Wojtek Rusin is one of those cosmopolitan artists who pursues his dreams as an émigrée, reaping artistic inspiration from the transient nature of such an existence. Originally from Poland, he currently resides in Bristol, UK after stints in Barcelona and Germany. Under his moniker Katapulto, Wojtek has produced a diverse array of music ranging from conceptual pieces to camp, experimental endeavors reminiscent of Felix Kubin, only to arrive at catchy synth-based songs. After a brilliant conceptual tape for Sangoplasmo where he used recordings in several languages about animals, Rusin returns with his latest album Bad Tourist—named so because “it could be a title of a theatre play”—out now on AMDISCS. We caught up with him to talk about subversion, angry markets and the power of high-definition.
Bad Tourist brings to mind some of those good, hit-loaded synthpop albums from the eighties in the vein of Depeche Mode, etc.
I was definitely looking for something like this. Sometimes you have these albums where three four songs are really good and with the rest couldn’t work on their own and are just there to fill up the product. I didn’t want that. I love the early Depeche Mode albums, where every song is a song in its own right. My record somehow refers to the eighties because of the synth sounds, but I guess the production has a modern twist. I didn’t want to go for lo-fi aesthetics. There are also these two songs—“Stories from Beyond the Sun”—where the computer talks about melodramatic stories taken from the tabloids. I also used some nineties loops found on some obscure blogs about obsolete music technology. It’s sometimes inspiring to work with found lyrics and sound.
How did the album come about?
The whole album is a selection of songs that I recorded over the last two years. I had been living in Barcelona, Poland and Bristol during that time. It’s a bit like a diary; impressions of different places and situations. I was definitely going for diversity rather than consistency throughout the whole thing. Every track posed a different challenge.
Have the geographical differences left a mark on the songs?
For example I went to this exhibition about television at the MACBA in Barcelona, and there was this BBC TV series from the seventies called Ways of Seeing. I included some things from it into my lyrics. Right now I’m doing a course on teaching children music and had to go through these online tests. I ended up making a song inspired by this called “Children Protection”. The album is more free form and not as concept-heavy as the Animalia cassette, that had this pseudo-educational vibe and was sonically more about the sound design and creating some kind of fake folk music. On the other hand, on the new record every song has this single, independent character. It tells a story by itself.
Do you approach your music from a conceptual standpoint?
In those two tracks mentioned before I really enjoyed the tension between the found lyrics and muzak-like elevator sounds. The rest are songs with hopefully nice melodies and well-programmed drums. Animalia was a conceptual album, and so is the music I make for theater. The last play involved me amplifying various domestic objects with contact mics and improvising around the lines of the actors. I did quite strange music years ago, the first albums are perhaps unlistenable but I think they’re quite interesting. It’s a way of finding a balance between an intriguing, original sound and putting it in a frame of a pop song. I think the record is quite contemporary with songs, conceptual pieces… It’s a bit eighties and nineties feeling but not in a retro-nostalgic way. It’s natural to quote and refer to the past. What is the contemporary sound anyway? There is this very contemporary sounding artist called Shackleton who is so futuristic that it somehow escapes the past, it’s truly music from another planet. I saw him at a festival recently and was amazed. James Ferraro on the other hand refers to muzak, ringtones, midi kitsch, sound design. Everything is happening at the same time, the references are all there because of the internet—it’s hard to escape. Hype Williams are an interesting example of filtering the last 20 years of electronic, hedonistic rave music through their lo-fi aesthetic.
The aesthetic criteria have changed too…
The lo-fi post punk aesthetic doesn’t work for me anymore. The methods that were relevant in the past with the lo-fi, rough sound have been worn out. Some musicians are going for cleaner, more futuristic sounds in order to make subversive music. It’s also a more natural method for me since I’ve always used computers rather than synths but there are still labels out there which are fascinated and a bit nostalgic about dirty synthesizers and drum machines. I can imagine that by using this stuff you can have a very consistent sound throughout the whole record which is sometimes quite tempting but it’s actually more fascinating and challenging to use the new technologies. Then you are using the same weapons as the mainstream. I’m fascinated by HD, After Effects and sound design. I did a song with a 22-year-old and she thinks the dirty punk thing is very retro. The subversive language has changed and we have to attack with HD rather than some sort of nostalgic noise and feedback.
