|| Un Cabane Au Canada
|| Joseph Ghosn
|| Les Inrockuptibles
|| 2002/02 (Feb/Mar)
Un Cabane Au Canada
Par Joseph Ghosn
Photo Peter Iain Campbell
Avec un premier album bucolique et enfantin, les Ecossais de Boards Of Canada inventaient un folk électronique, dont l'influence rayonne aujourd'hui de Radiohead au hip-hop. Avec Geogaddi, le mystérieux duo livre un deuxième chef-d'œuvre pastoral et inquiet.
Des ermites autistes, des paranoïaques aigus enchaînés à leurs ordinateurs, des fous cloîtrés devant leurs machines... Les rumeurs les plus folles circulent sur Boards Of Canada depuis la sortie de leur premier album Music Has the Right ta Children, il y a cinq ans. Duo insondable, le groupe avait alors réussi un coup de force rarement imité, véritable OPA implicite sur la musique, de tout bord et de tout crin. Leur son, égrené en une poignée de morceaux électroniques, est parvenu, presque sournoisement, à réconcilier en un même mouvement les activistes de toutes les tendances, les ayatollahs du rap, du rock et de l'electronica.
Au départ, pourtant, rien ne distinguait vraiment les Ecossais Marcus Eoin et Mike Sandison de leurs contemporains. Pour beaucoup, le duo n'était qu'un clone supplémentaire d'un autre groupe à l'aura presque mystique : Autechre. Les similitudes étaient flagrantes : même maison de disques (Warp), même traitement sombre des ambiances musicales délétères, même formation à deux, faux couple uni devant les machines et passionné par la création d'univers parallèles, autant graphiques que musicaux. La similitude, pourtant, s'arrête là. Autant la musique d'Autechre est pétrie dans des paysages postindustriels violents, souvent arides et crevassés, autant celle de Boards Of Canada est empreinte de visions pastorales, quasi impressionnistes et oniriques.
Ecouter Boards Of Canada, c'est souvent se retrouver confronté à un étrange sentiment de familiarité lointaine, comme si le disque qui tourne était composé de bribes de souvenirs évanescents, d'étincelles de réminiscences. Boards Of Canada met en scène une musique étrangement pénétrante, très diffuse et presque vénéneuse. Un sentiment que renforce pleinement Geogaddi, attendu par beaucoup comme une sorte de messie électronique, alors même que l'époque semble mettre en berne la plupart des tentatives d'électronique abstraite, trop isolationniste. Un travers qui aurait pu précipiter Boards Of Canada au terminus des prétentieux : le duo trimballe une réputation peu enviée de hippies enfermés dans une communauté perdue en Ecosse, vivant en vase clos, dans une ferme surprotégée de toute attaque physique ou virtuelle. Un havre devenu légendaire chez tous les fans du groupe, qui ont bâti via le Net une incroyable mythologie autour du duo, devenu un emblème malgré lui de la génération des hackers technoïdes, obsédés par leurs ordinateurs.
La réalité, pourtant, est différente. Les deux membres de Boards Of Canada ne ressemblent en rien à des héros. Jeunes trentenaires que leurs photos montrent toujours habillés avec les mêmes vieilles fringues — survêtements élimés, bonnet enfoncé jusqu'aux oreilles —, ils semblent surtout soucieux d'éviter les modes, de tuer dans l'œuf toute catégorisation. Plus que tout, le groupe revendique pleinement son attachement à sa musique et sa haine des compromis.
Mike Sandison : Je suis amoureux de la musique depuis toujours. Je me souviens que, tout petit déjà, je me tenais debout à l'arrière de la voiture de mes parents pour chanter des chansons à tue-tête. Le premier disque dont je me souvienne, c'est le morceau Seasons in the Sun de Terry Jacks que j'écoutais à la radio. J'ai commencé à faire ma propre musique à l'âge de 5 ou 6 ans. Je suppliais mes parents de m'emmener chez mes grands-parents qui avaient un piano, et sur lequel j'improvisais des mélodies.
