I came across the Brandy plug-in on Google on your side, what is it about?
The website worked with the Google map API, but the background images are no longer supported, so it doesn’t work properly anymore. It generated textures to represent landscapes of the Pacific Ocean, Moon, stars, and Mars on a computer screen. The filler terrain was kind of silly depictions, as they were representing infinite space, and not real destinations.
Talking about landscapes, the hills of California inspired your latest record Valley Girl. As the music is very abstract, how do you see the two relating?
The landscapes which are the subject in Valley Girl are more about the transition from where I used to live to where I live now. Before moving to Oakland, I lived in Chicago, which is a very vertical city, very concentrated and with a very rich culture. In Oakland, everything is much more spread out. The record is abstract, trying to capture the idea of rolling hills and waves, and to present electronic music in a more natural and fluid way.
It’s about injecting the organic into synthetic, almost plastic like music?
Yes, that is so. I always try to use music as material. I think a lot about the quality of the material and inspect the sounds carefully. It works around a compositional set of rules I set out. I reinterpret how I interact with my surroundings, which in real life are a lot of trees, really open spaces, and natural variations. Those elements I use as a compositional constraint and a way of working with the material.
The sounds and the atmosphere of the album reminds me of the Far Side Virtual album by James Ferraro. Are you interested in these ideas of creating a virtual reality which stands aside from the day to day reality?
Not so much. I definitely like interacting with the real world, to draw inspiration from. James is trying to be evocative in his music, which I’m not doing much. I’m more interested in organising the sound, it’s about knowing the song material, generating it all myself.
You studied at the famous Mills College. Where there people who where a big inspiration for you?
The first who springs to mind is Maggi Payne, a composer dedicated to acoustic recording techniques and electronic music pieces with the Moog on campus. Her particular sensibility towards sound exhibits such a high-level of care and is very inspiring to me. Whenever I hear a work by her, I’m impressed by the detail of it. She cares so much, and you feel it every second in the focus of the piece. She has been very supportive towards me and my practice. Also I learned quite a lot from John Bischoff. Any computer music problem I had, we would discuss and form a solution in one sitting. His computer music class got me to really think about building systems to generate change in a composition. From him I learned to appreciate deviation from my original ideas in favour of growth and further development of complex musical occurrences. Especially always changing elements, who work their own way. His talents in control and music aesthetic is really beautiful.
Was the old generation also an influence?
Oh yes, Robert Ashley was the reason why I started studying at Mills. For a while I was really into his operas and how relevant the way his use of voice was, so alive and visceral. Again, especially the kind of control and care in his music, which made it a real art form. I worked in the archive at Mills, where I got to see some letters from Robert Ashley. He helped in setting up the Centre for Contemporary Music.
Have you ever met him? I saw an opera of his in Brooklyn in 2012.
I didn’t meet him, I guess I was a bit afraid.
About voices, tell me about how you work with the vocoder and the synthesised voices in your music?
A friend gave me a vocoder unit seven years ago, which became my first musical instrument. I was really fascinated by its strong characteristics. I was interested in learning about all the different combinations of sound which I could make with it and using my own voice to control it. It pulls out certain aspects of the voice. From using the voice, I got interested in using synthesisers. It extended my capabilities, because before it, I never recorded voice regularly, and it opened the way to a lot of possibilities, starting from scratch.
Would you ever use your voice as a pure instrument, without effects?
While I was at Mills, I took classical voice lessons. So I have some technical skills, but it’s difficult to know how to compose for voice. I really admire the use of voice (by other people), it’s really a craft. Before I would come out with works for voices, I’d have to be really satisfied with it, and find a definite focus. For now it’s not really on the table, but it interests me because I think it’s really important to have a portion of body action or gesture inside the music.
How do you interact with the contemporary DIY and post-noise scene, as being an academic?
When I still lived in Chicago, I started going to noise shows. Before that I lived in Oklahoma, a very rural place. Seeing those shows and performances, using unusual instruments like air conditioners and such, made me interested in seeking out shows and becoming involved in music. So I started a label while doing visual arts. By duplicating tapes, and preparing the music for them, I soon became interested in the audio. I realised that audio releases information over time. In visual arts you get all the information at once, while in audio it evolves. While using audio in artworks, also the physical yet non-physical aspects of it started interesting me. It doesn’t take up any space, but you can totally fill the room with it, and create these different atmosphere pressures. I was always interested in the properties and the principles of acoustics, and that got me wanting to have an academic control over the compositions.