Ho treats the four-four as a canvas, ready to paint weird and wonderful sounds over top, something you can hear easily on recent mixes he's made for Get The Curse and DJ Broadcast. He's even abandoned the safety of the time signature at times. Recently, his new Wires imprint has split the difference, putting to wax some of his most out-there sound design alongside post-punk and industrial-inspired techno that sounds like little else. Chamber Music, his aforementioned classically-tinged full-length for Macro, this month, also sounds like little else these days, which is why we caught up with the producer to talk about his creative process earlier this month.
I was surprised to read that Godflesh was one of your biggest influences electronic music-wise growing up.
That amongst other things, yeah. It was one of the first things I got into. I was into thrash and death metal, hardcore, punk before that. I was big into Napalm Death, Butthole Surfers.
It seems like stuff like that translates pretty obviously energy-wise.
Energy and also intensity. And hearing something new for the first time. I don't think that music has the same impact as it did when it first emerged.
What, dance floor-wise, had an impact upon you? I remember you saying in an interview a number of years ago that you used to hate dance music.
I remember that a good friend of mine got into it before I did, and I would think, "What are you doing? What is this stuff?" But then I started to hear things like Psychic TV, Jack the Tab, the acid house mixes they did with Fred Giannelli. The first place that was really important for us, though, was Steve Bicknell's Lost. He was responsible for getting all the American DJs over in the early '90s. Before I went to Lost, I didn't really know what American techno was. My exposure had been to the European stuff, more trance stuff.
What was different about the American stuff?
It was funkier and drier. Carl Craig was one of the first American DJs that I heard, and it was amazing. It didn't sound the same. It had a dirtiness and a heaviness to it. There was something special about hearing that stuff for the first time. The same for Jeff Mills.
No, not really. I was making music, Warp-sounding stuff. That was the stuff that I was really into after hearing Godflesh. The Artificial Intelligence series. Aphex Twin, Autechre. That made sense to me, because you could sit at home and listen to it. I didn't get the concept of going out and dancing to it at that point. Then, I went to a club and heard it. And figured out how it worked.
Your output has been nicely split between stuff for the floor and stuff for the head.
Yeah. That has been really important to me. I was thinking about it recently. Even though I make stuff that is supposedly for DJs to play, a lot of my stuff isn't very dance-y. It's more dance music put through a filter. Especially when I first started making techno. You're very much influenced by the stuff you hear when you first go out, so it took a while...
How long did it take before you felt like you had your own sound?
It's so hard to say, it's a very subjective thing, to understand if you have a style.
Do you think you have a style? Something that runs through your work?
I think so. I've worked for long enough now to be able to look back. There are certain things that I've always been searching for. It's not a particularly dance-y thing. It's more of a stillness. It's something I've always been slightly obsessed about. Dance music is a very physical thing. But, at the same time, there's this kind of stillness. It happens with all hypnotic music, I think. It doesn't have a beginning or an end, it's just still.
When did you meet James Ruskin?
About a year before his label, Blueprint, came about. I was playing in a duo with a friend. I remember he came over afterward, and was wearing a Basic Channel t-shirt. During that period, if someone was wearing a Basic Channel t-shirt, you knew they were on the same wavelength. We both went to Lost and we were both at that same stage where we were trying to make music for the first time. It was a very spontaneous time.
How do you do that now? How do you put yourself in a position where you can get that naivete back? Where you're unsure of yourself...
I think it's quite important to have that. I'm always trying to do something new. I don't want to be afraid to make mistakes. I don't want to have a specific idea of what the music I'm making is for. I went through a period of making very DJ-oriented material, very narrow stuff. But, at the moment, I'm less specific about things.
What happened to change that?
Ultimately, you have to enjoy what you're doing. For me, I need to experiment and surprise myself. In a way, it should always just be a bit outside of your grasp. I don't like refined things. They seem too neat. I like the process of trying to discover something.
I think you can hear that in Chamber Music. It seems like a lot of experiments toward something, but you never quite get there. Wherever "there" is.
