Friday, October 23, 2009

Hecq Mixtape One

Oi oi oi! Do I have a treat for you! I'm about to set off for a two week vacation, but before I go, I want to present you with an amazing mix from none other than Ben Lukas Boysen, aka Hecq! As you could have already guessed from these pages, I am a big fan of Hecq's dark and crunchy IDM and his amazing modern classical compositions. I usually end up including at least one of his tracks in most of my mixes. In the beginning of this year I sang praise to his latest album, Steeltongued (Hymen, 2009), following up with Two and a Half Questions With Hecq. In 2008, his Night Falls (Hymen, 2008) album arrived at the tier 1 of our Absolute Musts, in Headphone Commute's Best of 2008. And when I revisited the Top 50 of 2007, his album, 0000 (Hymean, 2007) showed up on the list once again. Even the owner of Tympanik Audio, Paul Nielsen, has revealed that he would be honored to have a release by Hecq on his label, in our Tympanik Audio Label Profile. Enough said?

Download free mix, and see full track listing only on Headphone Commute

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vladislav Delay - Tummaa (Leaf)

Listening to Tummaa requires preparation. At least, it requires knowledge of the intent behind this album. Let me set the stage. The intent is 'darkness'. And this is its music. Tummaa reflects the mood recreated by Sasu Ripatti, composing under the moniker Vladislav Delay, while living on a remote island in the Baltic Sea during the time of year known as 'kaamos' (polar night). This is precisely the time from December to February, where there is only a few hours of light per day. This overall feeling of darkness made an enormous impression on Ripatti. The track titles alone construct the following message: Kuula (Kiitos) means Bullet (Thank You); Mustelmia means Bruises; Musta Planeetta - Black Planet; Toive - Wish; and finally Tunnelivisio (ok, can you guess that one?) - Tunnel Vision. Ripatti last made a sizable impression on me with his previous album, Whistleblower, released on his own label, Huume, in 2007. Now, back in Finland after seven years of living in Berlin, Ripatti returns with a few elements from his roots as a percussionist. The album may take more than a few listens for the followers of Vladislav Delay's to get into the groove. There is no dub on here. Instead, gentle piano riffs and Rhodes licks are interrupted with clicks, chirps and musique concrète snippets of sounds snatched from a variety of metallic and industrial sources. Even a deep rumbling sigh becomes a bass here. This is Ripatti's return to the source of acoustic and organic. “I wanted to take a new direction with Vladislav Delay, with more acoustic sound sources,” he explains. “I avoided as much electronics as possible, wanting to bring myself closer to my background as a drummer and percussionist. [...] I just love hitting things... making sounds physically without needing a power plug.” The album incorporates some abstract and jazzy improvisation featuring a live trio – Lucio Capece on saxophone and clarinet, Craig Armstrong on the keys, and Ripatti on percussion. After intensive sample manipulation, some modulations remind me of descending spaceships from the 70s. Some sound a lot like circuit bending emissions. Some sounds are like nothing I've ever heard before (from an organic source). All of this is blended with the swirls of abstract effects, sporadic glitches and scattered ambiance, floating in a three dimensional stereo field. Through this dark and somber concoction, full of dread and isolation, we descend into Tummaa. I can imagine the overall recording to be a flashback to a bad psychedelic trip. At times groovy, hypnotic, and rough around the edges. The entire experience will keep your ears prickled up, and your eyes wide open. A serious juxtaposition of sounds even for a seasoned listener. Be sure to check out Ripatti's percussion work as a member of Moritz Von Oswald Trio (with Max Loderbauer and of course, Morritz von Oswald) on their latest release, Vertical Ascent (Honest Jon's Records, 2009), as well as his other works under aliases like Conoco, Luomo, Sistol, and Uusitalo. Oh, and don't forget his collaboration with Antye Greie as AGF/Delay and their 2009 release, Symptoms out on BPitch Control. | |

Two and a Half Questions with Vladislav Delay

Tell us a bit more about the winter that you spent on a remote island. What were you doing there? How did it shape your mind as an artist?
i think location as a direct influence to music is overrated. it's not so important as the end result is almost the same, but at least for me the influence is shaping me as a person, and only then second hand the effect touches my work and art. as long as i feel good as a person i don't have that bothering or influencing my music, but if it does interfere it's not really possible to be creative and productive. but anyway dark winter time (as opposed to late winter when it's very clear and sunny) it's good to go out and be active. i got totally hooked on cross country skiing so that's what i did as much as i could. i also just totally immersed in the winter while doing regular stuff like going to shop or bring my daughter to kindergarten and so on. what i really loved was driving car on ice, as we live on the island which is about 8 km from the mainland. early spring with tons of sun and clear sky and only snow white and clear blue colors, driving on an ocean is something very inspiring.

