Interviews

Autistici

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Milk Factory (2010)

In the early 2000s, David Newman founded Audiobulb, a label which has since been a catalyst for contemporary electro-acoustic works and sound-based projects involving a wide range of artists. Two years ago, Newman released his debut album as Autistici, a project which he had started working on in 2000. We took the opportunity of the release of Detached Metal Voice – Early Works (Vol. 1), a collection of early material released on Audiobulb, to catch up with him and talk about both his music project and his label.

You’ve just released a collection of early recordings under your Autistici alias. On the record, there is no indication of when these tracks were recorded. Were these recorded over a long period of time?
Hello themilkfactory and thanks for the opportunity of this interview. The tracks on Detached Metal Voice – Early Works (Vol . 1) bring together my work from 2000-2003. This period of time represents the early days of Autistici.

The album is described as ‘a collection of early works exploring the raw extrusion of the human condition’. Was it a concept you were working on at the time, and how did you try to transcribe this concept into the music?
There is always context, the interplay between the external world and the internal psyche. There is definitely a sense of struggle with the human condition. In my work as a Clinical Psychologist I have to process the experience of people. Often the innate drive to develop, thrive, to reach out and connect with others has been damaged by experiences of abuse of trust and power. Sometimes part of surviving psychologically can involve disconnection from other people and from the self. Walls go up and the world is experienced in a different manner, detached, depersonalised and dissociated states predominate. This is a difficult place to be and as a therapist it is difficult to process. Issues of my own vulnerability and sense of self and the world are impacted upon. However I am supported positively through my own clinical supervision and the task of processing the difficult material is addressed there. However I needed another avenue to record residual aspects of my experience. Autistici gave me a chance to reprocess non-verbal elements of my world through the creation of abstract sound narratives.

While your first two albums had quite a pastoral feel, especially your first, Volume Objects, the music featured on this album is quite different, more varied in style and also darker, with harsher electronic sounds. Was it a conscious effort on your part to collects these on one record to showcase a different side of your work, and is this still relevant to the music you make today?
Detached Metal Voice – Early Works (Vol. 1) represents the work that went before Volume Objects which was recorded 2007-2009. It is more visceral and raw – dealing with a darker part of me at a particular point in my life. The process of the recordings was less planned and more organic. The process was one of emptying and catharsis.

This is volume 1. Do you have a lot more unreleased material lined up for release?
Yes, Slow Temperature – Early Works (Vol. 2) will be released later this year. It contains music predominately from 2001-2005 but the collection is more ambient and less harsh. It is a bridge to the works created for Volume Objects.

How did Autistici start? Was it your first project?
Autistici started at the point I could afford my own studio equipment and work on music again. Prior to this I had recorded works under different alias in the late 1980s and early nineties. At that point bands such as The Orb were a big influence of my work and I was making more commercial electronic dance music. However I could not afford my own equipment and had to save to get the cheap night time studio sessions. Writing music and doing the final mix as the sun came up and the dawn chorus rang in.

In an interview you gave to Textura a couple of years ago, you talked about the origin of Autistici and said that it ‘acknowledges the part of you that has an obsessive preoccupation with sound’, and you went on to mention people who have Autistic Spectrum Disorder, which manifests itself by problems to communicate or interact with others. How did you come to choose a name that highlights quite a serious disorder?
Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) represent a range of developmental disorders that tend to affect people’s ability to participate in and understand social communication and perspective taking. Alongside these difficulties there are often areas of relative strengths as people may focus on particular interests in an intense manner. Hyposensitivity to external stimuli can mean that the world is experienced in a qualitatively different way. For example, sounds can be amplified, tastes distorted, visual stimuli become overwhelming and pain thresholds can be substantially higher or lower. I have met many people with ASD and each one has their own unique and valid take on the world. To me it is not a “disorder” a medical term, it is simply a difficult difference but one we should all respect and value. Furthermore, ASD is a continuum condition and in that respect we are all on the continuum. The name started as a two word name as in “Autistic I”, an acknowledgement of my own intense preoccupation with sound and my own sensitivity to environmental audio stimuli. When I bought the domain name I realised it was easier to have a single word name and Autistic I became Autistici.

Volume Objects was published on Taylor Deupree’s 12k in 2008. How did you get to work with him?
Volume Objects was the result of an initial approach to Richard Chartier (12k/Line) whom I met following a performance of his work in Sheffield. He had been playing a set of beautiful minimal tones in an old warehouse building in the centre of Sheffield. I gave him a copy of my music and invited him to listen. Richard emailed soon after and told me that my sound could be suitable for 12k. The next stage was contact with Taylor Deupree. Taylor was interested in working with new artists and expanding the 12k repertoire. Blueprints featured two tracks from the artists Christmas Decorations, Seaworthy, Jodi Cave, Pjusk, Leo Abrahams and Autistici. The compilation was well received and gave Taylor and myself a platform to discuss a full release. The next stage was working with Taylor to bring together a coherent album that worked for 12k and worked for me. Taylor and myself honed down Volume Objects paying attention to the flow, the diversity and the coherence of the track listing.

Last year, your second album, Complex Tone Test, was published on Kesh Recordings, the label set up by Simon Scott. Did you know him prior to this?
Simon found my work via my myspace page and we started talking about the release from there. It was great to work with Simon whom I met in person for the first time this year.

These two albums, while sharing some common grounds, are quite different. How did they come together? Did you have a particular plan for each one of them, or are they more collections of tracks in a particular vein recorded over a long period of time?
Complex Tone Test contains some tracks that would fit with the 12k aesthetic, however it also contains tracks with rhythm elements and distorted electronics more fitting to the Kesh style. I am always recording music and I treat each track as a separate entity. I am not concerned to stay within a particular style or genre. This means I have a collection of works of varying styles. The common element is that I am the creator and I have my own ideas regarding what narratives and structures I pursue. However when it comes to releasing an album it is important to create a macro narrative. This forms the ebb and flow of the album and influences the listening experience. Just as track after track of soft ambience may send a listener into a dissociated sleepy state, track after track of full on harsh noise may send the listener into a dissociated irritated or over aroused state. In my view it is good to have albums that build and occupy space and then fall away and provide space. It is the extremes of the experience that support the listener to focus on the impact of the audio.

You have been running your own label, Audiobulb, since 2003. What made you decide to start the label, and looking back at your catalogue, have you achieved what you set out to?
I started the label out of deep respect for the work of unreleased artists whom I believed I could support through media exposure. Not all of them are active now – but artists such as Erik Schoster (He Can Jog), Simon Kealoha (Calika), Henry Leo Duclos, Build, Disastrato, Claudia and Marion all had such a great creative aesthetic. I am also very interested in design, marketing, PR and establishing a brand on the internet. I wondered to myself, “this new social sphere – what happens if you walk out and use its tools and systems – how far can I take it?” If you are asking me whether I have achieved what I set out to achieve in 2003, then the answer is a resounding yes. However my ideas and aspirations continually evolve and develop. I am always looking to achieve new opportunities on behalf of the label for its artists. I believe in the people and their work. I want them to reach all the audience that could be open to them.

Right from the start, you have released both digital-only and traditional CD releases, at a time where digital formats were still a novelty. Could you feel at the time that they would become so predominantly in such a short period of time?
Yes. As older established labels struggled to come to terms with the shifting market conditions Audiobulb was new and flexible. It took a couple of years to get a good handle on the state of play and conditions are always changing but I think a combination of digital and where there is demand physical CDs is the way to go. The physical digital evolution is ongoing and I believe that very soon everyone will be buying wav quality digital releases as their download speeds and hardware capacities improve. I believe the electronic equipment companies will move toward higher definition CDs (24 or 32 bit). This will continue the pressure on consumers to upgrade and update and will provide them with a new market to tap (just like the impact of blue ray/ HD television images). I for one am hoping for 32 bit audio, people will argue against it and point to limitations in human hearing but I can hear the difference. At the end of the day we all have different acoustic perception.

