Thursday, 28 August 2014

Jonah Sharp interviewed

The following interview was transcribed from a telephone conversation on 15th March 2014.

Q: What was your entry point to music because you were a drummer to begin with? Is that right?

A: Yes I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and I was playing in punk bands since I was 14...15. I'm 50 now so I went to see The Buzzcocks, The Clash, Generation X, The Specials, Selecter, know I was really lucky enough to catch all of that energy from the late '70s, early '80s. I was pretty serious about it but I wasn't sure it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went to art college to do film making in Newcastle.

Q: That's where I'm calling from.

A: You're in Newcastle? No way.

Q: Monkseaton, near Whitley Bay.

A: Wow! I love it out there. I love Whitley Bay. Yeah. Newcastle was great. I remember when Riverside opened...the club. Is it still there?

Q: No. They have Riverside reunion nights but they don't hold it in the same place.

A: That was a big deal when that opened up because there wasn't really anything. There wasn't a huge amount. There was no venue big enough for any band to really play at unless they were at the City Hall. A lot happened in Newcastle for me. I loved going up there and art college and I played with a lot of bands there. After I left college I actually stuck around for about two or three years because it was such a good local scene. I was hanging around with lots of great people.

There was a breakdance club, we're talking '83, '84. I can't remember the name but it was downtown. It was something like Tiffany's. It was really popular and there were 100 or 200 really dedicated kids breakdancing. I didn't actually breakdance but loved the music. They would play Egyptian Lover and all of that kind of stuff. That was a really big scene in Newcastle.
Q: My next question was going to be what were your early musical influences but I think you've kind of semi- answered that...

A: English bleak young men. Gang of Four, The Cure, Cabaret Voltaire as I said, Public Image, Ultravox with John Foxx in there. That was pretty good. I wasn't mad about Ultravox later on. Yes: anybody who was using synths, drum machines, as it was just something different.
I remember going down to Sheffield to see Cabaret Voltaire and Human League and all this kind of stuff going on at Sheffield Polytechnic and The Leadmill. I went there to see Cabaret Voltaire...before I moved to London, which I guess was in about '85, '86. Those Cabaret Voltaire shows really really got to me. It was something different. There was kind of art school super 8 movie montages but with music running at the same time. I think it was ahead of its time. It was the first time I really heard a drum machine loud. They had a Linn drum at the point and Richard Kirk nervously chain smoking on stage - it totally blew me away - for them to get up there and make it all happen live.

I was into jazz as well. I was into all kinds of stuff but the early north England electronic music scene was particularly inspiring. I never really got into Depeche Mode: that kind of poppier stuff but was looking for anything more edgy: Gang of Four...

Q: Well Depeche Mode got a bit edgier later on? But the Vince Clarke stuff was a bit poppier...

A: It was. I mean I liked the way he did it. I liked the sounds that they were getting. I didn't have a problem with Yazoo so much but I think Depeche Mode and all that kind of stuff...the people that were really poppy. That didn't really grab me. I appreciated it, though.

I moved south and continued my music in London where I began stage two. That's where I got into breakbeat music and dance music and also where I really became aware of machines and synthesisers.

Q: I'd read somewhere that you were a drummer with an acid jazz band in the late '80s. Is that right?

A: Well, yes. When I moved to London I started doing jazz gigs in small West End clubs in Soho and private clubs. I got to play with some great musicians. There was a band called The Humble Souls on the Acid Jazz label and I drummed for them and we did a couple of tours. We actually opened up for Norman Cook and his band Beats International...
Q: Before Freakpower...

A: Yes. That was good. They were really nice guys. It was pop music but it was really good, what they were doing. We did a couple of college tours with them. Also at this time in London there was Gilles Peterson up at Camden Lock. He's great. Really good. I remember going to see him DJ in Camden on a Sunday afternoon at Dingwalls.

Anyway, that scene: I got involved was just because I was a drummer. I wasn't heavily into the scene; it was way too fashion conscious - it was just because I could play. There was something kind of missing for me but it was very healthy. It was like a big explosion of energy, good musicians. I remember Jamiroquai and meeting him in the Acid Jazz office. They were like: this kid's going to be massive and he was this really friendly, talented kid really nice. There was a band called The Sandals and band member Ian Simmonds ran a club called The Gardening Club in Covent Garden...that was probably '88, '89. Ian Simmonds the DJ and I always thought he was really good: mixing it up - funk, rare groove and other stuff but of course at that time the whole Acid House scene exploded - a very exciting time in London and suddenly the dance music scene definitely got to me musically. I felt I could get involved and perhaps contribute, so that was quite a big change.

Q: That was my next question. What was the catalyst that moved you over to being involved with electronic music so you anticipated the next question there, yes...
A: Well I had a drum machine already and I was using a drum machine with drumming. I had little Simmons electronic drum pads and that was part of my sound. Inspired by New Order and that kind of sound. So there was that electronic element and incorporating that into my drumming. I worked with this guy, his name was Sean McClusky. He was in a band called The JoBoxers, I think but he was running the Brain club on Wardour Street. It was a dance club. He went around inviting people to come and play live. That's where Orbital, Ramjac and Mixmaster Morris used to play and it was all live hardware. I got really in to that scene. That was when I thought: I want to be part of this. It was pretty easy to be part of it because most of the people who were playing had just started. They hadn't been doing it for years and they'd just bought samplers so it was quite a new thing.
Q: So it was almost a bit like punk: a sort of DIY ethic?

A: Yeah. I mean: you just needed a drum machine and a sampler and a bit of imagination and you could make noise and I can remember seeing people just playing with an Akai sampler and a 909 and that just blew me away. That's when I met Mixmaster Morris. He used to play live and he was friends with the band The Shamen. I was very interested in them because it was sort of indie rock and they were morphing in to a more electronic sound. I was really into what they were doing, mixing machines and guitars. Soon after that the first rave that I played at was called The Pirate Club or something and it was on a boat on the Thames. That was about '88, '89. The promoter had a rave club and he said: we'll do this massive rave on a boat...

Q: Sounds like 1977 all over again?

A: Yeah (laughs). Anyway, he said: we need somebody for the ambient room and I said: that's me. I'll do that and I can remember Jimmy Cauty from KLF was there and he played some stuff off DAT tape. I think it was
Chill Out, the album and I was like: Wow! Wow! This is amazing! So that was kind of like more of a sense of purpose: you know, to get creative. But while the chill-out room was establishing itself upstairs in the main room it was all breakbeat, hardcore. Things were getting really crazy: out of hand with the tempos. It was sort of turning in to drum and bass. Hardcore! All of the music seemed to be getting frantic and at the same time the chill out room was getting more and more popular because the music was crazy upstairs. Do you remember that tune that went "Mr. Kirk -  Your Son is Dead Bam! Bam Bam!"

Q: (Laughs) Your son is dead? By who, sorry? I don't actually but now you've said that I'll look it up.

A: There's this voice sample: Mr. Kirk...your son is dead. It's a really good track and actually it's originally 4 Hero who did that track and I only found that out about 10 years ago. Wow! That was 4 Hero the whole time and it was like breakbeat before drum and bass...also there was The Moody Boys. That was Tony Thorpe and that fast breakbeat thing, where it was more interesting but for the most part the stuff played on the main dance floor was just doing my head in. I couldn't really take it. Meanwhile bands like Black Dog were picking up on the Detroit sound...for me that was way more interesting. It was the start of ambient techno. I thought Black Dog were the best thing in the world because they were taking all of these elements and making something was just so much more interesting and mysterious.
Then I got this opportunity to come to San Francisco...about '91, '92. I got a gig out here and I thought: this is great and I'm staying here! The weather was incredible and also the dance music...the party scene, rave had literally just started. The Americans were always a little bit late to pick up the things that come out of Britain and there was a bunch of Irish guys here who were basically starting this whole movement and I kind of got sucked into that very quickly. The minute I got here I was offered a residency in a night club, DJing and I was making money - straight off and then I met my wife in L.A. and she got pregnant and had the kid so that was it. I've got to stay.

Q: There's worse places to have to stay than San Francisco (laughs).

A: Yes. Then I founded my label, Reflective Records and put out my first record as Spacetime Continuum and was somehow surprised that people picked up on it, as it was fairly out there. I sold it to a distributor in New York - a guy called Harry the Bastard who was the buyer for a distributor called Watts. They were the main exporters to Europe of U.S. dance vinyl and  he was selling it to Germany and England. He bought 800 copies of my record, which blew me away and it sold out instantly. Next thing I knew it was getting reviewed in Melody Maker and suddenly the label was getting attention.
Q: Which record was that?

A: It would have been the Spacetime Continuum Flurescence EP. Reflective 01. We sold out of that and I thought great - we can makes some records with new artists. At about the same time David Moufang knocked on my door where I lived was also my label address - he literally just showed up and I thought: who the hell is this guy. It was kind of funny because that night Autechre were playing around the corner and we all went to see them and it was me, David and about four other people. It was a Friday night bridge and tunnel crowd. They weren't interested in Autechre. They were playing and nobody got it but we thought: this is great. Autechre had heard my record from all the way out here at the edge of the world and that was how the whole thing kind of started. Then I guess David told Pete Namlook about me back in Germany and I found out about the Fax label. Soon after we flew Pete out here for his first U.S. show in San Francisco. It was called The Ambient Club and we also had Mixmaster Morris come out here. I used to actually throw parties here back then in '92, '93. We flew Morris out for a really big event.
Q: Presumably Charley Uzzell Edwards would have been somewhere in there?

