Cristian Vogel - Part 1 (of 2)
© Brian David Stevens
I met Cristian Vogel at university some time around 1993. My friends and I used to go to his Acid Box club nights, which played the most uncompromising techno of any in Brighton, usually in a brilliantly back-to-basics setup with relentless strobe light and fog machine providing the only visual element. He was, I think, the first person I’d met who had put out actual records – before that the closest I’d come was a schoolmate whose cousin had made comedy rave tune ‘Trip To Trumpton’. He understood technology, he could talk knowledgeably about Stockhausen, he got paid to fly to other cities and DJ, he was very, very clever, and he had a mobile phone; I was a bit in awe of him.
We both shared more of an interest in dark nightclubs than in university, and our social circles overlapped increasingly as we both stayed on in Brighton after university. Cris was my window into an international music world I’d only ever seen through via magazines: he hung out with actual Detroit techno legends, my teenage hero Andy Weatherall used to call him up to rave about his latest productions, and Cris himself was treated like a hero by many, especially Germany; witnessing the intensity of music and crowd reaction as he played in the legendary bunker of the Tresor club in Berlin was certainly a formative experience for me.
The various scrapes and artistic collaborations that took place in the mid-90s Brighton scene we both inhabited, as we tried to steer a course through the horrors of Big Beat and Goa Trance, have been written about and will continue to be elsewhere; the sequence of events that led to me pretending to be a human cat on his Specific Momentific album are a tale in themselves. What’s relevant here, though, is that I watched Cris develop from making impeccable but relatively straightforward techno to quickly become a producer who could match anyone on earth for invention and sophistication without ever losing touch with the rave, and also, just about, made a living from his creations.
The music that he and his associates in and around the loose No Future (later Erutufon) collective – people like Tobias Schmidt, Dave Tarrida, Si Begg, Mat Consume, the Spymania crew and so on - made was never that hideous most thing “Intelligent Dance Music”, i.e. music that existed to show off how clever it was. It was smart as you like, there’s no doubt about that, and technologically and aesthetically incredibly advanced – but the music that came out of this scene had guts and heart, it was about sheer love of sound and the culture it came from, not about technical doodling for the sake of it, nor about aspiration to anyone else’s ideas of “high art”. An interview I did with Cris for his own website in 2005 runs through some of his recorded output, alone and with Jamie Lidell as Super_Collider; I highly recommend a quick read of that if you’re not familiar with his work. This one concentrates less on his records and more on his recent activities and general attitudes to creation.
Cris once described his natural idiom as “the drug pub rant”; this was conducted neither on drugs nor in the pub but over Skype between my home in London and his in Barcelona, in April this year – but his natural ranting ability is still in full force. He has always had a rather awkwardly comical demeanour anyway – one might even call it a little Alan Partridgey – and his once slightl Midlands-tinged English accent (he grew up near Coventry) has migrated into the mid-Atlantic with occasionally peculiar phrasing since he’s become a full-time Spanish speaker (aside from living in Spain, he is Chilean-born). With this combination, he is a master of deadpan, able to drop from the high-falutin into the very silly and vice versa before you’ve noticed it. This doesn’t undermine the seriousness of much of what he says, though; quite the opposite, it ties more serious, complex or abstract topics more firmly into the real and everyday. A few things he mentions have altered in the long time it’s taken me to transcribe the interview; I’ll detail them at the end, but I’ve left the text unaltered to give the full sense of a conversation with a very particular type of 21st century artist.
OK Cris, can we start with a brief summation of where you are at creatively right now?
Probably not that briefly, but I’ll try. So, let’s see… I put my first record out, if you don’t count a white label I did myself, my first commercially available release was that Magnetic North one and that was nineteen ninety… three. I’d done cassette releases before that, my tape label with Si Begg, and played live too – so this is wayyyy back. The reason we’re going back is just to locate where I am now in some kind of timeline. So 1992, 93, that’s what, sixteen years ago?
Sixteen years. That’s a generation – that means there are ravers just starting to go out to clubs now who weren’t born then.
Yeeees…. [chuckles warily] Yes, if you want to make me feel vertigo. I think the first time I felt a generational thing was when kids would come up to me in raves, in the clubs in Germany and they’d know the music through a mixtape their older brother had.