Was there a specific event that prompted you to take Vladislav Delay in a new direction? Was it your involvement in Mortz Von Oswald Trio?
i had been thinking about doing Delay stuff with acoustic and/or different sources for actually quite a while but i took my time to develop the idea and see it more clearly. i guess also MVOT had something to do with it but not much, just slowly things reached necessary levels to go ahead with it.

What are some of your sources for percussion? Do you record it all yourself?
all percussion stuff is done by myself, recorded with just 1-2 microphones. the instruments range from "known" percussion instruments to abstract metal sculptures and handmade stuff and obscure particles that make sound when hit. all over the place.

What was the collaboration with Lucio Capece and Craig Armstrong like? Did you all get together to work on a piece or was it an ongoing bouncing of ideas?
with Craig i only sent him rough basic ideas and he played what he felt like at his studio in Glasgow. Lucio came to my then-studio in Berlin to record and we'd play together, him in the recording booth with headphones and myself in the studio feeding him sounds and processing his sound very heavily. he'd hear this treat sometimes, sometimes not. but also for him the backing tracks were very bare, actually they were only very minimal drum loops i had recorded with my set. i think nothing that was there then made it to the album.

How much on the album is attributed due to improvisation?
quite a bit, i can't make a calculation that would make sense but anyway the whole basic sound, the sound sources and the vibe there is from improvisation, and also while producing and mixing the album i as always rely a lot on random elements and improvisational techniques. it's definitely most improvised album i have done so far.

There are some strange effects that almost bend the sound. Can you shed some light behind your techniques on this production?
well basically i just force the sound through whatever i have around, usually it's quite complex effects chains, to a point where i can't recall or remember what has been done. but also i try to be aware of what i have been doing before and not repeating that either so it becomes more and more difficult to find techniques, gear, etc i haven't used before. then again when i manage that it usually sounds quite interesting.

Tell us about the Vladislav Delay Quartet.
actually i'm on a plane packed with my cymbals and all, on my way to do some shows with Quartet and then go to studio in Belgrade to record stuff for the first album. the group is for me the first time a chance to play really a drum set since more than 10 years, very exciting for sure. musically it's to be seen still where we go because it's improvised, we haven't played much together yet and also we all have been writing some stuff and ideas and we'll meet now in Berlin first to figure stuff out. line up is besides myself Mika Vainio who processes all the live stuff and does some real-time sampling etc, then there's Derek Shirley in double-bass and Lucio in bass clarinet and sax. |

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ben Frost - By The Throat (Bedroom Community)

I first listened to Ben Frost when he released his sophomore full length album, Theory Of Machines on Bedroom Community back in 2007. I described his music as ambient hardcore - psychologically raw, punishing, and overdriven guitars, with reverberated pads and rhythms that mutate into white noise and back, sending chills that originate deep from within your ear canal and slide down to your toenails. That album left a lasting impression on me. Enough to select it as one of the best albums of the year. I didn't think that Theory Of Machines could be outdone... That is... until I put on By The Throat. While listening to Theory Of Machines, I compared Frost's sound to that of an angry furry armadillo, creeping up the inside of my legs with a cold long needle, leaving me drenched in sweat. And with this latest installment, the chills rise up my spine and hold me, in perpetual, electric shock. The cover art alone puts into my mind the images of my final moments, lying naked on the snow, steam rising from the breath of a hungry wolf, his teeth sunk into my throat. And the track titles do not let up. Through The Glass Of The Roof, Through The Roof Of Your Mouth, Through The Mouth Of Your Eye. And the music? Dark grinding metallic strings scratched through distorted pads, deep breaths, growls, and choking melodies. The intensity of the bass and guitar riffs create instant goose bumps, tickling the inside of my ears, and clawing at my chest. White knuckled at the seat, I think I accidentally scratched a healing scab off of my back and now I'm bleeding through this white collar shirt, the tie restricting my cries. Let me out! I've heard some dark and terrifying ambiance in my lifetime, but Frost's onslaught is incredible. I stand applauding. And the production? We've got top notch mastering going on here, with perfectly sampled strings played with dry bows over thumping kick, and rising voices. With contributions from Jeremy Gara of The Arcade Fire, Icelandic quartet Amiina, Swedish grindcore band Crowpath, and of course, the classical touch of Nico Muhly the roster of artists is exciting alone. Oh, and did I mention that it was co-produced by Valgeir Sigurðsson? It was created under the cloak of nocturnal snow in the far northern reaches of financial-fantasy island, a concept borne of Frost and weapons manufacturer, war monger and evil genius Sruli Recht, captured by the all-seeing-eye of Bjarni Gríms and forged in the fires of hell by Rebeca Mendéz Frost's music is all about contrast - merging beautiful classical minimalism with the dirty grind of metal and drone core. This combination is unsettling to the mind, refusing to split in half and choose between the genres. Born in Australia, Frost is now living in Reykjavik, Iceland - home of the above mentioned artists, and of course Sigurðsson’s acclaimed Bedroom Community label. His debut solo album, titled Steel Wound, was released on Room40 in 2003. There's also a two-track digital EP, released together with Lawrence English, titled Anyone Can Play... Anyone Can Sing (Dreamland, 2004). In 2007, Frost released Theory Of Machines on Bedroom Community, and spent the next two years cooped up to dream up this nightmare. Let me restate my earlier conviction: By The Throat is even better than Theory Of Machines - a feat I thought impossible to bear. This is the music of suspense. The terror of the unknown. The ethereal melody at the end of the tunnel that gets cemented off a few inches away from your desperate crawl. The piano keys expand and shrink with pressure, and the white and black chip off and vanish. The tension ends with the last track, and although you can exhale, you want to feel the angst again. You want to feel. You want to feel... |

