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December 29, 2009

Thumbnail Music Redux: Part Seven - Thomas Brinkmann


This interview, originally published on Urbansounds.com in October, 1999, is the final installment in a series of reprints intended as a look back at the rise and fall of minimalism over the past decade. Scroll further on this page for the accompanying interviews with Steve Reich, Richie Hawtin, Carsten Nicolai, Stewart Walker and Taylor Deupree, plus the original introduction and some retrospective thoughts.

Thomas Brinkmann

Köln's Thomas Brinkmann first appeared on techno radar two years ago as the artist behind Variationen, a set of remixes of Wolfgang Voigt's Studio 1 project. Using a double-armed turntable of his own design, Brinkmann extracted hidden rhythms from Voigt's minimal techno in an exercise of fractal dub. Brinkmann used the same technique for his second release, Concept 1 96:VR, based on Richie Hawtin's "Concept" EPs. Lest anyone think him restricted to hi-fi gimmickry, Brinkmann went on to release a flood of original productions through his own Max and Ernst labels, two full-length albums for Suppose, and numerous one-off projects. His style is characterized by blunt, repetitive figures -- a kind of plodding, truncated dub-techno permeated with unexpected side-effects. Where his early releases worked with materials similar to those of his Köln colleagues, Brinkmann increasingly has incorporated unlikely elements of jazz and funk, expanding the tonal vocabulary of minimal techno with every release. I reached Brinkmann by phone, earlier this year, to talk to him about minimalism, repetition, and mimesis.

What is your background? How did you get involved in electronic music?

The most important reason for me was the connection to Mike [Ink]. I got bored with music in the '80s. Then, in the '90s, I heard more classical music, and jazz. And then [Ink's] Studio 1 and [Richie Hawtin's] "Concept" releases. This was a kind of positive culture shock. I was always working, a little, on sounds -- I don't say music, I say sounds. Also around this time, I studied art, so I was involved in other projects, more connected to art.

What media?

Visual art, different media, and also with acoustics, with sound, but more or less traditional surfaces -- 3D work, different kinds of things. The idea of using two tonearms was not really new. I had worked with two or three tonearms on turntables a few years earlier, before doing the work with the Studio 1 records and the "Concept" records. But that was based on other problems; it wasn't this kind of remix technique. I did a tape for Mike with the Studio 1 variations, and I went to his shop [Kompakt] -- I didn't have a strong contact to Mike, I was just a customer -- but I gave him the cassette with the remixes, and later he phoned me and said, "OK, I want to do a record." That was my first release.

When you say you were working on different kinds of problems, what do you mean? What were they?

It's difficult to explain. In the '70s, I was very connected to electronic music. Even then I was working on experimental music; a lot of the things I'm doing now we figured out back then. But there was no compatibility. People were laughing at us. The only possibility to do something [like that] was in theater. We worked with theater groups and we did these kinds of soundscapes. I was always thinking about the problem of making photography with acoustics. Just like other people were taking their snapshots in optical media, I wanted to take snapshots in acoustical media. But we didn't have the techniques; it was much too expensive. There was no digital recording, so if you wanted to record [environmental] sounds, you had to go with a big machine. The whole thing was too difficult to do, and I stopped working in that field.

Also at that time I started to experiment with cutting records with a knife. I would take a regular record, the last loop [the run-out groove], and I would cut formations with a sharp knife. I did a lot of loops at that time, loops that had been made with geometrical forms. You make a cross on the label, and at the end of each point from the cross you make a deep scratch. When you play the record at 33 rpm, you have a beat like a bass drum at 133 bpm. "Boom, boom, boom..." This is what I did on the "8+1" 12-inch [on Suppose]. And if you put, between those four points, four little scratches, you have exactly the grounds for a techno track. "Boom, tic, boom, tic, boom, tic..." So these ideas weren't really new, but there was no context for them then. And for me, the feedback from the Kompakt people, especially from Mike, was a big motivation to start again.

Tell me a little more about snapshots with sound. One of the tracks on "Totes Rennen" is called "Mimesis," which seemed strange to me. I think of minimalism as the opposite of mimesis, as something like pure abstraction, a reduction of musical elements to pure form.

Minimalism is very old. It's not just Steve Reich. I think the first minimal "tracks" were made by church bells in the 14th century, 13th century, maybe earlier. Every ding and dong from a church bell is information -- digital information, really. Bells are very special. They have always informed people. I lived for two years in Italy, in a church, and they had a lot of different codes, just to inform the people if a new child is born, if somebody dies, if it's Christmas, Easter, and so forth. So they have maybe 30 or 40 programs. It's funny, because in this church they had a completely computerized bell system. They could program a whole week, a whole month, a whole year. When a child was born, they would change the program and ring the bells, just to inform the 200 people that lived there that a new child was born. So this is a very early form of information. Mimesis means to copy. I think the idea of a loop is not far from mimesis. The loop is going on, and on, and on, and it's always the same.

It works both ways -- I think of mimesis in terms of copying the external world. In terms of music, I think of Debussy, or something that's trying to create a picture of the external world. So tell me a little more about acoustic snapshots.

In the '70s, Mobile Fidelity Soundlabs released some records. For example, they did a record with trains. One side was trains, and the other side was bad weather or something. Very ambient. I was always thinking of what you hear about people in New York City -- when they go on holidays, they can't sleep, because they miss the noise of the city. So they made recordings for them to take on holidays, of the noises in New York, so they could sleep. And I thought about how places change. For example, if you take a place like Times Square, and you make a kind of "snapshot" of this place, say from 1970 to 1990, the place will change completely. If you take a certain date, like Christmas Eve, and each year you go there and make a recording at a certain time -- 6 p.m., for instance -- it would be very interesting to have, over 30 years, the acoustical changes of the place. Like a series of snapshots. Not using them for anything, not making music from them. Just leaving it like it is.

Are you concerned with the accessibility of your music? The fact that most people won't "get it." For instance, I just got the "x100" record...

That's a very special record, a very special project. It's an art project, absolutely. I didn't care about the music so much. The main idea was the drawing on the record [the image formed by the grooves]. I programmed the sounds just to make the circles. So the first idea was a visual idea. I was always thinking about the connection. I think that you can see with your ears. Your orientation in rooms has to do with your ears, not only with your eyes. There's an interaction between your eyes and your ears and your sense of smell, and for me this border between the senses is very important. When you look at very old music, from Greece, for example, this music is very connected to mathematical problems. Also, the music of Bach. For example, at the time when they invented frets. To figure this out, where you put the metal on the neck of the instrument, you need mathematics. And I think the visual nature of things is very important. For instance, with a record, it's visual -- it's much more visual than a CD. And tactile as well. So the solutions you find with records are completely different from the solutions you find with CDs. And I think with CDs, this whole DJ culture is impossible. So there's always this relation between the material, the surfaces with which you are working, and your work. And this connection, this border, was very important for me in "x100." The visual problem, the rings, the spirals. One is going the left way, the other is going the right way, and then they come together. The spirals are made by the bass drums. Each "boom" makes an interference in the cutting of the record. Where there is a bass drum, the interference is a little stronger, and you can see a line. And if you vary the tempo a little, the lines become curved. If you look at Ernst 1, for example, or Ester Brinkmann "8+1," they are very straight lines, and you can see each bass drum. You can see everything, even the scratch loops. The scratch loops are not as straight as the other sounds, because the turntable was going at a slightly different speed. So there's a little curve for the scratch loops, and you can see that curve on the record. "x100" was the first time I've tried to work consciously with this mathematical/geometrical problem, and I said to myself, "OK, I want to have a very simple, geometrical form on the surface of the record. How is it possible to program the sounds to create this?" So the music was following the visual imperative.

I've been trying to figure out how you did it. Because it sounds -- and looks, if you look at the surface of the record -- as if you began at both ends of the composition and worked backwards, so to speak. How did you program it to get two loops that are so perfectly out of phase that they re-sync? Was it a mathematical problem?

A lot of the work was just thinking about the problem. When I went to Dubplates and Mastering in Berlin and we cut the record, I didn't know if I'd made mistakes, so I wasn't sure if the things I had figured out theoretically would work in the studio. The first time I saw the record, it was surprising. We made a lot of mistakes, just to get the one record. My mathematics were so bad that it wasn't possible to see the patterns. They sounded correct, but they didn't translate into optical information.

You mentioned how your orientation in rooms is guided by your ears. When I brought home "x100" I put it on, turned off all the lights, and just sat there in the dark, listening, over and over. And somehow, it gradually came to define the space of the room.

We did a lot of funny things making this record. A friend of mine and I sat in front of the speakers -- my friend at the left speaker, and me at the right speaker -- and we just noted the beats on paper. For every beat, each of us would make a mark, so we could count the beats. I wanted to know if I'd made a mistake, because the number of beats was very precise. The track had to be exactly 20 minutes long, and in that 20 minutes, each channel had to have a particular number of beats. I don't remember exactly, but one channel had to have two beats more than the other. A very slight difference. It's very interesting to listen to those things, and also at the same time to be making a kind of introspection. It's very hard to figure it out, when you just listen to the sounds, that there will be two circles running [on the surface of the record]. Even if you know about it, it's not possible to see the circles in your mind. It's not possible to figure out the movement that is going on. And it is a movement, in an optical way and in an acoustical way. One is going a little bit slower, the other a little bit faster. The bass drums are moving [in relation to one another], on your screen, if you close your eyes. It's funny, we had some really good moments, working out this very theoretical problem. And yet this record has nothing to do with dancefloors. The dancefloor is also a theoretical problem. People don't want to know this. It's a little bit like Greek architecture: the columns are very strong, they're like a hook line. And on this hook line, there are the other sounds -- these buildings are not profane buildings, they're important buildings, like churches or something, spiritual buildings. And I think techno is a very spiritual thing, but the surface is completely different. You don't need columns anymore, you are doing parties. And the straight bass drum is like a virtual column. And people, when they go there, it's really like they are going to a spiritual place. You see the people, the masses, they're dancing, and they are losing their individuality. You are treating your body -- your corpse -- very rough, and in a way it's a complete negation of the body. I think it's a very, very spiritual thing. The surface is completely different from the surface 2000 years ago, but the structure behind it is very similar.

