|title||The Age of Aquarius|
|author||The Cosmic Crofter|
Boards of Canada - The Age of Aquarius
Edinburgh-based Boards of Canada are due to release their debut album "Music Has the Right to Children" for Warp, licensed from Skam in Manchester. The Crofter interviewed them about their past, present and future, and attempted to discover what now lies within their six-sided oyster ...
The duo originally began serious recording at the end of 80's, having spent their early youth playing around on "home hi-fi" and in conventional bands. Various other members have come and gone, but Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin have remained the core of the unit over the last 3 or 4 years. In December of 1997, two other members joined the Hexagon Sun bunker, resulting in the acquisition of some "useful technology". Just who these other members remains a secret, as they "are more interested in the psychological capabilities of sounds and images than their aesthetics. I can't talk about current or previous collaborators because Hexagon Sun doesn't do that".
Having always been interested in art in all its apparitions, the two have continually attempted to combine their beliefs, hopes and fears into an all-encompassing sensual experience, primarily in the fields of music, film, writing and more recently web design, "the official Turquoise Hexagon Sun website will up and running by Easter 1998 with a section on BoC as well as 'THS Scripture' buyable in dead tree format, Music70 BoCumentaries and 'Emephant Diagram', the number cruncher", I am assured that all will become clear.
In terms of other artistic formats, they are keen to point out that the visual and literary side is by no means a colorful backdrop ... "It's not secondary to the music, it's all the same thing. We use video on stage, but it's not for wallpaper, it's got things in it which could damage you". The two collaborate with other artists under the banner "Music70", a name which they have previously used for production copyright, and is now used as the collective term for themselves and like-minded friends, creating art for non-commercial and usually personal consumption.
To witness a BoC live performance confirms their agenda, "We're not interested in ambient filmmaking, we are interested in triggers, embedding and subliminals ... (during a live performance) we like people to pay attention to the messages on the screens". The duo are keen to get the extra-melody points across, but are also able to resign themselves to the fact that for the best part, most BoC followers are simply interested in the skin-deep appearance of the music, and thus the BoC existence has a definite duality. "We hope that the music stands up for itself. You could choose to listen to the melodies on the record and enjoy them purely as melodies, or you could read into the references a bit more and perhaps connect with that, or you could choose to come and see us live and see our thoughts abstracted out on video, and if it works the listener might go 'Yeah this is familiar but I don't know why'. We just see these as forms of communication which can be used to affect the listener in an attractive and maybe even addictive way".
The sharp and sometimes disturbing images can be thought provoking, although in some cases baffling. I challenge them on the point that, along with their sometimes obscure and almost pretentious song titles, they are out to deliberately perplex the perceiver. "There is a story behind every title we use. If a title seems made-up, it's either an equation, an acronym, or a hybrid. Some titles are personal stories, such as 'Everything You Do Is A Balloon', which was a realization made long ago in the forest".
So what could possibly be in a name? "Boards of Canada" is particularly good one, and I was once informed that it was chosen due to its particularly inert and almost meaningless nature. Digging deeper, their childhood exposure to the work of The National Filmboard of Canada reveals a more direct cull.
The influences that spark the creation of the song titles are just as varied as the influences which create the music they produce. Not confined to audio releases, they cite the many facets of the latter half of 20th Century culture, including film, TV and science journals. They claim that taking the positive aspects of a product does not always provide food for their thought, but rather the underlying meaning or cosmetic triviality, "... we are interested in everything that we can re-interpret. I don't want to give you list of names, but you know we could be just as easily captivated by a piece of T.V. theme music, or Eighties' pop, for instance. The enlightened parts in our music are relative to the banal or naive parts". When pushed for particularly prominent players ... "Hundertwasser, Svankmeyer, New Scientist, Robert Anton Wilson, Documentary films and articles, Jamie Nelson, The Archdrude... we are interested in everything!".
As previously stated, BoC's beginnings began, like every proper electronic experimentation combo should, mucking around with tape loops while still at school. Briefly tapping their cap to the "originators", they see thier humble beginnings as the first necessary steps to what they produce today. "... we used to chop up shortwave radio recordings on an ancient portable recorder, and make tunes out of them by punching-in and layering tracks in a crude way. I'm talking about 1981-1982. We still do that now except that we use better equipment. I think it's all been said before about Glass, Reich, Varese, Cage etc. being the originators of techno and ambient music. We prefer to think of anyone who has ever picked up an object and made a new noise with it as an originator".
BoC are the first to admit that the influences that fuel the creation of their tracks are by no means trivial, but prefer to cloak their personal beliefs in more universal and ubiquitous issues. "We read a lot, we pay close attention to what's going on, so you probably have to look at our work pretty closely to pick up on things, and we do try to compose strong emotional melodies ...", the emotion of which is something which I propose to be the serious side of their nature, "... yes we have a melancholy sound, and we do have strong opinions, but we only filter some of them into the music. I don't want to project a political side into the music because the music is in it's own area", states Mike.
The "melancholy" sound which has become a trademark and which may stick like mud over time, does not hamper BoC's enthusiasm for the perfect "song-structure". The roots of their musical career lie in the participation in "normal bands" using "live instruments", which, they claim, may have only increased their combined melodic ear. Marcus confirms the point, "I think you can trigger emotion much more easily with a melody than you can with a rhythm, although it can be done with a rhythm, listen to Jerry Goldsmith or the Incredible String Band ... I'm personally more interested in melody than sound, although the effectiveness of a Boards of Canada melody probably depends on it's context. And that'll be why we have a reputation for downgrading the sound. ". As with most serious electronic musicians of our time, and probably more believably BoC than others, they claim their current sound is underivative from current styles, "We don't usually listen to contemporary electronic music. Our collections might surprise you. Or alarm you maybe ...", such as? "You're looking for examples? Phil Harris, Devo, Claude Denjean, Walter/Wendy Carlos, Jesus Christ Superstar, DAF, Ween, TV themes, Tomita, MBV, Joni Mitchell ...".
Alarm us or not, the new BoC album to be released on Warp in April, only adds to BoC's mystique as renegades of "the intelligent twisted regions of electronic melody". Having been friends with the people at Warp for some time, they have developed a lasting raport that should hopefully see them good for years to come, "we all go round for tea scones regularly!". Now label buddies with their much loved Autechre et al, BoC see Warp as one of the few labels "bold enough to head away from the overtly 'techno' sound". They cite Skam as another more underground label which shares the same conviction, and funnily enough, these are the two labels which have hosted the BoC name so far. However, their association with Skam will not end with the signing to Warp, "Skam is a hive of new ideas, and there will be a lot of essential music coming from them this year, and we'll be in there, although you probably won't know it's us that you're listening to. The move to Warp was mainly out of respect for the label and it's artists, and friendship".
Boc's confidence can be attributed to the fact that they may now have reached Stage 1 of their long-term plan, and now use the Warp engine to thrust their more abstract and artistic ideas into the public domain. Their use of Super-8mm film and video images during their live performance will obviously be seen to increase and diversify from this point on. The artistic licence has finally been handed over. However, over their long career, the live shows have been few and far between, and one receives the vibe that the whole thing can be particularly tedious. One reason for this may be, from what I have so far gathered from BoC's character, that they are perfectionists in every sense, but still feel they have introduce another edge to the public rendition. Mike explains, "Every time we play live we do it a different way, technically. This is unintentional ... I like to play a familiar tune to the audience, but then make it do something totally new. We just haven't hit upon the best technical method for doing this yet, so for every gig we sit and go 'How are we gonna do it this time?'". Perhaps hitting on that "best technical method" is the reason we do not see BoC headlining many nights? "We do put a lot of work into every gig, and this slows things down. One gig takes a month of preparation, usually involving visuals and programming, and this can only be done when we're not writing. We'll be going out on tour at the end of the year".
Indeed, BoC have only ever played once in their home city, Edinburgh, which was last year when they and Think Tank supported Autechre. I was in attendance, and I put it to them that their sound and general presence was alien to the city as a whole. "We've only played in Edinburgh once so far, so I don't really know what the local Illuminati think of us. I think there is something simmering quietly now in the city, but we're based out in the country ... I'm not aware of an "Edinburgh sound", although there are quite a few threatening noises going on in there. Yeah we keep ourselves out of things a bit, I guess if we had more time we would be more involved. We make brief forays into Edinburgh clubland and then we retreat to cover. ".
So if they rarely venture out into the clubland of The Capital, what do BoC see as a great night out? "Somewhere in the hills, in a huge bonfire, with the beautiful Julian Cope ...".
|issue||Vol. 2 No. 13 (April/May 1998)|
Boards of Canada are breathing new life into the experimental end of electronic music. And you can whistle their tunes...
"Simplicity is very important to us," offers Michael Sandison one half of Scottish electronic pairing Boards Of Canada. "It's easier to affect people emotionally if you keep things simple. Obviously there's a lot of great music in the world that's complex but as far as we're concerned the important thing is that you can whistle our tunes."
Boards Of Canada are fixed on melody and emotion in music. It's a rare obsession in the world of British electronica but it gives their sound a uniqueness, a ghostly sense of yearning, and a depth of emotion that sets them far outside the pack. Music Has the Right to Children, their debut album, is the product of their fixation; a melancholy mix of rhythms and melodies revealing more shading and character with every listen.
"If it doesn't affect me emotionally it doesn't interest me", explains fellow Boarder Marcus Eoin. "I think a lot of it is trying to capture a nostalgic feeling buried somewhere in our minds. We are nostalgic people trying to get back moments from our pasts."
All of this might lead you to think that's it's an 'oh so serious' album which isn't true. It's simply refreshing to see such a human approach behind the employment of modern musical technology.
"Music for commercials, documentary soundtracks and children's TV themes," continues Michael. "The spaces in between the music you're supposed to listen to. That's where our interest lies. These melodies might only last a second at the end of a TV programme but they are quietly more important to the public psyche than most pop music."
The first record Boards Of Canada released was the self financed and limited hardly any Twoism EP. They sent the record to Autechre's Sean Booth who phoned back the very next day suggesting they mail a copy to Andy Maddock's Manchester based SKAM label. (Autechre release records on SKAM with various other bods under the Gescom guise). The result was Hi Scores, a 12" that brought the pair to a wider audience and paved the way for a follow up 7" Aquarius and now a full length album jointly put out by Warp and SKAM.
It would seem that, with the help of Boards of Canada, Britain's homegrown electronica music scene might finally step out from the shadow of the machine to explore the more emotional and human avenues.
Strange to think something so simple could be so exciting.
|title||In a Bunker Full of Memories|
'Strong emotional melodies'. That pretty much sums up the essence of what Boards of Canada is about. After various hard-to-get releases on cassettes, Skam Records (and it's enigmatic offshoot Mask) the Scottish duo has just released their debut album Music Has The Right To Children on Warp Records. The first of five on the Sheffield label!
Five albums. That might explain why Mike Sanderson and Marcus Eoin are extremely busy in their Hexagon Studio and reject most interview requests. So many tracks to finish, so little time. But Forcefield managed to enter the bunker which hosts the Hexagon Studio. Via E-mail. Here is what they said.
The name Boards of Canada is inspired by The National Filmboard of Canada. Could you explain what was so special about the nature-documentaries and their soundtracks?
Where you living in Canada when you saw the documentaries?
What else do you consider important musical influences, past and present?
Could you tell me more about your so-called Psychedelic aproach, the alterations from start to finish in a track?
How *DO* you write music? What's the starting point? A feeling, a sound or an idea? And who of you two makes the first sketches?
The album is joint release by Skam & Warp. Was this done to improve promotion & distribution?
Skam gained respect amongst IDM-minded musiclovers in very little time. A new Skam record is considered something special nowadays. But they're always hard to find.
But why make music that (almost) no one can get their hands on, like the two MASK ep's, which were released in issues of 100 and 200 copies?
But why release records at all, if all that matters is that your friends and families hear all the music? You must feel some sort of proud when records are bought by musicfans and get good press reviews. Or don't you?
Do you feel any pressure, now that you have signed a contract with Warp?
Warp has announced a second BoC-album, to be released at the end of this year. In what ways will it differ from the first album?
Melody is very important in most of your work. While many other electronic musicians focus more on rhythm. Is this perhaps one of the secrects of your succes?
Some people might argue that Boards of Canada make 'depressing' music.What would you like to comment on that? Are you pessimistic or optimistic towards life?
What kind of special equipment do you use? I understand some of your machines are quite big. And you have something what you call 'the SecretWeapon'.
You run a company called Music70. What is the goal of this company?
How is the planned full length Super-8 movie with soundtrack coming along?
You use a bunker in the Pentland Hills as a studio. Does the atmosphere of the Hexagon Studio reflects in any way on your music?
Some of the tracktitles are quite cryptic. Could you please explain some of them?
interview by René Passet, April 1998.
The album Music Has The Right To Children is out now on Warp/Skam, as is their remix of Mira Calix' Sandsings. WAP100 will contain an exclusive track by Boards of Canada, called Orange Romeda. Soon the Turquise Hexagon Sun website will open it's gates.
reviews at Forcefield:
Two aesthetes of electronic music caught between nostalgia for childhood and paranoia of the future. At the heart of the Marais district of Paris, right next to the Picasso Museum, it would be easy to take Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison for a couple of British Students on a culture spree. The two "Boards of Canada" look more like travelling hippies than techno freaks, with their backpacks, soppy grins, and woolly hats. It's hard to imagine that standing there are the creators of an electronic album of pure crystal, released jointly by two labels that could not be further apart: Skam and Warp; respectively, the cutting-edge Manchester label, and the legendary nerve-centre of "Made in Sheffield" electronica. This album, "Music has the right to children", is much as its cover suggests. The image of a family or a group of friends, standing on the stones of a ruined castle. A naïve image like the world of "The Magic Roundabout" or "Animals of the World". Perfectly ordinary. Cheerful. Except that the image is flooded with a turquoise light, as though caught in the glare of a flying saucer that is coming in to land. And then there are those faces, smooth as pumice stone. Disturbing. The faces of zombified people. What are Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin hiding in this picture of troubled innocence? The two Scots, whose replies we have merged in this interview, seem to act as one; the first a little more talkative than the other, who has a very striking accent.
Your biography is written in such a way that it's not easy to tell who you are or what you have done. You're Scottish, aren't you?
It seems that you've never been tied to any particular scene, or style of music. Are you quite isolated?
So you really started making music as teenagers?
Just the two of you?
So, really, when you began to play, it was more like a teenage game, experimenting with recordings of films and instruments. You weren't looking to make a career out of it?
Do you feel close to the generation that worked with home studios?
You have no connection to the Acid House generation?
What made you finally go back to electronic music?
Being able to use sampling, courtesy of the new technologies that weren't available when you started up; was that one of the reasons for your return to an electronic sound?
Why the melodies evocative of childhood on your album? Where did that come from?
Are you very nostalgic about your own childhoods?"
Do you use samples from TV programmes?
Sometimes, when listening to the album, there's an impression of hearing birdsong and other sounds of nature. Aren't those samples?
Is it also perhaps because of the name of the group, which evokes lots of images?
Why? Because of ghosts?
Do you live in the country?
What sort of jobs?
Have you always had the name "Boards of Canada"?
At the start of the interview, you spoke about your friends and family around you, is it like a community of artists - students of the history of art?
Do you make videos in the same way you make music. Is it high-tech?
Do you ever think of making the music and images all in the one go? Do you think of your music in terms of images?
There are some tracks on the album which would be ideal for the dancefloor.
You can see that sort of duality in tracks like "an eagle in your mind".
In live performance, do you try to mix sound and images, as though they were responding to each other?
Are your concerts very well rehearsed, or is there still a place for improvisation, particularly, with images?
Is your big studio in a small town?
A sort of commune?
So it isn't a bunker as the biography claimed?
In places like Glasgow or Edinburgh, is there an active artistic scene, in the arts, video, electronic music, of course, with young artists; festivals, etc. Are you involved in this?
Do you know Soma Records?
So, all the voices you use are those of friends?
You mentioned Chaos a moment ago. Are you interested in Chaos Theory - sciences that are a little offbeat?
Artificial life, etc.
Does that influence you? Is it a part of your world?
You also mentioned psychedelism.
How do you get in touch with Skam Records?
What about the Internet, do you use that?
interview by Ariel Kyrou & Jean-Yves Leloup, June 1998.
|publication||Space Age Bachelor|
|issue||12 (Winter 1998)|
Donald Anderson: Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children Warp label debut (North American release by Matador) comes from two Scots. The group name refers to the strong influence of the 70s documentary movies from the Canadian National Film Board. It seems quite strange to me the way that people expect/demand different levels of weirdness from various mediums. It has occurred to me that a lot of music in commercials is very strange, or documentaries, too, and people have no trouble listening to it. But if you present this music in a pop package, people are almost offended by its weirdness, its indulgence.
Donald Anderson: Many of these movies were nature films.
Donald Anderson: Particularly affected by it, cause my earliest memories are revisited in this music. One member is born in 1971, and the other is born in 1973. My two older brothers are born in 1970 and 1972 respectively. My family lived in Calgary around 1974, moved east, I was born in 1976, and then the family moved back to Calgary in 1978. But 1980 was my favorite shit. When I was six, I was nostalgic for when I was four.
Donald Anderson: Except we come from one sperm, not many sperm. and I wonder if just maybe our early paths ever crossed.
Donald Anderson: I feel extra close to the final product, though it's easy for me to say that knowing they're from there. I wonder at what unconscious level this music might have affected me, if I didn't know that? Despite being the current toast of electronica, Music Has the Right to Children doesn't necessarily sound cutting edge.
Donald Anderson: It has a spooky, transcendental. The melodies are simple, yet irresistible. They sound familiar, yet distant. When I was born, what melodies did I hear in my head, what melodies have I forgotten already in that first second of life, tears drowning out the final notes of a booming womb symphony?
Donald Anderson: The implications of electronic music where any sound in the human head can potentially be harnessed by passing the limitations of physical instruments is enormous. It makes me feel so strange, parts of my body I didn't know i had, a funny feeling in my spine, a little tinglebetweenmytoes. [sic] Emotions, in general, I didn't know I had.
Donald Anderson: There's something about "Rue the Whirl" I can't explain. It does my head inside out and in.
Donald Anderson: Um, one question I forgot to ask, what does it mean to 'rue the whirl.' I've never heard the expression, though admittedly there remains some gaps in my knowledge.
|title||Children Have the Right to Film|
"Children Have the Right to Film" is a 1999 interview by Daniel Chamberlin. It originally appeared in URB magazine.
Scotland's Boards of Canada (Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin) make downtempo techno out of samples of smiling children and their tripping teachers, melodic lullabies, tones and rhythms as chilly and deep as a summer loch. Much of the atmosphere created in their music springs from an elaborate, far-from-kitschy use of sampled motifs from both television programs and the '70s-era documentaries produced by the National Film Board of Canada (hence the name). Not surprisingly, original video footage has accompanied some of their live sets alongside soundtracks from obscure children's programming.
How does your film collective, Music70, relate to Boards of Canada's music?
You've named yourself after a Canadian film documentary organization. What aspect of documentaries made such a noteworthy impression?
Do you plan on releasing any of your visual work outside of broadcast during live performances?
interview by Daniel Chamberlin, February 1999.
|title||Boards of The Underground|
|issue||Vol. 3 No. 11 (Dec 2000)|
"Boards of The Underground" is a 2000 interview by Richard Southern. It originally appeared in Jockey Slut magazine.
They're the fire-starters, the rustic fire-starters, who've influenced everyone from Air to Radiohead. Boards of Canada invite Richard Southern to their secret den and share with him their bluffer's guide to making the perfect bonfire and why they have little time for Leo Di Caprio.
Everybody's favourite commune-dwelling creators of pastoral electronica, arsonists? Whatever next? Adverts for Shell oil?
This isn't the only fire that Boards of Canada have unwittingly started. Just over two years ago, their debut album Music Has the Right to Children, a muted, un-ostentatious collection of haunting, home-made melodies initially just seemed like one of electric haven Warp's more consistent releases. Then, slowly, word of mouth began to crackle like sparking kindling. Here was a record not only spotters and electronic obsessives could love - a hazily nostalgic record which snuck its way into your head and set up a commune. The album's muttering voices seemed to speak in tongues; rumours of occult dabblings only added to the Boards of Canada enigma. Sales, while impressive for a leftfield release, were a meagre glow compared to the blaze Music Has the Right. caused amongst Boards of Canada's musical peers.
Suddenly, those slo-mo, slightly melancholy synth-loops were everywhere. On Super Furry Animals' Guerilla (see:: "Some Things Come from Nothing"), on Danmass' "Happy Here" on the Sunday Best compilation, on Air's Virgin Suicides; even on the ever trend-tailing Texas' new material. As if that wasn't enough, Boards' influence can also clearly be heard on new albums by both the barometer of all things buzzworthy, Madonna, and Radiohead, whose much puzzled-over Kid A sounds rather closer to Music Has the Right. than it does to the stadium-conquering OK Computer.
The pair are sprawled relaxedly on the purple sofa, Michael long-haired, Marcus shaven-headed, hooded-topped and baggy-trousered, gear simultaneously eterna-hip and, as is the way with country folk, strangely practical.
So who are we talking about?
Secretiveness is congenital to Boards of Canada. These, after all, are people who refuse to reveal the location of the commune they inhabit in the Pentland hills near Edinburgh, who won't give out their phone number or even, for the most part, give interviews. They've chosen Jockey Slut in favour of the covers of a number of major national publications, and, in person, these childhood friends radiate a warmth and amiability that'sanything but enigmatic. They finish each other's sentences, listen intently to questions and in contrast to most ego-blinkered musicians even ask questions themselves.
While an EP, In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country, is issued this month (a BoC manifesto if ever there was one), the eagerly-anticipated second album is running more than a year behind schedule with no release date in sight. Hmm, three year gaps between records:: you're proper Warp artist now then? Slightly embarassed grins.
So did the impact of the first album just make it hard to follow?
Less Stone Roses than My Bloody Valentine, then?
"Where some people will work on a track solidly for four days, we'll spend that long just on a hi-hat sound," Mike laughs.
"It'd be funny if it wasn't true," Marcus chuckles.
"Than again, if there was a way of doing it easily, by pushing a button, we'd do something else because it wouldn't be special anymore," says Michael.
Sequestered away in the Scottish hills, "getting it together in the country", is a way of life for Boards of Canada. Even taking into account childhood sojourns in Canada, they've never known anything different. Hardly listening to contemporary music, keeping away from the back-slapping musical backstage, rarely reading magazines, living in what was once a commune (Mike:: "People had kids, or went off travelling. It's down to a hardcore of four or five now") but is now effectively a hill-bound artists' colony - theirs is a deliberately rarefied world. "It's the only way to do it," says Mike. "Cut yourself off, pull the shutters down."
"It's never people who are part of the general flow who make amazing art, " says Mike.
At times, the pair's penchant for privacy can border on the paranoid. They're so concerned about hackers that they've both got completely separate computers for using the net.
Aware that their bunker mentality may be getting out of hand, the pair have made a conscious effort to get out more recently.
These days, they still drive out into the country with their friends, set up camp and make bonfires. Bonfires, you will notice, figure large in the Boards of Canada world. You can almost hear the crackling twigs on many of their cuts.
