- Wed, 2010-03-10 13:04
Ed Handley and Andrew Turner have been experimenting with sound, collating beats and morphing the void between ear drum and mind for a long time. The Warp Records veterans most recent projects include original scores for Michael Arias's anime films, ambisonic narratives for a cycle of poems by renowned Sami artist Nils Aslak Valkaeapää and their ninth studio album Scintilli, which focuses on the exploration of synthetic acoustic sounds.
I Like Music caught up with Ed Handley backstage at the Royal Albert Hall Loading Bay. With Plaid headlining The Red Bull Music Academy 3-D Soundclash, a Warp vs Ninja Tunes night featuring a very expensive, three dimensional soundsystem, we chatted about the future of live electronica, the tools behind Scintilli and losing all sense of time...
"I Like Music because… it can make us.” Ed Handley, Plaid
ILM: You’re headliners of 3D Soundclash, billed as ‘ A 3D Audioscape. You can literally control sound in all kinds of three-dimensional parameters. From left to right, front to back, over and under.’ How has your set come together? What can we expect?
Ed: It’s very unusual to get a soundsystem that is three dimensional. Normally you don’t get an ‘up’. Even getting a surround system is unusual, so it’s a great opportunity. It’s a very expensive thing to put on. It’s a little bit hard to present music with it, to DJ, there’s no standard way of doing it. It’s all experimental.
ILM: How does that affect your time in the DJ booth?
Ed: You’re thinking about the spacialisation opposed to the mix. So maybe the mix suffers a bit. There’s a lot to do, you have to think about the position. And actually, unless you’re in the middle, that’s quite hard. Playing in the middle is difficult because of space. It’s all a bit of a challenge.
ILM: Do you think a set up such as this is the future of DJ sets?
Ed: Probably not, no. Most people just want power. Especially if they’re intoxicated, everything sounds like it’s three dimensional anyway. I think for occasional things it’s great. It’s just really expensive. That’s the problem. To get this many speakers is mad.
ILM: What is the ideal set up for playing your music?
Ed: We’re quite diverse in the music we make. We’ve done a few soundtracks, which is much calmer music. We also do some more dancey stuff, so location is dependent on that. If it’s dancey, it has to be somewhere where people can stand up and there is power. If you’re doing stuff without beats then it doesn’t really matter.
ILM: You’ve played all around the world. Where are some of the highlights? Best gigs?
Ed: We’ve played in Okinawa which is an Island South of Japan, which also has an American military base. That was the most unusual. We had lots of marines turn up with glow sticks. Really bizarre! It’s a bizarre place anyway, because there is the old, old culture of the Japanese and Tawainese. Then you have this huge American base. But we had a little holiday there. So that’s become really memorable. We played at the IMAX as well. That’s memorable just because of the sound, the sound is really tight in there. Plus we’ve played at a lot of little unusual festivals, things in the middle of woods and forests.
ILM: You recently developed new music for Nord Rute Part 1. How did the music for that project form and come together?
Ed: It’s an audio documentary which has been made by Ross Adams. He went to stay with the Sámi, who are an indigenous tribe from Norway. They used to be called the Lapse. The music is to narrate their story and celebrate their culture. I was there a couple of weeks ago and it’s like nowhere else. Their culture has been oppressed over the last few years, like many indigenous tribes. It was good for us to try and learn out there. It’s an unusual event in a warehouse. It’s an immersive environment. It’s going to be an ambi-sonic system, but it won’t have height.
ILM: Did you create the music when you came back from the trip?
Ed: No, I didn’t get a chance to go before we had to write the music. All we had was the sound recordings, which was good in a way. That was all we had to go on, so it was our interpretation of how it made us feel. There is also a story to the whole thing. So there was storytelling involved in the music too.
ILM: Music for a project such as that has a very clear, direct point of inspiration. In terms of Scintilli, your new record, did you work with a direct source of inspiration?
Ed: No, not really. It’s been so long since we’ve done an album that it’s formed from sporadic influences. Whatever has forced us to write music over the last few years really. There’s a bit of the theme with the sounds that we use. There are a lot of fake acoustic sounds. Modeling acoustic sounds with synthesizers. They almost sound real, but there’s something not quite real about them. That’s what is interesting to us at the moment. It’s quite a new area of technology.