Let me ask you about series. Given the alphabetical naming of the Max and Ernst records, it looks like there will be 13 of each…

Yeah, probably. But "Q" is very difficult [laughs].

To me they don't stand alone as much as they work in a series. I understand more by listening to them in relation to each other than by themselves. It seems like context is everything. How does the idea of the series inform your work? Are you working through a specific set of problems?

Ernst for me is about learning. There's always a constant element, like a straight bass drum, and I'm trying to do new things with it, to see how far I can go. For example, the new release on Ernst has a big sample from Norman Whitfield's Undisputed Truth. Ernst is really just a fun project for me, I'm trying to do something with very simple equipment. Most of the sounds are made with preset patterns. It's very simple, and I'm just trying to work with this simple technology, and simple sounds, in different ways. The music changes a lot [throughout the series]. For example, the first one is completely different from the third one.

And then you throw in that "pump up the volume" sample!

This is a problem here in Germany. You know, people say, "Ah, you are working with theoretical stuff on Ester Brinkmann. What, do you want to have a theoretical discussion about techno?" So this was my response.

Why did you choose the name Ester Brinkmann?

She's my sister. She's not living, though, she died. Most of the Ester Brinkmann projects are playing with death, with people who are not living anymore, but still living in spirit. They are still powerful today. Like when I used those philosophers' voices [on the "Totes Rennen" 12-inch] -- most of them are dead. On the new Ester Brinkmann release, I use the words from a Romanian who lived in France, who's also dead. There is always the question, who is doing this work? And it's difficult for me to say that I did this work. Because there's a kind of catalytic process, something is going through you, the history behind you. And your family. My sister died when I was three. And my first memories are connected to her. I never had any real contact with her -- in a way she didn't exist for me, but in another way, she has always existed, in a virtual way. For me she is very important. I have another sister, who is still living, but the most important sister for me is the sister I've never known, that I never had the possibility to speak to. She had "glass bones," you know that disease? It's when your bones are always cracking -- when you move around, they crack. So the first sound I remember is the sound of cracking bones. I told this to Rob Young from The Wire, who wrote a very sentimental story about this, but it isn't sentimental at all -- it's only a metaphorical picture. I don't actually remember the sound of cracking bones, but in a way she's part of me. But it's not only she that's a part of me. In a way she's standing for a lot of things. I don't know, I'm always thinking about this. And the name, the way I write it, is wrong. It's written with an "h," Esther. But I write it without: Ester. Ester is also a kind of eteric alcohol: ether. A kind of gas. And she's also like a kind of gas for me, she's not real, she's only a projection surface. I project my movies onto my sister. But I don't know anything about her. She's like the screen of my private cinema.

December 28, 2009

Thumbnail Music Redux: Part Six - Taylor Deupree


This interview, originally published on Urbansounds.com in October, 1999, is part of a series of reprints I'm publishing here, intended as a look back at the rise and fall of minimalism over the past decade.

Taylor Deupree

Taylor Deupree is a musician, graphic designer, and typographer. He became known in the first half of the '90s for his ambient and experimental techno work under the names Human Mesh Dance, SETI (with Savvas Ysatis), and Prototype 909 (with Dietrich Schoenemann and Jason Szostek). Currently, Deupree runs and records for 12k, a Brooklyn-based label specializing in grainy minimalism and "hyper-synthetic textures." Earlier this year, 12k released .aiff, a compilation packaged in a distinctive laser-cut floppy disk sleeve. A manifesto of sorts, .aiff showcased minimal, "microscopic" tracks from Deupree, Komet, Kim Rapatti, Goem, Shuttle358, *0, and others. Deupree also curated the Microscopic Sound compilation for Caipirinha, featuring a range of tracks from Noto, Ryoji Ikeda, Thomas Brinkmann, Kim Cascone, and others effectively mapping the intersecting axes of repetitive and microscopic minimalism.

The following interview was conducted in October '99. Deupree, who never seems to stray too far from his keyboard, fired back emails about repetition, technology, and the cross-currents between minimalism and ambient music.

What inspired you to put 12k together? Does the label have a particular mission? A particular sound?

I established 12k for two reasons. One, I was unhappy with the state of experimental techno in America. No labels were doing it the way I thought it should be done. And two, I wanted to establish a center, a focus, for my own creations. An identity. 12k grounds me and keeps me focused. I've been extremely happy with the way it's been progressing. I think I'm finally earning respect for doing what I'm doing with 12k, and I believe I'm doing it well. Quality control is the most important thing to the label. People may or may not like the label, but I don't think I can be accused of being half-assed or not passionate about what I do.

The mission is pretty much to further this type of sound that I do. I've been fortunate enough to meet a lot of people around the world doing this kind of music and to establish some kind of extended family with them. It's a bit disappointing that there isn't more of it in America, but on the other hand, I don't mind being one of the only ones. I feel as though I'm in a bit of a privileged position.

You've described the music that you compose as an artist, and that you release through 12k, as "microscopic." Do you see a difference between "microscopic" and "minimalist"? Is microscopic an offshoot, or subcategory, of minimalism?

To me, "microscopic" describes the sound aesthetic and "minimalist" describes the arrangement or compositional aesthetic. Small sounds crafted in minimalist space. I think the two go hand in hand.

What's your relationship with technology? Obviously you're computer influenced, as in the design and title of .aiff, for instance.

That's a tough question to answer, considering my entire life revolves around technology. My music is completely computer-based. My graphic design work is all done on the computer. My photography is digital. I conduct a huge amount of my business over the Internet. I'm surrounded by technology every day, and yes, it definitely rubs off on my music. Some people like to live in the country and write really technological music, or live in the city and write very organic music, to find that balance. I prefer to live in the city, immerse myself in technology, and write technological music. I can escape to nature for an entirely different kind of stimulus and inspiration. I love technology and am completely at ease with it -- it has had nothing but positive effects on my career. I think it also supplies beauty and abstract inspiration.

Some of the tonalities you and your artists use -- I'm thinking especially of *0 -- are almost physical entities, particularly the low, sub-bass tones and the high, grating scree. Is this intended? Could you talk about the physicality or materiality of sound, perhaps as employed by a certain strand of new-minimalist composer?

Extreme-tone music is very physical. Hearing Ryoji Ikeda or Signal live is a very physical experience. Having music sound different from different places within a room is also a very physical phenomenon. To me this is all another layer of what makes the music interesting and makes it a complete art form, from sound to packaging to physical sensation. Of course, there comes a point, mostly with high frequencies, where the sounds can become disturbing and painful. I've got quite a bit of music like that. To me it makes it less listenable, but still interesting. Something maybe best experienced in a performance setting rather than at home chilling out. Obviously, sound has been used throughout history for all sorts of treatments, testing, and so forth; experimentation with how different entities -- animals, plants, people -- respond to different frequencies.

There seems to be an opposition set up on .aiff, and in your label's releases in general. On the one hand, the glitch-ridden minimalism of Komet, *0, and your own pieces; on the other, there's Shuttle358 with an almost "classic" ambient sound, albeit updated with certain DSP-derived textures. What, if anything, separates ambient from minimalism?

As far as 12k goes, it stems simply from my love of both genres. Classic ambient -- in the early Aphex, Fax style -- and new microscopic sounds. Dan Abrams (Shuttle358) contacted me via a demo tape. When I heard it I fell in love with it. It was the first time I heard the combination of the two forms, and so amazingly done, too. I don't think the two genres have to be separate, I just think they're defined differently. To me, "classic ambient" involves the use of lush pad sounds, floating, reverbed washes, and so forth -- nearly the opposite in sound from microscopic, which uses tiny, small, rhythmic sounds with little or no reverb. Classic ambient to me is more relaxing while microscopic is more engaging. I think I'm going to stay in the microscopic vein with 12k for the foreseeable future, but if anyone can blend the two genres as beautifully as Dan has, I'd love to be able to go in that direction as well.

I use very different ears -- or at least exercise different habits -- listening to someone like Bernhard Gunter or *0 than I do listening to pop music. Do you think there are different modes of listening applicable to your releases? Differences, even, between floor-oriented "minimal techno" and headphone-oriented minimalism? Or are these specious comparisons?

Microscopic music requires a listener who appreciates a particular sound and aesthetic. I definitely think it's listening music, and yes, it requires a different set of ears or a different frame of mind than dancefloor techno or pop music. You've got to be the type of person who can sit down and listen to music with the same kind of attention you would watch a movie or read a book. At least with my own music that's how I hope it gets listened to. As a composer, for people to pay attention to my music in that way is a compliment.

Techno wouldn't be techno, of course, without repetition; and the same goes for minimalism. Any comments on repetition, on how it works?

I am a huge fan of repetition. Repetition is hypnotic, which, to me, is very important in music. I like a lot of my music to be hypnotic. It draws the listener in, makes them concentrate. I think repetition in form with subtle changes in tone or timbre is very effective. And yes, more minimal too, when there is less to distract you and more to focus on. It's also a very microscopic concept, because it really allows you to hear each sound for what it is. Every element becomes very important.