A: Oh yes: Charley was working with me at that time. We did the ambient club together, me and Charley and he something called The Gardening Club, which was really good. I was one of the kind of rotating residents. Yes: he was very much a part of what was going on and that's when he met Pete. Pete flew out on his own and he was really keen to meet me and work and I wasn't very used to: just turn on the machines and do it in one shot. That to me was...

Q: Yes. I get that impression from the interviews that I've done that his is a very spontaneous approach.

A: Well yes but also it was a very important thing to him that when he put his fingers on the keys the tape was rolling. There was never five hours of noodling around to see what to do before we pressed record. He was just kind of: let's go, which I found kind of startling but really rewarding because we got good results and he really taught me about: follow your improvisational...
Q: Instincts?

A: ...and just kind of do it. Be confident in that way. The album that we did together was called Alien Community. I didn't even know he was recording. After 10 minutes I said OK: let's record and he said: I am already recording.

Q: (Laughs)
A: It was all learning - a real awakening. It was about getting in the moment, getting in the zone and Pete taught me that but also before even that, when David came and knocked on my door we decided to record in my studio, which was in my house and we recorded half of the first Reagenz album. We did about four of the tracks at that time. My studio was so primitive back then I didn't have a computer at all - just a bunch of machines and I'd go straight to DAT tape and I'd set everything up and just record the mix...everything straight off and we recorded half of the first Reagenz album and we did more than play around a little bit and then press record. It wasn't so simple but it was really obvious that we had something going on because it happened so quickly. I mean he's my hero. David is a great musician. He's got a great attitude, very easy to work with. It was '94, I think, and I got invited to play at the Love Parade in Berlin as part of The Interference Festival along with Richie Hawtin, Pete Namlook, Deep Space Network, Air Liquide, Sun Electric, Dr. Atmo - great names. They really managed to just throw all of the right people together. What was happening there was astounding: how kind of involved things were in Europe. Having left Europe for a couple of years - coming back how things had evolved really blew me away and I've always drawn a lot of inspiration from Germany, England and Japan: the way people have an appreciation of music: very different to here. At that time Pete was barreling along with his label and releasing a record a week.

Q: He was at one stage as well, yes.

A: He was, yes. He really was and that's when I met Tetsu Inoue and did a couple of albums with him.

Q: That's awesome. I've had Electro Harmonix on this week. I've had it on in the evenings. It's a great one for after work if you're exhausted. That's an incredible album.

A: I've got to listen to that again. I was going to dig out that stuff and listen to it again but it's in my basement. At the time everyone was working with each other: Tetsu and Namlook, me and Tetsu, Namlook/Reagenz and Namlook/Laswell. Then Bill Laswell called me and I was like: f***. It's f****** Bill Laswell! ...and he'd done a thing with Pete and he wanted to work with me and he was working with Tetsu and we were all kind of working with each other. We were all  feeling the joy of recording and playing together. It was a great time for me musically and at the same time I got signed to Astralwerks, which was an American subsidiary of Virgin. I sent a demo tape to Astralwerks after I did a show with Terence McKenna who I'd met in California. That became my first album: a live record and that came out on a major label. They were very much a major label at the time so my music was all over Tower Records and HMV and high street shops -
it was like a whole different thing going on. It was in the mainstream, almost. It wasn't the mainstream but it was available, whereas the music I was releasing on my own label was only for the dance music shops and it was very limited so it was very good to get out there and get heard by everyone. That was the engine that Astralwerks had.
There were some really interesting things happening at the time in the early rave scene in America. People like Josh Wink, Richie Hawtin...stuff coming out of New York and there were all of these different scenes going, which was really an amazing thing. There was a musical revolution happening here and it was a little bit later than Europe. It was more like '93, '94 and I can remember going to play at these huge, huge raves in Miami and Chicago with Underground Resistance, Gemini and Paul Johnstone. I can remember playing in Chicago with Blake Baxter and I was in some kind of carpet warehouse outside town. They were illegal parties with 3000-5000 kids. It was a really strong thing that was happening here but at the same time I was going to Europe and Japan so I was kind of seeing everything at once at that time.

Q: It sounds like you've lived a life, being honest with you. It sounds pretty amazing the journey you had.

A: It was really interesting. I did an interview for a book that's coming out - a guy from the Village Voice in New York and he wrote a book about the early rave scene in America and he was picking my brains about three months ago about all of this stuff and he said to me you're one of the people that saw it all, travelling between countries. Some of those parties were just a nightmare. They were like military operations: get in, play and then get the f*** out.

Q: (Laughs)

A: It was like some scary assed warehouse in downtown Miami.

Q: Actually I went to Miami in the '80s and it's quite a scary city at times.
A: Yeah and also I remember going down to L.A. in '92 and I was hanging out with Psychic TV. They were living in San Francisco so Psychic TV and Spacetime ended up playing a lot of gigs together. I remember a party in downtown L.A. Tim Leary gave a lecture in the chill-out room and that was amazing. I met Tim Leary at that time. It was shortly before he died but he was really obsessed with the idea of the Internet and he saw it coming - he saw how it was going to change everything. That was all he could really talk about: the fact that the Internet was going to change the world and he also saw that at dance parties there was a real audience of forward thinking people that he could talk to. Interesting being in California at that time: Terence McKenna, Tim Leary and these people were firing on all cylinders. Very much part of the culture on the West coast.

Q: I bet you were wondering what the hell was going on. You were just a kid playing for some Acid Jazz bands in London and suddenly you have a two or three year journey which is like pow! You must have had a few moments where you slapped yourself and said what the hell...

A: Well yeah. I mean I just fell kind of lucky but I felt that it was a really good move to get out of London. It was all kind of completely accidental that I left. Also there is a lot of talk of come to California and you'll find gold. There is a lot of opportunity here. Everyone on the West Coast has come from somewhere and the landscape is always changing. Right now we're going through this moment where Facebook, Google, eBay, Amazon - you name it and they're here. They're right down the road and San Francisco is undergoing this huge transformation where you can only live here if you've really got a lot of money, whereas me: I've just been around for so long that I'm in a good situation but now the doors are closing unless you're involved in the tech industry or have some computer skills. I walk around San Francisco now and it's completely different to what it was then.
Q: Right. It's quite interesting actually because this week for my commute record I dug out Sea Biscuit and in the evenings I've been listening to Electro Harmonix and I was thinking about San Francisco and thinking: I bet it would be great out there. I started to think: I wonder what I'm doing here and then you say this to me and it makes me realise that often in life things are not quite what you think they are. Do you know what I mean?

A: It's true but then here, now a lot of artist and musician friends have had to move. They've moved to Oakland, which is kind of like moving to Brooklyn - Oakland across the bay or they've moved into L.A. The music scene in L.A. is really healthy now...really good. Labels like Plug Research. I would almost consider moving there. I don't really want to live there but it's like saying: where would I go next if I had to move. I couldn't really imagine being anywhere else. You know my kids finish high school in a couple of years and I'm actually considering moving back to Europe if I can make it work. My Mum is getting really old and she lives in Scotland and I really want to come back for...I don't know...a few years. It would be great to live In Britain or Europe...

Q: My wife's family are from...well one of them is from Ardrossan and the other one's from Glasgow so they've got a holiday home on the Isle of Arran.

A: Oh that's really beautiful. That's exceptional. My family are from Yorkshire. 

Q: So the early days of Fax...what do you remember about that. Was it just a question of when Pete contacted you you would work because when I spoke to David (Moufang) he said that...he suggested that you need to get in touch with need to get in touch with Morris. What do you remember about those early days? Was it a question of Pete would call you from time to time and say: let's work?

A: Pretty much. I mean the first time was with that Alien Community recording. He had captured my attention and I knew about him. I totally knew about him and his album Silence: I thought that was amazing. I was like: O.K. - this guy is for real. It was brilliant and I started collecting Fax CDs. I've got so many I haven't listened to half of them. I've got a very, very big box full of hundreds of Fax CDs. The way that Pete was so prolific is pretty fascinating to me, although I always remember saying to him: can we do like...two tracks...or three tracks this time instead of one track?

Q: (Laughs)

A: One track is usually about exploring one idea and when you get together in a session there is always more to explore. When I was in Germany I went to visit Pete because I'd actually fly to Europe quite a lot. I'd get booked to do shows in Europe and I'd always take the opportunity to work with whoever I was working with at the time. Me and David finished off the first Reagenz album in Heidelberg after the Love Parade - the show that we did together and I drove across Germany with my baby who was six months old. I went and recorded the rest of the album with David in his studio. It was so much more sophisticated than mine. He had a computer and a mixer...

Q: In Heidelberg?

A: Yeah. He had some great equipment and Pete's studio was also amazing. He was the guy who had every synth you could think of, so many that lots were stuck on the wall.

Q: I've seen pictures of it. Presumably you're talking about Frankfurt at this point in time?