Yeah I get that vertigo moment when I interview young dubstep guys and they’ll mention their older brothers playing drum & bass tracks I regard as after my time, and they’ll go “yeah I was seven when that came out”…
Yeah this has happened. And it’s natural for anyone after fifteen years… although you know that’s not all that long really – I’m good friends with Franz Treichler from the Young Gods, and they’ve managed to be a band for twenty five years, pretty much on the underground and not having much international exposure. So this is not abnormal in the music business. But then our scene, I guess was pretty young wasn’t it? I would’ve started pretty much at the beginning in terms of techno, and dance music was becoming a pretty big explosion, the revolution was happening around that time, early 90s. So in some ways I’m artistically about as old as the scene in Europe, yes? And you ask where I am now – well I’ve done all these albums, and I guess a lot of my early work is very much fixed to that time; not all of them sound not all that relevant now…
You think? There’s a lot on those early records that is very similar to what is being played now in techno clubs…
Yeah I think that’s pretty coincidental though. I don’t claim any points there – I think it’s just the way things panned out. But funnily enough, if I can take a bit of a diversion… I’m allowed to go all over the place here, right?
That’s the entire point!
Good, because I digress. Just recently this film director from Paris, Gaspar Noé [director of Irreversible] got in touch – he’s into modern erotic and pornographic understandings and drugs and music – anyway, he’s making this feature Enter the Void and he licensed… he got in touch for my first ever film license, which is great… he licensed a track from Specific Momentific [incredulous laugh], which is like my second or third album! And he’s using that track as pretty much the main context for all of the scenes in the club – there’s lots of drugs in this film, and sex, and there’s always this track in the background, “Cancion Sintectica” off that album – it’s really strange: how can you predict that sort of thing?
So he’s chosen this track from the mid 90s to soundtrack a film set in the present?
Yeah! So that sort of power is inside the music I suppose, because it was such an explosion of intensity and multi-fragmented details that it’s beginning to unravel itself a lot more – and maybe this director found this sound he needed hidden in a track of mine off an album from god-knows-when…
You’ve always had an appeal to other artists in other media, though – even if the public weren’t buying your records.
[tentative] Yeeeesss… I guess… to some of them… This movie is just the classic one though: drugs, sex and my music – totally up my alley I guess. But I wrote to them and said “look, I’m honoured and flattered that you want to choose this track, but it’s really not at all representative of where I am now” – and this was really clear to me, going back to the original question of where I am at now. And I offered to them if they were interested in hearing some stuff from now, and I made some proposals, and maybe if there’s space they might use something – and I really thought about what I could have offered a director now, had he got in touch and said “hey, I want an original soundtrack”: that’s what I would really like to be doing now at this point because I’ve just given up the ghost on the music industry, given it up. [snort of laughter]
Yeah it seems it’s been art projects taking up most of your time lately.
Yes, just because… let’s say… the industry now, especially for someone like me who never signed great long contracts for fifteen albums or twenty years or anything like that, I was always very careful; if you remember contracts were always a bone of contention, hammering them out, I guess we always seemed to be over-precautious about them back then – but then we would sign them anyway when we were pissed and skint because that’s how it was. [laughs] But I remember I was always, in No Future and that, trying to make a point that people should really consider their long-term careers, that it wasn’t just a document you sign here and here, that even though it’s underground it’s still within the structures of the music industry, and I had lots of rants about that if I remember, back in Brighton, I was always going on about it.
It was about trying to maintain an anti-industry stance back then, with our labels, but the only way you could really implement it was in terms of philosophies of artist relations, of giving freedoms, not being in control of A&R that much: I was never really hard on anybody on Mosquito, it was all just “put out whatever you want” and not saying this track was better than that track or anything like that, but trusting an artist’s judgement – and these were the only ways that I found to keep at arm’s length the industry while still existing within the context of the music industry, because we had to be. We didn’t have any alternatives before the internet came to our office in 1995. We’d had the cassette thing at the very beginning but this was really old-fashioned, I think, the mailing thing.