Repetition is very difficult to use, I find. Well, not difficult really. But I find that when I'm writing tracks, I come up with loops that I could listen to over and over for hours. And it becomes a confidence thing, where I'm worried that no one else would want to hear one loop repeated for five minutes, or fifteen minutes. Of course, I shouldn't worry so much about what other people will think. But it's hard to avoid.
One of my favorite CDs of all time is Chris Meloche's Recurring Dreams of the Urban Myth on Fax. It's just one chord progression over and over and over for 61 minutes, with subtle changes going on. A lot of people I know don't like that album, find it boring. For me, it's the exact opposite. It's very, very engaging.

I've been playing with the idea that in minimalism, form (repetition) takes precedence over content (the exceptionally sparse musical material, sometimes just a few loops or drum patterns). That, in fact, form eclipses content to the extent that the form itself becomes the content. Have you thought about the form/content opposition? Do you agree?

Being an avid sound designer I would tend to disagree. I think the sounds (content) are equally or even more important than the arrangement (form). You could have beautiful patterns and a totally seductive composition, but if the sounds are crap and don't mesh with the whole, then the piece is going to fail. Form and content should be one and each should complement and fortify the other.

What about emotional affect? In someone like Shuttle358, I hear very poignant, emotional sounds (or at least, sounds receptive to my own emotional preconceptions). But in the starker releases -- again, *0 comes to mind -- the music seems to be more of a blank slate. Where does emotion and expressivity come in for you?

I think it's a matter of taste, and to me, ultimately, what I'm in the mood to hear or experience. I agree, totally, with what you say. Shuttle358 is very emotional and something like *0 or Ryoji Ikeda is very cold and machinic. I think it can pretty much be defined by melody. I think when you have melody you have emotion, or at least emotional states are easier to achieve. I like both types, cold and emotional. I don't think either leads to hypnotic music more than the other. I do think that most of this microscopic music lacks emotion, yes. It probably turns a lot of people off, but it doesn't bother me. I'm listening to it for different reasons. If I want to cry or have fond memories of times past, I've got music for that, too.

December 23, 2009

Thumbnail Music Redux: Part Five - Stewart Walker


This interview, originally published on Urbansounds.com in October, 1999, is part of a series of reprints I'm publishing here, intended as a look back at the rise and fall of minimalism over the past decade.

Stewart Walker

Stewart Walker is probably the "dark horse" among those featured here. He has only been releasing music since late 1997, but he's quickly earned a reputation for his textured, nuanced techno, with releases for Belief Systems, Tektite, Tresor, and Force Inc., among others. Sparse if not necessarily minimalist, Walker's music is exemplary of the extent to which minimalist techniques have filtered into the work of artists exploring other concerns. His latest album, Stabiles, was inspired by Alexander Calder's sculptures. It's a collection of tracks that hover like mobiles, shifting internally but never changing position in absolute space. I caught up with Walker earlier this year, just after his move from Wisconsin to Boston, and before departing for his first German tour.

Do you consider yourself a minimalist?

I do. But it wasn't my original goal to make minimal music. I just found that my production style gravitated toward minimalism as the years went by. The confusing part of me calling my music minimal is that I don't know what the opposite of minimalism is. You never hear an artist called "maximal," although I would suggest that the "we-sound-like-Autechre" faction fits that description by placing hundreds of samples and fills into a single track. For me, it's an issue of control, and musicality. I hear music with many changes and it just interrupts the all-important "flow," which is what I personally am aiming for.

Were you inspired by any of the "original minimalists," such as Reich, Glass, Conrad, and so forth?

I have enjoyed certain pieces from Glass and Reich. I realize Philip Glass is considered a minimal composer but too often his repeating melodies make me seasick. It's only the pieces where he exercises some control over dynamics that his music works for me. Specifically, I like the Brief History of Time and Thin Blue Line soundtracks that he wrote for Errol Morris. Also, some of the classics like Einstein on the Beach are good. I have less exposure to Reich, though I have a copy of Music for 18 Musicians, which is fantastic, though not a minimal work in my mind. It recycles similar phrases throughout, of course, but the orchestration builds up to create a very dense soundscape. I don't believe I was actively influenced by these works, but I have appreciated them occasionally in the past. I can draw an unconscious comparison between the rhythmic mystery of 18 Musicians or Drumming and my own Stabiles record, but I hardly ever listen to neo-classical works by any composer.

How do you approach repetition?

Repetition is the source of all of my recordings thus far. I will work on a particular one-measure loop for hours or days until I think it cannot be improved. As I'm perfecting it, I set aside parts that can be modified or re-inserted to keep the composition interesting. Also, by leaving the structure -- or sequencing -- alone, I can focus more closely on timbral modulations. For any piece of music I'm working on I know hundreds of ways to modify the sound, but only three or four fit the context of the mood I'm trying to achieve.

So is a track for you primarily about mood? Are you trying out certain *formal* experiments? One thing that struck me about Stabiles is the way the four-to-the-floor was subverted, almost, by a kind of doubling up, where the downbeat and the beat on three overlap. So what would have been "regular" 4/4 techno becomes a kind of relentless rhythm machine.

A track is all about mood for me, about ambiance or setting. When you ask if I have done formal experiments, I imagine sitting in front of my computer screen with a notepad and a stopwatch and no I don't do that. Occasionally, I do have "what if" thoughts and break out the calculator when I'm away from the studio. And I have been known to mix time signatures (most often 3/4 and 4/4), and I really like the way that comes out. I'm also on the prowl for a formula to smoothly shift tempo in a track by mixing half-speed and 3/4-speed breaks with the standard 4/4 kick-drum pattern. To speak about that standard four-on-the-floor feel: I really love it and this came only after the realization that, with a dancefloor sound system, you don't "hear" the bass pattern as much as you feel it. On a home stereo it is a little obvious though, so I work around it by trying to weave macro-rhythms and phrases on top of the kick. So, I imagine that the kick is clear in the beginning of the track, but as I progress and add more elements the kick is obscured and becomes only one voice vying in the mix. I like your phrase "relentless rhythm machine," and I take it as a high compliment. But I wonder how I can apply this rhythmic indecision to dance-oriented tracks. I'm going to address that question on my Tresor full-length (once I begin working on it after my German and U.S. tours).

How does technology affect your methods?

The technology of the '90s enables me to make music period. If this were 1989, I'd probably be saving to afford a reel-to-reel recorder, or one of the early DAT machines. But composition-wise, I think the ability to listen to a loop playing forever really affects my decisions when I'm writing music. If I was writing each note out by hand I would be less likely to repeat phrases so often. But when using software, you can leave one repeating phrase alone for a time while focusing on other parts that you want to alter.

What are you using to make music, by the way? Is it all software-based? You don't need to tell me all your gear secrets, I'm just curious about your methods.

I don't have gear secrets. I wish I could lie like Richard James and say everything I use is custom-built, but I'm a musician, not a technician, so it's my job to excise my sounds out of off-the-shelf equipment. So, briefly, I use an Akai MPC-2000, a Waldorf Microwave XT, and a Macintosh running Logic Audio with a small collection of VST plug-ins. Most of the bits and pieces come from outside the computer, whether it's a rhythm or an individual sound. Then it goes into Logic for sequencing, re-effecting and then, occasionally, dismissal.

The tracks on Stabiles, as you state in the liner notes, are fashioned after Alexander Calder's sculptures, and you expressly refer to them as "home listening" tracks. Have you composed for installations, or done any site-specific work? How do you reconcile the opposition between the home and the dancefloor in your music?

I have never created music for art installations. If my music were to play a secondary role to a visual component, I would prefer to have it heard in movies. I just think of art exhibits as bright white rooms with people talking in them. Movies are a completely immersive experience, and if my music were incorporated into a soundtrack it would add subconsciously to the environment. I would love it if my music were used in a heavy talking movie like Metropolitan or Two Girls and a Guy. You know, the characters walking around on hardwood floors discussing the appropriate metaphysical topics. But then, that would just be a reconstruction of my own life.

Ideally, music written for the home would be equally useful on the dancefloor, but I think the majority of DJs prefer music that makes no concession to subtlety and instead drives the dancers forward with clichés like 16-measure percussionless interludes and snare rolls. It's trite for me to complain about these methods but artists still use them to this day. That makes me think that dance music genres have petrified and no new methods are possible, but then you've got DJ's like Jeff Mills, Misjah, and Surgeon who can precisely control their textures and progression by using three turntables and a capable mixer. Furthermore, they accomplish this without resorting to the obvious DJ tricks.

I've been playing with the idea that in minimalism, form (or repetition) takes precedence over content (the severely limited musical material -- sometimes just a few loops or drum patterns). Have you thought about the form/content opposition? Are you consciously making tracks that do more with less?

To be brutally honest, I don't have a million ideas when I sit down to write a piece of music. Instead of pre-planning what's going to happen, I start making sounds and sequences until a greater pattern emerges. I compare my process of writing a track to painting myself into a corner. When a sound occurs, it is because that's the only event that can occur at that moment and still fit the theme I'm trying to create. It's not as precise as mathematics, because I'm still the judge of the aesthetic beauty of what I record. Also, what I'm describing is more theoretical than what actually occurs when I'm in the studio.

Are you interested in expression, in emotional content? Some of your track titles would certainly seem to indicate that.

