Musik utan slut med DeepChord
Vanligtvis betraktar vi det mesta i vår tillvaro som tillfälligt. Händelser, dagar och relationer – allt har en början och allt har ett slut. Musik likaså. Oavsett om vi tänker på en låt, en konsert eller ett album, betraktar vi det som något episodiskt. Men det behöver kanske inte vara så?
Rod Modell, bättre känd som DeepChord, är inte intresserad av det episodiska. Han spenderar tvärtom tiden i sin studio med att väva samman oändliga, hypnotiska loopar, vilka långsamt muteras mot evighetens horisont. Så småningom ringer så klart skivbolaget och ber om låtar, varpå Rod klipper ihop materialet till tio minuter långa, förvisso episodiska, men likväl djupt stämningsfulla och sävligt rytmiska stycken. DeepChords musik handlar helt enkelt inte om att röra sig från punkt a till b, om början eller slut. Den handlar om att sjunka – djupare och djupare och djupare – in i sig själv.
Rod är just nu aktuell med två album: soloalbumet Sommer, som släpps under DeepChord-aliaset, samt Silent World, som han släpper tillsammans med Steven Hitchell under namnet Echospace. GAFFAs Fredrik Franzén lyckades tjata till sig en intervju med den i regel hemlighetsfulle mannen från Detroit. Med hänsyn till den senares säregna syn på musik och skapande, publicerar vi deras brevväxling oredigerad och ej översatt. Den är lång. Den är tung. Läs hela eller läs ett stycke. Bortse från slutet och sikta på djupet.
A lot of our readers won't be familiar with you. Can you please introduce yourself and tell them what it is that you do?
– Sure... I've been involved with electronic music since the mid 1980's. Originally influenced by experimental and atmospheric sounds. I think ultimately I consider myself a sound-designer rather than a musician. This allows more freedom since I'm not constrained by the limitations of "music" making. In the early 90's I was attending art school for fine-arts photography in Detroit, and I found myself living in the epicenter of Detroit's blossoming techno scene. I was excited to see this movement taking place all around me. It was an exciting time, and I was privileged to be in the middle of it.
You're from Detroit, a city with a very special relationship to techno music. How has the city and its culture affected you as a musician?
– Interestingly, I think it had less impact than most think. I was an ambient sound artist without any museums to display my artwork. I think techno music was a museum that opened and was very interested in my work. I was doing strange sounds since 1984, using old synths like the Roland Juno 6, TR808's and cheap Yamaha and Alesis effect units, recording on old 4-track cassette multitrack decks like the Tascam PortaOne (my first recorder). Back then, the city was NOTHING like it is today. This is another way Detroit it similar to Berlin. The difference to a 1985 Berlin and a 2012 Berlin is as startling as a 1985 Detroit and a 2012 Detroit. They were completely different than today. Detroit looked like Gotham City in the Batman films. The Fox Theatre in Detroit's center (today a revitalized crown-jewel in Detroit), was a porno theatre. The area around it was ridden with burlesque houses and prostitutes. The area was a graveyard of old vacant skyscrapers. Everyone left the city, and it was painfully obvious. Today... it's not so obvious. The bulk of the vacant skyscrapers have been either renovated and filled with occupants, or demolished. The area is revitalized and cleaned up tremendously. The "Gotham City Detroit" is gone. But I think it was this old, dirty Detroit that birthed techno. This desolate wasteland was an inspiration to artists. It had a Blade Runner or Hardware (1990 film by Richard Stanley) aesthetic. There was nowhere else on Earth that you could see this except a film set. It was an influence on techno, and me. But eventually, it became sour. I got inspired by it, but also (eventually) depressed.
I take it you are to some extent inspired by the structures and techniques of electronic dance music; yet, you've (to my knowledge) never released any dance music in that sense. How come?