As the title indicates, the new EP is typically BoC. "Kid for Today" sounds like what it is - a Music Has the Right to Children contender, while "Amo Bishop Roden" and "Zoetrope" (named after Francis Ford Coppola's San Francisco studio) go deeper into the hazy territory between sleep waking.
"There's a sort of running theme of melancholy to it," says Mike, "but it's true, it's not a great leap from Music Has the Right to Children The nearest clue to where we're going is on the title track. But a lot of it will be even more outlandish than that. If you could call the last album electronica, you definitely couldn't call the new album that."
Apart from this EP, the only Boards of Canada music that's emerged since their characteristically immaculate contribution to Warp's tenth anniversary album has been the music for, of all things, an advert for Telecom Italia. Not just any old advert, either, but one which also features Leonardo Di Caprio. Today Boards of Canada are full of surprises.
Always did, or do now?
The explanation is that both adverts were done with filmmaker du jour Chris Cunningham, "because he asked us and we respect him". They're not saying, but rather than heralding that Shell advert, could it be that the Boards have their eye on Cunningham's future feature work? It isn't, after all, a big step from imaginary soundtracks to actual films, and it'd be hard to contemplate a more perfect union.
Marcus grins:: "He also knows we'd break both his legs if he did.And no, they didn't get to meet Leo. "He utters one word. God knows what he got paid. We wanted to record 'Leonardo Di Caprio is a wanker' and put it in the advert music backwards."
The future of music may be uncertain, but Boards of Canada seem very definite about their own future musical direction.
THINGS BOARDS OF CANADA LIKE
THINGS BOARDS OF CANADA DON'T LIKE
BOARDS OF CANADA'S TIPS ON BONFIRES
interview by Richard Southern, December 2000.
|issue||47 (Mar 2001)|
"Big Country" is a 2000 interview by Steve Nicholls. It originally appeared in XLR8R magazine, Issue 47, March 2001.
Music fans around the globe wait patiently for the second full-length release from mysterious Scottish duo Boards of Canada, who turned music on its head with their debut recording's gentle, psychedelic ambience. Fan to the core, England's Steve Nicholls fulfills a dream, travelling north to the group's Scottish hideaway to investigate the source of their sorcery.
I'll never forget the first time, over two years ago, I heard Boards Of Canada's debut album Music Has The Right To Children. Prior to its arrival I was expecting something kind of special, because of the quality of their previous single "Aquarius" and the "Hi Scores" EP, released on the UK guerrilla-tactics electronic label Skam. I clearly remember receiving the album, by then released jointly with Warp Records, and time stopped. I sat and listened to the whole album, overpowered by the myriad kaleidoscopic layers, messages, hallucinations and images it relayed. It was like the tantalisingly elusive parts of a beautiful dream that you struggle to grasp after waking.
Two years later and I finally get to interview Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison, Boards Of Canada. I say finally because I firmly believe that, in Music Has The Right To Children, they made one of the great records of the last decade, and with the advent of a new album in the next few months, there is a distinct possibility that they might repeat the feat. And it's not just me-Eoin and Sandison also freely admit that they are trying to make the perfect record.
In some ways, for Boards Of Canada to have disappeared after releasing one album would have suited the image of mysteriousness that has sprung up around them. Partly due to the cut up and addled vocal samples that littered Music Has The Right To Children and instantly initiated talk of subliminal messages, and partly due to the unavoidable feeling that there was something very strange going in their music just beneath the surface, people were fascinated by what they were all about. But the fact that they live in Scotland has far more to do with their lack of involvement in the still remarkably London-centric UK music scene than any kind of Howard Hughes-type elusiveness.
On their new EP, "In A Beautiful Place In The Country," it is gratifying to hear that they have continued to strive for the perfect beat, because Boards Of Canada were an anomaly in the '90s electronica scene into which people tried to fit them, and it's still impossible to fit them into any kind of timeline of electronic music. They admit to liking late '80s and early '90s industrial electronic bands like Front 242, Consolidated and Meat Beat Manifesto, and then the Cocteau Twins and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but that's about as far as they go. As Eoin rightly says, "I don't really like singling people out as influences because it's too specific. I prefer to see all that as just branches coming off a completely chaotic, random tree, where some people are closer to each other than others." Eoin's analogy with nature is one that constantly reappears when discussing Boards Of Canada's music. Much has been made of the strangely rural and organic sounds and images they create. In the countryside area surrounding Edinburgh, it is not uncommon to see a double rainbow appearing over the barrenly beautiful countryside, the image a visual analog to much of their music.
Eoin and Sandison fully admit that if they lived in a city it would be detrimental to their work, and you can see how a more structured environment would hem the natural ebb and flow of ideas and sounds that emerged from Music Has The Right To Children. On that album, sounds or loops or melodies would only be heard once in a track, and other tracks frequently only lasted for thirty tantalizing seconds, a simple melodic refrain, a ghostly beat, or a plaintive note, disappearing as quickly as it appeared, taking on the presence of a fleeting memory-a cloud that momentarily takes a recognizable shape, or a captured snowflake that melts on your hand.
It all adds fuel to the fire that there is something mysterious about their music. As sweet, and frankly, listenable as their melodic head music may be on the surface, you can't escape the feeling that still waters run deep, and that there are strong currents running beneath the surface. Indeed, although it's always asking for trouble by drawing the parallel, Boards Of Canada's work has far more in common with something like The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper than anything from the more recent past, as its unerring tunefulness and song craft masquerades and alludes to something far deeper.
Those allusions are there all the way through Music Has The Right To Children, particularly come the last track, "One Important Thought," which warns of the dangers of censorship, and leaves you wondering what you might have just listened to that could ever be censored, so sublime, relaxing and apparently innocent was the music. So you have to listen to it again with new ears. Although Eoin and Sandison are still struggling with the idea that a lot of people are going to hear this new record, unlike many an experimental producer, they want their music to be listenable, to be a pleasurable experience, but one in which, if you choose to delve deeper, the rewards are there to be had.
As well as crediting the listener with intelligence, which, as Eoin later points out, so few electronic "dance" producers do, Boards Of Canada also credit us with an imagination. They leave space in their music for us to project our own ideas, images, and thoughts. Their messages are in there, but they are encrypted allusions hinting at what might lie within. It might explain why they are becoming so popular, because in a way each Boards' track becomes very personal to the individual listener, alluding to different things in different people's lives. I ask them about the often-mentioned nostalgia element in their music-people have constantly remarked how their music vaguely reminds them of something else, and how that differs from being retro.
And happily, after finally meeting them, Boards Of Canada's music remains as much of an enigma as it always has, because some myths and mysteries you don't really want to be explained away. Later on, Sandison goes on to talk about their music as a spiral or a fractal that gets more detailed the further you go in, and how they have experimented musically by using Fibonacci's Golden Ratio, a fraction close to two thirds that strangely occurs again and again in nature, and has allegedly been used in works of art by Da Vinci, Mozart and many others over the centuries, to space moments in tracks, write melodies and tune frequencies. And all of a sudden a friend's blithe request prior to the interview, to "find out what their magic ingredient is" begins to ring almost eerily true.
Whatever that ingredient may be, at the start of the 21st century, where, culturally and in terms of music, we are being increasingly discouraged from thinking for ourselves, where our attention is directed more than ever, where the gaps for our own imagination grow ever smaller, Boards Of Canada are an anomaly of timeless artistry that should be cherished. As Sandison says: "The original reason we started was just to make a beautiful little string of tunes which you just love playing in your car, and you don't really care whether anyone else is going to hear it, but I really like the idea of planting bombs. I'm not a bomber, but I like the idea of planting bombs of some kind, of doing things that in five, ten, or twenty years time will be able to reveal something about our music, that will make people completely re-examine what we've done, and see it in a completely different light."
interview by Steve Nicholls, March 2001.
|title||The Colour & The Fire|
"The Colour & The Fire" is a 2000 interview by Steve Nicholls. It originally appeared in HMV magazine, February 2002.
As a corollary to Brian Eno's famous rumination on Velvet Underground's first record ("I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band"), it might be time to draw a link between Boards of Canada's seminal 1998 debut Music Has The Right To Children and the reams of nurturing, organic electronic music that have since followed. After a brief survey of the current experimental electronic music scene, it's difficult to make the case that many more are as influential as Boards of Canada. Perhaps more striking than the advent all this subterranean success is the way in which Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison have arrived there. Even within comparatively anonymous electronic music circles, Boards of Canada are commonly regarded as nothing short of an enigma, an inscrutable pair who rarely disperse release information, grant interviews or perform live. It is generally accepted that the duo record from a secluded studio nestled somewhere in Scotland's Pentland Hills; we also know that they tend to litter their fiery, kaliedoscopic records with oblique references to various mathematical phenomena, the Branch Dividians and (as their name implies) snippets from the curiously gauzy soundtracks that accompany National Film Board Of Canada documentaries circa 1970.
What follows is the unabridged transcript of a one-pass e-mail interview we recently conducted with Eoin and Sandison, where the refreshingly articulate pair gave us their thoughts on the state of electronic music, eBay bidders, their long-awaited Geogaddi and "cosseted suburban American internet music-pirating kids." Naturally, the honour was all ours:
Geogaddi was one of the most highly anticipated electronic records in recent memory. Be honest: were you aware of the pressure?
With Music Had The Right To Children, you had the luxury of plucking and/or reworking songs from previous, lesser-heard records. With Geogaddi, you were faced with the prospect of having to fashion a new record from scratch. Did this pose a problem at all?
From a stylistic standpoint, there has been a consistency to Boards of Canada's work over the years. The conscious inclusion of certain signature elements (samples of children's voices, specific analog synth sounds, etc.) on Geogaddi implies that you went into this record with the intent to further build on your own established identity as artists. Is that a fair assumption? Is this a difficult thing to do without seeming regressive?
How do you respond to people who suggest that you didn't explore enough new territory with this record?
geo- or ge-: Earth: geocentric. gaddi n : a cushion on a throne for a prince in India; I'm not close at all, am I?
The general consensus seems to be that Boards of Canada labour over their work. Is your creative process really as difficult as it seems to the outside world?
Can you recall one standout moment during the process of recording this record that was completely fulfilling from a creative standpoint?
The pre-release security on Geogaddi was incredibly high. Have the Internet and its various file-sharing utilities taken the glory out of proper release days?
Like many of your contemporaries, you've gone to great lengths to maintain a certain degree of anonymity. Is music tangibly better when it's faceless?
Your reticence to talk to media outlets has resulted in a lot of conjecture about your origin and day-to-day lives. What's the most popular misconception about Boards of Canada? Do you enjoy the mystery?
You've probably had this one many times, but I'd be remiss for not asking. Radiohead name-dropped you on numerous occasions during the Kid A/Amnesiac rigamarole. Were you honoured, irritated or somewhere in between?
How different would your music really be if you were creating it from the belly of some urban, metropolitan area? Is isolation always good for the creative process?
The sounds on this record imply a particularly high level of craftsmanship. How long do you spend programming synths and toying with samples to achieve the BOC sound?
Which do you hear quoted back to you more frequently: "Orange!" or "Yeeeeeah, that's right!" (Two vocal samples featured prominently in BOC's landmark track 'Aquarius.')
I realize you're not about to go in-depth about your setup, but in general terms: what does your working environment look like? Do you get these sounds with modern gear or older, analog equipment? How big a role do computers play?
Your music is often described as a playground for the drug-addled mind. Surely you're not thinking along these lines when you're creating it...
There's a restraint to your compositions that is often absent from contemporary electronic music. Does that reflect your faith in the listener?
Are you satisfied with the general state of electronic music at the moment? Doesn't it seem like there are a lot of artists running around in circles?
Imitation. The sincerest form of flattery or hard evidence of creative bankruptcy?
Somebody somewhere once said that the best electronic music is music that you could never quite imagine on your own; yours seems to fall distinctly in that territory. Are you aware as to how strangely your music seems to co-exist with the subconscious?
(Early release) Twoism was going for 600 pounds on eBay! Discuss.
And so where do you go from here? Another four years 'til the next one? Any North American shows lined up?
interview by by Mark Pytlik, February 2002.
|title||The Secret Life of Boards of Canada|
|issue||23 February 2002|
"The Secret Life of Boards of Canada" is a 2002 interview by John Mulvey. It originally appeared in NME magazine.
From the Pentland Hills, just south of Edinburgh, it's possible to examine the world at a different angle. Nature becomes reduced to a pattern of hexagons. Melodies sound better in reverse. Bonfires make for better nights out than clubs. And the colour of the universe is, unequivocally, turquoise. This is where Boards Of Canada, Britain's most exceptional and reclusive electronica group, see things from. Or, at least, how they may see things. In comparison, the Aphex Twin is an open book, as straightforward in art and life as Fran Healy. A trawl of the internet for facts about the Boards duo of Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin turns up a proliferation of witchy rumours but precious few hard facts. They record in a disused nuclear bunker, it's suggested. They belong to some defiantly obscure art-collective-cum-cult named Turquoise Hexagon Sun. They fill their music with backwards messages, alternately sinister and playful, that range from invocations to a "horned god" (one old side project was named Hell Interface) to samples of ELO's Jeff Lynne. In the Boards of Canada section of the Warp Records website, alongside cover images and a few scant details about release dates, is a link to a Guardian news story which offers conclusive proof the average colour of the universe is "A greenish hue halfway between aquamarine and turquoise" when all visible light is mixed together.
All very intriguing, of course. But when BOC have made one of the most anxiously anticipated albums in years, hardly satisfying. To date, Sandison and Eoin have made a tremendous amount of music, most of which has neither ever been released or else is long unavailable; their 1996 debut EP for the Skam label, "Twoism", is currently available for a tidy £710 on eBay. For most people, their reputation rests on 'Music Has The Right To Children', the 1998 album that mixed spectral, quasi-ambient melodies and dulled hip-hop beats with the constant chatter of infants, hovering tantalisingly beyond comprehension. Deceptively simplistic, there was something about the way the melodies twisted backwards and forwards around each other, about the tangibly creepy atmosphere that pervaded it, that made for an extraordinary debut. By the time 'In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country' an uncommonly beautiful EP, was released at the end of 2000, the band enjoyed a near-holy status among electronica fans - not to mention artists, plenty of whom had diligently adapted BOC's spooked, rustic kindergarten vibes for themselves. And when the long-promised second album, 'Geogaddi', unexpectedly appeared on release schedules a month ago, the grassroots hype became phenomenal.
Knowing that part of the band's allure is their inaccessibility, Warp embarked on a campaign to make hearing 'Geogaddi' as difficult as possible. Virtually no new music made it onto the internet: download apparently new tracks from Audiogalaxy and you're as likely to discover an ambient fake, four minutes of looped speech samples or an old Brian Eno tune. The track titles, meanwhile, could only be located on HMV's Japanese site. Eventually, 'Geogaddi' was premiered in six churches around the world - in London, New York, Edinburgh, Tokyo, Berlin and Paris. Slides of children playing, of sunsets where the sky is bent into a hexagon, were projected above the altars. Small turquoise hexagons took the place of hymn books.
And then there was the album: 66 minutes and six seconds of music that is both soothing and disorienting, lushly beautiful yet creaky and unnerving. One track, 'Opening The Mouth', sounds like a heavy-breathing call from a banshee. Another, the truly horrible 'The Devil Is In The Details', alternates between the instructions on a relaxation tape and a desperately crying child. There are ghostly organs and distant tablas, warnings of volcanic explosions, an ecstatic vocal about "1969 in the sunshine" and an overall feeling that this heady, saturated music is how My Bloody Valentine might've sounded had they released anything after 1991's 'Loveless'. Honestly, it's that good. "We take that as a real compliment," accepts Sandison. "We love the sound of music that seems to be barely under control. We love music that's out of tune in a beautiful way, or dissonant, or damaged. We tried to make the record work as a giddy, swirling soundtrack. It's okay to be imperfect - in fact the imperfections are where the magic is. To us, perfect music sounds sterile and dead. The tunes we write are imperfect, the sounds are imperfect, even the artwork. I can't listen to perfect music, it bores me. We actually put a lot of effort into making things rough and difficult and noisy, even more so on this than on the last album. I think most bands get more polished and over-produced as they go along. But one of the ideas with 'Geogaddi' was to go the opposite way, to get it to sound as though it was recorded before the last one." Early February 2002, and boards Of Canada have consented to a rare interview with NME, on the understanding it runs after the album's release. To preserve their privacy, it's to be conducted by email, but the resulting answers still shed a little light on the world of Sandison and Eoin, without ever completely dismantling their mystique.
To begin, their name derives from the National Film Board Of Canada, whose nature documentaries enraptured the Scottish-born pair when they spent some time living in Calgary as children. "My parents worked in the construction industry out there," writes Sandison. "My memory of Calgary is a picture of boxy 1970s office blocks dumped in the middle of nowhere against a permanent sunset." They started making tapes around 1982 or '83, when they were still children. At their Hexagon Sun studio, there's an archive of 20 years of music. "We're a bit anal about this," admits Eoin, "and I guess one year we might hunt through it all and release some of it. Though we've actually already got the next album half-finished, which will surprise some people to hear. There's a lot of music." Though the paucity of their released might suggest otherwise, Sandison and Eoin are anything but lazy. "A typical day for us," writes Eoin, "is something like 15 hours thumping the shit out of drums and synthesizers and samplers, with frequent breaks for coffee or a beer." Expectations and pressures from the outside world hardly make an impact, either. "We're too busy to give a shit," reckons Sandison. "Either working in our studio or being out in the fresh air with our friends somewhere. We put pressure on ourselves more than anything. Marcus and myself are pretty ruthless to one another, musically. That's the toughest criticism we get, which is another reason the album took a long time." </div>
Why is it so much better to live in the country rather than the city?
What's the significance of hexagons to you?
The turquoise hexagon sun idea, the ring of people on the 'Geogaddi' cover, and that slightly eerie bucolic feel there is in a lot of your music, suggests something cultish, vaguely pagan.
What's the fascination with children's voices? Is it to do with a nostalgia for childhood?
You've talked in the past about subliminal messages, hidden ideas, bombs planted in your tunes. What's the fascination, and what form do these take?
One thing Boards Of Canada are emphatic about, for all the talk of bonfires and rural retreats, is that they're not hippies. We ask if they're a psychedelic band, and Marcus replies: "If you mean psychedelic in a scientific way, then, yeah, that's probably fair. But if you mean it in a lifestyle way, you know, hippy-large floppy hat, patchouli oil and colourful trousers way, then nothing could be further from who we are." Further from what, though? Tempt BOC into the open for a few moments and still, you can only make out the faintest of outlines. And ask them, finally, how important mystery and a lack of information is to their music, and they'll prove it by sidestepping the question. "We just try to keep ourselves to ourselves," concludes Marcus Eoin. "The music is what is important." Of course.
interview by by John Mulvery, February 2002.
|title||El Cielo Herido|
"The Wounded Sky (El Cielo Herido)" is a 2002 interview by David Broc. It originally appeared in the Spanish music magazine Mondosonoro.
The one who is signing this article down there is aware of the fact that most part of the Mondosonoro readers, might have been somehow upset seeing BoC in front cover of this month magazine. Some of them, only by ignorance of their music. Others, because they know it too well. Some others, as amazed as they Might be, because they feel this mag have once again betrayed it's rock and roll spirit, choosing to explore a son of the modernity that they don't really understand , and , in consequence, despise. But truth is that in its long career , Mondosonoro, has never been an exclusive platform neither for rock nor for any other musical style, on the contrary.
Let just say that the presence of BoC in this month cover answers to the same criterion that has pushed us to choose Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Nine Inch Nails for our main pages: the search of tireless emotion, wild talent, and a perspective of the future of all the musical panorama. That's it.
BoC keep that peculiar virtue of moving listeners with a eloquent equation that seems apparently vain. Wintery electronica, hip-hop rhythms, nostalgic melodies, disturbing atmospheres and Warp tradition compose their musical landscape. From that point, the scottish duo creates the sound of worryness: that hurted music that big cities seem to avoid. It's the soundtrack to disconcert, the distance and the grey halo that invade our cities, our lives. Boc' s music contains the truth no one wants to hear or to see, it's an involontary mirror and in its reflection lies the sadness, emotion and dreamyness of the works that, now and tomorrow, are meant to survive us.
In its apparent sonic abstraction, lies another miracle of the post-modern sensibility. It isn't shocking, then, when we see how Radiohead among other bands buried in a creative crisis have optimized their stylistic re-orientation after listening to MHTRTCH, the first LP of this enigmatic and disturbing duo.
Its impact has answered to all the qualities great art must be demanded for: search, adventure, essence and emotion. Geogaddi, second album from this scottish, promessed to be one of the major works in 2002. Not only because in their proposal the formentionned qualities co-exist, but also because we're talking about a dazzling exercise that rises above its context and looks for eternity.
Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison have invested 4 years in the making of this longly and anxiously waited album. A four year silence only "disturbed" by IABPOITC, an important and solid EP that helped to reduce the anxiety before the final album was released. Now, framed by the promotional excitement of every product that comes out, the two creators keep their fidelity to their nearly autist hermetism. Their refusals to telephonic interviews, obliged us to communicate with them via e-mail. That's not a problem: they seem much more comfortable with a keyboard than a phone.
Divided in two (in one hand a song with intro, developpement and release, in the old vein; and on the other hand, brief ambient interludes that give some strenght to the whole, and ocationnally seem to work independently), this record doesn't seem to give any freshness to the BOC sound on a first look. But the fact is that BoC do not intend to metamorphose its sound, like the circumstances and the times would require (what do you wanted, nu school breaks?). Precisely, the major point in this record is to be found on its internal way of function. Its search does not intend to break the laws of the moment , but the laws of its own sound. Geogaddi it's a valuable step forwad in the building of the BoC speech. It improves, strenghts and complements it. And this near and modest exploration can only be on the benefit of the music. The main victims of this quiet revolution are rhythms. And it is well worth to stop on this element, cause the beats on this record are among the most overwhelming works of this last months.
All this is backed- up by a change in the work mecanisms. It's in the weird perception that you have when you listen to their music that you stumble with elements and old looks. In its contruction process, the band faces the artesanal touch and the organic pulse of the avoiding patterns of computers and machinery.
With that word of order, they both absorb sounds and ideas in order to incorporate them into the rhythmic building. The melodies are more organic, and they configure an emotive, strange, confused and almost lisergic catalog.
Work of redescovery and sensuous puzzle? Why worry when what we have here, right now, is a wild indictment in favor of the purest and desintoxicated of emotions . God only knows that for BoC the thing that matters is the capacity of comotion that the music can exercise on the listener.
Eoin and Sandison appear, album after album, like two nostalgic chronicists, like two creators faded by a unending sadness that lies underneath everyone of their pentagrams. Without knowing it, they maybe photograph the warmth of the fall, the starving quality of melancholy. And that is, probably one of the aspects that distinguish them of many others electronic referents that haven't made the choice of exploring the imperatives issues of the psyche. They make music infinitly more human and close than many rock, emocore, pop, folk and techno bands.
interview by by David Broc, March 2002.
This is an original text copied verbatim from the original source. Do not edit this text to correct errors or misspellings. Aside from added wikilinks, this text is exactly as it originally appeared.