Pas étonnant que le plus vieux souvenir musical de Boards Of Canada soit Seasons in the Sun, cette reprise folk-rock d'un morceau de Jacques Brel, aux airs délétères rappelant étrangement les atmosphères nocturnes et la nostalgie rémanente qui sourd de la musique du duo. Une nostalgie toute pastorale, ainsi que l'explicitait déjà le titre d'un single sorti entre leurs deux albums, In a Beautiful Place out in the Country ("Dans un bel endroit à la campagne").
Marcus Eoin : Nous avons tous les deux vécu plus longtemps à la campagne que dans des villes. Nous trouvons davantage d'inspiration à la campagne. L'environnement urbain fait que les musiciens s'influencent les uns les autres, tout s'homogénéise — et les modes s'en mêlent aussi. S'en éloigner permet alors à l'imagination de redevenir sauvage et de ne plus se soucier de l'avis d'autrui. La tranquillité de la campagne est similaire à l'espace spirituel des rêves.
Réfugié en pleine campagne, le groupe ne rencontre que rarement les journalistes. Pour la sortie du nouvel album, il ne répond d'ailleurs aux interviews que par e-mails. Cette mise à distance, qui est commune à plusieurs musiciens électroniques, traduit-elle une timidité maladive, masquée par la pratique des machines ?
Nous avons simplement l'impression de mieux contrôler ce que nous faisons si nous gardons tout le monde à une certaine distance. Nous ne sommes pas pour autant des ermites... Nous avons commencé à faire de la musique par amour, sans aucune volonté de devenir célèbres ou de nous imposer par la force. Nous avons l'intention de continuer à faire de la musique pendant plusieurs années encore. Il est donc important que nous ne subissions pas trop de pressions. Tout comme il est et important que nous ne nous prenions jamais trop au sérieux. Malgré le succès, nous ne nous sommes jamais permis de changer de mode de vie. D'une certaine manière, nous écrivons de meilleurs morceaux lorsque nous avons l'impression que personne ne va écouter le résultat. C'est le meilleur moyen de garder l'inspiration des premiers jours.
Les premiers jours... Boards Of Canada est né des cendres de l'indie-rock des années 8o et de son chant du cygne : Loveless, le dernier album en date de My Bloody Valentine, qui mêlait guitares éthérées et beats salis, dans un déluge onirique et infernal de distorsion, d'échos psychédéliques et de ritournelles organiques violées.
Nous faisions alors partie d'un groupe à guitares et nous enregistrions aussi des trucs électroniques pour différents projets. L'un de ces projets se nommait Boards Of Canada, d'après le National Film Board of Canada, dont on regardait les documentaires. La musique de ces films était en général faite avec des synthétiseurs et avait un son très pourri, qui nous a beaucoup inspiré. Nous avons toujours été très prolifiques et, à l'époque, tout ce qui nous importait, c'était de pouvoir distribuer notre musique, en cassette et gratuitement, à nos amis. Nous devions nous battre pour trouver un peu d'argent afin de financer cette passion et, pour ça, nous avions des boulots pourris.
La sortie de ces années de vaches maigres se fait par le biais d'Autechre :
Nous avions enregistré un mini-album, Twoism, avec l'intention de l'envoyer à nos groupes préférés. On en a pressé nous-mêmes cent copies en vinyle et on a dû en distribuer une cinquantaine. Une des copies a atterri chez Autechre ; l'un des membres nous a téléphoné dès le lendemain pour nous proposer de sortir un disque sur leur label, Skam. La maison de disques Warp nous a ensuite contactés et nous a demandé de sortir notre premier album.
Aujourd'hui: une copie originale de Twoism, rarissime, peut coûter plus de mille euros : quelques veinards fortunés se les arrachent sur les sites de vente aux enchères... Des prix prohibitifs qui traduisent l'aura du groupe, grandissante : de Radiohead à Röyksopp, les beats maladifs, les effets psychédéliques et les mélodies enfantines de Boards Of Canada semblent avoir contaminé toutes les musiques.