As a consumer of music, are you more of a vinyl, CD or MP3 type of person?
I love the quality and warmth of vinyl. I adore the subtle crackle of the needle on the record. If you visit the Audiobulb webpage that sound is there – all the time built into the experience. However, with vinyl you have to flip the record halfway through the album, I do not like the interruption of flow to my listening experience. I am more of a CD person and like to listen through high quality systems. I do use MP3s, I bought my first iPod four months ago but MP3s encoded at 128 get me down – FLAC is a better option.

The music you’ve released over the years has been quite varied, although there is definitely an emphasis on electro-acoustic work. How do you choose to release a particular record, and how do you decide between traditional CD and all digital release formats?
Quality and artistic vision are the guiding principles for all the releases on Audiobulb. Some of the releases showcase the work of one artist but many are works by a group – the “various”. I am deeply interested in how different artists approach a single idea or project and it excites me to hear how unique each approach is and the final pieces of music that emerge. I have always been a fan of remixes particularly of electronic music. I think projects such as the current :Papercutz album, the Favourite Places series, Birmingham Sound Matter and the Exhibition series all illustrate Audiobulb’s interest in exploring conceptual similarities and difference. Projects such as these also allow you to work with a range of inspirational artists, in recent years Biosphere, Taylor Deupree, Helios, Simon Scott, Jeremy Bible, Leafcutter John and Icarus and many more have all contributed to this exploration of the modern composer. In terms of decisions regarding CD and digital versus digital only – that is purely a question of economics and demand. Artists such as Ultre, He Can Jog and Jimmy Behan can create enough demand to warrant a CD run. Other releases or artists may produce work that is unlikely to sell a minimum number of CDs and so we release in the digital domain. However, regardless of the format all releases represent quality beautiful works that deserves to be heard.

Record labels have a pretty tough time at the moment, and have had for a few years now. How do you manage to keep your head above the water and continue to release music regularly?
I’m committed to what I do and continue to feel excited, challenged and motivated by running the label. I enjoy the learning about the market and how to operate the label in a manner that maintains its aesthetic quality and financial stability. A lot of graft is required to ensure the PR process is sufficient and the information about the music is out there. At the end of the day it is good to be able to pay artists for what they do. It is a return; a recognition and reward for all their hard work.

Why have you waited so long to release your own music on Audiobulb?
I had to undergo a process. I write because I need to. I do wonder how the sound would be perceived by others but I do not expect others to want to engage with my work. I needed to undergo a process of peer review. I needed to put my music into the hands of other label owners who did not know me. I was looking to receive an unbiased reaction to my work from my peers. I now feel confident enough to release some works on my own label. However, I will always look to work with other people – simply because if they are releasing my music I am freed up to release the music of other artists working with Audiobulb. This year there will three releases featuring Autistici work. These include the two Early Works (Vol . 1 & 2) and a remix album called Resonating Wires which will feature reconstructions of the Resonating Wire track taken from Complex Tone Test. The album contains outstanding and diverse works from artists such as Francisco López, Richard Chartier, Jimmy Behan, Isan, Claudia, He Can Jog, Ian Hawgood & Danny Norbury, Simon Scott, Bluermutt & Sawako. What I love about this release is the fact that a single track can provoke artists to reinterpret the material so differently – from extreme minimalism to abstract concrete sounds to orchestration to dance.

How did the Favourite Places project, which is based on artists providing music relating to a particular place they like, come up, and how did you get them involved?
As I’ve indicated, I have always enjoyed working around projects and concepts. Audiobulb has a dedicated project page where the Root Of Sine and Endless Endless projects run. Favourite Places continues in the same vein. It gives artists a direction to place themselves in a particular psycho-audio environment in order to capture and create. I really liked the comprehensive nature of the project. The fact we could record time, place (latitude and longitude), visual imprints, audio imprints, subjective text, and creative musical interpretations all defining one place from one person’s point of view. In terms of getting people on board it was a case of using connections and talking to the artists. They believed I could deliver and they were happy to be involved. I am extremely proud of all that has been achieved via the Favourite Places project, I think it really works well. The project was made even more robust by the unique hand finished design concept for the CD created by the wonderful guys Stereographic and by the interactive website created by my brother Andrew Newman.

There have been two instalments of Favourite Places so far. Are you working on a third one?
I am not actively working on a third one. I think the first two instalments need time to breathe and be found by listeners. However when the time and people are right it could well happen.

How do you see the label evolve in the next few years? Is there anyone you would like to release the music of?
I like to support the label to evolve in an organic fashion. I see myself as a curator, someone who has a degree of vision and who can steer a course. But I have to let myself be influenced by what I come into contact with on a day to day basis. New artists or new works by people I have already worked with. Some of that is out of my hands. I would love to release further albums by Ultre, He Can Jog and Jimmy Behan. I am allowing Audiobulb to become more diverse, to work with bands such as :Papercutz and The Hole Punch Generation and to release tracks that are songs! My passion and interests still remain in the electro-acoustic crossover of sounds from minimal ambience to quirky off centre beats characterised by the work of artists such as Calika. Only time will tell, there is no place for rigidity in today’s market.

Last but not least, if you had to name five records, books, films or works of art, which one would you choose, and why?
I live in the world of sound. I would choose five records that live in my psyche and have shaped my experience of myself and the world. I would then realise that five would not be enough and the need to hone down the list would stress me out! Thanks for the interview and best wishes with the excellent Milk Factory.

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Tokafi (2010)

Most people thought of David Newman's autistici-release "Volume Objects" on 12k as his first full-length. Brimful of ideas, epic and demanding, constantly evolving and infinitely ambitious, it surely had the typical traits of a debut: Newman's ambient acoustic worlds were inhabited by myriads of sound creatures and sonic plants entwining themselves around a laserbeam-like pillar of creativity. In reality, these both powerful and peculiar pieces were the results of years spent refining a distinct style through a plethora of net-releases. In a sense, however, "Volume Objects" did constitute a fresh beginning for Autistici. Not only was Newman devoting more and more time to building his Audiobulb imprint into one of the more eclectic and forwardthinking outfits on the electronica-scene. He was also turning more towards minutely designed physical products. This tendency continues with his latest record, "Complex Tone Test" on keshhhhhh Records, which again comes accompanied by striking cover art. It also shows that Newman has no intention of simply repeating the promising formula of "Volume Objects". Rather, "Complex Tone Test" has turned out a concept work of sorts, researching the information processing capacities of the human mind. What sounds like a scientific experiment onpaper has, in fact, turned into an emotionally charged album which never quite sounds the same. About time we spoke to David to find out more.

Is “Complex Tone Test”, in a way, a representation of the last years for you?

For me the album is a representation of my work over the last three years. However it is hard to identify a clear start point for any of my works – as I tend to allow influences, sounds and processes to seep in from various points in my life. I never start with a clean computer, a clean digital recorder and clean set of sounds. I am constantly recording, collecting, collating and testing and tampering with sounds. Some of these are newly captured others have been with me for years – but I return to them – to remodel and redesign their tones.


“Volume Objects” was widely praised. In which way did you nonetheless feel that you had to move away from the direction of that album?

Volume Objects is a more delicate album – containing and giving space to tiny nuances within the sound. It contains a lot of detail, micro sound-environments constantly mutating and developing. This new album contains a denser selection of tracks with more colourisation and distortion within the sound design. Compositionally the elements have been allowed to flow more freely – finding their own natural space rather than being precisely positioned.


I thought it interesting that the title of your new album contained the word “test”. Is the album, then, very much an experiment for you?

I love to experiment, that is part of my process – it is the essence of creativity to play with what is with you (like a child) and see what you can make. But the word test is used in this context to convey my belief that the final result of the music is in the listener’s perception. In that respect it is not a test that the listener can pass or fail, it is merely a stimulus that will produce an unknown response within the listener.


The press release mentions that one part of your aim was to create, “more auditory stimulus than the listener is able to analyze consciously.” How did that concept present itself to you?

