"If you want a very quick and not very complete definition, music is sound that has been organised."
Organised is good way to describe Parker's productions. Every sound is, at all times, locked into its own space and frequency. Nothing ever strays, which lends his work a unique hypnotic character. This sound signature has been prevalent in all of his music. And though he acknowledges this as the source of some criticism, it's a quality that's won him many more admirers.
His latest album, Lustrations, treads much the same path. It comes over a decade after his debut full-length, Dispatches, which was released on CDR via his own label, Geophone; 12 years on and Lustrations is being released as a three 12-inch package on German powerhouse imprint Prologue. This tells of a producer who has seen an audience grow around him while he remains relatively still, exploring the limits of what is an intensely focused vision.
Prologue suggested it. I can't remember when it was exactly, but it was some time last year. I used the fall and winter to record it. All the while I was still doing other things, like teaching and doing a little bit of travelling.
And what's the significance of the name Lustrations?
Well, it's a very archaic word and it's not something that you come across often. I had stumbled upon it through my readings of not just art history but classical and Roman history. I can't remember when I first saw the word, but it's interesting because it has a lot of meanings and it also looks like different words. It looks a little bit like illustrations, and because I'm an artist who creates works on paper through drawing, I thought that was an interesting misreading. And then within the word, if you take out some of the letters, you get the word lust, which confuses things a little bit more but in an interesting way.
If you look up the actual word it is, as I said, a really archaic word and it has lots of layered meaning. A lot of it has to do with a purging, and I think that just like in ancient times as in modern times, people need to purge themselves from the stresses of modern life. And so they go out and they go to places like Berghain and they have a release and they have a purging. And all types of music can do that. I think mine can serve that purpose as well. That was the idea.
It's fitting that you mention Berghain, because this is a DJ-friendly release—it's even released as a triple 12-inch package.
These tracks were meant for DJs to play, there's no doubt about that. I decided not to make an album with ambient passages as I did with my first album. I made this album for DJs, not exclusively, but I did have them in mind. Some people could listen to the whole album, but at least for the vinyl edition it gives you the ability to mix and match them. I think that the album is for everybody who likes my music, not just DJs. I did put some thought into how DJs would use the tracks to either mix together or use as bridges with other artist's tracks.
So is Lustrations an album or a DJ tool? Or maybe both?
I don't think it's that important. If it's called an album by some people fine; if it's a triple vinyl, I decided at one point it just didn't matter. It's not like my first album, Dispatches. The way Dispatches was put together and the types of tracks that were put in there, I envisioned it as something that people could listen to at home, start it and play it till the end. That's why it was released on CD. This album is different. It's for all the fans of my music, but I definitely did have DJs in mind when I was coming up with this concept.
I guess the criticism that some artists get, including me, is that the tracks are purist or they're similar in some ways. But people have been saying that about my music for years, so it's not really a big deal. And again, some of these tracks, they were meant to be put together. I'm not going to say which ones [laughs], but sure, there's a couple there that are similar, but when you start combining them, maybe something new is created from that.
Well, it's funny: all of this stuff, and everything I've ever done, was recorded live. Every track. I'm not multi-tracking—I'm recording live into a mixer, into a two-track recorder. The only edits that are there are for brevity. Sometimes if a track goes for too long I'll make a little edit but that's it. There's no overdubs or anything like that. It's kind of weird but that's just how I record, it's kind of old fashioned. I don't use a computer to record the tracks initially, they're recorded in my studio on an old fashioned digital audio tape machine and then I transfer it later to a computer. And if there's an edit that needs to be done that's easy, but mostly there might be a fade out or something. But other than that you're listening to something that was recorded live in my studio.
So are you working on a live set?