A: Yes. His apartment in Frankfurt was where we recorded a bunch of stuff.
Q: Was that the address: Eulengasse? Was that the address with the Inoue album (62 Eulengasse)...was that actually his address at the time?

A: (Pauses to think) Yes.He had this beautiful apartment and he was so blown away by me being there and excited that he woke me up at 8 o'clock in the morning. (Does best Pete Namlook impression): "Hey Jonah! Come and help me make music!"

Q: (Laughs)

A: He was very business-like about it. It was a really methodical approach.
Q: Well I suppose to release an album a week you've got to be up at the crack of dawn, haven't you?

A: Yeah. He was really efficient with his time and the way he approached it. A lot of people would be pondering but he would just get on with it. We did the album Wechselspannung. It was kind of one big long track but it had lots of sections and I kind of initiated that. There were multiple tracks. We did Wechselspannung I and II and number II had...

Q: Breakbeats? I had it on this week and it's very rhythmic and kind of almost anticipates drum and bass, actually, I thought...

A: Yeah. Might have been the first time in to some pretty sophisticated computer work and computers for me at the time...I mean I still didn't have a computer.

Q: That was going to be one of my questions, actually because I was going to say that nowadays when you want to record you bang on Ableton or whatever but I was going to ask you about how you recorded music back then before the likes of Cubase and Ableton? I mean I'm probably a bit naive in that respect and I was going to ask you about how you went about doing it?

A:  Synths,  drum machines, a sampler, effects, a little mixer. I would set up all the gear live and just record on to DAT two track. I used a hardware sequencer: an Alesis MMT-8, which was a really cheap, simple sequencer and I would record a song four or five times. With my album Sea Biscuit a couple of them were done immediately but I'd set up the gear and then perform it. I didn't even edit stuff then. I didn't have any editing equipment.

Q: That is amazing because I've been listening to that this week and all the little details in there. I'm a fledgling electronic music maker and I'm listening to all of the detail and thinking how did you get that and to hear that you weren't even using computers at the time...
A: It was a live approach in the studio. I'd be playing a lot of live shows and you just get on stage and do it in the moment. You know that's a lot easier when you're collaborating with've got to be quite bold, quite confident. You've got to be in the zone. You've got to really keep your concentration but when you've got other people doing the same thing it's such fun. It's very rewarding so that's always been my approach. Around 2000 I kind of got sucked into the computer thing pretty heavily. I spent 10 years trying to make computers work for me as a live instrument and it just didn't work out so now for the last five years I've heavily gone back to my live analog process, which I started 20 years ago and it's amazing how obviously I've got a lot better at playing these instruments...for instance I've got an SH-101 and it's a very simple instrument but it's actually pretty hard to play live to make it do what you want. You really have to learn that machine and it's taken me all this time to really explore the machines and to feel confident that I can dial in anything I want. We  are definitely seeing a trend back towards hardware now. The whole laptop thing has become less interesting: to watch somebody perform on a laptop, especially in current EDM pop music. I think people's expectation will evolve and they will expect more from electronic musicians. The amount of new gear that's come out in the last few years is astounding: the amount of cool drum machines... Technology, where it's at right now - it's really exciting. There's this whole kind of modular synth craze, which is pretty exciting.
Q: Oh yes, yeah. I've got friend around the block and he has a Doepfer modular synth and he invites me around sometimes and we spend a couple of hours patching in wires (laughs).

A: Well I've been sucked into that world quite recently. There's the Eurorack format, which is that size. You've got all these different companies making that format. You can mix and match manufacturers now and there are companies making one filter and you can mix that with Doepfer. You can really customise synths. It maybe is not necessarily a synth. I've got a lot of audio processing modules. I like to process my drum machines through modules and right now there's just so much great technology to make it all work really well that we didn't have back then - the little clocking devices to synchronise things together and when you put that together with Ableton the sky is the limit. There's so much possibility right now. I'm actually very excited about where this whole technology electronic music hardware is going. It's getting very imaginative and really embracing the old technology. That has really come back.

Q: Well I suppose what you can do now is you can make analog synths or an approximation of analog synths but they're much more stable than they were 40 years ago.

A: Oh yeah and what it means is that musicians are developing very unique set-ups and subsequently making unique sounds. It's not all about buying Ableton and just using presets or dragging loops in from a browser. That's not really electronic music to me. Back in the day everyone had their own studios and their own set up, which defined their sound so everyone had a completely different and it's kind of getting back to that now instead of everybody using the same software. It's really where I am right now and I think it's really made it harder: having so much choice of software and that decision making that you have to make. O.K. I've got 5000 different kick drums. Which one do I use? That kind of thing can really slow things down so if you just say this is my drum machine and this is my synth and you should limit yourself to hardware...

Q: So sometimes less is more...

A: Yes. It will make you more creative, ultimately.

Q: So if we go back to Sea Biscuit...when you were recording that you didn't even have computers so what did you use to record that one then? Can you remember the equipment that you used to record that album?
A: Yeah. I had my Sequential Circuits Pro One, a 101, 909, 808, 606. I had a Prophet VS, I had a Juno 106. Two or three mono synths, a couple of poly synths, a few drum machines. I was using an MS-20 to process...a lot of the kind of crunchy sounds is stuff going through an MS-20. The MS-20...I never really used to play it...the was just audio processing: high pass, low pass filters. Yeah: I had an Eventide Harmonizer H3000, which had a lot of the effects on that. I borrowed that off someone. I had a huge pitched reverb and that's all over that album. That was the Eventide. I had a sampler for lots of funny little sounds. I'd kind of program a basic bassline, keyboard line, maybe program the sequencers and then all of the little details were little samples off my gear. I'd build a sound library from sampling my own synths - all the little sounds, all the little whooshes, echoey things. I would be very cautious about sampling other people. I would never really sample other people or rarely would I use a voice. I'd use a voice of...a recording of people in a room...or a field recording for ambience.

Q: The track Q11 there's something that sounds like an answerphone message?

A: Well that was actually a friend of mine who got framed and busted for LSD manufacture. He got 10 years in a Louisiana jail and he used to call me every week and that was actually him in jail. Q11 was his cell.

Q: Yes. I was wondering where that track title had come from. That was actually one of my questions and I would never in a million years have guessed that.
A: Yeah. I often use field recordings of different kinds of ambient noise in the back of a track. You know I would record a stream and then put it through a filter to create some kind of background noise but I wouldn't get too conceptual about where it's from or what it was. It was just to give it some air in the background. I had a portable DAT player and would go out and record all kinds of stuff and then the track Subway - I was on the subway in New York and I just recorded all kinds of background noise. That was kind of the inspiration for that track.

Q: What about Ping Pong?

A: Ping Pong? (laughs) Ping Pong had recordings of a ping pong game in it. My mates playing ping pong in the background.

Q: Yes, it does and you've kind of distorted it. It sounds like skyscraper-sized ping pong (laughs).

A: Yes you know it was just a recording and I thought O.K.: that sounds cool. That's the starting point. Now I think about it...yeah that was just using ambient sounds, real ambience around us as a starting point. Things sound so dry when you start with a synth and a drum machine and I'd just fill it out with something in the background.
Q: Something that's quite interesting actually when I listen to Sea Biscuit and Electro Harmonix and you can correct me here because I could be wrong but I kind of get a vibe of somebody who lives near the ocean from both of those albums. There's something tidal about some of the sounds..sort of whooshing sounds. I don't know whether I'm completely off the mark or whether something has seeped in to the music by osmosis but with both of those you get this feeling of ocean spray and beaches. Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm wrong?

A: Yes. Well there are some ocean sounds in there. I was always running around with a DAT player recording sounds around me but yes being next to the ocean on the Pacific side here is very awe inspiring. The coastline here is beautiful all up and down California. Yeah: it's definitely a powerful thing living next to an ocean...

Q: What's the track on Electro Harmonix? Is it called Morphing Cloud and I don't know whether that was you or Tetsu but I mean there's something about sounds very tidal to me?

A: I've got to listen to that album because I haven't listened to that in a very long time.

Q: Well I've had it in my collection  for a while and I dug it out over the last week to have a listen again and thought: this has got to be one of my favourites.

A: Wow! That's great. Thank you. That was recorded in San Francisco, I believe and that was certainly the same equipment that I was using for all of the other stuff. The same gear but Tetsu actually moved to the Bay area at one point and he was living out here near the ocean.
Q: How long did he live out there for?

A: Oh. It was not that long. He sub let his New York apartment, his rental of his apartment and I actually hooked him up with a friend out in Marin County and he lived here. It was maybe a year, a couple of years. He wasn't happy in New York but he hung around here for a little bit. That must of been like '96, '97...
Q: Around the time of Instant Replay?

A: Instant Replay? Was that an album?

Q: Yes. It was.

A: Yes...yes. Tetsu is great. I lost touch with that guy. I wish I could find him...

Q: Well that was one of the questions I was going to ask you because no one can find him and people are quite concerned...

A: Yeah. Somebody asked me that about six months ago and I said: you know what? I haven't got a clue and I was looking all round the Internet and he had a little MySpace page a while ago and he didn't seem to be looking after that and I don't know where he is. I couldn't find him.