There are points in the album based upon the dichotic listening paradigm, a behavioural technique for studying brain asymmetry in auditory processing. In a dichotic listening experiment, the subject is presented with different sounds to the right and the left ear simultaneously. This means that the subject receives more auditory stimulus than she is able to analyze consciously. The interesting question, then, is what part of the input will be selected for conscious analysis. Tracks such as Refractory contain subtle changes in tone and counter melody across the stereo field and at points the flow of the melodic narrative transfers across the stereo field – the question is whether the brain chooses to follow one melody or its counter point. Another track La Spaziale S1 Vivaldi is basically the same tune and café field recordings played both forwards and backwards simultaneously. It starts and ends, ends and starts at the same time.

When listening to the album in the background, it actually sounds calm and composed rather than complex. Was it important to you, in a way, that the album was not just a multilayered experience, but also an aesthetically “pleasing” proposition?

Yes the perception is yours whether it is calm and simple or busy or complex. The listener will decide. To my ears the simplest sound is a pure sine wave. The development of any noise beyond this constant and pure tone involves a million complexities.


Various instruments were used for “Complex Tone Test”. Did you play them yourself or were you culling samples from various sources?

I play guitar plucks, piano, synthesizers and collect field recordings. Refractory is the sound of an image-to-audio analysis of a rainbow. This was generated through a software programme called Audiopaint. The mellotron featuring in Key For A Lockable Cabinet is sourced from an academic study of one of the first mellotron’s made, the cello in Disintegrated Interest is sourced from Cosmo D’s cello sample packs. Justin Varis (Claudia) plays harmonica on Annualized Light a collaboration that we hope to extend and are now writing music together.


You seemed extremely pleased to be able to release on Kesh. What makes the label so exciting to you?

It is always good to work with people who have immersed themselves through their commitment to the work. Simon Scott has made a great start with KESH a transition from his Slowdive days. There is a real sense of quality, depth and enthusiasm within the label that has released works by Lorenzo Senni, Hannu, Televise as well as great compilation selections (e.g., 88 Tapes). There is more to come with a remix release of Isan’s eastside featuring an Autistici remix. It is good to work alongside Simon and all these creative people.

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Modyfier (2010)

I listen to the mellotron at different pitches and feel comforted by its tone. There is a lot of nostalgia in this sound.

To begin with the track starts with me obsessing on an audio element, a single note from a mellotron. I listen and listen over again weighing up its form, function and impact on my psyche. The next stage is to develop and sculpt the sound introducing elements that recontextualise the material in a manner that gives me a sense of narrative. I am interested in the manner in which material is conceived, gestated and developed as well as the manner in which it ends and decomposes. I prefer to work alone. There is a stream of consciousness element to my work – an immersion in the material which would be hard to replicate with someone else in the immediate physical environment.

I develop tonal interplay layering different pitches of tone to form a warm changing slow melody.

It is a controlled process. One of sculpture, refinement and distillation. I usually know what I want to achieve, which aspects of the frequency of the sound I want to emphasise and which ones I want to diminish. Whether a sound should move across the stereo field or not, whether a sound is to function as a percussive or a texture. Sometimes the way two or more different sounds come together and form an interesting phrase can come about by chance. It is lovely to use these moments in the composition. However, the way I write and compose means that I thoroughly explore the material from many different angles. This increases the opportunity to find what works and why and provides the opportunity for organic composition to occur.

The image in my head is an open conservatory at the back of an old manse house – the house of my grandfather. I want to hear the sound of birds in the garden and the rattle of someone setting the cutlery for dinner in the adjoining kitchen. Further samples are recorded and injected to form an atmosphere in the background of the track.

My compositional effort is just the beginning of the process in my view. Beyond the production and output of sound there is the role of the listener. I have always been fascinated by the role of human perception. I am aware that different people will make sense of the same experience in different ways. Furthermore, the same person may make sense of the same material presented at different times in different ways. This illustrates the role of the human brain as a receptacle of music and the mind as a transforming force via subjective perception. In my view it is the listener who occupies the position of the final ‘active element’ in a track. The psychological sense they make of the music, what they filter in or out, the external environment in which they listen all contribute to their perception of the material.

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Cyclic Defrost (2008)

David Newman interview by Kate Carr

David Newman is carving out a role for himself in a niche where less is decidedly more.

He founded the well regarded Audiobulb label, and recently released work on North American minimalist powerhouse 12k. It should come as little surprise that Newman, a clinical psychologist by day, chose the name Autistici to reference his obsessive interest in sound.

“I work with people who have learning disabilities who require support due to issues of mental health, risk or challenging behaviour,” says Newman.

Through his work, Newman says, he has come into contact with many sufferers of autism spectrum disorder, a condition that inspired him to take the name Autistici.

“Theirs is a unique life view that should be valued,” he says.

“It… challenges us to stop, re-evaluate, and come to terms with the fact that people can experience the same world very differently.”
According to Newman, his obsessive interest in sound mirrors some aspects of the disorder.

“Akin to someone who has ASD, I have my own disorders including a hypersensitivity to noise and an intense special interest in the interplay between sound and silence.

“Perhaps the name Autistici embodies my own ‘disorder’ and the channel I have developed for its expression.”

Long fascinated by background sounds and the limits of perception, Newman’s 12k album Volume Objects is a study in controlled expression, with tracks like ‘Heated Dust On Sunlit Window’ and ‘Broken Guitar Discarded Violin’ presenting an undulating meditation on silence, perception and the listening environment.

“I am fascinated by the fact that the same sound can bring confusion to one person and clarity to another,” Newman explains, noting that the way sounds act on the listener is one of his primary interests.

“I’m interested in not just what sound is but what sound does,” he says.

“For me, sound has the power to provoke strong internal states such as wonderment, anxiety, joy or peacefulness.

“I guess I enjoy evoking and playing with these states.”

The album, which has been well received by critics, came out of a show 12k boss Richard Chartier did in Newman’s home town of Sheffield.

“He had been playing a set of beautiful minimal tones in an old warehouse building in the centre of Sheffield,” explains Newman.

“I gave him a copy of my music and asked him to listen and give me feedback.”

The rest as they say is history, with Newman contributing to a 12k compilation Blueprints shortly after.

“The compilation was well received and gave [12k] and myself a platform to discuss a full release,” he says.

Although not as minimal as Chartier’s work, Newman maintains a strong focus on the importance of listening.

“I have always been fascinated by the role of human perception,” he states.

“Each track [on Volume Objects] represents a honed narrative developed through the placement of sound, silence, and dynamic interaction.
“It started with me obsessing on an audio element of interest, weighing up its form, function, and impact on my psyche.”

In his work, Newman claims to explore both the development and destruction of sound, an approach well illustrated by the nine-minute long ‘Wire Cage For Tiny Birds,’ which leisurely makes its way through many repetitions of the same series of piano notes before dissolving into a light sprinkling of electrical rain.

“I am interested in the manner in which material is conceived, gestated and developed, as well as the manner in which it disintegrates and decomposes,” Newman says.

Quiet sounds are crucial to such an emphasis and Volume Objects is replete with tracks that slowly swell, only to drain away to near silence.
“In my view it is the listener who occupies the position of the final ‘active element’ in a track,” Newman says, noting everything from the listener’s psychological state to the dynamics of the listening environment can impact on the final ‘meaning’ of any audio piece.

“It is people beyond computers who determine what is ‘heard,’ he declares, expressing his fascination for our ability to tune out certain noises while isolating others.

“…what is filtered in or out, the external environment in which [the listener] listens all contribute to the perception of the material.”

“I am aware that different people will make sense of the same experience in different ways. Furthermore, the same person may make sense of the same material presented at different times in different ways.”

When performing live, Newman say he pays particular attention to both the audience and the listening space.

“I try to understand the mood of the room.”.

“…in a live context, the audience is part of the set; their noises, their talking, their drinking glasses become part of the audio field.

“Sometimes I like to fade in a mic input that is recording the audience.

“By increasing the volume to the point where the output from the PA is amplifying the audience, a meta-performance with feedback from the field takes place, and the boundary between performer and audience is blurred.”

This is an approach well suited to 12k/Line, where Chartier has long made clear his admiration for the work of the minimalist visual artists of the 1960s, with their insistence on perception and the importance of subjectivity in the production of meaning.

With releases, Newman’s included, which are heavily skewed towards the edges of our perceptual range, 12k has presented an ongoing meditation on the agency of the listener in relation to audio work, in a way which exemplifies Barthes’ insistence that meaning is “eternally written here and now.”