ILM: What tools did you use?
Ed: So much is software based obviously. But with synthetic acoustic sounds, one way of doing it is to actually record. Hit a tin can or something. Then analyse it with some software. Work out what is in the sound and how the sound is made. Then replicate that with physical modeling. So every time you hit a key, it will do the acoustics and physics to work out how the sound is generated. It’s utterly pointless, because you can just go and hit a can. But the beauty of it is that it’s slightly unreal. It’s ghostly. It sounds acoustic, but there’s something artificial about it. We’ve always loved computer music, from Kraftwerk onwards. One of the attractions with it is it’s un-realness. It’s lack of humanity. The fact that it sounds like it comes from out of space. That’s something very attractive to us. The physical modeling thing is a slight twist on that. Acoustic sounds that you associate with a regular band, but are slightly wrong.
ILM: You’re performing as part of the Red Bull Music Academy. What would be your advice to the participants on forming a successful career with music?
Ed: It’s really hard at the moment to make any money, for most people. No one is buying much music. There are lots of gigs around so…. I think you’ve really got to do it because you really enjoy it. Unless you’re going for the commercial thing. Although there’s not that much money to be made in commercial music, it’s just not generating the money it used to make. I’m sort of comfortable a lot of the time from music, just about. It’s a brilliant way to spend your life. Quite indulgent. It’s well worth it if you really enjoy the music.
ILM: What is it that keeps your drive and passion alive? What do you love about your job?
Ed: It’s something you get used to very early on. The reasons why I started writing music? I’m not really sure. Because I’m quite shy and I wanted to express myself probably. Those same reasons have disappeared slightly. The reason we’re still doing it is partly out of habit. You get used to it. You get used to it as a way of expressing yourself. Everyone has to express themselves somehow. A lot of musicians are sociable, but, there are a lot of sacrifices with music. Especially if you do it a lot of the time. There’s something that you miss out on. You sort of get used to that. It’s very hard to stop because even in the moments when you don’t really love it there’s always something new. Especially because we’re doing computer based music. There’s always a new way of doing it. I get to hear music that I’ve never heard before. I’m still hearing music that was written a hundred years ago that is really shocking. So even if I’m getting tired, or bored of it, someone will play me something. It doesn’t have to be super technical music, but someone will always play something that has something you’ve never experienced before. I think that’s why you carry on. It’s partly habitual and it’s partly like a drug. You get used to that method of expressing yourself.
ILM: With so much experience, you must be able to tell when your music is right and it works. What does that feel like?
Ed: It gets harder to get that excitement. But definitely. You know. When you’re really writing or making music effectively, you lose sense of time. It’s kind of like obliteration. Not thinking. Maybe obliteration is the wrong word. It’s forgetting you’re human, forgetting that you’re going to die and that you have to pay the rent. It’s feeling happy ultimately, in a non-thinking, non-intellectual way. I suppose that’s why most people appreciate music, that they kind of forget themselves. Just for a bit.
ILM: Do you have a big music collection?
Ed: I used to. We used to collect vinyl, Andy and I. We sort of stopped because it was getting harder to find and really expensive.
ILM: Do you practice turntablism?
Ed: No. I’ve never been into that. I have friends that started when they were twelve and are still doing it. I never got into it like that. Now, I do just buy music online. Which is a bit sad. But there’s nowhere to really go to buy the music I collect. There’s a few dance specialists, but not much really. I don’t buy as much music as I used to generally. There’s some youthful thing about building a massive collection, but I don’t collect music anymore really.
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Ed: There’s an American artist called Mister Projectile. He’s release a new album and I just heard it the other day. I’ve followed him for years, he’s quite similar to us, so it’s a bit naff for me to recommend, but I would recommend his stuff! It’s quite subtle and he’s not just sticking with electronics, he’s messing round with all kinds of things.
ILM: Do your listening habits tend to stick within similar circles to your music?
Ed: Not really. I absorb as much as I can. Um....let me tell you something a bit different that I like, I like Kasabian! Well, sort of, I don’t love them. I don’t like the way they look actually. That’s what turns me off, they always look like they’re trying a bit too hard. But musically I think they’re sort of interesting. There’s something a bit left about them….