Now… now, I think that finally, due not necessarily to me, but just because of the way that things have panned out, that I was right back then, that underground music, the subcultural capital of the exclusive white labels and the experience in the club and the underground clubs and all that – that was the essence of the music, this electronic music revolution was all about that, of course, which was incompatible with the music industry, even the changing music industry at that time. I still really felt, especially with Super_Collider, when I think back to that time I realise I constantly felt a little bit embarrassed, and I felt sort of foolish, and I think it was the industry that was making me do that: saying “dress up like this” or “do that sort of show”.
Obviously Jamie was much more with it, he would dress up in whatever he wanted to and let his inhibitions go, and perhaps even some of his values I think, and of course he’s continued right into the industry, whereas for me I remember being on stage at times, or in a video clip and just feeling uncomfortable in that situation. I’ve only ever been on the front cover [of a record] mashed up with Jamie’s face and even having my image on the front in that form I didn’t feel that comfortable with. I just felt that it wasn’t my context, yet all those years I had to be in it, and now, given the situation [in the music industry] that’s all gone, how do you say in English, “belly up”…
You have to excuse my vague grasp of proverbs and sayings these days, because ten years in Spain takes them away from you – they’re the first to go, and now you say it a couple of times, like “look a gift horse in the mouth”, “you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth”… what is a gift horse? They’re the first to go so, yes, I get them muddled up sometimes.
So anyway, in the industry we’ve got this situation finally where there’s this big levelling, there’s the smoothing out, what do they call it, ‘the long tail’ and the small tribes and small collectives, this thing is happening now – as it was anyway, we were already doing that, but it’s good that this has become acceptable and not such a difficult area to navigate, it’s not so hard to find that little niche that you’re looking for that likes stuff that you like. It was much harder before, in the 90s.
So now, I’m closing my label, which was the last label I did; I’ve done four labels now, four, five, that I’ve been involved in, but the last one, Station 55, which was a real one last ditch attempt to do these genre freedoms and creativity of process, really put the creativity into the process of recording, in the studio, in the songwriting, that it all takes place there and the label doesn’t just become another label identity and yet another marketing strategy, thereby again playing the game by the industry conventions… the Station 55 was the last attempt at doing that model, and I realised the debts were just… I couldn’t sell anything because it just wasn’t compatible with the music biz – they couldn’t find the shops that would sell it or knew where to put it, and we’ve got back stock problems now – so I stopped it.
But if you look at the catalogue we managed to get out there, you can see it’s illustrative of what I was trying to do, but also that it just didn’t fit anywhere. Before, I had a problem, not that long ago, about 2000, 2001, of getting burnt out with techno itself, and I had the problem that I just didn’t fit in with techno – and actually I’m much more OK with that now, we can talk about that a bit later. But now the problem was something else. So yeah, I closed the label now – maybe I might use that outlet to put out just digital-only things that I feel need more exposure, but probably won’t be using it very much any more; hopefully it might pay its debt off over time so maybe I can clear some debt.
Station 55 is still the name of the studio, though, right?
Ah well, I’ve left the studio now as well. There’s been big changes afoot – I closed the label, made that decision, and I’ve now left the studio, put everything in boxes and gone back to how it was fourteen years ago or whatever: I’ve got my setup at home. This has all come from a realisation of how my working process had changed in reflection of the context that I found myself in, this is a reflection of that – so I’m really just working on a much more conceptual level, working on composition, just composing: chewing on pencils kind of thing, taking notes, doing more programming work, sound design, all my research, I research every day into everything that interests me, both technically and in terms of music and history of music ‘cause when you’re autodidactic [he pronounces it Spanish-style, “ow-to-dee-dactic”] you have to keep it up, you can’t just stop, you have to keep searching all the time…
So I do this, so I have a more kind of office space – I have some musical kit there but most of it’s in boxes, all the high-end gear; I’ve sold synthesisers, I’ve kept my Kyma workstation and computers and a couple of boxes and microphones; the high end is in storage, all the EQs, the compressors. And I want to go to a model where I’m thinking about what I’m gonna do, I’m designing projects, I’m managing those projects myself, and then when it comes to recording and mixing I’m going to studios much better than mine ever was and I’m going to do it like that – back to the old style in some ways.