Even from an early age, Newman said he has been preoccupied with noise and music.

“I have always been fascinated by sound - listening to music, learning the piano, and recording the birds in the garden.

“My first recordings took place when I was 12-years-old, before I had encountered four-track recorders. I would spend hours playing recorded sounds through the home hi-fi whilst mic-ing up an instrument to record a new layer of sound on to tape.

“At that age, I had no reference to musicians working with abstract sound. All I knew was that I found the process and outcome compelling.”
Recording has remained a central part of Newman’s sonic practice, although these days he has swapped the tape player for a mini disc.

“I use microphones and digital recorders to capture field recordings, acoustic instruments and concrete objects,” he explains.“I also work with a number of hardware and software synths.”

Despite the use of hardware and audio material gathered from the field, Newman says the computer has remained critical to his practice.
“Much of my work is done on a computer. It’s a place where I organise, archive, develop, arrange and transform sounds,” he says.

“The computer is a wonderful tool. It enables someone like me to focus in on a tiny element of audio, to accentuate it, amplify it, and change it through pitch, time, effects, compression dynamics, and stereo field.

“Once you have mastered how to manipulate sound through these tools, there is no sound or near silence that is beyond creation.”

Given his preference for small sounds, and subtle effects, it should come as no surprise Newman favours the microfocus offered by editing program Soundforge, arranging the final results with Cubase SX.

Throughout the creative process, Newman says he returns again and again to the idea of play.

“That is the key activity,” he says.

“Like a child with paint or clay – you start with nothing and you become focussed on a colour, a form and tool of sculpture.

“It starts with a sound, its form and function laid bare.

“I let it play repeatedly and respond to the emotions it conjures within me. You wonder what it can do, where it can be taken.”

By immersing himself in the material, Newman says he is searching for a moment of resolution.

“I find the process both exhilarating and cathartic,” he says.

“There is a sense that something is being resolved within me as I manipulate the sounds to form a cohesive narrative.”

Newman brings this emphasis on careful listening and cohesion to his own label Audiobulb.

“There is a lot of diversity within Audiobulb, including the MP3 and CD releases, the open access projects such as Root of Sine and Endless Endless, the random image galleries and the development of bespoke VSTis and audio hardware units.”

“Audiobulb is a place where people come to actively get involved, as well as to listen, buy and interact with our material.”

Launched in 2003, the label slowly built a strong reputation, with releases by Ultre, Newman and the Favourite Places compilation generating positive reviews.

“The core motivation for starting the label came from my desire to support, promote and develop new music,” Newman explains.

“I have always been an avid music fan and had spent several years discovering new music via the internet, moving from established labels to community websites to little known artist sites.

“I found myself listening and returning to certain artists’ work again and again. I found myself wondering why they had not been picked up, released and nurtured by a label.

“At that stage, I was listening to works by Henry Leo Duclos (Gulo Gulo), He Can Jog, Diagram of Suburban Chaos and Disastro.

“Through listening and contacting the artists, it was clear to me that each artist was spending hours and days crafting their sound and sculpting detailed, beautiful and personally meaningful music.”

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Textura (2008)

TEN QUESTIONS WITH: AUTISTICI
by Leandro Pisano

In his role as label manager, David Newman oversees the production of an ongoing stream of Audiobulb releases but he also issues his own music under the Autistici name. Following upon the release of his debut full-length Volume Objects on Taylor Deupree's 12k label (a fitting home for Autistici's nuanced blend of acoustic instruments, environmental recordings, and synthesizers), Newman discussed in detail his working methods, influences, and plans, and shared his thoughts on contemporary electronics.

Please tell us a little bit about your background.


I am a sound designer / composer based in the UK. My motivation to write music and design sound comes from an innate internal drive to order and reorder sound and silence. It is a process through which I can empty my head of the maximal overload presented by this world. Writing also provides an opportunity to focus and obsess on some of the tiny subtle sounds that I find so fascinating and enjoy perceiving. Looking back at my childhood, I remember being fascinated with records, tapes, and the radio. I recall experimenting with sound by running my thumb slowly under the record player needle to hear the sound of my fingerprint being amplified. I remember dismantling tape recorders and adjusting the tape head to alter the playback. I have always been fascinated by sound—listening to music, learning the piano, and recording the birds in the garden. My first recordings took place when I was twelve years old before I had encountered four-track recorders. I would spend hours playing recorded sounds through the home hi-fi whilst mic'ing up an instrument to record a new layer of sound on to tape. At that age, I had no reference to musicians working with abstract sound; all I knew was that I found the process and outcome compelling.

What's the origin of the name “Autistici”?

The name autistici acknowledges the part of me that has an obsessive preoccupation with sound. I have met many people who have been labeled as having autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). The term disorder reflects a sense of difference from the norm. It is clear that many people with ASD struggle to communicate, interact, and make sense of social situations. For these reasons they may experience distress or anxiety. I acknowledge this struggle but also I appreciate the skills, strengths, and abilities that people with ASD have. Theirs is a unique life view that should be valued. It is a life view that challenges us to stop, re-evaluate, and come to terms with the fact that people can experience the same world very differently.

ASD is a continuum. Therefore we all experience difficulties that place us somewhere on the continuum. We all have difficulties in communicating our inner experiences, our emotions, or needs. Akin to someone who has ASD, I have my own disorders including a hypersensitivity to noise and an intense special interest in the interplay between sound and silence. For me there is also a cathartic element to my work, a sense that something difficult has been worked through via the process and narrative of a composition. Perhaps the name autistici embodies my own “disorder” and the channel I have developed for its expression.

How would you describe the new album Volume Objects (12k) and how does it fit in with the rest of your work?

I have relished the opportunity to work with 12k and have a great respect for the label and appreciate their aesthetic. Volume Objects is the result of a period of intense immersion in the material. Each track represents a honed narrative developed through the placement of sound, silence, and dynamic interaction. Each of the Volume Objects tracks started with me obsessing on an audio element of interest, weighing up its form, function, and impact on my psyche. The next stage involved developing and sculpting the sound, and introducing elements that recontextualised the material in a manner that gave me a sense of narrative. I am interested in the manner in which material is conceived, gestated, and developed as well as the manner in which it disintegrates and decomposes. Ultimately there is an existential narrative at work as each volume object is created, decomposed, and finally destroyed by the silence of its ending.

How much of your work is done on the computer?

Much of my work is done on a computer. It's a place where I organize, archive, develop, arrange, and transform sounds. Outside of the computer I am recording material such as field recordings, musical instruments, voices, and manipulated household objects onto mini-disk via microphone. These are transferred into the digital realm, worked on in a sound editor, and arranged in a sequencer. The computer is a wonderful tool. It enables someone like me to focus in on a tiny element of audio, to accentuate it, amplify it, and change it through pitch, time, effects, compression dynamics, and stereo field. Once you have mastered how to manipulate sound through these tools, there is no sound or near silence that is beyond creation.

The work in the computer environment is, in my view, just the beginning of the process. Beyond the production and output of sound, there is the role of the listener. I have always been fascinated by the role of human perception. I am aware that different people will make sense of the same experience in different ways. Furthermore, the same person may make sense of the same material presented at different times in different ways. In my view it is the listener who occupies the position of the final “active element” in a track. The psychological sense he/she makes of the music, what is filtered in or out, the external environment in which he/she listens all contribute to the perception of the material. It is people beyond computers who determine what is “heard.”

Can you remember when and how you discovered electronic music?

I am a child of the 1970s. The theme to Dr Who by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop would be my earliest memory. At the same time I remember being drawn to the electronic elements within works by Miles Davis as well as the moog synthesizer used by the Beatles.

You have released material on different netlabels in the past. What do you think about the netlabel world and, generally, what is your thought regarding the increasing de-materialization of music from vinyl to digital formats?

