|| Play Twice Before Listening
|| Koen Poolman
"Play Twice Before Listening" is an interview by Koen Poolman originally published online Mar. 2002 on the OOR website . The abbreviated version (in Dutch) published in the OOR magazine can be found here.
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.
Hi Michael & Marcus, Where are you? How are you doing?
Marcus: We're at our studio right now, the whole place is 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 the magazines. What's the best and the worst criticism you got so far?
Marcus: We try not to look at reviews. It starts to 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 imagine nobody 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
Mike: a and b. Especially a.
Music Has The Right To 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.
Mike: Thanks, yeah I think you're right, it's easier when 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 twice before 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.
Mike: We'd much rather that people find our music by 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.
Mike: Our best work is still ahead of us. We were writing 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 the kind 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?
Marcus: We're not into milking the media and we're not 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 all the 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.
Mike: That's exactly why we try to create a sound that 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 perpendicular to 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.
Marcus: It's about what fits in the context of 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 the track 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?
Mike: Haha, yeah there will be another record very soon after this one. As Marcus said, you make an album by compiling what fits together, and we're already putting together a different record.
How did you make the selection between the 'full on' tracks and the strange intermezzos 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?
Mike: It's meant to play like the soundtrack for some 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 a damaged 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?
Mike: If we wanted, we could release 10 albums tomorrow made up only with those short tracks. The ones on Geogaddi are the ones that make most sense in the overall flow.
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?
Mike: If you mean how does it differ from what might have 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?
Marcus: The idea of the perfect album is this amorphous 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 making music 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?
Mike: That's partially true. For the album we hoped to 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 their own 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?
Marcus: We don't try to plot a route with where we go 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, one progression from MHTRTC, what would it be?
Mike: I would say 'Music Has The Right...' is a record 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 the tunnel.
"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?
Marcus: Definitely, even more so. Our influences while creating Geogaddi involved much darker material, so I think 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?
Mike: Yeah it's possible. I think the best way to freshen 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 heading
in 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?
Marcus: I think it's flattering that we may be influencing others to create music. But I think everyone should find their own path. In a way, if people copy us closely, 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"?
Mike: Very. There's a lot of acoustic instrumentation 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 I guess 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!
Marcus: Definitely! We have all the Stringband records! In fact, they come from the same place where we live now. We see them from time to time. So I guess our rural sensibilities are similar. Personally, I think they are one of the most important and underrated bands in the past forty years of music. They influenced so many other artists yet they never get due credit.
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?
Mike: We are interested in pagan roots. We're very much into older cultures and lifestyles. People forget just how transitory this period of time in the modern world is. It's important to be able to consider other approaches to society and life than what's around you. Take a look at Julian Cope for example, he uses these influences to fuel his music in a wonderful unique way. It can influence your work in other ways too, not necessarily just in the sound of the music.
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?
Marcus: As evil as Mickey Mouse.
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).
Mike: It's just a pattern. It captures some people's imaginations.
Are you putting a hex/curse on us?
Marcus: Heh, only if you want it to happen.
My guess: it's about a deeply-rooted believe in Mother Earth, as displayed in the ancient traditions of paganism.
Mike: You could say that. We're not Satanists, or Christians, or pagans. We're not religious at all. We just put symbols into our music sometimes, depending on what we're interested in at the time. We do care about people and the state of the world, and if we're spiritual at all it's purely in the sense of caring about art and inspiring people with ideas.
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?
Marcus: We're very much anti-globalization. One think that disturbs me is a trend today for technology to be created and used just for it's own sake. I recently heard a politician in the UK saying that population decline was a terrible thing and that if we don't build more houses then quality of life and the economy would suffer. It's such a naive and ignorant approach to the world. Where exactly do they stop? Once there is no land left, just industrial estates and housing? I think it's the saddest thing in the world that we have all the space and resources to give everyone a decent life, but it doesn't happen. George Bush is right in that there is an "axis of evil", but it lies at the door of big business and government. We try to support the idea of a less urbanized lifestyle in our music, but I don't want to preach to anyone.
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.
Mike: I think you're quite right, and to us the association of electronic music with science fiction and futurism is a cliche. It's a really corny, dated, unsophisticated way of thinking. And yet most current electronic artists still seem to fall into that trap. It might have been original in the 1970's when Kraftwerk were at their peak, but not now. For us, the technological aspect of our music goes as far as the studio recording techniques we use, but we don't let the technology dictate the purpose of our art to us. Too many electronic bands get carried away with the influences of computers and the internet and other technology, and they end up using that as their sole inspiration because at the end of the day that's all they do. So they let their song-titles and themes be direct references to current technological buzzwords or fashions, and to us that's a total lack of imagination. They're geeks obsessed with equipment and computers and ultimately it's become fucking predictable and boring. They should go out and live. Or travel around or something, get some real ideas, and real emotions. I mean, we too are interested in technology and science, but our
music is influenced by much further-reaching ideas than that. And it's not just about recapturing the past. We've touched upon the theme of lost childhood a few times because it's something personal to me that gives me real inspiration through its sadness. I think sometimes the best way to get inspiration is to face up to the things that make you very sad in your life, and use them.