You work with digital technologies?
Almost everything is computer VSTs. Recently I had a chance to play with a fantastic modular synth that my friend built and it was great, magical, but I didn’t have a clue what do to with it! Somehow I managed to slip into self-referential retro. But some people can use these machines in a very creative way.
What constitutes futurism in music for you nowadays?
We are getting into a phase where the differences are very subtle and the old methods of analysis have changed. You listen to something and have to spend more time to detect some radical novelty. When I was younger and listened to a new record, it was a totally new world, you didn’t recognize the references. In a gig environment I like it when I get lost and don’t know the references, it feels like being 18 again and listening to a tape by Squarepusher and wondering what the hell that is. Thing is, you can’t expect such massive shift in sound like fifteen years ago. I guess everyone is referring somehow to the musical past, it’s about filtering, an art of intelligent quoting, or maybe I’m totally wrong and we’ll be blown away in a few years with some sort of a totally new thing that doesn’t sound like anything else. Is this still possible?
Talking about subversion, you did a video for your song Angry Markets, deconstructing sterile stock images. You worked at a design agency so you have personal experience with the world of commercial imagery, right?
This is an aesthetic used in a corporate world. You have groups of photographs arranged under keywords like happy people, where everyone is very young with blue stripy shirts, happy and smiling. This represents a certain economic and political direction, and it’s quite interesting to use this aesthetic in a music video. The lyrics “Angry markets, profit warnings” came from the BBC’s financial news and I found this ultra-capitalist language of the angry markets rather scary. In a way it is a political song. It’s also about truth. When you look at these photographs, are these happy people? Do we believe their smiles? I don’t know who believes in this anymore. They are monsters fabricated by ideology.
But you are also influenced by other media outside of music?
I’m a big fan of Ryan Trecartin who makes these flamboyant films with pitch-shifted voices and stories about internet characters. It’s very futuristic and the sound design is brilliant because he mixes everything in such a nonchalant way. I’m very inspired by visual art. I also love the art of Joe Evans who made a large sculpture for the cover of the album. I want to make more videos, to add different dimensions to my music.
You have lived both in the east and the west of Europe. What is your view of the east/west divide, especially in terms of music?
I moved to Britain in 2004 but I was brought up in Poland and lived in Germany for a bit. With the UK, I certainly moved into a country of a very diverse culture and very advanced capitalism. I’m a bit trapped in a channel of Anglo-American music here. It’s a natural process but you have to be aware of it. When I was living in Poland I was listening to a lot of German music because Germany is Poland’s neighbor with a very strong tradition of electronic music. When I came to England, I realized they haven’t heard about certain things which were well known to me, like the Scape label, Pole, etc. I did a mixtape for a US blog recently, and I looked at my itunes and realized that most of the tracks are featured on every cool blog and how could I surprise anybody with that. I had to dig deeper into my library and find, for instance, German new wave hero Holger Hiller. I’m certainly aware that there are interesting things happening in Central and Eastern Europe and hopefully they will become louder.
Stream Katapulto’s album Bad Tourist in full:
From Kraftwerk’s travel obsession and the endless poetics of Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4 to Atom™’s overt Schubert references on Winterreise, German Romanticism has been an enduring presence in electronic music. So too for Berlin clicks and cuts/dubtechnoist Stefan Betke and minimal techno godfather Wolfgang Voigt. Over the past fifteen years, both artists have forged a connection to the sublime in nature and the seduction of the German forests—associations made explicit in lyrical German album titles and cover art. Here, Voigt and Betke discuss the reciprocal reflection of the digital and natural and the pitfalls of merging artistic and national identity.
Wolfgang Voigt: People often ask me about my relationship towards nature and forests, and because I’m tired of answering these questions, I thought I’d take the chance to ask you about it Stefan: You’ve released two albums with explicit nature references in the titles—Waldgeschichten [“Stories from the Forest”] or Steingarten [“Stone garden”]. What’s your connection to nature?