The netlabel scene is great platform for many artists to be heard. There comes a time when a piece of work is finished that the artist is faced with the choice of sharing the music, archiving, or deleting it. Netlabels are instrumental in supporting artists who want to communicate their work and have it heard by others. I have a lot of respect for the curators of netlabels. Their strength lies in their ability to operate away from the traditional business model (i.e., investment, creating stock, selling stock and accumulating profit). The netlabel model enables a community based upon “love not money.” The audience is enabled to access new music without the constraints of a direct financial commitment. This allows releases to be heard by many people from all over the world. The weaknesses of the netlabel model include issues of growing quantity and lessoning of average quality. Many sites become poorly maintained and the gate-keeping role (i.e., the A&R function) can become less stringent. The result is a swamping of the Internet with material that is of little interest to more then a select few people. It is my view that all labels (and especially netlabels) are faced with the challenge of maintaining a brand identity that its audience can trust.

As for the de-materialization of music from vinyl to digital formats, I have no problem in giving people access to choices. However, I am concerned about the “dumbing down” of audio quality with the aim of ensuring music fits neatly and quickly onto mp3 players. Most quality music is designed to take full advantage of the dynamic potential of the human ear and brain. MP3 compression degrades audio quality to a point where it interrupts my enjoyment of the piece. CDs and to a greater degree vinyl have the capability of fully capturing the dynamic soundstage that the artist has created. I also prefer the tactile object of the CD or vinyl packaging in my hand. I understand that some people will want to treat music as a disposable commodity. However, for me, music is something that I enjoy to collect, cherish, and re-experience in a high-quality format. I look forward to the day when 32-bit formats become available and where the equipment is widely available to fully exploit the psychoacoustic experience.

Is there anyone you would like to work with and haven't yet had the chance to?

I prefer to work alone. There is a stream of consciousness element to my work, an immersion in the material which would be hard to replicate with someone else in the immediate physical environment. However, I really enjoy working with other artist's material to produce either new tracks or remixes. So, in that respect, I would not rule out working with others. I think any artist that can share a compelling sound source would find a willing collaborator in me. I would enjoy working with material from Bernhard Günter, Susumu Yokota, Stars of the Lid, Múm, Sigur Rós, Björk, and Kate Bush. There is no need to be genre-specific, as I'm confident that given the sound sources I would create my own new narrative of the work. For example, with Björk and Kate Bush, I could focus on their breathing, the sounds they make between the words, the inhaling and exhaling of air. I would be interested to explore whether the sounds of these two remarkable vocalists would complement or juxtapose in an interesting manner across the same track or different tracks.

I would assume that playing live involves a completely different process to working in the studio. Which environment do you prefer?

Playing live is a very exposing experience. There is a sense of anxious vulnerability attached to the experience that I find exhilarating. For me, playing live is a chance to connect and interact with an audience and to share my work. I tend to play with a visual backdrop such as VJ performance so that the audience has the opportunity to be visually stimulated. However, I will also perform outside of the computer to provide a further live audio element. For example, during my last live set I played a STEIM cracklebox, a Wyandotte Musical Box, and a typewriter. These external objects were played alongside computer audio tracks.

I like to use the live setting to experiment with my archive of sounds and bring new elements into tracks that were not present in the “recorded version.” To achieve this, I break each musical piece into its component tracks. I do a live manipulation of the component tracks, mixing tracks from different pieces together, and adding effects according to the flow of the gig. I try to understand the mood of the room. If I feel the set is inducing a sleepy atmosphere, I may decide to build up to something dense or harsh. Alternatively, I may promote the sleep and let the sounds diminish to a gentle trickle, perhaps introducing the sound of a snoring person or a sleeping cat. Of course, in a live context, the audience is part of the set. Their noises, their talking, their drinking glasses become part of the audio “field.” Sometimes I like to fade in a mic input that is recording the audience. By increasing the volume to the point where the output from the PA is amplifying the audience, a meta-performance with feedback from the field takes place and the boundary between performer and audience is blurred.

Electronic music has evolved considerably since late eighties-early nineties. What would you say is the way it has changed the most?

The main transition in my opinion is a move from heavily-quantized computer arrangements to more organic and fluid outputs. We have moved from precise early techno and house to a state where ambience, microsound, glitch, IDM, and live acoustic performances can all be brought together within one track, allowing for a more fluid and diverse sound. Different genres from around the world have been assimilated more quickly than ever before due to the communicative force of the Internet. This enables artists to have greater awareness and draw on a wide range of styles. The challenge becomes one of choice; there is a need to make artistic decisions to draw boundaries and work within manageable constraints. Ultimately, no track can be completed without a focus on its end point. As we move away from predictable and linear compositions (i.e., intro, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus x 4 to fade), we are faced with managing complexity and making non-formulaic decisions about a piece's final form.

What are your current recording plans?

I am writing material for my next full release and am also engaged in a collaboration with Claudia and Disastrato who release material on Audiobulb Records. We are looking at creating a long, multi-faceted piece containing details from each of our home environments. Perhaps Björk, Kate Bush, or some other person with a compelling sound source will contact me and I will find myself working with the sound and silence they bring.

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Tokafi (2008)

15 QUESTIONS TO AUTISTICI

The release of "Volume Objects" on 12K set the record straight on two things: That Autistici was a netlabel artist, strictly focussed on offering his music for free and tightly glued to the aesthetics of Creative Commons Licences. And, secondly, that it was essentially a project expressing itself in short formats, in tracks, EPs and on a plethora of compilations generously doled out over a slew of digital record companies. Instead, "Volume Objects" was a staggeringly associative, stylistically diverse full-length effort by a composer capable of expressing him with a rich palette of sounds and with arrangements revealing a mind which worked decidedly different from that of his colleagues. In combination with the included booklet of photography inspired by the music (courtesy of 12k boss Taylor Deupree), it even turned into the very antithesis of a netlabel release: A multimedia work of sensual haptics, which you needed to touch and feel to fully comprehend. Hiding behind the Autistici banner is David Newman, an artist for whom pure sound is the soundtrack to his life, transforming the noises and sonic emmissions around him into into subtle short stories in his oeuvre ("Composition is the ordering of sound into a meaningful narrative", as he puts it himself). Building his pieces along the lines of an idea and always keeping a gentle control on their growth awards his music an urgency often lacking in electronic experimentation - as well as adding a feeling of great musicality. Even though this turns him into a source of creativity sui generi rather than into a member of a clear-cut genre, his work as head of the Audiobulb label unites similarly minded forces under a highly appealing roof. It is another thing he has set the record straight on: Just because something doesn't have a name doesn't mean it is without meaning.

Hi! How are you? Where are you?

Hi. I’m well. I am in my studio on the computer. There is the sound of water running through a metal container being played in a piece of audio I’m listening to.

What’s on your schedule right now?

No schedule. Just sleep, eat, work, create, listen, stop & sleep. I’m always working on something. I’m thinking about future live gigs and planning how sounds will work in the environments I’m playing in. I’m collecting sounds for projects I’m working on.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?

From my perspective there is no crisis. However, I do not view myself as part of a wider scene. I have connections, people I know who make music and play live. We’re all happy as far as I know. We’re feeling strong and creative. There may be a crisis from some people’s perspective. I know the market is changing and this creates a space for uncertainty, maybe a space for negative equity for those who have invested in the wrong business models and cannot adapt quickly enough.

Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?

No, not beyond the generalities of working with sound, ambience, space, concrete noises and abstract noises. I see myself in the moment, concerned with my work, my immersion in the sound. That is the only way to give the material the attention it requires to do it justice – to explore what I can bring. I acknowledge that my work is inspired and influenced by everything I have ever heard. I bring what I bring and some of that will be unique.

What, would you say are the factors of your creativity? What “inspires” you?

I’m inspired by sound and what it communicates. I am fascinated by the fact that the same sound can bring confusion to one person and clarity to another. I’m interested in not just what sound is but what sound does. For me sound has the power to provoke strong internal states such as wonderment, anxiety, joy or peacefulness.

How would you describe your method of composing?