What makes the past more interesting than the future to you?
Mike: The future is very interesting to us too, we're very forward-thinking. But as I said, it's become the accepted standard for electronic artists to be constantly projecting into the future, and as a band we love electronic music but we hate the cliches. As people we're both quite reflective, particularly myself, and sometimes I find that the most positive way to convey hope for the future is to delve into the past. It could just as easily be an exploration of a tragedy or it could be a reflection of some wonderful golden period from the past.
"1969 in the sunshine"(from: 1969). What memory is that? Woodstock? A yellowed picture of your parents? A collective memory that fits your music?
Mike: In that song it refers to a specific period in the history of a religious group, and at the same time the period in general, the hopefulness of a forward-thinking generation that wasn't aware of what was coming in their collective future.
It's these references that give your music a context. Or is there more to it than just context… a message?
Marcus: It's a bit of both. Some of our tracks are using messages to lend the sound of the tune a context, to make it easier for people to understand what frame of mind we intend the track to be taken in. It can mean the difference between someone understanding our sense of irony or not. We're very conscious of what we sound like, and we have a sense of humor that can be completely missed if you don't fully understand what we're about. At the same time, we're quite serious about a lot of issues, we're politically motivated, and we're genuinely interested in a lot of cultural and scientific subjects. We do a lot of research. So, some of our tracks are putting across a very specific 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?
Marcus: It's true and we've experimented with a lot of other equations and phenomena. But it's not the primary purpose behind the band. Most of the time we're really just into making music the normal way.
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: Gyroscope, Sunshine Recorder, Magic Window, I Saw Drones and the volcano and energy warnings on Geogaddi.
Mike: Yeah the main thing is these titles are evocative and the idea is it helps put a picture in your mind to associate with the track. We don't want to go too far as it's important to leave a certain space there for the listener's imagination. On this album a lot of the tracks are referring to science and nature and maths, it's just what we were into at the time of writing it. When we work on music we often imagine a visual part, as though the track is meant to accompany a short film of some kind, so yeah I suppose each track has a theme that we want to convey in some vague way.
Would this be the kind of movies you're making with the Music 70 collective?
Marcus: Yes the films we've done are mostly abstract, organic-looking things. Loops and collages of clips, made into patterns, which seem to be in the style of documentaries or information films, or nature films. We want our music to be provocative and inspiring so we try to put suggestions into the live visual show to reinforce this. We make them ourselves, we don't sample bits of other people's films, but we make them look like they came from something older.
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?
Marcus: Most of the films we use in our live gigs are made entirely by Mike and myself.
How many people are involved with Music 70?
Marcus: It's a floating number of friends who are working on music or films or photography. There's only a handful of us, about a dozen. Mike and I have done other side projects in the past that are currently taking a back-seat while we concentrate on Boards of Canada, although in the future we intend to get into other things again, films and books.
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 re-released.)
Mike: We heard about this. It's ridiculous. If people have that much money to spend on music it's up to them. There has been no decision about doing any re-releases yet, and if there was, nobody would know about it because we never tell anybody anything.
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.
Marcus: We'd like to play in Holland at some point if we get a chance, if anyone wants us to. There are no plans at the moment for a tour because we're working on another record, but we love visiting Europe and we'd love an excuse to experience Holland, so maybe it'll happen sometime soon.
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?
Marcus: It's silly. We don't pay any attention to that. These compilations just lump us together with all sorts of music that has no connection with what we do. I don't know what 'chill-out' is. We're not into scenes or any of that. There isn't one phrase to describe our music because it changes drastically from one track to the next.
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?
Mike: We don't keep in touch with anyone in the music world. It doesn't pay to be involved with people in the music industry. There's no specific preference or prejudice. We just keep everyone at the same distance.
Last question: what does Geogaddi mean in your twisted language? What does it stand for?
Mike: It's a combination of different words, there are a few different meanings you can take from it. We have our own meaning and we want the listener to make up his or her own meaning. It's more personal that way.
Thanks a lot for your time! I hope it was worth it. Keep making such amazing records. Cheers, Koen Poolman/OOR
BoC: Thanks Koen...
interview by by Koen Poolman, March 2002.
- ↑ https://web.archive.org/web/20020328062626/http://www.oor.nl/OorNL/custom/Boards.htm