Yes. Well, I am interested in emotional content, but I don't love describing my goals as emotional. Pop music aims to purify emotions into very, very happy or very, very sad. What I'd really like to accomplish in the next few years is to really control the mood of tracks so that more than one emotion is expressed. Also, there are location descriptions like dark, eerie, and cold, which could apply to human moods or exist without humans at all. These ambiguities of first-person vs. no-person and then the hoped-for mixing of moods will serve to make my music more interesting. When I first began releasing records, I wanted actively to shun emotional content (thus titles like "Stoic EP"). But I've made the decision recently that the old techno metaphors such as "the future" and "space" are really dried up and boring. This is why "new" electro that is designed to sound like "old" electro, which was trying to sound like the future, ends up being self-contradictory and ridiculous.

Somehow, listening to your music and reading your track titles, I get an impression of austerity and cold. I think I read an interview where you mentioned Glenn Gould and the Solitude Trilogy. Is this a factor in your work?

I got the Solitude Trilogy for Christmas last year, and after listening to "North" a couple of times, I realized it did not give me the feeling I wanted. But I was still fascinated with northern features such as snow, wind-chill, white-outs, and the effect these non-Earth-like conditions had on Earth-dwelling humans. Most of my neighbors just wiped the snow off their cars and drove to work not taking into account how bizarre it was to live easily in such a harsh climate. Many of the song titles were derived from my experiences in Wisconsin. Walking across a frozen lake with a friend, or staring after the horizon on a snowy day but not finding it because everything was white, quiet, and hazy. I felt extreme isolation from the outside world during these experiences. And as you point out, austerity. Another cool thing about the snow that I should mention is that it too minimalizes the landscape, drowning out color and depth of field.

Do you think your music requires different listening habits than other forms? I tend to think of minimalism in terms of its effect -- extreme reduction and repetition has certain effects on the listener. What is it that your music does?

I hope that my music is easy to listen to. I think it's well-suited for both micro and macro listening, one being attentive concentration and the other being as background music. I created it in part because I felt there was a shortage of quality home-listening music available to me at the time, and I really wanted to create music that I could listen to often without getting annoyed with it.

I think that minimal and repetitive music has the ability to hypnotize and soothe the listener. So it's great to sleep to, or smoke weed to, or otherwise relax to. I don't think you should listen to it while driving at night, though. It might be too lulling.

Mnml Rdx: Another Perspective

Gabriel Stargardter's Anglo Colombine blog chimes in with a discussion of the (ma)lingering mnml strains of the late '00s. I'm not going out enough to hear much of it in action, but I've definitely noticed a rising tide of Italian mnml in the promosphere, the Beatport charts, etc. The first name that stuck out to me was the Minicoolboyz, a name so goofy I figured it had to be a joke, but no: these Minus worshippers seem to be serious about what they do, and their name pretty much sums up the M.O.: "Mini" as in minimal, "cool" as in scenesterish, "boyz" as in young. (From their bio: "Born in 1984, Mike and Raphael discovered electronic music in 2000.") I have to think that Väth's Cocoon parties in Amnesia have to be partly responsible for the rise of Italian mnml, given the army of young Italians shielded by enormous designer sunglasses that one sees descending upon the island every summer. Another outpost for the post-progressive school of mnml seems to be Argentina (source of a recent compilation on Minus, in fact), for whatever reason -- striking if only because of Argentina's strong Italian heritage. I can't say, per Gabriel, whether any of this makes mnml "important" again, but I'm intrigued by the sociological aspects of it.

(It's news to me to hear that Berlin's Golden Gate club is ground zero for nu-mnml! I played there a few weeks back, with A Guy Called Gerald, Tyree Cooper and Laboratory Instinct's Ryo Yamazaki, and it seemed to be a heavily (refreshingly?) German crowd...)

December 21, 2009

Thumbnail Music Redux: Part Four - Richie Hawtin


This interview, originally published on Urbansounds.com in October, 1999, is part of a series of reprints I'm publishing here, intended as a look back at the rise and fall of minimalism over the past decade.

Richie Hawtin

Windsor, Ontario's Richie Hawtin is one of North America's premiere minimal techno producers. On his early albums under the name Plastikman, Sheet One and Musik, he turned acid into a pointillist exercise, opening up worlds of space in and around relentless, staccato percussion. Banned from the U.S. in 1996 for lacking a work visa, Hawtin turned his music inward with the "Concept" releases, a series of a dozen 12-inches that were minute variations on a rhythmic theme. Though he's known for refusing to allow others to remix his work, in 1998 Hawtin released Thomas Brinkmann's variations on his "Concept" series, in which Brinkmann used his home-made double-armed turntable to extract hidden rhythms and repetitions from the records. Hawtin's Consumed full-length, also released in 1998, presented his darkest, most stripped-down vision yet. His current project is called Decks, EFX & 909, a tour and mix CD featuring Hawtin's extended DJ work.

The following interview was conducted earlier this year following Hawtin's return from a European tour.

Your work on Consumed and in the "Concept" series has been widely discussed as a new foray into minimalism. But even your older work -- Musik, for instance -- seems just as minimal, just as stripped-down. What's new, then, with these two releases?

People are finally looking at it that way. But to me, most of my work has been in that vein. Not in the very beginning, maybe, like in 1989, 1990, when I started to record. I was just learning the technology, and I was learning about myself, what I wanted to do. There was a bit more going on in my tracks then. But I don't think I've ever worked on anything that was too "full" since then.

Especially around Sheet One and Musik, going back to those albums, they were stripped-down. They were supposed to be stripped to bare essentials, to give a feeling, an emotion, without giving people too much information. Listening now, in comparison to Consumed, they don't sound that stripped-down. But in context, if you compare them to other things that were being produced at the time, they do.

A lot of people think minimalism, using less information, is the easiest way to record. But it's actually the hardest; to know when there's the right balance, to know when there's enough information to keep people there, not to make them feel overcrowded. I don't think I've gotten more minimal, just more efficient in my use of sound.

How much of those albums were influenced by the techno that was current at the time?

Those two albums weren't really working with what was going on then. A lot of my projects are really kind of reactionary. I stopped doing acid tracks with F.U.S.E. because everyone started doing the same thing, copying or extrapolating that style. When that happened, I took some time off, and at a point where producers were bombarding people with noisy, aggressive 303s, I came back with something stripped-down, subtle, sexy. That's why Sheet One and Musik were created. I don't think they sound like anything that had come before.

What do you think accounts for minimalism's current vogue, especially the minimal techno of Jeff Mills and others? Where do you position yourself with respect to this tendency?

For electronic music, because it's been around for the last 10 years, it's been very prevalent in many people's lives. So not only are producers becoming more at ease, more refined, listeners have become more attuned to the subtleties of what producers are trying to do. The easiest thing to do with electronic music is to add more and more. It's easier even than in rock music, logistically. With electronic music, there's no one to tell you when to stop, that enough is enough, so you just keep adding. I think as listeners have matured, there's been a program to get rid of that excess baggage. Techno producers are hung up with the future. It's tied to technology -- all these high-tech companies are making things smaller and more compact. The '90s have really been about miniaturization and minimalism. Across the board, this scaling back and providing smaller things for a wider purpose. And musically, that's what we're doing, scaling back, giving people less musical information, but a broader journey.

How do you know when enough is enough?

That's a hard question, something you can't really explain. I can't answer that question. It's a feeling, it's a learned behavior, or maybe it's hereditary. When it's done, it's done.

If I sit with my tracks for more than a day or two, they've lost the initial impression. In terms of the actual recording process, the faster the better. I'm trying to capture a specific point in history. That's another thing, my take on technology is to use it to help you, not to let it control you, not to get too methodical, to sit and stare at the screen for days and days. It's not about perfection, but the right balance between perfection and imperfection.

I read somewhere that Consumed was your response to an experience in the north of Canada. Is this true? Of course, I think immediately of Glenn Gould and his Solitude Trilogy, and the "idea of north."

Everyone has had experiences in life that are more inspirational than others. We did a party up north, for a birthday. When you're living in a city it's very hard to get away from sounds, people, even light. Up north we were able to do all of those things. I remember walking out through the forest with a friend. When everyone was quiet, it was really silent. And the blackest night I've ever seen. The idea of that blackness, that kind of void, where you don't know exactly where you are, what's around you. If there are 10 meters in front of you, or 10 miles; if you're at the edge of a cliff, or at the beginning of a pasture. Consumed is a sonic representation of that experience. Or at least that experience enabled me to see what was in my head, sonically. It's this idea of a multi-layered environment.

There is a certain sense of isolation in Canada. It's why I continue to live here, why I'll keep a place here. I like the isolation of Canada -- it's not a destination. Detroit, too, it's not a destination. It's very isolated, from the rest of the world and from itself. I think that's reflected in my work.

How does technology influence your work? How does it affect your methodologies and the form of your music?

I'm definitely a product of technology. I'm looking for technologies which enable people to represent what's inside them, but still keeping a sense that it isn't a battle between them and technology, where technology has the upper hand. I'm interested in technologies that give people the opportunity to approach things from a different angle. Not to repeat things that have already been done.

I'm not really working in a different way now than I was on Musik. Even though I use technology so much, I'm not particularly concerned with brand-new technologies in my studio. I filter through things, I'm aware of what is happening and what's new, but I'm not out to use every technology just because it's the newest or supposedly the best. I think we're seeing a heightened use of technology in the presentation of music, whether it's Internet-related or in terms of installations -- technology can create new environments, it can help present the music, but we're still controlling what the technology delivers.

Are you preoccupied with form? I often think of music like minimal techno as being essentially a theme and variations, a kind of asymptotic approach toward an ideal type. Would this -- the idea of theme and variations -- describe your work, even on Musik?

