DECEMBER 12, 2010
With the release of Moment Again Elsewhere - his second album for Anticipate Recordings - Morgan Packard has established himself as one of the most forward thinking producers working in electronic music today. We managed to catch up with Packard via email to discuss his new found love of techno, homemade software applications and the joys of creating pyramid structures from recycled printer paper...
Percussion Lab: Moment Again Elsewhere marks a distinctive shift away from Airships Fill The Sky. What influenced your aesthetic direction for this new project? What were you aiming to achieve with the album?
Morgan Packard: I'm trying to sound more like myself. So, much of the shift you hear may be me discarding sounds, techniques, influences. Paring down. I deliberately used almost no reverb on Moment Again Elsewhere, because I'm getting tired of the shiny sound that nice reverb gives everybody these days. It creates a sheen that totally colors everything. And a huge amount of current music has that same sheen. It's all bathed in the same nice software effects. So the new album is a little dryer, not so lush, but also, I think, sounds more like me, and less like the designer of the reverb. Another big difference in the sounds of the two albums is the mastering. Airships Fill the Sky is mastered fairly aggressively, as most electronic music is. It's very loud. It feels kind of in-your-face. The mastering job on Moment Again Elsewhere was much gentler, less concerned with making it sound hot and punchy, more concerned with just balancing things out, making it feel good, letting it breathe, releasing the true character of the music.
PL: You recently spent some time in Berlin, presumably soaking in the sounds and culture of the techno community. Did this influence the album at all? Is Moment Again Elsewhere, in a sense, your "techno" album?
MP: The album was done well before the move to Berlin. But it's no secret that I've become enamored with some of the sounds of that city. Like I said before, I seem to be moving away from a really lush, richly layered sound toward something a little more sparse, a little more focused. It's really really, really hard to make music with space in it. I'm not so good at it. But I think use of space is something that separates good music from great music. So I'm trying to learn how to use more space. Moment Again Elsewhere might reveal more of my techno interests than my previous music. But I'm probably going to go deeper in to that sound before moving on, and the next stuff I do will probably be even more techno influenced.
PL: Your music seems to occupy a rare space between "club" music and more abstracted, home listening forms. When you set out to produce a track, what is your goal? Do you set out with a preset notion of how want your audience to engage with the music?
MP: It's important to me that my music works in the foreground as well as the background. When I'm making music, I lie down and listen with headphones to what I've created, make some notes, go back and tweak. I also put it on in the background while I'm doing other stuff, just to make sure it makes the space I'm in feel good. I take from the club world the notion that music doesn't need to be listened to with 100% of one's attention. I guess my music is meant to be sort of halfway listened to.
These days I'm trying to understand club music better. I'm in a sort of study mode now, which I think is very useful. It's not necessarily the mode in which I'll make the rules and clear benchmarks very interesting, something to push against. So, lately, when I'm making music, I'm saying "is this bass I made as good as the bass on track X?" "Does this make me want to dance?" "What's missing that makes my beats not feel as good as these other beats someone else made?" It's not necessarily the mode in which I'll make the most original, most interesting music; but it's where I build muscles, and when I take some of those rules away, I can really soar in a way I wouldn't have been able to if I'd been working without constraints all along.
PL: You are known for developing and utilizing your own home-brewed software program, Ripple, both in the studio and on stage. How did you come to start programming this environment? In your mind, what was missing from "off the shelf" software programs?
MP: I heard this guy called Timeblind doing a live set in the basement of Tonic. It blew my mind. It was like he had a million creatures inside the computer all doing amazing clever things in real time. I had this sense of immediacy, of present intelligence, of something happening, here and now, which really grabbed me. He was using SuperCollider, so I decided I'd use SuperCollider. Simple as that. Building your own software for art is all about controlling your work-flow, controlling your processes. I have one technique I use a lot which basically involves taking a sample, choosing a random start point, triggering it over and over again pretty quickly from that start point, and putting a big fade-in/fade-out on the whole thing, then layering a bunch of instances of that. You can do that in just about any off-the-shelf software, but it's a little tedious, it's hard to tweak, you have to set up more stuff by hand. If you can program your own software to do that, you can experiment with interesting techniques and very quickly try a whole bunch of variations without having to do a lot of repetitive manual editing on the screen, which is a totally mind-numbing way to spend your time. If you can program, it's more like you're the boss and have a bunch of little minions working for you. Much more fun. For me, anyway.
PL: You released - in collaboration with Joshue Ott - the iPad/iPhone app Thicket. How do you see this as fitting into the greater arc of your discography? Is it something that falls in line with your recorded work, almost like an EP release?
MP: I'd like for Thicket to be understood in the context of my recorded music. You're not the first person to compare it to an EP release. I'm comfortable thinking of it that way. But it's different. Pure, beautiful sound isn't what I'm after with Thicket. It's meant to be an interactive experience, and the sound is subservient to the interactivity. It's not at all like I just made a tune or two and tried to figure out how to iPhone-ize them. It was much more a process of figuring out how people would interact with Josh's visuals and thinking about how I could enhance that with sound, how I could capture the natural ways people would want to touch the visuals and sonify that.
The app thing is very interesting. It's a wide-open new medium. It's a fascinating challenge. And I really enjoy what Josh and I have created so far. But it's not clear to me yet what sort of value an app has for people. Will people continue to play with it? Will people return to Thicket again and again the way they put on a favorite album? What's it really good for? Can we use it to connect people to us and to each other as a natural extension of our other artistic pursuits? Or is an iPhone app, in the end, a fairly anonymous transaction?
PL: Will we see you working with Joshue on more App-style releases in the future?
MP: There's a significant update to Thicket which hopefully will be available by the time this interview goes live. Josh and I are fully planning to go deeper into this world. We're buddies, we like working together, and creating artsy software together is a very natural way for us to collaborate. We'll probably do more stuff along the lines of Thicket, which is somewhat esoteric, and probably best understood by people who've had some exposure to our work in other media. But hopefully we'll get better at creating experiences that are immediately understandable and engaging, even to people who might not have a prior interest in the world of digital audiovisual art. Josh thinks we can learn quite a lot from the world of video games. I haven't really found a game I liked since I was twelve, but I'm really in to the idea of opening up our influences, thinking outside our little scene, not being afraid to be entertaining as long as we continue to do stuff that we can be proud of as artists.
PL: In the wake of the new album's release, what's next for you as an artist? Touring? Recording? Installations?
MP: I want to make more music. The next batch, hopefully, will be geared a little more toward the club end of things. I find that I just have way more fun performing in front of people who are moving, rather than people who are politely, attentively seated. Joshue and I would like to design a new audiovisual performance, as well as continuing our mobile app work. I have a collaboration I've started with a few New York folks called The Jutro Experiment, which is totally outside of my usual comfort zone. There's a slightly theatrical bent to it, as well as lots of live sampling and a huge amount of percussion nick-nacks and noisemakers. It's fun. We'd like to develop that further and perform more. Lastly, I have a show at Devotion Gallery in Brooklyn in the works, which will involve building the hugest sculpture I possibly can, built out of the simplest solid structure you can create out of equal-length rods - a four sided pyramid. I'll be creating them out of rolled-up recycled printer paper and joining them, crystal-style, until I run out of space or collapse from exhaustion.