EL CIELO HERIDO
CULPABLES, EN PARTE, DE LA RECONVERSIÓN MUSICAL DE RADIOHEAD, BOARDS OF CANADA SIGUEN ATACANDO EL VACÍO DESDE LA MODERNIDAD, DOS CONCEPTOS QUE A DÍA DE HOY ACOSTUMBRAN A IR DE LA MANO, PERO QUE EN LA PROPUESTA DEL DÚO BRITÁNICO HALLA SU DEFINITIVA CONTRAPOSICIÓN. “GEOGADDI” (WARP/SATÉLITE K, 02), SU NUEVO DISCO, ARAÑA LÁGRIMAS A LA CONTEMPORANEIDAD.
Quien abajo firma es consciente que la inmensa mayoría de lectores de Mondo Sonoro habrán fruncido el ceño al ver a Boards Of Canada en la portada de este número de marzo. Unos, por simple desconocimiento de su música. Otros, por conocerla demasiado bien. Y algunos más, estupefactos, por sentir que la revista ha vuelto a traicionar su espíritu rockero con un hijo directo de esa modernidad que tan poco entienden y, en consecuencia, estiman. Pero lo cierto es que en su ya dilatada carrera, Mondo Sonoro nunca ha ejercido de plataforma exclusiva del rock o cualquier otro estilo musical, más bien al contrario. Y lo mismo se le podría decir a ese otro público que, atónito, contempla como la revista que les produce urticaria (ya sabemos que nunca se es suficientemente cool) respalda a uno de sus referentes favoritos. Digamos que la presencia de Boards Of Canada en la portada de marzo responde al mismo criterio que ha empujado a la publicación a situar en sus páginas centrales a Sigur Rós, Mogwai, Nine Inch Nails o Doble V: la búsqueda de emoción infatigable, talento por domesticar y perspectiva de futuro en todos los terrenos franqueables del panorama musical.
Y punto. Boards Of Canada conservan la extraña virtud de conmover a sus seguidores con una ecuación expresiva con pocas probabilidades de traspasar la epidermis. Electrónica invernal, ritmos hip hop, melodías nostálgicas, atmósferas perturbadoras y tradición Warp componen su herencia. A partir de ahí, el dúo inglés se inventa el sonido del desasosiego: esa música herida que las grandes urbes de nuestro día a día evitan sentir como propia. Banda sonora del desconcierto, la distancia y el aliento gris que invaden nuestras ciudades, nuestras vidas, la música de Boards Of Canada contiene la verdad que muchos se niegan a ver o escuchar, y en su función de espejo involuntario recae la tristeza, emoción y ensoñación de las obras que, ahora y mañana, están destinadas a sobrevivirnos. En su aparente abstracción sonora reside otro milagro de la sensibilidad post-moderna. No es contraproducente, pues, comprobar como Radiohead y otros referentes sumidos en crisis creativas han optimizado su reorientación estilística a través de “Music Has The Right To Children”, debut en formato largo (antes llegó un Ep homónimo publicado por Skam) de esta inquietante formación. Su impacto ha respondido a las coordenadas que todos le exigimos al arte: inquietud, aventura, esencia y emoción. “Geogaddi”, segundo disco del dúo británico (dos Ep´s y una peel session se añaden al cómputo global de su legado; todos ellos, salvo “Boards Of Canada”, publicados por Warp), supone, en ese sentido, una de las obras mayúsculas de 2002. No sólo porque en su propuesta cohabiten los aspectos anteriormente citados, sino también porque se trata de un ejercicio sublime que se eleva por encima de su contexto y aspira a la perdurabilidad total. Marcus Eoin y Michael Sandison han invertido cuatro años en la confección de este esperado y ansiado álbum. Un silencio alterado únicamente por “In A Beatiful Place Out In The Country”, un Ep sólido e importante que hizo las veces de aperitivo antes de la definitiva salida al mercado de su deseado regreso discográfico. Y ahora, enmarcados en la vorágine promocional de todo producto, los dos creadores mantienen su fidelidad al hermetismo casi autista. Su renuncia a la concesión de entrevistas telefónicas, nos obliga, así, a la comunicación vía e-mail. Ningún problema: ellos parece más cómodos con el teclado que con el teléfono.
(Sandison) “Somos culpables de ello. Grabamos mucha música a lo largo de los últimos años, pero nos tomamos un respiro hasta sentirnos satisfechos con la combinación definitiva de las canciones. Es importante conseguir un equilibrio entre los distintos tipos de canciones, especialmente porque nosotros esperamos que la gente se escuche el álbum de un tirón. Nosotros realmente no vemos las canciones de nuestros discos como piezas individuales, sino que todo compone una gran historia. Así que los temas en ´Geogaddi´ son en sí mismos un grupo, un sabor, y hemos grabado suficiente música como para editar otro disco”. (Eoin) “Pero no, no ha sido muy difícil. De hecho, nuestro mayor problema como banda es que tendemos a grabar demasiada música, aunque posteriormente sólo nos centremos en una pequeña proporción de lo que hemos hecho. La única dificultad reside en combinar canciones que se adapten entre sí. Por cada canción incluida en ´Geogaddi´ existen doce que hemos obviado por alguna razón determinada”.
Dividido en dos frentes (por un lado, canciones con introducción, nudo y desenlace, a la vieja usanza; por el otro, breves insertos ambientales que no sólo refuerzan el conjunto, sino que, en ocasiones, funcionan con autonomía propia), este disco no aporta cambios a primera vista dentro del discurso de Boards. Pero es que aquí no se persigue la metamorfosis que, cual impuesto revolucionario, exige la coyuntura y el devenir de la actualidad (¿qué querían: nu school breakz?). Precisamente, el máximo punto de apoyo de este trabajo cabe hallarlo en su funcionamiento interno. Su búsqueda no intenta trascender las leyes del momento, sino las leyes de su propio sonido. Es decir: “Geogaddi” es un valioso paso adelante en la edificación del discurso de Boards Of Canada. Lo mejora, solidifica, envalentona y complementa. Y a partir de ahí, éste se beneficia sobremanera de esa exploración cercana y modesta. Los principales afectados, los ritmos. Cabe detenerse en este elemento, porque un análisis voraz del mismo nos invita al regocijo mayúsculo: los beats de este disco contemplan uno de los trabajos más abrumadores de los últimos meses.
(Eoin) “Esta vez decidimos revolucionarnos un poco y hacer los ritmos menos convencionales. Nosotros siempre tenemos el sentimiento hip hop merodeando, pero en ´Geogaddi´ intentamos dejar que las cosas crecieran estilísticamente, y esto también afectaba a los ritmos. En el disco hay un beat realmente satisfactorio para nosotros, es el de ´You Could Feel The Sky´ (uno de los mejores momentos de todo el minutaje), que suena como si una cuerda fuese estirada sobre la cubierta de un barco de madera”. Todo ello, secundado por un cambio de registro en el método de trabajo. Es en la rara percepción que se tiene al escuchar su discurso que uno se tropieza con elementos y miradas añejas. En su proceso de autoconstrucción, la banda enfrenta el toque artesanal y la pulsación orgánica a los patrones esquivos del ordenador y las máquinas.
(Sandison) “Bueno, sí, nosotros últimamente hemos empezado a volver al antiguo, y también más simple, método de trabajo. Tras ´Music Has The Right To Children´ nos empeñamos en usar más tecnología de ordenador con la equivocada intención de acelerar nuestro proceso de composición. Pero con los ordenadores siempre te acaban entorpeciendo las posibilidades que ofrece la producción técnica, que tiene el desagradable efecto de secarte paulatinamente toda tu inspiración. Así que reaccionamos contra ello y ahora hemos vuelto a la forma más simple de hacer las cosas, tal y como trabajamos en nuestros inicios: simplemente usando un sampler, un secuenciador y yendo al grano con las melodías. Esto lo hace más instantáneo y divertido paranosotros”.
Con esa premisa, ambos absorben sonidos e ideas para llevar a cabo la integración de sus melodías en el armazón rítmico. Más orgánicas, insistimos, y retorcidas que en “Music Has The Right To Children” y su Ep “In a Beautiful Place Out In The Country”, éstas deparan un catálogo emotivo confuso, extrañísimo, casi lisérgico.
(Eoin) “Intentamos crear melodías que vayan al grano, algunas de ellas basadas en sonidos uniformes o en la repetición de riffs que aparecen súbitamente y luego se desarrollan. Tú escuchas el disco y te quedas con algunos momentos encantadores que, en todo caso, son transitorios; pero después de sucesivas escuchas te sorprendes nuevamente cuando encuentras algo que habías olvidado desde la primera escucha”. ¿Trabajo de redescubrimiento y puzzle sensitivo? Para qué preocuparse cuando lo que tenemos aquí, ahora mismo, en el aparato reproductor de cedés, es un salvaje alegato a favor de la emoción pura y desintoxicada. Otro antídoto desesperado contra la sobreestimación de la electrónica como fuente inagotable de lucidez lectiva y progreso creativo sin apego al dictado de la epidermis. Dios sabe que en Boards Of Canada lo único que cuenta es la capacidad de conmoción que su música ejerce en el oyente.
(Sandison) “Estoy de acuerdo: nuestra música tiene que ver más con la emoción que con la inteligencia. Pero no nos acercamos a las canciones con la intención de hacerlas emocionales de forma deliberada. Las melodías básicas de nuestras canciones acostumbran a escribirse de forma rápida e instintiva, así que nunca son conscientes o deliberadas. Yo siempre encuentro un sonido que me gusta, improviso y experimento a su alrededor, y entonces aparece una melodía y me quedo con ella. Después de este proceso es cuando empezamos a aplicar técnicas de composición conscientemente”.
Un punto vital, en todo caso, sobre el que adopta forma una propuesta descorazonadora. Eoin y Sandison se perfilan, disco a disco, como dos nostálgicos crónicos, como dos creadores marchitos por una tristeza incansable que se traduce, sin duda alguna, en cada uno de sus pentagramas. Sin quererlo, quizás, ambos fotografían la calidez del derrumbe, la hambruna de la melancolía. Y eso es, muy probablemente, uno de los aspectos que les distinguen de muchos otros referentes electrónicos que todavía no han optado por sacrificar los imperativos de la psique. Ellos fabrican música infinitamente más humana y cercana que muchas bandas de rock, emocore, pop, folk o techno.
(Sandison) “Supongo que la cuestión es que nosotros no escribimos a conciencia canciones que entristecen a la gente. Nosotros simplemente escribimos aquello que sentimos, y habitualmente la música surge de ese modo. Muchas de las melodías han sido escritas por mí, y sé que yo tengo cierta tendencia a la tristeza”. (Eoin) “Creo que el hecho de sonar nostálgicos y todo eso no es algo que persigamos, sino que ocurre por cómo somos como personas y cómo pensamos. Tenemos una privada y amorfa idea en nuestras mentes de cómo se supone que debe sonar el último disco de Boards Of Canada. Es como un objetivo que tenemos claro y al que siempre nos estamos aproximando, pero al que nunca acabamos de llegar. Eso nos mantiene porque sabemos que está en nuestras manos hablar a través de nuestras ideas; tan sólo tenemos claro que si seguimos trabajando llegaremos algún día a ese objetivo”.
Autor: David Broc
"Play Twice Before Listening" is a 2002 interview by Koen Poolman. It originally appeared in OOR magazine.
Hi Michael & Marcus, Where are you? How are youdoing?
under snow at the moment. Everything's cool. Geogaddi must be one of the most anticipated records of 2002. I guess this weekend saw the first string of reviews in themagazines."
What's the best and the worst criticism you got so far?
affect your work if you read the comments people make. Even positive comments can be damaging, I mean it's a lot easier for us to have fun writing music if we imaginenobody is listening to it."
What's with the secrecy surrounding the release of the album? a) we don't care about music business politics and promotion schedules b) we tried to keep the music from the net (and miraculously succeeded) c) we like a little mystery d) all above is true
Children was one of those seminal records that got better and more personal every time you listened to it. Its reputation seemed to grow every year. It's a modern classic. Geogaddi won't get the time and space to grow in people's subconsciousness, as MHTRTC did. People are taking in the album from day one, swallowing every track,hungry as they are."
you appear out of nowhere with your first album. After that, if people let their expectations grow too much, then it's inevitable that any subsequent records won't have the same effect, no matter what the music sounds like. Our music is never intended to do its work on just the first listen. Like Jack Dangers said, "play twicebefore listening".
How did you cope with this situation? Do you feel comfortable with the idea that a lot more people are gonna hear your music, giving it momentum, building up a hype rather than letting it "capture a nostalgic feeling buried somewhere in our mind", as one journalist so accurately wrote.
themselves, you know, so that it's something that feels like it belongs to them. If it was up to us there would be no promotion for our music at all. MHTRTC was a one-off moment of magic you can't possibly repeat - because of the aforementioned situation. Wasn't it? Is it fair to expect another album of such class? Best thing to do in a situation like this is to disappear for good...and let legend begin."
and recording our own music for about fifteen years before 'Music Has The Right...', and we're never going to stop creating music. We wouldn't have left it at just that album, just because that's the first record that became quite widely-known. The truth is that when we released that record we had no idea it would develop thekind of cult thing that it has."
You've been shying away from the media and are very fastidious when it comes to playing live. How important is Boards Of Canada, The Myth, to you?
interested in trying to become famous. There are too many artists out there who barely put any records out, yet they're on television and in magazines all the time. If that's what they want, that's fine, but I think that's the mentality of someone who came to the music world quite late in their life, but for us we've been doing what we do for years already, and we'd be doing it anyway even if nobody knew us. The music industry is full of people who are famous for being famous. We just want to create good music, and it doesn't matter to us to do allthe other nonsense.
There's a nostalgic feeling speaking through your music. The ultimate conclusion would be: perceiving your music as if it were nostalgia itself, originating from another time and space. Something out there. Not of today's world.
isn't attached to the current time. I hope our music could be enjoyed thirty years in the future without sounding like it came from an identifiable trend or a scene. We've always loved the sound of things that are a little sad and broken-sounding. I think that because we try to capture a damaged, eerie effect in our music, it ends up sounding nostalgic to some listeners. But you could be right because the intention is to make it sound like it's something strangely familiar but perpendicularto the real world, and in a way timeless."
You've recorded over 90 songs for Geogaddi. Only 22 - and the silent Magic Window - made it onto the album. At Cambersands you played an utterly brilliant new track that's not on the album.
When we play live we often play tracks that haven't been released. Sometimes those tracks will be used later, sometimes we will move on from that sound and leave thetrack behind."
How many hours of music went through the drain? Any chance of a quick follow-up to Geogaddi or, at least, an EP then?
after this one. As Marcus said, you make an album by compiling what fits together, and we're already puttingtogether a different record."
How did you make the selection between the 'full on'tracks and the strange intermezzo's and miniature melodies that slowly grow into little gems after a while? Is there an overall theme/direction that connects the tracks on the album?
strange musical, or an imagined movie. The theme with Geogaddi is a kind of confusion, as though you're going through a kind of 'Alice in Wonderland' adventure, but with adamaged mind. Those short tracks you mention, we write far more of those than the so-called "full on"tracks, and in a way, they are our own favorites."
These hidden treasures, little as they are, appear to be even bigger in numbers than on Music Has The Right To Children. Is seems like you're teasing us. It's hidden, so find it! True?
made up only with those short tracks. The ones on Geogaddi are the ones that make most sense in the overallflow."
At the time of the release of In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country, November 2000, you were said to have recorded 64 tracks from which 23 would be pared down to an album. Fifteen months later there's an album of 23 tracks - selected out of 90-plus. How does Geogaddi differ from the album you could have put together on and a half year ago?
been compiled into an album in 2000, I think it would have been pretty different. We go through phases, Geogaddi has a lot to do with what we were listening to in the last year. If we'd made it in 2000 it might have been more electronic, but over time we've tried to create something more fuzzy and organic. Every time we make a record we see it as an individual project, separate from what went before and what will happen afterwards.Likewise the next record will sound different."
The aim for Geogaddi is the perfect album, you once said. How perfect is Geogaddi? Is the devil really in the details? Is that why it took you another year to finish the album?
thing that we're always aiming at. For us it can mean something that's full of imperfection, because part of our aim has always been to destroy the sound in a beautiful way. It doesn't mean that we expect everyone would like it. I'm not sure that we will ever get there, to make the perfect record. But the whole point of makingmusic is at least to aim at your own idea of perfection."
Did In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country originate from the same sessions as the tracks on Geogaddi? Those were four 'full on'tracks. Put too many of these on an album and it will become a collection of songs, not an organic work of art as a whole, is that what you believe?
make something where all the tracks had a similar undercurrent while being diverse. The songs on IABPOITC could have ended up on Geogaddi, but at the time, we realized they worked well together so they became theirown EP."
Amo Bishop Roden was outstanding. Very minimal (Reich, Glass, La Monte Young), very ambient. Zoetrope had a similar vibe. It's a vibe that shines through on Geogaddi (esp. in You Could Feel The Sky), but not as much as I expected. It's not a big step from MHTRTC to Geogaddi really. Or is it?
musically. It has more to do with our own moods at the time of writing, and for example, what we have read or watched as an influence. That EP had it's own little theme. Because Geogaddi has a lot more tracks than an EP, it's easier to draw a connection between it and our last album, because we are the same band! Usually we're a lot more minimal than the songs on Geogaddi, but this time we wanted to do something with more facets, more detail and a kind of concentrated recipe of chaotic little melodies. It reflected a chaotic time in our personal lives. I guess we'll probably go back in a more minimal direction next. If you were to point out one difference, oneprogression from MHTRTC, what would it be?"
for outdoors on a cold, blue-skied day, while 'Geogaddi' is a record for some sort of trial-by-fire, a claustrophobic, twisting journey that takes you into some pretty dark experiences before you reach the open air again. It has a kind of narrative. That's why we ended it with 'Corsair', it's like the light at the end of thetunnel.
"It's darker than their previous work," Steve Beckett, head of Warp Records, said about In A Beautiful Place, back then. Does that count for Geogaddi as well?
creating Geogaddi involved much darker material, so Ithink this comes through in the album."
Minimal tracks like Amo Bishop Roden, Zoetrope and You Could Feel The Sky, are they pointing out a new direction for BOC, you think?
up what you're doing is to strip it down and go minimal, so we'll see. Though our next EP could just as easily be a collection of ROYGBIV-like songs. Every so often we like to stop ourselves and change direction, it's important to do that or you can become tired of your own music. Every record is like a reaction to the last one, so I guess at the moment we're feeling more like headingin a minimal direction, simplifying the sound again."
Does it bother you that one half of the IDM population is copying Autechre/Aphex and the other half is copying you, stealing your voice and style?
influencing others to create music. But I think everyone should find their own path. In a way, if people copy usclosely, it just keeps me on my toes."
How important is the folk influence that crops up in every review, like "the production aesthetics of late 60s and early 70s folk artists"?
used in Geogaddi, though not in obvious ways. We love artists like Joni Mitchell and The Incredible Stringband. There's a sort of purity of sound that they have, and Iguess we are striving for that ourselves"
A friend of mine (and Plaid's) draw my attention to the psychedelic folk of fellow Scotchmen The Incredible Stringband. Their late sixties albums The 5000 Spirits and The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, would that be the kind of stuff you're into? Ehm… the album covers of The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and Music Has The Right To Children make a nice pair, that's for sure!
Someone like David Tibet/Current 93 has been tracing the pagan roots of folk music for years. Taking influences on a spiritual rather than a musical level, is that an angle you can relate to?
Hexagon Sun (studio). Chris H aka Christ (former bandmember). Redmoon nights. Hell Interface (sometimes used alias for BOC). The Devil Is In The Details. 66 minutes and 6 seconds. Artwork full of hexagrams. Supposedly subliminal messages… How Evil is BOC?
What does the hexagram symbolize for you? (Depending on your beliefs it is: a powerful tool to invoke Satan, a stand-by for magicians, witches and alchemists, and a pagan symbol of sexual union and reproduction, esp. of the sexually oriented rites and ceremonies of Baalism.)"
Are you putting a hex/curse on us?
My guess: it's about a deeply-rooted believe in Mother Earth, as displayed in the ancient traditions of paganism.
Call it folk, nostalgia, pagan - it all comes down to the rustic/rural settings of your music, doesn't it? The music being dreamt up and worked out In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country, the land we inherited from our ancestors and haven't yet ruined completely. Being isolated from The City, Modern Life and the delusion of Ongoing Progress. How does that show in your music, you think?
For years - since Kraftwerk actually - electronic music has been associated with science fiction, futurism, cyberspace, technology, a world of robots and machinery. Your music seem to be a reaction to all that: it's not shaping the future, but recapturing the past - with a child-like innocence. Is that a correct interpretation? How important is the child-like innocence in this.
What makes the past more interesting than the future to you?
"1969 in the sunshine"(from: 1969). What memory is that? Woodstock? A yellowed picture of your parents? A collective memory that fits your music?
It's these references that give your music a context. Or is there more to it than just context… a Message?
Music Is Math, you state. Is it true that you've been experimenting with the Fibonacci Sequence and the golden ratio (as they appear in nature) in your music? Did it get you anywhere?
What is The Smallest Weird Number?
Many plants show the Fibonacci Numbers in the arrangement of the leaves around their stem. It's these mysterious phenomenons, where nature and science meet, that seem to fascinate you more than anything. See: The Gyroscope, Sunshine Recorder, Magic Window, I Saw Drones and the vulcano and energy warnings on Geogaddi.
Would this be the kind of movies you're making with the Music 70 collective?
I know there's some Super 8 footage shown at your live gigs. Are you involved with the visual part yourselves? Is this an integral part of your work?
How many people are involved with Music 70?
Rumour has it that Warp bought the rights to the old Music 70 recordings. Is that true? Do you think they will do a 'Mbuki Mvuki/Trainer' in the near future?
What do think of Twoism being sold for up to 710 pounds on eBay? (Most offers coming from Edinburgh. It seems people want to cash in on their money before the old stuff is being rereleased.)
Any plans to come to Europe and Holland this Spring/Summer? Do you enjoy playing live? It seems such an awkward normal thing to do, so hopelessly un-mysterious, so not-BOC.
Also not-very-BOC: the number of chill-out compilations that got Aquarius and other tracks from MHTRTC on them. What do you make of that? Do you consider your music as being chill-out music? What is the best situation to listen to your music?
I know Mogwai tried to invite you for their All Tomorrow's Parties and other shows, but you've never answered their letters. Nobody seems to really know you. Not Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat, who's a also from Glasgow and a big fan. Mira Calix seems to be the only artist at Warp you keep in touch with - and Autechre, I guess. How real is the image of recluse loners, hidden in the Pentland Hills?
Last question: what does Geogaddi mean in your twisted language? What does it stand for?
Thanks a lot for your time! I hope it was worth it. Keep making such amazing records. Cheers, Koen Poolman/OOR
interview by by Koen Poolman, March 2002.
|issue||Vol. 166 (May 2002)|
"Country Comfort" is a 2002 interview by Alexis Georgopoulos. It originally appeared in URB magazine.
Rural shut-ins Boards of Canada fit nightmares, rainbows and David Koresh into the melodic mathematics of their beautiful new album.