But in terms of the actual work I’m doing, even if a label came along now and offered me a five-album deal to collect up my old work and do another five new records, well it would have to be a very special situation for me to even consider it. I’m working towards, how would you say, micro-edition, super-limited edition, very very limited edition products – so I want to, instead of releasing 500 or 250 records, I’m in a situation where I can release ten records or twenty records.
This is another story that’s happening this year, one of my new projects; this was [begun] partly with the book idea [his 2008 9:09 hand-bound and screenprinted book of poems and lyrics in an edition of 75, which came with a CD of mp3 tracks] – that was an experiment in seeing how by crossing over into another medium I’m able to get my music out in this very limited way and also create a more enhanced experience and object and this was an experiment in seeing how that would work. We managed to just about cover costs on that but I’m going to refine it now and keep working in this way… I don’t want to be distributing my own work so much – I just want to make these. Because to sell 30 objects doesn’t need a massive distribution network.
No, indeed. I mean that’s quite interesting because it suggests a more direct contact with the person who is… I don’t want to use the word ‘consuming’ but… who’s buying the object.
Collecting. Collecting. I see them as collectors. This is the best way of seeing them. That’s my respect for the people that are interested in my work at this level – is I call them collectors and they are collecting my work. It’s like an artist; their work is also bought by collectors on the whole.
But if you’re talking about 30 people that’s few enough people, theoretically, for you to actually know them all as people.
Yeah, on the whole I do and there’s maybe a few projects that go to shops where I don’t know who buys them.
But does that in itself affect what you put into it? Do you feel it as a direct communication with this group of people?
Yeah I feel it is much better for me and much better for my work because I actually… let me go back to where this started to happen. I was working with Gilles Jobin in contemporary dance. This was the first time I was exposed to a situation where there was no industry around. When I was composing I wasn’t thinking about who’s going to play this on the radio or if its going to be able to be played by DJs – because when you’re in the studio creating this, sadly, is massively influential in the actual process when you’re creating. You’re making a sound and it’s very hard not to think “hey will they be able to play this on the radio?” or “is a DJ going to be able to mix this beat even though it’s really complicated?” so you end up stripping everything out so the DJ can mix it, not because you want to make that decision, but because you’re making a decision for the end user somewhere, or for the industry, to make it more palatable.
So when I was working in contemporary dance, this was just not an issue, it would be completely the wrong way to work, it was only about the aesthetic that is being explored and built in the dance piece – that is what defines right and wrong, that’s what says this is the direction you should be going with that music, with this piece at this point you need to be thinking about a new language that you’re constructing with the choreographer in the context of the dance piece and nothing else. Because the contemporary dance pieces of Gilles Jobin, he has them already funded by the theatres that are going to put them on – you already have the bums on seats if you like, so you don’t have to worry about something that will keep the people in the theatre, it doesn’t matter even if they leave halfway through, as long as you’re true to the creation and the process.
So I started to have these unique opportunities in creation, and I began to think, woah – for years I’ve been restricted by a thought that I’m only making this for… it’s limited by where it’s going to come out, which label, whether the label’s gonna like it, whether the industry’s going to be able to distribute it – but [now] who cares?! Now I’m not restricted by that any more and it’s a luxurious position to be in. So where I’m trying to aim for is to have that but with my studio recordings and studio work – because I really value studio creation, I think it’s one of the most important aspects of modern music and I think that this new emphasis on [the idea that] musicians have to make their living through concerts and give their records away for free – this idea where everyone seems ok with that and says “oh yeah that’s the way it’s going to be!”, you can talk to a taxi diver and they’ll tell you this, it’s their theory of how it’s going to be…
People think we’ll have a return to some kind of honest archaic roaming troubadours…?
Yeah, people are really OK with this: “mp3s should be free and musicians get paid doing concerts” – this cuts out the entire art of creation in the studio! Completely and utterly! This whole art which is completely responsible for everything from You Really Got Me through Sergeant Pepper through Lee “Scratch” Perry to any great record you want, especially electronic music which is completely dependent on it because it’s not performance linked necessarily.
So the point is I’m trying to move to that position of being able to make my studio work viable, and I felt it with the book to a certain extent, and even more so with these limited edition one-off cuts I’m doing with a cutter, which I’ll tell you about in a minute, I feel it completely. And all I’ll need to do is sell these twenty or thirty copies to people I know – or not – but who are collecters, and that’s fine, it doesn’t affect my creation at all when I’m making the stuff.