Two and a Half Questions With Ben Frost

How long did it take you to actually compose this album?
2 years more or less. This is true of most of my work, I would have liked it to be less, as after 1 year it could easily become 3, or 4 and then you start getting into Geoff Barrow/Kevin Shields territory, its a slippery slope.

Tell us a bit about collaborating with Valgeir Sigurðsson on the album?
I saw a blind person waiting at the crossing with his guide dog yesterday and I watched the way the man reacted as he heard the steps of everyone around him begin to walk. I watched his body twitch with the near certainty that he was safe to walk, and yet he waited that extra couple of seconds for the beast to react accordingly- he waited for the specialist; solidifying and supporting that instinctual visceral reaction with the trusted, watchful eye

Can you shed some light on some of your production techniques?
-Set up 2 unmatched microphones on an instrument, one ribbon, one valve condenser at odd, totally unequal distances from the sound source.
-Record for some time.
- Take the material mute one channel, place it mono and then play along to it, recording a "duplicate" with the same setup again
- Splice the left channel from the first recording with the left channel of the second, and vice versa
- Drop one of the new mutant stereo pairs down an octave, remove all the bottom end from it so you are only left with the very high frequencies and then blend it with the other stereo pair
-Repeat the process with similar instruments, all performing the same material, splicing, repeating, shifting octaves up and down, blending further
- Shape the summed image using a combination of an SPL transient designer and the Apple audio units graphic eq- the one that you get with garageband
-Render out a mixed recording of the whole piece through a Manley pultec and then delete all the original material from existence

What is the balance between acoustic and electronic in your work?
I dont think about that, I have never thought about that, I really dont know how to answer that question- all instruments, acoustic electronic or other wise are simply means to an end which is beyond any calculable sum of its parts.

Who is the protagonist in this dark soundtrack, and what is his story?
What this record means to me is not what it should mean to anyone else.

The wolves seem to play an important role. Can you elaborate on their appearance in the music? Did you sample the growling yourself?
They are the children of the night right? Simply I am just drawn to anything that operates in life at a purely primal level; animal, mineral or vegetable. I didn't want to hear their presence on this record as an oppressive, threatening sound. It is not intended that way. Wolf song is the most magnificent natural summation of unity and harmony in darkness I could conjour- I could listen to it forever.