If Boards of Canada's songs could, they would come to life. Children would appear dressed in striped T-shirts and corduroys, shaggy hair framing their fresh faces, grass stains on their knees. The sun would beam down rippling rays of golden white and kaleidoscopic pastels. And honey laughter would careen off the sky's canopy, quivering with he rush of playground love and infinite possibility. Alas, lest you think this a spotless utopia, someone would be hidden in the bushes watching. And not with the best of intentions./boc-old/ Back after four years holed up in a remote bunker in rural Scotland, Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison are following up 2000's In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country EP with the psychedelic diorama that is Geogaddi. Like nearly all the releases that have preceded it, Geogaddi is less a collection of songs than a world unto itself, unfurling in sheaths of warbling analog synth melodies and tripped-out Sugar Hill-meets-Autechre beats. It's the aural equivalent of sitting on your analyst's couch, rummaging through a past you're still trying to make sense of. /boc-old/ Loathing publicity and its trappings, the reclusive duo decided on doing minimal promotion for Geogaddi. What follows is one of the very few interviews to follow the album's release.
I've always thought that hype does a disservice to the things it seeks to elevate in that it doesn't allow for personal discovery. Instead, it imposes heightened expectation and scrutiny.
You have said that you're turned off by electronic musicians' celebration of the technological and urban. Still, even though you live in the country, it seems urbania hasn't left your songs altogether.
Geogaddi continues your contrast of naïve, childlike sounds and imagery with unsettling, ominous atmospheres. What draws you to this juxtaposition?
Your titles often reference geometry, numbers. Are you trying to draw parallels between natural patterns and technological ones?
The In a Beautiful Place Out in the country EP features both an image of David Koresh and a reference to him in the lyrics. Geogaddi was sequenced to play at 66 minutes and 6 seconds, you have a song titled "The Devil is in the Details" and at the All Tomorrow Parties music festival, your films featured clips of people losing themselves in euphoric religious abandon. What gives with the cultish phenomena?
Geogaddi's cover art is very reminiscent of children's educational filmstrips. Were you going for this specific aesthetic?
interview by by Alexis Georgopoulos, June 2002.
|issue||Vol. 4 Issue 7|
"Northern Exposure" is a 2002 interview by Ken Micallef. It originally appeared in Remix Mag.
Although Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison - the duo known as Boards of Canada - allegedly live in a commune on the northern coast of Scotland, near Edinburgh (not the Great White North as their name suggests), their music is neither pastoral nor hippie-dippy-like. Instead, their odd combination of ambient electro and downtempo experimentalism is about as warm and fuzzy as a horror-porno B-movie soundtrack.
Boards of Canada's debut album, the oddly titled Music Has the Right to Children (Matador, 1998), was a mini-revolution in ambient electronic music, a travelogue of spiraling space loops and woozy melodies that introduced the post-Nevermind generation to the Brian Eno-esque joys of chilling out. BoC's sophomore effort, Geogaddi (Warp, 2002), is even more stripped-down and beautiful than its predecessor, featuring simple circular rhythms, eerie melodies and unusual samples that create an airless, ethereal ultraworld. An overwhelming feeling of darkened, almost dangerous sentimentality permeates Geogaddi's surreal atmosphere, like a child recalling a nightmare to another small friend. Perhaps this is music for the inner child who everyone has left behind.
Many of Geogaddi's songs use spoken-word samples to embellish their bizarre moods, such as the sexually heated female voice that repeatedly counts from one to 10 in "Gyroscope." Naked Gun actor Leslie Nielsen speaks of "when lava flows underwater" in "Dandelion," and from there, the album grows more involved and detailed, with all manner of deranged children and computer voices mumbling over hopscotch hip-hop and cranky trip-hop.
"We wanted the general sound to be simple melodies played on unrecognizable textures," says Eoin about Geogaddi.
"We want to evoke the feel of old TV recordings," adds Sandison. "We go to ridiculous lengths sometimes to make a piece of music sound dated and damaged." Although Sandison notes that they generally tried to accomplish this sound without simply sampling old TV recordings, a few notable exceptions made their way to the final recording. Trainspotters will enjoy ferreting out various actors' voices or bits of '70s television-show and commercial dialog, which, according to BoC, could originate anywhere from ill-fated actor Robert Blake's Baretta to The Rockford Files to the horror-movie schlockfest, Final Victim.
Eoin and Sandison learned to play various musical instruments when they were children. Sandison formed a band and began making experimental tracks with old synths, drums and tape decks in 1980, when he was only nine years old. Influenced by television documentaries and soundtracks, particularly those by the National Film Board of Canada, Sandison named his band Boards of Canada. When Eoin became the band's bassist in 1986, Boards of Canada were mixing real instruments with computer effects and found sounds from radio and television broadcasts. Sandison dabbled with Super 8 home-movie visuals for the band early on, and by the late '80s, BoC were making full-length films accompanied by their own soundtracks.
BoC's first official release was Twoism (1995) on their own Music 70 label, followed by the 1996 Hi Scores EP on the Skam label. Gigs at the UK's Phoenix Festival and opening for Autechre brought the group to the attention of Warp Records, which signed Boards of Canada in 1998. BoC's first Warp release, Music Has the Right to Children, was met with overwhelming critical and popular acclaim, scooping up several Top 20 spots in 1998 year-end polls in UK music publications such as DJ Magazine, Jockey Slut, Muzik, NME and The Wire.
Since releasing Music Has the Right to Children, Boards of Canada have remained conspicuously out of action. They performed only a small handful of live performances, including a John Peel Session for the BBC's Radio 1, and released the 4-track EP In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country in 2000. Eoin and Sandison spent most of the past four years recording Geogaddi, which, incidentally, is exactly 66 minutes and six seconds long. Like its predecessor, Geogaddi is garnering rave reviews from critics, showing skeptics that BoC's early success was not a fluke.
The incredibly elusive duo stepped away briefly from the soothing hum of the analog machines in their studio to give some insight into the thought process behind Boards of Canada's strange, beautiful music.
What role does reflection or memory play in your music?
There is not only an orchestral feeling to some tracks on Geogaddi but also a surreal, nightmarish quality. Do you consciously seek to evoke dynamic swings in emotion?
Do specific childhood musical memories influence certain tracks?
"Gyroscope" has a vocal that sounds like a woman in a porno movie counting to 10. Do you ever sample pop-culture sources such as TV and movies?
Does a vocal sample sometimes spark a track?
Some tracks have disembodied, even ominous-sounding vocal samples. Do the vocal samples act simply as texture, or are they meant to imply meaning?
You reside in a rural environment. What influence does nature play in your music, and did it play any role in the "geo-" prefix of the album title?
Does "Music Is Math" have anything to do with the mathematics and geometry that run through nature and, consequently, art, music and architecture?
How has your gear changed since Music Has the Right to Children? Do you still rely more on tape and samplers than synths?
Do you play the bulk of the instruments yourself and then treat them in the mix?
How do you create your drum patterns?
What are your favorite instruments?
How has your recording process changed, and can you elaborate at all on your creation process?
Do you try to avoid blatant complexity in your compositions?
You don't seem to be too concerned about having all the latest technology.
Do you want your music to reflect a clean, futuristic ideal or more of a rough, nostalgic archetype?
Is your music new music or folk music?
interview by by Ken Micallef, July 2002.
|title||The Downtempo Duo|
"The Downtempo Duo" is a 2005 interview by Heiko Hoffmann. It originally appeared on Pitchfork.com.
With their Warp albums Music Has the Right to Children and Geogaddi, Boards of Canada have become one of the most well-loved and critically revered contemporary artists without releasing singles, videos, or even going on tour. At the same time their sound of electronic psychedelia has been copied so often as to make the duo wonder what to do next. In this interview, which took place at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland, Mike and Marcus Sandison speak for the first time about their backgrounds, obsessive reactions to Geogaddi, and their upcoming new album The Campfire Headphase.
In the interviews you've given over the years and in the bios that your record label sends out it's never been mentioned when and how you got to know each other. So at what age did you guys meet?
How old where you when you started making music?
Are you coming from musical families?
Recorder is switched off. Mike asks Marcus if it's ok to talk about it. Marcus says yes. Mike checks if the recorder is off and explains that they are in fact brothers, but have concealed that as they didn't want to provoke comparisons to Orbital,the electronic duo of brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll, when they started to release records in the mid-90s. Recorder is switched on again.
Mike: Or even the Osmonds or the Jacksons [laughs].
Marcus: I never thought about it but Ween are brothers as well, aren't they?
Mike: No, they are not.
Marcus: I thought they were. Are they not?
Mike: No, they just pretend that they are. [Laughs]
Marcus: That's fantastic! [Laughs]Mike: See, some people go out of their way to do things like that, while we are trying to avoid it."
So who had to adopt a new family name for the sake of Boards of Canada?
When did you live in Canada?
Why did the educational TV films from the National Film Board of Canada, that you named yourself after, have such a big impact on you and your music if you'd only been exposed to them for a year?"
Mike: They have a newsletter and even ran an article on us a couple of years ago. So that's a strange feedback loop.Marcus: Back then television was a really big deal for us because we were so bored. We weren't old enough to go to the cinema and we were in a town where there was absolutely bugger all to do. So we just went out and vandalized property. [Laughs] Or sneak in video nasties from the local video store. Or got our friends together to make films. We had our crappy early-80s bikes and went out with my dad's super-8 camera making films."
And you really started recording music at the age of 10?
Was it always just the two of you playing together?
Marcus: Initially we were in different bands in high school.Mike: But when we came home [from school] we were recording music together. At one point in the mid-80s Marcus was in a really trashy heavy metal band and I wasn't into their music at all. So I invited him to play with my band. We then started to play around with synths. We were the only group at our high school to use synths."
You only started sending demo tapes to record labels in the mid-90s. Why did take you such a long time to approach a label to release your music?
Do you mean bands like EMF or Jesus Jones?
Mike: Because we've always listened to huge amounts of different music we experiment with lots of things. So you play guitar one minute and then something extremely electronic the next minute. But if you're gonna be a band you can't really afford to do that. You have to stick with something. Nobody's gonna want to listen to a record where there's an electronic tune and, let's say, a banjo tune right after. You have to stay with a flavor.Marcus: Some of the tracks that we worked on are so extreme in one direction that we just can't use them. They don't fit the BoC thing at all. We can't release them under this project. We're already seeing from the reactions to this record that some people love it and are really happy that we've done something different. But there are some people having a problem with the guitars. So if we'd really gone full-on with that they would have just never believed that it's the same group. You would never know that it was us."
Don't you underestimate your audiences openness for change?
Marcus: ...but we would listen to them at the same time. Maybe it's a slightly gothic thing. You can imagine that there was already a seed planted there where that was going in two different directions. I actually rate bands like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson who are a hybrid of electronic and guitar music. I think they are brilliant but the kind of people who are into that kind of thing now are not as broad-minded as maybe people were 20 years ago. Now there's a feeling that if you are one of these kids wearing black eyeliner who's into Marilyn Manson you will never be open-minded enough to listen to electronic music. I think there's a narrowing of taste rather than an opening up of taste.
Mike: Or maybe it just seems like that from our point of view here in Scotland.Marcus: We've actually been in touch with the Cocteau Twins. Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins is a fan of our music. He's been trying for about four years to persuade us do some work on his label Bella Union but we are contractually not allowed to do that. Plus we don't even have the time. But it's a shame because we are such huge fans of theirs."
It seems that on one hand you're afraid to alienate your audience but on the other you try to avoid being pigeonholed.
But this will not happen. It's a losing battle.
One reason why you feel quite a lot of pressure, surely is the fact that it takes you such a long time to put a record out. Your last album, Geogaddi, was released three and a half years ago.
So what took you so long? When Geogaddi came out you were saying that the new album was already half finished.
But it's correct that we had done a lot of work on this record by the time Geogaddi came out. We have this system of working where we never work in a linear fashion. We work parallel on lots and lots of music at once.
Marcus: Instead of starting on one song and working on it until its finished we have hundreds of songs on the go at one time and depending on our mood we try working on different ones. We both have pretty short attention spans.
Mike: We always have enough material for several other albums but what tends to happen is that our tastes move on and we kind of get fed up with what we're doing. We actually have a huge amount of music that people will probably never get to hear.
Marcus: It's just another manifestation of this schizophrenic problem, trying to do too many things at once.
Mike: We also started working on an acoustic version of Music Has the Right to Children years ago and it still exists.Marcus: The reason why we haven't put something like this out is that it can seem like a retread of something you've already done."
Is The Campfire Headphase a direct reaction for you on Geogaddi?
Geogaddi was also the most abstract and surreal record we've done. A lot of the tracks don't really have much structure. Some songs are more soundscapes. With the new record we wanted to simplify the whole thing, [to make it] just about music.
Marcus: We realized that there are some people who would listen to our records but instead of listening to the music they would start looking for some hidden things immediately.Mike: People will look for secret things now in this record even if there aren't any."
More than any of your records before this one reminds me most of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless.
But Warp Records have changed a lot too, if you think about bands like Maximo Park, Broadcast etc.
interview by by Heiko Hoffmann, September 2005.
"Part of the Fire" (in French) by ...
"Splendid Isolation" by Neil Davenport
This is an original text copied verbatim from the original source. Do not edit this text to correct errors or misspellings. Aside from added wikilinks, this text is exactly as it originally appeared.
Tune in to the other-worldly sound of Boards Of Canada
Musicians often boast they're removed from the hub and froth of media-piloted trends. Yet few do so with as much conviction as Scots duo Boards Of Canada. Located in the rural Scottich Highlands, brothers Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin (they are both called Sandison but Marcus uses his middle name) firmly believe that separation from civilisation is mandatory. 'We go into a "studio lockdown",' explains Marcus, 'where the only umbilical cord we have to current culture is satellite TV or the Internet. It's something that allows us to switch off for long periods and create an alternative universe where our music exists.' The ends fully justify the means. Sicne breaking through in 1998 with their landmark full-length debut, Music Has The Right To Children, Boards Of Canada have taken analogue electronica on a solar expedition. Sparse yet eerily expansive keyboard signatures sound cut loose from the Earth's gravity, yet the effect is altogether more human and emotional than that description might suggest. After 2002's dense and symmetrical samples on Geogaddi, new album The Campfire Headphase is a deliberate return to the weird evocations of grainy Super-8s and Sesame Street heard on Music Has The Right To Children. Even the sleeve looks similar. 'Yeah, exactly,' says Mike, 'we've come full circle. With Geogaddi it went pretty surreal and dark, and this record is like coming back into the fresh air again.' Yet The Campfire Headphase isn't the sound of the duo standing thematically or musically still. 'In itself, the new album has a theme,' continues Mike. 'It's based on one man's head trip, a kind of vintage American road trip that's basically just a hallucination. We were going for that kind of dry, laid-back, wide-open sound.' The American references are appropriate. As children, the brothres obsessed over American TV progreammes such as The Six Million Dollar Man and dystopian sci-fi films The Andromeda Strain, Logan's Run and Silent Running. Such wonky soundtracks helped map out the Boards' wobbly, fluttering sound. Despite precocious geekiness, their formative years still included a conventional stint as a'proper' guitar band. And if Mike and Marcus are going 'full circle', it's fitting that they've dusted down their guitars for this album. 'It wasn't a big deal for us because we have a longer history as a guitar-based band,' says Mike. 'With each album it's a different facet of our sound.' Yet the guitars are only incidental - it's still the Boards' inmistakable brand of analogue psychedelia and it still sounds stretched and warped, magical and otherworldly. How do they do it? 'We just don't like clean sounds,' says Mike. 'We'Ve always loved making electronic music that doesn't sound typically perfect. I've always felt that recorded music seems to have something special when it's worn and damaged.' In 2005, no one comes close to replicating or bettering the Boards' imperfect purity. Electronica as a genre may have ceased to be exciting or beguiling years ago, but can The Campfire Headphase kick-start a fresh reappraisal? Don't expect to get any answers from Mike and Marcus. 'We avoid reading all reviews,' says Mike firmly, 'so we don't know what the world thinks of our music anyway.' Somehow, you kind of believe him.
Brothers' gonna work it out... One the new album: Mike: 'We'd been writing throughout 2003 but the serious work on the new record began mid-2004. We'd both been travelling quite a bit and I'd been sketching tracks out in New Zealand where I was living for a while. We wanted to make a really catchy, spaced-out record.' On electronica: Mike: We're not huge fans of electronica specifically. Technology has made it so easy for anyone to get into producing music, especially electronic music, that the whole electronica scene has been diluted. It's allowing a lot of mediocre music to be released.'
On maths: Marcus: 'It's a whole world of amazing patterns and coincidences. The more you apply maths to the world as we perceive it, the more fascinating it gets. And it has connections with the way the world is revealed when you strip half of your head away with psychedelics.'
On being 'telepathic': Mike: 'We're pretty much both on the same wavelength al the time. We usually don't even have to use complete sentences to convey ideas to each other. We have a kind of shorthand musical language that would sound like total gobbledygook to anyone else.'
"Cross Out the Inappropriate" (original text in Dutch) by Kristoff Tilkin
BOARDS OF CANADA - cross out the inappropriate
'Today’s youth has no respect anymore for A) Music, B) Acne, and C) Yesterday’s youth'With their new album Campfire, Boards of Canada – the Scottish electronic duo Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison – bid farewell to the cult status they achieved after Music Has The Right To Children and foremost Geogaddi. On Campfire, we didn’t hear any layered, discomforting ambient littered with obscure references, but instead ten surprisingly straightforward sounding tracks full of weathered easy listening, and the melancholy of bruised Fisher Price-toys.
Humo: "Oops, no."
Humo: The Campfire Headphase sounds like the tapes have leavened in a humid cellar for twenty years: dead-gorgeous but half vanished. And the cover looks like a used beer mat: the pictures are totally bleached."
“In the nineties, producers sometimes mixed the crackling of old vinyl LPs in their tracks to let them sound more authentically. We go much farther: we mutilate our sounds consciously. We don’t have to try really hard, though: a lot of our studio equipment is garbage anyway (laughs).”
“Did you ever hear ‘The Disintegration Loops’ from William Basinski? Basinski, an American producer, wanted to convert his twenty-year-old cassettes to a digital format, but because they had been at the bottom of a drawer for so long, fragments of the magnetic tape came off. But instead of stopping the process to save the tapes, he went on with it and got the dying sounds digitalized and on cd. The results are ancient soundscapes sounding fantastic as well as tragic: you can really hear them pass away. When I read that story, I thought: hey, that’s what we’ve been doing for years: writing tracks using sounds that soak off a feeling of melancholy.
Humo: "Look at yourselves: you two are acting like a bunch of old nagging men."
Humo: "Try to say that to someone older than forty: you’ll get a rant about ‘those shitty eighties’, that’s for sure."
The fifth chord
Humo: Campfire is a great deal more accessible than its predecessor. Didn’t you finally want to – don’t laugh – get access to a wider public?"
Humo: "A lot of your colleagues would rather keep hanging around in the same strait instead of admitting that you can’t keep being innovative – moreover, it is no crime to make accessible music."
Humo: "Don’t worry: I’m allergic to people who regard ‘pop’ as a filthy word".
Humo: I’m very disappointed that you guys are – unlike the myth about Boards of Canada – no unworldly druids stinking out of their mouths. You even look suspiciously ordinary.
Humo: "Keep up the good work! And thank you."
Note: Thanks to hGc for the translation.
"Above Board!" is a 2005 interview by Gal Detourn. It originally appeared in Playlouder ltd.a.
This is an original text copied verbatim from the original source. Do not edit this text to correct errors or misspellings. Aside from added wikilinks, this text is exactly as it originally appeared.
Like Autechre, Warp's Boards of Canada have slowly built a reputation for quality and innovation within the electronica sphere, which, with their reluctance to become public personalities, has created an enigmatic persona. Hence, the minute details of their lives have not been documented. What we can tell you however, is that Marcus and Michael are brothers, they hail from Scotland, and their latest opus - 'The Campfire Headphase' - is one of the most beautiful, bittersweet slices of electronica you're likely to hear. Marcus and Michael have found an uncanny way of investing the most futuristic production techniques, with a warm glow of nostalgia. Here's how they see it...
Why are you reluctant to be interviewed?
The album seems too cohesive to have arrived by accident. What did you set out to achieve?
How did you incorporate the guitar elements? Are they samples or did you play?
Is the album less synthesised? Did you have to change your method of working?
It's been said that there's a vibe of hazy nostalgia that underpins your music. Where do you think that comes from?
Is it more accurate to say that you're trying to soundtrack the future or the here and now?
There's a genuine positivity on this album. Where do you think that comes from? Has the birth of Mike's child given you both a different view of the world maybe?
But it's often tinged with melancholy. Can emotions that are too clear cut sound cheesy?
Playlouder interviewed Autechre and they seemed like the kind of blokes you could have a pint and a laugh with. Nothing like their enigmatic 'Autechre' persona might suggest. Do people have similar misconceptions about you?
Finally, does the fact that you're brothers aid the creative process?
interview by by Gal Detourn, October 2005.
"Sweet and Sour Melodies Wander Around between Positive and Celebrative Sounds and Swaying Sadness" is a 2005 interview by Masaaki Hara. It originally appeared in Vibe-Net.
Boards of Canada released their 3rd full album The Campfire Headphase. Containing a full of unchanged finest melancholy in this release, it is described by themselves as “a normal pop album that has been exposed under the sun for 20 years”. What’s the truth in it? I interviewed them about the background of the album including the production process.
What did you pay attention to when you made this album ‘Campfire Headphase’?
In the Campfire Headphase, there are some instruments playing including guitars, aren’t there?
Do any secrets exist in the titles like the previous releases?
How have the music making environments changed since your debut to now? And what hasn’t changed?
Do you not plan to play as a band again?
interview by Masaaki Hara, October 2005.
(translated by Naoko Ross)
"Stirred Up The Ashes" is a 2005 interview by Heiko Hoffmann. It originally appeared in Earplug.
Groove magazine's Heiko Hoffmann speaks to Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada, aka Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, about how they stirred up the ashes of their own influence to create their new album, The Campfire Headphase.
On your last album, Geogaddi, you included some hidden messages to test your audience. Do you consider that experiment successful?
You didn't realize that there was this thing called the Internet.
Marcus: For example, the decision to make the record 66.6 minutes long was made right at the last minute. We wanted to insert some silence at the end of the album so that there would be a gap before the CD would start again. When we were discussing the length of the silence [Warp Records owner] Steve Beckett actually suggested to take it to a total 66 minutes 6 seconds, because then everyone would think it's the devil who made the album. And we just laughed.Michael: People found things in the record that aren't actually in it. I've seen people talking about some of the vocal lines in the album being palindromic - you know, if you play it forward, it says exactly the same thing backwards. I think we did this in one case, but some people claim that there are many more. Then there are people who said, if you slow down this song, after two-and-a-half minutes you hear a little sound that sounds like a cymbal, but if you slow it right down and reverse it, it actually turns out to be a child screaming. But that's just a cymbal."
On The Campfire Headphase, you avoided the use of your trademark children's voices.
Michael: There were people who thought that that's what our sound is: a synthesizer and children's voices. That's not really fair. We've also seen a lot of people cropping up imitating the sound that we were doing before, and the imitation was always quite bad. Marcus: It's flattering when people say that they've been influenced by what we've done, but at the same time I hear tracks that people are doing right now who are doing the things that we did eight years ago. You get a hip-hop rhythm, a mono synth, and a child's voice saying something. At the time we were doing this, no one had done it, and it can leave you quite uncomfortable hearing this now. On this record, we wanted to prove to people that we are capable of more than just that. Michael: I think it can become really dangerous for a band if you don't have a certain level of self-consciousness about these things. You always have to stay a few steps in front of your audience. We always have people putting fakes on the Internet before a new record is released, and the fakes are always really electronic with little kids' voices and things like that. Probably next time around all the fakes will include wobbly guitars like the ones we use on the new album (laughs).Marcus: Meanwhile, we'll come out with a very electronic record."
interview by by Heiko Hoffmann, October 2005.
|title||Two for the No-Show|
"Two for the No-Show" by Will Hodgkinson
Boards of Canada are so publicity shy they make Dylan look like Robbie. Will hodgkinson gets an exclusive, reclusive interview.