Stefan Betke: [laughing] Well, Steingarten is an interesting example. The photography on the cover is of Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, located in one of the most beautiful regions of the German Alps. Honestly, I would say my love of nature is straightforward: nature is where I can breathe and relax best, and the further I get from the city, the more my thoughts decelerate . . . even though I still love big cities too. It’s the same today as when I was a child. I love the mountains; I love hiking; I love the forests; and I love resting on a tree trunk and observing my surroundings, and I have no problem spending hours in the car or in a train to reach my destination. But to be honest, that’s not the only reason why I name my albums the way I do. It’s no coincidence that I use my mother tongue when it comes to album titles. By calling an album Waldgeschichten instead of Stories from the Forest, I define and locate myself and my roots with greater precision. I’m Stefan Betke, a musician from Germany. That’s what and who I am. Bizarrely, some people actually tried to interpret nationalistic tendencies into my music because of that, which is nonsense. I mean, would you suspect an Italian writer to be nationalistic just because he or she writes in Italian?
WV: I’ve been confronted over and over again with accusations like that throughout my whole career. I just tune it out.
SB: It still makes me angry. People don’t seem to understand that trying to define your identity is partially linked to the language you speak; the language you dream and think in. An incredibly important aspect of making music is about defining an artistic space.
WV: When I released my GAS trilogy some fifteen years ago, I wasn’t making a political statement. There were two reasons for the name GAS: First, the beginning- and endlessness; the amorphous structure of the music seems to emanate like gas. And second, the association of a dense fog in a dark forest. Of course, I was also experimenting with the romantic cliches and myths of the German forest. Although, in my opinion, the music stands for itself. To me this still seems to be a natural and consistent approach towards music, wherever you’re from. Making music about forests and childhood memories had a lot to do with connecting myself to a world of my own associations and ur-aesthetic experiences—some of the most formative ones.
SB: Physical places can be extremely inspiring. I’m sure you know that dub music has also been an incredibly important influence for me. It might sound strange, but I often view the vastness and architecture of the forest as a grid with smaller units defined by particular trees—which is also how I envision the spatiality of dub.
WV: And what do you get from meditating on the forest as a grid, of being in the middle of it?
SB: It’s hard to describe, but when I look into the sky it sometimes explodes . . . All I know is that the forest for me is a space of vital importance—not to mention for the survival of our planet.
WV: I’ve meditated quite a bit on the forest in the past, but at the moment, I feel a similar attraction towards the Internet. In a sense, it’s like a huge forest too. The Internet also offers its own forms of ecstatic experience and infinity . . . not to mention the pure density of information. I’m currently working on an unofficial follow-up to GAS titled Rückverzauberung [“Re-enchantment”]. Here, my approach to making ambient music has become increasingly abstract—more amorphous and unbridled, rhythmically speaking. I’m trying to infiltrate various kinds of musical and visual material—audio samples, photo scans—imbuing them with a new kind of magic. It’s actually not so different from what I attempted to do with forest themes, but more free and radical than ever before.
SB: I feel like I’m doing something very similar in terms of reinterpreting a given musical space. It’s important to stress the fact that dub “space”—like any musical or artistic genre—should not be understood as confined to specific elements. The same goes for physical space. I mean, Berlin after the fall of the Wall had empty spaces and places that were extremely important for inspiring new perspectives, new visions, new art. Physical space gets recast, or re-enchanted, as you say. Using dub methods to create space—like I do in my music—is inspired by looking at details in an unfinished city as well as watching a green valley. The beautiful thing about having nature as a point of reference is that art is endless like nature is endless. Like Sun Ra said: space is the place. And since we’re again on the topic of nature: What was the idea behind naming your new project with Jörg Burger “Mohn” [“Poppy”]?
