*Download the mix here.
When the end of summer is nigh, listening to an album like “Sommer” can be highly stimulating, because its sound doesn't transmit the scorching, dog day heat (those days are gone now), but the calm sobriety of the September nights, when the temperature is still high but never asphyxiating. Of course, I'm talking about September in Spain. Rod Modell says it himself: to him, summer isn't the season of heat but of nature being at its peak, especially the part we in the northern hemisphere are entering now. That's why his music moves at an easy pace, almost static, zig-zagging between muffled 4x4 beats and bass lines pumping in the distance. After last year's album “Hash-Bar Loops”, Deepchord debut on Soma (after a long decade releasing from the deepest American underground), Rod Modell is back to satisfy our need for hypnotic, sonic massages, with an album that delivers exactly what a project like this promises. And to commemorate and complete the job, today he's bringing us an exclusive mix that, for 90 minutes, elaborates further on the idea of parting, with tracks by likeminded producers like Morphosis, Pendle Coven, The Black Dog, and Mark Ernestus.
Rod Modell is a man who's always busy with several projects at a time. A sound engineer, field recorder and photographer; over the years he has been making music using the monikers of Deepchord, Echospace (with his friend Stephen Hitchell), and CV313, and also under his own name - which is when he omits the beats and instead focuses on fluffed-up layers of turbid ambient. He says he can go five months without entering a recording studio, only to go in afterwards, when inspired, and stay there for months on end, draining himself emotionally, creating his deep, torrential and raw music. So far, 2012 has been a productive year for him: apart from “Sommer”, he released two more records on the label he runs alongside Hitchell, echospace [detroit], the compilation “Altering Illusions” and the ambient album “Silent World”; and now this mix, downloadable for free. But not without first reading everything Modell has to say about his music.
There's always an intense layer of field recordings in all your albums, and generally on each record there's an identification of where the sounds were recorded: Tokyo and Barcelona for “Liumin”, Amsterdam for “Hash-Bar Loops”... For "Sommer", the setting seems to be a beach near your home. What else can you tell us about that place, why is so important for you?
It’s a place that I’ve gone to since 1985. It’s a very metaphysical place where the St. Clair River meets Lake Huron. Historically, these spots where a river meets a large lake are very spiritually significant. American Indian tribes would set up their communities in these spots. Almost every night without fail, I sit out here before going to sleep. It’s serene and darkly beautiful, but I’ve never recorded a place just because it’s beautiful... I have to be overcome with an overwhelming energy to get the wav recorded out of the bag. I have to feel something. I think these vibrations seep into the recordings I make at a location. Even the field recordings on “Liumin” have some extremely strange metaphysical phenomena captured. There are very unexplainable sounds in some of those.
This time, the sounds are not from a city, but from a wild location. What kind of sounds were you looking for? Did "Sommer" demand something different?
With “Sommer”, I went through archives of recordings, searching for lighter soundfields created specifically in summer months. It was important to find “aquatic sounds”. Organic and soothing. Keeping a little more distance than usual from sounds that are dark.
When deciding a place, does the city or the natural locations you capture the noises from inform in a decisive fashion the way the final album sounds?
It’s strange... I combine field-recordings like a guitarist combines chords to create a progression. I think I go through numerous ones, combining them, and moving-on and trying a few different ones and maybe coming back to one that I liked earlier. When the right one drops into a track, it just feels right. Like combining the right chords. It’s intuitive. I pay attention to how it feels rather than having a preconceived notion of what I want. Being more of a sound designer, I can do this. Maybe a musician couldn’t. A musician may have a problem calling a field recording an instrument, but a sound designer doesn’t. Thinking of what I do outside the realms of music really offers me a unique freedom that musicians don’t experience.
If you talk to a photographer, they'll tell you each city makes photography different because of the light, which is a physics thing related to the atmosphere and the placing in space; things you cannot change it. Does it happen the same with soundscapes?
