DJ, Techno producer, composer, experimentalist, avant-gard artist – the labels we can put on Austria’s finest techno export, Electric Indigo, are many and they all blend well with the impressive back catalog of this forward looking artist. With her roots working in Berlin’s finest record store Hardwax to today’s techno globetrotter Susanne Kirchmayr is a key contributor to the contemporary underground scene.
After releasing the Cinq/Zero EP last year it is now time for a new epic journey with the EP Seven being released over the summer.
Seven by Electric Indigo is techno! Techno in the sense original 80s techno with music performed by machines. But also techno traced back to Luigi Rossolo’s Art of Noises manifesto – music made by machines, including noise of the urban modern soundscape, sounds of industry. Maybe not a major factory but more a workshop where Electric Indigo crafts the soundscapes using any electric tool she finds use for. And the pulsing rhythms guides you around the different stations in the werkstatt. If the opener Sept is a normal day inte factory the second track Siete is the nightshift with more ambience and less hammer rod pulse. Then the two remixes by Tensal and Richter lets the factory workers have some leisure time with a more pulsing dance floor techno but leaving the door to the workshop open. Werkmeister Kirchmayr keeps pushing the boundaries in the techno werkstatt.
Growing up as an instrumental part of Vienna’s electronic music scene since the late 1980s, Susanne’s music adventures has taken her through hip hop and funk, techno of varying shades, experimental electronics, and leading-edge sound art. As regular a fixture on club flyers and festival marquees as she is behind compositions and cross-discipline projects that explore spatiotemporal manipulations in sound design, she is also the founder of the digital network and advocacy platform female:pressure.
With the new EP out of the door we wanted to ask Susanne all about it, the process behind it, and what the future holds for this creative artist with a strong footprint both in techno and experimental music.
You got into minimal techno early 90 – and continued for many years within that genre. What makes it interesting still?
I love minimalist approaches to music, be it instrumentation, structure, performance setting or the concept behind a piece. Reduction or restriction can be essential. But I’ve always DJed techno, not “minimal techno”. Techno has a very wide definition for me, it can encompass soundscapes, industrial noises, melodies, jazz-infused vibes, various time signatures and rhythmic structures, vocals, etc. In my understanding, pushing genre definitions is as immanent to techno as the search for sounds. These characteristics should result in innovation, at least to a certain extent. Even though techno has become a kind of folk music, following certain traditions and practices, its most interesting manifestations bear the disintegration of these traditions. On the other hand, I must say that the effect (repetitive) beats and bass have on me has not diminished. So ideally, a good techno set or track can both stimulate intellectually and physically. Apart from that, I also love to watch how fellow artists, young artists develop, how genres evolve, how passion for music can overcome geographic location, political circumstances, social barriers. There is a strong social dimension in my interest for music. The exchange with other artists is a very important motivation for me.
The title Cinq/Zero, we imagine, was a nod to your birthday, but what is behind the name “Seven” on your new EP?
Actually, both refer to a work premiered in 2012: “Chiffres”, for which I used the recordings of people counting to 20 in their mother tongues and dialects. I am still not done with this topic, still draw from that material, creating derivative works from it. So Sept, Siete and Cinq use mostly sounds from recordings of sevens or fives respectively. Zero actually does not and I called it Zero therefore. To make this a bit messy, here is a background story: The SCR-DS label boss, Nico, mixed up the track titles in the graphic layout of the labels for the vinyl. Withdrawing the whole pressing was not an option, so the only way to make up for the mistake was that I had to swap track titles. Now, you could think that the remixes were named wrongly then. But funny enough, Nico, again by mistake, also swapped their titles, so at the end, it was all corrected with just me re-naming my original track Cinq Zero and vice versa. This still confuses me today and I find it remarkable how attached a work like a techno track can be to its title. So everything I told you above applies to the other track – for you and everyone else but me 😉
If you compare your new EP Seven with last year’s Cinq/Zero how do you see that you have evolved since then? On Cinq/Zero we think you did an excellent job in marrying your techno roots with more electro acoustic timbres of the granular synthesis – is this a continuation of that journey?
Cinq/Zero, in particular Cinq, was more of a compromise with the expectations for techno released on a label related so strongly with the Suicide Club in Berlin. Sept is less compromising, and Siete isn’t at all. In Sept, I added a pretty steady snare drum pattern because my partner said it was difficult to get into my tracks on the dance floor as there are hardly any elements that one could hold on to. Meanwhile I would do it differently, I’d use it a lot less. I find it particularly challenging to make tracks that can work well in clubs because while creating, I crave for changes and spaced out, irregular elements. As a long-term DJ, I know the rules for a dance floor compatible track by heart, though, and this is conflicting.
