|| The Last Unexplored Area of Boards of Canada
|| Joe Sato, Nakamoto Hiroyuni
"The Last Unexplored Area of Boards of Canada" is a 2002/03 interview by Joe Sato, Nakamoto Hiroyuni. It originally appeared in Japanese Buzz magazine.
Note: The original magazine was scanned to PDF. That PDF was sent to an online OCR tool to be converted to Japanese character text. The resulting text was translated on a basic level by Google Translate. That translation has been rewritten and interpreted into proper English by Valotonin.
It is already a miracle in not only electronic music, but in the entirety of music.
The only thing that truly exists is the moment. Everything inside of me is entranced and captivated by a very particular sound. This sound reverberated and flowed from Boards of Canada's release - Geogaddi. Once, a band called My Bloody Valentine changed the world with its sweet and layered, sugar coated and heavily sculpted sound. Today we meet two musicians from Scotland, Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin who have once again reshaped our entire perception of music. This will be their sixth public release, but the people behind the music are still very much a mystery. Music Has the Right to Children, which had been entirely distinct from the Hip-Hop, electronic and experimental music of the time that it was often associated with, created the backdrop for the long awaited second album, Geogaddi, the contents of which was far exceeding the boundaries of imagination created by the listener's anticipation and craving for more of the Sandison's sounds. They tend to be illusive and very shy of public exposure and interviews but, to my surprise and seemingly by miracle, this will be their first ever interview in Japan. We conducted the interview by email and I was anxiously awaiting a reply which, in turn, arrived safely. Now we can begin to peer beneath the illusive cloak of secrecy and begin to build a picture of the source of the sonic mastery below. It would all become clear.
Boards of Canada are not ones to involve themselves with the media too readily and their true identities are not known at all in Japan. Through this interview conducted via Email, I found that Mike and Marcus are each different characters with interesting personalities...
This album, the first full length release in around four years, is often directly compared to your previous work. Is this something you generally anticipate and was it created in the knowledge of it being a followup to Music Has the Right to Children
Mike: This time I wanted to look at the various basic elements of music more than in our last release, and at the same time there was the reality that we wanted to create something rather more abstract than before. In a certain sense, we tried to reproduce melodies that seemed to have been ringing and circulating in certain dreams instead of ones from outside influences. In another sense, we begin with an adventure akin to Alice in Wonderland
. Marcus coined the word Geogaddi
, a combination of various words and it definitely has a strong meaning to us, but it can take on a variety of meanings. In the end every individual listener will have their own personal interpretation and meaning to ascribe to the word. As children, we used to watch B-Mini-Movies together and thoroughly enjoyed playing and recording together. My original aim was to inevitably be able to play paino by myself. Luckily for us, a mutual acquaintance lent us a synthesizer and we began to expand our sound and recording techniques from there.
The name 'Boards of Canada
' is derived from the Canadian visual production company: National Film Boards of Canada
. I am told that the company is based in Canada and seems to produce nature and cultural films, alongside animated films for children. Is there a relation to this or a reason that you decided to use the name?
Mike: The National Film Boards of Canada
is a huge organization. In the 1970's, when we were children, we often watched their productions and were always interested and enchanted by alterations in sound quality made as a result of the tape physically degrading. This later had a huge influence on our musical direction.
Can you tell me more about your history in creating and editing music. Are there any records that had a big impact on your lives?
Marcus: When we were younger, we both had access to a piano and guitar and used them to develop ourselves as musicians. There was one record I recall that was mostly created around the sampling of another older record, in fact. When I listened to it, I could instantly envision what I would want to do with it if it were in my hands, expanding upon the beats and mixing it down in a more simplistic way. It wasn't so much particular songs but particular elements and techniques used in music that I was attracted to. One artist we very much look at with respect is Meat Beat Manifesto, they are real innovators in their field. There were other records that I could almost believe were discs sent from the future, really amazing sequenced sections and I believe they were using a sequencer to play a monotonous synth. Other records attracted me due to elements such as bass-lines which immediately get you addicted to the music. In other cases you could feel that the synthesizers were just alive, beautifully so.
Mike: A handful of artists strive to create a beauty beyond the artificial tastelessness that we see in a lot of today's music. This isn't to say that I don't like a few things that people tend to refer to as artificial and tasteless though. An example of something I find it very difficult to like are computer programmed tracks that appear to have had the melodies completely overlooked, nothing resembling a true melody left. I think people tend to create that kind of music as a way of showing off computing/programming skills rather than a true affection for music. Music should be able to induce a sense of emotion that appeals to human understanding. A melody often creates a meaning within.
You are currently on Warp Records
. What is your stance on their base philosophy and how do you view the current interpretation of 'Pop' music?
