“We tend to strip things away to bare essentials once things are on a grid – like, ‘what can we remove?’ A bit like that game, Kerplunk.”
How does this compare with how you and Matt Steel work as snd? Is there a typical process there? Do you supply material in a data form, and he arranges it?
“Er…it’s hard to say, really! Well, Matt’s a non-programmer, so bits of the algorhythmic stuff from me go in there…but then again much of it is just written into a sequencer. I guess sometimes I make a system, then we both mess about with it, or we both work on patterns. Which is good because one person can do something while the other relaxes on the sofa and listens. But, yeah, it’s actually quite a loose method we have. Lots of tea and chatting.”
That tends to solve most things. It sounds really tight and focused, considering the relaxed environment you describe.
“We tend to strip things away to bare essentials once things are on a grid – like, ‘what can we remove?’ A bit like that game, Kerplunk. Matt is also deaf in one ear, so I think for him the fewer elements there are, the more he can hear them. Also, we tend to know what each other will like. In a sense it was always there; I was interested in chords and percussion, and it was liberating to realise a track could just be that, and not have to have snare rolls and basslines, and so on. We would swap tapes of stuff we made (like, circa ’94) of just percussion patterns and lush chord samples, but then at the start of the snd project we agreed on what we would use, which was basically percussion, chords, and sometimes a twinkly sound like a vibraphone or some metallic tuned percussion playing a nice melody.”
Are yours and snd’s chords and melodies FM synthesis for the most part? It all sounds very metallic, glassy and glossy.
“Older snd stuff is mainly FM synthesis, but other stuff too, as we would take a chord sample from whatever equipment we liked. Atavism and Multistability are entirely FM though. I’m a big fan of it, as I have always been looking for other ways to tweak sound rather than filter cutoff. I got a Yamaha TX81Z in the very early ’90s, so that’s where I learned most of it. It had a great function in multitimbral mode where each sucessive note played the next voice, so if you had 8 voices you could play a sequence and it would cycle through them. That’s pretty crude these days, but at the time it was an amazing characteristic. I did loads of very basic tracks like that; I used to do a show on a pirate radio station in Sheffield around ’95-ish, and I would play these long tracks all night, from midnight until 6am, made entirely of complex sequences, haha! It taught me that if you find an interesting quirk, you can use if to create lots of interesting music, so I was always on the look out for gear with quirks. At that time I knew the spec of every synth ever made just in my head!”
How do you do these kind of operations live with snd?
“We use [graphical coding software] Max to implement pattern generating procedures, but recently we have decided to go for a kind of linear pattern approach. We got a bit sick of playing live with generative systems and decided we wanted to go the other way.”
How recently did you decide that? I first saw snd perform in 2008 and it didn’t seem very generative then.
“Yeah, by that time the live stuff was just patterns written as text files, and they would trigger external gear. We could DJ with them almost. We wanted something very, very basic, because our previous live set was entirely generative, like 1 million button presses a minute, and it got boring. Actually, i’m just developing the environment for the live version of Multistablity, which is interesting. It’s kind of like half way between the two; it’s all generative, but more like decks where I can load systems.”
snd – ’06:24:41′
“Although the patterns are machine generated, I hope it has a human feel, a kind of trajectory.”
How will it be presented? Performance piece, installation, toured live set?
“I’m going to do some live versions; a version for seated auditorium, for instance. And a version for brutal concrete car parks, ha! I hope to get a few dates out soon, but my priority is really studio work. Live is good fun – traveling, meeting people, OK pay – but studio work is more important to me, what I want to focus on.”
UL8′s first two parts feature a work of yours for DVD and a work for installation. For this release these were altered through the addition of synthetic percussion. I was wondering if you saw this as a qualifier of sorts? That by adding something more reminscent of ‘music’ as opposed to ‘sonic art’ it became a CD piece, and may therefore also appeal to a different audience?
“Well, again it was just an aesthetic choice; I wanted to make those tracks with kicks on because it would sound good. But they wouldn’t work in an installation context, I think. In a club they would sound much better with kicks and, although it’s not really dance music, it’s all ultimately music for clubs. Not all of Multistability, but some bits. All of UL8, though; for me, UL8 is meant to be a techno album, I imagined it being played in a club really loud as I was making it. None of UL8 has a normal time signature, but it is similar in some ways to patterns found in non-Western musics. I have a friend who is a musicologist working in that field, who pointed out some interesting things about it, the use of subtle duration and timing changes. So although the patterns are machine generated, I hope it has a human feel, a kind of trajectory.
Since these are larger scale compositions, unlike the smaller ‘fragments’ on Multistability, do you ever find yourself getting sick of the initial premise as you work on it? Start out excited but tire of it as you develop it?
“It depends. Multistability took ages to make. I ended up with literally days and days of material, and I spent ages making each sound. I guess it took 18 months on and off, and think that shows in the project. For me I’m totally happy with it. There’s room for me to develop it, but as a piece of music I am quite proud of it. UL8 was the opposite story; I had booked a mastering session and ended up making lots of the tracks in the days leading up to the session. Even while on holiday in Whitby, I took my computer and made some tracks because I was late completing it. So lots of the tracks on UL8 were done in three afternoons. It was a bit of a panic, but I think it worked out OK. They have a nice energy to them too, I think, which is quite apparent when you listen to it.”
How about the ‘Acids In The Style Of Rian Treanor’ pieces? Were they completed in the same way? And did they explore the same analogue technology principle as Hecker’s own ‘Acid In The Style of David Tudor’?
“I don’t know what Hecker used, actually, but mine were all digital. I’m only really interested in digital synthesis. The ‘Acids…’ pieces are the bits i did in Whitby; basically an afternoon and evening in the bedroom, on holiday, panicking! [laughs] But you can hear the urgency in the music I think.”
Rian Treanor: a multimedia artist in Leeds, involved in the Enjoy space and collective. Where does he fit in? His artist’s statement states that he ‘is concerned with the notion that the self is non-stable and subject to continual change’. I could see how this might tie in with similar concepts explored by Hecker regarding acid house’s constant timbral transformations.
“I like the idea of referring to what will happen, as opposed to the accepted ‘authority’ of the past. Treanor is my girlfriend’s surname, and we have two kids; Connie, 14…and Rian, 22. We were young, and basically all my adult life I’ve had a kid. Now he’s a really good artist, DJs and makes music. So the idea was to refer to a future [Rian] rather than refer to a past [David Tudor]. I spoke to Hecker ’bout this, as he is a good friend, and he laughed, so I knew he would not be offended!”