Nothing about Roc Jiménez de Cisneros’ collaborative project EVOL is ever quite what it seems.
The name isn’t a play on ‘evil’, though that may have been a satisfying bonus pun. No, no, Evol is of course “a fully Lagrangian self-adaptive parallel Fortran95 code by the Padova N-body code for cosmological simulations of galaxy formation and evolution”, speciﬁcally designed for simulations of cosmological structure formation on cluster, galactic and sub-galactic scales’. And yet, évol is also Catalan for Sambucus Ebulus, otherwise known as Danewort. This pretty elder plant has white, or occasionally pink flowers, berries that ooze purple juice when ripe, leaving an absolutely foul smell. ‘Foetid’, apparently. Like rotting flesh.
It’s this gleeful desire to connect the dots between seemingly disparate subjects that appears to fuel EVOL. That this is at all times considered, abstract, fantastical and humorous makes it a remarkable project across all its accomplishments. The results may be extreme, but only because the subjects of their interests demand it: generative techniques, cosmology, psychedelia, geometry, metaphysics, noise, cosmology and rave culture. Works are presented as recordings, literary analysis, live performances, installations and public participations. Tools range from computers, lasers and synthesizers, to airhorns, balloons and enthusiastically drawn graphic scores. They also have a great taste in witty titles, a love for neon artwork and, most idiosyncratically of all, an unquenchable obsession with the word ‘punani’.
In their current incarnation, EVOL takes the form of de Cisneros and longtime collaborator Stephen Sharp. FACT caught up with the duo to find out more about what makes them tick, and about ‘Rave Synthesis’ – the concept that informs their latest album on Entr’acte, Wormhole Shubz.
“We started describing our sound as ‘computer music for hooligans’.”
“Years ago we started describing it as ‘computer music for hooligans’, the point being that EVOL sits somewhere between academic computer music and things like techno and other forms of popular culture. It’s a fun, grey area. In recent years the focus has been on what we call Rave Synthesis, which is a recontextualisation of popular techno sounds, such as ‘The Hoover’ or the supersaw, away from the dancefloor. It’s psychedelic music.”
Do EVOL have a specific intent?
“Our intent is to make something we want to listen to.”
And that happens to be very extreme. Were there any particular musicians, composers or events in your lives that shaped this aesthetic?
“It’s hard to pinpoint and much more complex than a list of names because our musical preferences are too vast and fuzzy. There’s a constant additive process of meeting people, working with labels, travelling. And hating things along the way – the things you don’t like can be as defining as the ones you enjoy.”
“Recently we’ve been focussed on what we call Rave Synthesis: a recontextualisation of popular techno sounds.”
So how did you originally get started in the field of computer music?
“In 1996 we started playing with drum machines because that’s all we had access to. It was restrictive but a very useful way to learn about some concepts underlying the operation of the machine, which lead to realisations about periodicity, symmetry, decision-making, time flow, etc. The very first EVOL record on Mego was done in 1997 with a Yamaha RY-30 drum machine. If you’re stuck with that as your only source for some time, you eventually start thinking about things you’d like to do that are not possible in that system, both in terms of structure and synthesis. So computers were the obvious answer. But it’s not a mutually exclusive thing; we love and use hardware synths as well.”
There’s a surprising amount of humour in your work. Is this just a reflection of your personalities? It almost seems like a generational/cultural thing too: certain ‘extreme’ or technologically virtuosic artists who took off around a similar period – from AFX, Squarepusher, Russell Haswell, Goodiepal, even Merzbow – seem to inject a certain wry humour into their music.
“Having an element of humour keeps things interesting. It’s not calculated most of the time so it must be a reflection of our personality. But this is often misinterpreted: we have actually been called ‘pranksters’, which is definitely not our intent. It comes more from a fascination with the absurd, and the word ‘absurd’ comes from the Latin ‘absurdusm’ which literally meant ‘out of tune’.
“Not sure if this is a generational thing, though. Humour is part of human nature. A lot of artists we like – from different generations – incorporate a certain degree of irony and/or absurdity in their work: Anal Cunt, Altern-8, Roman Signer, Brujería, AFX, Joan Brossa, Ween, Boredoms, to name a few.
“We’ve been called ‘pranksters’, which is definitely not our intent.”
Do you listen to much new music?
“We listen to all sorts of stuff, no matter when it was made. You can always find something made decades ago which sounds new to your ears. Old-school house is still an endless box of surprises. There are so many tracks from that era that feel totally fresh today and yet are not widely popular: the tracks of Reginald Burrell, Gherkin Jerks and Joe R. Lewis are good examples.”
“Part of our Rave Synthesis work is based on the concepts of sameness and imitation, and their role in music. Apart from our recreation of certain techno sounds there’s also a second layer of imitation, where we use acoustic sources to emulate the sounds we produce with synths and computers, so it goes full circle. So far we’ve done this with gas horns and a system made of balloons and hexagonal steel nuts, and there have been a bunch of performances where the audience plays these instruments following simple instructions. The biggest show was with about 150 people (half of them below 10 years old) and the result was totally mental.”
“We haven’t finished with the Hoovers. At least another 50 or so albums yet.”
“We’ve also done shows where members of the audience play gas horns, which are extremely hard to play with. These shows are not so much about giving freedom to the audience and all that crap as they are about putting them in weird situations, with vague instructions and challenging instruments that make insane sounds.”
How long do you think you will stick with the current Hoover series? Do you have a set plan, or is it an intuitively lead project?
“We got to our Rave Synthesis thing in a pretty natural way – one thing leads to another. Lately some of the tracks started being a bit more stabby, or even a sort of stripped-down acid, which is a development, but it makes sense in the big picture. There is no master plan but we definitely haven’t finished with the Hoovers. At least another 50 or so albums yet.”