|Anthony Pateras, live in Bruxelles, 2014|
tētēma– where did the name come from?
It comes from Artaud, who I'd been researching a lot due to my involvement in Sylvère Lotringer's film The Man Who Disappeared (which is loosely based on Artaud's trip to Ireland in the 30s). We were looking for a band name and it made sense to me to evoke something physical, sensual and unnameable, so of course Artaud's great for that. There is a part of Fragmentations when he talks about cauterising a wound with a flame, twice over and the word refers to that.
How did you first come in contact Mike Patton? What sort of mutual familiarity with each other's work was there beforehand? Was there an initial spark to collaborate or did the project germinate more gradually?
Mike became aware of my work through me sending some PIVIXKI stuff to Ipecac to consider for release. I sent my second Tzadik record with the demo also. I really didn't expect him to listen to either, but as it turned out something on both of those recordings resonated with him (PIVIXKI and he did a show together in 2011). Ultimately the spark really came from Mike—he was on tour with Fantômas in 2009, called me for a beer out of the blue.
Of course I was familiar with his work—Faith No More were huge when I was in high school. After that I was always into the more exploratory side of it—I went to see Maldoror at Joey's, a duo with DJ Schizo at The Punter's Club and all ages Bungle shows at the Corner Hotel. I really respected the fact that there was this guy who could basically just cruise on major label royalties if he wanted to, but instead chose a path of interrogation.
How was collaborating with Patton different from previous collaborations you've been a part of?
It was unnerving to us both how natural it felt. For me it was just great to see someone in that position to still be asking questions, still be curious, still be respectful of colleagues and 100% committed to making great music. I've dealt with a lot less famous people who are all about food anecdotes and career monologues and its incredibly tedious.
What did you enjoy the most?
Recording wise, I think my favourite part was Mike screaming directly into my ear acoustically to demonstrate the different upper harmonics he could achieve by varying throat positions.
There's some extraordinary textures on the record, both in the electronics and in Patton's vocals—what was the recording process? How do you think that process influenced the final work? To what extent was material pre-conceived rather than emerging through the process of recording?
Basically it panned out that I took care of the instrumental parts and Mike took care of the vocals (although he contributed some excellent Moog). The recording process for the instrumentals was long and multi-faceted and then we did most of the vocals in 2014. There was really no deadline for this and I learnt a lot about how that can affect one’s compositional decisions. For example, if you're trying to squeeze out a certain amount of music for a commission in a certain amount of time, you're already dealing with a prescribed length of time and I've found that can mess with your structural thinking. If you don't really know what something is, or when it should be done by, anything can happen, right? The sounds, the duration, the intensity—it's all up for grabs.
As the press blurb states (and has been widely misconstrued), I locked myself away for a couple of weeks with just pen and paper and my record collection. This was in a really shitty part of France, in Picardie to be precise—depressed rural community, lots of drunk soldiers, middle of nowhere. I was in an ex-convent which is kind of like an arts residency (except you gotta pay). I then went to Paris and met with Will Guthrie. I had about 26-28 solid notated ideas that I either sung to him or played on prepared piano for him to articulate on the drum kit. He didn't have to learn entire songs or anything, so we just went rapid fire through this list in bursts, riffing on variations of the core ideas together, recording the drums and prepared piano simultaneously. I intentionally ran the session to generate the most flexible material possible—things which could be stitched together in unorthodox ways. Ultimately they were just rhythmic cells recorded for maximum elasticity.
Over the next few months, I added synths at WORM and Piethopraxis, editing the drums and cutting sounds in over the top. Songs began to drop off, till I had about 15. I then began to orchestrate the synth lines, first with strings, clarinets, revox, trumpet, then proceeded with orchestral percussion, acoustic guitar and recorders. By the end I whittled it all down to 12 and then sent everything to Mike. He spent ages (almost a year) absorbing the music; then I went to San Francisco for a 48 hour rapid scratch session for the vocals. This was insane not only because we found how easy it was to work together, but how much great work we got done. He then kept elaborating on the vocals over the next six months, sending [them] to me over email, for mixing and comments.
Once we had it all down I returned to Bruxelles, which is where I started the whole thing, and did a lock down at Ateliers Claus for two weeks to mix it. Bruxelles is pretty bleak, Anderlecht even bleaker. Being the "capital of Europe" the place has a sense of doom and disarray, given what a mess the EU is in. You have people in the Berlaymont building trying to run the place while sex trafficking is going on no more than a few blocks away. I guess what I'm trying to say is, this kind of energy, this dissonant theatre of things supposedly working but clearly not, fed into the album.
