With his sophomore album ITSAME on FILM, due out 1st April, the highly secretive Brainwaltzera gives us the first glimpse into his personal life. Changed with time, but with the same rigorous approach to production that had him rumoured to be Apex Twin or a self-aware synth, we chat about the specificity of sound environments and Francis Bourgeois. The album was recorded in Rome, then Athens on make-shift rigs and homemade equipment including an e-cig bass guitar hybrid scattered across his home. Building on his early years living in Kenya listening to Gabber in the Serengeti, ITSAME is an inspiring moment in the history of IDM.
ITSAME [group Hugg] opens with ASMR-esque audio of birds tweeting, where did you sample this? Do you know what birdcall it is?
There are actually many individual recordings from each of the past four years intertwined in that short segment. The birds in particular were recorded in Dubai while I was visiting my sister who lives there.
Funny you mention ASMR. Since I was a kid I would get that brain tingling sensation from random sounds (ranging from the ruffling of papers and plastic bags to certain people’s voices). I used to think there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t until recently I realised there’s a name for it and loads of people get it. None of those ASMR videos trigger it for me though. It has to be completely unintentional, rather than on-demand.
It relates to people enjoying generic sounds of birds tweeting, without context, as they work to stay calm and focused. This increasing disengagement with our surroundings says something about our tolerance to outside sound. But there is so much joy in listening to the world around us. Where do you enjoy taking field recordings? What other sounds bring you joy and inspiration?
Yes! As I mentioned I recorded those birds far from home, yet those sounds might as well have been coming from my own bedroom window. I think when you’re not in your element you become way more sensitive to the surrounding soundscape. While unfamiliar sounds can be deeply affecting and exciting, sometimes even disorienting, familiar ones in a foreign setting can ground you, serving as a comforting reminder that we’re all cut from the same cloth.
I’ve been working on ITSAME sporadically for the past four years. During the last two, I produced on bits of my studio sprawled across our living room area and often kept mics open. Listening back to the recordings I was surprised at the variety of daily-life sounds that we don’t pay any attention to, despite their often musical qualities. Unlike our eyes which we can close at any moment and must do so in order to sleep, our ears are not biologically equipped with the ability to mute the sound. Instead, our brain is wired to phase sounds in and out. This means that unlike vision, where for the most part what you see is what you get, there are complex conscious and subconscious processes mixing what we hear and dictating how we hear it. I find this notion fascinating and it was a major inspiration for the making of this record.
Meanwhile, the snap of drums on Fwd: Re: late (Ref.:Karoshi) with some imagination could be the sound of a commuter train warped into oblivion. The title karoshi translates from Japanese as over-work death. How do you feel about trains? The title implies you do not think like Francis Bourgeois, who loves trains. When you’re working on new music do you work late into the night?
This is almost a Nardwuar level question, except the track that fits this exact description is Duel TM off an earlier EP. I recorded that on a train with a piece of gear I had bought moments before boarding - a nifty compact synth/sampler by a Swedish company called Teenage Engineering.
I actually love trains. Apparently not as much as Francis Bourgeois, but I wish I could spend more time on them.
As for Fwd: Re: late (Ref.:Karoshi), you spotted the reference to (metaphorical) death from overwork. Music is not my work, so this track refers to and was made during a 6-month phase when I was working from home almost 16 hour days, weekends included. It was a very intense time, yet I felt the need to get on my gear and harness the madness of this period in order to transform it into something other, which turned out to be this track. I think if you make music, it’s always interesting to do so during the very moments when you’re being stretched to your limits in other aspects of your life. You may find you have a heightened or off-kilter sense of melody and rhythm or even go down a path you may otherwise have considered a dead end.
You have mentioned in a previous interview your preference for slow production saying you “choose time-consuming and unnecessarily complex methods to accomplish what might sound like the simplest sound or effects chain”. We can see you made your own form of guitar-theremin on Instagram. How did you go about making it? Which track(s) feature(s) the new instrument? Is it the drone on Evening Narcomnastics [DON’T POST!]?
When I listen back to my music I tend to ponder on how I made individual sounds. Any sound that came easy haunts me later on, triggering something akin to imposter syndrome.
The guitar theremin, however, was a chance discovery. I was holding an e-cigarette while playing the bass and the magnets picked up the interference so I went with it. I ended up playing the e-cig/bass guitar theremin on Reptikon 7.
During your early years as a producer, I imagine making DIY synths was the way it was done without the means to buy high tech equipment. Do you believe that putting boundaries on your work, like having to produce music with just what you have, can increase innovation?
This makes me think of a graduation speech that was semi-viral a while back. It was about how one of the biggest issues of our time is that we’re spoiled for choice, something that has led to an inability to commit to a decision, even one with low stakes. The speaker compared this phenomenon to being stuck in infinite browsing mode on Netflix. I think this decision paralysis applies to nearly all creative endeavours these days. While there are certainly countless positive aspects to the democratisation of technology, it is now perhaps more difficult than ever before to make creative decisions and see them through. Given the abundance of choices, creative decisions are now more about setting boundaries and limitations, rather than trying to overcome them, as was the case not too long ago.