Q: Nothing has been updated. Anyone who has any sort of business correspondence with him doesn't get a reply. Musically nothing has surfaced for quite a long time. There has been all sorts of awful speculation that he might have been involved in the Japanese tsunami but maybe that's very wide of the mark. Maybe he's gone back to his family. I don't know but it's a bit of a matter of concern...unless he's just become a recluse and decided to step away from the music business. I don't know? It's unusual.

A: Yeah, I mean he was definitely a really interesting guy and he was very singular in his process. He was doing stuff with computers, using Max and Works MSP. Sort of way ahead - going in a different direction than me. He was definitely doing some cool stuff.

Q: Really very beautiful. The best way I can describe his stuff is that there's a real zen about it, some of it before he went...I mean the glitch stuff is a different ball game but I mean the ambient stuff is...I've been trying to figure out his working methods and how he makes that kind of incredible light, frothy, floating music. I don't know. It's a difficult one to figure out. He's certainly got a very idiosyncratic approach, that's for sure...
A: Yes. Well he had this thing called an Electro Harmonix looper, which is really rare. We used that for the process, record a synth sound and then run it through the looper and then re-loop it and re-record it until we came up with these fabulous textures and that Instant Replay was all about his looper. That was really a fantastic process that he had. With Instant Replay he sat down with this looper, creating textures from mixing just two second little synth loops. It was more like a five second loop or something but he'd loop it and then reverse it, pitch it up and down and then mix it with another loop and that's how he made a lot of those textures and I found it fascinating, working with someone with a singular process.

Q: How fascinating. That's really interesting because I was listening to it and I was wondering whether he makes the music with a computer: records it and then slows it right down. You listen to something like Ambiant Otaku or Electro Harmonix and you're thinking how on earth does he make a sound like this? That's really interesting.

A: I'm telling you his secrets but...

Q: Guess who's going on eBay straight after this (laughs).

A: They're really expensive, those things. They do a new one. There's a new Electro Harmonix looper that's very expensive. It's like a hardware looper. Human beat boxers use them. They're really cool. They're a really good way to make sounds.

Q: They should be paying you for this, the company that manufacture them. When I put this on the blog every other Fax fan is going to be going out and trying to buy one. Product placement (laughs).

Alright, well: to rewind a little you've got the two Alien Community records and they were San Francisco recordings. Is that right?

A: Ermm... Yes.

Q: And the Wechselspannung records were Frankfurt?

A: Yes.

Q: That's almost like Charley Uzzell Edwards because he did two series of records with Pete, one in San Francisco and one in Frankfurt as well. When you recorded those've probably hit the nail on the head with what you've said but was it a question of you jamming alongside one another or did one of you typically set off before the other and did one of you instigate the recordings and set up the rhythmic structure and the mood...because typically with a lot of these collaborations you tend to find that Pete actually asked somebody else to start and added to what they'd done and the fact that those records, particularly the Wechselspannung ones are quite rhythmic to me it's not really typically Pete's trademark. It made me wonder whether you'd started them and then he'd added to what you'd done or...

A: That particular record I remember saying let's do something a bit different. You know the holding down a chord on a poly synth: to use that as a starting point...we'd done that on those other records.
Q: On the Alien Communities?

A: Yes. So with Wechselspannung he had this really sophisticated computer set-up and we made all the drum sounds with samples whereas it was me playing with synths...his incredible synth collection. I made all of these percussive sounds and he was just recording, recording, recording and chopping it and mapping it on a keyboard so it was like a computer sampler. I think it was Cubase he was using. I can't remember. It was all a mystery to me what he was doing. I was like: wow! You know: I don't even know where the hard drive is...

Q: (Laughs)

A: So he was making the content, very quickly chopping it up and mapping it on to a keyboard so we got a whole bunch of sounds from the Pro One and the OSCar synth and anything that sounded good in his room and it ended up being a sound bank on a keyboard. Then we started to program the beats, I think. I think he started on that 125 b.p.m. if I remember, sort of Kraftwerk-esque. I think he kind of instigated that and then I jumped on it. I'm all about electro.

Q: Yes because some of the stuff on those Wechselspannung records reminds me a little bit of Computer World?

A: Yes. It's definitely got that kind Kraftwerk groove.

Q: Like Home Computer: there's a section where it breaks down and it sounds like a production line in a factory and it definitely reminded me of that.

A: Yes. I mean Peter's process put together with what I was doing it kind of worked and what I like about working with people was that I always learn a hell of a lot. I mean: you never stop learning and when you're in the studio it's always fascinating because you always learn new tricks. Collaboration is always about learning. He had this incredible synth collection and there was a signature Namlook sound. I think if you had to pick one sound that was his then it was the EMS.
Q: Was that the briefcase synth that's a bit like a VCS3? Did he patch other synths into that or did that have a little keyboard in it?

A: He had the really nice deluxe version  that had the keyboard as well and when he came to San Francisco he turned up with that thing. When he played live that was his thing: the Pete Namlook sound, that lead...

Q: Ahh...I wondered what that was: that sort of lead sound and I wondered whether it was an Oberheim but...

A: He had this ring modulated (makes fluctuating sound).

Q: You kind of hear it on the Hawtin collaborations. There's kind of a lead sound. Is that what you're talking about?

A: Possibly, yes. It's really his signature sort of thing. You know: you hear it everywhere. So that was so expensive. I mean that was way out of my range. The kind of thing where I never even hoped to own one.

Q: The Krautrockers used them quite a lot, didn't they?

A: They're a really particular sound and they're very hard to operate. You've got to spend a lot of time with that machine before you can really do great things. There's a little matrix.

Q: Oh yes: I've seen that. It looks as if you're playing battleships. Yes: I can picture in my head what you mean.

A: If you want more than just drones you have to patch in an awful lot.
Q: So it doesn't sound like an angry wasp?

A: I had one of those. You know the Wasp synthesisers?

Q: Well there's a freebie you can download...

A: Well I had the original Wasp. That's actually one I forgot to mention. I bought it in London in the '80s. I bought it for twenty quid and I've still got it today.

Q: Wow. Twenty quid.

A: Yeah. It's made of plastic and really fragile.

Q: Twenty quid? I bet it would be more than that for one now.

A: They tend to go for £2000- £3000.

Q: Wow! I think you got yourself a bargain (laughs).

A: There was that time in the '90s when a lot of the analog stuff looked as if it was superseded.

Q: Yeah and it wasn't. Have you seen the documentary I Dream of Wires?

A: About modular synthesisers? I've seen a that the one with Daniel Miller talking about Mute Records? That's very cool.

Q: Yes. He's in that...yes. There's a four hour version. The first two hours is a history of and the revival in the early '90s of the analog synth and the last two hours is blokes with oversized beards showing their set-ups. It does become an endurance event after the first three hours but it's worth seeing.

A: I should look that up: the four hour version.

Q: I think it's called the hardcore version or something like that (laughs). O.K. I'm looking at the questions now and seeing how far we've got. The Alien Community records: I was going to ask you about that. I read somebody online saying something about some...I don't know whether this is somebody who was speculating and guessing but he was talking about some sort of waveform equipment that was used on it or something? It was something that was over my head equipment-wise. Was there anything unusual in the set-up for those records...or? They're fact all of your collaborations with Pete are reasonably radical sounding, I think.

A: I think that we pulled something out of each other. I mean he very much does things on the spot and it makes you play differently. Just very bold so it was very much: don't f*** up, don't bring anything in really loud.

Q: I suppose you have to shelve any self doubt working like that. If you're working on your own you've got time to say: is this working...I don't know if this is working, I'll replace it with this, whereas with that it's straight in there. It would have to be?
A: I think he was really surprised by how primitive my set-up was and I remember him going (does Pete Namlook impersonation): "Oh, O.K...this is your studio?"

Q: (Laughs)

A: A drum machine, a sampler and really primitive compared to what he had but he totally went with it. However my studio is at any given time: I know my way around it all really, really well so it's that thing about getting the most out of what you have. We've all got tricks up our sleeves and you know he'd go off on his EMS Synthi and I'd be like: that's amazing! Great! That would make me do something and answer his sound...

Q: Go off on a tangent that you wouldn't find if you were on your own?

A: Oh yes. It's that whole thing about...getting back to that idea of live performance and being spontaneous and being technically proficient with operating the machines and yet flowing and making sure everything is developed...
Q: O.K. This is a fan boy question. The front cover of Electro Harmonix I've sat and tried to work out...what is that? Looks like some kind of head set. Can you remember?

A: Yeah. It was kind of red and black...

Q: It looks like a head set with something coming out of the middle of it?

A: With the artwork, we'd finish recording the album and the minute we finished it he'd master it. I remember with Alien Community: he'd do the artwork right there and then. I mean normally when I've finished recording I'll go down the pub, come back a few days later and have a listen and know: ponder it and that's my kind of way. He would finish it and then he would do the artwork there and then, product finished.

Q: The circular window and black border, yes.

A: He'd do all of the artwork and really do it quite quickly. But at that point I didn't generally get too particular about it. I remember thinking: well Pete will come up with something.

Q: It's a good aesthetic, yes and what it actually does is to take a lot of musical styles that are quite disparate and for collectors like me it brings them all together and you pretty much know that every time out you're going to hear something fascinating, something interesting, something different but it was a shrewd move in terms of...for collectors. The artwork definitely gave a uniformity to the label, I think.

