Network turned instead to cut-ups, remixes and mash-ups (which went on to influence VJ culture worldwide), drawing themselves on hip hop culture and its own criticism of the dominant narrative. This Desert Storm-era video is a good example of the response to the government-tailored propaganda packages that aired on cable news (and is especially ironic, considering the cast of characters and the more recent controversies over the second invasion of Iraq, use of drones and “smart” weapons, and surveillance):
But the other conclusion to draw from our conversation is the way that raster-noton has managed to be outward looking, how it continues to grow and evolve rather than take the easy route of being a museum piece version of itself.
I especially appreciate the dynamic new performances of Robert Lippok and Frank Bretschneider (of the “old guard”), and Kyoka, Dasha Rush, and Grischa Licthenberger (of the newer additions), among others. That includes new visual directions, whether it’s Robert and Frank recently creating immersive sensory overload by filling the Roter Salon in Berlin with fog and brilliant strobes, or the team of Stanislav Glasov and Margo Kudrina adding visionary Touch Designer-powered visuals at festival appearances and the recent Berghain showcase. There’s more to say here, so I’m sure we’ll loop back on that. But this is the mature raster-noton: one comfortable enough in itself that it can make a statement without a rigorously-defined aesthetic.
In fact, we didn’t even get a chance to talk about Carsten’s robust career in the art world, which could easily have been a talk all itself (I decided to stick mainly to the work inside the sphere of the label).
CDM’s Peter Kirn speaks with Carsten and Olaf, courtesy SONAR Festival / SONAR+D.
Audience at this year’s stage, courtesy SONAR Festival / SONAR+D.
But it’s humbling to get to know this community of artists, from the label co-heads to all their collaborators. I think what they’ve done to build the label and their own performance careers can be an inspiration to a lot of us – particularly to any of us who have been told “you don’t mix this with that” (to quote the classic track “Transition”), as far as working across media.
Here’s to the next projects – and the next twenty years.