A fog of myth surrounds Boards of Canada. For the past decade the Scottish duo have been making beautiful instrumental music that has won them fans such as, Björk, Beck, Johnny Marr and Radiohead. Albums such as Music Has The Right To Children (1998) and Geogaddi (2002) are evocative, deliberately imperfect electronic portraits that are both elegant and threatening.
But Boards of Canada hardly ever play live, rarely grant interviews, and generally take at least three years to make a record. They don't like having their photograph taken. A visit to their website will reveal nothing more than the cover art for their latest album, The Campfire Headphase. The exist purely on the strength of their music.
A few facts emerged over the years. Marcus Eoin and Mike Sandison (left and right in our picture) met as children in the late Seventies, and were inspired by American television shows such as The Six Million Dollar Man and educational programmes from the film Board of Canada to start making music. After stints in school bands they began to work solely together, saving their pocket money to buy exotic musical instruments and spending all their free time in their self-built studio. It's only recently that they revealed that they are in fact brothers. They live in the countryside near Edinburgh, but not even their record company is quite sure where.
As I wait in the Edinburgh Film House café I'm almost expecting two versions of the Emperor from Star Wars to appear, beams shooting from their fingers. But two slightly scruffy, good-looking, resoundingly normal men in their mid-thirties walk in.
"We really don't care about image," says Marcus, pointing out the obvious. "We decided that if the music is good enough we'd just put the records out and not bother with anything else."
"Instrumental music is evocative. As soon as you attach a face to it, you tie it down," adds Mike.
Ever since they started experimenting with tape machines as children the two have been obsessed with creating the perfect sound, which explains why tit takes them so long to complete an album. Over the three-and-a-half years it took them to make The Campfire Headphase they recorded more than 400 tracks, working by themselves six or seven days a week. Don't they fear losing touch with reality?
"We aim to switch everthing off at six o'clock now," says Mike, who has been forced to change his working methods since he became a father in 2004. "For Geogaddi we worked until 4am every day and it was hellish, so we're trying to lighten up a bit for the good of our health and our family lives."
"The problem is that we're control freaks," adds Marcus. "People think of us as a couple Scottish stoners who sit around and bang out a record every few years when we can be bothered. The opposite is true."
They are, by their own admission, almost impossible to work with. Their record label, Warp, regularly receives requests from famous artists to have Boards of Canada provide remixes, to which they almost always give a civil refusal. "It got to the point where I told Warp to turn down all requests for remixes unless they were from God or Beck'" says Marcus. "Beck called a few months later."
The fact that their music is mostly electronic is largely a result of their inability to work collaboratibely. "When I was in school bands," says Mike, "I would create a minimalist electronic track, and then some guy would want to ruin it with a guitar solo."
"The only way we could be a traditional four-piece band," muses Marcus, "is if we cloned ourselves. Then the bassit wouldn't complain about only playing one note every eight bars."
It becomes apparent that Boards of Canada have a vision so singular that it puts them at odds with pretty much everything else going on in the modern world.
The Campfire Headphase has a timeless quality in its blend of melody and dissonnance, and despite being made mostly on traditional instruments it sounds so much more rich and imaginative than most contemporary pop music.
As they talk about their favourite films - the psychadelic surf movie Crystal Voyager, Antonioni's panoramic Zabriskie Point'' - Mike and Marcus come across as commited to their art and curious about life. "If all goes according to plan, everything we've done so far will be just one stage in our development," Mike says, "Boards of Canada is the tip of the iceberg."
|title||Protect and Survive|
"Protect and Survive" by by Rob Young
In a rare face to face interview at their Scottish retreat, Boards of Canada breakin their self-imposed isolation to scotch the myths that have coalesced around them. With the release of their third album in seven years, they explain the reasons for the artificial ageing and geometric twists to which they subject their music, and reflect on being part of the 'analogue-to-digital' generation. Words: Rob Young. Photography: Leon Chew
The Bass Rock is barely visible in the late summer heat-mist, lying about three miles off the deserted coast near North Berwick. The crag rises 350 feet out of the turquoise sea, and faintly visible against its sheer cliff sides is a white lighthouse. A millenium and a half before the light was et on the rock at the beginning of the last century, a Lindisfarne monk, St Baldred of Bass, lived a hermit's existence alone on the island, shuttered in a rain-lashed cell to confront alone his god and, doubtless, his demons too. Today gannets are the island's sole visitors, as well as the occasional tourist boats ploughing through the surf to visity the martyr's chapel. As I crunch along the Ravensheugh Sands with Boards Of Canada's Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, the guano-stained Rock takes on a mythical hue: the distance and the sea mist cause it to almost melt into thin air, the wraith of a giant white molar on the horizon. There's a Moby-Dick quality to it -- you could spend a lifetime staring at it but it would remain eternally out of reach. "When I was a kid, about five or six years old," Mike Sandison is saying, " a relative of mine had one of those tacky ceramic owls on their mantelpiece, and it had multifaceted diamante eyes. I as totally obsessed with those sparkly glass eyes, for ages. I felt like looking into them was like looking sideways though everything, right through time. That's what we're trying to do with our music."
When you think about Boards Of Canada, the idea of hermits is never too far away. For the best part of a decade and a half now they have dwelt in what appears to be -- to a London/urban-centric media, anyway -- an isolated wilderness in Scotland (in fact, they've always lived within a half-hour's drive of the capital city Edinburgh, not in the Highlands, as is often reported). Their Interviews have invariably been conducted by email. Since their wistful, queasily nostalgia-soaked electronic music began to appear in the mid-90s, they have only done a handful of face to face interviews, none of those on home turf. Careful managers of their own public image, even today their homes and studio are out of bounds, but they do willingly and generously drive us all over the stretch of coast an countryside that's close to the place they call home. Until recently they live in the Pentland Hills, south west of Edinburgh; without much fanfare they have moved eastwards since then, into the flatter terrain of East Lothian. "We're not far away from where we were before," explains Sandison, "we relocated, but we're trying to let that slip by without anyone knowing about it, because we felt that if we made a big deal of it, it would start that whole thing again about the geography being more important than the music." "I always got this feeling that people were saying, 'because they were surrounded by the Pentland Hills, this is why their music sounds this way'," sighs Eoin. "And I don't really like that, because it's almost like saying, 'you're just like anyone else, and it's just because you happen to be there'. That's unfair -- it's not giving you credit for actually just doing music the way you want it to be." For better or worse, the Boards' 'secrecy' has endowed them with enigmatic status; the relative media silence has opened a space in which fans can speculate, mythmake, invent and interpret to their hearts' content -- much of which happens in chatrooms and message boards, thankfully well out of harm's way. But the pair certainly monitor these discussions and while they don't take part in them, they do seem somewhat confounded by the kind of rumours that have got out. As Eoin says, "if there's no apparent facts or information about you, then what happens is stuff just floods in to fill that gap, and very often it's basically a flood of bullshit that fills in your silhouette. And we've really suffered from that."
It's not as if these two aren't well travelled. Sandison once lived in London for a couple of years; they've lived in Edinburgh itself and, when they decide to take a break from their recording (and each other) to spend time with their partners, they're off travelling on the other side of the world -- Sandison mentions recent trips to France, Australia and New Zealand (where he's thinking of moving), while Eoin's considering a new life in Hong Kong with his Chinese girlfriend. Those are decisions still to be made, as their current live/work set-up is working well for them. "This whole project has come about with us living on the outskirts of Edinburgh," he says, "and for the last two decades we've been working on it from here, and we've had no reason to want to relocate to the city or to the south or anything, it's as simple as that. In fact, we actually find to some extend this so-called hermetic bubble that we live in is actually making it a lot easier for us to do our thing and not feel any urge to make it DJ friendly, or make it work for a certain social or club environment." Meeting these two objects of so much speculation, it's refreshing to discover they'er not the dysfunctional electronic droids you might expect. They're actually a deal more open, articulate and opinionated than many other musicians of their generations, and don't appear terribly secretive. A kung fu manual is prominently stuffed in ther back seat pocket of Eoin's car, and Sandison rabbits away as we motor through the Scottish countryside, eulogising about being a parent and at one point asking his wife to text him a photo of his baby daughter at the dinner table so that he can show us. They've broken cover to talk about The Campfire Headphase, the latest in their very occasional series of records, and only their third album since Music Has The Right To Children (1998) and Geogaddi (2002). As they're at pains to point out, the long gaps between releases aren't because they're lazy or aloof, it's because of the perfectionism of theircraft. Six months of 2005 alone were spent on post-producing the album to get idea-germs into a state they call finished. "There are textures in what we try to do," explains Eoin, "which borrow from certain sounds or eras - even in visual things that we do as well, artwork - to trigger somthing, almost a cascade. It's like a memory that someone has - even though it's artificial, they never even had the memory; it's just you're ageing a song. And then people feel, is that something familiar I knew from yers ago?"
There's always been a warm, woody hue to BOC's music, but the dominant flavour has been synthesized on Campfire, guitars have taken over: steel strings, rippling chords and plucked notes dappled with reverb. "Chromakey Dreamcoat" ends with a blend of hillbilly steel and keyboard swirls not unlike the original BBC Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy theme - a typically BOC reference to the organic science fiction of the 1970s they love so much. The duo's clunkily satisfying rhythms - often played on a kit by Sandison - and analogue drum machines still govern the downtempo flow, but it's geared down to a pace Sandison describes as "that 70s truckstop diner feel". "Satellite Anthem Icarus" is especially gorgeous, a scudding oceanic cruise, riding on the sound of waves crashing on a beach, a woman's muffled voice and electronic tropical peeps. "On this album it's interesting," says Sandison, "because we are really overtly playing riffs on guitars, and although we've aged it and made it more like it's been recorded 25 years ago or something, with each track that we've used the guitars on, we've put things in it which are impossible on a 1970s record. Sometimes we'll construct an entire song out of samples that we'll make, so we'll maybe take instruments and play parts or play notes and we'll make entire spans of notes out of sounds we really like, and then play them in ways that the original instrument couldn't have played. You could take a span of lots of notes on the guitar, and then you would play chords on that guitar by hitting them all at once, in a way that a real guitar could never be played. And then of course we would do a lot of other things to the guitar to really tweak it and make it sound very, very gnarly and damaged." The two of them spend most of their time together doing the spadework that yields the raw produce for their music, creating sounds with what they describe as a collection of 200 instruments - not only synths, but flutes, stringed instruments, guitars, exotic percussion - sampling them, twisting them like sugar candy, and the thing that makes them Boards Of Canada pieces more than anything else: artificially aging them. The songwriting is one thing, but the process of transforming the melodic ideas into the finished product is what takes time. Tunes can wait around several years in a demo state before undergoing the duo's deliberate degradation technique. "One thing we tried to do," pursues Eoin, "and we're trying to do more of, is a sense that you're hearing a piece of music that comes through the wringer a bit - it's definitely not coming literally. It's not just a guy standing in front of you with the latest keyboard workstation. There's a sense that you're listening to sa tune, but how many times has that been copied from tape to tape to tape... by the time it's reached you it's crumbled, it's turned into powder. "You hera about monks in the Middles ages using a pin to create a Bible or a piece of art, and they'll do it for 40 years in the dark underneath a monastery," he continues, " and they'll be blind by the time they've finished. And some people really appreciate art like that, because there's something really tragic about it. It's almost like it's more beautiful than any other art, because instead of it being someone comfortably painting something in a day, there's something absolutely tragic and destroyed about it. So I always think you can still go further up the run from 'beautiful music', and that's beautiful music that seems to come out of some tragedy or brokenness. It becomes even more beautiful, the shards if the sound coming through are even more vibrant and affecting."
From the start, circumstances forced them to invent their own universe. Both born around 1970, they've been friends since they were toddlers, when their parents relocated to Canada to take up jobs in the construction industry. There, they were exposed to public education films on nature, science and the Earth, often narrated by Leslie Nielsen, made by the National Film Board of Canada. When they were around 13 years of age and living back in a bleak harbour town in the north of Scotland, they began "bullying" their friends into making experimental films with a Super-8 camera. "We'd say, 'This is waht you're going to do, because the other options are playing the Space Invaders machine down at the chip shop or breakin windows on phone boxes'," sandison says. To fit their pocket money budgets, the films involved time lapse, stop motion and 'sound to light' techniques. "We'd seen a lot of Norman McLaren animations while growing up," explains Eoin. At the same time Sandison, later joined by Eoin, began making music in various indie rock configurations. From the early 90s, university studies and unrewarding jobs were interleaved with more esoteric activities in the company of a large group of friends, artists, photographers, graphic designers and musicians, collectively known as Hexagon Sun. Their parties outgrew their homes in the Pentland Hills, spilling out into the woods. "It totally enhanced the experience," recalls Eoin. "Once you take it to an isolated, outdoor location, away from organisation, there's a sense of freedom that kicks in. It's sexier and less inhibited than an indoor event. You can have 50 or 100 people hanging out around fires, some rare music echoing around... the sound of two melodies clashing over one another, or maybe a melody to your left but a voice talking to your right, off through the trees. Doppler-shifting and filtering because of the wind or the random shapes around you. It creates a giddy, surreal sound that doesn't normally exist on records." In these unique outdoor communions, al arge part of Boards of Canada's sound aesthetic was forged. In 1996, after privately circulating cassette compilations of tracks they had been recording, Sandison and Eoin sent tapes to other labels including Skam in Manchester. Autechre's Sean Booth picked up on it immediately, and Skam released several BOC tracks before Warp swung into action and issued Music Has The Right To Children in 1998, with the distinctive treated cover image of a family Polaroid holiday snapshot with all the faces wiped blank. Geogaddi, appearing four years later, was decked with hexagonal, kaleidoscopic prisms that became something of a calling card. "I guess you could get a better idea of what these things symbolise by reading Aldous Huxley's The Doors Of Perception," says Eoin when I ask him about the significance of those shapes. "Also, I've always had an interest in the yamabushi of ancient Japan, the 'mountain men'. They used symbols as a way of having a willpower that would always outlive any challenge. They used repetitive hand symbols or drawn characters to create a neutral place they could visit mentally whenever they faced hardship. For us, "Turquoise Hexagon Sun" always returns us to a zone where we can throw off the baggage and begin again."
Somewhere up in the Highlands, they tell me, lies a valley that's the last remaining site in the UK where radio signals, microwaves and mobile phone signals can't reach. An Eden such as this, free of the harmful of the harmful effects of technology and sheltered from penetration by foreign chatter, sounds like the kind of place Boards Of Canada's music could happily live. A place where you might be able to start to observe the world directly, anew, unmediated by outside influence. In such places you can build your ark, rescue yourself from being dragged along with the flood. Most of the music they love and admire is made by folk who have built their own bubble, where the music lives in its own epoch, its own specially crafted box. The "Victorian fairly lights" and "looking-glass world" of fellow Scots The Cocteau Twins are one; Devo, inventors of their own theatrical universe and whose early songs they admire because they sound like advertising jingles for washing powder, are another. They are currently enthusing about William Basinski's Disintergration Loops ("Funny enough, when we first heard that, we thought, 'We've got tapes like that ourselves' ") and Stevie Wonder's rapturous mid-70s funk - "that bit in "Living For The City" where there's the descending chords, and it'S all transposing all the way down, and it's just going chromatically all down the scale... I recognise something there where it feels like he's trying to translate something that is otherworldly, that's not about the mundane," explains Sandison. "There's usually a visual element in the tracks we write," he continues, "and it probably comes from an obsession with film and TV. When yyou're a kid, a three second long animation with rainbows morphing into A-Bomb blasts can be massively affecting and influential. I think you see these things more vividly when you're younger, but as an adult your brain starts to filter out it considers irrevelant background noise. The downside is that you become desensitised to a lot of things and that leads you to not really feel much at all." Boards Of Canada's music is awash with sadness at the loss of a child's vivid perception. It struggles constantly to regain that enhanced sensation of encountering the world afresh, while planting a nostalgia for the sounds and images of the particular time in which they grew up. They are addressing their own specific generation - you might call them the analogue-to-digital transfer generation - whose formative years straddled huge changes in geopolitics (the Cold War and its nuclea threat which hung over 80s teens had evaporated by the time they left college), domestic and ocomputer technology (typing in the 80s became word processing in the 90s), and the nature and role of the media. Hence their music's slathering with textual referents, deliberated sonic aides memoires that are almost recognisable but remain just out of memory's reach. "We could only exist in the short pocket of time when music has made the transition form analogue to digital," agrees Sandison. "There's this little moment where there's enough nostalgia attached to the former recording media and the faults that it had, that certain people will get it, and understand what we're doing. If there's sadness in the way we use memory," he goes on, "it's because the time you're focusing on has gone forever. I guess it's a theme we play on a lot, that bittersweet thing where you face up to the fact that certain chapters of you life are just Polaroids now."
The faded turquoise and yellow packaging of The Campfire Headphase contains a gallery of Polaroid photos they've collected over the years, family snapshots digitally mildewed and rotted with similar artificial ageing techniques they use for their music. The idea, they tell me, is to create the feeling that you've just found all these pictues in someone else's old house and that the people shown in the pictures are al dead. As an aural analogy, they describe the degrading processo ntheir sound as introducing a "toxic, poisonous" element. Sandison articulates the fascination with the imperfect: "Even when we sound like we're being conventional, there's always something in it which is kind of dark, that's doing the bittersweet thing. Sometimes we deliberately construct songs to be pretty conventional sounding, and then we abuse them, we throw something in that's kind of a spike. "If you ever see these American makeover programmes where they get ordinary looking people and they give them these regulation whiter-than-white teeth and veneers and all that, quite often I find the finished product really sinister, because they've got these really symmetrical faces, with perfect teeth and everything, make-up and the hair. If you actually compare the before-and-after pictures, the person you could imagine being friends with is the one with squint teeth and everything and the gnarly face. And it's the same sort of thing with music and other art. If there's something a bit rough about it, it feels more personal to you, like something that belonged to you on a cassette tape that you've been cherishing for years, rather than something digital and perfect and straight. The drop-outs, the flutter on the tape and everything, you get used to where it happens." Eoin: "I think it's a reaction to mundanity. Britain, for example, is a safe place to live, and a lot of people in the rest of the world come here to live because it's better than were they are, the grass is green here than it is there. But when you've lived here for a long time, you can start to feel a crushing mundanity, you need strange things to bring you out of it, otherwise you start feeling like a corpse." Sandison elaborates, "I think we try to make music that's more like normal music that's head through a damaged mind, so you're hearing it diagonally..." Boards Of Canada's eccendtric orbits, their unstable tones and disorientating sonic additives are all carefully calculated effects. In conversation they'll often talk about chords coming in at weird angles and diagonals, zapping melodic expectations. As one of Geogaddi's song titles reminds us, "The Devil Is In The Details": their mastery of numbers and geometry has its own part to play in the Confucian confusion.
"You can use rules or set theory to dictate timings and note intervals", expands Sandison about their composition strategies. "For instance, you can imagine your melody to run vertically instead of horizontally, so that you're thinking of a vertical spiral, running on the spot. There's a thing you can calculate for plants called divergence, which is a ratio of complete turns of spiral leaf positions relative to the number of leaves in that spiral. In plants, this usually gives a Fibonacci number, which is pretty uncanny, but it's basically a natural law that's trying to create optimum distribution of leaf positions, to stop leaves from obsucring each other in sunlight. You can apply a similar idea to a vertical spiral of music, to calculate optimal temporal event positions in a pattern or texture. It doesn't always make for easy listening though," he adds, laughing.
Time to puncture a few myths about Boards Of Canada. "The kind of thing that gets up my nose is when people describe us as 'approaching New Age' or soemthing like that," moans Sandison. "To me that's completly missing the point. If we do something that remotely sounds a bit like that, it's because we're actually doing it deliberately, we're doing almost as a pisstake." Google Boards Of Canada and you'll soon find fans with plenty of time on their hands, identifying all manner of psychedelic Easter eggs in the music: reversed samples and tapes, aural palindromes (sentences like "I've been gone about a week" that sound like the same when played forwards or in reverse) buried phrases that hint at paganism ("You Could eel The Sky" contains the words "a god with hooves"). Titles like "Music Is Math", "A Is To B As B Is To C", and "The Smallest Weird Number" (the number 70, which they adopted for the name of their own label/production company, Music70) imply numerological sorcery; musical structures arranged, tuned and sequenced at root level according to mathematical equations such as the Fibonacci sequence and Golden Ratio. Someone's even found that the toal playing time of Geogaddi is 66:06, and it's total hard drive space when ripped to MP3 is 666 megabytes, etc. All of which leads to speculation that they are involved in in some kind of cultish activity - a belief that gathered pace with the release of their 2000 EP In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country, which contained overt references to David Koresh's Branch Davidian community and its annihilation by the US military in 1993 during the Waco siege. "Not in the slightest," counters Sandison when I ask him for a definitive answer on their 'cult' status. "We're just purely coming at what we do from the angle at being interested in subjects. You get a lot of painters or film directors who are complete atheists who'll make films all about religion, or Christianity, not because they're obsessed with the subjects or they're actually evangelists, but just purely because it's something they're interested in for that project. It's exactly the same with us - we'll hit on some of these things, but at the end of the day we're just totally ordinary people that just happen to be making music." And why the particular focus on Waco? "We take a great interest in the spectrum of everything, religions and cults, anything connected to that," says Eoin. Because they are a break from the norm. So when you see something like that, a group of people doing their own thing, going away and living together like that... it's the fascination with that, and a sense of injustice..." "And the outrage at what happened," interjects Sandison. "I'm not a religious person," Eoin continues, "but what I felt seeing what happened there was asense of outrage - they're devoutly religious people, but what happened to them - were they just singled out because of this, and attacked? The victor always writes history, and the only history we know of David Koresh and those people is what's been written about by reference to things like what the FBI were investigating afterwards." "Which was why," Sandison swings back to the record in hand, "we thought we'd make a record that on the surface feels really sweet and very spacious and it'll be titled In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country, but what were these people doing in a beautiful place out in the country? They were getting shot and burned.. [Laughs] It's a typical thing that we would do..." Eoin: "Even when you go away and have that existence, something still chases you there, still follows you home. And that's the impression I get off that story." With every retreat form the world comes the need to protect and survive. Eoin once described a complicated solar alarm system he had installed in his house. Neighbourhood watch scheme broken down, has it? "No, it's just paranoia," he laughs. "No, when you've got things like master tapes going back to 1984, and irreplaceable musical equipment, honestly, you're gonna be paranoid. It's not really to do with past experiences, it's a kind of precautionary attitude, a Red Dawn attitude..."