Hmm, and perhaps for the listener – the collector – it provides a way out of that snow-blindness we get when everything is available all the time. To have to make a decision and a bigger financial commitment to own this rare object makes the music they are buying more significant?
Yeah. This isn’t bitching, but me personally I don’t have the time to be collecting in the way I’m asking others to collect my work, so I find it difficult to know – I just have to take a guess at what it’s like. I think it’s pretty cool. I know a couple of artists here and maybe they’ve given me a painting or I’ve bought something from them, and in that situation I put it on my wall with pride. It’s totally something that I value. And I keep things that people have given me years ago – small things, gifts, greeting cards, and records also to a certain extent – and yes, I hope there is also that kind of emotional value contained in that. I hope so. I’m just guessing that is the case, I don’t presume it.
But let me tell you how I’m going to express this idea and these philosophies now… Well [laughs], apart from the 12” I sent you yesterday [the Time To Feed The Alien EP on Snork records]! The thing is, despite all of what I’ve just told you, I have a fondness for the techno scene, and I have a fondness for the clubbing ritual on the weekend, especially over in Germany where they seem to have it really locked down, they’re happy with it and comfortable, it’s like folk culture you know?
So I chose to release with this little label because he’s coming from Giessen, not some big city scene, and he’s really dedicated and he’s worked enough in the industry to know how to get things out there but he’s not over the top with it, he’s not pressing 2,000 copies but just does what he can and always does a couple of launch parties for each release, usually around rural parts of Germany, and he’ll do one in Berlin to present the music somehow… So I just wanted to keep that going because I didn’t want to turn my back on where I’ve come from or what helped me have all those years of experience, which has been absolutely invaluable experience actually.
So yes, I’m still putting just two-sided 12”s out from time to time, and maybe there’ll be an album at some point but I’m finding that a little slow right now. The last one was really difficult to make, because I had all this material which is coming from the live shows which I do that doesn’t make any sense recorded – I’ve tried to record it and edit it and make tracks but I can’t do it! So I enlisted the help of MDK [Martin Wood, a mutual friend from Brighton years, who put out some unique releases on Spymania records, and is now relocated to Macedonia] for this one, and he just got two or three gigs of my stuff and got his scissors out and did two-track edits for me. He wasn’t remixing – I specifically asked that he didn’t change the sounds or try and re-interpret anything, just that he helped me with the counting and the getting from beginning to end in some way that somebody might be able to play [as a DJ].
And what is the reason the live shows don’t work as recordings? Because you are aiming for an effect with them that is over a specific timescale?
Well, because they’re dialogues – between what’s happening in the space, the people there, and me – I mean, it’s live music! It’s very dependent on that dialogue, the quality of the performance. I’m improvising completely, with no pre-prepared loops or patterns or anything, it’s complete improvisation – so they influence my decisions: on a basic level, if they’re really quiet and going deep, I’ll go deep, and if they’re noisy and really getting into it then I’ll do crazy things like grab an oscillator and go [rasps an approximation of a ludicrous techno noise] “WAOOWWAAOWWAAAOWWWAAOOW”, which I’d never do in the studio – so you get more wild if they want that.
So this is how it works – in the studio you end up settling down to the calmer, more deep mode because that’s usually how you feel in the studio. But I wanted to work with this model of editing, the creator and editor relationship, in the same way that film makers do – you’ve got lots of footage, and an editor who’s really good at doing editing is the person you work with to put it together. This is the first time it’s come off actually, so I’m really looking forward to more work like this – I don’t know what to expect though.
So this is the approach you’re going to continue to take on these releases aimed at clubs and DJs, with Martin doing the edits?
Well, I did it with Martin and Spandex [Nottingham-based Matt Southall, Spymania associate, part of the Hand On The Plow label, and recording artist for Cristian’s Sleep Debt label]; everyone’s busy, you know, and Matt was only able to do one, and Martin did two – Martin’s were made from the same material and had a similar flavour, while Matt’s was made from other material and was a bit more housey, so I couldn’t quite combine them… but yes either one of these two is how I would work from now on. I’ve said if it works now, which it seems to have done, if there’s an album commission or anything like that I’d actually bring them over here and go into the studio together like creator and editor – like they put films together, basically! I’m happy working like that because I get really bored really quickly with the counting, with the fours – the four loops then stop, then four then change… So I want to do this because I do want to keep my foot in the door… is it a door? That you keep your foot in? Keep your foot in the soup?