A: You've really inspired me now to get out my collection now: to go in to the basement...

Q: Yeah. You should. How many have you got? A couple of hundred?

A: Oh, at least. I mean he used to send me them. I think I was on his mailing list and he'd mail me just the CD. He wouldn't send me the jewel case. Just the CD and the cover.

Q: Did you get all of the artwork, the back as well?

A: Yes. He'd send the tray card, the front cover and the CD. I've got some that I've never even opened....I mean I've got piles of them.

Q: So did you keep up with Fax all the way through or was there a point at which you supply of Fax stopped receiving them...or?

A: Yes. It was just a few years where he sent me a lot of stuff and I haven't had time to listen to it all as well. There's just so much stuff. I couldn't really keep up with it. There was too much to digest. I mean having worked with him I could hear a little bit of the same thing over and over again, which is totally fair enough because that's what you do when you're a musician and you've got a natural thing. You keep doing it but my ears would prick up if I heard him doing something different. So, who's he working with? If he's working with Bill Laswell I want to hear that...
Q: I've actually got Visitation on my desk here and I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet...speaking of not having had a chance to listen (laughs).

A: That was a really odd session, that one. I mean I did everything. I did all of the music. He said what do you want before I got there and I said well get me a Minimoog and an 808 and he had this incredible studio. He had Bootsy Collins' bass in the corner.

Q: Wow!

A: He had Herbie Hancock's Fender Rhodes. He said: that's Herbie Hancock's and I was like: holy s***! Can I play that?

In no time I was in and out of the studio. I mean working with was really fascinating because I knew all about him and Material and that whole Ze records scene from the '80s. And then he had his engineer...I can't remember his name....

Q: Shall I get the CD? It's on my desk. Robert Musso?

A: Yes. That whole album was recorded on to 24 track tape through a beautiful Neve console and then mixed down to two track quarter inch tape and edited using tape splicing. It was pretty fascinating, watching him work.

Q: It sounds almost like the Miles Davis of the fusion era approach to production, what you're describing. Taking things and then cutting them up. Post-production?

A: Yes. I was partly the source material for his process. One thing that was new was that he was also sampling other guy's CDs and that was a new thing to experience.

Q: At the time you felt you wanted to make fresh music...were you perhaps a bit freaked out by the fact that he was involved with a kind of post-modernist recycling process?

A: Yes: it was a sort of mash-up of ideas. Put this with this and this and...

Q: Like a hip-hop approach, I suppose in a way?
A: Yeah. That was his process and with his bass guitar that was his contribution to that project. Bill Laswell was inspired by Pete. His label, Subharmonic for a while was almost like Fax Records in that they released lots of CDs. Bill was very keen. He worked with Tetsu...he was reaching out to all of these people to work with. For a while he was very prolific. That was very much a new approach and he was obviously really inspired by Pete.

Q: That's interesting. I hadn't made the connection to that extent, actually. I mean obviously I'd realised that he collaborated with Pete but I didn't really realise that the Subharmonic thing...that was what it was all about. Tomorrow I'm going to find the time to listen to Visitation.

A: I think you might find some parallels with that and the other stuff because it was all at the same time. I think that takes the fearless approach to music making...

Q: Well, actually: again that's quite a Miles Davis thing, isn't it know: that kind of idea from the fusion era of just going into the studio and everything that comes out everyday is radically different to the last and basically just jamming.

A: Yes. Miles Davis...for a while he never played the same stuff on stage. He'd record an album, put it out and then change to something new. Miles Davis was very much in charge. He called the shots and he kind of established a bunch of musicians to get what he wanted: his vision.

Q: And sometimes dragging more out of them than they could on their own.

A: Definitely.

Q: I was going to say if you had to choose a favourite Fax album what do you think it would be?

A: I think Silence. The first album is a real game changer. I was always into Dreamfish.

Q: Everybody chooses that as a favourite. Actually Silence and Dreamfish.

A: There is something about the Dreamfish album that is really immediate - that was a really good time for Morris.

Q: The second one is kind of darker but it's still brilliant as well...the second Dreamfish album.

A: I can't remember.

Q: Dig it out tomorrow (laughs). It's good.

A:  I think Morris and Pete worked really well together. I should add that I talked to Pete on the phone the year before he died and one of the last things we said was lets record together. Let's get back in the studio next year so we were planning to do something again.

Q: Arghh! What a shame. What a great shame.

A: Yeah.

Q: It's a great shame. I guess that while it didn't happen it's heartening to know that the will was there on his part to take things full circle.

As one last question what do you remember about Pete as a person and how would you pay tribute to him?

A: I think Pete was very driven. He knew exactly what he wanted to achieve musically and he didn't hold back at all. He had no self doubt. Very confident. In a weird way he was very inspiring. He was quite a unique guy. He had a very clear picture of what he was doing.
Q: From what I've heard interviewing various people it seems that he was quite a strong character...

A: Yes. Well he used to work in finance and he was quite detail oriented. There was nothing fuzzy. It was just: this is how it should be and he wasn't copying anyone. He came up with his own plan. It was completely against what everyone else was doing but he was very proud of that. Very proud of the fact that he was the only person doing things the way that he was doing them and probably no-one else would be able to carry that kind of thing. It was definitely his way of standing out from the crowd: by releasing a record every week. I don't know of anyone else who did that. No-one did that. He was the only person who approached the music and the business in that way. I don't think anyone else could get away with it to be quite honest. He just had this mission to deliver or to share music or maybe it was to prove something to himself. I don't know.

Q: It's quite interesting now to think about how prolific he was and the fact that he passed away at a relatively young age. You could say and I think David (Moufang) was certainly making some connections between his work rate and the fact that he wasn't here for as long as a lot of people definitely would have hoped.

A: He always struck me as a really healthy guy. He didn't drink or smoke. Yes: he was always very fresh faced.

Have you heard the Fax tribute compilation?
Q: I've ordered it. I've ordered the physical copy and with the physical copy you get a download and I've started to make my way through it but when the box arrives I'll listen to it all in detail...and you have a track on there?

A: My track is a version of Subway. When I recorded Sea Biscuit I'd always do about four or five versions and I'd record again and again until I felt happy with it.The Subway that's on that Namlook started off as much more...I think it had too many chords in it or something but I always really liked that outtake so I thought it would be very fitting as Pete released Sea Biscuit. I thought it would be a good place for it to go. I've got a whole load of outtakes from throughout the years and it's always good to find a home for them.

A giant, morphing cloud of thanks to Mr. Jonah Sharp, who even had the patience to ring me when Skype wouldn't work for our interview. What a top bloke!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Review: Mick Chillage - Saudade

 Saudade: The recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure and well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again.

With it's opening drone and extended chords Over Ingia sets the tone for an album that is all about landscapes. There is something cold and forbidding about the barren vistas painted here and this record is as much about exploration of self as it is the cinematic glaciers, ice caverns and canyons and deserted, frozen plains that unfold before your very ears. This is a voyage of exploration both external and internal - travelling...without moving. As Over Ingia progresses we hear what could be some lumbering creature: a polar bear? But this is the only company when travelling over tundra, heading out on to a glassy expanse of ice, punctuated by white peaks. Magnificent desolation.
North Scape continues the chilly moods of the opening track. This is like opening a copy of National Geographic, only to be sucked in to the incredible photographs presented. Frosty shimmers suggest the threat of biting cold, as a drone paints a seemingly infinite icescape, blinding white as far as the eyes can see.

While Yakone is another sparse, slowly unfolding track there is a sense of real fear and menace here, the same mixture of beauty and danger that make Biosphere's Substrata and Cirque such compelling listening. It is as if an explorer has discovered a subterranean cave of ice as night falls but what seems like a place of rest may prove to be a frozen final resting place. Tightly packed stalactites of ice slowly drip, as the last light fades in this deserted chamber.
Solitude is at the heart of Saudade in more ways than one. Indeed this could quite easily have served as the album's title track, as the title is perfect for a collection of music that presents a lonely journey for the mind's eye. Very subtle, wistful bassy swells and pretty bleeping electronics convey a landscape so breathtaking that 1,000 words could not convey what the eyes can see or more accurately what the ears can hear. This sensation aptly sums up the experience of listening to this album: there is aching beauty that is impossible to describe; a very personal relationship with place and time that is unshareable. Whilst Solitude is shot through with melancholy there is also heart-melting beauty in this moment of reflection, spent surveying a frozen panorama, both in person and later as a frozen moment in the recesses of the mind.

With echoes of xylophone-like sound and vaguely metallic swells of sound Altesch is an austere slice of minimalism. Chilly and forbidding, yet cinematic and compelling.
Whilst it may not be immediately apparent, John Barry is the key influence behind Ophir Aurora. Indeed imagine this piece scored for orchestra and it is possible to picture an enormous enemy base sweeping slowly into view. As it is, with it's Berlin School sequencer pattern and great sweeps of synthesiser this track perfectly evokes rippling curtains of multi-coloured day-glo magnificence, flickering and dancing in the sky. This is arguably the album's most moving moment and a subtle, fitting tribute to the Bond composer. Barry would surely have approved.