I guess there's a certain form to what I'm doing. That is, there's a set of variables I'm working with, changing the order of those around and coming up with new things, not adding new things. If anything, in progressing, I'm getting rid of variables. If I add something, it's something I haven't tried before. Overall there's a sense of elimination in what I'm doing.

Could you talk about repetition as it figures in your work?

If you're trying to do something that sounds different than the listener is used to -- to get a reaction from someone, to get them to understand the nuances -- you really need to bring them into your realm of thinking. And that's done by repetition, bringing people into a realm of similar events, a balance between interesting and nearly boring. Allowing the listener time to become comfortable with something before you make a change. For them to understand what you're doing, they need to feel comfortable. The music needs time to develop, and the listener needs time to acclimate.

I've been reading a biography of Brian Eno, and he's really into this generative music, always into new patterns. It always relates to the piece before, but it has less to do with the beginning than with each movement forward. It's a case of intelligent, generative repetition. Maybe technology is only getting to the point now where it can provide that kind of music. Maybe what we're doing as musicians is providing the groundwork for people to understand what will come next. For people to understand a never-ending, non-repeating cycle of events, they'll have to understand a simple cycle. That has to happen before they can understand music regenerating each time, but still relating to what came before. Maybe we're training our ears for the next form of minimalism and technology-based music.

What did you set out to do on the "Concept" releases?

The "Concepts" were a reaction against everything I'd done, against myself, musically, what I stood for. It was also a reaction against that situation, the period of exile when I wasn't allowed in the States, and I really felt that it was a time I needed to get back into the studio and progress with my ideas. It was a time of everyone wanting to release a record, not caring what was on it, what it looked like. I wanted to represent something bigger -- about the process, the time it took getting it mastered, the artwork and packaging that contained the record. And musically, over that year, how things progressed from release to release, at the end of it you were left with something a lot bigger than the sum of its parts. It was so many things. I don't necessarily need to make money off my projects, but it was sad to see so many people not taking this art form seriously. I wanted to show what it meant to me. That there was more to it than just beats on a 12-inch.

How did the Brinkmann remixes come about?

The only reason that saw the light of day is that it was an unexpected event. He called me, he was in Windsor -- he'd done Mike Ink's Variationen, so I was aware of that. And it was funny because there was this continuity between Mike and myself -- we'd both done acid, and then the Studio 1 and "Concept" series. So Thomas was in Windsor, and he played me the music and at the same time he explained how he'd done it. And it was that combination that made it interesting to me. It wasn't just about the music, but about the process. Here was someone giving me sonically interesting ideas, variations of "Concept," but also a very interesting concept in itself, due to the process -- playing back the records with the double-armed turntable. Through placement and ingenuity, he'd created something completely different. I'd never wanted anyone to remix my work, and I still don't. But he didn't remix my work. He allowed everyone out there, and myself, to listen to the music I'd created -- differently.

The amazing thing about what Thomas did is to highlight elements that pre-exist the listener. Not everyone understands all the subtleties in the "Concept" releases. Thomas allowed people to listen to it in a whole new way, without changing anything. It's not a remix -- Thomas didn't change one thing about the record. The only thing he did was pick up the listener by the head, move them slightly to the left or to the right, and allow them to listen with different ears. An intervention.

December 18, 2009

Mix: Raynaud's Phenomenon


Here's a little Xmas gift for everyone: it's (yet another) ambient mix I whipped up the other night. It's pretty simple -- very much a mood mix, put together with turntables and Traktor Scratch, with a very few elements added in Ableton Live afterwards. There are one or two mildly audacious pairings that might not be to everyone's taste, and listeners of my recent mixes will note several repeat tracks here. Apologies for that. In any case, make of it what you will, and I hope that someone enjoys it at least once through.

Raynaud's Phenomenon by psherburne

Anstam, Untitled (Anstam)
Nemeth, Luukkaankangas (Thrill Jockey)
Beak>, Pill (Invada)
Benzo, Sibiria (Laton)
Swans, Black Eyed Dog (Young God)
Stefan Goldmann, Markers of the Black Lit Path (Macro)
Bohren and der Club of Gore, Urgelblut (Ipecac/PIAS)
Sunn O))), Alice (Southern Lord)
Cocteau Twins, Alice (4AD)
Jon Hassell, Clairvoyance (ECM)
Emeralds, Alive in the Sea of Information (No Fun)
Newworldaquarium, The Force (Alternate mix) (Delsin)
Jochem Paap, DX-Synth (Fax)

December 15, 2009

Thumbnail Music Redux: Part Three - Carsten Nicolai


This interview, originally published on Urbansounds.com in October, 1999, is part of a series of reprints I'm publishing here, intended as a look back at the rise and fall of minimalism over the past decade.

Carsten Nicolai

Carsten Nicolai, known for years in Germany as a visual and installation artist, records as Noto for Rastermusic and Noton, labels marked by their austere design and releases that tread the line between conceptual art and techno. (Rastermusic's mission is to release "entertainment music excluding decorative elements.") Noton, Nicolai's own imprint, is subtitled archiv fuer ton und nichtton ("archive for tone and no tone"), but it's not so much a label as a platform for experiments in sonic, spatial, and visual arts. Noton projects include Mikro Makro, an installation produced by Nicolai and Pan Sonic's Mika Vainio, and Infinity, a public-space sound project produced for Documenta X. Noton's most recent project is 20' to 2000, a monthly audio magazine featuring contributions from the likes of Komet, Ryoji Ikeda, Thomas Brinkmann, Wolfgang Voigt, Ivan Pavlov, Senking, and Scanner. Housed in distinctive clam-shell packaging, the 20-minute CDs are as interesting to look at as they are to listen to, their 3-inch playing surfaces bounded by an inch of clear plastic around the perimeter, the music displayed in a kind of hyper-balanced material statis. Curated by Nicolai, the series offers a set of snapshots of pre-millennial thought. Richie Hawtin, in his Urban Sounds interview, wondered whether "we're training our ears for the next form of minimalism." 20' to 2000 is one such primer. I spoke to Nicolai late in 1998, just before the launch of the project.

Is there any affiliation between your work and what artists such as Thomas Brinkmann are doing?

The Ester Brinkmann releases are related to my stuff -- this repetitive idea, in his case with voice, in my case with loop structures, repetitive elements getting more and more abstract as you repeat them. In Ester Brinkmann, there are sentences inside with a lot of meaning, and if you repeat them, they just become [pure] sound. There's an early piece by Steve Reich -- I'm quite impressed by these early Steve Reich pieces -- that's probably a kind of connection point.

How do you use repetition? And what's the relationship between form and content in your work?

For a long time I did visual art. Four or five years ago I started painting diptychs, double images, positive-negative images. From this, inside of these paintings, I started to make what's been described as a kind of loop structure of thinking. There were two paintings that looked the same, and you started to relate to both, so that what was happening was a kind of thinking-loop inside of the paintings. Then I stopped doing paintings, and I started to make records. That was more experimental, but still related to this kind of painting I'd been doing. So this loop idea is actually coming from painting. It was like a story. Then I started getting more and more into sound. I worked quite early with a lot of really basic things like loops, tape loops. I still do in a way, the music I make now is still based on loops. I never use sequencing programs. This loop idea is like a model of my work. There are three stages: One stage is the nucleus, the kerne -- like the grain, a total starting point. That's one of my keywords. There's another one -- pol, polarity, and that's inside of this diptych idea. And there's a third word, like spin, rotation, loop, and that's what is more and more sound-related. I choose for every keyword or image that I'm working on a kind of media. And the spin, or idea of rotation, and time -- it's more inside of sound for me than sculpture or painting.

That, really, is the model of how I create my own world.

I'm trying to relate that to your Infinity Loops, for instance.

Infinity Loops is a good example, because all these things are translated into simple locked grooves. It's a good way to see how I work. It's a piece with four turntables, with overlapping loops. It's like an instrument for me. You can use a lot of other records, or make your own locked-groove records. How I construct my sounds is exactly like that piece. The Infinity CD was a project for Documenta. It consisted of a number of really short tracks, 72 short tracks. It began as a kind of sound graffiti in the town of Kassel. They broadcast it in radio stations and shopping malls, from time to time and by chance. And out of this I took the sound sources and made the records. The records are really interesting for me, too. They're probably a little bit old-fashioned as a medium. But for mixing, and for working on sound, records are really perfect. So what I made was more like a working tool. It's not so much just for listening; you can work with these records. For me it's the perfect idea about how I react to this kind of short sound graffiti in the town. This kind of record can produce for DJs other contexts for mixing tools. That was the perfect translation for me. I made 72 tracks, like jingles, and then I gave them to different places in town. The most important places were radio stations -- they broadcast them all the time, during programs, all the time, these short things.

What was behind the project?

First, to lose this white-cube idea of exhibiting art. I wanted to react on everyday life. And I didn't want to just show my work to the typical art-related crowd. I really wanted to do a piece that belonged to Kassel, or to other people who might not even know about Documenta. These really strange sounds -- if you're in a town and you hear sound like this by chance, at first you'll probably think there's something wrong with an amplifier or something. But if it happens to you again, you'll listen more carefully. You're getting attuned to the sound of the town, you're getting more sensitive. You look around, maybe you'll hear it again -- some people actually looked for the source of the sound, but there was nothing to see. Only this kind of logo, but the sound couldn't be seen. So they waited sometimes for the sound to come -- that means they were really carefully listening to all these kinds of sounds that we were producing, or that already existed. It's quite interesting for me, because there are already a lot of really good sounds in nature.

What sort of response did you get from the public?