When musicians play music, they play with sound. Play is the key activity. Like a child with paint or clay – you start with nothing and you become focussed on a colour, a form and tool of sculpture. It starts with a sound, its form and function laid bare. I let it play repeatedly and respond to the emotions it conjures within me. You wonder what it can do, where it can be taken. I do not write with a preconceived idea of an end point. I become immersed in the sound and the process I have undertaken so many times takes over. My interest in the material stimulates my ‘critical ear’ to inform, shape and supervise the audio output. There is a stream of consciousness; there is a sense of dissociation from the outside world, a complete immersion in the sound. I find the process both exhilarating and cathartic. There is a sense that something is being resolved within me as I manipulate the sounds to form a cohesive narrative.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?

Composition is the ordering of sound into a meaningful narrative. The narrative can work at many different levels – temporal, structural and aesthetic elements all combine to provoke the listener’s response.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?

I don’t. Improvising is composing in the here and now. A live improvisation does not allow for the audio output to be undone. A studio composition allows the artist to stop at any point and analyse the output, evaluate and make changes if necessary. The main melody from my tracks Attaching Softness From A Shell comes from a 30 minutes improvisation. This was then imported back into a new audio track and further worked upon to produce variations in the composition. However, it was the being in the moment, the first improvisation that yielded the tune and the main sonic variations that can be heard.

What does the term “new” mean to you in connection with music?

If you take “new” as being that which has not been heard before you will soon be challenged to find anything new in music. I am less concerned with new sounds or genres than new perceptions. The newness that concerns me is the perception and reaction of listeners as they encounter a track that connects with them in a novel way. It is a deeply subjective experience with opportunities for personal development.

Do you personally enjoy multimedia as enrichment or do you feel that it is leading away from the essence of what you want to achieve?

It depends on how the multimedia functions. I really enjoy non-linear interactive multimedia, whether that be a flash, java or proce55ing applet or an art installation in physical space. I am a big fan of Golan Levin’s work http://www.flong.com/projects/gpp/. Sometimes multimedia can create an overload on the senses. I am not a fan of being bombarded to the point where I lose the opportunity to be able to reflect on the impact of the media on me. I believe it is very important that art exhibitions that employ multimedia pay attention to leakage (of sound, sight or smell) across exhibitions.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

I perform with a laptop manipulating tracks of audio live within the live context, bringing in and out audio content using amplification, stereo field adjustments, EQ adjustments and FX. My own live performances are an opportunity to communicate my work in a specific context, to try and connect with the audience and to adjust the output in a manner that gives the audience an experience. I try to blur the line between audience and performer. Sometimes I record the audience prior to the performance and playback their sound. I usually play some live objects such as my Steim cracklebox, a wind-up musical toy or a typewriter. This allows me to bring in elements from outside of the computer. I usually have a VJ projection with the aim of complementing or juxtaposing the audio with some visuals so the audience are not having to visually focus just on me. I like to incorporate images of insects, flickering light bulbs, mechanical objects and nature. When the audio and the visual complement each other and the audience connects with the performance then you have a good live show. I remember seeing Björk perform at the Reading Festival one year. She started her set with an acoustic rendition of “Violently Happy”. It was just her singing alone and vulnerable with the backing of one accordion player. At the exact moment of the chorus a huge firework display ignited in the sky in time with the track switching to a full dance mix. The affect was astounding.

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?

I think “duty” is too strong a word. I guess everybody approaches their art from their own unique perspective and it serves a function for them. I think as human beings we cannot totally divorce ourselves from the social and political systems we inhabit. Personally I do not write with any explicit social or political agenda. However, some of my work will contain audio that could evoke political/social narratives from the listener’s perspective. A remix of Disastrato’s “Curet Must Be Protected” was submitted for inclusion in the SONOSCOP “sound works against war” http://www.sonoscop.net/zeppelin2004/prog/participan.html. These works used sound to highlight the devastation of war.

How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences without sacrificing their soul?

I would need clarity about what a sacrifice of soul entails. I hear some great music behind mainstream adverts – really well designed pieces of ambient and microsound. They function to support the product rather than being the product. Much has been written about access to different forms of media and how content is regulated and controlled in order to prime and then feed the mass market what “it thinks” it wants. At the same time there are always openings and quality creations will always cross over. The audience is intelligent and the challenge is to create openings where it can be exposed to new work. Ultimately, all popular genres from classical, jazz, rock and roll or synthesizer music – were once considered non-mainstream.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?

I would be interested in inviting people to build objects that create sound and place them across a natural context. For example, the festival would incorporate a stream with trickling stone filled basins, chimes, bells, a bee hive, a bird’s nest, mechanical objects that tick, chime, switch on and off, the use of wind to create tones. Harp and guitar strings would be plucked in a random order. Machines creating steam and in turn electricity would power flickering lights – each placed in their own separate area without leakage. There would be microphones everywhere capturing the talking, the moving and the ambience. People would be invited to place contact microphones on their bodies within privately designated rooms. The audience would be invited to visit the areas, and to visit different listening rooms. The listening rooms would contain mixing equipment enabling participants to adjust the ambience, to focus on one element or another, to achieve a constant live mix of the elements. The festival would promote the opportunity to play and create. The opportunity would be given for the lines between audience and performance to be blurred.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?

A detailed multi-element participatory feedback loop. I think I have just described it.

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Blow Up (2008)

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTISTICI
PLAYING THE VOLUME

What about your background and the beginning of your activity as musician?

I am a sound designer / composer based in the UK. My motivation to write music and design sound comes from an innate internal drive to order and reorder sound and silence. It is a process through which I can empty my head of the maximal overload presented by this world. Writing also provides an opportunity to focus and obsess on some of the tiny subtle sounds that I find so fascinating and enjoy perceiving. Looking back at my childhood I remember being fascinated with records, tapes and the radio. I recall experimenting with sound by running my thumb slowly under the record player needle to hear the sound of my fingerprint being amplified. I remember dismantling tape recorders and adjusting the tape head to alter the playback. I have always been fascinated by sound – listening to music, learning the piano and recording the birds in the garden. My first recordings took place when I was twelve years old before I had encountered four track recorders. I would spend hours playing recorded sounds through the home hi-fi whilst mic’ing up an instrument to record a new layer of sound on to tape. At that age I had no reference to musicians working with abstract sound – all I knew was that I found the process and outcome compelling.

What about the origin of the name “Autistici”?

The name autistici acknowledges the part of me that has an obsessive preoccupation with sound. I have met many people who have been labeled as having autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). The term disorder reflects a sense of difference from the norm. It is clear that many people with ASD struggle to communicate, interact and make sense of social situations. For these reasons they may experience distress or anxiety. I acknowledge this struggle but also I appreciate the skills, strengths and abilities that people with ASD have. Theirs is a unique life view that should be valued. It is a life view that challenges us to stop, re-evaluate and come to terms with the fact that people can experience the same world very differently. ASD is a continuum. Therefore we all experience difficulties that place us somewhere on the continuum. We all have difficulties in communicating our inner experiences, our emotions or needs. Akin to someone who has ASD I have my own disorders including a hypersensitivity to noise and an intense special interest in the interplay between sound and silence. For me there is also a cathartic element to my work, a sense that something difficult has been worked through via the process and narrative of a composition. Perhaps the name autistici embodies my own ‘disorder’ and the channel I have developed for its expression.

You’ve got a new album, Volume Objects out on 12k. How would you describe it and how does it fit with the rest of your work?

I have relished the opportunity to work with 12k, I have a great respect for the label and appreciate their aesthetic. Volume Objects is the result of a period of intense immersion in the material. Each track represents a honed narrative developed through the placement of sound, silence and dynamic interaction. Each of the Volume Objects tracks started with me obsessing on an audio element of interest, weighing up its form, function and impact on my psyche. The next stage is to develop and sculpt the sound introducing elements that recontextualise the material in a manner that gives me a sense of narrative. I am interested in the manner in which material is conceived, gestated and developed as well as the manner in which it disintegrates and decomposes. Ultimately there is an existential narrative at work as each volume object is created, decomposed and finally destroyed by the silence of it’s ending.

How much of your musical work is done on the computer? How many Macs do you own for music?