Once again, xylophone-like patterns form the basis for Fall, the album's last track. This offering has the feel of a return to civilisation after a long walk in the wilderness, although the final moments revert to a cold,  barren atmosphere. Sensations of saudade?

Saudade is available to order here:

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Move D interviewed

The following interview was transcribed from a Skype conversation on 8th October 2013. A small amount of additional material about The Silent Orbiter album was added on 22nd February 2014.

Q: When and where did you first become aware of Fax Records?

A: I became aware of Fax with the first release, Silence, back in 1992...and then probably in 1993 I met Pete for the first time.
Q: And was that something that you instigated? Did you try to go and meet him or did he try to meet you...or did you just bump into one another?

A: First contact was made by Amir (Abadi a.k.a. Dr. Atmo), actually. I mean he was a resident at XS Chill Out Sundays in Frankfurt at that time and invited us to play and, as you know, we did the two Intergalactic Federations. I think it was after the second one that Peter said let's do an album and I think that was probably a bit later...about '95, I guess, when we did the first....the very first Koolfang was Jambient, I think. You might know better...
Q: (Laughs) So am I right in thinking that you and Pete were both from a jazz background? Obviously that comes through with the Koolfang records, trying to fuse electronica and jazz and with the Move D/Namlook it often comes through: the influence, the sound...?

A: Yeah, more in the Koolfang project, I think, which was deliberately playing with jazz ideas. I don't know if someone told you about this or if you read about it somewhere but he was playing in a duo with one of Germany's premiere acoustic jazz he had quite a career going and he was a fully accomplished musician and he wasn't really a great keyboard player, especially if you compare it to his guitar skills but I was very impressed by him saying that. He knew that had to leave the jazz and the guitar behind because his fingers would play licks faster than he thought about them.

Q: (Laughs)

A: ...and he wanted this to not happen to his music, so he was happy with the limitations in his keyboard playing because he felt that would actually really make him listen to what he played.

 Q: And you have a jazz background as well? You play jazz guitar sometimes? Is that right?

A: Yeah. I wouldn't claim to be as accomplished as he was. I got to a certain level but was never really aiming to be...I was never practicing enough. I was never really super serious. An instrument for me is more of a tool to compose, rather than to...interpret something existing. I would sometimes do that but also because I'm interested in the method of composition more than anything else.

Q: So you never aimed to become a just know as long as you had the tools that you needed to make your own music you were happy with that?

A: I mean the difference was that Pete was into improvisation and you know, I couldn't claim that.
Q: The Deep Space Network records and some of your work with Pete Namlook gets fairly cosmic. After the Apollo missions and the space race the '70s was a pretty cosmic decade. How much do you think that having those influences around when you were growing up later effected your music?

A: Very much so. I think you might have seen in interviews before...when I was four my dad took me to 2001 - A Space Odyssey and that must have been around 1970 and so probably, by the pace of things back then the time this film debuted in Germany even though it was like two years later...that's how long overdubbing used to take in the day...

Q: (Laughs)

A: And I remember at the cinema they were saying: he's not even six because the movie was PG six or whatever and I was clearly not even six years old and he said yes but I'm his dad and it will be fine...but it kind of really blew my mind and I only understood half of it but eventually I understood a lot of it. In the meantime I've watched the movie probably 30 times...and like everyone else I do remember Apollo missions being on TV and Apollo 13 kind of vaguely, so that was super exciting, aesthetically and on a philosophical level and 2001 is just outstanding...and it's funny, also if you look at the amount of stuff like, of course, Star Trek and they have what do you call it...the little communication device...maybe it doesn't have the same name in German as it does in the original...the Tricorder? Tricoder?
Q: The Teleporter?

A: No...the Teleporter...that's like: beam me the simple hand kind of thing. Flip out lid...I think Tricoder or Tricorder...yeah it's amazing and it's a very sci-fi era but since the Apollo missions it's stopped and it's not so predominant and it's not so in the centre of fashion and design and everything as it used to be throughout the '70s and the late '60s.

Q: But it was a formative time for you, though?

A: Yes, totally and musically as well. I mean I guess there were a lot of things relating to space. I definitely think that Pete and I were in that tradition...growing up with these influences. There was some very famous German sci-fi as well: Starship Orion - you ever heard of it? It's like '50s....

Q: Starship Orion?

A: It's really old. Star Trek looked really bad but Orion is like 10 years earlier than Star Trek and it really looked like cardboard or whatever.

Q: (Laughs)
A: ...but it was great. It had great music or whatever and it's kind of cult. That's probably more Pete's generation. He was five years older than me, I think.
Q: To my ears Solitaire still stands as one of the all-time classic Fax albums. Some of the record sounds as if it was perhaps inspired by your world travels. Is that true? What do you remember about the making of the record?

A: I remember a lot about it but it certainly wasn't inspired by travels because I hadn't really done any by that time. Imaginary travels, maybe. I do remember the whole thing was kind of happening...that was kind of the first time I was dealing with Pete so there was a lot of things...there was still Atmo involved, especially for the first one, I think. Like all the dealing went through Atmo...Amir...and the second one I was probably talking to Pete myself and for Solitaire my bank card was eaten by the machine and I couldn't withdraw any more money. I was broke and I was hanging out at friends places, so I had no money and I thought I need to make some money quickly. Back then Fax was still running like a factory and if I delivered something there would be a certain amount of an immediate down payment or whatever...or advance, you might call it.

I did the whole thing in a week, basically from A to B and even Kunstoff has a few tracks that were done a year before and then put on the shelf until I had finished the whole thing but Solitaire was happening within one week...and I don't know...even though I had a reason, which was kind of really for pay, to do it I took it with a lot of joy and wasn't stressing out about it. It was just playing and knowing that Pete would be happy with it, no-matter what, I guess and there was something about our relationship in general - whatever I liked he'd be happy with it. We never had to discuss taste or stuff like this or quality. I'm not saying he was sloppy but he believed in this very spontaneous, instant approach and finishing stuff immediately and not spending much time on it. I would say: "Shouldn't we be doing things in a different way?" and he would say: "That will be the next track, maybe, but..."

Q: That's it. The deal is done, maybe?

A: Yeah.
Q: I'm intrigued because you listen to some of the tracks and it sounds sort of...there are hints of the Middle East in there?

A: It's true but I just like making it up. I mean the Damaskus - Dakar thing, which is probably the most experimental and definitely Middle East-sounding...and I remember what inspired me to do this track. I remember a lot about this session. It's funny because I forget a lot of stuff too. My partner in Deep Space Network, Jonas (Grossmann)...on the first release, Earth to Infinity, he wouldn't touch anything in the studio. He was like a music collector with some ideas about samples and music in general but he wouldn't touch things or produce or play an instrument. Slowly I brought him into the idea of doing stuff on his own and I think that week he did something in my studio on his own for the first time..something he did by himself. That track was definitely a reaction to what I heard him doing - in a way that I was really impressed at how expressive, how free form and how creative...whatever...but not too much. It didn't seem to come from the music conservatory, which it didn't, obviously but I was really impressed by it and it made me do this Damaskus - Dakar on Solitaire. That was my inspiration. The fact that it turned out to be very oriental is something that happened on the way but the fact that it had something very cinematic, like...I don't know, erm... Vangelis or something from a movie score...that was kind of the plan because of what I'd heard.
Q: In/Out is an epic.

A: There are several versions of this floating around. There's one on Kunstoff and there's another on the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 12" and I'm not 100% sure which is the first mix. I think the one on Kunstoff was the first mix, the initial mix and then...and I felt that I wasn't 100% happy with the version on Kunstoff and I felt like it was good for another mix...another go and that's when I did the version for Pete. It has the hardware like the Juno-106, Sequential Pro One, an 808, a Yamaha TX802 and there was a midi-sequencer. In the '90s it was still very common to have a "12 with four different versions of the same tune in a way, like the early morning beats...and whatever and then the stripped down track...

Q: I remember those times, yes...

A: Yeah...and I was doing this sometimes with electronic tracks and I have a different version of Eastman, the first track on Kunstoff, which I wonder if I should release one day...

Q: OK, so moving on to Pop for Dwoozle, another great Fax record, I read somewhere that the material was inspired by your son. Is he the "Dwoozle" in the title?

A: Yes: that was a name I gave to him, yes.
 Q: It really sounds like a very warm, contented record, almost like a portrait of domestic bliss. Do you think that's a fair assessment?

A: Yes. It is. I mean at the same time...this says something about my motivation to work...I needed money because when my son was born his mother had a steady job so she was working pretty soon after giving birth full time again and I was at home with my son, so I wasn't doing much gigging or much studio work on my own. I was just working on the label because I only had time in little chunks of hours and in order to make music I really need to forget about it wasn't really a good time for making music. I had little income or no income and I was kind of broke when I did this but I always wanted to an album dedicated to the kid at the time and there's quite a lot of recordings of his in there...of him singing or talking or playing some keys in the studio. Not making money doesn't mean you have to be unhappy or anything.

Q: It certainly sounds like a happy record to me.

A: Yes. I know. I'll give you that. It's a happy record. I wasn't in despair.

