„I’m finding myself listening to my own album and kind of enjoying it, because it doesn’t actually feel like I made it.“
Sometimes time and space don’t do what you want them to. Instead of meeting up with Sam Shephard in person, the man who is ‚Floating Points‘, I arrive 24 hours late in Berlin, just to get on a dark and foggy street a tape with his answers to my questions, recorded by special field agent Pat Cavaleiro. At the centre of my questions is „Crush“, the latest sonic adventure from Shephard, which will be released on Ninja Tune Records, and quite a retort to the socio-political climate out there.
Sam, in times like ours, is this your musical response to all the killing and extermination and annihilation we are confronted with right now from characters like Trump, Bolsonaro, Xi Jinping and far too many others?
Sam Shephard: Yes, probably, yes. These are dark times. I think, I’m becoming more politically aware as I get older. This planet has gotten quite rapidly really sad in the past ten years – we seem to be worried about the wrong things. While the planet is melting, the UK – and this is only the UK – is worrying about who’s in charge and delivering on a referendum sold by weaponized social media campaigns. It’s incredibly complex.
I can’t answer this question elloquant. I am overwhelmingly sad about the state of global politics –there’s actually people’s lives being affected by the lack of attention to real issues. I feel that issues like the removal of disability benefits and the closing of youth centers in the UK hasn’t been discussed in the UK for what seems like three or four years, the only thing that they’re concerned about is whether we’re in the EU or not. That makes me incredibly livid, I am definitely upset with the UK and America – and Brazil.
Do you feel an artist has to step up and make a political these days?
Not, not all. I think they can offer some sort of escape from that reality. Personally, I’m feeling enraged by the current state of affairs. And I don’t consider myself to be overtly political. I’d like to think that I can understand the views of a lot of people who voted for the things that I don’t believe in. But the thing that really upsets me is the fact that the very mechanism of the nature of people’s vote was sort of turned against them. And that brings into question the very concept of democracy. It should be a bipartisan issue – and it doesn’t seem like it is, because one side won and the other side… I sound like a loser.
But in actual fact, I believe this goes beyond democracy in this kind of societal issue: in what kind of society do you want to live in? One that is based entirely upon falsities and the fake news or whether it’s based in any sort of sense of reality, it is almost anarchistic in some ways, and I don’t want to live in a society like that, because there are people who need help, who are just going to get ignored. The irony is, a lot of those people are the people who voted for the very thing that is gonna affect them the most.
How does one achive such an ambition besides naming the songs in a particular way?
Any thing I can do that raises the awareness of the amazing work by the German charity See Watch. And if you haven’t heard of See Watch now you have. I found that particularly inspiring, because here is a group of captains who are just actually getting on a boat and going out there and saving people’s lives. I try for a second to imagine what it would be like to be someone to get to the geographically edge of my country, with nowhere to go. And to think, well, I’m going to get in the sea, without any realistic chance that you’d survive. That takes an impossible amount of… it’s unfathomable for me. So here here’s this charity that is doing humanitarian work beyond …I find that truly heroic and inspiring. So you know, that’s offers me some hope that other people are really doing great things in the world.
Would you say you are a rather optimistic or realistic person?
Sounds like I am pessimistic. Um… realistic? But it’s nice to hope.
Let’s take a few steps back. Can you describe the album’s creative process? How do things kick off for a Floating Points release?
The nucleus for a lot of this record was kind of technical and it’s maybe a little dry. I had
a live tour as support for The xx using some particular electronic instruments and I was getting increasingly familiar with them and I was enjoying making music in real real time using this equipment. So I set it up in the studio – and the luxury of my studio is that I have sort of the same system I take on tour but largely in embellished: more synths, more drum machines, more modulars, I kind of nestled this touring rig into the larger studio environment. And I made a lot of sounds on particularly synths, namely the Rhodes Chroma. I spent a couple of years just learning this synthesizer and a lot of the other instruments I used a lot on the record more intimately. I think, you know, the actual like making of the record was very rapid, because I was had some melodies in my head and things that I did, little ideas.