Much of my work is done on a computer – however, I am not tied down to products produced by Apple. The computer is a place where I organize, archive, develop, arrange and transform sounds. Outside of the computer I am recording material onto mini-disk via microphone. Field recordings, musical instruments, voices and manipulated household objects. These are transferred into the digital realm, worked on in a sound editor and arranged in a sequencer. The computer is a wonderful tool. It enables someone like myself to focus in on a tiny element of audio, to accentuate it, to amplify it and to change it through pitch, time, effects, compression dynamics and stereo field. Once you have mastered how to manipulate sound through these tools there is no sound or near silence that is beyond creation.

The work in the computer environment is in my view just the beginning of the process. Beyond the production and output of sound there is the role of the listener. I have always been fascinated by the role of human perception. I am aware that different people will make sense of the same experience in different ways. Furthermore, the same person may make sense of the same material presented at different times in different ways. An illustration of this is clear in mapsadaisical’s blog which details his subjective response to hearing Volume Objects.

(http://mapsadaisical.wordpress.com/2008/01/09/autistici-volume-objects-12k/). The author shares his experience of listening as follows,
“Listening to Volume Objects…. I imagined being taken to a prison in a hot country, with neon flickering, water dripping, aircon buzzing, rats scurrying, clock ticking. I can hear my heart pounding. Keys rattling in the lock herald an unwelcome visitation, I’m left howling in pain. I flee, escape, catch a plane; exhausted, I slip into the deepest of sleeps. Where is this prison? Is it in my own head – the sounds make brilliant use of the cavernous space between my ears.”

This illustrates the role of the human brain as a receptacle of music and the mind as a transforming force via subjective perception. In my view it is the listener who occupies the position of the final ‘active element’ in a track. The psychological sense they make of the music, what they filter in or out, the external environment in which they listen all contribute to their perception of the material. It is people beyond computers who determine what is “heard”.

Can you remember when and how did you discover electronic music?

I was a child of the 1970’s. The theme to Dr Who by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop would be my earliest memory. At the same time I remember being drawn to the electronic elements found within works by Miles Davis (e.g., Chameleon from the Headhunters) as well as the moog synthesizer used by the Beatles (e.g., Because from Abbey Road). You have released material on different netlabels in the past.

What do you think about the netlabel world and, generally, what is your thought regarding the increasing de-materialization of music from vinyl to digital formats?

The netlabel scene is great platform for many artists to be heard. There is a point when a piece of work is complete that the artist is faced with the choice of sharing the music, archiving or deleting it. Netlabels are instrumental in supporting artists who want to communicate their work and have it heard by others. I have a lot of respect for the curators of netlabels. Their strength lies in their ability to operate away from the traditional business model (i.e., investment, creating stock, selling stock and accumulating profit). The netlabel model enables a community based upon “love not money”. The audience is enabled to access new music without the constraints of a direct financial commitment. This allows releases to be heard by many people from all over the world. The weaknesses of the netlabel model include issues of growing quantity and lessoning average quality. Many sites become poorly maintained and the gate-keeping role (i.e. the A&R function) can become less stringent. The result is a swamping of the Internet with material that is of little interest to more then a select few people. It is my view that all labels (and especially netlabels) are faced with the challenge of maintaining a brand identity that its audience can trust.

As for the de-materialization of music from vinyl to digital formats I have no problem in giving people access to choices. However, I am concerned by the ‘dumbing down’ of audio quality with the aim of ensuring music fits neatly and quickly onto people’s mp3 players. Most quality music is designed to fully take advantage of the full dynamic abilities of the human ear and brain. MP3 compression degrades the audio quality to a point where it interrupts my enjoyment of the piece. CDs and to a greater degree vinyl have the capability of fully capturing the dynamic soundstage that the artist has created. I also prefer the tactile object of the CD or vinyl packaging in my hand. I understand that some people will want to treat music as a disposable commodity. However for me, music is something that I enjoy to collect, cherish and re-experience in a high quality format. I look forward to the day when 32 bit formats become available and where the equipment is widely available to fully exploit the psychoacoustic experience.

Is there anyone you would like to work with and haven’t yet had the chance to?

I prefer to work alone. There is a stream of consciousness element to my work – an immersion in the material which would be hard to replicate with someone else in the immediate physical environment. However, I really enjoy working with other artist’s material to produce either new tracks or remixes. So in that respect I would not rule out working with anyone. I think any artist that can share a compelling sound source would find a willing collaborator in me. I would enjoy working with material from Bernhard Günter, Susumu Yokota, Stars Of The Lid, Mum, Sigur Ross, Byork and Kate Bush. There is no need to be genre specific, as I am confident that given the sound sources I would create my own new narrative of the work. For example, with Byörk and Kate Bush – I could focus on their breathing – the sounds they make between the words – the inhaling and exhaling of air. I would be interested whether the sounds of these two remarkable vocalists complement or juxtapose in an interesting manner across the same track or different tracks. I would assume that playing live involves a completely different process to working in the studio.

Which environment do you prefer? Also, can you describe the approach and attitude of your live performances?

Playing live is a very exposing experience. There is a sense of anxious vulnerability attached to the experience that I find exhilarating. For me playing live is a chance to connect and interact with an audience and to share my work. I tend to play with a visual backdrop such as VJ performance so that the audience has the opportunity to be visually stimulated. However, I will also perform outside of the computer to provide a further live audio element. For example, during my last live set I played a STEIM cracklebox, a Wyandotte Musical Box and a typewriter. These external objects were played alongside computer audio tracks. I like to use the live setting to experiment with my archive of sounds and bring new elements into tracks that were not present in the “recorded version”. To achieve this I break each musical piece into its component tracks. I do a live manipulation of the component tracks, mixing tracks from different pieces together and adding effects according to the flow of the gig. I try to understand the mood of the room. If I feel the set is inducing a sleepy atmosphere I may decide to build up to something dense or harsh. Alternatively I may promote the sleep and let the sounds diminish to a gentle trickle perhaps introducing the sound of a snoring person or a sleeping cat. Of course in a live context the audience are part of the set. Their noises, their talking, their drinking glasses become part of the audio “field”. Sometimes I like to fade in a mic input that is recording the audience…. By increasing the volume to the point where the output from the PA is amplifying the audience, a meta-performance with feedback from the field takes place and the boundary between performer and audience becomes blurred.

Electronic music has evolved considerably since late eighties/early nineties. What would you say are the way it has changed the most?

The main transition in my opinion is move from heavily quantized computer arrangements to more organic and fluid outputs. We have moved from precise early techno and house to a state where ambience, microsound, glitch, idm and live acoustic performances can all be brought together within one track – allowing a more fluid and diverse sound. Different genres from around the world have been assimilated more quickly than ever before due to the communicative force of the Internet. This enables artists to have awareness and draw on a wide range of styles. The challenge becomes one of choice – there is a need to make artistic decisions to draw boundaries and work within manageable constraints. Ultimately no track can be completed without a focus on its end point. As we move away from predictable and linear compositions (i.e., intro, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus x 4 to fade) we are faced with managing complexity and making non-formulaic decisions about a piece’s final form.

What about your recording plans now?

I am currently writing material for my next full release. I am also engaged in a collaboration with Claudia and Disastrato who release on HYPERLINK "http://www.audiobulb.com/" Audiobulb Records. We are looking at creating a long multi-faceted piece containing details from each of our home environments. Who knows maybe Byörk, Kate Bush or any other person with a compelling sound source will decide to contact me and I will be happy working with the sound and silence they bring.

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Earlabs (2008)

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTISTICI
SOUND DESIGNER AND COMPOSER

Would you tell us something about yourself and how it came to be that you started composing your particular style of electronic music?


I am a sound designer / composer based in the UK. My motivation to write music has always been a part of me. It is a process through which I can empty my head, reorder and reorder my world. In my daily life I become easily distracted by subtle high frequency sounds or the rhythmic throb of low frequency sounds. Often when in a room with other people I have to exert myself to concentrate on their voices. Without this effort I find it extremely difficult to stay focused on the content of their conversation. My attention naturally focuses on background noises – whether that is the air conditioning system, the coffee percolator or the sound of a clock. I become aware that external environmental sounds counteract or compliment the internal rhythms and sounds of my heart rate, breathing, the sound of saliva within my mouth.
I experience a sense of agitation when sounds are disrupted or when I am disrupted from attending to a sound. Composing music is a way in which I can take control of the plethora of stimuli. Working with the sounds brings about a strong sense of fascination and calm for me. I am compelled to work with audio and write tracks. Without this outlet there is a sense of unease.

