Remaining committed to working exclusively with modular synthesizers, the Netherlands-born musician Colin Benders relentlessly experiments with sound to connect with own instincts. He now releases his new five-track album, Rigmarole, as a result of his live streams throughout the global pandemic. “Sure, there will be consequences and I'll have some confused ravers at one of my more classical performances, but I really want to do all of it,” he says when asked about his brave new work.
The five tracks that make up this new album in which other artists have collaborated, contributing their vision at different stages of the creative process, are puzzle pieces or chapters integrated into a common story. Although his music is difficult to classify (we highly recommend you to watch the videos of his live performances on YouTube, they will not leave you indifferent), Colin has built a community with shared interests to which he feels very connected. A special mention goes to his alliance with multidisciplinary artist Chris Kore, who has contributed her incredible artwork to Rigmarole. We delve into this exciting album and collaboration in our conversation.
Colin, could you please briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Gladly I’m a musician from the Netherlands. I’ve spent most of my life exploring and discovering ways to express myself with music. After having worked with classical, jazz, hip-hop and orchestras for a long time, I have committed the last few years to work exclusively with modular synthesizers.
I wanted to start by talking about your new work Rigmarole, but after having watched some videos of you performing live I need to ask you about your way of making and understanding music. You look like a sound wizard, your work is amazing. How and when did your first approach to these stunning soundscapes come about?
I think a big part of my approach stems from my experiments with orchestral improvisation. I spent a long time figuring out how to establish a hive-like mind synergy between musicians, where we did not have scores or compositions but worked with sign language to navigate our jams with each other. Lots of fun. Anyway, when I started working with modular synths, I had a keen interest in figuring out if this same approach was possible with this setup. It took me years to figure it all out but in the end, I found what I was looking for: a real-time composition instrument that allowed me to have a very direct link between ideas and conception.
It's as if electronics and techno go one step further, away from drowsy standards and mimetic attitudes. How would you define your sound? Do you feel part of a specific musical genre?
I have no idea how to define my sound. I’ve never really pursued any one genre. I grew up listening to everything and was always especially focused on whatever emotion was hard-coded into the notes and riffs I heard. To me, the genre is secondary to intent and tension. I’m not sure if there’s a genre I would be part of or would want to restrict myself to. There’s too much cool stuff to explore still.
Let’s talk about the new five-track album, Rigmarole. A work you recorded during lockdown. What can you tell us about this release?
This release stems from my lockdown live streams which I started doing when we had to self isolate in early 2020. I would wake up, power on my instruments, start the cameras and jam for hours on end. These streams would go all over the place, one day I'd be exploring some traditional east coast electronics, the next day I'd be going for a deep gritty techno tunnel. Rigmarole is the result of one of these days. The reason I picked this one for release is that the entire arc made sense, in a very storytelling kind of way. I listened back to it many times and really felt that this one captured my grittier work really well.
Would you say this is your most complete project to date? Do you think you've found your ultimate sound?
Yes. No. Well, maybe. For years I was terrified of releasing anything at all. it's this stupid thing where I am afraid people will start expecting a certain type of result from me and put me in a filing cabinet with similar sounds to that one result they know. So my thinking has always been "if I don't release anything, I'm free to do everything". These past two years gave me a lot of time to talk with people about this fear of mine and I came to the conclusion that my reasoning was flawed. I'm free to do whatever I want, and with that, I am free to release everything that I am proud of. Sure, there will be consequences and I'll have some confused ravers at one of my more classical performances, but I really want to do all of it. To bring that back to Rigmarole, I think it's a very important piece of the puzzle for me. It's a standalone experience that I am very proud of and where I feel it is what I want it to be. And if I zoom out a bit more, it will be representative of one of the many sounds I am interested in, all of which I hope to one day explore and release once I have a worthy representation of my idea of it.
From This Is Fine to Carry Me, each track brings us a sound ecosystem. Tracks between ten and twenty-five minutes long are turned into stories with their own identity. What would you highlight about each of them?
For starters, Rigmarole is slow. It's not produced to fit the mould of perfectly timed breaks or any of that. A big part of the album's pace becomes apparent in the opening track, This is fine, where you're invited to just lean into the emptiness of it all. The only thing that mattered to me at the time of creation was establishing enough tension to suck you in, like a guided meditation of sorts. Wait is an escalation of This Is Fine, kind of the second chapter of sorts. What I like about this one is that I recognise my live decision-making very well in this track. The more aggressive underlying threatening vibes which keep bubbling up until it just erupts was very defining for the rest of the set, I don't think the rest of the tracks would have happened the way they did if I paced myself. What's That Noise is a contrast point. Up until that point, melodies are used sparsely so the biggest contrast that could be made was to go heavy on that. I Can't Feel My Legs is pretty much the final stretch. All the tracks built up to that point and from there on it's just riding that wave. At the end of that one, Carry Me is the track that brings everything full cycle again. Back into a more soothing, calming state closer related to the opening track. What I think is important to highlight about this album is that the entire album could be seen as one set, split into five chapters. That's where it all makes the most sense.
A few days ago, the cancellation of your show in Berghain was announced due to health restrictions to slow the spread of omicron. "I'm not going to lie, this hurts," you said then. What do you enjoy the most about live performances?
[Laughs] so much. For starters, there's the club experience. Nothing compares to that, it's a different world and vibe. Everyone is there to enjoy this indescribable energy that is unique to these environments. From the performing side, it's another trip altogether. You get to weave tension spans and take people on a journey of sorts. It's also one of those moments where you don't think, you just do. It's a very intuitive process and I love that.
“You just pushed me out of a sad mood, thanks so much for your energy” or “one of the purest sounds I have heard in my life” are some of the comments we find on your YouTube videos. It’s undoubtedly many people appreciate your art. Do you pay attention to people's feedback or do you prefer to stay away from the reactions of the audience, thus avoiding them conditioning your way of doing things?
I'm always very happy to read positive reactions like that. I used to shy away from compliments about my work, both for how it would affect my work and for how hard it was to process these positive reactions. These days I still try not to pay too much attention to feedback like this. However, I must say I really enjoy how much easier it has become to talk to people about shared interests. There are a lot of people out there with the same interests as me, a lot of the people who listen to my music are experienced with modular instruments too; so quite often we end up talking about all kinds of things. My discord community has become an awesome place for such interactions, where we're always talking about just about anything modular related. A few years back, this would not have been possible for me I think.
Rigmarole is being released on Hiss & Hertz. All tracks are composed and performed by you, but Pieter Vonk, Zino Mikorey, Daan Rietbergen and Chris Kore have also contributed to making it happen. What functions have each of you assumed and how have you worked altogether?
To start with Pieter, he made sense of the mixing process. When I record, I hardly pay attention to levels or dynamics etc. What Pieter does is pretty much lift the veil on everything that's recorded during my sessions. It's a polishing process of sorts to bring out the most of the recordings. Zino does the mastering, which is the final part of the chain. When Zino is done, the results are basically locked and that will be how everyone hears it. Daan worked on the graphic system of the outer artwork, each one of my releases is a different combination of black orbs and lines on grey background. I'll be working with Daan on all my future releases. I asked Chris for the inner artwork, which is the triptych of the machine creature you see in the vinyl box. She also made the video fragments for each individual track. I love her style, so I wanted her to have full freedom over what she felt was right for this release, and then support the best way to present these results to the world.
And what can you tell us about your next projects? Would you like to collaborate soon together on other initiatives?
There's so much we can still explore and work on. I'd love to approach it all as a playground and see what happens. And I'd absolutely love to collaborate on other projects too, even if they don't exist yet. There is plenty of time to explore fun stuff!