photos by Motomasa
As Electronic Dance Music gains more and more favor the world over, it seems that the genre constantly gives birth to new "styles"much like jazz, soul and rock music have in the past. Some of these sub-genres come from the natural evolution of the music, while others seem to be a reaction against the seeming complacency of the genre. Like any artform, artists define their own personal directions from their experience in what currently exists.
What has been termed Intelligent Dance Music or "IDM" for short, can definitely be seen as the reactive force to the sometimes mind-numbing 4-on-the-floor structured and contrived reality that is heard on 99% of dance floors throughout the world. Like the Futurists of the 20's and 30's, IDM producers embrace technology and all it can bring to the sonic world, digging far deeper into the potential of electronically generated sounds. Rather than trying to mimic the sounds of traditional instruments, they bring forth a new auditory language and idioma that is rooted in the electronic medium itselfa vast world which has not been fully investigated since the electronic music revolutionaries of the 60's and 70's.
Given the daunting task of interviewing one of the most skilled and creative producers/composers in this realmwho is also a good friendI have admittedly found it difficult to focus my discussion with Richard Devine on any one topic. Certainly one of the most intelligent and perceptive people I know, Richard has always been one to "connect the dots," tying together experiences of every sort in creating his soundscapes. Since Richard was preparing for a European tour alongside Warp Records' artists (which includes Phoenicia, Plaid, Russell Haswell and various guests at each venue), we did not have a lot of time to get into lengthy discussion.
Lunar: Most of the world press would classify your music as Intelligent Dance Music or IDM. Do you feel that this is a good classification of what you do?
Richard Devine: Well, I have heard that phrase since the very beginning and it never really bothered me. I would say that my musical style is a little more avant-garde and electro acoustic.
Lunar: "Electro acoustic" sounds more like what you do indeed; is IDM just a good catch-all phrase? What separates IDM from the rest of the Electronic Dance Music [EDM] more commonly heard by the masses?
Richard Devine: I think the name was tagged back in the early days of the newsgroup called IDM, which was founded by Alan M. Parry. Originally it was just a news forum for fans talking about Aphex Twin. Eventually more music started to come out during this time with the emergence of the Artificial Intelligence compilations and the Warp label. The list soon became a discussion group for all music that sounded like Aphex Twin. So the phrase IDM actually started from a newsgroup way back in the day. Regarding the differences in this style in comparison to other styles, I would first have to say that it's a little more complicated in song structure. The beat orientation can sometimes be really out there. As for the music, it can go anywhere from lovely-sweet to mechanical and evil.
Lunar: That's one thing very evident in your musicthe diversity in sound texture. Some of your music is downright harsh, but others have a lot of soul and melody. Sometimes you juxtapose the two either directly against each other or in different parts of songs. Is the tone of the music you write reflective of your mood at the time, or do you map out an album/project and write according to a specific plan?
Richard Devine: There have been many times when I was happy, sad or emotionally moved to write something, but most of the time, I try to plan specific tracks or compositions. I usually have something specific in mind that I am trying to express, and I try to push forward and make something new, intelligent and sophisticated. I usually try to keep my tracks abstract and open for listeners so that it doesn't limit the audience. I really try to take the listener to a totally different world.
Lunar: Your audio-palette is truly vastas it needs to be to take a listener to a "totally different world." Have you ever conceived a sound in your mind for a piece that you couldn't create? Or does sound creation stem more from "happy accidents" for you?
Richard Devine: I always write down what I want first, then go and create it. It's now getting to the point where computers are getting fast enough to compute even the most complicated tasks, so sound manipulation and design are getting wider and more creative. Sometimes happy accidents occur, and I never have any problems using them. My rule is if it sounds good, then use it.
Lunar: A lot of people probably don't know that you're currently in school (and hopefully graduating soon) in visual arts. Is there any particular genre or style of imagery that is most inspiring to you as a musician?
Richard Devine: Well, I take influences from all different media and artists. I really like any artist that really pushes for the abstract form and uniquenesslike Francis Bacon, who in my opinion is one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century. His monumental, unsettling images have an extraordinary power to disturb, shock and haunt the spectator, 'to unlock the valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more violently.' My last album Aleamapper was completely influenced by the work of Francis Bacon. I was really trying to capture what he was doing visually in my musical compositions. I have admired his approach and style for many years.