Some of them got really confused. Like one older lady called the radio station up -- because of the sounds, she brought her radio transmitter in for repair. And then finally they decided everything was fine, and she realized that the radio station was doing this, not her radio. That was one of the reactions -- probably the funniest, but a good example. There were things I heard from other people who were really into the art scene who wanted to find my piece, but it was hard for them to figure out, because it was never "completed" -- you can never hear the whole thing. Unless you stand in one spot for a week, maybe, it's impossible to listen to all the sounds. So the reaction was that they looked carefully around the town, and looked inside of the town for sound.

It's interesting, too, because it brings up the relationship of music to space, and to a particular location as opposed to just a record that you take home and listen to any time. You've done a number of site-specific works, right?

Yes, there was an early installation of Mikro Makro, a collaboration with Mika Vainio -- that was one of the first releases on the label [Noton]. The installation was really simple. Mikro Makro was related to this idea of microcosm; if you go really deep inside yourself you have the same possibility to lose or to find yourself as if you went outside yourself. Like micro- and macro-structural ideas. There were two major sound sources for the piece. For one, I went to a university in Germany and they scanned my brain. During this I did a recording of the scanning machine. This was one of the examples of the micro. I had like 10 scans done, to get different sounds. It was quite hard to record, because the scans are done in a really strong magnetic field, and you have to be careful that you can still record, that you don't erase your tape. So this was one sound source, belonging to the inside. But it was the other sound source that I was really interested in, coming from pulsars -- rotating suns that are losing their energy and giving out rhythms of light. There are some 80,000 of them now. And every star has a different rotation speed. There are recordings of this kind of electro-magnetic energy, from a radio-telescope. So based on these two sound sources, Mika and I did the two pieces at the same time. If you listen to the record, the first sound on Mika's piece is the sound of the CAT scanner. It's funny, because we didn't speak about it. We said OK, we'll do two pieces, and I'll send you a cassette tape of examples and the explanation of what kind of sound it is, and then we started working. It's funny, he really took after the inside sounds, and I related much more to the pulsar sounds. They fit together really well, but we never talked about it.

The idea of the micro and the macro -- these two extremes -- are you interested in expression, or is there an emotional content or component to your work?

Yes. All of my works, even if they sound really electronic -- like they're not related to being human or whatever -- are concerned with identity. That's probably the difference between this kind of minimalism and that from the '60s. They tried as much as possible to be without meaning, or to only react structurally. That's the difference in my work -- sometimes it seems similar, but it is in this respect not so minimal. Mikro Makro is based on philosophical questions of identity.

How did you get interested in lock grooves? Is that coming from a dance music background?

No. It was one of my earliest inspirations. Record players make a kind of sound at the end of the record [in the run-out groove]. Sometimes it's not only crackling, sometimes it's more bassy. I had a record player like this, and I liked those tones. I got two big inspirations from this in my childhood: One was this kind of technical tape and record player, which was not only the easiest way to listen to music, but also to make music -- like by playing a record at a really high speed, or a slow speed, or backwards. And I learned to tape things, to manipulate tape, to cut, splice, whatever. So that was an early influence, along with shortwave radio. I grew up in Eastern Germany, and the radio stations that broadcast on FM were generally just from your neighborhood, or from nearby in the GDR. So if you wanted to listen to radio from outside, you had to use a shortwave. So often I'd listen to shortwave radio. And shortwave changes sometimes, you lose the signal -- it's up to the weather. Sometimes you'd hear coded military broadcasts. And sometimes [the government would] try to distort what they thought were "bad influences" from the U.S., so they'd overlap really strong military signals, speaking only in numbers. This was an ongoing thing, all the time -- they were just reading numbers in Russian, all the time.

It's funny, because thinking about the broadcasting of the Infinity Loops, I was thinking of the numbers stations -- the idea of hearing something unexpected, out of nowhere. Was that partly what was behind your releasing W. Basinski's shortwavemusic on Noton?

In a way. As I was listening to that piece, it reminded me of that shortwave radio [growing up]. And it's surprising that those pieces are so fresh -- he'd done them in '82. A funny time, because one year later Brian Eno released the first of the Ambient series. So by then, I was already listening to that kind of music. And it hasn't lost its power, 16 or 17 years later. He did a lot of other pieces as well, shortwave pieces, a little bit different. If you listen to them, sometimes they're really close to Oval.

How do you think they differ from the shortwave and radio pieces that Cage was doing?

I don't know so much about those, I've never listened to them. The only thing that I have to say about Cage is that he is more like a picture for me, an image, because I never heard "real" John Cage pieces. I think he opened up a field where you can do something that's possibly not really music any more. Where even the instructions on how to do something -- like 4'33", that's more like a description of the piece. That's a nice example for me; he broke with the idea that music had to be fixed in sound. But in the beginning, Cage was not important for me, I'd have to say. Probably I didn't know so much about him then. I was influenced more by Steve Reich, because his records were available in East Germany. One Hungarian band --- Group 180 -- played Steve Reich.

I wonder with so many people doing "new minimalism," whether there is in fact any connection to '60s minimalism, because it's such a different kind of music now.

If you're looking for sounds -- like sounds as pure sound-tones -- the French musique concrète guys are really great in that sense. But sometimes that gets too arty for me. If you have a mixture between the kind of rhythmic ideas of Steve Reich -- if you connect both, you get closer to what is happening now. I think of Pierre Henri. The first time I listened to one of his records, I was really surprised by the fantastic sounds. And Steve Reich, for me, was more of a rhythmic, repetitive, manic idea about getting into structure. I really, really like his stuff. Now, here in New York, I try to buy everything I can get my hands on. He did some pieces that you could release on a new electronic label in Germany, and there would be no difference.

Have you heard the remix album?

No. Who did the remixes?

[I read the tracklisting.]

Oh, I see. So I'm not jealous about it [laughs]. It's a different kind of context, I think -- a dance context. It would be really interesting to put together Oval, Panasonic, and other people around our label to put together a Steve Reich remix. That would be a little bit more interesting for me.

I'm interested in the whole idea of modes of listening, and here we're making a very easy distinction, assuming that there's something fundamentally different between these artists making a dance album, and an artist like Pan Sonic or yourself and what you'd do with the same sound sources. Do you think that there are different modes of listening required, between the kind of work you're doing and pop or dance music?

I think all these modes are really related to the person who is listening. For myself, if it's really good pop music, it touches me the same way as if it's really good experimental music. I don't want to say that pop music is in itself not good or anything like that. I mean, there are really good pop songs. But sometimes you have to be in different kinds of situations to listen to them. Pop songs, you can listen to them while driving in a car, they have a melody and so forth. While some other pieces are not even audible. If you think of, at one extreme, Bernhard Gunter, if you listen to him in a car, the engine would drown him out!

Actually, that's interesting. I know that Oval, for instance, doesn't care at all what kind of speaker system you have. Gunter, on the other hand, requires that you have the best speakers, amplifier, and so forth. For me, neither of these extremes is so interesting. I want to test the range of what is possible, hearable, from the low to the high. And yet, at the same time, it still has to be listenable for other people. I think that's quite important. Some of my pieces are perhaps not listenable on cheap, portable players. Sometimes I don't care so much, and sometimes -- at the moment -- I care a little bit more. It's a simple question -- it's about compressing sound. If you're really compressing things, like popular music is doing all the time -- in mastering, compressing things to get more into the range of stereos, radio, so that you can listen to it on even the cheapest stereo without missing out on anything. This music scene is not so interested in these kinds of things, because they always try to figure out extreme points -- what isn't hearable anymore, what you can only feel, especially if you're using really high frequencies or really low tones.

Tell me about the 20' to 2000 series.

At first the idea was not in relation to the millennium, but to bring out a magazine, once a month. And 20 minutes is like the length of a piece, not like a full-length album. I think it's a good measure, half an LP, and it's a good format. Then I worked on putting people together, and I realized, OK, if you do this it will happen in 1999, so I related it to the idea of the millennium, about cutting edges. In fact, it's not so much about 1999/2000, it's more about the phrase "cutting edge" -- like a turning point. I think what's happening right now in music is really interesting. There are a lot of people doing good work in electronic music.

December 12, 2009

Thumbnail Music Redux: Part Two - Steve Reich


This interview, originally published on Urbansounds.com in October, 1999, is part of a series of reprints I'm publishing here on my blog, intended as a look back at the rise and fall of minimalism over the past decade.

Steve Reich

Say the word minimalism, and one name will always come up: Steve Reich. His tape-loop works of the 1960s prefigured both hip-hop's sample manipulation and techno's relentless repetitions. Where other early minimalists like Tony Conrad and LaMonte Young explored microtonal reduction, it was Reich's experiments with phasing and repetition that paved the way for much contemporary electronic music, both on and off the dancefloor. Whereas Reich in the past decade has moved further and further away from his origins --writing pieces of increasing rhythmic, melodic, and orchestral complexity -- his early works remain dear to the hearts of contemporary producers. The Orb sampled "Electric Counterpoint" in "Little Fluffy Clouds," and U.N.K.L.E. incorporated a sizeable chunk of the seminal tape-loop work Come Out on a remix of Tortoise's "Djed." (It's worth noting that much of Tortoise's percussive, repetitive syntax comes straight from the Reich songbook.)

Earlier this year, the Nonesuch label released Reich Remixed, which featured Coldcut, DJ Spooky, Andrea Parker, Nobukazu Takemura, and Howie B., among others, reworking the master. Ironically, while many of the pieces stay true to their sources, they don't come anywhere near a contemporary approximation of minimalism -- especially when compared to the work of artists like Thomas Brinkmann, Carsten Nicolai, and Mika Vainio. The following interview took place via telephone in May 1999, with Reich presenting his views on the contemporary state of minimalism. Instead of white cubes, he spoke of a Pandora's box.