<Le son de Boards Of Canada a contaminé quelques-uns des plus beaux disques de ces dernières années : revue des victimes.
L'influence de Boards Of Canada ne se mesure pas simplement aux chiffres de vente de leurs disques ou aux rares concerts du duo. Sans bruit, sans phénomène de masse, le son de Boards Of Canada s'est pourtant infiltré dans un certain nombre de disques majeurs de ces dernières années. En premier lieu, on retrouve le Radiohead de Kid A et Amnesiac : les rythmes glacés de ces deux disques et leur atmosphère polaire semblent prendre racine dans les compositions de Music Has the Right to Children. De même, la BO composée par Air pour Vire Suicides correspond avec les hymnes de poche du duo anglais. Le hip-hop, aussi, semble avoir puisé dans les interstices du duo : des groupes aussi novateurs que cLOUDDEAD ou Anti-Pop Consortium ont repris à leur compte quelques leçons soniques de Boards Of Canada. Ils ont notamment exploité toute l'esthétique crade et
dégradée de leur son : une patine qui tranche avec le reste de la production du genre, souvent très propre sur elle. Enfin, Melody A.M. des Norvégiens de Röyksopp navigue dans les mêmes eaux que Boards Of Canada, tandis qu'un groupe comme Bola (signé sur Skam, premier label de Boards Of Canada) pousse les leçons du duo dans leurs retranchements les plus noirs, les plus mélancoliques et remplis de bile, notamment dans le récent et très attachant Fyuti. Signalons également parmi les disciples les plus flagrants (et doués) Telefon Tel Aviv, EU, Manitoba, Gorodisch, Pilote ou Savath & Savalas... Boards Of Canada cultive à cet égard une modestie distanciée :
C'est très flatteur... Nous n'avons pas vraiment d'idée arrêtée sur ces histoires-là. Mais si nous avons inspiré qui que ce soit, alors tant mieux.
L'influence de Boards of Canada passe sans doute par une approche de la composition qui tranche avec les idiomes de la musique électronique, plutôt portée vers des morceaux assemblés par superposition de couches sonores. Boards of Canada, au contraire, semble chérir une approche classique : leurs morceaux sont d'abord des chansons, dans lesquelles on reconnaît des refrains, des ponts, des couplets. Mais le duo remplace les instruments traditionnels par des synthétiseurs et des boîtes à rythmes et le chant par des échos de voix d'enfant, déformées et triturées par tous les côtés.
Nous avons passé des années à faire de la musique dans des groupes "classiques", avec guitare, batterie et chanteur. Nous n'avons jamais été DJ et nous ne sommes pas venus à l'électronique via les ordinateurs. Au milieu des années 80, nous faisions de la musique électronique sans séquenceurs : tout était fait manuellement. Nous écrivons d'ailleurs toujours de cette manière-là.
C'est cette approche de la composition, héritée du rock ou de la pop, qui anime la musique du duo. Une musique qui se révèle, sur Geogaddi, encore plus amochée et cabossée qu'à l'accoutumée. Les morceaux, jamais aseptisés, sont remplis de sautes, d'arrêts, de voiles et de bosses. L'album, au final, est d'une beauté sourde, peuplé par des fantômes et des spectres mal en point.
Nous détruisons le son. La plupart des gens passent des heures à essayer de polir leur son et l'améliorer, tandis que nous utilisons de vieilles machines et des bandes analogiques pour dégrader le son, l'endommager et lui donner une patine. Les sons crades ajoutent une dimension qui fait songer à des temps anciens ou imaginaires. Ça donne une sorte de chaos contrôlé, toujours sur le fil, menaçant de s'effondrer, tout comme les meilleurs disques du passé, bien avant que les ordinateurs lavent et stérilisent la musique, la rendent froide et clinique.