Lunar: So do you find the 'jarring' and 'violent' work the most moving?
Richard Devine: Yes, I love anything that moves or disturbs the mind and makes the individual think from a totally different standpoint.
Lunar: I know you've always had a fascination with bizarre and sometimes grotesque imagery. Do you think we've hit a plateau in shocking imagery? Have we become so used to shocking images that we are numbed to it now? Have we also hit a plateau sonically in terms of shocking/violent sound? If not, where do you think it can go next?
Richard Devine: I think that there will always be somebody pushing the shock values element further. I thought that you couldn't get any more grotesque then the photography of Joel Peter Witkins, but that was before I discovered the work of Damien Hirst. You will always find, no matter what form of art or profession you come into, someone constantly pushing the limit higher. It's kinda like skateboarding is now. I used to think that in my peak time that the level of tricks couldn't get more technical then they were. But when I see what [is] going on these days, I pretty much think damn... this is really unbelievable. As for my sonic explorations, I think I keep pushing that limit as well: I always try to out do myself with each release I make.
Lunar: That's rightyou were a skate-punk in your early years... do you still skate? Is there anything about skate-culture which permeates your music?
Richard Devine: Yes, I was a skateboarder for about 10 years. I loved everything about skateboardingthe art, the clothing and culture. I think I still have the punk DIY attitude towards music. I think you shouldn't limit yourselfyou should just get out there and do it.
Lunar: I guess that philosophy is why you carry around your computer at all times? That way you're always prepared?
Richard Devine: Yes, I always have two laptops on me. One PC and one Mac (Powerbook). Also a Nikon digital camera and palm computer are on me at all times, as I constantly absorb information around me. I basically like to take snap shots of the world and capture them in my computers for further observation and study.
Lunar: So do you take around a portable DAT/MD recorder too?
Richard Devine: Yeah, we sometimes bring the Sony Mini Disc recorder and mic. I try to record things all the time. Usually if I hear something interesting I will go ahead and record it right away...
Lunar: So you're a little sponge who just absorbs everything around you, digests it, and spits out the music! What inspiration are you drawing upon now for your newest works?
Richard Devine: Well, places like Germany, Italy, the rain forests in Puerto Rico. I think almost any place on the planet can inspire me to compose. My most recent sources of inspiration are installaton artists, like Maurizio Cattelan. I like artists mixing different media and trying new concepts.
Lunar: Is there anybody who is currently creating a body of visual workparticularly with the assistance of technologywho inspires you? You have been able to open up a new world of sonic reality through the use of technology. Are there peers who are doing equally revolutionary things with computers that you find compelling or interesting?
Richard Devine: I like John Maeda who is currently the Associate Professor of the M.I.T Media Laboratory Aesthetics & Computation Group. He was one of the first to experiment with ideas on ways to bond the simplicity of good graphic design together with the complex nature of the computer. His experiments grew into a series of five books called Reactive Books that are today a globally recognized standard for high quality digital media design. The most impressive element to Maeda's work to me was that he completely coded all his own applications to create his designs. He used the process of programming to describe the structure of a machine as a sequence of textual codes, which when brought to life in the "mind" of the computer performed specific tasks. These tasks executed hundreds of complicated mathematical computations that outputted lined massed objects that look real and organic to the human eye. I was directly influenced by Maeda's work when working on "Lipswitch." I used a similar approach to audio programming in that I designed my own audio applications to carry out real-time manipulations and sequences. I built up these small applications within MAX/MSP and then had several computers control them as if they were separate instruments. So in essence I created the environment for what could happen. The artwork for "Lipswitch" was also conceived with the same idea, and is very similar to John Maeda's visual works.
Lunar: In the past we've talked at length about architects and architecturedo you conceive of your musical works in your mind in a spatial way? Beyond simple left/right stereo? Do you find you can map audio in the auditory field in a way most appropriate for your music, or is technology still "not quite there?"