How did the remix project come about?

I was with my ensemble in Japan in 1996, where we were giving concerts of "Music for 18 Musicians" and "Drumming." While I was there, Hiro Nakashima -- he's a young guy working for Nonesuch there -- said to me, "You know, there are a lot of young DJs in Japan, Europe, and the U.S. that are interested in your music. You should do a remix album." I really knew next to nothing about this. When I say next to nothing, I mean that about eight years ago, in the early '90s, I was in London giving a concert and I was interviewed by some Keyboard-type pop magazine, and they said to me at that time, "What do you think of the Orb?" and I said, "What's the Orb?" And they said, "Well you ought to know!" And they gave me the CD, and I took it home and I heard, you know, "Electric Counterpoint," and I said, Aha! -- this is a new generation.

But then I didn't run out and buy any other CDs. But I heard from time to time, "Oh, U.N.K.L.E. has sampled you," or "Tortoise sounds like you," so I got the feeling something was going on out there. And we didn't sue anybody, so we had a good basis for a working relationship! So when Hiro suggested the remix album, I said look, if you can come up with something, I'll give it a listen.

What's your impression, when it's all over? Do you think the project stayed true to the source material?

Well, as you probably know by listening, there are pieces that are very recognizably Reich remixed, like Howie B.'s, which I think is maybe my all-time favorite, because he plays in 10/8 -- that's hard to do. But whereas Andrea Parker, you know, you hardly know it's mine. But it's brilliant -- it's a really interesting take on it. DJ Spooky, you hardly know it's "City Life." Coldcut you damn sure do know it's "18 Musicians." There's a variety of approaches in the fundamental sense of, how much of me is in them? And it varies from the very obvious to is it there at all?

It's interesting because you listen to the Andrea Parker track, and it's very recognizably Andrea Parker.

Right, it's not at all recognizably Steve Reich. I didn't know her work, so I was very struck -- it wasn't what I expected from a DJ; this large, lumbering, strange thing seemed very out of character, but interesting.

When I'd heard that you were being remixed I was expecting something more along the lines of this new minimalism that I'm interested in, which is characterized by very repetitive beats, a very stripped-down quality. It was only recently, in fact, that I'd heard your earliest stuff -- "Come Out," "It's Gonna Rain" -- and I was amazed. In some ways it's almost a blueprint for minimal techno, the way that it breaks down. Do you think there is such a thing as minimalism today?

I think those are the kinds of words that you can use and people who write music criticism and history books can use, but I don't think that way. What I did back in the 1960s was what I wanted to hear, influenced by a lot of things, like John Coltrane, like medieval music, African drumming, Balinese gamelan, Junior Walker, and this was the result. There was no name for it, I was just doing what I was doing. I think it was Michael Nyman, who was a music critic and historian when I met him (although he was trained as a composer), who came up with the word minimal, probably in the early '70s, six or seven years after the initial pieces came out. There were lots of other words floating around at that time, and finally minimal won. But I mean, if you went to Paris and dug up Claude Debussy, and you said, "Excusez-moi, monsieur, qu'est-ce que vous pensez de l'impressionisme?" he'd probably say "Merde" and go back to sleep. That's not how the people who are doing it work.

Stravinsky said a composer's like an animal, sniffing around for roots. And that's really much closer to reality -- you're trying to find something that means something to you, that excites you, that gets your juices flowing. And that's the name of the game. What it's called later by other people is useful. It's easier to say "minimal" than it is to say "Steve Reich/Philip Glass/Terry Riley/John Adams/blah blah blah." But that's about it. And if you're interested in this kind of music, then what you're interested in is how these composers are different from one another. Therefore, for me, minimalism never existed -- people existed.

What are you working on now?

I just finished two shorter pieces that were done as a break in the middle of a video opera. Beryl Korot and I are working on a new piece called "Three Tales," and it's about technology in the 20th century, wouldn't you know. The tree tales are "Hindenburg," "Bikini," as in the atoll, and "Dolly," as in the sheep. So it's early, mid, and late 20th century. We finished "Hindenburg" about a year ago, and since that time I decided I'd take a short break -- which turned out longer than I'd planned -- writing a piece for the Kronos Quartet, called Triple Quartet. For that I wrote a piece for three string quartets, and what Kronos does is to record two of them and play the other one live.

What's your relationship to technology, if this piece is about technology in the 20th century?

Well, it's definitely not a short answer. In terms of my own work over the years, the first pieces that brought me to public attention were obviously "It's Gonna Rain" and "Come Out," which were tape pieces. But after they were over, in 1967 with Piano Phase, and working on up through Four Sections in 1987, the only electronics I used were microphones, and occasionally a synthesizer, which I hate. Because I don't want something that sounds like a musical instrument, I want musical instruments. But in 1988, I became aware of the sampling keyboard. And the idea of being able to bring in your voice -- or a train whistle, or the sounds of pile drivers, or whatever -- on the third beat of the 15th measure, just by playing it or programming it, was irresistible. So what interested me about sampling was not sampling music, but sampling anything but music. But then bringing that sound into the music by having it either played live with the sampler or having it prerecorded or what have you.

My project is looking at technology out there in the world, not just what I do with music, and that's a much more complex topic. When the Hindenburg went down they didn't say, "Hey, we should stop flying," they said, "We should fly airplanes," and they did. In the 1930s, the idea was you'll have a Ford, I'll have a Ford, you'll have a washing machine, I'll have a washing machine, and every day and in every way the world is going to be a better, cleaner, more humanitarian place. No eyebrows up, no elbows in the ribs -- this was a serious, unambiguous conviction about technology. And I think it held very firmly until Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Bikini, after which everybody thought, yeah, you'll have a Ford, I'll have a Ford, but we can vaporize a city in a millisecond. And that wasn't part of the plan. So at that point, I think that what happens is a kind of worldwide scratching of the head. At that point the whole environmental/ecological consciousness begins to evolve. And it's been going, as you know, quite actively ever since. So by the time you get to "Dolly" -- I remember in Time magazine the headline was "Dr. Frankenstein." So now when there's a radically new technology, right away we say, what are the side effects, what's the downside, and so forth. And indeed, we find some. And we're beginning to realize that there's no free lunch.

So how are you translating those concerns into form? What strikes me about "Different Trains" is the way the voices actually become the material out of which the melody lines are born.

That's true of "Different Trains" and even more so of "The Cave"; this piece is already sort of going upside down. Technically speaking, the way I work in "Different Trains" and "The Cave" was "as you speak, so I write." I didn't change any pitches, I didn't change any rhythms, I just took the speech and literally tried to find the pitches that were there and made the music grow out of it. More of an homage, in the case of "Different Trains," to the living and the dead, and in the case of "The Cave," to people that I have a great deal of respect for. Here, I'm dealing with radio announcers and whatnot, and I can do what I please. So when I got Herb Morrison's voice -- you know, the famous announcer who announced the crashing of the Hindenburg -- I thought, I'm going to write in the tempo I want it to be in. I'm not going to change tempo every five or six bars. So Herb, if you're not in my key and you're not in my tempo, man -- get with it!

And what's more, I kept slowing down his voice to one-twelfth its original speed. So this is a piece whereby the music is being written, and the samples are made to fit the music, and they're not just speech -- speech is a relatively small part of it. It was that way in "Hindenburg," it will be that way in "Bikini," but speech will get more intense in "Dolly," because we're dealing with the present, and in a way the sheep story is not that riveting in and of itself. It's just a springboard -- it's like putting yourself on a floppy disk.

Coming Next: Carsten Nicolai.

Thumbnail Music Redux: Part One


Thanks to the Wayback Machine at Archive.org, I recently rediscovered a long feature on minimalism that I wrote for Urbansounds.com, a long-defunct web 'zine where I did my earliest writing about music.

As it turns out, the piece published almost exactly 10 years ago, in October 1999. Given current spirit for all things decadarian (or simply decadent?), I've decided to republish it here. (The texts can still be accessed on Archive.org, but you need to know where to look.) Over the coming weeks, I'll be rolling out all six interviews -- Steve Reich, Carsten Nicolai, Thomas Brinkmann, Taylor Deupree, Stewart Walker and Richie Hawtin -- plus the original introduction. (All told, some 14,000 words, for whomever is counting.)

From a 2009 perspective, it might seem like an odd list: Nicolai and Hawtin remain associated with the strategies and effects of minimalism, of course, and Reich remains a sort of patron saint of minimal music in general, despite the fact that the term is ultimately inadequate for the full scope of his work. Stewart Walker's subsequent work might be loosely covered to the broader umbrella of "mnml," but there's not a lot of self-conscious minimalism in it. And while Taylor Deupree and his label 12k continue to explore "minimalist hybrids of electronic and acoustic music," I think that the latter half of that description holds more sway in 2009.

But as I've written numerous times in the recent years, minimalism has largely become an empty term, at least within the context of electronic dance music. "Mnml" (where did the vowel-less spelling originate, anyway?) may have initially been intended to indicate a certain strain of techno that favored staccato, whittled-down sounds and a general refusal of melody or songform, but as a variety of approaches inspired by minimalism coalesced into a series of tropes, and those tropes themselves came to signify "mnml," the term largely became severed from its original, literal meaning, as though through a process of substition. Less easy to quantify, but just as surely, "mnml"/minimal techno became an element of subcultural capital—something to align oneself with, to identify as, to wield as a symbolic weapon against a range of enemies (progressive house, trance, electro-house). It became a lifestyle distinction, despite the fact that there was never really any "lifestyle" that could be exclusively associated with the term. To its adherents, it came to connote endless parties, drugs like MDMA and ketamine, and a kind of bubbling psychedelic affect. To its detractors, mnml was often held up as a sign of extreme bourgeois decadence—PLUR all grown up and squeezed into mylar leggings or a cotton scarf, both purchased at American Apparel, of course. To adherents and detractors alike, it connoted something essentially European, locus of either desire or loathing, respectively. With minimal's ascendance throughout the Easyjetset, from Berlin to Ibiza to Brooklyn and Miami, it also became identified with a particular scene. Clicks and cuts had become cliques and cuts.