As a photographer, I can understand this. I would say, in a way... yes. But it’s deeper and more complicated with sound. With a photograph, you see what you see. Field recordings cause the mind to run amok because it has to fabricate a visual reference for what you’re hearing. A photo is simple on the brain. A field recording isn’t. This offers the potential for manipulating audio cues to force the mind to materialize a particular visual. Sometimes I take 3 different field recordings, and each is filtered in a certain way to accentuate what I want to pull from that recording. When I combine all 3, you get a weird juxtaposition of time and space. Elements from 3 different places, 3 different countries, 3 different vibrational fields etc., all combined into one image that the mind thinks was recorded in one place, one shot. So it’s otherworldly and surreal. It’s a place that doesn't exist on the planet. You created a new reality.
This album is called “Sommer” and it refers to the summer season. Which qualities of the season were the ones you wanted to express? (For some people, it is heat, but summer is also the season of the plenitude of nature, the most bucolic and serene moment of the year.)
Definitely the nature-based elements. This is a primary influence of all my music. More than any musician or musical reference. The feeling of your feet in the warm sand, or cool water. The wind when sailing (one of my favourite pastimes). I think sound-design is a far better tool for conveying these sensations than song-writing. In a song, a songwriter can sing about an experience and the listener may or may not relate. A sound plugs directly into the subconscious. I think it bypasses all interpretation-circuitry and is understood by every language. It’s universal... these sounds have been with us since the beginning of time. It’s in the core of all human brains. Way better than words. Like speaking with beautiful fragrances.
“The Coldest Season” was about winter, obviously. Is “Sommer” its opposite in a sense? If so, what do you think has changed since then?
Basically, a project is influenced by the stimulus around me at the time of recording. During “The Coldest Season”, I was in Michigan’s upper-peninsula photographing snow-covered countryside in the middle of winter. I was really taken by the amazing beauty of this. It got rolled up into the music that I was involved with at the time. Likewise, I was putting the final touches on “Sommer” in spring-time, and it was balmy, blue skies, windows in the studio open and a breeze blowing in from the beach. Really fantastic. Just like the wintertime during “The Coldest Season”... that stimulus got balled-up into the final sound. I’m a conduit for conditions around me. Maybe this autumn, I’ll record more while back in Amsterdam, and it may have a cold feel again. All the albums are like photographs. Some taken in summer and some in winter.
And if it isn't, do you have any plans, or comparable project, of creating an album about autumn and another about spring, like a four-season cycle?
Not really. Honestly, never really occurred to me. I think I would stay away from that because it’s been done so many times in the past. Pete Namlook’s (excellent) series on Fax comes to mind.
When you think about seasons, you think about weather and nature: snow, blooming trees, rain. But your music sounds very ‘urban’, not only because of the field recordings captured in some cities at night (the sound is very structured and harmonic, as if it's architecture). What are the proportions of nature / urbanization / outer space in the Deepchord program?
Maybe ‘space’ (and how the sounds sit in that space), rather than ‘outer space’ is the first priority. With a DC track, the very last things added are always the beats/ bass and measure. I work primarily with audio loopers like Oberheim EDP and Lexicon JamMan. Most synths in my studio don’t have anything plugged into the midi inputs. I play them live into loopers, and hit the record-pedal when I get something interesting, then switch to another channel on the looper and add more layers. These are the “loops” referred to in the title “Hash Bar Loops”. They are audio loops not sequenced midi. So once I build up a big lush texture that I like... I’ll connect a drum machine and add the rhythmic elements... sometimes days (or weeks) later. Most of the DC versions that I listen to around my house are the pre-beat versions. Just textural blossoms of sound polyrhythmically looping endlessly. By adding TR909 DNA, I’m able to make techno a host organism. It’s like looking through a microscope in a lab. One subtle change to the DNA structure, and it becomes another life-form.
Did Stephen help in any parts of “Sommer”?
Steve didn’t contribute anything musically, but being a great friend who I speak with often, he contributes support and encouragement. I work on DC stuff when he’s occupied with other things. Steve seems to have less free-time than I do lately. When he gets the time, we work on ES. If he’s occupied or I’m somewhere alone (Amsterdam or Berlin), I’m working on DC stuff.
Some days ago, you also released “Silent World”. What is this project exactly and how did you become involved in the film?
