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 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.