– This is true. I don't think I ever really released a techno record (or a dub record). Techno is a host organism for what I do. Techno provided structure that shaped my sound-designs into a more digestible form factor. For years, I would make huge billowing-blobs of sound that had a heavy emotional vibe, but few understood my art. When I combined these "clouds of sound" with some TR909 beats, people seemed to understand and want more. It was amazing to me. I think a similar comparison might be British Murder Boys. These guys have a drastically different sound than me, but in this regard we are similar. Are these guys techno? I never thought so. They represent a harder industrial sound that kinda sneaked in the door under the guise of techno. Maybe people can't understand British Murder Boys or DeepChord (or many others)... so people kinda did what people usually do, and tell themselves "it's like this or it's like that" (even though it isn't). Doing this allows them to pretend that they understand it when they don't. Relating something that people can't grasp to something that they can, makes them able to comprehend a little. Many things that weren't techno were being called techno back then. If it had a 909 kick drum it must have been techno right? Wrong. I've never once considered the dance floor when I made a record. I focus on the emotional vibe. Beats act like an entrainment device that drives the vibe to the core. I just think that I'm an artist that paints a certain kind of painting. I really never called it techno or dub techno. Everyone else does. I don't really know what it is. I suppose it's more ambient music than anything, but I hate that term (ambient), because to me it conjures up imagery of cheesy 1990's rave art and "horizontal dancing" chill rooms, which is as revolting to me as new-age music. I think maybe "atmospheric music" is more appropriate because it's more vague. "Atmospheric" reminds me of open spaces at night time. Or the sensation of being underwater. Or floating in air.
Is there anything in particular a techno track (or a dubtechno track or whatever we choose to call it) can provide that a three-minute pop song never can?
– I don't think these two types of music are even processed by the same part of the brain. They are drastically different artforms with no similarities. Listening to a 3 minute pop songs is for left brain, like reading a book or watching a newscast. Hearing (not listening) to an atmospheric music track is right brain and ethereal. The brain responds to this sound like feeling the wind blow or warm sand on your feet at the beach. At a club, when you hear a great track, people have an ecstatic look on their face and eyes closed. They are feeling sensuous sounds. They are floating in a rapturous womb of positive energy. LIke a drug. This is what people come to a club for. How can this be compared to a pop song? The pop song is like a weather report for children. Worlds of difference. Atmospheric tracks connect ones higher intelligence to a world of bliss... a vibrational realm. Pop songs tell 13 year old girls how to relate to 14 year old boys. Like rock music that music makes you violent. People like that because it allows you to more easily visualize beating up the boss that you hate at work, or visualize smashing your ex's car windshield. Different music is designed to stimulate different energies. Most of these are a tremendous waste of time, and worst case... detrimental. Atmospheric (dub, techno, whatever) strengthens and fortifies the best energy in the human being. Comparing this music to pop music is like comparing the "Tibetan Book of the Dead" to Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham".
Can you briefly explain how you create and produce music to someone who doesn't know the first thing about the process?
– Sure. The way I do it is quite different than most techno or dub producers who work primarily with midi sequences. I use techniques pioneered by guys like Brian Eno and John Hassel in the 70's. I like using audio looping devices like the Oberheim EDP and Electrix Repeater. These are devices that enable the user to record a segment of sound thats maybe 5 or 10 second long into them. The device will then constantly repeat this segment, while allowing you to add other layers on top. You can play along with the loop that you previously recorded, and when you've got something interesting that goes with what's looping, you can press a foot-pedal under the desk and trigger recording, and add on top of what you already did (without erasing it). If you don't like it, you can remove only the last layer. If you like it, you can keep going adding more loops. This is how I build up textures. Most midi inputs on synthesizers in my studio don't have any midi cables plugged into them. I play them live into a looper. These are the "loops" I referred to in Hash Bar Loops (my last album). Then after I create a bunch of these textural loops, I'll sync up a drum machine and add beats etc, but sometimes this isn't for weeks later. I rely on midi much less than most other musicians working in this field. I like the looseness of these audio loops rather than the rigidity of midi sequencing. I can then take these textures made on looping devices, and import them into a computer for further editing or adding effects, but all sounds start out being recorded with old hardware looping devices.
At what point does the sound become music?
– Great question.... I've pondered this one for a long time, and not really sure I have an answer. I think maybe after some structure is imposed on the sound. There has to be some kind of identifiable form. If you take an arbitrary noise, like a weird sound that you make with a kazoo, it's just a sound. Thats all. But when you take the one-second kazoo sound, and repeat it every 2 seconds, and modulate it with a phaser pedal and delay pedal, and add a kick drum.... maybe then it's music. Probably crappy music, but... still music. Just like words. If you take one word, and write it on a piece of plain white paper, all you have is a word on paper. Big deal. But then you use that word in a sentence, and it has a life. It means something. Maybe something life changing. Sounds are to musicians what words are to a poet. A poet sculpts those words into something mind blowing... as a musician does with a few noises.
Once arranged and burnt into e.g. a CD, the cyclical, endless nature of the loops becomes a horizontal, defined period of time. How do you relate to the loop and the inevitable transformation of it?