You have a wonderful new CD release on the 12k label titled Volume Objects. Would you set the stage for how this came to be and provide us some details about your working method behind its creation?

I am very pleased to be working with 12k. Volume Objects is the result of an initial approach to Richard Chartier (12k/Line) following his gig in Sheffield. We talked about his show. He had been playing a set of beautiful minimal tones in an old warehouse building in the centre of Sheffield. I gave him a copy of my music and asked him to listen and give me feedback. Richard emailed soon after and told me that my sound could be suitable for 12k. The next stage was contact with Taylor Deupree. Taylor was interested in working with new artists and expanding the 12k repertoire. Blueprints featured two tracks from the artists Christmas Decorations, Seaworthy, Jodi Cave, Pjusk, Leo Abrahams and Autistici. The compilation was well received and gave Taylor and myself a platform to discuss a full release. The next stage was working with Taylor to bring together a coherent album that worked for 12k and worked for me. I have large number of unreleased tracks some of which are too abrasive or intrusive for 12k. Taylor and myself honed down Volume Objects paying attention to the flow, the diversity and the coherence of the track listing. This process directed me to complete two new tracks in order to add to the “objects” within the album. The final stage involved developing the artwork and packaging, including the photograph booklet designed to supplement the audio.

As for my compositional method, it is one of intense immersion in the material. Tracks often start with me obsessing on an element of interest. Usually a sound – but sometimes the sound, the form and the function become merged as one repeating pattern in my head. The next stage is to capture the sound or realize the sound through a sound design. The sound is then sculpted further in a wave editor and variations from the sound are created. These are then arranged within a sequencer in a manner that recaptures and amplifies the original obsession. This is the core identity of the track.

The next stage is to bring in a range of dynamic elements that serve to transform the original sound further. During this phase I develop a sense of narrative through the interplay of elements. This part of the process takes place within the context of a stream of consciousness. Hours of work can pass in a very “short” subjective timeframe. Eventually the track will reach its natural conclusion and the first draft will be complete. The next phase involves returning to the track over a number of weeks, honing aspects of the sound design, arrangement and production. It is important that the narrative contains a sense that something is developing, expanding, gestating and disintegrating. By the end of the process I am satisfied if the original obsessive element has been thoroughly examined from different angles. Ultimately, the idea of sound as an object, that can be captured, sculpted, and transformed is central to the process. The final object is always beyond my reach. It is the sound as it is received, perceived and transformed in the listeners mind.

You mentioned that some of unreleased tracks from which you had to choose from for possible inclusion on Volume Objects were “too abrasive or intrusive” for the 12k aesthetic. Was this a difficult limitation to work around?

Narrative, style and form are important identities for any release and beyond that any label. Without some parameters identity can become confusing or disjointed. I was happy to work within the 12k aesthetic, as it is a great aesthetic to participate in. It is a world of subtle detail and this is a world in which Autistici also inhabits. The chance to work in this manner included an opportunity to focus upon a coherent story for the album as a whole. Working within limitations can also be an incredibly liberating force for the artist. Without limitations there is a danger I will become overwhelmed and overawed by the maximal mess of life.

You’ve worked with and released material on a considerable number of netlabels. How does preparing and releasing a virtual work on a netlabel compare to doing the same thing for a well established physical label such as 12k?

From a compositional perspective there is no difference. Primarily there is a need to write for myself. Therefore the material comes first. I write alone, I listen alone and only when it is finished do I begin to consider where it could be housed. Net labels such as Hippocamp, Kikapu and Wandering Ear have all released Autistici material in the past. For each release you working alongside the label curator who is an enthusiast for your work. Each curator has a dual commitment to the audience and the artist. Their commitment to the audience is to provide them with access to new material. In relation to the artist it is a chance to promote them and give them exposure to the netlabel’s audience. The difference when working with labels, such as 12k and Audiobulb is the formality of the relationship and thoroughness of the process. At the end of the day a more complete and concrete package is being formed. This involves cooperation to ensure artwork, contracts and licensing issues are agreed upon.

Do you have any thoughts on the strengths/weaknesses relative to the current netlabel music scene? Will you continue to release free music via netlabels?

The netlabel scene has been a great platform for many artists. I have a lot of respect for the curators of netlabels who are clearly driven by a deep devotion to creating internet sites designed to promote free music. Their strength lies in their ability to operate away from the traditional business model (i.e., investment, creating stock, selling stock and accumulating profit). The netlabel model enables a community based upon “love not money” to operate and thrive. The music becomes widely available accompanied by some minimal creative commons restrictions. Thus the audience is enabled and encouraged to not only listen to but also share the music freely. Ultimately for the artist this allows releases to be heard by many people. Download data from some of the netlabel releases I have participated in indicated that tracks were downloaded over 30,000 times within a few days of release.

In terms of the weaknesses, netlabels face the issue of quality control. In recent years the number of netlabels has grown considerably. This reflects people’s growing confidence in participating in the internet as content providers rather than content assimilators. I think it is admirable that so many people are willing to put the effort into creating places for music to exist. However, many sites become poorly maintained and the gate-keeping role (i.e. the A&R function) can become less stringent. The result is a swamping of the internet of material that is of little interest to more then a select few people. I wholly appreciate that the internet is designed to function without preconceived standards and this has made it a haven for enabling and promoting niche content. However, in my opinion areas that were more focused with a robust system of peer review have become diluted. I am neither saying this is right or wrong. It is simply my view of the process that is occurring. However, it is my view that all labels (and especially netlabels) are faced with the challenge of maintaining a brand quality that it’s audience can trust.

I will continue to release music on a select number of netlabels. These releases will tend to occur when I am responding to a particular concept or project outline that interests me. For example, I have recently participated in the Vibrating Portraits compilation released on Nexsound which invited artists to create an audio portrait of someone.

What’s your musical background (formal training, family members involved in music, early musical memories, etc.)

I have always been fascinated with sound. I have played with electronic toys, tape recorders, record players, keyboards and pianos since a very early age. I lived in a house surrounded by nature. I have early memories of the sound of a stuck needle at the end a vinyl record crackling and skipping as the sun streamed though the lounge window. The experience became one of being drawn into and immersed in a stuck moment of time. However, my concentration would always become distracted by the microcontent of the sound of insects, birdsong, animals and machines within the near and distant environment. I was always drawn to music and always obsessed over it. I was a walkman kid, walking around the fields with the sounds of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s in my ears. All genres were embraced from pop, rock, jazz and classical. My parents encouraged me to take up the piano and this was a platform to explore composition and to undergo my own classical training.

Are there any artists that you would identify as having had a significant influence on your musical development?

I think all music influences me. I listen to so much and soak up every detail I can. To give more than a few names would place me in a position where I would not be able to stop. In terms of influences I will identify Miles Davis, the Beatles, Stockhausen, Disastrato, John Cage, The BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Brian Eno.

What contemporary artists do listen to for pleasure/enjoyment?

Again a hard question to answer – there is so much out there. Recently I have been listening to Richard Chartier, The Dead Texan, Leafcutter John, Black Dice, Taylor Deupree, He Can Jog, SND, RF, John Kannenberg amongst many others….

Do you have a strong connection to the overall experimental music scene? What’s the experimental music scene like in England in general?

I don’t know many people I can identify as being part of a pure experimental scene. The experimental scene I feel most affiliated to in England is the Lovebytes Festival which takes place in Sheffield every year. I also play regularly at STFU Music events a series of live events organised by a collective of musicians from Europe.

Are there any projects, albums, etc. that you are presently working on for which you’d like to share some details

I am currently writing material for my next full release. I am also engaged in a collaboration with Claudia and Disastrato who release on Audiobulb Records . We are looking at creating a long multi-faceted piece containing details from each of our home environments. Audiobulb is also considering releasing a collection of remixes and previously unreleased tracks later this year. Time will tell. The only thing I know is that I will continue to write, record and work with sound.

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