“Keep your hand in”?
Keep your hand in the soup! That’s it. BUT… that diversion aside… other than that, what I want to do this year is… because I think right now, 2010 is when this idea of taking a sideways step out of the business, I can do it – and survive, artistically and economically, because of course these are issues too. I can’t work in a restaurant now, I don’t know how to do any other type of job because I’ve been a musician for too long, so I’ve got to try and keep going. The thing is, what happened recently is I met a guy here called Jacques who runs a small label called Artifex and he has a vinyl recorder. It’s like a cutting lathe, invented by this guy Souri who lives in a tiny village in south Germany somewhere, a complete freak, really old guy – and he invented this this lathe system which cuts with diamond not with sapphires like the Neumann and Telefunken lathes, because the sapphires are really expensive, the whole Neumann, Telefunken machines are massive and cost about thirty grand, you have to cool the stylus with nitrous oxide, it’s a whole different ballgame.
So he invented this as an improvement on those, he made it so you can basically build it on top of a Technics 1210, so you only need to extract the material that’s cut out, you don’t have to cool it – the opposite in fact, you have to warm the vinyl. And it uses this special type of plastic which is his secret formula, that nobody knows – yet – and hasn’t been copied – yet – but is a type of PVC… so it’s not acetate, where previously if you want to cut one-offs they have had to be cut to acetate which doesn’t last, which smashes on the floor if it’s dropped, and is generally not very nice stuff, petroleum stuff that isn’t good for you or the planet. Expensive too. This plastic is much more durable even than the vinyl that comes out after pressing, the vinyl of a conventional record; Jacques showed me round at his place actually, he put the needle on one of his own cuts and just scratched it across like that “KKSSHSSKSKSKSKSSK!” across like that [mimes brutal treatment of record] then played it and it wasn’t marked at all; he dropped it on the floor and it didn’t smash. It’s much more durable, it’s thick stuff, it’s crazy.
And the thing is he has to cut [the discs] one-by-one. The cutter has to be someone really dedicated, I don’t think you can just buy one of these and then “woohoo, let’s cut records” – when you get one, the inventor, he forces you to go over to his village and do classes with him [laughs], so you have to be a dedicated person who really wants to know about the art. It’s definitely a craft. I was trying to think about it in terms of graphics or visual art – I suppose silk-screen printing is close, but it’s actually more like those Chinese guys who do copies of Van Gogh paintings, and actually have to do each one one-by-one, there’s not an automatic setting, you have to do each one specifically, and it’s going to take years to get your craft together. So working with him, immediately was the last piece of the puzzle really, finding someone who was able to manufacture music, going back to the craft which I really admire and I have seen over the years, which is cutting – and which I know works on many levels: cutting has made communities, has made whole movements of music hasn’t it?
Well absolutely, up to this day – in dubstep more than ever I see it, the people who do the cuts and mastering are legends in the scene.
That’s right, so I think it’s great that he’s here in the city and he’s got this going on, he’s not interested in making a big living out of it, he has it in his house and he’s really dedicated to just doing it and working on interesting ideas with it. And the one that we’re both really excited about is to explore the live cut performance genre…
Ha, OK, this is going to need further explanation I think.
Well, like I say he was the last piece of the puzzle. I had already reached a point where I had built these systems which I used for the Never Engine album, which was 2007, and then I’m refining this real-time techno improvisation system that I’ve designed so it’s not using any other people’s software; it’s using another language called Kyma [to build the system] but the designs are completely mine, and it’s optimised for the instant creation of techno music as I want to hear it at this point in my career, as I want to create it. It’s not making sounds that sound like someone else, it’s making sounds that sound like me and I can be happy with performing. So I’ve been refining and refining that system, until now I don’t need to buy any more techno records any more, I don’t need to DJ, I just play this system. I’d reached a point where I was out of the industry to this extent that I was creating the music 100% spontaneously in performance, but also this music was to a very high level of production, I was respecting production and real studio skills and applying that to this real time system – equalisation, mixing, this type of thing is happening as well.