There’s not one single nucleus, there are many nuclei that are popping around in my head: melodic, rhythmic, sonic even. And often when you bring two nuclei together, they become more the more than the sum of their parts. When I finally bring them together, they tend to swing this actually music rather than just a simple sonic idea or just a simple rhythmic idea. So, they often have themselves chain reactions in the studio. Yeah, so all that disparate elements that come together in the studio environment rapidly. So, thank you for giving me the nuclear analogy to play with their soul.
I’m very tired, very tired.
The album has a natural flow, despite the harshness of some of the sounds and arrangements.
How difficult was it to structure an album like „Crush“? Did you leave some material on the cutting room floor?
„LesAlpx“, I feel is the one that kind of almost doesn’t belong in as it was made before any of the other tracks, and is kind of more dancefloor orientated. I do mean that in the sort of the cynical sense that it’s something I wanted to do. It kind of makes sense in the larger phonic palette of the record, there is a lot of similar instruments.
There are a lot of like melodic themes that ocur throughout the album, as the CS70 has
this particular jumping up, sort of arpeggio effect which is on almost every track on the album, and whether you notice it or not, it’s kind of some sort of glue thematically. It was made with the entire project in mind, nothing feels uncomfortable to me.
How does composing differ from Djing for you?
I mean, it’s obviously the critical listening of a producer worrying about, say, 15,000 hertz being too present, whatever. In DJing that kind of thought gets obliterated. Also there is the not enjoying listening to my music as much as wanting to pick other music – I am still not wanting to listen to my music in a club because I’ve heard it probably more than anyone. But then this album was made so rapidly and with an improvisational system, so I’m finding myself listening to my own album and kind of enjoying it because doesn’t actually feel like I made it. Which I did honestly, I did make it. But it feels that way, because the process was so rapid.
Sam, last time we spoke in person, we discussed your studies in philosophy, your PhD, and your interest in neuroscience. Do you still keep up to date with current developments in that field? Can you imagine going back into science?
Well, I try and stay up to date with the science. I I still hang out with all my science buddies and believe it or not, we do talk about science on occasion. I still read a bit, but I don’t think science misses me as much as I miss it.
I would love to do more research as it interests me greatly. It’s so important as well, you know. You’re doing like snail pace work. And you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, but that stuff has such a massively important effect on the human condition. It is a really important thing, so it’s nice to be a part of that that world. But the moment is definitely all about „Crush“, about music, about making music, playing music.
And going back to your earlier question: should my voice be used for politics? I don’t
think it needs to be political, I just think it needs to be promoting decency, cause it gets increasingly hard to find.
Science and art then… in the grand scheme of things, is one more meaningful to you than the other?
Well, I mean, given that my involvement in science is so nano-molecular as this point, it’s a kind of an irrelevant question. I’m not part of the science world, but, science gives us the knowledge to be able to sustain life, it gives us a reason to live. So I think, both are equally as important as each other.
Your album ends in two parts (Apoptose 1 and 2). What made you complete the record that way?
They’re quite improvisational. And the titles of the tracks, I mean, sure, it’s a little shoehorning of science into my titling process. It may be some disappointment to learn that I really like the sound of the word ‚apoptose‘; I listened to the sound of the Buchla synth on that particular track a lot, it has a sort of peak quality to it. You know, when you’re making a ragu sauce and it has been on the hob for two days, and by this point the tomatoes bubbling away and it’s like molten lava, these little bubbles in this big bubbles – I wanted to make that sound with the Buchla. The sound of a a boiling pot.
Yeah, so, that was kind of an automatic painting, but there’s a melancholic to the music as well. That
sounds kind of sad and melody, and I love the word adopters. And I like the concept what it means that a cell can go through a series of events that can lead to its own demise for the sake of the health of the body, and obviously, that system, if it goes wrong can cause cancer. It’s a very important thing that bodies do.
I guess, you know, I managed to get the word apoptose and something scientific and something so serious all kind of wrapped up in one word, a word so cool: apoptose.
Thanks to Pat Cavaleiro for speaking with a different tongue in my name.