En écoutant Geogaddi, en regardant les visuels déformés de la pochette, on a l'impression de tenir un groupe imaginaire, sans substance humaine. Comme si ces morceaux-là étaient fabriqués à partir d'une matière intangible, comme un collage de matériaux hétéroclites, venus de civilisations perdues, cristallisés dans des coulées de lave. Les voix de gosses, les extraits de messages informatifs, qui naviguent entre les beats lents, concourent à créer une musique funky et très cérébrale, qui fait songer à du Sly Stone déformé par les synthétiseurs de Brian Eno. Une confrérie de rêve qui rassemble, sur un même disque, les meilleurs artisans musicaux.
Le duo cherche d'ailleurs, avant tout, à décloisonner sa musique, à induire son auditeur en erreur, à lui indiquer de fausses pistes.
Inclure des discours de type administratif dans notre musique permet d'entretenir l'idée que l'on n'est pas en train d'écouter l'album d'un seul groupe, mais plutôt un collage de plusieurs enregistrements, un peu comme si on zappait à travers les différentes stations d'une bande radio.
Boards Of Canada diffuse en direct de Mars. •
A Cabin in Canada
By Joseph Ghosn
Photo: Peter Iain Campbell
With a pastoral and childlike first album, the Scots of Boards Of Canada invented an electronic folk, whose influence shines today from Radiohead to hip-hop. With Geogaddi, the mysterious duo delivers a second pastoral and uneasy masterpiece.
Autistic [Altruistic?] hermits, acute paranoids chained to their computers, fools cloistered in front of their machines ... The wildest rumors circulating on Boards Of Canada since the release of their first album Music Has the Right, five years ago . An impenetrable duo, the group had then managed a power grab rarely imitated, real OPA implied in the music, on all sides, unbridled. Their sound, ginned into a handful of electronic pieces, has managed, almost slyly, to reconcile in the same movement the activists of all tendencies, the ayatollahs of rap, rock and electronica.
Initially, however, nothing really distinguished the Scots Marcus Eoin and Mike Sandison from their contemporaries. For many, the duo was just another clone of another group with an almost mystical aura: Autechre. The similarities were obvious: same record company (Warp), same dark treatment of deleterious musical moods, same duo formation, false pair united in front of machines and passionate by the creation of parallel universes, as graphic as it is musical. The similarity, however, stops there. As much as Autechre's music is steeped in post-industrial and violent landscapes, often arid and crevassed, Boards Of Canada is marked by pastoral, quasi-impressionistic and dreamlike visions.
To listen to Boards Of Canada is often to be confronted with a strange feeling of distant familiarity, as if the record that was playing was composed of fragments of evanescent memories, sparks of reminiscences. Boards Of Canada features a strangely penetrating music, very diffuse and almost poisonous. A feeling that fully reinforces Geogaddi, expected by many as a kind of electronic messiah, even though that the time seems to put down most attempts at abstract electronics, too isolationist. A trick that could have precipitated Boards Of Canada at the terminus of the pretentious: the duo lugs an unmissable reputation of hippies locked in a community lost in Scotland, living in isolation, in a farm overprotected from any physical or virtual attack. A haven that has become legendary among all fans of the group, who have built via the Net an incredible mythology around the duo, which has become a symbol of the technoid hackers generation, obsessed by their computers.
The reality, however, is different. The two members of Boards Of Canada are nothing like heroes. Young in their thirties, their pictures always show them dressed with the same old clothes - tracksuits, cap pressed to the ears -, they seem especially anxious to avoid the fads, to nip in the bud any categorization. More than anything, the group fully claims their attachment to the music and their hatred of compromises.
Mike Sandison: I've been in love with music since I was a baby, it's very hard to remember a specific time. I can remember when I was a toddler standing up on the back seat of my parent's car singing songs at the top of my voice. The earliest record I can remember hearing on the radio was Terry Jacks' version of 'Seasons in the Sun', which was in the charts at the time. I started to make my own music when I was about 5 or 6 years old, because my grandparents had a piano and I used to beg my parents to let me go there to play it. I didn't do formal lessons at that time, so I just made tunes up.
