|Newworldaquarium: Techno Synesthesia
RA's Will Lynch takes a walk with the colorful Delsin DJ/producer.
When it comes to contemplative house and techno, few recent artists are more influential than Joachim Peteri, AKA Newworldaquarium or Ross 154. A cornerstone of Amsterdam's Delsin family, his tracks play out like vivid, sub-aquatic landscapes—a style he established with 2000's "Trespassers," a simple house groove that remains something of an anthem today, thanks to little more than a weird chirping sound and a chunky kick drum.
Few of Peteri's tracks are this club friendly: as his 2004 album Strike made clear, his head is most often in the clouds rather than the club. Then there's his magnum opus, The Dead Bears, a collection of murky, rumbling productions that seem to emanate from the furthest corners of the subconscious.
Listening to those albums, it's tempting to picture some eccentric hermit holed up in a grimy studio, surrounded by racks of ominous machinery—something like the workspace in Darren Aronofsky's Pi. But of course Peteri is just the opposite: a cheery Dutchman with an easy-going sense of humor and strong opinions about beer. At first it's hard to reconcile the man with the music, but after spending some time with him, you realize this is what makes his records so potent: they find their emotional source in some obscure, wordless place far beneath the surface.
Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to pick Peteri's brain a bit. He was in Berlin for a gig at Panorama Bar, and we took a long walk from his hotel to the venue. As we went he shed some light on the deeply personal process behind his music.
You've been making music since the early '90s.
20 years! My first record was 20 years ago. I'm fucking old, shit. Someone told me that and I said "no way, man!" Then I looked it up on Discogs and I was like "Fuck. It's true."
It's interesting to me that, relatively speaking, you haven't released too much in all that time, but you've stayed relevant. A lot of artists feel pressure to release music in order to keep their profiles up. Do you feel any pressure to release?
I think this idea that you have to put something out there to get bookings or whatever is bullshit. I think it's people trying to rationalize things too much. Certainly I can imagine that in certain styles, or when you're making music to play clubs it might be different, but when you're just making music as a musician, as I do, you rationalize a whole lot less. You can think of a million schemes to get ahead, but in the end it's about being genuine and putting something out there that's good enough... I think all artists have that option, but maybe they don't have the patience.
So you live off your music.
Yeah. It's mostly DJing, which is getting all of my focus right now. It's why at the moment I don't release my own stuff. I just put it in my sets and, if you want to hear it, you stop by and you hear the tracks, or parts of them or whatever.
DJing is a big cash cow, right?
Yes, but that sounds a bit negative. To be honest, I love DJing. I don't just do it for money or because I have to. But it would be nice if it were more in balance and it was possible to live on the music itself instead of playing. DJing is an ego trip. Making music is much more varied. There's a much bigger scale of emotions and, strangely enough, it's a lot less about me than DJing is. It feels less controlling, and it's less the power trip that a DJ set can be.
I think of your music as more of a soundtrack to daily life than to a club situation.
It's not about a party, I'll give you that, but I mean Basic Channel is not about a party. I'm not saying I'm that good, but they are the teachers at the school that I go to. Or Jeff Mills. Not all of it's about party time—it's deep stuff, but that's also part of club life. I mean it's not always cheeky, it can get serious. When the smile has gone and it's going into euphoria, that's interesting.
This can happen during the day, too, you know. It can be early Sunday and you're just waking up really slowly, had a great night and you have a little bit of a hangover, but in a good way. Or you can even have a fever and you're feeling warm but not bad. You're just sitting there and you just float to this other place. This is also maybe the difference between Strike and The Dead Bears. Strike is more about this floating away feeling, you're a little bit hungover, on your own. With The Dead Bears it was that too, but people came along, and started to interact. Now this place was inhabited.
So Strike reflects a more singular experience?
Inward. The Dead Bears is more outward.
Tell me about your studio habits. Do you sit down and say, "time to make a track"?
No, I just make music. I like to make sounds, and sometimes I record the process of making sounds. But I rarely do arrangements or anything like that. Often the final track is an edit, cause most of the time I do these long sessions and just cut bits out. Usually, I just make music all night, just sculpting sounds. You can start up at one point, and you can be so into the sounds that you've gone through three or four different songs and you just have to carve them out a bit. That's all you've got to do.
What are you actually doing when you're jamming?
Basically, I'm doing a million things at the same time. It's like programming a kick while, with my other hand, I'm trying to put the sound in sync and put some compression on it. It's like this giant machine. It's like an instrument. That's what the studio has become, and that's what it should be, in my opinion, if you are doing this type of music. If you turn the knob on the left side, something on the right should happen as well.
I think in the end the most important part of the creative process is just to live your life. This is the good thing about making music as opposed to DJing: life itself is obviously quite varied, whereas in the club, everything is very focused on one kind of situation. It's not entirely bad. It's actually quite good because there's a lot going on there: sexuality, social interaction. The focus of your music when you DJ often tends to shift toward club culture, and to whatever goes on in clubs, which is more intense than 90% of daily life, or more compressed. So there's a lot to get out of it and it's a very inspirational environment. But it's nice if your music can be about things other than the club as well. I know when I wasn't playing out that much, my music became much broader.
I heard a quote about Brian Eno that said his music is a place you occupy, rather than a thing that happens. Is that something you relate to?
Hmm. Well, I have this thing, and I think it's actually like a defect, where you have false connections between color and sound.
