Interview conducted by Tamara Palmer
*What do you enjoy about your musical partnership and friendship that has kept you working together for so long?
Charles and I were a “industrial missed connection” — I recall seeing him at a Revolting Cocks show in Cleveland, Ohio in 1990. He had dreads, a leather jacket & Misfits t-shirt — like an African-American predator punk. A year later, our former bandmate Mike Szewczyk [aka Txtbeak] and I recognized him our first night out in Columbus, Ohio, saying, “Whoa, there’s that dude! What’s up!” He became a member of our band instantly.
Since Body Release in 1991, ele_mental and ARS in 1993, 21/22 in 1994, + SCALE in 1999, Interval in 2011, we’ve continued to expand and refine our collective vision. Our art and music ends up like an exquisite corpse, where we volley ideas and sounds for one to begin or finish each other’s sketches. We saw a chasm in the approach of new projects / labels, with it often ending up as another variation of “dark, dub techno”. Charles refers to it “pre-proto-techno” — what we were into before, during and after. We’re learning from the past; but stuck repeating it.
We are true music heads. We are both so passionate about it, that decades of change, relationship dramas, technology shifts and economic obstacles haven’t killed our desire to create and move forward—we got some brotherly love going on, we’ve been through lot together in life and in our creative aspirations. We’ve got so many in-jokes that its basically a lingo of it own. We have a mutual respect for each other creatively speaking. We compliment each other creatively, sometimes when two people work together and are too similar it can be a problem if the individuality gets lost. We are pretty good at working together to make something that neither of us would not do as individuals.
*I too have been going back to the types of sounds you reference from the mid-1980s and have been kind of looking at those rebellious, oppressed Reagan-era sounds that all of a sudden feel super relevant again in this world. When you go back and listen to some of the works that influenced you, do they make more sense to you now in the context of what’s happening in the current world?
In 2013, one of our other artists, Kristjan Zaklynsky, tipped me to Second Layer, which had a strong anti-war sentiment. Their discography had become my running, biking, road trip and well, everything soundtrack; it echoed my frustrations watching Russia pummel Ukraine and annex Crimea, resenting my appearance Russia Today television in 2008. The political climate inspired me to get involved with Bernie’s presidential bid. But we hadn’t watched our back to the bigoted, tyrannical juggernaut Trump, who questionably won on a platform of racist fear. The pendulum swings back after 8 years, and we’re condemned to repeat our past.
Doomed to repeat, right..hahaha..yes looking back with a more cultured and experienced eye you can see why the things bubbled up in the 80s. With that in mind it does seem fitting for that aesthetic to return.
*Does your music reflect the current world?
We’re stuck in this doorway of a time portal between the future and the past. On a technical level, although we’ve acquired the same equipment used to make some of our favorite records on 4AD, Factory, and Rough Trade; from Pink Floyd’s old Marshall Time Modulator, used by Tones on Tail & Bauhaus, the MCI JH618 mixing console Kraftwerk used on Computer World, AMS delays & reverbs used on Joy Division by Martin Hannett, and the Korg KR-55 drum machine featured on Depeche Mode’s Speak and Spell and countless Cabaret Voltaire tracks; we can’t replicate the climate, the air, or even the molecular structure of the past. Despite having all those elements, the music we make ends up being a distorted refraction of the current world.
Since then, the world has been destroyed, ground up, rebuilt and polished. Our vision has changed, wide-eyed and discerning. We hope for a better future, but relish our past, echoing in the music, aesthetic, texture, and the medium itself. Knowing that most everyone will listen through cheap plastic earbuds and 2” laptop speakers, we’re making sure that there is an physical manifestation in the 3rd and 4th dimension of each HELIC.AL release, not just as a series of zeros and ones.
I’m not sure if reflects the world as a whole, but reflective of our corner of the world. One of the main differences with what we are currently doing is that we have the bigger picture in mind as we build. On the artist level, when consciously contributing to a sound/genre its common to think of each release to be your personal addition to that sound to help further define it. On the label level you can have any number of artists co-contributing to that sound which accounts for a more impactful impression on the sound as a whole. We are on the line of defining a new sound, but need to keep it tied to what exists for the time being.