Richard Devine: Sometimes I do, and in many ways I conceive a vast majority of works in this fashion. I have a fond love of modern 19th century architecture. I especially like Frank Gehry, with his trademark use of unusual materials, organic shapes, and interlocking structures, which have become legendary. I love his approach to form and space, which seem to morph and evolve constantly with each piece of work. He also had a rule that parts could be repeating and non-repeating all within one work: 'In any building, there is particular balance between repeating and unique elements, which gives the architecture much of its character.' I totally believed in his philosophies, as it can be applied to any form of art.
Lunar: Have you found any way to directly tie together physical modeling and your musicessentially translating form into waveforms in some meaningful way?
Richard Devine: I applied Gehry's approach to musical beat structureswhich all work on grids. I directly modeled Gehry's three-dimensional computer animations and renderings. He used a curved-surface CAD software called CATIA, which is primarily intended for use in aerospace. The models were all based on free-from curved lines that made up the surfaces for his architectural works. This software now opened the way to successful applications of digital curved-surface modeling in far larger and more ambitious projects, such as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. I was totally blown away by this structural approach to architecture and tried to emulate this process musically with the use of programming objects designed by Richard Dudas. He designed the programming objects that could emulate three-dimensional designs, and create audio waves that could be seen in a three-dimensional FFT analysis window. I would re-draw the spectral frequencies of the sound to emulate the forms I would see in Gehry's work. It would give the sounds totally new characteristics that would constantly change and evolve. I also experimented with this concept quite a bit with the Kyma system and additive synthesis.
Lunar: Since you like such structural architecture, I bet you like Calatrava as well, then. I personally find it most interesting since, as an architecture student, we used to say, "architecture is frozen music,"so I always thought that conversely means "music is moving architecture." How about a comment on that?
Richard Devine: Yes, I totally agree with you on that. I relate architecture and music from the main principles and elements of design. In both you have scale, repetition, texture, movement, dynamics, color, etc. Everything you see in architecture can be applied to audio and vice versa. When you look at it this way, you see that the structure of vibrations—which is all sound really iscan also directly relate to physically constructed objects. In a sense you are really freezing the structure of music... it's musical mainframe.
Lunar: Have you started working with music in a surround-sound environment at all? How will the DVD-Audio standard change the way you write?
Richard Devine: I am currently moving my studio over to 5.1-surround environment, which will totally be the next step for me in audio composition. I can't imagine what my music will sound like on a surround sound system, but it will be unreal. I will now be able to engulf the listener completely in a horrifying musical experience.
Lunar: Have you considered writing a work for performance in a specific space? Perhaps where you could have multiple speaker positions, and not be limited to the standardized 5.1?
Richard Devine: Yes, I'm currently composing a remix work of Xenakis' "Persepolis" which was originally composed on a multiple speaker system. I started working on a piece that would work on 12.1 surround system that Naut Humon designed at Recombient Systems in San Francisco. I am going to hopefully finish up a mix with him there soon.
Lunar: I know you're short on time because you're going on tour soon. Any interesting projects that are currently in the works?
Richard Devine: Well, I have a new DVD release in the works. Also, I'm currently being considered as a producer for the next Nine Inch Nails release, which would be a great project to work on.
Lunar: Any places you're looking forward to going to again on this upcoming tour? Any particular acts you're looking forward to playing with on this tour?
Richard Devine: Well, I actually have already done this tour with Schematic, doing all the same venues and countries. It will be nice because we are doing this tour with our friends at Warp, who are the most like-minded people we know. I have been friends with all the people at Warp for years now, and it will be fun to actually do a tour with them. The show in Berlin is going to be big. I know that Native Instruments is helping with this event. I know the show in Berlin is going to be big with the whole Nature records crew and Marco Passarrani. There's too many shows to mention, but take a look at the Warp site, then go to the magic bus tour link. http://www.warp-net.com
Lunar: Finally, do you see a bright future for IDM in Atlanta? I know there are many producers in town who write and have releases on Warp, among other labels. Could IDM become the sound of Atlanta's EDM community?
Richard Devine: Hopefully it will.. it seems that the scene is getting better for this kind of music. I hope that it will grow and spawn many new producers so I can get excited again to hear new music. Because that's what got me started to begin with.
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