INTERVIEW: AUTISTICI: EARLABS
AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTISTICI
SOUND DESIGNER AND COMPOSER
Would you tell us something about yourself and how it came to be that you started composing your particular style of electronic music?
I am a sound designer / composer based in the UK. My motivation to write music has always been a part of me. It is a process through which I can empty my head, reorder and reorder my world. In my daily life I become easily distracted by subtle high frequency sounds or the rhythmic throb of low frequency sounds. Often when in a room with other people I have to exert myself to concentrate on their voices. Without this effort I find it extremely difficult to stay focused on the content of their conversation. My attention naturally focuses on background noises – whether that is the air conditioning system, the coffee percolator or the sound of a clock. I become aware that external environmental sounds counteract or compliment the internal rhythms and sounds of my heart rate, breathing, the sound of saliva within my mouth.
I experience a sense of agitation when sounds are disrupted or when I am disrupted from attending to a sound. Composing music is a way in which I can take control of the plethora of stimuli. Working with the sounds brings about a strong sense of fascination and calm for me. I am compelled to work with audio and write tracks. Without this outlet there is a sense of unease.
You have a wonderful new CD release on the 12k label titled Volume Objects. Would you set the stage for how this came to be and provide us some details about your working method behind its creation?
I am very pleased to be working with 12k. Volume Objects
is the result of an initial approach to Richard Chartier (12k/Line) following his gig in Sheffield. We talked about his show. He had been playing a set of beautiful minimal tones in an old warehouse building in the centre of Sheffield. I gave him a copy of my music and asked him to listen and give me feedback. Richard emailed soon after and told me that my sound could be suitable for 12k. The next stage was contact with Taylor Deupree. Taylor was interested in working with new artists and expanding the 12k repertoire. Blueprints featured two tracks from the artists Christmas Decorations, Seaworthy, Jodi Cave, Pjusk, Leo Abrahams and Autistici. The compilation was well received and gave Taylor and myself a platform to discuss a full release. The next stage was working with Taylor to bring together a coherent album that worked for 12k and worked for me. I have large number of unreleased tracks some of which are too abrasive or intrusive for 12k. Taylor and myself honed down Volume Objects paying attention to the flow, the diversity and the coherence of the track listing. This process directed me to complete two new tracks in order to add to the “objects” within the album. The final stage involved developing the artwork and packaging, including the photograph booklet designed to supplement the audio.
As for my compositional method, it is one of intense immersion in the material. Tracks often start with me obsessing on an element of interest. Usually a sound – but sometimes the sound, the form and the function become merged as one repeating pattern in my head. The next stage is to capture the sound or realize the sound through a sound design. The sound is then sculpted further in a wave editor and variations from the sound are created. These are then arranged within a sequencer in a manner that recaptures and amplifies the original obsession. This is the core identity of the track.
The next stage is to bring in a range of dynamic elements that serve to transform the original sound further. During this phase I develop a sense of narrative through the interplay of elements. This part of the process takes place within the context of a stream of consciousness. Hours of work can pass in a very “short” subjective timeframe. Eventually the track will reach its natural conclusion and the first draft will be complete. The next phase involves returning to the track over a number of weeks, honing aspects of the sound design, arrangement and production. It is important that the narrative contains a sense that something is developing, expanding, gestating and disintegrating. By the end of the process I am satisfied if the original obsessive element has been thoroughly examined from different angles. Ultimately, the idea of sound as an object, that can be captured, sculpted, and transformed is central to the process. The final object is always beyond my reach. It is the sound as it is received, perceived and transformed in the listeners mind.
You mentioned that some of unreleased tracks from which you had to choose from for possible inclusion on Volume Objects were “too abrasive or intrusive” for the 12k aesthetic. Was this a difficult limitation to work around?
Narrative, style and form are important identities for any release and beyond that any label. Without some parameters identity can become confusing or disjointed. I was happy to work within the 12k aesthetic, as it is a great aesthetic to participate in. It is a world of subtle detail and this is a world in which Autistici also inhabits. The chance to work in this manner included an opportunity to focus upon a coherent story for the album as a whole. Working within limitations can also be an incredibly liberating force for the artist. Without limitations there is a danger I will become overwhelmed and overawed by the maximal mess of life.
You’ve worked with and released material on a considerable number of netlabels. How does preparing and releasing a virtual work on a netlabel compare to doing the same thing for a well established physical label such as 12k?