Q: (Laughs) Dr. Atmo told me that the I.F. records were amongst the recordings he was most proud of. Do you have any particular memories about making those ones?

A: Yes, I do remember. The first one was pretty soon after we all met and it was actually a real Deep Space Network greets Dr. Atmo affair and I think we probably did it in a day in Heidelberg and Atmo...Amir was essentially bringing some field recordings...then we got didgeridoo players that we just found in the street in Heidelberg and we invited them to the studio and that's the second half of the last track, Caravan and I remember e-bow guitar on it and Atmo was really encouraging me to do guitar...or kind of different things.
I remember actually at the very beginning Fax for a while was in the media with a lot of rave reviews and there was one article in the London Times where they had like a double page spread of Fax. They were calling it the label that everyone likes to be on and they were doing like three or four releases and I.F. was one of them and they were saying it sounded like Robert Fripp and all sorts of cool things. On the second I.F. we did it in my new home, where I still live today, so I moved there when my son was born in '97. One was before '97 and two must have been around '97. It was, I remember this, one of the first, if not the first production I made in this new place and Jonas wasn't so much in it. I think it was basically just Amir and myself. Maybe Jonas was already studying Art in the second one is a bit more around Amir and myself but basically it's the same. He would give his comments and bring his samples but not really play anything but you don't need to play things to be a good producer. I think you don't have to be trained or anything to make interesting music. In Amir's case or Jonas they had a very clear opinion about what they wanted to hear when they went into the studio, so I kind of helped them materialise their thoughts or ideas but they had some, definitely. It's like directing a movie. You don't act yourself.

Q: So you were semi the interpreter for them?

A: Yeah, sort of. I mean...not really. Typically they'd bring a sample and we'd start building something around it and I would do what I do and they would say what they like, you know and that's more or less the way. Sometimes if there wasn't anything before I even started doing something they would say: I imagine something eastern sounding or I want to hear a sad hip-hop beat or whatever but...basically...

Q: So I could say to you I imagine autumn in England and then you could put that together (smiles)....

A: (Smiles) Yeah...maybe, maybe....

Q: Sounds good. I think it might be 26 records that you recorded with Pete...possibly?

A: Yeah: 23 Move D/Namlook and three Koolfang...makes sense...

Q: That's an enormous amount of music. Can you describe your typical working methods when the two of you got together? Did one of you typically start playing before the other or did a lot of the music come from the two of you just jamming alongside one another?

A: First of all, there was a very big distinction between Koolfang and Move D/Namlook. The Koolfangs we recorded at Pete's and the Move D and Namlooks at mine...and the Koolfang stuff, especially when I went there - I would not go unprepared...or maybe I did but then he would leave me alone in the studio and do some other stuff and just leave me alone there and he had other stuff to play around with, so when he came back a few hours later I would always have something going on by then. And on Koolfang we would have, say, a trumpeter was a bit more like music that was produced in a studio the way it is usually made, you know - like layering ideas and really working on individual tunes, whereas the Move D/Namlook stuff was more like jamming and perhaps editing. Later on we were multi-tracking and then not so much editing but just writing bits...individual tracks and so we would start playing as soon as there was a signal on the channel. So basically recording from the first tuning up everything in real time and typically for a Move D/Namlook session we would be in by 11:00am and set up some stuff, get some coffee, go back to the studio, get everything running by 1:00 o'clock and start recording until...I don't know...3:00pm, 3:30pm, 4:00 o'clock and then he would fold up and go minimum from one session would be one CD but we had some sessions where it was like three CDs. That would be the trilogies, like Raumland or whatever...
Q: Stranger?

A: Stranger, right. All of these three would have been done in one day and you can tell that because they have reappearing elements and then sounds, centered around the same kind of jams. Sometimes I felt that it might be enough to make two instead of three but he wanted it all out, in a way....
Q: Yeah. There's a curious...when you mention themes that go from one disc to another on the later albums there's almost like a strange voice distortion?

A: Yeah, the voice thing was...Pete used a Roland V Synth a lot in the later years and he used it excessively and sometimes it can be quite subtle, like on the tracks on Let the Circle Not Be Broken. There's something called Heidelberg, Texas and it's a lot of acoustic guitar, so when he came for a session he was always kind of prepared and what he brought usually was like...erm...a sample, like him saying a certain sentence about the record or if you listen closely on Let the Circle not Be Broken you can hear him saying: "It's David and Pete for the tenth time." Something simple, like a two line sentence and then he would have this in the V Synth and stretch it all over the place or the guitar that he pre-recorded...sometimes and he does something subtle where you don't quite hear these kind of alien artefacts. With the voices there are a lot of samples from movies where there was like a background noise, or whatever...ambient noise when it's being processed by the synth and he does really extreme things like looping a single grain in a voice. Some people were complaining about this on the Fax board because they were kind of harsh and dominant sometimes but I like it in a way.

So many things that he did have an opinion on, while he was still around and maybe I wasn't too crazy about but now that he's gone I've found peace with everything and I'm just grateful we had the time and the music we did and there were things that I thought I would not have done. Sometimes I did not think the vocals were that good for something and now I'm grateful they're there because I remember the moment and Pete usually had a week before coming up with them. One record, the Gig in the Sky, the second Koolfang record - he was dealing with the death of his father. That was basically the day we did the album. The third Koolfang album it was about the break-up with a girlfriend and all of the tracks are about his relationship. While this was happening maybe his relationship affairs weren't really that much of an adventure for me or for anyone else so I wasn't really sure if it was really that cool but now, as I said, I'm really grateful for everything that's there. I saw him entering in to jamming with people he'd never jammed with before, just dropping in the cold water with his EMS AKS synth in a briefcase and not really being quiet and careful but really rocking it out...amazing!

So, like, these jams...I knew that something cool would happen and in all the music we did it's  pretty much me doing all of the programming and he's doing the whatever...the soloing and other could be manipulating a voice or playing a synthesiser solo. Usually the programmed part is more midi and he is he always brought a lot of gear to the jams: Mini Moog and a Prophet 5 and an OB-8, and of course a V Synth...a Nord Lead and an AKS and all of this stuff but we never midi-ied any of his gear. He was just playing keyboards, basically so anything that is sequenced is me and he's playing.

Q: That leads into one of the next questions I was going to ask and I think I've probably already got the answer. Some of the records seem quite chilled out, quite cosmic and then this house element will come in - on the first Stranger record, for sure and there's one...I can't remember which record it is and it comes out with a really funky bassline - it could be an early '70s James Brown record. I'm assuming that part of things is your influence. It must be?

A: Yes, yeah. Any beats, except for ones where he maybe had a loop on the beat and is playing this for a's actually not a bad track...will I find it? No, not quickly. It's a really cool track. He was messing around with the tape loops and the Mellotron. There's like, vintage '60s kind of styles, organ kind of styles to accompany your playing...and you can hear small combo playing: drums, bass and guitar...and he once did something like that - a short track but other than that he never did any sequencing.
Q: And did you always record together? I mean over time technology would have allowed you to record in separate locations...

A: We always recorded together and sometimes we had a very wiring up the studio I would make sure that something is present in each machine and a sound is selected, so I would be prepared a little bit but the programming was happening while the playing was happening so I was always overdubbing and recording my stuff at the moment, so it wasn't like fully finished tracks or anything before he came in but sometimes after he left, depending on how much we got out of the session, I would do post-production but usually not too much. Like, one example would be The Art of Love - the first...the title track - the core arrangement was done live, like guitar and the sub-bass and this gave the whole thing a bit more like of a full...sometimes really small things would...the Softwired on Wired is like Mellotron strings and there's some the track obviously was longer than 25 minutes on the recording, so I think it might have been like 40 minutes in the original, so I edited this and added a lot of overdubs but usually not much. I think stuff was the best when it was 100% happening in the jams, like a lot of Wired. The Hardwired thing is pretty interesting, I think and it was just the way it happened. 
Q: A lot of the albums have themes. I'm presuming that the themes emerged later on. You never approached the music thinking today I'm going to make some...Wagon-Lits, for example...I'm assuming you didn't go into the studio thinking: we're going to make some music that's train-like?

A: No, no. You're right. The title comes after and it's somehow hidden in the samples he brings from sci-fi movies and I think in Wagon-Lits it's more like the music was really droney and sleepy and I saw, like a sleeping car ride in my imagination. It's a pity because one promoter from Belgium wanted us to perform this in a sleeping car once but Pete wanted more money than they could afford and it ended up not happening but it would have been so cool.

Q: Those Move D/Namlook albums - if you had to choose two or three that were real standouts which ones would you go for?

A: I think Wired - number five, number one, number 10, maybe.
Q: Which one was number 10?

A: Let the Circle Not Be Broken

Q: Oh that the one with Sea of Holes on it?