Yes, that's it. You have these color and sound associations which are not logical. They're just there. In that sense to me, it's a place, of course. I think there's actually a certain kind of music which comes from this. Brian Eno is one of the godfathers of that. The professor of synaesthesia probably.
So you imagine your music in a visual way?
Yes, something physical, a place. It has no beginning; it has no end. You just step in and out of it.
Can you tell me what kind of thing you're picturing? On The Dead Bears, for instance.
It's not that one-on-one. There's a lot of stuff going on. These tracks were from different periods as well. Even though this was an album that I made in 2001, 2002, there's some older stuff. A lot happened in that time. Tons of emotions and stuff. I mean there's a track which combines a certain person that you miss or like being with combined with a certain landscape that you remember from sitting in the back of the car when your parents drove to Northern France and you combine that with some sort of weird music you heard some time.
I even remember one time when I was with a friend of mine in England, we were driving down the freeway and there were these concrete things that made the car go bmm bmm bmm, the car makes this drone... that kind of thing just flips in there. You make a sound and somehow it associates with that. It's free association. You just grab everything you recognize and you try and blend them together. The only law involved is the tonal system, which you use because you're Western and this is what you're used to, to keep it in tune. I'm not that technical.
That's the only rule in the whole thing?
The rule is that there's rhythm, and that there's melody and melody has to be tonal in my perspective. The rhythm can be anything but it has to funky. So when the melody goes out of tune you adjust the sounds and the rhythm a little bit and it goes into the rhythm section. But that's basically it. And the kick has to be big, but come on, everybody knows that!
When you say it has to be funky, the kick has to big, is that because you like it that way? You hear that sound and think "yeah that's right"?
It's more of the "yeah, that's right" than "I like it." I'm quite particular about kicks. I think that's also a trademark thing but I can really work on it for a long time. I like these laws, I like styles, I like a certain language people use because it makes you skip a few steps thinking about the basics and start really communicating to each other. If I want to talk to you, we need a language. I can just make noises to you but that would make no sense. So we could think up a language together but it would be much easier if we just had some style out there so we could start talking and then we would really start talking about personal stuff.
Styles are a bit like that. I like the reaction of one track to another track. I like to be influenced by something, and I sometimes like to think I've influenced someone else in a record. And when I drink too much and get too cocky I say "dude, I'll steal that kick from you man."
What if you produced something without all those rules?
It would be very lonely.
"You have to go beyond
limits and set aside shame."
So it's safe to say with a lot of your tracks have some kind of story in there.
People, places, things. Sometimes things just piss you off and you have to get it out of your system.
Do you think that's common in house and techno?
It should be, and I think you recognize it when you hear it. When it goes beyond being a party record and goes into the serious territory. It's music. People talk about things in their tracks. It's no different from a singer-songwriter. Some of these things that are being said are coming from dark places or incredible experiences. Take the Dettmann and Klock albums—some of what's in there comes from what's happening in Berghain, those albums give you a glimpse of what happens there. A lot goes on in there. It stays in the club, but still.
The experience of the club feeds into the music, but to me that seems like a big jump to sitting in the backseat of a car as a kid...
It's no more personal than talking to someone in a club. We're living and sometimes things stick. It's really weird when you go back to early memories, you think of a period of your life, think of the things that you remember and the reasons you remember specifically these moments. I know for sure there's a couple of them that you just can't explain. It can be a walk that you take on a daily basis and then one particular night that you remember.
I don't know. Maybe it's just me. If you picture something in your mind, you always have to have some sort of reference and it has to be at a certain time and sometimes these times are random. So sitting in the backseat can be like, "yeah, we're going on a holiday," and it can be south of France looking fucking awesome, but you forget it. Then you can walk home from school with nothing happening and for some reason you remember that one for the rest of your life.
So a lot of your tracks have that kind of simple daily experience feeding into them?
Yes, of course. You just associate stuff and you put it together and you create something and you don't do that from scratch. You take things from your life and your surroundings. You know, you get certain situations and certain moods and sometimes it relates to a person or an event or it's directly related to the fact that you have no fucking money and you worry about a load of shit. It can be that you're just calling a call centre cause your phone didn't work and you're just fucking pissed off so you go in and turn everything up and go ARGH FUCK. Usually when you do that, it's not that interesting. We all have that. It's when you go overboard and you get really, really mad that people go "that's interesting. I never really went that far at being angry at something."
For instance, my new label, Indische Buurt, has a record coming by JT Stewart, or $tinkworx. I don't know what happened but I think someone got JT angry, like really pissed and he just went back home, got it all out of his system and recorded it. It's mayhem, complete mayhem, my favourite tune of his, definitely. He's a really gentle guy. He makes pies and shit, but someone pissed him off.
Can music be a hobby?
It will never be a hobby. You can try and tame it but it will not let itself be tamed. It will bring conflict. It will intrude into your professional life beside that. It will take over. It will lure you into the dark side, man. I just think it takes a lot of time to express yourself well, and it takes a lot of time to open up.
Basically, you're fucking naked man. With The Dead Bears, I'm stripped to the bone. I'm just standing there. You have to go beyond these limits you have and set aside shame. I even did vocals on the album, I mean what the fuck, man. Jesus. On the title track. But that's the thing: You have to push yourself to come to a certain point to say something about yourself that is interesting. And to do that takes a lot of courage and time.
Published / Friday, 05 August 2011
Photo credits / Header + trees - Paul Clement
Live - laptop city