WV: First, I agree that dub “space” is unlimited. Also, if you see dub as a science of echo and reverb, then it makes sense to see the mountains as the original dub “space”. In regards to Mohn, let me remind you that I like being seen as a man of the now, and of contradiction and conflict. I love seeing something abstract or digital in nature, and vice versa. I associate “Mohn” with all things slow and narcotic. Of course, I wouldn’t object to the association with opium dens. At the same time, Mohn is about music that’s extremely mathematic and complex. I see a different aesthetic level emerging when I combine the narcotic and the mathematic—one that’s characterized by my new interest in non-nature related fields, especially the digits “1” and “0” that define our digital world. For me using pure Ableton or Photoshop plug-ins can lead to really interesting results without combining them with anything analog. I think it all depends how you use them. It’s not important if I work with analog or digital material. I always oscillate between strictly mathematical structures and wild unquantized improvisation—playing my sampler with my tongue like Jimi Hendrix his guitar.
SB: That’s what the whole digital evolution is about: adding new instruments and creating new artistic possibilities. I think you can “play” the computer like Hendrix played guitar. Of course, how you work artistically is connected to your specific background. Aside from influence of jazz and the avant-garde, I see myself in the Rhineland tradition of Stockhausen and Can, and I’ve learned a lot from West German musical history. But it’s still only a foundation. Certainly, things would have taken a really different direction if I had never seen Conny Plank’s studio or early DAF performances in Dusseldorf. I imagine I probably wouldn’t have become a musician. Of course, I’m not interested in imitating anybody, but whenever I’m intrigued by something, I try to research and learn as much as possible about it. Music especially.
WV: I’m the same. Everybody has their own musical influences and I wouldn’t be the person I am without having been obsessed by other people’s music over the years. But at the same time, I’m convinced that techno would have existed without Kraftwerk, Can or Stockhausen, even though some of techno’s older protagonists—myself included—have built up their vision of music through knowledge of their music. But I’d doubt that my personal development would have been very different growing up in a smaller German city. Admittedly, my uncle was the janitor of the Cologne Music Conservatory during the sixties and seventies, and he would always let me in when jazz or classical concerts were scheduled—Manfred Schoof, György Ligeti, Mauricio Kagel, Bach, Stockhausen . . . But I wouldn’t call these experiences truly “formative”. Life is what you make out of it, for the most part. It’s the active part, not the passive that defines you.
SB: I would say that, excluding dub, I’ve been influenced by three main schools of electronic music: Rhineland, Berlin and Detroit. All three were important because they stood for larger ideas. So, when I started making music I always had a bigger picture in mind, even though I try to keep my references relatively inconspicuous. It was more an attitude that I inherited from my freethinking predecessors. More than anything else, they taught me to believe in myself.
WV: I respect my teachers, but I’ve become a grown-up in the meantime. And that kind of artistic maturity means that I’m responsible for what I’m doing—and no one else. At the same time I feel committed to the vanguard, to the future. It’s interesting to note that today, since record sales have dramatically declined, it doesn’t even make sense anymore trying to go with trends. Try it out—it doesn’t work. For a couple of years now, I’ve been attempting to free myself more and more from the business side of things simply because artistic truthfulness is so much more important than sales expectations. And to be perfectly honest, it’s been liberating. Envisioning the future is one of the most beautiful things you can do as a musician. I mean, I’m fully aware that I probably can’t invent entirely new sounds or approaches like Stockhausen, because somehow all sounds have been invented already. But I’m sure I can still invent new music by finding new combinations of sounds, or reinventing and re-enchanting them.
SB: I think the biggest temptation always lies in the music that you’ve already made. There’s something strangely seductive about repeating yourself in order to stay true to your own legacy. But you have to keep that in check—to refine what you’ve done in the past without copying it by adding new motifs and getting rid of other pieces. I describe it as a basic vocabulary that I have from my musical socialization and the paths I’ve taken in life. My goal is to add to that vocabulary and find new ways of synchronizing it with enhanced style and method. But the goal always remains the same: to create something new, despite the limitations of what’s already been done. You can’t see that as a burden—you should see it as a chance.
Photo: Andreas Stappert. Wolfgang Voigt in Kompakt HQ Cologne.
Pole aka Stefan Betke is releasing new music – his first in over three years. Since the demise of ~scape, the label he ran with Barbara Preisinger, Betke has been somewhat quiet. Accordingly he has been taking a break to “find his musical direction and produce a series of new tracks, starting with this 12inch”.