I used to play live back in the '90s but I used to have to cart half my studio to do it. I don't like that. I don't want to make any promises but there's been interest in me doing it again… I get back from my little tour and one of my projects is to at least begin working on the technical [side of] doing a live show again. I would really like to, but I'm juggling so many things right now. Again, I don't do music full-time. Eventually I want to be able to create a live show, but to be able to do it with a small amount of equipment. And I have to tell you, I learnt a lot this weekend from Brendon Moeller because he performed live right before me in Detroit and he did a fantastic job. He used only four pieces of gear and they all fit in one bag. He had a fantastic sound, a really powerful sound, so I was paying attention. I need to do something similar where I can make something powerful but with a smaller amount of equipment. And obviously I can't bring my semi-modulars with me—it just wouldn't be practical in a live situation.
I wanted to ask you about your unique sound signature, which can be heard across all of your productions.
I'm looking for a kind of spatial effect with my music. I'm always thinking about what sounds are supposed to be coming forward and which are supposed to be receding. I'm not a fan of music that is pushing all the sounds to the front, and that can sometimes happen. I try to pay attention to the distance of the sounds. A really good mastering engineer comes into play as well. And I think Prologue understands this.
Neel, from Voices From The Lake, did the initial mastering of this album. He understands my sound very well. So that's important to me because I like to have a spatial feeling in the mix and again, I'm recording by playing live into a stereo mix and I'm always trying to be careful about how the sounds are placed.
I'm a fan of heavy sound. Some of the Ancient Methods stuff is very abrasive and I like it a lot. It's production that pays attention to the space. It's noisy but they do a really good job of arranging that clangourous stuff.
I feel like you DJ with the same subtle mentality of sounds coming forward and receding.
I know what you mean, although the two most recent podcasts that I've done, for Smoke Machine and Electric Deluxe, those definitely reflect more of my history of listening to music and how I evolved. I wanted to convey that in those mixes. It was really refreshing to do those mixes because they go back to my education as a DJ. I started out in college radio, that's how I first started DJing, and I would play music like that.
I generally find that techno is a springboard into more obscure, experimental music. You seem to have made the opposite journey.
Yeah, I have. My old days of working in a kind of noisy format, when I was an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University way back in the '80s. I love the music of Morton Subotnick and some of the early pioneers of electronic music from the '50s and the '60s. There are a lot of people who like techno who are now going back and discovering some of those things and I think that's great. Louis and Bebe Barron's Forbidden Planet soundtrack is a giant milestone in the history of electronic music and I'm a big fan of that stuff. Chris and Cosey did an album called Trance, and those records from that time period had a big impact on me.
You just got back from playing Movement, right? It must have been nice to feel some recognition.
Detroit was amazing; an amazing experience. It was a testament to the potential of this music in North America. It was encouraging to see them pull this thing off. It was a wonderful convention of people, too. I got to hang out with some really interesting artists and talk with them. Brendon Moeller: same generation as me. So I enjoyed talking with him and lots of the other artists there. It's the first time I've played in Detroit and it only happens once a year, so it was great to experience. Movement did a really good job with their sound.
You don't hide your admiration for Labyrinth festival in Japan, but in my mind it exists as a counterpoint to a festival like Movement. Obviously they're very different beasts, but it's great that you see value in both.
Nothing compares with Labyrinth. Labyrinth is the greatest thing ever in terms of an event. There's nothing like it. I can't compare anything to it.
I like Movement for different reasons. They put Squarepusher on the main stage on the most massive soundsystem closing it out. Parts of it were really experimental. He was not doing anything mainstream—really weird improvisation with the square wave oscillator going crazy. And people were going crazy. I was standing next to Brendon and I said, "If Bob Moog was here, he'd be smiling." I thought they had a lot of balls to put him on at the time and place.
The other thing that was awesome was that there were lots of young people there. There were old people there, like me. But the young people far outnumbered us old farts. And they got exposed to some far-out stuff at that festival. And that's a good thing because if we don't have young people coming into this, we're done. It'll just be us with five of our friends at a bar, playing this music. And it'd just fade into obscurity.