Well... I went to art school in the 1980’s for fine art photography. I’ve always done photography as a pastime and recently got into video. A few years ago, I bought a Canon 5DmkII DSLR with no intention of making video with it. Then at some point... I made the mistake of pressing the video record button and looking at what I captured. I was stunned at the quality. Now I don’t use it for still photography anymore. I’ve been accumulating footage all over the planet for 3 years and have started making visual collages combined with music. Steve was always encouraging me to develop these visuals into some sort of unified whole. He’s really been pushing to assemble some sort of cohesive project with the video and music. Recently, I’ve been making short experiments with (vague) storylines rather than completely atmospheric video, and the tests have been good. I started assembling a full project combined with the music, and Steve and I have been referring to the project as “Silent World”. The final result will see the light of day in the next year. Maybe the projection for “late 2012” may have been a little overzealous. When we say things like that, it seems that we mean.... “will be released late 2012... so long as the workload remains as it is now” (which it never does). Other issues arise that require time and attention. Lots has been going on with the release of “Sommer”, and a DC tour got planned after we projected the DVD release date. So it’s back on temporary hold. Whenever I’m confronted with the option of rushing something to meet a deadline, or pushing it back a little and making it better quality.... I push back. In the past, I’ve done it the other way, and was unhappy that I rushed things. I want it to be exactly what I visualize, even if it takes 6-8 more months.
The core of “Silent World” came from recording sessions done for “Liumin”. When we originally recorded the follow up to “The Coldest Season” (later to become “Liumin”), Modern Love thought it may be a little too ambient. They were totally respectful and professional, and said that if we felt strongly about it they were cool releasing it as is, but suggested notching it up a little. So we did, and in the process, certain tracks / elements got replaced / discarded. Recently, Steve and I rediscovered these discarded elements, and decided to rework them. We threaded up the tapes, added to them, and polished them up... in addition to finding completely new material. This is how “Silent World” was born. It’s a collection of original demos / versions that were changed for “Liumin” (like “BCN Dub”), plus newly finished material that was started back then. This was the material that I was using for my film experiments because at the time, I didn’t know that it would ever be released.
It seems this is going to be a busy year for you and Steve: “Altering Illusions”, “Silent World”, now “Sommer”, the Variant CD... and we're still in September. Will there be any more records until the end of 2012?
Difficult to say. Steve and I work in a peculiar way. Neither of us are the type to go into the studio every day and work for 4 hours. I wish I could do that. I’m envious of those who can. For me (and Steve), no music will get done for 4-5 months. During that time, zero time is spent in the studio. Then, something influences me (or Steve), and it’s an avalanche of recordings. Sometime I go for 6 months with no time in the studio, then I become profoundly moved by an experience, or good weather, or bad weather etc., and I struggle to get it all recorded before the inspiration fades. But my overall general policy is to not force it, and not rush it. So, I’m not sure I’ll be inspired anymore this year or not. Maybe not till spring 2013. When it hits, I roll the tape. We’ll have to see. There are a few things that are half done. Maybe those will get wrapped up, but probably not. I feel pretty drained from making “Sommer”. That’s a good thing.
Recently you reissued the Sons Of The Dragons material. I remember buying the 2x12” back in 2008, but never figured out it was related to you until that 12”, “Journey to Qu Ni”, appeared at echospace [detroit]. Why was SOTD stopped so suddenly and why have you reissued the material now, without further noticing?
SOTD is mainly Steve’s baby. I didn’t really have much to do with it other than offering him feedback during recording sessions. Steve has a real passion for more pure Detroit techno sounds and needed an outlet for this energy. SOTD is this. I don’t really think it was intended to be a long-term project with lots of releases. I think he said what he needed to say, made a remarkable piece of art, and moved on. Regarding reissue... I think Steve just wanted to make it more readily accessible.
Some fans have the right to complain about the pricing of some of your records, especially the ones you release through your label: the vinyl for “Silent World” is around 60 dollars, and I paid 90 dollars for “Altering Illusion”. I don't regret doing it, not at all! But it's expensive and many people can’t afford paying these amounts. Is it possible to do something about it, or is that the only way you can put out quality vinyl?