What is it about Ben Frost that makes him create this kind of music?
I am not trying to be evasive but I just simply dont know how to answer that question. I am a musician, I am a composer, an artist, a creator, or whatever fucking label anyone cares to put on what I do, but ultimately I would be doing this whether it was loved, hated, socially acceptable, reprehensible or irrelevant. I would not know how to not do this- it is no more complicated than that. |

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Solo Andata - Solo Andata (12k)

Close the doors and turn up the sound. This is ambiance that needs to be really heard. Quietly chirping submerged engines are silenced by waves of bowed cello. The sound of rippling water seeps through the drones of strings. This is the organic world of Solo Andata - an Australian duo comprised of Paul Fiocco and Kane Ikin. Having previously released their debut, Fyris Swan (Hefty, 2006), the duo got picked up by 12k, and contributed a recording to Live In Melbourne (12k, 2008), appearing among tracks by Seaworthy, and label owner, Taylor Deupree. Solo Andata is their highly anticipated release for the New York minimal and ambient label. The album is mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi and is accompanied by a mini booklet of 8-piece photography by Deupree himself. This is a warm album, covering you with a blanket of organic materials, natural field recordings, and swells of ambient soundscapes. The restraint and delicate touch within this production stops time, thought, and all of the pain. Solo Andata is the sensual reflexology for the mind. The concept behind the album, reveals "a theme of travel from cold to warm, water to earth, fluidity to stasis, conceptually representing a thread between water and land." The meditative nature of these pieces focuses the inner ear on within, while the outer contemplates without. At the epicenter lies the focus of the album, Look For Me Here. This is the place that you reach after descending through the laid out paths of an early morning forest, quiet nights, and misty caves. This beautiful track is also available from the label as a single, with remixes by the above mentioned Giuseppe Ielasi and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Make sure to grab that one. And by the time Loom comes out with a crying cello by Louise McKay, you're truly in love. Fans of Hildur Guðnadóttir will melt within. The duo uses barely any electronic instruments. Most of the heard sounds are resonating from strings, voices, guitar and a piano. The sourced material has been painstakingly captured, post-processed, and folded back into the pieces, often reflecting the origin within the titles. For example, “Woods Flesh Bone” actually records wood, flesh (from a dead chicken) and bones. “Canal Rocks” contains a recording of wind through the rocks in a small alcove in southwestern Australia called Canal Rocks. “Hydraulic Fluctuations” is a recording of the fluid fluctuations inside a large pump, “Ablation” is ice and wind. Highly recommended for all wonders of 12k, above mentioned artists, plus Richard Skelton, Lawrence English, and Christopher Bissonnette. Bravo, 12k! Well done! This is a great catch, hold onto this one. And I'll be more than eager to follow this group along its intricately formed path, even if their way is only one way, the solo andata. | |

Two and a Half Questions with Solo Andata

Tell us about Solo Andata and what the name means to you.
SA (Paul): Solo Andata is a duo from Australia. One-half (Kane Ikin) lives in the East (Melbourne), and the other (Paul Fiocco) in the West (Perth). I discovered the name ‘Solo Andata‘ whilst traveling by train from Rome to Sicily in 2004. It means ‘one-way’ in Italian.

Tell us a bit about your recording process. How do you capture "flesh and bones"?
SA (Paul): To record, we mainly use a field recorder with various condenser mics (hydrophones and contacts for example) as well as a few more traditional studio mics. Our recording process is more concerned with finding incredible sounds that are already around us, rather than processing or synthesizing to get the result we want. Except for pitch and some reverb, most of the sounds are very raw. I recorded “flesh and bones” by placing both a contact mic and a field recorder on a chicken carcass and then, using my hands and various knives, tore it apart.

How did you guys meet? And how did you bring in Louise McKay into the project?
SA (Paul):
We met in Perth. That’s where Kane is originally from. We met at an experimental music night we both regularly attended. For Louise, I have a friend who’s father is in the Perth Symphony Orchestra, he recommended that I use her when I was looking for a cellist.

What is the story being told in in your music?
SA (Paul): Tracks, for us, are images and sensations. The story is for the listener.

How do you balance the organic and electronic instrumentation in your work?
SA (Kane): It's never a pre set out course when we're writing, The songs kind of evolve and find a balance on their own, though saying that, for our latest record virtually all the sounds are organic with the exception of some electric guitar.

What about Taylor Deupree? Tell us about getting signed to his 12k label.
SA (Kane): I met Taylor when I was asked to support him at a show in Melbourne, we exchanged emails and cd's and subsequently he released the live recording of that night on 12k. Later that year we travelled to New York to work on music together and also meet up with Taylor. We went to his house, took a long walk through the woods and showed him some sketches of what would later become our self titled record. |

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Scanner - Rockets, Unto The Edges Of Edges (BineMusic)