A:  Yeah. It depends on your mood as well. I think the Raumland trilogy is pretty cool too. Those probably but I keep discovering new things. There is something on each one that I'm pretty fond of but there's definitely quite a few things that I'm not too fond of. Not on all of them but a lot of them - I think that even if he did spend more time working on them it doesn't guarantee a much better, more satisfying result but I think there's trial and error in everything and you can't always be...especially knocking it out in such a short time frame...but in general I'm really happy with most of it. Even with the I.F. ones...I really like to deal with eight tracks instead of four on each, you know without losing too much. I mean sometimes I think it's nice if a track runs for 30 minutes or even 15 but a lot of times you could do it as well in nine minutes as you could in 20 or whatever. On the other hand there's an Evolution of Move D/Namlook CD where he did a sort of a mega-mix....I don't know. I wasn't too crazy about this, either. Sometimes, you know, to be hypnotising, or whatever - like Sea of Holes it has to be really long. But Sons of Kraut has some good stuff too. I like it when we rock out a bit more. For me sometimes it only takes one track and I don't like the whole album so much.

Q: (Laughs)

A: At the same time I might have one track that I really love. It's like Home Shopping may not be my favourite but I know there's some stuff on there that I like a lot, you know.
Q: That's a quirky one: Home Shopping.

A: Yeah. I probably like the quirky stuff. I like Nanotube, for sure but a lot of it I'm not too crazy about.

Q: Do you have any standout memories of working with Pete? How would you describe him and pay tribute to him as a person?

A:  I think I mentioned a few already, like the death of his father, his girlfriend and of his live performances. We did one only together that was turned into a CD: Live in Heidelberg but he was showing at some other gigs in Heidelberg and jamming with some friends of mine, which really stands out. I mean every human is very individual but Pete was even more individual than most other people. He was really like no-one else I ever met. And all of the facets of his personality: jazz guitarist but drops the guitar and chooses to be a kind of beginner keyboard player but with the hearing of a good musician. He was a banker. He knew how to deal with money, in a way, which a lot of artists don't and that made him different because usually people who work for banks and in money...I wouldn't usually be able to relate to them and it made me sceptical about him in the beginning, when they told me...when Amir basically told me that he was a banker and he does this with a very sharp mind. So I was a bit worried about this but he was just very different. He was the most honest, reliable and trustworthy person to deal with in my 20...whatever plus years in the business and I see a lot of people and I have a few other really trustworthy but he was outstanding because he was...I've seen friends breaking up and I've seen people falling out with him or him falling out with people. These people typically were my friends as well, so there was always a different side to the story but in the end I never doubted Pete's word, I must say, and that's it.

He was always there and he was always reliable and he was very together and straight...and I think his lifestyle was I didn't really take it as an option, as a possibility that he could die so soon and I always thought about what we could do in our seventies and that's not going to happen anymore. It's really painful and so...I've been really busy the last couple of years, so I've seemed more busy than him. Last year I think I spoke to him in January and maybe had a couple of e-mails but I wasn't really on top of things and responding because I was never at home and then him passing in November made me feel pretty horrible about it. I could have done more to be there as a friend or whatever. There are opportunities that I missed out on but essentially I'm at peace with everything. We knew we were friends but I just think maybe he was more of a friend...I...I don't know. It's just, really really sad. It shocked me so much. I can't...I mean, I'd no... much of a friend he was and how much I'd miss him...I  always knew he was a good friend but I didn't expect it really kind of rocked my world...and it's getting a bit better now but...there basically is almost no day when I don't think about it or him and it's tough like that. He's really missed...
Q: I guess that to be philosophical about it there are not many collaborations where you get a chance to make 26 albums together.

A: No and I was always wondering why it had to be in such a rush and in such a hurry  but now I understand and I know why. I was thinking we could take our time until we're 80, you know and keep doing these but maybe he knew it was kind of rushed. If there was anything about him it was that he was a bit of a cholerical character. If you got into an argument with him...and even we had some...but more typically I would kind of watch him being in an argument with someone else...I felt that wasn't very healthy and that he got too upset about things but on the other hand in the later years he would grow his own potatoes and really live a cool life...

Q: You used a word there and it was?

A: Cholerical...he was like high pressured sometimes, where he was someone on the phone and whatever...they couldn't get the pressing, or whatever and it wasn't the end of the world and maybe it would take a week or maybe just a day. He'd still kind of get really upset - I remember these things.

(After a brief pause the interview resumes)
Q: Your album The Silent Orbiter will be coming out on Lee Anthony Norris' ...txt label in January. I heard a clip of it and it sounded quite it was almost, possibly a requiem. I don't know. That's understandable under the circumstances and it probably seems right so I was just curious about that...

A: There is some requiem stuff. The funny thing is, though, I did not do it now, after his passing but I've had it for a while and I always meant to give it to him but I didn't really know because it's so dark and sad in a way and then totally made sense to me in way. I did this requiem before he passed, never really knowing about it and then I knew what it was for.

Q: That's very strange, because a lot of your music is not like that.

A: No, it's not very typical but..I mean the sound clip (the teaser) doesn't show you anything, really. It is very melancholy and in a requiem style. The last 12 minutes are quite pleasant, majestic, and uplifting...whatever you want to call it. The alarming crackles and the groove relaxes. To me this is the essence of the track and the story that I am telling...the way I think about Pete orbiting like an Indian funeral in a canoe. The very end is quite sudden and pulls you back to reality - like waking up after hypnosis and the purpose of this album becomes visible again - one star has ceased to exist in our world.

Q: I've got a copy on order, so I guess I'll get a chance to hear it in January but that's very strange that you should produce this new piece of music that is really quite out of character...

A: Yeah, and I was wondering where it was coming from and what could I need this for and had it all the time and then I knew. When Lee (Anthony Norris) asked me if I had some ambient material yes- I actually had something - a dedication to Pete...

Q: That's an amazing story, actually and that will make listening to the album a whole different experience. It reminds me a little bit of the story of Elton John and Song for Guy. He wrote this very melancholy piece and then found out the next day that the courier who worked for him, a teenage boy had passed away in a road accident and then realised he'd written the piece for this boy...perhaps even as it happened.

A: Crazy, huh?

Q: It's strange, that. It really is strange.

(After a pause Move D continues...)

A: Pete was the best guy, really. If I'd passed he'd really be looking after my family. I know that but among all the people I've met in the business there's maybe one more that I would say would do the same, so he was really a very, very special guy.

Q: So, that just leads us to one last question, which is what are your plans for the future? What's next for you?
A: Let me think...difficult question. At the moment the most exciting for me is the stuff with Magic Mountain High, playing with Juju and Jordash live - an improvised set and we'll be playing next week: the Unsound Festival in Poland, which is a really cool festival by itself and then it's even cooler because we will be performing as the Mulholland Free Clinic, which will be Jonah Sharp, so it will be Magic Mountain High again and there will be the four of us. It should be very that's the most exciting stuff for me at the moment and there will be more releases with Magic Mountain High and there might be a live album by me again and working on my own stuff as well, and of course, thinking about ambient, or kind of freeform I am concerned about the void that's been left if there's no more Fax records. It's a bit sad that times are bad for albums. These days people buy single tracks off iTunes so the whole culture is in danger and I personally am not really fond of CDs. I guess it's still an appropriate media for this material but really hard to sell and the numbers were going down for Pete. It's such a molecular level of a scene. It's really small and to me it feels wrong to sell the music just as downloads if there isn't a physical thing to it but then I was saying: I don't really like CDs so that kind of makes it really hard to work in this field.
Q: So, you've got records like Solitaire and Pop for Dwoozle...I'd be disappointed if I thought you weren't going to record any more ambient albums. Can you see yourself recording many more ambient works? I hope so.

A:  Yes. I definitely can. Not only the two you mentioned...if we're talking albums I'll always have this dimension and this could be with Studio Pankow...even the ones with Benjamin Brunn on Smallville...with Reagenz...and the last track I did with Hear, which is like 30 minutes of proper ambient. I don't know if you've heard that. There will always be...I'll keep doing it. It'll be more like here and there and and whatever...and Fax was just like an institution for this kind of.... I was thinking we should do a Fax release and that's not going to happen. I wanted to one with Ben Brunn or maybe one with Jonah, with Reagenz...

Q: Well, that's me out of questions and we've been talking for two hours...

A: I know - I can't believe it. Time passes.

(With one final anecdote our conversation moves around to a story from the very early days of Fax, demonstrating Pete's strong moral outlook).

A: In the early '90s Pete had a distribution in California and when he came and met the guy for his distribution he found the guy was selling Mein Kampf. I mean, it's illegal in Germany, the book, but I still remember I've read it and there were ways of reading it, like at school and I read it because I worked in History and so at some point you have to read it. So I have read it, which was not usual for Germans but in the world I think it's normal that people are interested so I maybe would have been more forgiving, you know but for Pete this was crossing a line and so no more business with you, even though the guy said: I'd be willing to take it off my repertoire for you. I think it was too late and the guy was no way a Nazi but that was enough for Pete and he was appalled by it and he said you don't have to be a Nazi but if you're willing to make money from this then you're still accepting or whatever and I don't work with people like this.

I think that's essentially a really good one to show about his life...his business morals and how strict they were. Money was important and he was calculating with it but he would draw a line and no money would make him cross that line.
 Q: Well, thanks for your time. I thought we'd be talking for 20 minutes and it's great, you know. Thanks for giving up your time!

A: You're welcome. It's a good call and it's one I was really looking forward to because I think he really deserves the two hours...or three. OK. Take care. All the best, man. Bye.

Massive thanks to Move D for taking the time to do this interview. Believe me when I say he's the nicest person you could ever chat to.