Your first release as Brainwaltzera came out in 2016, however, the heavy references to 90s IDM throughout your oeuvre implies you were around in the heyday of this movement. Can you hint at your experiences during that time? Were you in front of or behind the decks? Was it muddy or concrete on the floor?
In the early 90s, I was living in Kenya where there wasn’t much access to electronic music at the time, yet I was always in Europe during the summers. One summer, I was gifted a mixtape from a cousin of mine with all sorts of techno, gabber and jungle tracks that completely and permanently changed my perspective on music. I had nothing else of the sort to listen to for almost a year, yet my obsession over this tape only grew and it was rarely ejected from my walkman. I remember going on safari and listening to it incessantly throughout, despite the cognitive dissonance of observing herds of zebra and wildebeest frolicking peacefully in the Serengeti while listening to gabber … though when the lions started hunting them it made more sense. I had no idea who made this music, how it was made and what its purpose was (though my cousin accompanied the gift with enthusiastic descriptions of the parties he was going to). No one else around me seemed to understand it or appreciate it either. In any case, starved for more and without any possibility of obtaining it, the only alternative was to try to find ways to create it on my own.
You are nomadic and not associated with specific geographies. However, your latest album was recorded rooted in Rome and Athens. There is a religious quality to the calls that echo through Reptikon 7. Did the very visible and likely audible catholic presence in Rome have an impact on this? How do you feel about the role of the Church in Rome?
Interesting that you find a religious quality to this track. See this is what I love about electronic music and also why I think it’s tricky to provide context. This track is very much about toxic relationships. Yet it took you somewhere completely different. I hope I didn’t ruin it for you and you can continue listening to it the way you interpreted it.
Household appliances and the banal have an equal footing to this glimmer of the metaphysical in ITSAME. Why is repurposing the familiar into a surreal world something that interests you?
Like I mentioned earlier unless you’re on earphones, there’s a lot going on around you in terms of sounds that your brain phases in and out. While making this record I tried to weave these elements into the music, either repurposing them or giving them centre stage. This is what helped make ITSAME a personal musical journal of my past four years.
The drone-like the one on Reptikon 7 - is something that has fascinated humans since ancient civilisation. Its hypnotic, psychedelic and pre-natal quality are well noted by Harry Sword in Monolithic Undertow who explains as babies we can hear a form of drone from the rushing of parental blood at 88 decibels around us. Your album seems to allude to the familial and I’d love to hear your musings on the drone. Do the two come hand in hand in this album’s case?
Yes very much so. I also got a hold of a whacky drone synth when I started making this album and it features all over it. I also discovered drones in the buzzing of household appliances that I incorporated into the music in various ways. I’m fascinated by your comments on the drone, especially since most tend to emphasise the obvious primordial nature of rhythm, originating from our exposure to our mother’s heartbeat. This was a very subtle observation and I thank you for listening so attentively!
I imagine picking up the acoustic guitar on this album for PROVE UR NOT A ROBOT [SKIP] and PROVE UR NOT A ROBOT [SKIPPER] wasn’t purely to disprove another radical theory that as an anonymous artist you could also be a self-aware synth or computer software. Can you elaborate?
I’m not programmed to elaborate. But anyone who didn’t skip these tracks failed to prove they’re not bots.
Medal Headz stokes the fire of speculation around your identity. Any comments?
Just a day one fanboy.
As an anonymous performer, how do you plan on navigating this year’s plans for live performances? Will you wear a mask?
If the audience has to wear a mask so will I. It’s the responsible thing to do.
Ad Interim kindly does not have any advertising in it however it does speak to many people’s experiences of music on streaming services. Should we go back to buying CDs?
A while back I read that vinyl sales exceeded those of CDs for the first time since the advent of the latter. Even more recently, I read that CD sales are up again. This is amidst an unrelated NFT craze. Ownership of media, be it physical or digital, and how it affects the way we experience it is a huge discussion. It also involves generational factors and trend or nostalgia traps. Personally, I use every format, each for different purposes. I only recently subscribed to a streaming service and have yet to listen to an entire album that way. Yet it’s also been some time since I’ve chosen to listen to a single track that I randomly wanted to hear on physical media.
You close the album with No Fair 42T, was it a difficult birthday? I love the hitting a stick on the radiator tantrum and what sounds like a viola that turns into a sitar drone. Can I ask, is the French woman speaking in this one closing the circle started in your track, marzipan rhombus [birthday eDit] (2016) that quotes “on n’a rien a foutre” (we don’t give a fuck) from the film La maman et la Putain? Perhaps we give a fuck now.
The closing tracks on this and the previous record are both very close to my heart. This one was composed a little after a very close friend of mine passed away suddenly and while I was trying to come to terms with the loss. Due to the circumstances of his passing and the incredibly magnanimous decision of his family, his death saved the lives of many others through multiple organ donations. It was a lot to process.
Pre-order ITSAME now.