Robin Rimbaud spent his life listening to others. In his early works, Rimbaud tuned into the airwaves to pluck out pieces of radio, mobile phone conversations and police broadcasts. These were intricately edited and folded back into his compositions, producing an experimental genre of his own, often gathering international admiration from the likes of Aphex Twin and even Stockhausen. This is yet another one of Rimbaud's albums as Scanner, adding to his e-n-d-l-e-s-s discography (seriously huge), spawning collaborations with DJ Spooky, Alva Noto, Kim Cascone, and Vitiello among many others. And Rockets, Unto The Edges Of Edges does not disappoint. The album starts off with vocal samples, strums of guitar and Rimbaud's own gentle singing. That is until the kick drops and bounces away. The distorted bits and pieces of voices continue to dominate the background of Scanner's recordings. We are, after all, eavesdropping. This mixture of acoustic instrumentation and electronic treatments evolves, introducing a full on string ensemble conducted in the rhythm of solid beat and bitcrushed percussion. And by the time I arrive at track three, titled Anna Livia Plurabelle, which is full of classical operetta vocals by the acclaimed soprano Patricia Rozario, crying in angst, I realize the grandiose accomplishment of Scanner's work, painting a cinematic masterpiece from lost and found fragments. The rest is just as beautiful. Speckles of found voices, radar transmissions, and environmental recordings are hardly intrusive in this purely musical piece. "The ghostly presence of William Burroughs and philosopher Bertrand Russell weave their way through some of the pieces, opening into the dark heart of "Yellow Plains Under White Hot Blue Sky", an epic, almost menacing work, with corrosive voices, noises and abstract shapes over a primordial electronic beat, that continues to build and ignite with bowed strings into a picturesque precise explosion." Although I can't say that I've heard every album by Rimbaud, I can definitely agree with the critics that this is his most mature and personal album to date. A soundtrack to a voyeur's life finally turned inwards. This is organic, this is digital, this is modern classical at its best. Completely unexpected and highly recommended for fans of Max Richter and Jóhann Jóhannsson. Pick up your copy from the Essen (Germany) based BineMusic, while I scratch this winner onto my upcoming Best of 09. Need I say more? See more of Rimbaud's current and upcoming work in my Two and a Half Questions with Scanner. | |

Two and a Half Questions with Scanner

This is the first time we're hearing your voice. What prompted this revelation?
I've always been keen to humanise digital music and technology and have always used voices in my work since the earliest scanned phonecall recordings of the 1990s, but felt that I wanted to offer more of a personal connection. I wanted the voice to sound as if someone is simply humming along to the music in an intimate way, casual and gently.

Tell us a bit about your sample of William Burroughs. What is the message that you're conveying with his words?
Burroughs is a figure who has inevitably influenced my ideas and creative approaches over the years since I was a teenager and at the legendary Final Academy performances in London. His notion of cut-ups developed with Brion Gysin was inspiring in terms of finding something new in convention and using his voice in another form here inside the music, cutting and pasting lines from different readings and presentations, was a way to offer a human presence again within an electronic field. The meaning is less important here, more a deconstruction of language.

What about your collaboration with Patricia Rozario? What prompted you to bring her into this work, and what was the production experience like?
Patricia and I had previously worked on the soundtrack to the contemporary dance piece Faultline and we performed several live shows together. She has frequently worked with composers such as Arvo Part and John Taverner so felt a strong affinity with her. I composed this piece for her to sing over and in fact she improvised all of the vocal lines here to the music in the studio to spine-chilling effect. She's an amazing Indian singer.

What's next and what are you working on right now?
That's always the exhausting question :-) I'm Visiting Professor at Le Fresnoy art school in France at this very moment, whilst continuing to travel the world constantly for performance, installation, composition. In addition...

I have a new album, a theatre soundtrack coming out in Italy in November, 'Consegnaci, bambina, i tuoi occhi', released on SMS contemporanea_Siena
I just completed the soundtrack for the global campaign for the new Samsung Corby telephone
I am composing a new film soundtrack for Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde to be premiered in Vienna this year and then to tour around the world in 2010-2011
Kirkou & Karaba, the children's musical I composed, recently came out on DVD in France and is touring again throughout France
I just completed the soundtrack to a film Oops Wrong Planet, directed by Anouk de Clercq
I just completed the soundtrack to a film Evaders, directed by Ori Gersht
My work can be heard in the amazing new Darwin extension built in the London Natural History Museum, where I soundtracked the DNA sequence of mosquitoes
I just completed a new album with American composer David Rothenberg to be released in 2010
and so on :-) |

Saturday, October 10, 2009

KiloWatts - Undercurrent (Somnia)