– This is a difficult one for me, because most of my loops can run for days. I use lots of modulation with ultra slow LFO's, and sometimes a loop can keep shape-shifting and modulating for literally days. They are organic and alive. I remember years ago, I owned a Korg MS20 synthesizer and a Korg SQ10 sequencer. I would take this outside in the garage, and let it sit for a few hours in freezing cold, then bring it inside and immediately start the sequencer and record it. I would let it record for the whole length of a dat tape. As the MS20 was warming up, the sequence would constantly mutate. It was like listening to an alien life form. The circuitry would get warmer and the sound would constantly change depending on the temperature. It was fascinating, and I'm still fascinated with this morphing over time. I accomplish a similar effect with electronic modulators as I did back then with that MS20, but the results are similar. Sometimes I'll have a loop going in my home for 3 days straight, then I hear something that makes me jump up in excitement. It was just a weird moment when LFO's were polyrhythmically crossing paths in such a way that will never be repeated again. When you have 10 different LFO's in 4 different FX processors all massaging a loop in weird ways, amazing things start to happen. I could listen for days. But then comes the difficult task of taking a chop of the loop and creating a 10 minute track from it. Just the other day, I needed to complete a new 12" for Soma, and I had two tracks that I like, but they were 30 minutes each. So came the task of sculpting them into 10 minute songs. The only way to do this is by adding additional elements that define the song. Buildups and tear downs with other loops or rhythmic elements. Sometimes a drum track can define the end and start. Once the rhythm track tears down to one or two elements, the song is over.
Your music has a live sound to it. It's almost as if I can hear the knobs turning. How much of it is improvised/random and how much is meticulously planned?
– Using the looping devices rather than locked up midi sequencing certainly adds to this effect. I'll have a looper set to 2 or 4 bars, but what's getting recorded is completely unquantized. So essentially, you have an unquantized chunk of audio repeating over and over so it's pretty loose. But in addition to this, I've been purposely trying to roll with my initial feeling when I record, and not go back and correct things or overwork them. I came to a realization after 25 years of making electronic music. In the past, I'd go into a studio, record something, and then mess with it for weeks trying to get it perfect. My epiphany was that... after all this, it's rarely better, and usually worse than the first take. I recall an old interview with Speedy J where he said that if he works on a song for more than 30 minutes, it's usually crap. Eno has said similar things, and I've read stories about Johnny Cash going into a studio and doing ONE take, puts his guitar down and leaves. Thats it. All done. It all started making sense to me. A true artist who's confident and trusts himself, doesn't need to rehash and rework things like someone who's just starting out. TRUST your skills. An artist needs to understand they've invested the time to intuitively understand what they're doing. Roll with it and don't over analyze what you're doing. There is also the possibility that an artist is a conduit for "cosmic influences", and you must channel this energy directly onto tape in it's pure and direct form. If you go back and mess with it, you're screwing with some divine energy. How can one alter this energy that's channeled through you by the stars? I think... I have no right to touch this. Leave it as is. So to answer the question.... it's extremely random with almost zero planning.... to the point where sometimes I hear things that I made 24 hours previously and I'm completely freaked out because I don't know what it even is. Like it was done in a trance state. Logical thought has little place in my workflow. It bogs things down.
The word 'hypnotizing' often comes to mind when I think of your music. What are your opinions on how music affects us physically and mentally?
– I can go on for 20 pages about this. I'm a firm believer in sound being vibrational medicine. The Mysticism of Sound by Hazrat Inayat Khan is one of my all time favorite books. I read it 20 years ago, and was blown away with the potential of sound as a healing gradient. I did some recordings with Michael Mantra years ago that incorporated lots of binaural beats and other brain-hemisphere synching techniques. When we think of music, we think of it as entertainment. I think we need to take sound out of the entertainment realm, and start thinking of sound as a tool that's more valuable than a laser-scalpel for healing people. We've delved into about 2% of it's potential. We are vibrational beings, vibrational beings respond to vibrational fields.
Certain frequencies can alter the vibrational qualities of our very being. But you have to be open to this for it to work. I think sound can heal severe physical ailments. Our energy fields can be massaged with sound to cure disease and overcome mental problems. Universities are finally wising up to this, and developing sound-therapy curriculums. It's almost too big to comprehend, and when our brain meets a question that's too big to comprehend (like how big is outer space)... it usually drops it and moves on.
You also make music with Stephen Hitchell as Echospace and cv313. What does Steve bring to the equation?
– Steve is a great friend and incredible musician. Probably my best friend. I think Steve grounds me a little. I think I'm the guy who's pushing the mystical element in our music. The psychotropic elements. The mind-altering 40hz tones or sound from nature that create an unexplainable effect in the mind. Steve listens to me, then says... "ok... now how about this snare drum", and brings me back to Earth. I think I'm happy with formless textures and floating ambience. Steve likes songs, and he's great at putting them together. He seems to impart more structure on the sonic-clay that I bring to the studio. Ultimately, maybe he's a songwriter and I'm a sound designer. I can create the raw material, and he shapes it a little.