I don't think I want it to get there. I had some specific things I wanted to do with Chamber Music, but I wasn't sure what they were going to sound like. I didn't want to do something that had the perfection that most dance music has these days, though. I wanted something that had flaws and imperfections. The way you look at an old piece of wood or scrap metal. It's beautiful because it's not perfect. I think you can apply that to sound as well. I wanted frail sounds, not steroid-pumped techno.
element of the unknown."
You've released stuff as Raudive on Klang, Poker Flat and Macro. What is the connecting thread that you see for each of these labels?
I think they represent different facets of what I like about music at the moment. Some of the Klang stuff is more stripped down and raw. Poker Flat has a housiness to it. And the Macro stuff is the most abstract stuff that I have done. For me, there is a place where these elements kind of cross one another. The music that I really like is a kind of junction point, I suppose, of various elements and styles. A grey area between techno and house and minimal and deepness and rawness. That's where I see those labels relating to one another.
One thing that seems to be a constant throughout your music is voices. You always seem very interested in the human voice, whether it's abstracted to the point where you can't tell what's being said or simply a vocal sample.
Yes. The human voice is a very familiar kind of sound. When you abstract that, it's quite interesting because you still have that connection to the sound but in a non-linguistic way. There's a certain quality to vocals, too, where you can layer them over synthetic sounds. They seem to have a lightness to them, an ethereal quality to the way that they fit into the mix. I remember the first time that I heard vocal samples in stuff from Chicago ghetto house, guys like DJ Milton and DJ Deeon. I think that was the first time that I heard vocal samples in a very repetitive and techno way, and it had a big impact on me at the time and recently as well with some of the more stripped down Raudive material.
Why did you begin that particular moniker in the mid-'00s?
Timing, I think. I hadn't been involved with doing much for my other label, Meta, at the time, and decided that it would a good time to record for other people's labels and experiment. To move into areas where this was less of a clear definition of what the finished product might be. I wanted to widen the parameters of what could be danced to in clubs.
Did you feel like you had settled into a formula with your other stuff?
I think that whatever you're doing, if you do it with a certain attitude, it becomes formulaic or repetitive. It's like being on cruise control in a car. I think all artists are in danger of being too relaxed with what they're doing, and not pushing themselves to put themselves in a space where they're unsure of what's going on. I enjoy that process, being slightly unaware or on the verge of being out of control. If you have those elements in the creative process, I think you come up with something that is far more interesting and innovative. That's what we all want to do, to innovate and surprise ourselves. But sometimes when you do music all the time, it ends up being craft. There's something to be said for craft. The technique of making a well-made track. But what really excites me is the element of the unknown, and not being tied down to making something specific.
I did. I went to art college, and specialized in film. I was intending at that time to do a film degree.
What kind of directors are intriguing to you?
The way that sound is used in film has definitely been a big influence. Directors like David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Alejandro Jodorowsky. I recently went to see a film called Enter the Void by Gaspar Noe, which has amazing sound design. The way directors can use music and sound has had a big impact.
Lynch seems like an obvious one, of course, when talking about how music and film interact. What are some of your favorite films of his?
Blue Velvet had a lasting impact. And the new one, Inland Empire, shows how well he knows how to use sounds, how to layer sounds and how to use them subliminally. How to have sounds, but not at the forefront. Just lurking in the background.
I think you can definitely hear that in Chamber Music.
Certainly. I was trying to make certain things sound indirect, they almost feel distant or far away. You can also hear that in Ricardo Villalobos' music. Certain elements seem to be coming from a different distance. It's intriguing and beguiling, and it's something we don't hear very often. Rock music, as well, is a big influence on what I'm doing for the Wires project. Post-punk and industrial, that grey area. There's something elusive about it, a vagueness to it. It doesn't quite fit into anything.
You and people like Silent Servant and Regis all seem to be drawing those connections more directly recently.
I think people are feeling those connections more heavily. I think people are experimenting more between genres and that reflects the attitude and spirit of the music in the '80s, that kind of post-punk where you have electronic and more rock-orientated forms mixing together. Arthur Russell, for instance, is another person whose work has been a big influence on me. That's kind of where I am at the moment. I'm trying to have a junction where certain contrasting or opposing things meet. Sometimes I use the word jarring to describe certain tracks. That idea where you can have two things that seem contradictory, but together at the same time seem to work. That's where you get the most tension from as well. I like the idea of a consistent tension that never gets released.