And so we take our leave of these hermits, as they sit and wait for someone to put knobs back on digital TVs to change the colour and contrast (newer technologies not necessarily being better than old); leave them to their fervent belief that they can inoculate their music with the mould of hte past, warding off the viral spread of mediocrity. "We're not even remotely religious people," repeats Sandison, "but I understand what that is about when you're trying to channel something that's more about the cogs behind the workings of the universe, and it feels like sometimes everything you're looking at is a simulation that's based on a much more geometric background. And a lot of the time, this machine that we are seeing, the world as it is, is so smooth and predictable, that even art has become really predictable. It's all following rues and patterns that have already been set by somebody who programmed it. But if you really stand back and look away from it, the potential's there for art and music to go into absolutely bizarre territories where everything is utterly fresh and weird and new. The challenge is to imagine: how about just stop where we are, and let's just for a minute try and backtrack a way up here, and imagine what would happened if, in 1982, music had taken this other branch on this side, and where would it be now, and what would it be sounding like now?" "The Campfire Headphase is released this month on Warp'.'
|title||The Last Secret of Pop|
|issue||#10 (Nov 2005)|
"The Last Secret of Pop" (original text in Dutch) by Koen Poolman
Laptopmuzikanten hebben het maar makkelijk: ze weten precies wat ze willen en hoe ze het gaan doen. Mike en Marcus worden heen en weer geslingerd tussen gitaar en computer, tussen akoestische en elektronische muziek, tussen oud en nieuw, tussen folk en avant-garde. Op hun nieuwe cd The Campfire Headphase' versmelten melancholische gitaren met chroomkleurige beats en synths. 'We voelen duidelijk de behoefte om belde wegen in te slaan,' bekent Mike. 'Iedere dag ligt ons hart ergens anders.' Hun invloeden lopen uiteen van klassieke muziek tot hiphop en van psych-folk uit de jaren zestig en zeventig tot de rare maatsoorten van de native Americans, de indianen. Ze zijn allebei klassiek geschoold op de piano en spelen gitaar. Mike is de beste drummer van de twee, Marcus' eerste instrument in een band was basgitaar. Tijdens de twee uur dat we met hen spraken, tekenden we de volgende namen op: Julian Cope, Bob Dylan, Pixies, Cocteau Twins, Phil Spector, Wim Wenders, HR Giger, The Polyphonic Spree, Sufjan Stevens, The Incredible String Band, Butterscotch Rum, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, John Denver, Joy Division, The New Scientist (tijdschrift), Zabriskie Point, Jeroen Bosch, Aphex Twin, Autechre, My Bloody Valentine, Talk Talk, Stevie Wonder, Radiohead, Bibio, Fennesz, Alias, Boom Bip, cLOUDDEAD, Odd Nosdam, William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops I-IV, 'Maar,', voegde Mike er op een gegeven moment aan toen, 'ik kan hier een lijst van veertig namen geven en dan nog heb je niet één procent van de mensen die ons geïnspireerd hebben.' Waar ze beslist niet naar luisteren: folktronica, technopuristen en 'al die honderen Autechre-klonen zonder ideeën van zichzelf.'
Nog nooit spraken ze met een Nederlandse journalist. Ze spreken sowieso eigenlijk nooit. Optreden doen ze sinds hun entree in 1998 gemiddeld één keer per drie jaar. Hetzelfde tempo houden ze met hun albums aan. Ze wonen en werken teruggetrokken in de bossen van de Schotse Pentland Hills. Boards Of Canada: het laatste van de pop. Ze voegden weer en hoofdstuk aan hun mythe toe: The Campfire Headphase. Koen Poolman reisde af naar Schotland om zijn helden te ontmoeten. door Koen Poolman
Laten we bij het eind beginnen: de Radiohead-vraag. Zonder Boards of Canada's Music Has The Right To Children (1998) had Kid A (2000) heel anders geklonken luidt de mare. Mike en Marcus aarzelen. 'Dat zou ik niet durven zeggen.' 'Dat is niet eerlijk ten opzichte van hen'. 'Alsof ze anders geen geweldige plaat hadden gemaakt.' 'Misschien hebben ze wel goed naar Aphex Twin en Autechre geluisterd.' Nee, dat succes willen ze niet claimen. Dat Thom Yorke een bewonderaar is van hun warme, broeierige elektronica, is genoeg. Kid A en Amnesiac vinden ze mooie platen. Ook U2 schijnt fan te zijn. Dat laat ze dan weer koud. De roem ze gestolen worden. Feit is dat Music Has The Right To Children en opvolger Geogaddi (2002) -- beide met 200.000 verkochte cd's Aphex Twin en Nightmares On Wax de bestsellers in de experimentele Warp-catalogus -- talloze bands en producers hebben geïnspireerd.
Het zijn van die platen die jarenlang meegaan en steeds beter worden. Ze logenstraffen het cliché van elektronische muziek als kille, cleane, mechanische, sciencefiction-achtige muziek voor de wereld van morgen. Hier is een groep die haar best doet haar geluid zo ouderwets, gamme en zelfs 'beschadigd' mogelijk te maken, die zich liever haar onbezorgde jeugd herinnert dan droomt van een leven tussen robots, die gitaren, fluiten, windorgels, drums, percussie, analoge synthesizers en aftandse taperecorders verkiest boven de nieuwste software, die voortdurend in folky sferen lijkten te verkeren, die verplicht tot luistere en die de perfectie afzweert. Menselijke muziek is niet ongenaakbaar. Geen kloppende pulse, maar een brok in de keel. Een lichte hapering. Een traan. En dan: een huivering. Je hoort dingen die je eerst niet hoorde. Stemmen, boodschappen, hallucinaties. Wie in de caleidoscopische wereld van Boards of Canada duikt, ontdekt sporen van occultisme, religieuze cults, spionagenetten, numerologie, mathematische concepten... Ze zitten verstopt in titels, artwork, samples, de lengte van de tracks, her aantal tracks, in talloze achterwaarts afgespeelde stemmen, zelfs in heuse audio palindromen: zinnetjes die voor- en achterwaarts afgespeeld identiek zijn. "The Devil Is In The Details" heette een van de nummers van Geogaddi. De cd telde 23 tracks (een mystiek getal voor occultisten), duurde 66 minuten en 6 seconden en was 666 Mb groot. Bijrollen: David Koresh, leider van de Branch Davidians-sekte in Waco, en Pan, de 'god with hooves', heidense god der weiden en bossen. Eerst zie je ze niet, dan lijken ze opeens overal te zitten. De magie van Boards of Canada - opererend vanuit een afgelegen woongemeenschap in de bossen van de Schotse Pentland Hills, onder Edinburgh, waar ze hun eigen studio hebben - kreeg langzaam een zwart randje. En al die jaren weigerden ze naar buiten te treden. Ze deden slechts een handvol interviews over de e-mail en stonden, na hun stille entree met Music Has The Right To Children, drie keer op een podium. Een enigma.
Nu hebben ze dan eindelijk ingestemd met een face to face interview. Eén per land, twee uur lang. Ze hebben een hoop uit te leggen. Over hun nieuwe album The Campfire Headphase bijvoorbeeld, maar ook over de wilde verhalen die het mysterie Boards of Canada zijn gaan omgeven. Ze willen bewijzen dat ze 'ordinary blokes' zijn en geen 'magiërs die mensenoffers brengen op een bergtop.' De mythe heeft een loopje met ze genomen, beseft Mike. 'Als je zolang uit de media wegblijft, gaan de mensen vanzelf de gaten in je verhaal opvullen.' Mike is Michael Sandison, 34 jaar, vader van een dochtertje van één. Hij oogt vermoeid. Lijdt aan slapeloosheld en depressies. Draagt een zwarte een zwarte trui, spijkerboek en gympen. Baardje van een week. Onopvallend. Marcus Eoin (32) is knapper, sportiever ook. Hij blijkt een fervent snowboarder. Getrimd baardje, het haar met gel in model gehouden. De ring om zijn vinger zegt dat hij vorig jaar getrouwd is. Op zijn T-shirt prijken de namen van weirdo-rappers Boom Bip en Dose One. Mike is een vlotte prater. Marcus is iets bedachtzamer, geeft uitleg bij Mike's verhaal. 'Het grootste misverstand,' gaat Mike verder waar hij begonnen is, 'is onze humor. Veel mensen missen onze ironie. Ze nemen alles wat wij doen veel te letterlijk.' Ze zijn, zegt hij bijna veronschuldigend, gewoon geïnteresseerd in oude culturen, religieuze uitspattingen, wetenschappelijke vraagstukken, alles wat afwijkt van de norm. Meer moeten we er niet achter zoeken. En nee, ze zijn beslist geen 'failed techno band', zoals ze wel eens lezen op internetfora van IDM-diehards. Ze hebben nooit intelligent dance music willen maken. 'Eigenlijk zijn we nooit geïnteresseerd geweest in dancemuziek, techno, of wat dan ook. Die wereld staat heel ver van de onze af. Van kinds of aan hebben we ieder instrument opgepakt dat voor het grijpen lag en er een hoop herrie meegemaakt. Wij zijn geen technokids.'
Enter: The Campfire Headphase. Weer zo'n ongepoetste juweel met intieme synths, beats en, voor het eerst, gitaarloops die, goed tegen het licht gehouden, langzaam begint te glinsteren, Met het licht reflecteert ook het beeld van een klassieke roadtrip door het oude Amerika, kriskras door de tijd. Titels als "Dayvan Cowboy, "'84 Pontiac Dream" en "Ataronchronon" (een oude indianenstam) verraden iets van de bedoeling. 'De basis,' legt Mike uit, 'is een fantasie, een mind trip. Je zit ergens in een kamp in het bos, spaced out rond het kampvuur. Het is donker, je bent alleen, je sluit de ogen en je fantaseert over het Amerika van de achttiende eeuw. Je verliest je tijdsbesef. Uren worden dagen, weken. Er gebeuren vreemde dingen, onverklaarbare dingen, sprongen in de tijd, transformaties, een beetje surrealistisch, zonder dat je het als zodanig ervaart.
Twoism (1995, reissue 2002) In eigen beheer uitgebracht debuut (oplage: 200). Acht nummers vol vreemde, dromerige, ambienteske, iet valse elektronica. Alsof het gat van de lp net naast het midden zat. Invloeden van Aphex Twin en Autechre zijn nog duidelijk hoorbaar. Via die laatsten belandde de lp bij het Skam-label uit Manchester. Zeven jaar later werd de lp, die inmiddels 500 euro op eBay opbracht, heruitgebracht, als enige van alle eigenbeheer-lp's en cassettes tot nu toe. Het duo speelt met het idee om ook Boc Maxima (1996) nog eens fatsoenlijk uit te brengen. Tot nut toe blijft de kluis met Music 70-demo's hermetisch gesloten. Hi Scores (1996) Mini-lp voor Skam. De eerste zes nummers die normaal verkrijgbaar waren. Dromerige elektronica, abstracte Autechre-beats en electro. Classics: "Everything You Do Is A Balloon", waarvan de melodie in een droom to Marcus kwam, en Turquoise Hexagon Sun (later ook op MHTRTC).
Music Has The Right To Children (1998) Debuut voor Warp. Bij verschijnen nauwelijks opgemerkt, nu een klassieker bunnen de elektronische muziek en het vertrekpunt voor subgenres als indietronica en folktronica. De plaat met de kinderstemmetjes. Ze praten en tellen wat op en af, voor- en achteruit. Mellow beats, nostalgische synths, psychedelische en intieme, soms folky sferen, hemelse melodieën. De mooiste: "Roygbiv" (2:28) en "Olson" (1:24), van die typische BOC-miniatuurtjes die de gaten tussen de 'echte' nummers vullen en eigenlijk hun voorkeur genieten. Het zijn synthesizermelodieën die je aan het eind van een tv-serie zou kunnen horen, als de titelrol in beeld verschijnt. Chill-out-hit: "Aquarius". Zilj: 'Een plaat voor in de openlucht, op een koude, zonnige dag.'
In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country (2000) 'Come and live with us... in a religious community in a beautiful place out in the country.' Een uitnodiging van DAvid Koresh en zijn Branch Davidians-sekte in Waco. Naast de titeltrack verwijst ook "Amo Bishop Roden" naar de sekte; het is de naam van een afvallig sektelid. Haar beeltenis prijkt op de achterkant van de cd, Koresh's oog priemt binnenin. Classic: "Kid For Today". Maar de hele EP (4 tracks, 24 minuten) is briljant.
Geogaddi (2002) Inktzwarte plaat. Duister, sinister, bijna duivels. Maar toch ook weer heel melodieus en organisch. Barstensvol geheime boodschappen, verwijzingen, mathematische concepten en getallensymboliek. "Music Is Math" vergondigen ze aan het begin. In "1969" duiken de Branch Davidians weer op. Het nummer duurt 4:19. Op 19 april 1993 voltrok zich de slachtpartij in Waco. Achter elk detail schuilt een betekenis, zo lijkt het. Wie zijn platen graag achterstevoren draait, heeft aan Geogaddi een goede. "You Could Feel the Sky" hoor je ineens 'a god with hooves'; in "A Is To B As B Is To C" openbaren zich zowaar audio palindromen: 'all you love we' wordt 'we love you all' en 'I've been gone about a week' blijft exact hetzelfde! Vreemde, verontrustende plaat, "Gyroscope" kwam tot Marcus in een nachtmerrie, en dat is het: een nachtmerrie. Zij: 'Een claustrofobische trip door een wereld vol duisternis en paranoia met aan het eind een sprankje hoop.' Een journalist: 'Muziek als een spiraal of een fractal die gedetailleerder wordt naarmate je er dieper ingaat.' Het is de cd die de Schotten voor het eerst brede erkenning oplevert en ook in OOR tot een van de beste tien cd's van dat jaar gekozen wordt. Hitje: 1969.
The Campfire Headphase (2005) De nieuwe. Hij stelt niet teleur. 'een echte Boards Of Canada-plaat' vinden ze zelf, met elementen van Twoism en MHTRTC en subtiel ingebrachte gitaarloops. Gedroomde roadtrip door het oude Amerika. Van minder donker dan Geogaddi. De good trip na de bad trip. Nog nooit klonken ze zo opgewekt als in Peacock Tail, hun 'Stevie Wonder-nummer' (Marcus). Pas op voor de slottrits: een zware depressie ligt op de loer.
Het is een droom, je ben écht die cowboy. Totdat de muziek ineens overgaat, zoals in "'84 Pontiac Dream". Je ontwaakt, je hoort stemmem om je heen, de regen komt met bakken uit de hemel, je zit ergens in Central Park in de verte hoor je iemand op een akoestische gitaar spelen en je weet bij God niet hoe je hier gekomen bent.' Marcus: 'Complete chaos, een wereld zonder logica, dat idee. Ken je de film Zabrieskie Point? Voor mij heeft deze plaat dezelfde sfeer. Het is een krankzinnige roadmovie. Er gebeurt van alles wat niet logisch is, je probeert er een lijn in te ontdekken, een verklaring te vinden, maar aan het eind van de film weet je nog steeds niet wat je er nu eigenlijk gebeurd is.' Mike: 'De centrale vraag is: hoeveel van deze voltrok zich in een hallucinatie? Wie wel eens een psychedelische ervaring heeft gehad, weet dat zoiets niet letterlijk na te vertellen is, het verandert ieder moment.' "Sherbet Head", zo'n miniatuurtje waarvan Boards of Canada er meer heeft, en vaak hele mooie, verwoordt de psychedelische ervaring misschien nog wel het best: een hoofd vol sorbetijs. Daas, wauws. Een beetje duizelig. Lichte tinteling. Was de inktzwarte voorganger Geogaddi een bad trip, The Campfire Headphase is zijn tegenhanger; de good trip.
Geogaddi eindigde met "Corsair", 'het licht aan het einde van de tunnel'; aan het einde van de good trip wacht een downer. De laatste drie tracks gaan diep, héél diep. Marcus: 'Daardoor blijft het langer hangen.' Mike: 'Ik zou nooit iets kunnen maken dat helemaal optimistisch is.' Vooral het afsluitende Farewell Fire, een pastorale orgeldrone, grijpt naar de keel. Ze willen niet zeggen voor wie het geschreven is, maar het kan alleen maar een dierbare geweest zijn die os overleden. Mike vertelt: "Farewell Fire" is Marcus op keyboards, meer niet. Hij heeft het in één nachtelijke sessie gemaakt. Er zitten momenten in dat het hapert en het echt voelt als iemand die van verdriet niet meer in staat is om goed te spelen. Dat kun je met geprogrammeerde muziek nooit bereiken. Ook al is het een elektronisch stuk, het klinkt heel menselijk, hartverscheurend. Het moment dat het even stopt, is alsof er naar adem gehapt moet worden, als een stem die even zwijgt.' Marcus: 'Veel mensen die elektronische muziek maken gaan ervan uit dat die steriel en mechanisch moet zijn... en futuristisch [cynisch lachje]. Dat is heel eenvoudig, het enige wat je hoeft te doen is de apparatuur aan te zetten. De kunst is om die synthetische klanken een emotie mee te geven, alsof het een stem is.' Een synthlijn, licht Mike toe, wordt geschreven alsof het een zanglijn is, een zanglijn die bijna vals is. 'De beste zangers hebben een beperkte stem. Zo'n stem als van Bob Dylan, zo nasaal, beven, nooit helemaal zuiver, is verre van compleet, maar zit barstensvol karakter. Als je een sessiezanger zou vragen een van zijn songs te zingen, dan zou het technisch perfect zijn, maar zielloos, zonder leven. Dat is precies wat wij onszelf steeds voorhouden: het mag niet perfect zijn. We stoppen er met opzet fouten en beschadigde geluiden in om de muziek te laten ademen.'
Wie voor het eerst een plaat van Boards of Canada hoort, zal zich verbazen over het 'zingende' geluid op de achtergrond, alsof de opnameband niet helemaal strak liep. Dat is precies wat er aan de hand is. Het duo zweert bij het geluid van oude cassettebandjes die niet meer zo goed afspelen, waarvan het geluid af en toe wegvalt, of is afgevlakt, die to langzaam gaan, of juist net iets te snel. Het geeft de opname een magisch tintje, vinden ze. Het voert hen terug naar de tijd dat ze zelf nog bandjes draaiden, naar hun verloren jeugd. Debuut-lp Twoism (1995) klonk als een mispersing, alsof het gat niet precies in het midden zat. "Slow This Bird Down", op de nieuwe cd, heeft dit ook. De 'zingende gitaar' in "Chromakey Dreamcoat" is opgenomen op het strand met de verrotste taperecorder die Marcus kon vinden. Hij heeft ook een digitale. Gebruikt ie zelden. De moldie van "Julie And Candy" (op Geogaddi) werd opgenomen met een paar fluiten en vervolgens eindeloos heen en weer gestuurd tussen de ingebouwde microfoons van twee tapedecks totdat er niets meer dan een luide, mistige galm, een soort misthoorn, overbleef. Veel, bijna alles, wat je op hun platen hoort, komt van een fluit, een gitaar, een piano, een percussie-instrument, een windorgel of een ander exotisch instrument, maar de geluiden worden dermate lang 'behandeld' dat ze zelden als dusdanig herkenbaar zijn. Het lijken allemaal synthesizergeluiden. Hoe langer je een geluid bewerkt, hoe synthetischer het klinkt, legt Marcus uit. Hun synthesizers zijn trouwens ook vintage: oude analoge modellen met knarsende en krakende geluiden.
Noem hun werkwijze nooit nostalgisch; Marcus heeft er een hekel aan. Retro, nog zo'n woord. Te gemakkelijk, vindt hij. 'Wij refereren aan iets uit het verleden, iets tragisch of iets moois dat verloren is gegaan, we proberen dat terug te halen, maar daar stoppen we niet, we proberen het verder te brengen, ons voor te stellen wat ervan geworden zou zijn als het nog steeds zou bestaan. We kopiëren het verleden niet, we herschrijven het, we negeren de loop die de geschiedenis heeft genomen. We gaan terug naar een bepaald moment in tijd en plaats en slaan dan een alternatieve weg in. We zeggen tegen elkaar: Make it 1978 and then take it somewhere. Hoe had de muziek van nu geklonken als we toen met z'n allen die andere weg waren ingeslagen? Een soort parallelle wereld.' Mike: 'Alsof de nineties nooit hebben plaatsgevonden, zoiets. Waar zouden de wereld en de muziek zijn als we die tijd hadden overslagen?' De nineties, voor de goed orde, staan met hun schreeuwerige MTV-cultuur, hun ongebreidelde hedonisme en alsmaar verdergaande globalisatie voor alles wat fout is volgens het teruggetrokken levende duo. Ze geloven heilig in een 'sideways culture'. Marcus: 'De meeste mensen nemen de wereld zoals zij is, ze staan nooit stil bij de vraag hoe de wereld er had kunnen uitzien als we niet met z'n allen door een tunnel waren gegaan. Als je kijkt naar de huidige staat van de muziek en je beschouwt de wortels van die muziek, dan wordt die weg automatisch gezien als de enige die de muziek had kunnen afleggen. Niemand realiseert zich dat die aanname bepalend is voor wat ze doen. Ze volgen gewoon dat pad. Zie het als een gang ledereen staat middenin de gang, de uitgang lonkt. Ze beschouwen de situatie en wéten: we móeten aan het eind van de gang zien te komen. Wat wij proberen te doen is ons voor te stellen dat er naast die gang nóg een gang is en dat je die gang wellicht via een geheime doorgang kunt bereiken.'
Mike toont zich een groot bewonderaar van [wikipedia:Jeroen Bosch|Jeroen Bosch] (1450-1516), de diepreligieuze schilder wiens werk stilistisch noch thematisch aansloot bij stromingen uit zijn tijd. In tegenstelling tot het serene werk van zijn tijdgenoten ging het fantastische werk van Bosch over angst, afschuw en rampspoed. 'Zijn werk zat vol vreemde, spookachtige elementen,' doceert hij, 'elementen waarvoor geen verklaring was. Het waren fantasieën. Zijn werk was surrealistisch voordat het surrealisme was uitgevonden. Zijn verbeelding was de doorgang naar een andere wereld. Er zitten elementen in zijn werk die er niet zouden moeten zitten, inconsequenties, en juist die maken zijn werk zo sterk, zo aangrijpend.' Hij trekt een parallel met Music Has The Right To Children, waarop naïeve kinderstemmetjes botsen met atonale geluiden, chroomkleurige beats en dissonante melodieën. 'Die kinderstemmetjes brengen je van je stuk, ze horen niet thuis in zulke duistere muziek. Je wéét het gewoon niet. Maar het grijpt je wel aan.' 'Als je schilderijen zou maken van wat er volgens ons op onze platen gebeurt,' zegt Mike, en hij verontschuldigt zich bij voorbaat voor de pretentie die in deze uitspraak besloten ligt, 'dan zouden dat hele surrealistische werken worden. Er zou niks van kloppen. En toch zou je het niet hoeven uitleggen.' Marcus: 'Als je het moet uitleggen, is het geen kunst meer.'
Tuig een plaat op met verborgen boodschappen over God en Satan en stervelingen die geloven dat zij afgezant van een van beiden zijn, en je eindigt met een altaar. Zo noemt Marcus het vorige album Geogaddi, een altaar. Hij zegt het lichtelijk smalend. Op Internet circuleren de wildste theorieën en analyses over de inmiddels drie jaaroude plaat. Over David Koresh en zijn Branch Davidians, aan wie het nummer "1969" en de ep In a Beautiful Place out in the Country zouden zijn gewijd (klopt). Over de adaptatie van de gulden snede en bijzondere cijferreeksen zoals de Fibonacci-reeks in notenschema's en songstructuren (klopt). Over links naar het werk van Berthol Brecht (onzin). Over samples van uitzendingen van spionagediensten in de Koude Oorlog (klopt). Over satanisme (onzin). Over audio palindromen ('de techniek staat voor niks').