So I was there, and that was OK, but it was… [spluttering as in frustration] gotta get this stuff… gotta put records out, there’s got to be one step more, but I couldn’t work out a way of doing it – then met Jacques and straight away “let’s do the live cut, let’s go”, and there we go. So now I’m in the position where we are in a position to do it, and I’m going to debut it at Sónar this year, so I’m going to do a live cut where the music is entirely improvised to disc, I’m not “performing a song” for the record, I’m going to be completely creating the sound and he’s going to be cutting the music as it’s created, we’re planning on doing it like, one-two-three… four… if you like… GO! And when he’s finished cutting one side, we stop. It’ll be silence.
So he has to follow the changes in your sound, and adjust the depth of the cut and so on for your volume, bass levels or whatever…?
Well, we’ll work out exactly what he’s going to do – I mean, I’m the mastering engineer also, so I can make sure he’s got the right levels mostly… the technical aspects we can iron out, but the creation of the music and the creation of the product – the media product which you can give someone else, which in this case is a vinyl record – is absolutely simultaneous.
And this vinyl disc will be an edition of one, will it?
Well, I think in an hour performance we plan to make three, maybe four, different ones – so there will be an edition of one of each of those specific moments, yes.
So this must require intense focus from you to not only be thinking about the notes and rhythms you’re producing, but the levels and mastering of your output?
Well, he is good enough that he can allow for what is coming out, so I am going to be trusting him. His motto, in fact, is “in cut we trust”, so I’m relying on that. And what we plan to do is get that right, so what I want it to reflect in the context of a performance, it’s got to be the right situation so when people want to come to witness this they are aware of the amount of concentration going on – they can’t come up and talk to me, or shout about how good it is while I’m doing this! So we have to make it so it looks like it’s not just another “there’s a guy with a funny machine, and there’s a guy with another funny machine, and there’s some music”, there needs to be an awareness of what’s happening and the context.
But will this still be in a club context? Do you want dancing?
Wellll… I don’t know. Because it’ll make the needle jump! I think they’d need to watch it, or absorb it, like a sound installation, really. They can dance to the music later if they buy the record! Turn it up as loud as they like! But the material itself I intend to keep it pretty rhythmic and pumping, not soundscapes or anything like that for the sake of being experimental because we’re doing this experimental way of doing it. But what I want to do to round it off, at the end of the gig, at the end of the hour or the final cutting, there are these three discs, four discs, and I want to put them up on a shelf with some lights on the stage or in the gallery or wherever we’ll be doing this performance, and people can negotiate with us for them right there and them. I don’t want you to talk to me while I’m doing the music, but afterwards, I’m a sociable person, come up and talk to me. Say “oh that was really special, I really experienced something, I’d like to own that, do you want a drink [laughs], have a cigarette [wheezing laugh]” and do the bartering there and then. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but they can leave the concert with the work there and then, thereby completely bypassing the music industry.
So as the music is created, if you understand the systems that I use to create the music – and you don’t need to, but if you do – you then are left with the question, “at what point is this music being… is it being?” At what point is it existing? Is it inside that laptop, is it inside the mind of the performer, is it now on the lathe, is it in the fingers and the craft of the cutting engineer, is it now on that piece of vinyl, or has it now walked out of the venue, club, gallery or whatever with that person who just bought it? And these questions are the ones that I want to raise awareness of, because it also raises questions of how much that process and experience is worth, and of how much music is worth. It’s too easy to say, to let the industry, the big cats say “music is worth this”, 99 cents… or nothing, close to nothing…. [voice lowers, darkly] that’s not what music is worth! [breathes deeply] Anyway. So there are these type of ideas.
So within your performance, this negotiation process is the illustration of these questions?
Yeah… I hope so, I hope we can be in the right position that we can make that happen. Because also you have to interact with the creators, you have to come up and do that – it implies social contact, also meeting people you admire, which is something to encourage, which is a really positive thing, a positive experience… on the whole, depending who it is [laughs ruefully] …but it can be a positive experience. So I dunno, these are the types of ideas I want to work with in terms of music.
Continued in Part 2