In terms of technique, Jamie Watts, the man behind KiloWatts, is an extremely accomplished producer; he knows how to make music that sounds great. His last full-length album, Ground State, released on Evan Bartholomew's Native State Records, stood out for its fresh and chunky sound. It featured a rolling mid-tempo groove, using mostly an acoustic drum sample set, to go with dynamic and full-bodied synths that displayed Watt's taste for thick, growling lead sounds in the lower register. At times, the bass took center stage and propelled the music forward, like on the excellent track Dub Serious. Watts has tried his hand at a variety of genres. His last few releases have ranged from the mid-tempo IDM grooves of Ground State to the tech house of the Snakewinds and Love on Saturn EPs, both released on Noah Pred's minimal techno and house offshoot of Native State, Thoughtless Music. Now, with Undercurrent, he's followed Evan over to his new Somnia label for a stab at downtempo/ambient. “With this album, I wanted to focus on the essence of melody and expose it in a raw form through the electronic medium," says Watts. "The source of the main melodies came from repetitive hooks I found myself sporadically singing or humming during day to day business. Think of the joyful tunes whistled during a walk. These melodic mantras seem to pop up out of nowhere and go on repeating forever... From a larger perspective, I felt that the search for these melodies was similar to unearthing subconscious archetypes that drive reality. the process was like discovering an ever-flowing undercurrent of reality that can be translated directly into melody." The funny thing is that taken as a whole, the album is not defined by the strength of the melodies. There are a couple of standouts - Rode Falls and Ayandan - that are blessed with the kind of riffs that seem to have been around forever. They're like old friends you haven't seen for a while. The Undercurrent Is Love is also hummable if not as memorable. But more often than not the album is defined by the mood it evokes. Most of the tracks are based on short repeated motifs that ebb and flow with the undulating tide or the movement of the current. Opener Cascade Serenade flows by effortlessly, but most of the album is tinged with a darker hue. As if gray clouds are gathering and the waves are beginning to swell. There's an ominous undercurrent to Couette and Seed is vaguely sinister, like a snake slithering along just underneath the water's surface. On Nightshade, the crickets and other creatures of the night come out to play. The album culminates in the 12-minute The Moment Just Before Dawn, with a single phrase repeated over and over again like a persistent mantra, slowly building toward a majestic crescendo. The sonic landscape of Undercurrent is compact, with clearly defined boundaries. The sounds mostly seem to originate from the same source, as if Watts decided to stick with one trusted synth and one electric piano throughout the making of the album. Most significantly, he has largely - though thankfully not completely - done away with the beats that have been such a defining feature of his music until now. It has to be said that while there are moments of beauty on Undercurrent and the album as a whole grows on you, the tracks that make the biggest impression are the ones that have a pulse. Watts is most in his element when he's working with a beat, or at least a strong rhythmic element, such as on Rode Falls, Seed and Nightshade. The percussion, although further in the background than is usual for him, gives the songs a much more vivid presence and sense of development. Nevertheless, it's clear that Undercurrent has served to expand KiloWatts' horizons, even if the addition of one more genre to his discography risks confusing some of his audience. Be sure to check out Watt's digital releases on Thoughtless Music, Harmonious Discord, as well as his own outlet, KiloWatts Music (see Six Silicates EP). Also, looks like Jamie finally re-released his collaboration with Peter Van Ewijk as KiloWatts & Vanek titled Focus and Flow (Dependent, 2009).

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Original interview posted by Tigon on Tigon World.
Republished with permission of the author. |

Two and a Half Questions with KiloWatts

You've talked about the search for timeless melodies being an inspiration for the making of the album. It sounds like you believe that deep within the human subconsciousness there exists something akin to a reservoir of music that we can all tap into. Can you elaborate on that?
This might only be applicable to anyone who has spent a good period of time in their lives singing, but it's often that I find myself humming random looped musical phrases that accompany whatever I happen to be doing at the time. The idea of repeating phrases over and over is also well practiced in Buddhist theory as a means of obtaining enlightenment. The songs sung during ayahuasca ceremonies, called icaros, might have some relevance here as well since they're used as tools for guidance within the ayahuasca realm, which I believe is similar to a trip through the subconscious. Sound is vibration, and vibration can move matter. I'd venture to say that man has experimented with using the human voice for thousands of years to generate vibrations that can influence reality. Language itself is an offshoot of this primal discovery, as it is our words that are primarily responsible for creating our world in its current complexity. But if we zoom back a few thousand years to man's first mutterings, there just might have been an inkling of melody within them. Traditional musical theory came much, much later, but the idea of holding a steady tone was likely a pretty powerful achievement. Nowadays in the Western hemisphere, our 12-tone scale is ingrained into our heads from a pretty early age, so I think we can tap into our early discoveries of melody and apply them to the present moment. It's no doubt we have all sung our little hearts out as children. I believe we were doing something with sound that was greater than we truly understood at the time.