Orbital? De makers van Chime, Belfast en Halcyon + On + On waren ook broers. Op het donkere podium droegen ze van die karakteristieke mijnwerkerslampjes, waarmee ze hun sequencers en samplers uitlichtten. Hun eerste platen waren oké, vinden Mike en Marcus, maar om nu ais tweed Orbital door het leven te moeten gaan... nee. Dus verzwegen ze toen ze bij Warp tekenden hun familieband. Tien jaar lang verstopte Marcus zich achter zijn tweede voornaam, Eoin. Mike: 'Op alle Orbital-platen stond: written by Hartnoll & Hartnoll. Dat vonden we zo suf.' Ze wilden anoniem door het leven gaan en geen verhalen over 'de muzikale familie Sandison'. Ze hebben nog twee broers; die maken ook muziek. De één woont in Australië, de ander in Londen. Mike en Marcus wonen in een kleineleefgemeenschap in de Schotse Pentland Hills, onder Edinburgh. Hun kinderjaren brachten ze door in Londen en Calgary. Daar zagen ze op tv de natuurdocumentaires van The National Film Board of Canada. Vandaar. Overigens dreigt ook Mike te gaan uitvliegen. Zijn vriendin had een baan bij een designbureau in Auckland, Nieuw-Zeeland en wil graag terug. Mike twijfelt. Boards Of Canada zou een breedbandband moeten worden, terwijl het jammen zo essentieel is voor hun muziek. Er loopt altijd een taperecorder mee in de studio. Maar voor alles is een oplossing, zegt Marcus stellig. 'Ik zeg altijd: laat je niet door mij weerhouden, doe het! We doen dit al zolang als ik me kan herinneren [Mike sinds 1980, Marcus sinds 1986] en het is nooit een reden geweest om onze dromen niet na te jagen. Als ik zou denken dat ik ergens anders een gelukkiger leven kan opbouwen, dan zou ik me niet laten weehouden door de muziek. Daarom heb ik tegen Mike gezegd: ik wil er niet tussenkomen. Als jij het echt wilt, dan beschouw ik het niet als het einde, nee, dan beschouw ik het als een nieuwe uitdaging.' Uitdagingen genoeg, voorlopig. Ze hebben plannen voor soloprojecten. Ze zijn in onderhandeling over een soundtrack van een grote film. Ze zijn alweer aan een nieuwe Boards Of Canada-plaat begonnen (ze hebben nog een contract voor drie albums bij Warp). Mike: 'De volgende plaat zal voor iedereen als een shock komen. Dit verwacht niemand van ons.' En er zijn zowaar plannen voor wat liveshows met band in het voorjaar. Maar dat gerucht ging drie jaar geleden ook. Sindsdien zwegen ze.
Over de albumtitel, die zoiets als De Woeste Aarde zou betekenen (stilzwijgen). Dat laatste laten ze graag open. Er moet nog wel iets te raden overblijven. Al die 'dingetjes', zoals Mike ze noemt, plaatsen de instrumentale muziek in een context, ze brengen een lijn aan, een concept, zo je wilt. 'Zolang je bij concept maar niet denkt aan een plaat over de regels van het schaakspel.' Op Geogaddi waren de 'dingetjes' ontsproten uit de donkerste krochten van hun ziel, op al hun andere platen kun je ze herleiden tot een verlangen naar hun jeugd - het Leitmotiv in dit verhaal. De verloren jeugd, de tijd dat gevoel dat iedere adolescent langzaam kwijtraakt. 'Als ik depressief ben, en ik heb een lange geschiedenis van depressies,' bekent Mike, 'dan zoek ik altijd troost in mijn kinderjaren. Die weemoed is altijd aanwezig in onze muziek.' Eén ding wil hij nog over Geogaddi kwijt: 'Het was een project, It's its own thing. Een claustrofobische trip door een wereld vol paranoia en duisternis. Veel mensen verwarren de plaat met de mens. Wij zijn geen doemdenkers.' 'Vergeet niet,' zegt hij even later, 'dat we in de studio zaten toen 9/11 gebeurde. De laatste vijf maanden van Geogaddi vielen samen met de nasleep van 9/11. Het was een angstige tijd, het voelde alsof we terugkeerden naar de Koude Oorlog. Opeens bekroop me weer de angst die ik als kind al gevoeld had voor de atoombom. Ik denk dat iedereen van onze generatie dat gevoel wel kent. We ontkwamen er niet aan, het drukte ons gemoed. De toon werd steeds beklemmender. De sfeer, de samples, het heeft er allemaal mee te maken.' 'Bovendien,' gaat hij verder, 'ging ik zelf door een moeilijke periode. Het was een klotejaar.'
'Nu, vier jaar later,' neemt Marcus het over, 'lijkt die dreiging van 9/11 permanent geworden. De wereld lijkt permanent veranderd, blijvend onveiliger. Meer chaos en duisternis en paranoia. Als je dat dag in dag uit ervaart, ga je je vanzelf afvragen: hoe kunnen we hieraan ontsnappen? Hoe kunnen we die realiteit vergeten?' Mike: 'In plaats van mee te gaan in de psychose kun je ook een uitvlucht zoeken.' Toeval of niet, in dezelfde periode luisterde hij graag naar de eerste plaat van positivo's The Polyphonic Spree. 'Ik dacht: ik wil ook weer iets hoopvols maken' En zo werd het idee voor The Campfire Headphase Geboren: ze zouden teruggaan naar de tijd dat hun muziek nog simpel escapisme was. Terug naar Twoism, het debuut met zijn gekke zingende geluid. 'Twoism is waarschijnlijk de minst politieke plaat die we gemaakt hebben. Het is muziek om bij weg te dromen. Ook al is je leven klote en haat je je werk, als je de plaat opzet en je laat meevoeren door de melodieën, vergeet je al je ellende. Dat hebben we nu ook wee proberen te creëren: een luchtbel waarin je kunt opstijgen en wegzweven. Weg van alles. De nieuwe plaat heeft geen geheime agenda. Het enige wat hij zegt is: fuck all this stuff, zet het nieuws uit, zeg die klotebaan op, maak dat je wegkomt uit de stad, neem de tijd om eens terug te denken aan gelukkiger tijden. ledereen heeft wel een jaar in zijn hoofd, de beste zomer van zijn leven. Dat is ons doel: we bieden je een venster naar de beste zomer van je leven.' Marcus: 'Zie het als een hulpmiddel. Een tijdmachine. Een privétijdmachine. Onze muziek werkt niet in de openbare ruimte, zij spreekt tot één luisteraar tegelijk. Het is muziek om in je eentje naar te luisteren. Om in weg te kruipen. We bieden je een veilige haven.' Mike: 'A place to go.' Dan realiseert Mike ineens iets: 'Nu ik er zo over nadenk, dit is iets wat wij als vanzelfsprekend beschouwen, zozeer zelfs dat we ons niet kunnen voorstellen dat er mensen zijn die iets anders zouden willen bereiken met hun muziek. Maar veel mensen die urban muziek maken, of dat nu r&b of iets anders is, die denken precies het tegenovergestelde. Ze zeggen bijna: wat we ook doen, het moet wel van deze wereld zijn, het moet het hier en nu representeren, het mag niet te veel afwijken. Het moet geschikt zijn om in Gap gedraaid te worden. Muziek is voor mij een escape from Gap. Als ik een kledingwinkel binnenloop, denk ik al gauw: fucking hell, ik zou wel iemand iets kunnen aandoen, ik moet hier zo snel mogelijk weer weg terug naar mijn fantasiewereld.'
Terug naar de bossen van de Pentland Hills. Terug naar zijn vriendin en zijn dochtertje. En terug naar zijn broer. Want na enig aandringen willen ze het wel toegeven: Mike Sandison en Marcus Eoin zijn broers. Eoin - speek uit: lan - is Marcus' tweede voornaam. Ze hebben het tien jaar lang geheimgehouden. Het doet er niet toe, vinden ze. Het verhaal is de muziek, niet de mensen. De mythe vervaagt, de muziek blijft. Niemand kent ze, niemand heeft ze ooit zien optreden, niemand heeft ooit een advertentie of een videoclip of een tv-optreden van ze gezien (die bestaan niet), niemand weet wat ze precies denken, maar 200.000 eenzame zielen herkennen hun stille verdriet. Hun verlangen baarde de mooiste muziek van de laatste tien jaar. Vraag het maar aan Thom Yorke.
"Wide Use of Guitars " is a 2005 interview by Fabio Cagnetti. It originally appeared on Losingtoday.com.
The first thing which stroke me while listening to “The Campfire Headphase” was the wide use of guitars. What brought you to this choice?
Did you actually play the guitars or sample them? Do you usually play all the instruments which appear on your works? I think so, as I can't remember of any guest musicians on them.
Why did you not use any intelligible vocal samples, this time?
The overall sound of the album seems to me less playful and more introspective than usual; I've always thought as your previous albums as the expression of your inner child, driven to its full potential by incredibly skilled adults. This time it feels like if the inner child has aged into early manhood…
Looks like nostalgia is as strong as usual as a source of inspiration. Can you tell us a bit about your obsession for the ‘70s, and especially for the movies and TV of that period?
The album title suggests a deeper communion with nature: do you see these songs, to a certain extent, as analog-digital campfire songs?
And how much are you directly influenced by the landscape surrounding you? Do you believe in sound geomancy (i.e. do you think natural landscapes have their own sound and one of the duties of the artist, who is more sensitive than other people, is to translate and explicit this hidden sound in order to make it enjoyable by other people)?
Do you have an interest in environmental issues? And if so, would you ever consider taking an explicit position over such issues, e.g. releasing a protest song or making any strong statement on your website, or do you prefer staying away from the whole matter?
Many clues suggest a less cerebral (and more emotional) approach has been used. Does this mean “the devil is no more in the details”, i.e. you have abandoned the plethora of easter eggs and hidden references which was present on “Geogaddi”?
When that album was out, did you expect so many people would have tried to decode all of its hidden elements?
Is it just a case that the artwork for “The Campfire Headphase” recall so much “Music Has the Right to Children”'s?
Do you still have an interest in performing live? Do you think you will ever make a real tour? I am very interested in this because you're among the few living artists I would bloody want to see perform live without ever being able to, and I have the bootleg of your 2001 performance at ATP festival and it's *so* stunning.
I think your songs have a strong cinematic feel, and you were making movies since childhood. So, why did you never actually make a DVD or even a single video for any of your songs? Shall we expect anything as such to be released, sooner or later?
You are considered among the world's greatest remixers and with a reason, standing the very unique and brilliant feel you manage to give to other people's songs, bringing them to a second life. Which way do you approach to them? And which is your favourite remix? I'm particularly fond of the work you did on cLOUDDEAD's “Dead Dogs Two”. Last but not least, is there any particular artist/song you would like to work with/on?
Do you have any other particular project under your belt?
interview by by Fabio Cagnetti, November 2005.
|title||It's our take on a pop record|
"It's our take on a pop record" is a 2005 interview by Brian Murnin. It originally appeared in Clash Magazine.
For those new to their tale, it's difficult to imagine just how strange, how mysterious and inscrutable Boards of Canada were.
The vastly influential pairing seemed to emerge from the ether, with fans unsure of their real names, location or tastes. With the release of 'The Campfire Headphase' in 2005, though, the duo suddenly became willing to step outside of the shadows.
Granting a handful of interviews, Boards of Canada opened up about their method, their background and - tantalisingly - their future. Never before seen online, here's a classic Clash interview with two seminal voices in electronic music.
Boards of Canada don’t give many interviews, the vast majority are by e-mail, and to the select few who do get to meet them, their studio, their homes and many key details of their lives and work are strictly out of bounds. In the gaps where the fiercely private band leave the silence, grow the myths that have made the enigma that is Boards of Canada.
In magazines and on forums, media and fans alike have speculated for years about who Boards of Canada really are. If you believe what’s written they’re two reportedly unapproachable and reclusive producers permanently locked in an isolated Scottish highland studio bunker, studying their meticulous musical science and obsessing nature whilst laying mathematical secrets and cult-like messages in their magical music. They are the victims of what they call “the flood of bullshit that fills in your silhouette.”
For those that don’t know them, here is a brief history. And while we’re at it, let’s dispel a few myths.
Known originally as Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, Boards of Canada, it has recently transpired, are actually brothers. Both are members of the Sandison family, with Marcus initially carrying his middle name as a surname. They don’t see this slight deception as a big deal, as Marcus explains: “ We didn’t go out our way to conceal the fact we are brothers. If people don’t ask about it we don’t bring it up. When we started releasing records we just wanted to avoid comparisons with Orbital...” “ Or even the Osmonds or the Jacksons,” Mike laughs.
Mike and Marcus were born early in the 1970s to musical parents in a small coastal town just outside Inverness in Scotland. Between 1979 and 1980 they relocated to Canada to follow the construction work income that dictated their father’s movements, before relocating back to Scotland a few years later. For the last 20 years they have lived within half an hour’s drive to Edinburgh.
“We’re not trying to accurately pastiche the past, it’s about inventing a past that didn’t really happen.”
Yes, their studio is slightly rural and they dio value the isolation and creativity that being alone and close to nature brings. Mike explains why this is. “Working from a rural studio is probably an advantage because we can create a lot of ad noise and nobody complains and it’s a great place to switch off. When we walk out the doors we don’t see hundreds of pedestrians with the mental interference of their individual lives and fashions, instead there’s just a couple of horses. It’s imagine you’re wherever you want to be, and that helps to stay focussed on specific musical ideas that work outside current sounds and trends.”
Growing up with recording equipment and instruments littering their homes, naturally the boys experimented, and by the age of 10 started to record music. Using the two tape recorders they’d play sounds on one and record on the other across two feet of air before swapping tapes to repeat the process and learn to layer sound. Mike, the eldest by around 2 years, was first to go to high school and start experimenting with live drums and guitar in various bands. When Marcus started a particularly bad trash metal band they decided to join forces as they were both far more interested in synths and programming.
In the early 1990s, after leaving school and their respective bands behind,m their university years led to the creation of a collective of friends knows as Hexagon Sun. Musicians, graphic designers, photographers and artists would gather for woodland parties where music, chat and laughter would be enjoyed round a campfire in the outdoor air. These select gatherings exist to this day.
After years of limited, self-circulated tape and CD releases, in 1996 Boards of Canada grew the confidence to send their compositions to those they respected. Sean Booth from Autechre was the first to pick up on them and the hugely respected Skam records put out the first serious Boards of Canada releases, the ‘Hi Scores’ and ‘Aquarius’ EPs. Warp Records soon noticed the synergies in the sound of band and label and they had the power to take Boards of Canada to the next level so partnered Skam for the next stage. 1998’s resultant debut album, ‘Music Has The Right To Children’, redefined the electronica landscape.
This album is still to many, BoC’s masterpiece. It firmly established certain sounds as their signature and techniques as their trademarks. Samples of radio and film speech, sporadically narrating distant messages and interjecting with child-like vocal samples were placed alongside strings submerged under layers of atmospherics, creating a sound and feeling as nostalgic and warmly familiar as looking at a treasured Polaroid of a distant time past. Live instruments and samples were put through the wringer again and again in a reverse processing cycle learned over years and far removed from popular production techniques to achieve this feeling. Untreated sound was dirtied, dragged through a muddy mix of analogue effects, synthetic textures and distortion to warp the linear and blur the clean. Little vignettes, fragments of speech and sound, intended to catch a feeling or define an instant and recorded to last only a minute or so were everywhere in their music also. These smaller pieces make up some of Mike and Marcus’s favorite parts of the Boards of Canada jigsaw.
2002’s ‘Geogaddi’, their second long player, involved the creation of 400 such song fragments and 64 complete songs, with 23 selected, one of which was silence, as Boards of Canada tried not to let the new weight of expectation deviate them from their earlier, less scrutinised path. If anything, ‘Geogaddi’ was more stripped down than its predecessor; eerier and darker but still aged under the same smoky hue.
‘Geodaddi’ exercises similar basic principals to ‘MHTRTC’ but launched the suggestion of subliminal trickery in their music, through the use of mathematics like Fibonacci in song structure and the placement of hidden symbols and phrases woven into the tapestry of their songs. Boards of Canada have admitted to this to an extent, saying that what they’ve been watching, listening to, or learning about at any given time has appeared in some way in all of their music but in ‘Geogaddi’ the messages were a particular theme.
According to them it’s simply been another three-year treatment and aging process. Oak smoking boats and immersing guitar melodies under swathes of static recorded and reverberated over and over to create the perfect atmosphere. Mike explains, “Some of what we do takes much more than two or three listens before we realise we’re addicted to even a simple chord progression or melody. And part of the way we get our music to work is by living with our own tracks for a while before releasing them.” Their aim with this third album is to dominate our emotive headspace once again with an album sounding older than ever, more beautiful than ever and more strangely reminiscent of far-off places and past feelings.
In comparing the new album to their pervious work, Mike says, “This record is more visual than ‘Geodaddi’, which means much more abstract. It’s our take on a pop record, pop music that has been melted on a hot dashboard in the sun. The melodies are hopeful on the surface, with an undercurrent of sickness or giddiness.” Marcus adds, “I think more than ever we tried to get the music to simulate a visual event, for instance ‘Satellite Anthem Icarus’ has a kind if super-slow-motion swelling sound that’s reminiscent of slow-mo action shots from old oceanographical documentaries.”
As they made this album BoC said their aim was to take the playing of traditional instrument sounds far into unconventional places. Marcus says, “On some of the trcks we’d set up a straightforward backing, maybe a simple guitar riff, and we'd change what the original melody was doing, to give it a kind of uneasy undercurrent. We sneak synthetic melodies in on top, sometimes you’ll hear twisty things like reversed instruments join in, playing in the relative minor. We set things up one way and then try to make you hear the melody in a completely different way.
I ask Mike if they employ any particular or new techniques in creating these hopeful moods and textures with sick and giddy undertones. “We spent a lot of time destroying the sounds, throwing parts onto overloaded tape or amping them up and re-recording them back in through low-quality mics,” he says. “And we put a lot of work into incidental sounds and events that flit in and out of the music, things like multi-coloured glissandos or synthetic bird like sounds that tweet in one ear and out the other.”
Symbolism, however, is not such a strong part of this album. “We moved away from the burying hidden messages in the music because that was the theme on ‘Geodaddi’. But of course there are little elements of what has been influencing us lately hidden in there somewhere,” Mike intimates. “But the fun is finding them! This record and its influences are mostly about the music. We’ve tried to hint at the kind of guitar sounds you’d hear on an old Joni album or something from that era. The guitar-based music we listen to is usually from artists who have been totally entrenched in guitar song-writing from the word go, people like John Frusciante . We also took some rough ideas from low-budget 70’s western films. We’re really into Peckinpah’s movie.”
“It’s our take on a pop record, pop music that has been melted on a hot dashboard in the sun.”
On songs like the amazing ‘Chromakey Dreamcoat’, which wobbles like tape being slowed by hand over its beautiful string plucks or the start of ‘Peacock Tail’ through ‘Dayvan Cowboy’, the most uplifting section of the album, the use of guitars is more evident than ever. “It suited the sound we were going for on this record,” Marcus says. “They’re all fairly futuristic sounding tracks but they have a 70’s acoustic flavor. “ Mike adds. “We’d known for quite a while, since ‘Geodaddi’, that we wanted to make a guitar record next. In the end what we’ve actually made is really more of a weird crossbreed.”
‘The Campfire Headphase’ is Boards of Canada at their absolute best, reminiscent of the finest moments of their debut, soaked in nostalgia and poignance with sounds eroded for what feels like an eternity. “We like playing around with memory triggers in music, usually in the melody parts. We come up with little phrases or ornaments that are reminiscent of something. A large part of what it’s about is the quality of the sound itself, corroding the sound. We’re not trying to accurately pastiche the past, it's about inventing a past that didn’t really happen, like finding your own 8-track demo tape that has been lying in a box for years.” I ask them if they feel their music looks forward or back to which they reply, “We feel it does both.”
So how do they feel about the enigma that is created around their music? Marcus answers quickly, “I think it’s funny really. It was always going to happen. We do put a lot of details in there that you might not expect people to pick up on. But the listeners always get it. There are some occasions when it would probably be best to just kick back and feel the music instead if analysing it.” One particular perception they did like is fondly remembered by Mike: “I remember a nice comment someone made when they reasoned that we didn’t use a singer because no words could do the music any justice. I like that, because I’ve always felt that in music words are a really low-res way of conveying ideas. What I mean is, music is a much higher-resolution medium to convey feelings than words could ever be.”
interview by by Brian Murnin, Nov 2005.
Dec 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Erin Hutton
Perfection is a nebulous concept, one that varies dramatically depending on who or what is directing the point of comparison. In terms of music production, perfection is now generally sought after through true-to-life analog emulations and pristine digital recordings. But that ideal doesn't appeal to Scottish duo Boards of Canada, which seeks the opposite in its music. Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin's idea of audio perfection exists in a surreal wash of imperfection — sound and instrumentation crippled and maimed to reveal a vintage beauty inspired by the sights and sounds of the past.
Indeed, late-'70s television and film have historically played a large role in the Boards of Canada sound — specifically, the 16mm educational films produced by the National Film Board of Canada (hence the pair's name). Sandison and Eoin also draw from the vast well of early-'80s American TV dramas and weekend matinees, as well as the closing sequences from the Lorimar (Dallas, Eight Is Enough) and Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files, The A-Team) production companies, for inspiration. Although Sandison and Eoin had been dabbling in recording since the early '80s (when they weren't yet teens), they began synthesizing their influences into proper recorded form in 1995 with the glorified demo Twoism (Music70; rereleased by Warp, 2002). Warp released the heralded Music Has the Right to Children in 1998 and the stellar follow-up, Geogaddi, in 2002. Now, BOC is back with The Campfire Headphase (Warp, 2005), and the group's '70s and '80s cinematic inspiration has given way to re-creation.
“We usually imagine our music to have a visual element while we're writing it, so we were picturing this character losing his mind at the campfire and compressing weeks of events into a few hours, in that time-stretching way that acid fucks with your perception,” Sandison says. “We wanted to simultaneously shift and reduce the sound palette, too, making it more like a conventional band gone over the edge. It's taking away the reliance on samples, vocals or cryptic references and adding more organic instrumentation. That's not to say we left all that behind for good; it was just the feel we had for this particular collection of songs.”
The songs on The Campfire Headphase take on the traditional Boards of Canada ethos of warbling half-consciousness not unlike, say, drifting about in a ketamine-induced haze. That sense coupled with the effect of timeworn tape is accompanied by warm analog tones, interesting synthetic flourishes (often detectable only with headphones) and surreal organic melodies. Sandison and Eoin layered everything from drums and guitars to flutes, whistles and various old analog synths and keyboards into the music — though, if they had their druthers, you wouldn't know it. Admittedly, Boards of Canada takes great pains to mangle any recognizable sound.
