"An arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds"

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Ghost Frequencies

Ethereal/rumbling, soothing/menacing, mysterious/lucid - Erstlaub's intense, affecting drones are rich enough (&, yes, long enough) to make room for these kinds of oppositions, though they tend to a dark, windswept beauty. They also draw, as the man explains in a thoughtful, rewarding interview below, from a deeply Scottish well (bagpipes included, though not directly...).  

One of the glories of the fine Highpoint Lowlife label, Erstlaub is preparing new albums both for Moving Furniture & HPLL (the latter together with a cast of thousands, including the previously LMYE-featured TVO & Production Unit). 

Besides these & other future plans, the discussion takes in musical tradition, first steps & methods, the nature & fit of drone, & his notable commitment to performance. He also touches on collaborations, remixes & other listening (Steve Reich, Basic Channel, Kranky - an LMYE hall of fame). 

Sincere thanks to Dave for taking the time & participating so insightfully. 

A taste of Erstlaub:

Excerpt (from I Am The Line Drawn In The Sand Between The Living And The Dead, HPLL; self-review: "easily outdoes its predecessor in terms of title pomposity")

Sunken Machines ('sketch' for Broadcasting on Ghost Frequencies, forthcoming on Moving Furniture)

For Windy ('sketch' as above)

Longer self-releases here. Also check out On Becoming An Island & Daigoro's tracks - Sleepy Fish, Lumimotion & A Drop Of Rain Slowly Dissipates - on Some Paths Lead Back Again (both HPLL). 

Bonus: an experimental TVO/Marcia Blaine et al mix (Action is not a Verb) featuring The Village Orchestra with Daigoro

Do you see yourself as working in any kind of tradition?

I feel that my work tends to be unaffected by trends and fashion, I usually approach it either as a creative outlet for venting, or if I am of calmer mind, sometimes it's entirely zen and I just "feel" my way around a new piece, let it emerge from the ether or wherever it comes from. It interests me that the drone is inherent in traditional Scottish music and I sometimes wonder if there is some cultural fingerprint that lets it resonate throughout time (I'm not a huge fan of the bagpipes though - time and a place for them).

How has your music changed since you began?

Quite a lot, I got an acoustic guitar when i was about 11 or so and a chord book and just taught myself and played along with music I liked, it wasn't until I saw DJ Shadow supporting Radiohead that I really got into the electronic side of things (if you discount Kraftwerk's Computer World which I liberated on cassette from my dad at an early age). Soon after that I bought a crappy sampler and then built up a hardware setup and a few synths, totally railing against computer sequencing until I finally bit the bullet and decided to get intimate with Cubase.

In the early days I guess I made a lot of Autechre influenced tracks, back then I still used quite a lot of guitar on those tracks too along with bass and the odd bit of badly played trumpet or melodica or whatever i could get my hands on.

I started to get into more esoteric music and using less linear software and processes with programs like audiomulch and dabbling in Reaktor which, coupled with my love for synth programming led me to the Nord Modular platform which I've been a dedicated user of through both generations.

Why drone? Is drone something you just recognise when you hear it or does it have specific ingredients?

I just evolved into this place, I guess a lot of personal things colluded and I found an expressive medium that I felt I could really work within. My pieces are built specifically so that they can be performed in one continuous take. I grew really disillusioned with the levels of automation and with seeing artists turning up at gigs, hitting play and then pretending to tweak knobs while they check their email. I prepare "scenes" and decide a rough order which I then mix it all together.

I think there is something very personal about drone music (not all of it, but lots) where if the listener is in the right frame of mind, it can put them in a time/place other than the one they are in. With some of my favourite pieces of music, it's only once they finish and you notice the weight of the silence do you realise how much stimulus it was adding.

Do you use anything besides a laptop to make your music?

The laptop is incidental really, all my material is made entirely within the Nord Modular G2 Engine, the laptop is just so I can make sure I'm on the right patch for the job. I have a midi interface and use a couple of delay pedals for looping transitions as there is an audible drop when loading in a new patch. This can sometimes lead to some pretty unexpected variations and jumping off points in a set though. I'm very particular that every sound you hear has been built from the ground up, it's a purely personal artistic statement, I enjoy sample based music and field recordings, but to me there is a purity and satisfaction knowing that each sound is unique and purpose built for the space it fills.

Best thing anyone's said/written about your music? Worst?

All the feedback I've had so far has been really postive and respectful. There was one recent write up though where the author wrote this utterly nonsensical tirade of flowery crap only to give the album a decidedly average "score". I'm still not sure he actually listened to it, or got the point, but he was at least inspired by my titles.

At a live show in Dundee, despite me making a relatively solid wall of sound, I managed to really clearly hear one female who seemed to have managed to find an exact frequency I wasn't using and sat for most of the set being pretty rude about the musicality of my set. I can't get upset if people don't like what I do though, it is pretty niche and it's a deeply personal thing for me. If people get some value from it and enjoy it along the way then it's a bonus to me.

Do you make any non-Erstlaub music? Is Daigoro still active?

At the moment Daigoro sleeps with the fishes. I have been playing a lot more guitar again which is interesting, lots of long reverbs and delay loops, I'm not certain where it's going quite yet. Last year I did a little bit of soundtrack work for the Sugihara Museum in Kaunus, Lithuania which I credited to D.Fyans.

Do you make music with anyone else or always solo? Anyone you'd like to collaborate with? Or remix?

I tend to strike a relatively lonely figure but I have a really good network of friends and contemporaries, many of whom are also on HPLL. On a few occasions myself and The Village Orchestra have got together and created some pretty intense sound. I've been meaning to work with Keung Mandelbrot for a while now but we never seem to be in the right modes to get our heads together, it is somewhere on the cards. Orphax and Christohpher McFall are artists/friends whose work I really love and inspires me so I'm always up for working with them where the situation arises.

Remixes pose an interesting challenge given the way that I work but I'm always up for turning my hand to whatever comes along provided the project excites me in some way.

Who else do you listen to (for pleasure, for inspiration, for a change)?

I listen to all sorts or things, I adore 18 Musicians by Reich and had the pleasure of seeing the man himself perfom it a few years ago, I listen to a lot of the Kranky output - Stars of the Lid, Labradford, Windy and Carl, Pan american are on pretty constant rotation. I'm hugely impressed by nearly all of the Raster Noton output, I love my techno, especially the Basic Channel side of things. 

I also love hearing pretty much everything,natural or man made, sometimes I can just sit in the woods for a few hours listening to nothing in particular, just searching for that sound that starts the whole creative process flying again.

What's next for you/Erstlaub?

I'm getting myself ready to hit record on "Broadcasting on Ghost Frequencies" for Moving Furniture Records, which will hopefully drop May/June, there's an upcoming release on HPLL alongside TVO, Production Unit, Konx om Pax and Chris Dooks where we performed a live soundtrack to the first episode of Takeshi Miike's MPD Psycho which will be out (mumbles date incoherently). 

Other than that, I've just got word from some guys who are starting up a new label up the road in Dundee who are pretty interested in my schtick. In the meantime, I'm finishing up a college course and hoping to go on to do a degree after the summer in Time Based Art but I'm not certain yet. Otherwise business as usual, taking photos, making art and getting my drone on.

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