Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Benge Interview

Hello. Tara Busch has put up an interview with me on her blog Analog Suicide where I talk about my new album Abstraxa and working with the Buchla modular synthesiser

Tara: Tell me how your new album Abstraxa came about?

Benge: I put together a small Buchla system last year and I have spent quite a lot of time getting to know it. It works very differently to all the other modulars out there, with the possible exception of the Serge Modular which has some similarities and came from the same school of thought (ie California in the late 1960s, early 70s). So, having got my head round its quirky and somewhat unconventional programming structure, (Buchla doesn’t provide proper user manuals, that would take the fun out of learning it!) I decided to concentrate on composing some pieces, with the idea of letting the Buchla lead the way rather than me impose too much of myself on it.

T: So were all the pieces on the album self-composing? I mean – did you just let the Buchla run by itself?

B: Not exactly, but I did set the Buchla up so that I could interact with the sounds as they went along. So for example, I would set up a short sequence with automated timbres (via LFOs) and then manually adjust the clock speed and pitch of the oscillators and modulations. I would then record a second pass and respond to the changes in the first one so it was like using chance elements to help compose the pieces.

T: When did you know the pieces were finished?

B: I wanted to keep this record really simple, so with that in mind I tried to do as little as possible. There were quite a few attempts that I discarded after listening to them for a while. In the end I recorded lots of pieces and kept the ones that seemed to work best, on their own and also as a group.

T: You added some reverb and delay effects to the tracks, what was the thinking behind this?

B: Actually I didn’t add the effects on top of the tracks, I built them into the system patches. One of the nice things about modular synthesis is you can decide the signal flow and design your own audio chains. On the Buchla, there’s a really great mixer (the 227e System Interface) which allows you to automate levels and panning with LFOs and also patch in external signals. So I set up some of the channels to go out to a simple spring reverb and also a delay line then brought the effected signals back into the automated patch on the mixer, and sometimes through other treatments like the band-pass filter and so on. So the effects were integral to the way I composed and interacted with the tracks.

T: Overall the record sounds like it could have been recorded 40 years ago. I know in your other work with your collaboration with John Foxx (as The Maths) you make use exclusively of old equipment. Why do you have this fascination with vintage gear?

B: Actually most of the Buchla 200e is brand new and uses modern digital processors to do it’s thing, but I guess it stays true to the original design concept, which is now almost 50 years old. But yes – I do have a total obsession with old stuff, and I think this comes from a desire to explore all these amazing machines that have sometimes been forgotten about. I mean, not in the case of the Buchla, but some of the things I use in the studio, and even some of the procedures I use, have been superseded so many times and refined and perfected and miniaturised and eventually turned into virtual computer versions that they have no character or soul left. So I prefer to use all the forgotten and abandoned things because I think they have more character. And as John Foxx recently pointed out to me, recording these old electronic instruments and effects units on very modern high resolution digital recorders and speakers means we can hear it all so much better than when the original equipment was made. You can suddenly hear the raw power of these pure analog signals.

T: Your work seems to be getting more abstract with each album (the last one being Twenty Systems). Is this trend going to continue?

B: I don’t have a plan to do that, but I guess this is the direction I am exploring more with my solo work. I feel that my various collaborations take up more melodic and rhythmic explorations, and when I work by myself I want to kind of do the opposite. Usually after a busy day in the studio making more structured music I go home and put some really abstract sounds on to clear my head. I love listening to early Morton Subotnick, or something like Michael Czajkowski’s People The Sky, a really obscure Buchla album which was recorded on Subotnick’s Buchla 100 system I believe, in 1969. I had my Buchla system set up at home while I’ve been learning how to use it, and this album is the result of my initial experiments.

T: Will you release this as a CD album as opposed to just online via Bandcamp?

B: I wanted to do this as an exclusive digital download release and see what it felt like and its been pretty good actually. There’s something really refreshing about recording and mastering an album and then putting it out there immediately without having to wait for all the usual release-schedule things, which can take months and months to do with a conventional CD. But I might re-issue it in some form in the future, maybe as a 12 inch vinyl or something.

T: Whats next for you?

B: As Benge I’ve got another quite abstract synthesiser only mini-album called Loop Series coming out very soon as a C30 cassette on the Chemical Tapes label. In fact I literally just opened the parcel today with my copies of the tape in and they look beautiful, so its time to dig out and hook up the old stereo tape player again.

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