*Why have you chosen to set your computers to the side and take on older techniques like tracking to 8-track tape and mastering direct to lacquer? Or why now?
When you’re working on a computer all day for film and advertising work, the last thing I want to do is unwind with another screen, mousing around to edit sounds. We both started making music on tape recorders and effects pedals, bouncing stuff from tape to tape and adding effects along the way. The computer process make it harder to inject chance and a human, organic.. non-quantized element to it. So the Interval album, transmit, was mastered out of dozens of tapes with several versions of each track, and we kept tracking it until we were happy. When we mixed down the record, we’d leave the effects on and rewind the tape. The sound would come out at like 3x the original volume and pierce our eardrums, but would “collect” the sound in reverse on the reverbs and delays. What was left was played back at half speed, making some truly unique tones. We decided to record it as the hidden tracks on the record. Same for the some of the reverse reverb trails that lead up to the vocals on waver; we’d flip the tape over, add the max amount of reverb on the AMS RMX, record it to another track, and play it back forwards again, making the words sound like they are getting sucked into each other. On Artefactos de Dolor, Alyssa, our vocalist recorded a bunch of vocal takes on a few tracks, with Charles whispering in reverse, and me trying to play a clarinet; the results are just bizarre and otherworldly. After mixing from master tape to lacquer, the drums sound thick and held together with a sonic glue that plugins can’t manage to replicate. We’re tracking everything in the studio to tape, the next album on 2” 16-track; even using a Nagra IV-L for location recording of tape loops, etc.
We have a geeky fascination with the past I suppose. We currently going for a somewhat retro feel (but at the same time looking forward) and of course the analog gear is helping us bring that. Its also been allowing us to move into personally uncharted territory, changing up the process and therefore the music. We’ve come full cycle with the gear. We didn’t have the same exact gear back in the late 80’s and early 90s but owned bits at different times.
*Are you still making digital music for other projects?
Charles has to, as he teaches music production at SAE in Manhattan, so by proxy, yes. Vertical Silence was tracked and arranged in Live, mixed on our studio board and effects, finally recorded to tape. I’ve been migrating my old sequences backwards from computer to an Akai MPC1000, bringing it as a carryon and working on tracks on the plane. When I make music for commercials and films, I sometimes resort to using a computer; it just makes more sense for the speed of things, delivery, but I feel like I’m boxed in with two left hands.
Yes, still producing music for the alias’s we’ve been using for most of our production history. I don’t think either one of us has broken up with our musical past. We are taking who we were with us into the future.
*Is there a commonality between all of the releases you’re planning (either musically or in production technique)?
I think we both have different, yet similar personalities, and we’re trying to explore those differences and similarities from project to project. When I first heard Vertical Silence, I was so mad that he was holding out on me; he wrote well over 50 tracks in less than 6 months, doing all the parts: synths, drums, bass and vocals! We could put it out as is now, but we’re using the aforementioned techniques to put things in a space beyond the silicon; getting it out of a computer, into the analog world, our approach with the rest of the works. We’re collaborating with other musicians, generations behind and ahead of us, working on some reissues and new projects from artists from the 1980s: Poison Dwarfs, DIN A Testbild, and in discussion with Robert Goerl, Stephen Mallinder and more, as well as Alyssa Barrera of Artefactos De Dolor, born in 1989, who have an affection for all of this.
We are and always have been challenging anyone that listens to our music. Even if it’s #pop it still comes from an angle that is unfamiliar to most. We both have been at this long enough to know how to push it to the edge of acceptance without completely losing definition. For example, anyone who thinks of what makes Detroit techno by definition would not think that making a song with a drum set and a bass guitar could be Detroit techno, since part of the definition of techno has been using a 909, 808 or some derivative drum machine. Really it’s all us, we put ourselves into whatever we are doing and it’s something that people who know us, will pick up on.