“There's a track called ‘'84 Pontiac Dream,’ which has this totally schmaltzy '80s hotel vibe, all gold door handles and sports-car-commercial glitz, until it snaps out of the dream at the end and breaks down to a raw guitar weave in the rain,” Sandison says. “I've always been into the way that TV and film-score music from that era was pretty heavily synthesized yet still employed traditional instrumentation. You listen to it now, and it's never perfect, because the tapes that exist now have been played so many times, they have become warped and distorted with age. So for us a lot of the time, we're not trying to capture how perfect something might have been at its inception, but more how it would sound now after years of use. Of course, you can't instantly make a song into something chronologically aged, so that's where a lot of our work goes, into finding ways of artificially imprinting an aged, nostalgic feel.”
In keeping with the in-and-out-of-consciousness, dreamlike quality of their music, Sandison and Eoin don't write and record in any sort of linear fashion. Rather, at any given time, they have various song ideas gestating in their two primary studios. With three kits, Sandison's studio is set up for drums, and Eoin's live area caters to piano and vocals. Whether they're working separately or together, getting ideas down is generally a result of recording extended jams to tape on anything from a Tascam MSR-16 reel-to-reel to an old Revox recorder to a Grundig machine to an ordinary cassette.
“We love these low-quality tape machines,” Eoin says. “The great thing with machines such as the Grundig is that it's tragically bad. Whatever you record into it just doesn't come out unscathed. There's a ‘magic eye’ valve display on it, and when you hit the tape deck with the right volume, enough to fill out the magic eye, it's at that exact sweet spot that it is saturating the tape. So if you then sample back the playback, it's got a thousand years' grain on it.”
Because Sandison and Eoin make a point of always recording whatever they happen to be doing, they then must go back and search for usable bits, which can sometimes be just seconds of material. “The trouble is that we like to experiment too much trying out styles, instruments and sound treatments,” Eoin admits. “It can get to the point where you're 90 percent experimenting and 10 percent getting actual songs finished for a record. I guess a lot of musicians are like that; if they could be left to just play around, they might not complete something because they're having too much of a laugh in the studio. I think you're more likely to come up with something strange and new when left to your own devices, but you're more likely to get a record done when you're paying by the hour in a commercial studio. So it's probably best to try to combine the two approaches.”
Further adding to the studio delay — BOC started sketches for the album as far back as 2002 but didn't begin studio work in earnest until 2004 — is that Sandison and Eoin mix as they go rather than waiting until the end of the recording process. Although it may take more time at the onset, it encourages a certain amount of discipline. “When you're finely tuning sound textures as part of the core of a song, you can't leave it to later and hope something works; you have to hear it while you write,” Sandison says. “The main thing I find us doing in the mix is removing stuff, like when you've played something a lot and you suddenly realize that something doesn't need to be loud or even there at all. There's at least one track on the record where the core idea that the song was built around has been removed at the end in the mix, almost like making a plaster-cast mold. I tend to focus on EQ in the mix, but I rarely enhance anything. If I hear something that I think is a problem, my instinct is usually to make space around that thing to let it breathe. So, often, I find myself dialing the filters down on adjacent parts to push them into the background, out of focus, and leave the important thing intact.”
Experimentation in the studio might not make for the fastest production, but it does yield some interesting sounds and methods. In addition to shifting sound back and forth from tape to tape for added distress, BOC might boost a flat sound by putting it through a guitar amp, miking it with one or two mics and rerecording the overloaded result. But, of course, that just scratches the experimental surface.
“One thing I particularly like to use is amplitude modulation combined with microtuned pitches,” Eoin reveals. “There are a lot of ways to do this — using compressors and filters and pitch modulators — but we do it differently every time. We even resample parts using cheap ghettoblasters or cassette decks with internal microphones. Sometimes, I might employ a series of ring modulators with very slow frequencies and modulate those frequencies with an LFO so that layers of the sound overlap each other randomly. Sometimes, I'll hit a sound with way too much compression — when you get that fine line where it's just kicking in, but it's right on the threshold of the sound so that the compressor ends up spreading what I call ‘powder’ over the part so it sounds like it's crumbling.”
With so many heavily distorted noises and layers of sound manipulated to create specific effects, it's interesting that Boards of Canada avoids using effects units during the entire process. Instead, BOC prefers to get creative with EQ, monitoring, miking or other techniques. “I know this sounds contradictory, but that's a big part of the thing,” Sandison says. “We try to push it, to see how far we can change sounds without resorting to using effects units at all. For example, we would never just put down a wind instrument clean. We'd usually do something long-winded like laying down six roughly identical takes together onto mono tape so they clash and chorus microtonally over one another, then overload them to hell and back, then sample it off the tape and shift it by an octave or something like that.”
Although traditional effects aren't generally in the formula — Boards of Canada does employ homemade items such as Eoin's DIY Leslie effect, created by mounting a mic inside a rotating ice-cream tub — they do occasionally have their place. “One of the things we're often aiming at is an anechoic sound that gives the impression of being outdoors, so we use little or no reflection effects unless it's for something specific,” Sandison says. “So if you want an outdoorsy but echoey sound, you should just make the low frequencies echo; that way, it resembles real outdoor environments.”
Given BOC's apparent allegiance to all things vintage, it should be no surprise that the duo eschews the use of software — including plug-ins, instruments or synths — aside from the occasional convolution reverb and Apple Logic Pro for arrangement duties. “[Soft synths] don't have the natural discrepancies that we like in real analog gear,” Sandison says. “Half of our synths have their guts hanging out. We can tweak the sounds by doing things like pouring coffee on them. Marcus will say, ‘It's too in tune, needs more coffee,’ so we pour a bit more coffee on the exposed innards. I don't think most software synths come with a ‘coffee’ setting — I'm just joking, by the way. Don't try pouring liquids on electrical devices, kids.”
It's that sort of devilish humor and twinkle-in-the-eye cleverness that informs the entire Boards of Canada experience, from the guys' inventive recording experiments to the resulting musical creations that are never what they seem. “We like to create full-sounding parts that appear to be from another record,” Sandison says. “So, sometimes, we go to great lengths working on complete pieces of vintage-sounding music with the sole intention of ripping a two-second chunk out of it to give the impression of it being a sample of something old. It takes ages, but it's a good trick. So we sample them as though they really are someone else's old record — we abuse the sound to make it really rough, maybe sampling it in at 8-bit, 22kHz or whatever. If it sounds like samples from old sources, it means we're doing our job properly, because that's the whole point.”
|title||Peering Out from Behind the Curtain|
"Peering Out from Behind the Curtain" was an interview by Steve Marchese that appeared in RE:UP magazine, Manual 09, around January 2006. Photos within the article are credited to Peter Iain Campbell.
"Peering Out from Behind the Curtain" by Steve Marchese
RE:UP Manual 09 (~Jan 2006), pp. 28-31,86
Edinburgh has a hangover. The normal din of this bustling university city remains eerily suppressed by a combination of the preceding night's partying and a cold front quickly descending from the North. The streets are empty save some churchgoers and a stray dog. An old man in a faded suit hands lunch menus to nobody. The museum set up as a meeting point with Boards of Canada--brothers Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin-- is still closed and won't open to the public for at least another hour. I am sitting in the middle of an unfamiliar place, waiting to meet two virtually faceless musicians with whom I have yet to directly speak. Could this scene be completly engineered or am I thinking too much into it? Yet for some reason, I know there couldn't be a more perfect start to a day highlighted by a sit-down with Boards of Canada.
The development of mystery and rumor is certainly nothing new to contemporary music. Stories of Paul McCartney's death surfaced after the Beatles released their thirteenth record. In 1989, nearly 15 years after the formation of Judas Priest, the metal band was put on trial (and eventually exonerated) after a double suicide allegedly caused by hidden messages like "try suicide" and "do it, do it" on the record Stained Cross. And although testaments to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon functioning as a second, synchronizing soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz started surfacing online in 1994, rumors of this pairing can be traced all the way back to 1979.
What Differentiates Boards of Canada from the rest of this smallish pantheon of mythologized artists, however, is the speed by which the duo have been able to invent and disseminate such intrigue. Much of it has to do with a pious and enthusiastic fan base, but in just a short time (over the release of only 3 full-length LPs) rumors--and some truths--have spread far and wide about the duo's religious proclivities, their use of embedded messages in tracks (sometimes known as backmasking) and secret tracks made anonymously for major pop stars.
Most of the speculation gained momentum due to the pair's reluctance to do face-to-face interviews. But now that they've surfaced in promotion of their new LP, The Campfire Headphase, it seems a lot of the conjecture has been systematically addressed in intervies online and recent features in European magazines The Wire and Groove. Even a fleeting peek behind the curtain shows them not to be the circuit-obsessed techno Bedouins protrayed by the media- but rather, a pair of well-adjusted, hugely likeable brothers who do not only finish each other's sentences, but who have also applied an admirable do-it-yourself philosophy to their unique pursuit of artistic perfection.
"There's never been a coordinated plan to engineer a blockade around who and what we are," says Mike Sandison, easing back into a chair at the coffee house where we finally decided to meet. "We wanted to make music that stood out on its own as an entity inside its own bubble. In the early stages we kind of felt like if we were going to out in magazines an start posing for photographs we'd spoil that."
And while the pair have managed to maintain an easy pastoral obscurity that is suprisingly only 40 minutes outside of Edinburgh by car, their music has gained increasing popularity worldwide- making it more difficult to stay hidden in the periphery of the limelight. "One of the worst things we've found is that by being kind of absent, people have a tendency to fill in the gaps." says Marcus Eoin Sandison (Eoin being his middle name, the two have recently revealed that they are in fact brothers). "When there's a hole, people will just make things up, it isn't so much that we're trying to be secretive. We just don't feel an eed to sell ourselves. As far as we're concerned it's not part of what we do. People write about us like we're these mountain hermits who just won't talk to anybody and we [wonder]; Where did that come from? We never said that to anyone."
People think of us as being one way," continues Mike. "We'd like to go out on tour in spandex and breathe fire but we just can't do that because we're supposed to be something else entirely," he jokes, duckin out of the sunlight that just surfaced through the quickly dissolving clouds. However, with a long day of interviews ahead it seems Sandison won't be able to get out of the light just yet. With the release of The Campfire Headphase, Boards of Canada have agreed to be willing participants in their largest press push in quite some time, prompting many to wonder, why now? "Isolation can get negative at times," continues Mike, "because you start to feel like you're being arrogant or that we're doing it because we hate people os much. But it's not like that at all, It's more about the fact that we don't want to ruin the art by making our lives more important than the music. Because our lives are just like that of any other artist: we're just trying to create something special."
In a way it seems like the self-sequestered twosome have enthusiastically embraced the chance to finally speak out, exploding from topic to topic like barges of fireworks wired together with small lengths of fuse. In mood, tone and content, a conversation with Boards of Canada barely echoes the consistency that governs their recordings. Instead it jumps from random subjects like Ted Nugent, Noriega (the dictator, not the MC), and an internet free lifestyle to Jerry Lewis films and trans-Atlantic politics with an effortless flow that defies the misinformed online reports of a disdain aimed at journalists. What captures my attention almost immediately is not how articulate the two are--I expected that considering the intricate language and presentation of their music--but how approachable and open they seem to almost any inquiry. A list of talking points I had prepared the night before is totally disregarded as the conversation steers itself amost invisibly toward one of the biggest questions that will be asked all day: Why haven't they played live in over 3 years?
Opening up a long stretch of conversation on the subject, Mike takes the lead "We've been under a lot of pressure to play of course," he confirms. "One of the things that comes through from the big boss man Warp Records is offers from festivals. Usually our respons to that is that we would be more comfortable playing a small venue that would suit what we do. Our live show as it was had ah eavy reliance on visuals--we were using video projections and monitors--and secretly over the last 3 years since we last played a gig we've started to develop a different show. We expanded the band and have friends who are part of the potential group if we go out on the road again. And we do intend to go out and play again but at the moment what we want to do is at odds with the offers coming in to play alongside bands like Foo Fighters and people like that."
Marcus, the quieter but by no means less passionate of the two, finishes Mike's thought and addresses more specifically what it is about Boards of Canada's sound that makes the prospect of a live show do tricky. "You've got to know the limitations of the music that you make. I always think of our music as being a lot more like headphone music, a brain music that you can drift into," he says. "So the idea of playing on a stage where you may be coming on just before a massive set by The Chemical Brothers doesn't sound like it would work. Earlier on though, when we were in transition from working with Skam to working with Warp, we did a couple of gigs that were label showcases with Warp artists. We have massive respect for guys like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin but we found ourselves doing shows with these guys and they were so full-on electronic and really full of energy. It wasn't really what we wanted to do at the time."
Finishing Marcus' thought, Mike chimes in for one last comment, the thought of which will certainly become fan-boy fodder for neo-prog and electronica lovers the world over. "It might have suited us better to be put on a bill beside Tortoise or somebody like that. And you never know, we still could end up doing it one day."
Talk of the new record conveniently follows, revolving around the idea for Boards of Canada that is perhaps their most important reord to date. In so many ways The Campfire Headphase marks a musical evolution for the brothers, but what makes it a truly compellin listen is its adherence to the band's emerging modus opreandi: To move forward--both technologically and philosophically--while maintaining a strong connection to the past. This time, in palce of the numerological Easter eggs and hidden Branch Daviddian references, Boards of Canada have enmeshed their music within the trappings of live instrumentation, placing them squarely in the middle of an intersection with infinite roads trailing outward. "A little part [of using the guitars] on the new album is to open up the scope for what we want to do in the future," comments Mike. "There's kind of a destiny for where the music is going to go but we haven't managed to do it yet. Maybe the new record will kind of open the door for future options."
"It doesn't necessarily mean the next album will be a Deep Purple record," adds Marcus jokingly. The brothers have an unexpectedly wry sense of humor that comes as a pleasant surprise given the melancholy and often ominous tones of their music. "We could go and make a record that's really electronic but we know now that we've got a platform to go in any direction we want. We're trying to make sure that people don't define us purely as an electronic band."
Being defined by labels or pidgeonholed to a particular scene or genre are two things that both Sandison brothers agree are detrimental to their music making. "We don't buy into anything," declares Marcus. "When there's something that we're really into we still try to have some objectivity about it."
"We're sort of cultural nomads," supports Mike. "I don't see us in part of a group - social or musical." Their publicly released records all bear an undeniable trademark of textured ambience and reworked hip-hop breaks and-like it or not-the winning combination has led to considerable praise by electronic music fans. But privately, hidden away in their private studio (which is rumored to house hundreds of rare and irreplaceable instruments), are thousands of tracks of organic, acoustic and experimental music that they hope to one day release under various pseudonyms. It's just one of a number of examples during the conversation that show both brother's love of simple, organic instrumentation.
Mike elaborates, "People may be surprised to hear that of the demos that get sent to us, we truly love the ones that are really homemade, sort of crap and unfinished. The ones that are rough around the edges. The demos that are really slick electronica-type things are the ones that get listened to once and put on the shelves."
"The thing with electronic music these days," says Marcus, "is that so much of it nowadays can be really good but it's so studio-based. So the moment you try and take it out, it's either played back form the laptop or a mess for someone who isn't able to play it live. The laptop performance thing has never been something that's appealed to us."
Continuing on the live element, Mike tells a story that will certainly add to an increase in message board chatter, "I think it's commetable that people are creating software to do that because at least it's better than someone turning up to a show and pressing play on a .wav file. We know a guy who is a very high profile electronic producer in Britain - very famous in some electronic circles - and he played a show in Glasgow one time and he told us that he had just played a cassette and stood on stage pretending to press buttons. And he thought it was funny. We were laughing but also horrified at the same time."
The mixture of humor, honesty, passion and creativity is something revealed only by meeting these two self-confessed reclusive artists in person. Instead, all most of us have to objectively evaluate about Boards of Canada is their music. It's a scenario the brothers have worked very hard to cultivate. Most importantly, however, and perhaps the chief reason they've surfaced for this brief set of interviews--besides dispelling myths of course--is to reveal that they are musicians with purpose and that music is but one way for them to achieve that purpose. "If you had to vaguely approximate a purpose behind our music," summarizes Marcus, "for me it would be like we are soundtracking the alternative place you might be right now. You wouldn't be dead but you'd just be in a different world; everything would be quite alien, so you'd wonder what would the music be like. What would you be hearing?" He continues, "I think perhaps the theme of what we're doing is instead of looking forward we are looking backward to the positivity that you might have had as a child. And we want to take it as a fuel and be inspired by it. I think of myself as the kind of person that even when I'm 80 I'll still be listening to weird music and playing computer games. I don't want to be the kind of person that gives up on youth." It's a sentiment shared by both brothers and, I'm sure, by most of the enthusiastic fans who hope to be listening to the "weird" music of Boards of Canada far into their eighties as well.
Boards of Canada on...
Marcus: You have to allow some spiritual element when making music. But we don't mean that in any kind of mumbo jumbo faux religious way, because some people have misquoted us and made us sound like a couple of magicians or something. A lot of musicians don't seem to have that spiritual element because they are just working when they make music. Like they have another agenda and are doing it for other reasons. But the most interesting musicians seem to be the ones that are tying to go somewhere else with their music. A bit like he whole escapist or science fiction fantasy thing, it's the ones that look at music and think: how could things be different?
Mike: When you are signed to a label like Warp, you know that there's an audience of people out there buying [your music]. You can try to ignore it and try to imagine there's no one listening but there is always a feeling in the back of your mind that you have certain things to live up to regarding production standards. You wouldn't be able to get away with putting out an album with an 18-minute long ambient track in the middle of all pop and soul tracks. That's the kind of thing we do on our old tapes. We wouldn't have gotten shit aobut it and we would have just done it. It wouldn't have mattered. But now we have these considerations because we're putting out records that force use to think aobut the average person who buys them.
Marcus: At the particular age we were at when we lived in Canada you are more likely to notice the differences between where you come from and where you're visiting. The things that out like TV and music, the way people dress are the things that you carry with you when you leave that place. I thik it's been imprinted on us. For us, it was a very specific time--1979 to 1980 North American media culture--that left like a ghostly shadow that sort of stuck to us. We came away form there with a memory of the palce that was nostalgic to the extent that we've been trying to get back there ever since. Not geographically, but more like a feeling. By making music that makes you travel to that place.
Mike: Now I find that a lot of the depression about losing my childhood has gone by the wayside because I'm able to go back there with my little daughter. Kids do a lot of interesting things that you kind of vaguely remember doing yourself but have shutoff as an adult. You start to realize that life doesn't have to be about being completly conscious of the universe's problems. It can be really fulfilling if you just concentrate on a little microscopic version of life that a child sees. As a parent you have no choice but to occasionally lose yourself in a child's world like The Jungle Book of something. It's a bit like what we do with our music. It's like saying to yourself that just for this hour I'm gonna switch off all the crap in the world and lose myself in an alternative world. Like a good book or something. It's kind of how we see what we do with our records. Although it's becoming increasingly difficult the older we get. It's much harder to not put our political beliefs into the music.
Marcus: I know it sounds strange to say it but I've always thought of Stevie Wonder as an electronic artist. A lot of his bass line were done on synths. He's done project albums like The Secret Life of Plants that are all synthesizers, all done with keyboards. You wouldn't describe him as rock and it's too lazy to describe him as R&B or soul. To me, it's electronic but it's absolutely organic. Here you have incredible singing, incredible tunes, and amazing use of keyboards. Sometimes I step back and think aobut the sound of Stevie in the '70s and it shoes just how different electronic music can be.
Mike: We were already huge fans of Beck's music and friends with the guys form Anticon. Dose and I are big penpals. I think Beck's producers asked the Anticon guys if they had a contact for us and the next thing we know we get a letter asking us to do [this remix of] Beck's. We said that we'd love to hear the track first and see what it's like and I said to Marcus at one stage that if this track is really slow and empty we'll do it. Marcus: I actually told Warp six months earlier to don't call us about remixes unless it's Beck or God.
|title||Around The Campfire|
As Boards Of Canada release their new long-player, the plot thickens………..
It’s easy to imagine Boards Of Canada as electronic music’s own equivalent of ‘Brigadoon’. Or it would be were not the Gene Kelly musical not insufferably twee and full of elaborate tap-dancing routines – neither of which applies to the spectral sound world so lovingly crafted by Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin.
But in other ways the comparisons between the story of a mysterious Scottish village and Boards Of Canada hold firm. Both, after all, only appear at sporadic intervals and seem curiously out of time, shrouded in the ambience of the Scottish highlands from which they materialise.
Although we have proof of Boards Of Canada’s existence in records like ‘Music Has The Right To Children’ and their latest long-player ‘The Campfire Headphase’ these have become like mythical artefacts in themselves, electronic enigmas which fans dissect with almost scholarly obsession – their aura only heightened by their creators’ self-imposed isolation. Plus, on the rare occasions when they do break their silence, the mysteries only seem to thicken like the sea mist around the ‘artistic commune’ outside Edinburgh where the pair have spun their eerie instrumental fables for over a decade.
‘We got into creating music when we were very young, years before anyone heard any of our work,’ Mike elaborates. ‘We got into it because we love music, not because we want to be in the press. In fact, it’s all the industry bullshit that makes us stay away in the first place.
‘But our reticence has backfired on us on occasions because if we stay quiet it creates a vacuum where speculation and bullshit can thrive.’}}
Of course such speculation is encouraged – whether intentionally or not – not just by the Boards’ suspicion of the press but by the many layers of meaning, almost arcane references and microscopic attention to detail woven into their records.
There are numerous internet messageboards dedicated to interpreting the ‘subliminal’ messages fans claim to have heard in the dislocated child’s voices and old TV samples which have become Boards Of Canada’s sound signature – such as the allusions to the Branch Davidians on 2000’s ‘In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country’ EP.
‘"The Devil Is In The Details"’ you might say – to use a track title from ‘Geogaddi’, Boards Of Canada’s 2002 album which had an overall running time of 66 minutes and 6 seconds as well as what some saw as a horned figure on the cover. Coincidence or conspiracy?
‘The Campfire Headphase’ will undoubtedly spark such intrigue again. There are slight shifts in sound here – such as a greater use of guitars inspired by their love of country musicians like John Denver – but the overall darkly supernatural atmosphere is the same one that has engulfed all their records since their first Warp release ‘Music Has A Right To Children’ in 1998. And the development of their fragile beats and haunting melodies can be traced much further back than even their first official EP release ‘Hi Scores’ on Skam in 1996. It goes back to the days when the pair and various friends would create music for bonfire parties on deserted beaches, emulating the sound of My Bloody Valentine, synth-pop artists like Devo and even psychedelic folk groups like The Incredible String Band on the old analogue equipment they still love today. Warp re-released their early ‘Twoism’ collection in 2002 but the Boards are still sitting on vast amounts of music which was originally distributed on a few hundred cassette tapes. Mike talks about the possibility of bringing them to light one day, but for now the closest anyone outside their inner sanctum is going to get is listening to ‘The Campfire Headphase.’
Sensations of childhood
And – as with so many Boards Of Canada records – that journey takes us back into the past rather than the sterile future envisaged in so much electronica. Specifically to the sensations of childhood which have always been an overarching influence on their oeuvre. Their name is a tribute to the National Film Board of Canada who produced many of the public information films the pair watched as kids and their music also has the same feelings of wonder and dread that comes from trying to make sense of the world at an early age. It’s made with childlike intuition rather than adult calculation, with sounds writhing under the surface like vague recollections of formative experiences – such as Mike’s earliest memory of ‘freaking out in a swimming pool when I was four years old because a woman told me that little men in boats were going to come out of the drains.’