Undercurrent represents quite a change in gears for you, into more ambient/downtempo territory. Why did you choose to go this route?
I was growing a bit tired of aggressive music, and finding that it was only serving to create aggressive situations. I also felt a little that I had disconnected from a major part of my roots and I wanted to get back to that. I'm a student of melody and musical structure, so I wanted to return to that source and create something pure that was based on that alone.

There seems to be a particular synth sound standing out among various tracks, would you mind sharing with us what it is, and why dd you specifically choose to concentrate on that sound?
Well, the main synths in here are modified Reaktor ensembles: 2-Osc, and Carbon 2. I've made a number of tweaks under the hood, but the core sound comes from those. I think I stuck with them because they have a really clear pure tone, and they can be modified with ease from a sine wave into something otherworldly. 2-Osc has some interesting core-module stuff going on, so it has a unique analog sound to it. There are some unpredictable pitch and harmonic qualities to it, subtle and transparent enough that it's difficult to pinpoint. The filters on both are strong as well, and allowed for some deep expression. When transcribing melodies, it's not just the tones that are important, but also the inflections and ebb and flow of timbre and volume.

You haven't been bound to one particular genre with you music. Is this a sign of restlessness? Or just evidence of your broad musical tastes?
It's probably a sign of both, but it's all coming from the same place. I'm not attempting to exist solely in any particular genre, or even create any. I just love a whole lot of music. There's a line of continuity within what I make. Undercurrent looks into that, and if you look back it should be easy to see that all I'm really doing is making music. It's not only that, but what are my friends doing with music? What are my mentors doing with music? What do people want to hear? What do I need to hear for myself? This is all rather influential.

What does the future hold for KiloWatts?
Who knows? Spicy, sweet, savory, bland? All of the above?

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Interview by Tigon for Headphone Commute |

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Plastik Joy - 3:03 (n5MD)

Plastik Joy is an intriguing duo, if only for the fact that one of them, Cristiano Nicolini, is from Italy and the other, Fannar Ásgrímsson, is Icelandic. You can’t get any closer to “fire and ice” than that. The two met while studying audio engineering in Barcelona and began working together on a couple of songs at the end of 2007. Little did they know what a fortuitous decision it would be when they decided to establish a Myspace page shortly thereafter, in January 2008. First, Myspace led them to Swedish singer Sarah K. Hellström, who ended up writing the lyrics and melody and recording the vocals for their first tune, Hands. She didn’t actually meet Cristiano and Fannar in person until months after the song was completed. But more amazingly, in June 2008, they received a message on Myspace from Mike Cadoo, owner of renowned electronic music label n5MD, who had heard their songs on the site and wanted to discuss a record deal! One short month later, Plastik Joy had signed with the label. And now, 3:03, the debut album from the Myspace poster boys is here for all to hear. At first, if you're not in the right frame of mind, the dreamy, downtempo vibe of 3:03 may strike you as a bit too laid back - like the heat from the fire has melted the ice. But the simple, unassuming melodies grow on you. It’s an album that rewards – in fact, demands – repeated listening and immersion. You’ll come to love the undeniably warm, feel-good glow of Sleepy Quest for Coffee and Hands, the opening tracks of the album, which also happen to be the first two songs that the pair wrote together. From there, the rest of the album opens up like a budding flower. The subtle electronics and acoustic instrumentation, with mellow guitar in a prominent role, make for an addictive concoction. Although Plastik Joy employ several singers on the album, it comes across very much as an instrumental album. Rather than leading the way, the vocals more often than not serve like any other instrument, adding one more color to the bittersweet vibe. On Hands, for example, Hellström’s breathy vocals, which hint slightly at Nina Persson of The Cardigans, blend completely into the sonic landscape. There are one or two brief moments on 3:03 where the surface calm is broken by an outburst of noise, like an involuntary release of pent up energy, but in general, subtlety is the name of the game. It takes a great deal of skill and sensitivity to sustain an atmosphere of such refined delicacy throughout a whole album but Fannar and Cristiano carry it off with aplomb. Considering that this is just their first album, it whets the appetite for what's to come. 3:03 gets its name from the time of morning at which recording sessions usually ended and n5MD touts the album's "nocturnal vibe". There's definitely something to that. 63 (she was trying to sleep, I was trying to breathe), for example, is a pure lullaby. But the first half of the album conjures up images of late afternoons lounging on the beach with a cool drink in hand. If you're looking for something to relax to poolside, it'll most certainly do the trick. Just watch out you don't fall asleep in the sun.