From a compositional perspective there is no difference. Primarily there is a need to write for myself. Therefore the material comes first. I write alone, I listen alone and only when it is finished do I begin to consider where it could be housed. Net labels such as Hippocamp, Kikapu and Wandering Ear have all released Autistici material in the past. For each release you working alongside the label curator who is an enthusiast for your work. Each curator has a dual commitment to the audience and the artist. Their commitment to the audience is to provide them with access to new material. In relation to the artist it is a chance to promote them and give them exposure to the netlabel’s audience. The difference when working with labels, such as 12k and Audiobulb is the formality of the relationship and thoroughness of the process. At the end of the day a more complete and concrete package is being formed. This involves cooperation to ensure artwork, contracts and licensing issues are agreed upon.
Do you have any thoughts on the strengths/weaknesses relative to the current netlabel music scene? Will you continue to release free music via netlabels?
The netlabel scene has been a great platform for many artists. I have a lot of respect for the curators of netlabels who are clearly driven by a deep devotion to creating internet sites designed to promote free music. Their strength lies in their ability to operate away from the traditional business model (i.e., investment, creating stock, selling stock and accumulating profit). The netlabel model enables a community based upon “love not money” to operate and thrive. The music becomes widely available accompanied by some minimal creative commons restrictions. Thus the audience is enabled and encouraged to not only listen to but also share the music freely. Ultimately for the artist this allows releases to be heard by many people. Download data from some of the netlabel releases I have participated in indicated that tracks were downloaded over 30,000 times within a few days of release.
In terms of the weaknesses, netlabels face the issue of quality control. In recent years the number of netlabels has grown considerably. This reflects people’s growing confidence in participating in the internet as content providers rather than content assimilators. I think it is admirable that so many people are willing to put the effort into creating places for music to exist. However, many sites become poorly maintained and the gate-keeping role (i.e. the A&R function) can become less stringent. The result is a swamping of the internet of material that is of little interest to more then a select few people. I wholly appreciate that the internet is designed to function without preconceived standards and this has made it a haven for enabling and promoting niche content. However, in my opinion areas that were more focused with a robust system of peer review have become diluted. I am neither saying this is right or wrong. It is simply my view of the process that is occurring. However, it is my view that all labels (and especially netlabels) are faced with the challenge of maintaining a brand quality that it’s audience can trust.
I will continue to release music on a select number of netlabels. These releases will tend to occur when I am responding to a particular concept or project outline that interests me. For example, I have recently participated in the Vibrating Portraits compilation released on Nexsound which invited artists to create an audio portrait of someone.
What’s your musical background (formal training, family members involved in music, early musical memories, etc.)
I have always been fascinated with sound. I have played with electronic toys, tape recorders, record players, keyboards and pianos since a very early age. I lived in a house surrounded by nature. I have early memories of the sound of a stuck needle at the end a vinyl record crackling and skipping as the sun streamed though the lounge window. The experience became one of being drawn into and immersed in a stuck moment of time. However, my concentration would always become distracted by the microcontent of the sound of insects, birdsong, animals and machines within the near and distant environment. I was always drawn to music and always obsessed over it. I was a walkman kid, walking around the fields with the sounds of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s in my ears. All genres were embraced from pop, rock, jazz and classical. My parents encouraged me to take up the piano and this was a platform to explore composition and to undergo my own classical training.
Are there any artists that you would identify as having had a significant influence on your musical development?
I think all music influences me. I listen to so much and soak up every detail I can. To give more than a few names would place me in a position where I would not be able to stop. In terms of influences I will identify Miles Davis, the Beatles, Stockhausen, Disastrato, John Cage, The BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Brian Eno.
What contemporary artists do listen to for pleasure/enjoyment?
Again a hard question to answer – there is so much out there. Recently I have been listening to Richard Chartier, The Dead Texan, Leafcutter John, Black Dice, Taylor Deupree, He Can Jog, SND, RF, John Kannenberg amongst many others….
Do you have a strong connection to the overall experimental music scene? What’s the experimental music scene like in England in general?
I don’t know many people I can identify as being part of a pure experimental scene. The experimental scene I feel most affiliated to in England is the Lovebytes Festival which takes place in Sheffield every year. I also play regularly at STFU Music events a series of live events organised by a collective of musicians from Europe.
Are there any projects, albums, etc. that you are presently working on for which you’d like to share some details
I am currently writing material for my next full release. I am also engaged in a collaboration with Claudia and Disastrato who release on Audiobulb Records . We are looking at creating a long multi-faceted piece containing details from each of our home environments. Audiobulb is also considering releasing a collection of remixes and previously unreleased tracks later this year. Time will tell. The only thing I know is that I will continue to write, record and work with sound.