How does the process of making electronic music differ for you from writing for an ensemble for instance, or creating a piano work? Is a different brainspace demanded or are there more similarities than differences?
This album was very much about creating a sound world from scratch—every sound on it is recorded and edited. Early in, I had the idea to make a "sampler record without a sampler" (or specifically, Dilla's Donuts, but without vinyl)—to record every single element in the real world and manipulate/edit it electronically. It was a very specific mindset with a very specific goal. I'm sure my ensemble or piano thinking played into that and I'm sure it would've impacted on my process of selection, in terms of what sounds came alive to me.
Composition is amophous across the board, all of your experiences in playing, listening and reading feed into everything you do. Its counterproductive to distinguish, because then you get involved with stuff like "this is a classical piece, I can't do that" or "this is a song, I can't do that"—when its probably precisely the thing you need to do to give something a life.
A diverse array of musicians were brought together for this project—what were you looking for in collaborators? To what extent were parts improvised by the musicians or pre-composed?
I basically hired people who I think sound great. Will and I collaborated on some of the drum parts, in the sense that his kit has a very specific sound and he has a very personal feel, but ultimately most of the grooves were shaped around the prepared piano and edited in post production. In some cases I muted the prepared piano, so you just have the drums playing along to it without being able to hear it in the mix, which got some pretty odd feels or particularly idiosyncratic rhythmic emphases.
For the rest, everything is orchestration of the ARPs [synthesisers] I used at WORM and the various bits and pieces I used at Piethopraxis. For example, musicians were told to mimic or ornament the synth parts which I had already played in, so there's always this hybrid electro-acoustic thing going on.
In many cases this approach was informed by Feldman's observation on what makes Xenakis' music interesting: taking conventional instruments and bringing them into a world of hallucination, rather than using hallucinatory instrumentation, and bringing it into a world of convention. For example, even though Xenakis used an orchestra with orchestral instruments in something like Hiketides or Synaphaï, the way he organises it in relation to itself recontextualises those instrumental forces into a whole new thing, He succeeds getting the orchestra out of the orchestra (and Feldman does too, for that matter.)
So for me, this record was about trying to timbrally get the song out of the song and to do that, its wasn't about getting a didgeridoo, or a sheng or some interface to create unique sound palettes, it was about canalising the tools I had into finding a unique constellation and because I was always moving around, those tools were always changing.
The last thing I added, which was Jessica Azsodi's voice on the track “Irundi,” was extant from this process to some degree, as that material grew out of a solo piece I wrote for her called “Prayer For Nil.” I was working on both things simultaneously and somehow the wires got crossed in a great way.
Rhythm is one of the only fundamental parameters of music that comes to me naturally and I would say timbre runs a close second. So when I was doing something like this, ostensibly writing songs, which normally prioritise pitch and form, I was coming at it from a different angle. Maybe to some people that's danceable, but to me, it was about creating something physical and not in the macho noise sense of the word, nor the superficial-buzz-word ‘psychoacoustic’ sense, it was about trying to make something which reflects what I love about sound and which has a physical affect on me and that was it. I can't get involved with what's ‘commercial’ or what's ‘experimental’—how do you deal with something like Spring Breakers [Harmony Korine, 2012] when you're thinking like that? Immediately you're in trouble, because the reason why a film like that is so powerful, is because it completely sidesteps that whole distinction to make something which exists in its own space and still manages to clearly communicate.
“Geocidal” seems to suggest to me a death or erasure of place, almost having a synonymous quality with the idea of 'sacrifice zones'—areas of land or communities ruined through corporate practices. Was there an intention for the record to hold those kinds of environmental and political resonances?
Its not about politics, I'm not qualified for that and anyway there's nothing more sick-making than an artist using the political zeitgeist as a platform for their self-aggrandisement. Sure, its important to be aware of your environment and you do what you can, but for me, what I was more interested in was exploring the idea of the finisterre, or always being on the edge of known territory (my edge, at least). I moved country twice while making this and I was totally castrated. I was constantly insecure and decentralised because I was in a permanent state of adjustment. And that is really amazing place to make music in, because you really have nothing but the material that's coming out to guide you. And in my experience making this, that always gave a stronger, truer, more vital orientation than sticking to some construct or macrostructure, or trying to fulfill some kind of artist's statement. I feel that's what's wrong with a lot of music—it becomes about filling a brief rather than simply using what one has at your disposal to see what happens.