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Original interview posted by Tigon on Tigon World.
Republished with permission of the author. | |

Two and a Half Questions with Plastik Joy

The story about how you came to land on n5MD is kind of like an Internet fairytale, isn‘t it?
It definitely was like a fairytale for us because we hadn't even started looking for a label to release our music. We thought that would be the biggest task. But by pure luck we added Mike Cadoo's (n5MD label owner) wife as a friend on Myspace and she happened to check out our profile at the right moment so Mike heard it. He then contacted us and soon thereafter we signed a contract with him. For us, that has been the most amazing thing in the short time that Plastik Joy has been in operation because Mike is really easy going and wants all the best for his artists.

What is your musical past? Had either of you been in bands before?

We definitely come from different musical pasts. I started a couple of garage indie rock bands with friends back in Iceland where I played bass but we lacked time and ambition to take it anywhere further.

Cristiano, on the other hand, was part of a well known local electro-rock band back in his hometown in Italy where he took care of the electronic beats and sequences. His role in the band then changed and he found himself being the guy who pressed play to launch the sequences and pretended to be doing something. He didn't like that so he left the band. He also had a second project here in Barcelona with an Italian friend, making ambient experimental electronic music. But communication problems and a lack of spontaneity brought that project to an abrupt end.

Plastik Joy really does sound like a full band, with its mix of acoustic and electric instruments, subtle programming and vocals. How do you divide responsibilities between you? And how does it work out live?

In the studio we work in perfect harmony. I'm usually in charge of the acoustic parts - guitars, bass, keyboards and sometimes vocals - while Cristiano takes care of the more complicated stuff - heavy duty drum programming, editing, arrangement, mixing and also some guitar arpeggios. We play and program almost all the instruments on the album, which is quite easy to do in the comfort of your own studio. But adjusting these arrangements to a two-man live show was a nightmare.

First of all, we decided to use as little preprogrammed material as possible since we didn't like the idea of doing a 'live dj set'. That led us to our current setup in Ableton Live which took us weeks to prepare. I have a midi keyboard and a midi foot controller connected to my laptop. I use the two inputs on my sound card to connect a mic and an electric bass. So basically what I do is get midi sync from Cristiano's laptop and record material live and use the foot controller to create clips and then launch them. This system enables me on some songs to play bass, electric and acoustic piano and - on top of that - sing, which would otherwise be impossible.

Cristiano wound up as the designated guitarist. He has a Novation midi controller that enables him to control rhythmic parts, sequences and effects. On his sound card, he uses one input for the electric guitar and plays various guitar parts that he records and launches. The other input is connected to the mixer so he can resample anything that comes from there.

There‘s a special story behind the song “barcelona – reykjavík [FHE276]”. Can you share it with us?

In 2008, my grandfather passed away and I flew to Iceland to attend the funeral. I started writing the song on the plane and wound up with a rough song structure. When we were choosing the tracks for the album, I really wanted this track to be on it, but since it was far from finished it didn't look like it was going to happen. We tried countless times to get the track to sound the way we wanted but without success. A friend of Cristiano's suggested that we send the track to a guy living in Sweden to see if he could write some lyrics and a melody for us. We did and a couple of weeks later he sent us the results and the track just fell into place. It ended up being one of the happiest and 'poppiest' tracks on the album, and I like it because I know my grandfather wouldn't have liked to have had a sad song dedicated to him.

Where does Plastik Joy go from here?

The last year-and-a-half has been spent inside the studio so we're currently looking for a booking agency to be able to break out of the boundaries of Spain and go off to play venues around the world.

How did you settle on the musical direction you've taken, the dreamy downtempo vibe? Was it a conscious decision? What were you aiming for?

We didn't really settle on anything, I think the reason for the dreamy downtempo vibe is the way that we made this album. Almost all the recording sessions were totally free of stress. We would meet up at Cristiano's home studio and make a nice dinner, have a glass of red wine and then sit in front of the computer and start building tracks. Our more recent musical ideas have been born during live show rehearsals, so the result is a faster BPM and a rougher sound.

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Original interview posted by Tigon on Tigon World.
Republished with permission of the author. |