Minimal is a little like concept of the hipster in its free-floating scope, having shed the ballast of its original referent; for as many artists and labels in the '00s that self-consciously aligned themselves with minimal (consider Areal's original slogan "Advanced Tech-Electronic Minimalism," or an array of project aliases from Chic Miniature to the MiniCoolBoyz), even more used the rejection of minimal as a distinguishing factor, from the "I survived minimal" printed on Mash's 2006 EP for Player's Paradise to artists like Boys Noize and Jesse Rose, who in interviews offer the specter of minimal as a kind of oppositional monoculture, against which they put up the heroic struggle for the "real" underground. (I'm not saying that minimal didn't engender a kind of underground monoculture, and I don't mean to parody their positions, but I think it's apparent that minimal becomes a straw-man in many of its disavowals, a false opposition.)


Just as very few people self-identify as hipsters, even minimal insiders felt the need to distance themselves with it. This usually took the form of a tongue-in-cheek rejection, from the pilloring of Richie, Ricardo, Magda and the rest of the "minimal scarf" set in the late, lamented Ubercoolische.com (which was clearly by insiders, for insiders) to Paul Snowden's "MINIMAL MY ASS" t-shirts. Self-identification as "minimal" was almost always a semi-ironic practice, or at least from the second half of the '00s—the "Minimal Nation" proposed so long ago by Robert Hood remained only as a kind of fantasy, or farce.

If mnml sputtered its way not just to irrelevance but virtual non-existence, does that mean that minimalism itself was a dead-end? Not necessarily. Kevin Drumm's recent Imperial Horizon is a drone record that's a masterful investigation of minimalism at its most musical, threading the air with a fistful of sourceless vibrations. The album bears striking similarities to Folke Rabe's What??, a Swedish album of electro-acoustic drones originally released in 1967 (and reissued briefly by Jim O'Rourke's Dexter's Cigar label). Rabe's piece is more dissonant, but both make use of the same kind of wavering tones and untraceable harmonic movement. You couldn't really call Drumm's album groundbreaking or innovative, but who cares—it's done so well that it immediately justifies its existence; it's drone as a virtuoso performance (without necessarily calling attention to its own virtuosity). Perhaps the mistake of mnml was to assume that minimalism was somehow new, or progressive, or that it led teleologically to a "better" kind of music. As Drumm's album makes perfectly clear, minimalism only means as much as what you do with it.

In any case, on with the archival material. First up is Thumbnail Music's original introduction, followed in my next post by the lead interview, with Steve Reich.


Thumbnail Music: Six Artists Talk About Minimalism

Originally published October, 1999

Minimalism, in a certain sense, is where you find it. Lying in bed in my San Francisco apartment, I can hear twin foghorns rolling out over the bay. Almost equal in pitch and slightly out of sync, they create a cyclical pattern, shifting gradually from unison peal to call-and-response and back again. Even when sounding at once, their pitches vary just enough to create a subtle tension -- the opposition at the birthplace of form. It's a simple configuration, but all of the elements of music are there -- pitch, rhythm, tension, resolution. That it's not intended as music makes no difference; I've come to regard this occasional performance as a reminder of the skeleton of form behind every musical work, a skeleton that minimalism lays bare as a kind of abstract. A thumbnail sketch.

If you go looking you'll find less accidental forms. In the conservatories, there is capital-m Minimalism: the historical, formally defined genre associated with the work of Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, and others. There's also the early ambient work of Brian Eno, whose drifting tones opened up expansive spaces unexplored by academic or underground composers. More recently, there's the dancefloor-oriented minimal techno exemplified by Jeff Mills, Surgeon, Christian Morgenstern, and similar artists whose propulsive, melody-free productions brought bangin' into the techno vocabulary.

It would be easy enough to list minimalism's many faces over the past 30 years. The fact is, throughout the '90s, minimalism has been running on maximum overdrive, and far beyond the confines of academic, experimental, or dance music. Everywhere from the pages of Wallpaper to the runways of Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein, less-is-more has emerged as an aesthetic imperative. Strangely enough, in boom times like these, minimalism has displaced '80s baroque to reign in a white-out of regal proportions. In neo-classical music, Arvo Part and Henryk Gorecki have left behind the hidden complexities of Reich in favor of a sparkling simplicity. Even rock has been affected in some ways, from the monolithic drone of Glenn Branca and Sonic Youth to the deliberate infirmity of lo-fi indie rock. Minimalism has been embraced by dominant and oppositional cultures alike, a signifier of both efficiency and refusal. Indeed, it's arguable that minimalism is capitalism's privileged monoculture -- sleek, clean, and sans-serif. Bare-bones messaging; all signal, no noise.

That said, these are all different kinds of minimalisms, occupying different spaces in culture. While much design of this decade has taken minimalism for granted as a stylistic trope, another school of thought has gone about exploring the internal workings of a more rigorously formal -- yet still stripped-down -- exploration. This is minimalism not only as aesthetic, but as machine, powered by internal conflicts. If the obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey was a structural summation of simplicity's power, it is worth remembering the sound that accompanied the object in the film: a vast, swarming howl, overwhelming and disorienting. In context, it suggested the impenetrable interior of the object, the unfathomable locus of its power. Here, it cues to the Other that minimalism carries within it -- the hidden complexity behind a fixed, interlocking beat; the adverse physical effects accompanying panning sub-bass frequencies; the paradoxical unlistenability of a simple repeating loop, the Chinese water torture lurking behind every pop song.

This varied exploration is certainly tied to academic music, but also to desktop DIY and underground DJ culture, including some of the artists mentioned previously, and representing a variety of forms. They might differ more than they relate, but in opposition to both canonical classical music and conventional pop, they cohere enough to suggest a descriptive shorthand. There's the drone minimalism of Conrad and Riley; the pulse minimalism of Reich's early works; the heavily repetitive structures (which tend to dominate the genre) of Surgeon, Thomas Brinkmann, Mike Ink, Pan Sonic, and so on; and, finally, there's what American producer Taylor Deupree has labeled "microscopic." This last begins to erode as soon as it's named, but it includes the gestural sounds of Bernhard Günter and Ralf Wehowsky (RLW) alongside the particle-sonics of *0, Miki Yui, Frank Bretschneider, Fennesz, Ryoji Ikeda, Ivan Pavlov, and many more.

Why lump together these diverse experiments? For one, they comprise a sort of unity-in-opposition. But they also share certain characteristics. In distilling these ideas, the question persists, "What does minimalism do?" Is minimalism -- are minimalisms -- qualitatively different from other forms? Minimalism involves something like a shift in the traditional arrangement of form and content. If we generally conceive of the content of a piece of music as the melodic component contained by a certain form (a rhythmic structure, an instrumental container), in minimalism content per se is reduced to the verge of disappearance. Where we expect to find the core of the piece, there's instead empty space, bounded by the repetitive chugging of form. Said differently, the unity that would make the form meaningful -- harmony, rhythm, "coherence" -- disappears, and we're left with a scattered scree, a broken, formless shell. This amounts to a tectonic shift in the traditional relationship between form and content. At its most extreme, form becomes content as the latter is minimized, extinguished, evacuated -- toward a new invention of harmony.

In the interviews at left [a reference to the original layout], six artists -- some of whom are happy to call themselves minimalists, at least one of whom has been running from the term for decades -- discuss the workings of minimalism through their work and the work of their contemporaries. Needless to say, no consensus is reached, yet certain themes emerge -- modes of listening, ties to the visual arts, the question of expression vs. experimentation, and the pleasures of pop.

Stay tuned in coming posts for the remainder of interviews. Next: Steve Reich.

December 11, 2009

The Name Game

lap collage.jpg

What do Memory Tapes, Tapes 'n Tapes, the Music Tapes, Library Tapes, Eats Tapes, War Tapes, Tapes, and Tape all have in common?

Well, besides the obvious, they're also all mentioned in my essay on the decade in rock monikers, just posted on the Rhapsody blog. It's a 10-point breakdown of the key memes of the '00s in band names: animals, collectives, crystals, Names! That! Are! Annoying! To! Type!

It might seem a little flip -- there's something about decoding the decade via the chosen nomenclature of its musical combos that feels a little like that Don Delillo (IIRC) character, an English professor whose "field" was the study of cereal boxes. But I do get the sense that band names became more meme-like in the '00s, that the ways in which they signify subtly intensified, keeping pace with the web's accelerated circulation of information, gossip and branding.

I've long been fascinated by band names, actually, even the ones I don't care about. For proof, just consider Exhibit A: a photograph of my high school notebook (junior year?), on which I scrawled the name (and often logo) of all the bands that fascinated me, and possibly a very few that I just thought looked cool. This here, by the way, is a world premiere. (Don't count on similar nostalgic/sentimental/half-embarrassing revelations any time soon.)


Please disregard the ankh, btw. What can I say, I was a gothy kid. Also, I would just like to point out that the skull is a potato print. Did you have potato prints on your notebooks? I didn't think so.