INTERVIEW: AUTISTICI: TOKAFI (2010)
Most people thought of David Newman's autistici-release "Volume Objects" on 12k as his first full-length. Brimful of ideas, epic and demanding, constantly evolving and infinitely ambitious, it surely had the typical traits of a debut: Newman's ambient acoustic worlds were inhabited by myriads of sound creatures and sonic plants entwining themselves around a laserbeam-like pillar of creativity. In reality, these both powerful and peculiar pieces were the results of years spent refining a distinct style through a plethora of net-releases. In a sense, however, "Volume Objects" did constitute a fresh beginning for Autistici. Not only was Newman devoting more and more time to building his Audiobulb imprint into one of the more eclectic and forwardthinking outfits on the electronica-scene. He was also turning more towards minutely designed physical products. This tendency continues with his latest record, "Complex Tone Test" on keshhhhhh Records, which again comes accompanied by striking cover art. It also shows that Newman has no intention of simply repeating the promising formula of "Volume Objects". Rather, "Complex Tone Test" has turned out a concept work of sorts, researching the information processing capacities of the human mind. What sounds like a scientific experiment onpaper has, in fact, turned into an emotionally charged album which never quite sounds the same. About time we spoke to David to find out more.
Is “Complex Tone Test”, in a way, a representation of the last years for you?
For me the album is a representation of my work over the last three years. However it is hard to identify a clear start point for any of my works – as I tend to allow influences, sounds and processes to seep in from various points in my life. I never start with a clean computer, a clean digital recorder and clean set of sounds. I am constantly recording, collecting, collating and testing and tampering with sounds. Some of these are newly captured others have been with me for years – but I return to them – to remodel and redesign their tones.
“Volume Objects” was widely praised. In which way did you nonetheless feel that you had to move away from the direction of that album?
is a more delicate album – containing and giving space to tiny nuances within the sound. It contains a lot of detail, micro sound-environments constantly mutating and developing. This new album contains a denser selection of tracks with more colourisation and distortion within the sound design. Compositionally the elements have been allowed to flow more freely – finding their own natural space rather than being precisely positioned.
I thought it interesting that the title of your new album contained the word “test”. Is the album, then, very much an experiment for you?
I love to experiment, that is part of my process – it is the essence of creativity to play with what is with you (like a child) and see what you can make. But the word test is used in this context to convey my belief that the final result of the music is in the listener’s perception. In that respect it is not a test that the listener can pass or fail, it is merely a stimulus that will produce an unknown response within the listener.
The press release mentions that one part of your aim was to create, “more auditory stimulus than the listener is able to analyze consciously.” How did that concept present itself to you?
There are points in the album based upon the dichotic listening paradigm, a behavioural technique for studying brain asymmetry in auditory processing. In a dichotic listening experiment, the subject is presented with different sounds to the right and the left ear simultaneously. This means that the subject receives more auditory stimulus than she is able to analyze consciously. The interesting question, then, is what part of the input will be selected for conscious analysis. Tracks such as Refractory contain subtle changes in tone and counter melody across the stereo field and at points the flow of the melodic narrative transfers across the stereo field – the question is whether the brain chooses to follow one melody or its counter point. Another track La Spaziale S1 Vivaldi is basically the same tune and café field recordings played both forwards and backwards simultaneously. It starts and ends, ends and starts at the same time.
When listening to the album in the background, it actually sounds calm and composed rather than complex. Was it important to you, in a way, that the album was not just a multilayered experience, but also an aesthetically “pleasing” proposition?
Yes the perception is yours whether it is calm and simple or busy or complex. The listener will decide. To my ears the simplest sound is a pure sine wave. The development of any noise beyond this constant and pure tone involves a million complexities.
Various instruments were used for “Complex Tone Test”. Did you play them yourself or were you culling samples from various sources?
I play guitar plucks, piano, synthesizers and collect field recordings. Refractory is the sound of an image-to-audio analysis of a rainbow. This was generated through a software programme called Audiopaint. The mellotron featuring in Key For A Lockable Cabinet is sourced from an academic study of one of the first mellotron’s made, the cello in Disintegrated Interest is sourced from Cosmo D’s cello sample packs. Justin Varis (Claudia) plays harmonica on Annualized Light a collaboration that we hope to extend and are now writing music together.
You seemed extremely pleased to be able to release on Kesh. What makes the label so exciting to you?
It is always good to work with people who have immersed themselves through their commitment to the work. Simon Scott has made a great start with KESH a transition from his Slowdive days. There is a real sense of quality, depth and enthusiasm within the label that has released works by Lorenzo Senni, Hannu, Televise as well as great compilation selections (e.g., 88 Tapes). There is more to come with a remix release of Isan’s eastside featuring an Autistici remix. It is good to work alongside Simon and all these creative people.