I am constantly trying to find a way to incorporate both strands of my musical passion into one piece of music. The experimental, electro-acoustic music and my love for heavy beats, bass and dancing. I feel that I move forward but still have a lot ahead of me. And I can’t even define exactly (yet) what I’m aiming for…
On ‘Sept’ a number of different percussion instruments are being used, such as woodblocks or at least it sounds like woodblocks, is all being digitally generated or are using real instruments/samples as well?
I use some transposed (Linn) drum samples. But no samples of acoustic instruments. I also used samples of spoken languages. I’ve been creating a lot of very different sounds from recordings of spoken words in the past four years using granular synthesis – Robert Henke’s Granulator, to be precise. The digital processing is crucial to my work.
Granulator II is a Max4Live synthesizer based on the principle of quasi-synchronous granular synthesis. It creates a constant stream of short crossfading sections of the source sample, and the pitch, position and volume of each grain can be modulated in many ways to create a great variety of interesting sounds. Granulator II also offers two multimode filters in series to further shape the resulting timbre.
You have an amazing ability to create space and dynamics in your songs. Can you let us know a bit on the recording process of Seven and what are the main gear that has been put to use? Do you use field recording?
The Granulator II, a free MaxForLive device, is my favorite tool. Using the “Spread” parameter alone already creates so much space. Other favorite devices: EQ Eight, MicroDrum (another M4L device by Robert Henke), ConVoyage (an unreleased M4L device, it is a pretty experimental kind of convolution reverb that uses impulse responses of a virtually generated space).
Granular transformations has become a key ingredient in your compositions, what’s fascinating with granular synthesis?
It all started with a conceptual approach for a composition and my fascination for languages and dialects. I wanted to create a musical piece out of spoken numbers – above mentioned “Chiffres” which premiered at Wien Modern / e_may Festival, Vienna, in 2012. This restriction in basic raw material is extremely stimulating for me and the obvious way to create a really wide variety of sounds out of spoken words, or any recordings for that matter, is Granular Synthesis.
Another important work of mine is “Morpheme”. Its source material is the recording of a sentence Sadie Plant said at a panel discussion I also took part in: “To let noise into the system is a fine art both in cybernetic terms and in terms of making music, too.” This resonated in several ways with me and I fell in love with the idea to take this sentence and make a 35 minutes long music piece with it.
So Granular Synthesis / the Granulator help me realize quite rigorous conceptual approaches. It is both the challenge to find a vast spectrum of possible transformations of constrictive material and the characteristics of the Granulator synthesizer itself that motivate and inspire me. Additionally, I’d like to point out that I have a strong interest in linguistics, semantic shifting, language as a constituent of consciousness. To free words and morphemes gradually from their semantic and semiotic characteristics in order to find complete abstraction or a totally different significance is quite attractive to me.
On the flip side you have invited to artists; Hagen Richter and Héctor Sandoval aka Tensal, why did the choice fall on these two to do re-interpretations of your material and what is it that you like with their approach to music and re-mixing?
Hagen did a remix because HET is his label. I chose Tensal because I knew it would be good for the release to include a “real” techno version and because I played the same club night with him in Gijón in December 2015. He DJed after my live set and I just loved his open minded, multifaceted set. Ana and Uge from LCC have invited us both to their party and the credits must go to them as well! Héctor certainly did a great job in treating my samples with respect and still transforming them into a very functional tune.
What ignites your inspiration to produce new material and how do you go about materializing these ideas in the studio?
Many times it is quite trivial: an invitation to play at a festival, a commissioned composition, a request for a remix, a request for a release, a deadline.
I also find inspiration when seeing and hearing other people play live, especially when I can feel their devotion and love for or maybe even struggle with what they are doing.
Other times it is new devices: I started to work a lot with Borderlands Granular lately, for example. It is an extremely neat iPad app by Chris Carlson and I find it truly joyful to just play around with it. Or I meet people I can easily sympathize with who happen to make interesting tools like Cascade by Klaus Voltmer 🙂 I love to play with tools made by friends! It’s like I love to play records made by friends. This personal connection feels really good, it is extremely inspiring and helps me to deeply engage with a device or musical work.
The making of Cascade was inspired by the work of Austrian composer Peter Ablinger. He experimented in the late 1980’s with sound densification using 12 tape decks. Sound was recorded and played, recorded and played, and so on, until colored static noise itself was the result. In 1993-94 Peter Ablinger’s concept of sound densification was refined by Peter Bðhm, Wolfgang Musil (ELAK, University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna) and Thomas Musil (IEM, Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics, Graz). Thanks to the IRCAM Signal Processing Workstation (ISPW), that contained an at the time incredible powerful audio processor could for the first time sound densification be achieved in real time.
Apart from the minimalistic approach to music that you can find both in techno and in more ambient soundscapes, what more links these two genres together? As an example you have sited both Brian Eno and DJ Rush as persons that shaped your musical direction. What’s your relationship to the more academic Electro Acoustic music?