Well.... we also sympathize with them. Honestly... there’s smaller profit margin in pressing vinyl now than ever. Even in lieu of these high prices, we are making less than with the cheap records 10 years ago. I recently came across a receipt for an old DC twelve-inch, and was astounded how the prices have risen over 10 years. Plating-costs, pressing, jackets etc. have risen considerably. Also, ES releases are designed ground-up as a collectors’ item. The “extras” like coloured marble vinyl, full-colour gatefold jackets, and special-order inner jackets REALLY make the price of manufacture skyrocket. There’s a reason why most labels release black vinyl in white die-cut jackets with Black & White labels. Doing that would cost 1⁄4 the price. “Altering Illusion” was particularly expensive. There was nothing ‘usual’ about that one. Pressing 500 of something like that.... we don’t hit the minimums for price breaks. 99% of people interested in making something like that flinch and skip it after they request a price quote. But we figure we’ll look back in 10-20 years and be happy we created something really special and hope fans will feel similar. I guess it’s a gamble. With the proliferation of illegal digital downloads, making a special, unique package seems more relevant than ever. That can’t be downloaded. There’s also price-gouging with retailers and resellers on eBay and Discogs. There have been projects that have been sold wholesale to distributors at a price that just allowed us to just break even, and later we were surprised at what they were selling at. With some of these ES releases, the distributors were making much more than us. Maybe we should consider making the releases more pedestrian... black vinyl, white sleeves, one colour label. It would be substantially less costly, but also less special. Something to consider. Maybe we’ll try one as an experiment and see. I personally think ES fans have come to expect more, because in the end.... the releases sell out quickly. Definitely something to discuss with Steve though.
Your solo material as Rod Modell has always been more drone-ambient oriented, and Deepchord has always been the place for beats, dub and heavy atmospheres. What's the reasoning behind keeping these two approaches separate? Are you afraid the ‘dronest’ form might be ‘contaminated’ by beats?
The reasons are evaporating. I think when I started making these delineations... I was more concerned than today. Maybe this is why Deepchord is becoming more ambient etc. I used to think it was necessary to do this. I observed many artists doing it this way, and thought it made sense 10 years ago. Like Front Line Assembly releasing more ambient material under the name Delerium or Synaesthesia, and more dance material under the name Intermix, and Noise Unit for another facet. I recall Bill Leeb talking about his reasoning for this many years ago, and thought it sounded like a service to the fanbase because then you know what to expect from each alias. Less confusion for the buyers. But I think now... 10+ years later, I don’t bother. Now I figure, “this is what I do, that’s that”. Maybe 10+ years later I think it’s less confusing not doing that anymore. I don’t think the market is as complex as it once was. I remember 15 years ago, people were having arguments in dance-music stores.... “this isn’t Latin House, it’s Deep House” etc. There were 100 variations of every sub-sub category. Gladly... at some point, everyone said “let's stop all this nonsense and just call it good electronic music”. House aficionados felt like it made them look more knowledgeable when they corrected other house aficionados. It was ridiculous. My need to have different names for different sounds arose from this lunacy. It had more to do with the marketing that made it seem necessary. Gladly... it’s not necessary anymore. Thankfully people have moved beyond this.
You're a big fan of noise and once – when I interviewed you in Barcelona - you told me you frequently listened to Merzbow. But you don't make noise material, not that way. What keeps you away from it?
Interestingly I still love noise. More than music. But it must be soft noise. I went through a big Japanese noise period because I thought these guys were really pushing the envelope. I have a healthy admiration for people who do this. Some of that Japanese noise is really amazing once you get beyond the harshness of it. There is a brutal exterior with subtle swirling going on underneath. I was really trying to understand what was happening in this music. I was really into Masonna. Then more Japanese rock like Fushitsusha / Keiji Haino. But eventually started noticing the negative impact of large amounts of this. It was dulling my senses. I recall a similar phenomenon in the 1980’s when I listened to nothing but the Swans for 2 years straight. But I think you have to know evil to appreciate good, so maybe I better understand soft-sounds due to my relationship with this harder stuff. I still love noise, but things like “Wind” by Francisco López, “Room With Sky” by John Hudak, or maybe “Continue” by Lull. My days of sitting in a dark room with a blue laser going and some big EAW cabinets playing MSBR at full-blast for 6 hours straight are over.
Albums Echospace - Liumin
Albums DeepChord - Sommer
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