“A state of abandonment, just a hedonistic fantasy of escape.”
Our author Roman Szczesny made us speechless with his knowledge on the music and working process of Squarepusher already once before, in a galaxy far far away. When we heard of a new album by Tom Jenkinson named “Damogen Furies“ and an upcoming liveshow at Berghain, we did not think twice and bought him a one way ticket to Berlin. And no, we ain´t understand everything the two of them are discussing here, but we love that feeling of obscurity in the air.
Collages: Sarah Szczesny.
Tom, last time we spoke , you described working on the track “World Three” as a real-time process, notating the composition without correcting it. Your new album “Damogen Furies” is described by you as being made in one take. Is this album a continuation of this approach, or are they even comparable?
Tom Jenkinson: Not immediately comparable. Because the composition in “World Three” was effectively written out in a single stretch of time. I had the broad idea and set the notes down on the paper. But the nature of that piece was the quiet simplistic instrumentation. There was the two guitar parts, lower pitched guitar, higher pitched guitar, the organ using the flute voice, the organ bass sound, and the piano. But if you listen to the composition all the elements the instruments are playing are radiating out from a central voice.
Where as in “Damogen Furies” the compositions are much more multiply voiced. So there are many more parts that are written as there were in parallel rather than spanning out from that ventral voice. In “World Three” all the parts are essentially derived from that central voice. That is the way I describe the principal difference, and although parts of “Damogen Furies” were written in that very same – I do not like the term stream of consciousness, cause it brings about certain references which I am not trying to make. Most of the time I was listening to that central voice and write other parts around it. So then the drum parts would come along as a development and a augmentation but not derived from that central voice. I look as the drum parts as a distinct separate voice. So the single take nature of it is actually in regards of the recording process rather than the composition.
By calling it a single take recording process you are talking about generating audio in real time via your own Software Patch “System 4” without doing any edits?
Yes, there is no multi tracking of audio, there are no “stems” , there is no editing, there is no reworking of the material. Of course I am not saying I dislike everything about that process, it is just happens to be in this instance.
I can here dozens of instances of revisited software instruments you developed in the 14 years in the making Software Patch which you are referring to as “System 4”. For example the granular synthesized audio fragments in the climax on “Tundra 4” of your “Venus 17”-Ep which is being re-used in “Exjag Knives” on “Damogen Furies”. Can you tell us how they are being created?
It is its taking a drum sample and playing it back via sample player does it via granular synthesis, but then with that sample player you have access to that playback speed, so you more you start to hear these moments of interpolation. When you have it at zero speed then you effectively freeze it at a moment of interpolation then you have this loop of infinite duration. So what I am doing is having the playback speed at zero but then jumping through the sample. So telling it new start-points on the bases of a rhythmic pattern that may or may not derived from the main tempo of the piece. In the simplest instance in the one you highlighted in “Tundra 4” the speed of the granular synthesis sample player is set at zero and then it is jumping through the sample at 1/16th note integrals. That just follow through and hit whatever interpolation it finds at successive integral.
On your newest rendition of your live show, one can hear short sonic experimenting interludes between the tracks in conjunction with a visual representation of your Reaktor patches. Are they freezed, composed tracks or are they dynamically generated ?
Yes, they are dynamically created. The point behind those is that they are taking a bit of information from the environment, using it to feed an algorithm which stochastically generates audio, but not just the note, amplitude, and placement but also the dative of the synthesis as well. I would like to be it at a more developed state, but that was one of the last things which I put together before we were on the road. So its quiet crude in a way. I would like to make it better than it is. But it works.
You seem to be sceptical about the weight of loose unconscious esoteric “automatic” writing.
I am not trying to talk about altered states of mind, dream states or references to automatic writing. I am just talking about a very day to day situation of me thinking I have this sequence of notes what do I wanna here after that. I suppose I was endeavouring to point out there was to exalt the process in which I was writing music which is like in the middle of the day somewhere in provincial england. I am completely sober. I am not trying to deprive my senses, or create an out of body experience or anything of this order. I got a pot of tea, and I just had my lunch, and it is just another day. In that time I write something from start to finish. What I am not trying to do speculations about altered states of mind and lucid dreaming and this kind of thing.
For me the state of lucid dreaming is actually the direct opposite of the final state of liberation its propagating. Without the object of the physical world, the outside, the object, the subject is let loose and reality is just a mere flickering in an hermetical closed brain activity circulating without purpose or fixation.
Yes, It is a state of abandonment, just a hedonistic fantasy of escape. I think for reasons that are already clear to you I am not trying to associate myself with that at all. However futile it is. One of the objectives that I cherish is try to keep the listener awake, and thinking, intellectual engaged.
Eisenstein states that cinema touches the viewer on a subconscious and a supraconscious level, involving both an affective and intellectual shock, which feed into each other and force the viewer into thinking.
In a process of Hegelian dialectic. That feels, without wanting to clame anything to any deeper affinity with the ideas of Eisenstein. I feel sympathetic to those ideas. I suppose in my much more my every day I am saying something similar that I am enabling or fuelling an intellectual process by injecting emotion or shock into it.
For example you did refer the emotional and easier to engage opening tracks in your recent work of your album narratives as a trojan horse. On the vinyl release you inverted the track list.
That it is right! I just thought for me one of the points I bare in mind making up my thoughts about which piece should lead on to the next and so on. You would notice that were maybe a relationship between the final key in one track and the opening of the next. That it is not to say I always make them sympathetic, or harmonious sometimes a clash is interesting as well.
Like in the transition in “Ufabulum” between the tracks “Red and blue” and “Metallurgist” in which the album enters a some sort of atonal abrasive detour of the album narrative.