Academic Electro Acoustic music has had a lot more influence on me than I was aware of until about 15 years ago. Tape music, multi-channel works, acousmatic music, musique concrete, Max MSP, FM synthesis, all the famous composers around GRM, IRCAM, Cage, Radigue, Oliveros, Feldman, Reich… all these and much/many more have either direct or indirect impact on my work. Being aware of what has already been done is as important as it can be a restraint. I’m not a musicologist and moreover, most of my time is either absorbed by administrative work, daily business or actual work on projects and music. So I admittedly lack a lot of knowledge in every respect but that also might give me some freedom to realize ideas in my own way. My ignorance is becoming less, though.
Coming back to the first question here: What links techno and ambient soundscapes is sound design or the search for sounds and the immersive effect both can have. In many cases, soundscapes are constituent elements of techno tracks, too.
Do you see that there is a clear integration point between yourself as a composer, Techno-DJ and contemporary sound installation artist, or are you entering into or exploring different persona of yourself?
I experience these different roles mostly as mutually enriching but sometimes conflicting (as described above, in my third answer). They came along naturally, through the love for sounds, music making tools, experimentation and the willingness to rise to new challenges.
We know you are an explorative person and ready to engage in new experimental stuff, as you have done in working with “Das kleine Zimmer am Ende der Treppe”, how do you feel about working within fixed boundaries or limitations posed by events like these?
Yes, I love new challenges. Slightly excessive demands can speed up my learning process dramatically. The only limitation when creating music for a theatre play that I found really hard to adjust to is that of volume. To give you an example: In one of the two plays I made music for, the director wanted a specific aria towards the end. Played back at 0dB, was not loud enough for her taste. With the same PA and the same adjustments, my music was played back at about -60dB and she still demanded it to be lower… It was a bit grotesque. On the other hand, I find it really interesting to create atmospheres through sounds, accentuate the story line and acting, an aural counterpart of the visual stage setting.
Gear and the approach to improvisations on stage is really interesting – how do improvisations come into play on your albums and how do you preserve that feeling in your recorded sessions?
I haven’t been working with hardware synthesizers on stage for some years now. The main reason is that my means of generating sounds almost completely changed into the digital domain (computer, MIDI controllers, iPad etc ). I still improvise, though, when I play live. I do a lot of equalizing of the master sum, I play drum sounds or pads, I use my Eventide stomp box. I make certain parts longer or shorter, depending on the momentary feeling and atmosphere.
When I record / produce my music, I also record live improvisations and just take some parts of it into the final piece.
You have done a lot of collaborations over the years – are there any in particular that has contributed more to the artist you have become to be today? At least to us your work with Irradiation is really pushing the envelope in the contemporary club scene.
My most important collaborations certainly were those with Pia Palme. She is a demanding composer, a very critical mind, constantly scrutinizing her own work as well as the others’. Extraordinarily enriching as well is my work with Thomas Wagensommerer with whom I did several audiovisual pieces and hopefully will be able to do more! In our collaboration, he is responsible for the video part and I make the music. Often, I also develop the concept of a piece.
You have release quite a few EP’s and short formats but not really a full length album. How come? You have said somewhere that you have an album contract with Imbalance Computer Music. What happened?
It’s still on! I relatively often experience severe doubts and self-imposed setbacks. But in the past year, I’ve come to better terms with my music. I was just talking about it with Robert because I had another offer to release an album. I want to see it released by next summer. I think I’m old enough now for a full length release 😉
TIME TO DANCE
01. In Aeternam Vale – Hole [DEMENT3D 013]
02. Electric Indigo – 109.47 degrees [unreleased]
03. Svart1 – II / Electric Indigo Remix [OVUNQUE 002]]
04. OAKE – L’Esclandre [Stroboscopic Artefacts SAM024]]
05. DJ Red – Sweet Silence [Electric Deluxe 047]
06. Edit Select – Loop Continue / Dino Sabatini Remix [Dreiklang 002]
07. Monolake – Geometry Engine [imbalance computer music ML-031]
08. B12 – Conduktor [FireScope 002]
09. Charlotte Isabelle – Geridoo [Stroboscopic Artefacts SAM023]
10. Datura Dilema – Sun Gods [Subsist 4]]
11. DJ Red – Underwater [Electric Deluxe 047]
12. Electric Indigo – 109.47 degrees [unreleased]
13. Vertical Spectrum – Moving Object [Nachtstrom 130]
14. Peter van Hoesen – P2ME [Dekmantel UFO 1]
15. Klaudia Gawlas – Dark Ride [Recode Musik 052]]
16. Onon – In Time [FAITH 005]
17. Monolake – Dystopia [imbalance computer music ML-029]
18. Dubit – IV [Telemorph 003]
19. Rrose – Emboli [Khemia 002]]
20. Electric Indigo – 109.47 degrees [unreleased]
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