“One man’s noise is another man’s music.”
I’ve been reading bits recently about how your environment is the one thing most affective to how you perceive noise and sound; and the idea totally makes sense when you think about noise as being unwanted sound; i.e. piercing sirens, clunking machinery or a particularly metallic industrial din. If we consider noise more as a random and unwanted interference to the serenity of [almost] silence and think then in terms of a modern musical environment, even purpose wielded distortion could be considered a ‘noise’. So perhaps the fact that the opening gambit uses noise to describe a negative reaction to a particular music, hits a little bit off the mark, but, the principle of that statement is sound considering how endlessly subjective music is.
It is however interesting to note the prevalence of jarring elements in modern electronic music. Outside of the pseudo intellectual white room world of sound art, audio collage and that bricolage cacophony of chopped and screwed musics, using a mean and jagged layer of sound can be a purposefully invasive tactic. Just look at what Blawan’s been doing recently, as part of Karenn with Pariah, and on his own material. You can label it a “dimly lit basement” vibe (as Joe Moynihan did for us back in November), but there’s something about an ominous drone that instantly casts aspersions of factory dankness; like the mechanical hum becomes an distant industrious sustain of overworked machinery somewhere in our subconscious.
Furthermore people like Hype Williams, Matthewdavid, Ssaliva, Wanda Group or Oneohtrix Point Never and labels like Tri Angle and their artists like Clams Casino, Balaam Acab are re-appropriating the scruffy edges of harsh tonality for a new generation of listeners all to unaware of people like Stockhausen, Cluster or Suicide. Using the drawn out song structures of free improvisation these artists are making music with intentional fuzzy edges; music that at its core uses noise elements as an instrument. But before all this, before the internet went bat shit mental for Clammy Clams and the way he samples anything and everything, there was a little London label called Highpoint Lowlife (R.I.P.) that was releasing a similar torrent of found and electronic music.
One of the first artists to really catch our attention from HPLL was a guy called 10-20. The Devon based producer made a self titled album (which had tracks called shit like ‘Jjuvxszla’ and ‘Wdrtrhjvelgrad’) and he had a consequent run of 4 EPs that were geographically themed snapshots of a journey through a dystopian landscape called Island, Lake, Mountain and Isthmus (a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas usually with waterforms on either side). His music, as the themes and song titles might suggest, is a complex mesh of crackles, pads and, often, hip hop paced drums. Like a lot of the music we write about here, 10-20’s is superbly engulfing. It came to us as something of a revelation back then and even now with his latest release, Magnet Marsh on Broken60 (the cassette tape arm of T.V.O’s Broken20 label), 10-20 still sounds like how you imagine “a walk in a snow flecked breeze under a maze of snaking over-head power lines” would sound.
There’s a warmth to his production that’s wrapped up behind the digital drones, busy fizzing of implied electrical energy and greyscale sound palette. But as vague and yes, colonic as that description is, 10-20’s music still manages to bump. There are moments on Magnet Marsh where you forget about conceptual ideas and potential avenues you could take a feature and just enjoy the densely layered productions coming out of your headphones. If you’re immediate environment is shooting past you at 70mph and you’re sat staring woefully into space trying your best to block out the melee of commuters, children and chavs, then Magnet Marsh will probably make a lot more sense in that context. Like the embittered press release that got serviced with the release suggests “ultimately, if you rate it for all sorts of culturally bagagged reasons or you understand it as the press release hopes you might, it’s good either way.”
When we tried to catch up with the producer to better frame his glacial Sonic Router Mix, we found him out of the country and snatching borrowed time on a friend’s computer somewhere near Beijing…
Sonic Router: Let’s start with an introduction. How did you get into making music?
10-20: I started making music with free bits of software, things that let me sequence found sounds. I tried to make things I liked to listen to.
There’s a dual prong to your music, like, on one hand it’s deeply atmospheric like the work of someone like Susuma Yakota, but on the other it’s got a real hip hop stance to it. Are you a hip hop head at heart?
Yep, I liked hip hop quite a lot when I was younger. I really love listening to that RZA soundtrack for Ghost Dog at the moment. I remember a friend telling me that Autechre were only really interested in making hip hop but just wanted to go about it in any way they felt like. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know but I liked the idea.
And similarly, what inspires you to go for that sunken echo type vibe? What do you think it is about that aesthetic that draws you to it?
I think it helps with the overall sedative effect that I can’t seem to escape. Sunken is a good word I suppose.
What are you using to make your music? Like it feels a bit more archaic and decayed than a lot of computer music…
I just use a bit of software that’s fairly similar to Audio Mulch and then I mix it all in Logic. There isn’t much in the way of analogue instruments except some old recordings of me tickling the ivories. There are also a lot of samples – bits of everything I like hijacked off YouTube or the internet in general.
We first heard of you with work on Highpoint Lowlife and now you’re releasing on another wiretapper’s label, Broken 20. Is that how you and TVO know each other, from both releasing on HPLL?
Yes sir, I emailed him a few times about sending stuff and eventually got it all together. They (B20) gave it a listen and thankfully gave me a lot of encouragement. I’d like to give a lot of thanks to all three who were involved.
Is there as much as a theme to Magnet Marsh as there was behind the Landforms EPs on HPLL?
More so I think, the Landform EPs weren’t so much inspired as classified under the four different landscapes. This stuff was much more influenced about making a recording that had little sights of a place. Like maybe listening to a Sting album with auditory reminders and clues about the ‘Fields of Gold’ he’s walking in. Wind in the barley, the clicks of closing the expensive watch strap. I was and still am a bit obsessed in home improvement store architecture, especially the left over landscaped scraps/ ditches /trees that surround them. I hope that they are documented in museums one day.
You’ve got ‘Magnet Marsh’ coming out on cassette as well as digital, what makes you want to reach for the spools?
I guess there is the memory of listening to a lot of my favourite music on cassette, on the Walkman. I like the slightly degraded fidelity; maybe it makes it one step further away from my making it.
Can you talk us through the mix you’ve made for us?
It’s all stuff I’ve made, mostly in the making of this album. Hope you like it
What else have you got planned for 2012?
Get a computer because mine is broken, and I’m sad about that.
Traditionally we ask mixers for some words of wisdom… got any you’d like to share?
Buy some binoculars.
DOWNLOAD: 10-20 – Sonic Router Mix #118
No tracklisting needed.
10-20’s Magnet Marsh is out now on Broken60.