Mike: I think that Warp
is an Anti-Pop label in a way. I do think that there is room for pop music in the world though and there are many tracks generally considered as 'Pop' that I have actually enjoyed. One thing that is usually predictable of Pop music is that there is a tendency to create it around just a melody. The human voice over a microphone can be interpreted as an instrument in and of itself and it can have a way of stimulating a primitive part of the mind, something human. Even artificially processing a voice to create a seemingly unnatural sound, these are actually quite innovative tricks.
What does aura and atmosphere mean to you in terms of your own music?
Mike: I feel that there is a place for creating what can be interpreted as Pretty songs
even if words are rarely used. The atmosphere of the music can completely change when we do add vocals in some cases, even barely audible ones can be heard through the mix and affect the aura of a song entirely. When we write using more elements of psychedelia, the meaning of a track can often be a spiderweb of meaning. '"The Devil Is In The Details
" is an example of music being able to contain and convey multiple meanings at once.
Mike: I think the humanity of our music is reflected in our lives. Neither of us is particularly a technology lover. I want to move around as I think about working with machines. I think that experimental art does not have a mechanism that makes it possible to change music in such a way as to separate it from its existence in nature. It seems as if it is somehow made in a way in which technology has a large influence on the work, but the listeners are not ever sure of what it is. We believe it is music because it has an element of the abnormal and the unnatural. It is also the ability to create it as if one were experiencing or seeing it in a natural environment. We use authentic organic elements of sound and it is entertaining to create sounds that are beyond the reaches of our imagination.
[Ambiguous as to who responds] We were both the children of musical families, living close to the sea. There really wasn't much entertainment for us as children. I began making strange cassette tapes, creating a tapestry of sound akin to the patterns of sound one hears in nature, perhaps on an island. In reality there are an infinitely large number of instruments one can use, with computer based 'Laptop music', your choices are entirely limited and constrained to the limits of the machine, not to the limits of human reality and beyond as it otherwise would be.
Is there also an influence in your music that comes from 'Hip-Hop', 'Break-beats' and heavy sequencing?
Mike: It is generally more enjoyable to watch live musicians. Laptops can be seen as a musical composition tool that allow you to be mobile as you are creating a musical composition, but I think it's good to get inspiration from, even better, knowing how to play raw and natural musical instruments. There is generally a problem with this generation musically, they have become very accustomed to mass production. I was conscious of sampling. When you listen to the Beatles as a child, you are very interested as to how certain sounds sound as they do. There is that sense of wonder in organic music. Sometimes listening to a flute on loop or a mandolin, it was absolutely impossible to understand how it sounded as it did. A mystery and a sense of wonder that wasn't ever clarified.
[Unintelligible section omitted]
[Mentions several artists including 'Autechure' 'Aphex Twin' 'Squarepusher' 'Plaid' and 'My Bloody Valentine']
Mike: We certainly have a lot of respect and praise for 'My Bloody Valentine'. We consider ourselves both to be big fans. It seems that they are looking away from the artificial direction, towards the natural one. Actually, when we listen [to Loveless], we feel that it is not only a musical masterpiece, but a monumental piece that shows freedom of expression and, in turn, freedom of interpretation.
When you think of 'Loveless' by 'My Bloody Valentine' or 'Screamadelica' by 'Primal Scream'. Would it be fair to think of this work as almost Funk/Pop music for live audiences?
[Ambiguous as to which of the two artists he is referring to] Marcus: He tends to write their songs based around Pop structures that are highly appreciative of 'the Pop sound' and it is sonicly provocative. Its impossible to imitate the foremost sound quality and it seems that the noise is unintentionally out of the way. Unstable and subtle sounds are a positive thing, even if there are some people that find themselves unable to appreciate that kind of thing.
It seems as if there is an awful lot more hidden content in Geogaddi
than on the previous record. Mathematical patterns and subliminal messages, it almost feels like a search for treasure. Are you interested in symbology and mathematics?
[Ambiguous as to who replies] Mathematics is a powerful reflection of admitting an un-measurable answer. The only way to explain the strange world of Geogaddi
is to explain that it needs to be interpreted as the circulation of several simultaneous patterns. When you are a child, you wonder what you wonder, and are then told to accept the world as it is. After a couple of years, like any child, I got back into the mindset of wondering again. Examining the colour spectrum, wondering why things fall in such a way, wondering what the true colour of carrots are etc. I began thinking that perhaps my head was getting fucked up (laughs). If there is no concept of mathematics, one isn't able to see through the perspective of mathematics. Certain senses need to be learned in a way. There is no rule book, there is no such thing as 'x'.
Do you think of music as a tool for communication?