Entitled ‘Waldgeschichten’ , the release marks a welcome return to the fray for the prince of low frequencies. Warm grooves with plenty of space between them and a dub attitude (naturally) the record will be released in October and distributed via Kompakt.
Check out the music below;
Deadbeat, aka Scott Monteith has been crating dub inflected house and techno for over ten years. His latest project however is his most explicit love letter for the genre yet. Drawn & Quartered is made up five cuts of stretched and manipulated soundscapes where the joy is to be found not so much in the sounds, as the space between them. Performing alongside visual-conspirator Lillevan, who brings unique stunning visuals to Monteith‘s music, he even set up his own label to release Drawn & Quartered, due to the demise of what he felt was the natural home for his music – Pole’s Scape label. We got in touch with Scott to find out some more, and at the end of the interview you can watch an exclusive excerpt from the duo’s live set
Tell me about the inspiration behind setting up your new label – I read it was inspired by the demise of Scape?
Philosophically yes it was though the idea of starting a label has been in my mind for some time and their closure as well as the crop of material I had just finished writing allowed that idea to fester into fact.
What was it about scape that was unique or needed to be replaced?
It always seemed preoccupied with a special kind of deep listening and adventurousness for me from a curatorial perspective that was necessarily concerned with dance floor function or genre convention. Dub was the jumping off point for the best Scape releases but individually they were all quite unique, and I guess that’s what I’ll be aspiring to for BLKRTZ.
The debut album is by yourself – will the platform open up to other artists?
Yes most definitely, though I’ll be concentrating on my own stuff and special collaborative projects for the foreseeable future.
Drawn and quartered is the name of new album – what’s the meaning behind the tittle – anything to do with being hung drawn and quartered?
No it’s simply a play on words regarding the four quarters of the vinyl release. I had the idea for an album with these kind of extended track times for some time and I’m very happy to have been able to realize it.
Dub is by its definition a fairly rigid starting point – where does your interest in the form come from?
I would disagree, In fact I think there have been countless examples over the last few years both in the techno and whatever-step off shoots that it is a very loose creative concept that can be pushed and pulled in any number of directions. It’s that sense of experimentalism and playfulness from a technological stand point which one can very easily trace all the way back to the earliest Jamaican dub experiments which has always drawn me to dubby sounds.
How do you continue to make dub music exciting?
I guess personally by pushing down the walls and kicking in the doors of any creative box that feels a little too comfy.
You recently performed alongside Lillevan at Mutek – how was that?
Fantastic, we both had a great time and really hope to do it again soon.
What was the idea behind the show?
A free form dialog using the material from the album as a jumping off point and trying to develop an immersive experience based on this material and images which Lillevan was inspired to create for the performance.
How do you work together?
We do a lot of talking about many things, loosely frame or creative goals before had and then have at it on stage. We’ve known each other for many years and it’s definitely the kind of performance I would only want to do with that kind of history. I’m really not at all interested in having whatever visual thrown on top of my musicby someone I’ve never met.
How do you find the right visual language for the music?
I leave that to Lillevan and have yet to see anything I didn’t like.
Who is your favourite dub producer?
From what era? Classics I’d say King Tubby or the Mighty 2 but there are any number of producers that could fill that spot depending on the day. It just never gets old for me.
Berlin Based Canadian (there’s more than you would think) Deadbeat aka Scott Monteith is to release a new album, on his own newly inaugurated label BLKRTZ.
Called Drawn & Quartered the album draws heavily on his love of dub influenced sounds and the desision to launch his own imprint was inspired by the demise of cult Berlin label ~scape – a place where Monteith felt he always had a natural home.
“When I received the news a few months ago that ~scape was officially closing its doors, I was incredibly sad to hear it. Though I hadn’t worked with them in a few years, I always saw ~scape as the natural home for a very important part of my work. Not necessarily the more listening side of things per se, but certainly the most unconcerned with genre or function, from a creative stand point the most free I guess….. it’s my hope that BLKRTZ can serve a similarly honorable purpose in the years to come.”
Monteith will also be presenting a unique multimedia performance with long-time friend and world renowned video artist, Lillevan.
Drawn and Quartered, will be released on BLKRTZ on June 20th 2011