Do you deliberately enter a different state of mind when working with Echospace material, or is the musical differences rather a result of the collaboration itself?
– I think it's automatic rather than contrived / deliberate. When you mix different chemicals in a lab, you create different substances. Mixing different musicians who have different strengths and focuses creates different sounds. Some work and some don't. Steve and I have a great work-flow when we get together, and I think the music that we make together is something that neither could do alone. It just comes down to logistics. He's quite busy with his kids / family, so studio-time together is limited. The fact that I've been spending more time in EU for the past few years is also effecting the time to work on things. Steve's in Chicago, and (when I'm not in EU) I'm near the Detroit area. We've actually set up a studio space at Steve's uncle's house that's about ½-way between Chicago and Detroit to make things easier.
Echospace will also release a new album pretty soon. Sommer and Silent World – what separates them and what do they have in common?
– Sommer is completely new material, and Silent World is older material that's been re-worked and tweaked a little. When we submitted a rough-draft of the second Echospace full length (to become Liumin), the label (completely respectfully) suggested "notching it up a little". They felt it was too ambient. So we went back into the studio and made some changes. We were never completely sure this made things better of not, so recently, we dug into those older recordings and played with them a little. The result was Silent World. This was closer to the original concept for Liumin. Also, Silent World is me and Steve, and Sommer is solo sessions. At the time of Silent World / Liumin, trips to Japan were a big influence. Lots of field recordings from there. We went to Japan quite a few time over an 18 month stretch back then, and the influence was overpowering. Sommer is more influenced by the vibe of home, and the beach next to my house. Maybe it's a little more personal. Common factors... I suppose they can be viewed as different paintings made with the same brush and paints. There is some overlap in colors and techniques, but overall... they were inspired by different times and places. One is a painting of a city that I love, but it's 9000 miles away, and one is a painting of my backyard.
You quite recently remixed Swedish Andreas Tilliander/Mokira. How did that came to be and how did you approach the material?
– I actually met Andreas years ago when I was running Deepchord (the label). He was sending demos back then (excellent ones btw). Anyway, 10 years later, we were playing at a festival together in Ghent Belgium, and he approached me and introduced himself, and we've had a channel of communication since. I really love everything he does, so when the subject of remixing arose.... I was definitely into the idea. When I do any remixes, I never have any preconceived notions. I just go with the flow, and see where it takes me. Every song has different energies and emotional content. To me, Andreas' stuff is extremely emotional in a great way. I guess the specifics are something that I don't think about much. Maybe if you try to dissect the creative process too much, you can destroy it? Just be confident that the process is functioning and keep creating. Many artists over-analyse the process, and this leads to writers block. Forget it.... you're a receiver for this energy, absorb it and work with it. So I can't really get too detailed regarding the process behind this remix, but basically what you hear is what I was feeling.
Last but not least, in what direction do you hope to take DeepChord after this?
– I think there was one time that I could have answered this question, but I don't think I can now. I've realized over the years that whenever I do.... the outcome is totally different than planned ahead of time. Like with Sommer.... I never saw that coming. A lighter summer theme? If someone suggested this a year ago, I would have thought they were joking, but in spring 2012... it felt right. So it happened. So I guess time will tell. I have always been interested in playing "shows" (installations?) in museum settings. Sound art far away from the techno festivals and clubs. Possibly collaborate with a visual / video artist. That would be great, and if the opportunity presented itself, I would put it ahead of some other things. When I go to Sonar in Barcelona, I hardly spend any time absorbing music acts. I prefer the audio-visual installations in the museums. These are remarkable. I never remember the bands / DJ's. I'm flying back home thinking about the installations. I would love to have the opportunity to explore this more. Beatless, formless, immersive sound art. Maybe do more shows without any beats. One time, this happened and it was my favorite concert. The club was planning an ambient event and booked Echospace. Steve and I didn't know this was to be more ambient, and during soundcheck.... we were pounding beats, and someone approached us and asked "is that what you're doing tonight". We found out (then) they were planning a more ambient showcase. I thought.... no problem, and dropped out all the beats, and dialed up some huge reverbs and long delays to apply to some of the ambient elements, and it was amazing. Wish I could do this more, but most of the time.... I'm playing to a dancefloor. So maybe some more art museum installation pieces would be great. Or field recordings on CD.