Mike: Of course there is music that exists solely for the purpose of communication. Actually Let me convey far more emotions than words ever could is a good example of how human beings developed intelligence. It started from the point at which an ape struck a stick and started clapping, and finally it became possible to express complex human emotion. There is someone, somewhere listening to the melodies I make and feeling nice if the emotion I am trying to put across is a sentiment like love or adoration. It would be nice if there were someone who would experience the experience of being able to listen to your own music when they hear our creations, as in the end, we create it to our own taste.
[Unintelligible section omitted]
There are certainly some very clear messages in your recent work, how would you describe the message conveyed by "Energy Warning
[Ambiguous as to who replies] It is effectively sounding a warning as to the depletion of natural energy resources. The message is, however, usually secondary to the musical content. Another example is in "1969
"', it is a manifestation of the era of innocence, love and peace that was at the heart of the era, but it was also laced with the various fears going into the future such as the cold war and nuclear threats and I thought about conveying a kind of strong additive sensation of neurosis that has been popularized in our culture since the 1970s Government publicity movies etc. Electromagnetic. There was a sense of helplessness for the future generation
It does seem that in that time period and with government Public Service announcements that there was a strong shift towards the pessimistic and the negative. I personally picked up on some of this in 'A Beautiful Place Out in the Country'
Mike: The underlying message in both "1969
"' and 'A Beautiful Place Out in the Country' are rather similar. The general lifestyle changed quite dramatically around this point in history and structure and regulation were becoming evermore part of the lives of the general population. We are actually really interested to know of people's states of mind when listening to our music and whether it is felt as somewhat of a psychedelic experience to them.
Marcus: I think that being aware of one's internal thought processes and being aware of the way the world changes in its entirety and is constantly changing is a positive attribute to have. Good things are sometimes born from this state of mind, but also the negative can be born of these realizations, too. It seems so distant from what is considered to be common sense, such as leaving your body in a distorted form etc.
I think that the previous works that you have made, made one feel like something beautiful was being created in front of them, although sharp elements of Hip-Hop were used heavily and anger and aggression were felt more intensely. Regardless, the psychedelic feel in this work seems to be dramatically expanding upon the euphoria and warmth of your previous, What is your take on this?
Marcus: I think that it is a reasonable interpretation. I wanted to make something which isn't limited to feeling like it is a specific style of music within a particular time period. The psychedelic element is certainly there to a certain extent, but it comes more from the music surrounding psychedelics as opposed to the chemicals themselves. Geogaddi
is host to a wide variety of styles.
" is a song that seems to stand out to me on this release, the surface of the track is only occupied by a lone piano. I am told that this is a song composed by Mike. Do you have a special or habitual way of composing your songs?
Mike: There are other songs making use of raw instruments and little else. This is a song that I clearly wanted to express as bittersweet or as something that, on the surface, is comfortable but has an ominous feel beneath. That contrast of emotion is something we focus heavily on. Nothing is ever polarized to either positive or negative.
For you, what kind of emotions and images are evoked by children?
Marcus: In the park, I am playing and my mother is present. The sun is shining and I remember never ever feeling as if I was home.
Mike: When I was five years old, putting a ten pence piece into the electric kid's car as I ran around on the inside.
May I ask as to why you chose to put the 1min and 44 seconds long silent track "Magic Window
"' at the end of your album, is there a significance?
Marcus: "Magic Window
"' is a phenomenon that creates an unusual frequency and influences the listener and their environment in a special way. On the Japanese edition of Geogaddi
we have planted a bonus track "From One Source All Things Depend
"'. It contains a variety of philosophical and religious sentiments...
Mike: This expresses the innocence of children who repeat the words and ideas of parents and teachers without much consideration for the true meaning or context. This can be seen as something both pleasant and slightly unnerving, on the other hand.
Children learn both the positive and negative from their elders in the vast majority of cases. Are you able to tell us anything of your interpretation of 'God' and what it represents to you?
Marcus: I have nothing real to say on the subject, although, if you don't belong to any particular religion, God may appear to be the same to you as it would if one were to make an independent idea of god, coming soley from their heart and autonomous ideas and sentiments.
, I often feel that there is a dark and sometimes even agressive mood to your music, but the accumulation of the entire piece leaves me with a sense of optimism and peace. It is quite emotionally ambiguous...
Marcus: That is what we tend to like. To us it feels like something that initially gives you a sense of warmth but with the darker underside slowly creeping up on you and emerging from beneath. The underside is dark, the spirit is frozen. I think that because of the human element to our music, it is much easier to convey naturally ambiguous and contradicting emotion as one feels generally. Our music will always reflect certain periods of our life.
This is the final question. Do you feel that through Geogaddi
you have had the ability to change a world that is cold, rigid and emotionally neutral, even to a minor extent?
Marcus: All music has the power to create change, however big or small. If it affected and gave something to every single person that had the chance to listen to it, I feel that I would have made a positive impact on the world - thank you.
Thank you to both of you for your time.
Original text (Japanese)