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The Age of Aquarius

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title The Age of Aquarius
author The Cosmic Crofter
publication EHX
date 1998/03/25
issue
pages



"The Age of Aquarius" was the first published interview of Boards of Canada. It was conducted by The Cosmic Crofter and posted on his website EHX, home of the first official Boards of Canada page.


Interview[edit]

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 ...".