INTERVIEW: SOGAR: GROOVES (2002)
by John Gibson
The pace at which Taylor Deupree's Brookklyn-based minimalist label 12k is putting out records seems to be accelerating in tandem with its reputation as a leading light of cutting-edge electronics. One of the most recent artists to benefit is Paris-based electronic musician Jurgen Heckel, who records under the name Sogar and whose recent album Basal
has been compared by some to that of label-mate Shuttle358. One of the more melodic of the stable's releases, the record glows with the same sort of lovely crystaline sheen as French droners Tone Rec and has a sprinkling of guitar effects to boot. Sogar's music merges an underbelly of clicking minimalism with a foreground of dense, glistening textures that hover eerily like a will-o-the-wisp.
Like others who wind up on the network of micro-music labels spanning Europe and North America (12k, Mille Plateaux, Fallt, Mego), Heckel started out playing in "proper" bands. "I come from Nuremberg," he says at the start of our telephone conversation, "And there I started to make music as a guitar player in several bands. We played stuff like Sonic Youth, Slint, and stuff, this kind of music." Finding the going heavy in his home city, he decided to relocate to Paris a few years ago and try again, this time with Herve Boghossian as Ion+. "Both of us were trying to expand our background a little bit from guitar rock and punk, and we listened to a lot of modern music -- contemporary composers, jazz music," he says. "It gave us new influence and what we did was very, very experimental."
After Ion+ had gained the attention of a small German label called Beau Rivage, which released the band's sole 7-inch ("it was very, very experimental -- minimalist, just one or two notes"), Heckel's increasingly leftfield approach was galvanised. "I started to do music with other things than normal instruments," he says. "I started to use a mixing desk, cables, and amplifiers."
A new, solo project began to take shape that would congeal as Sogar. The name itself was something of a random choice. "Like when i come to Paris, there is no special reason (behind the name)," he says." In fact, it is a german word meaning "even." "I just saw the word in a newspaper, and it really means nothing," he says. "But now i think 'Sogar' is a good name, because it's very objective and open to interpretation. I like my music to be the same -- open to interpretation."
Sogar started out as an audio-visual collaboration with video artist Thomas Einfeldt, and the very first demo recording as Sogar (a 3-inch MiniDisc entitled Relais) was taken from a live performance that included substantial visual content. "I thought the set was quite good, and I sent it to a l ot of different labels," Heckel says. One of those was 12k, which was immediately impressed: "Taylor deupree, who seems to me to be so serious and confident, gave me the absolute liberty to do what I wanted. He just said, 'Give me 20 minutes more and I'm satisfied we can do a full record.' It was a surprise."
The new project accrued much of the guitar and mixing-desk technology of Ion+. "In Sogar I still use all the old equipment," he says. "It's just modified and processed by a computer -- guitars and bass, mixing desk, MiniDisc, this kind of stuff, and I process all these sounds into the computer, mixing them extensively. What comes out is very different from the original songs." The 45 minutes that constitute Basal lend a few clues as to the precise nature of what was processed, being grainy, guite foggy series of flickering passages that seems at times quite emaciated. However, there is certainly more of an emotional hue to the record than on several other 12k albums.
"I think when you are doing music you always have a big emotional part that you put into your music," Heckel says. "I can't imageing how you could exlude emotion, although I'm not trying to make it sound happy or anything. I try to get it in the middle, because happiness or love, it's a secondary statement, and the primary statement [in my music] is quite objective. It's not as expressive."
Heckel considers the idea of working as part of a band again, but enjoys the freedom that recording as Sogar brings. "I don't really see myself in a group-type environment again," he says. "Maybe I'll collaborate with different musicians, different instruments other than the rock style. I also see myself with a guitar on stage... it's not very interesting to see the man sitting in front of his laptop dong something on his screen that nobody knows. I think that's why many people do videos or somethign else with photos set to the music. Maybe it's not the future for me to always work with computers. I'd like to integrate instruments."
Heckel says that thoughtful, impressive music of any grenre interests him. "I think it's quite easy to do experimental music with computers," he says. "Just a few plug ins, a filter, something like that, and it sounds very experimental, and you expand the sound to about 50 minutes, do a live set and you say 'OK, this is experimental electronic music.' It's very easy and I think many, many people abuse easy work on the computer."
In the coming months Heckel will be quite a busy man. Not only is he the first 12k artist to feature on the label's brand new MP3 section (available at 12k.com), he will be doing some remix work for a French Warp-like artist called Shinesei. In addition, he will be revisting the theme of audio-visual collaboration by writing the soundtrack for a web-based film piece on Italian internet label Tu m'. He has also contributed a track to a compilation on new French electronic label List, along with other 12k artists, and will release a 3-inch CD on the same label later this year. Finally, he says, "I'm always working on tracks so i can have a full record ready for 12k."