You say in the press blurb that: "the whole geocidal thing is about coming from no place, re-birthing, watching the place you are from be altered beyond recognition that you have nothing to do with it anymore"—what are your feelings towards Australia at present?
The Pulp Fiction soundtrack plays to an empty beer garden.
Are Patton's lyrics his own or were they also collaboratively crafted?
Mostly his, but there was one instance on “Kid Has Got The Bomb” where I sat down and translated the glossolalia from the SF scratch session into words, because I suddenly started hearing phrases within all of these abstracted mouth sounds. I was afraid of giving it to him, because it was the first time I had written lyrics, and you know, its ‘Mike Patton’ and I've never written lyrics in my life, but he was totally into it and was like (North Cali accent) "Man these are great, this is what we used to do in the old days in Bungle!" So he's very open to ideas and through that experience, seeing that he was prepared to trust me on that level, made me see how creatively stubborn I can be, to be honest. We all get caught up in our own head and making work for me is a constant oscillation between letting things in and keeping things out and I find that balance very difficult to judge.
One aspect of the album that really appealed to me was the ritualistic, almost incantationary, quality that seems to hover over it—even a title like “Invocation of the Swarm” suggests an entering into some sacred, alien space. Was this something you envisaged from the outset? Is there any link to Zerzan's idea of the 'future primitive'?
I was not aware of the work of Zerzan, thank you, I'll check it out! If anything theoretically specific, Virilio's ideas were very important to this music, I mean, the second track “Pure War” is named after his 1983 interview with Sylvère [Lotringer]. I was really into his stuff while making this music, particularly his ideas on chrono-diversity.
I wasn't aware of Virilio or the idea of 'chrono-diversity'—perhaps you could flesh out the idea a bit as it applies in your mind to the record?
Virillo's ideas revolve around the science of speed, or to use his term, dromology. They are, compositionally speaking, very useful when understanding the environment in which we make music now. Basically I found that when I read The Adminstration of Fear [Semiotext(e), 2012], there were passages in there which lucidly articulated what had been bothering me about making music that I couldn't effectively formulate myself and I was just relieved to find that someone else had to clarity to say them like he has.
Its difficult of course to summarise without doing it some kind of disservice, but in brief, he argues that, largely due to technology, we as a species are losing rhythmic diversity. Our emotions are becoming synchronised, interactions destabilised, we are becoming "de-realised"—we lose our place and our body on a daily basis. A thing I love is that he equates instanaeity with immobility and I think what he means is something like—if you need to know something, you look it up and bang, there it is. But in that process, you don't actually learn and retain something, you just get shown something and then its most likely gone. Speaking for myself here, but I can feel my memory is compromised now. I can feel my concentration is shot. I feel I could be much smarter but my discipline to commit to knowledge has eroded. Its becoming very fashionable to talk about this and you can even book tech-detox retreats, but Virillo is quick to point out its not an ancients vs moderns debate. In fact, he has been dealing with it since the 1970s and he shows that speed, tempo and our relationship with them largely dictates how we experience and make a life and by extension, how we experience and make art.
So when it comes to music, you see the affects of speed everywhere. Its all geared towards acceleration. New gear and operating systems are not made for musicians, they're made for the market. Or as Virilio puts it, "accumulation is left behind in favour of acceleration"—instead of accumulating skills, which takes time and focus, we just want to go fast. And I think something dies in that, some inherent energy or level of craft which makes records from 30 or 40 years ago sound a lot different to the ones made today, not just on the level of sound quality, but in the depth of musicianship itself.
So in terms of what I did, how I approached this problem, I was very conscious of somehow magnifying rhythmic and timbral nuance in the music when I could. Preserving as many live takes as I could, coaxing the most idiosyncratic performances I could. I wanted to de-quantise everything, deny instantaneity, create a space where going the long way around didn't matter, because you find important ideas that way. The idea you open your computer, pull up a few presets…it’s death, but that's what gets taught as composition these days. We teach musicians how to die before they even start.
Will there be any live performances of the Geocidal material? How will they work?
We don't know how they will work, but it will definitely be in duo format and possibly with a cinematic element. We're already working on the next record and won't be able to play live until 2016 because of Mike's commitments, so both of those things have a big impact on how it'll be on stage.
What does 2015 hold for you? What will you be working on next?
I'm working on my fourth large improvising ensemble piece for a group in Lille, writing an extended electro-acosutic piece for the Audible festival in Paris and releasing a ton of vinyl on my Immediata label. I'll also be working on the next tētēma album and trying not to be yet another Australian in Berlin who speaks shitty German!
RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. web
© Oliver Downes; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org