For certain! It is these kinds of correspondences that are actually the very same kinds of correspondences which exist in the piece itself, and of course if two pieces are being written in order to be independent and distinct from each other. Then the flexibility is low there are only so many combinations. So I just try to pick the ones which feel pleasing to me. About what you were saying about the end of one piece seeming appropriate as a way to lead to the start of the following one. I just thought lets explore what happens principally trying to cultivate a relationship between the pieces which are next to each other what happens then you flip it around. I like to do these experiments in the public eye. Some people will call it fool hearted. I did not listen to it. I just told the mastering engineer to do it. We will see.
Is there a palette of chord structures you seem to revisit from time to time, and is this intentional?
However my intellectual concerns, there is the simple matter of my musical taste. The things I would like to hear. I can not deny the presence of that. So of course there will be correspondences. Sometimes they are quiet consciously made even if they are not on the same record, on the same grouping of compositions that there will be correspondences simply for the reason that I am deliberately try to explore them and actually one of the peculiar things, and that happens to a number of other people too, that throughout my work, as its been presented to the public in sequence of albums. Actually I much prefer to reorder the whole thing into groups of pieces which are united thematically.
As you did in your “Endless Flamethrower” Mix?
Yes! My nickname for those is horizontal slides. So if you think of the vertical the album grouping. Of course approaching my work somewhat as a listener, compiling. Anybody is entitled to say I do not agree with that grouping, but at least for my side there is the conviction that these pieces would be linked together in certain important ways which are interlocked with the compositional process. To its chord structure, an approach to rhythm, or an approach to synthesis. Actually there might be one set of horizontal slices and you could do another. You could horizontal slices that are harmoniously concerned, and another set which to do with concerns of synthesis. But that may fall apart in the instance of certain compositions that really have attempt of synthesis at all. If am on the album “solo electric bass 1” where it is just bass. Of course I am trying to shape the sound the instrument makes. Its up to you to call it synthesis. In my mind yes it is, but it is not just as people think of it. Because people think of it as electronically facilitated process.
Regarding System 4, how did you develop the software instruments?
MYou might disagree with me saying its my software because it is build in Reaktor. You can look at it and make your own judgement. I cant remember the precise wording in the booklet, but what I am trying to put across is the point that I have designed the instruments and I have designed them from the ground up. They use this very simple building blocks
Nobody today is using zeros and nulls, there is always some sort of programming language that actually allows the programmer to communicate with the system.
I have sympathy for working with ones and nulls, because I used to do lots of machine code stuff in 6502. The first computer I had was a commodore vic-20 then I had a commodore 64, and the I got a Atari 800xl, all of those were based on 6502. So in fact there is a screenshot on the “Hello everything” album jacket showing the 6502 assembly language.
Regarding the hardware side of your creation. On the cover of the “Welcome to Europe”-Ep, one can spot your self made spring reverb.
Yeah that’s right Accutronic Reverbs (For example: Bubble Life and Iambic Poetry 5)it is just made out of accutronics, which is the company which made spring reverbs which are often used in guitar amplifiers. I bought a pair of each of the models they made, and did a circuit you could freely assign reverbs in parallel or in series. I try to develop that the reverberation quality the facility reverberation for those units. Because one thing I really object is the collectors market of musical equipment. The fetishation of instruments I find revolting. What I was trying to do which is broadly in keeping with one of the motives behind building the software, is that I am trying to escape the clutches of that market. If I want to achieve a reverb sound which has some kind of spring reverb nature to it, I do not want to pay fucking stupid money for some device because it has this cache in the market. Because that pricing system is servicing an aim which have nothing to do with music.
Enabled by the power of software generated synths, everybody is able to do music now. The rate in which music and software is being shared through the internet is extrapolating. So the sound simulacrum of a preset driven software environment is determining the music culture.
It feels to me at least that the internet is an agent of conservatism. It feels to me like a gigantic engine of consensus, and I find profoundly depressing.
In a radio interview you stated it is an artist responsibility to reflect these dark times we are living in.
In some way I feel defeated, really. But I refuse to stop. Maybe it is almost like this Baudrillian thing where an entity carries on even after its death. Turning my own brutally critically eye on my work this is probably what I am. I want to keep people awake. This is my desire. But in the end the only thing I am able to do is fly a flag that says “this is what I would have wanted to do”. It is way of saying this is what should have happened. But the fact is I very much doubt that I can keep people awake, but it is floating about the bank of intentions. Possibly people of these kinds of leanings are reduced to this baudrillian simulacrum of genuine revolution, but still in respect of these instruments we are talking about. Again I feel I am flying a flag for “I would have liked to escape” but I did not. But I would have like to and try to persuade other people to do the same. I did not made the software available to everybody else. I am faced with a dilemma in some way. I still feel to oblige some people to encourage to take control of the means of their production, and to escape the market forces which are playing a strong determining factor in what they are doing. However if I was to put out my software, and make that available to other people my concern is that it would be processed, and interpreted in a prevailing mindset of the music technology industries which says this is stuff by squarepusher so if you wanna be like him then you use this, and you give us the appropriate money to do so. And my fears are massively consolidated by the fact, that the main question throughout my career I have been asked by music fans: “What software do I use?” This is even before I use computers. My fear is by making it available I am consolidating that process of switching off. What I am trying to say it does not matter if you are using software or a guitar just try to engage with the materials, and try to identify capitalist cohesion there it is present. On the other Hand by not making it available I am presenting this spectacle of an atomised creator which again is another trope what I desperately want to avoid. I am trying to disappear on stage in order to escape atomisation. My intention is to disappear to the extent that I can. Given that the practical requirements of a gig stipulate that I have to be on stage. I used to try to escape that swell. Nowadays speakers are up there you can not hide behind them anymore.