No wonder the oldest musical memory of Boards Of Canada is Seasons in the Sun, this folk-rock reprise of Jacques Brel's piece, with deleterious melodies strangely reminiscent of nocturnal atmospheres and the lingering nostalgia of the duo's music..
A pastoral nostalgia, as already clarified by the title "In a Beautiful Place out in the Country", an EP released between their two albums.
Marcus Eoin: " We've both spent most of our lives in the country, although we've both also had periods of our lives living in cities too. We get more ideas for our music and art when we're in the countryside. It's not easy to explain. We think it's because being in the city tends to make musicians influence each other, and fashions and so on get mingled. You can't avoid being homogenized in the city. But when you're away from it you can let your imagination run wild and you don't stop for a minute to worry about what other people are going to think of your work. The peace we get in the countryside is analogous to having space in your head to dream.
Sheltered in the countryside, the group rarely meets journalists. For the release of the new album, they only respond to interviews by e-mail. Does keeping this kind of distance, common to several electronic musicians, translate to an unhealthy shyness, masked by the practice of machines?
We just feel more in control of what we're doing if we keep everyone away from us. We're not really hermits... We got involved with music years ago because we love the music, we've never had any desire to become famous or to push ourselves on people. We love doing what we do, and we intend to carry on making music for many years, so it's important that we keep it at a level where we don't feel that it is putting too much pressure on our lives. It's also important to us not to take it all too seriously. We've not allowed ourselves or our lives to change at all since the band became better known. It's much better this way. Somehow we write much better music when we don't imagine anyone hearing it. I'm not sure why this works but it does. It's cool because we keep ourselves inspired just like the early days when nobody had ever heard our music.
The first days ... Boards Of Canada was born from the ashes of 80s indie-rock and its swan song: Loveless, the last album of My Bloody Valentine, which mixed ethereal guitars and dirty beats, in a dreamlike and infernal flood of distortion, psychedelic echoes and breached organic refrains.
We were using a few different names for our projects, as we had a live band with guitars, as well as recording electronic things as side projects. One of the projects was Boards of Canada, named after the National Film Board of Canada, because we used to watch the documentaries made by the National Film Board and the music was usually synth-based and had a distinctive 'damaged' quality. I think perhaps the tapes they mastered the soundtracks on were poor quality, and the music had drop-outs and 'wow and flutter', which inspired our sound. We've always been quite prolific and back then all that mattered to us was to give all our friends copies of our music, so we started making up tapes and packaging them, and circulating them. It was just for the love of it so we never asked anyone to pay for them. We were struggling to raise cash to do it so we worked in crappy day-jobs.
The exit of those lean years was through Autechre:
We recorded a sort of mini-album called 'Twoism', for the first time with the intention of sending them to bands we liked. We got 100 copies pressed on vinyl with our own cash. I think we only gave away about 50 copies in the end, to a few bands and friends and so on. One of the copies went to Autechre, and Sean Booth called us up the day after we sent it, and asked us to do a record with their label Skam, which they were involved with. Then Warp called us up, and asked us to release our first album with them
Today: an original copy of Twoism, extremely rare, can cost more than a thousand euros: a lucky and wealthy few get them from auction sites ... inflated prices that reflect the aura of the group, growing: from Radiohead to Röyksopp, Boards Of Canada's sickly beats, psychedelic effects and child-like melodies seem to have contaminated all music.
<The sound of Boards Of Canada has contaminated some of the most beautiful records of recent years: review of victims.
The influence of Boards Of Canada can not be measured simply by their record sale figures or the rare concerts of the duo. No noise, no mass phenomenon, the sound of Boards Of Canada has yet infiltrated a number of major records of recent years. First, we find Radiohead by Kid A and Amnesiac: the frozen rhythms of these two discs and their polar atmosphere seem to take root in the compositions of Music Has the Right to Children. Similarly, the soundtrack composed by Air for The Virgin Suicides matches with the English duo's pocket anthems. . Hip-hop, too, seems to have tapped into the interstices of the duo: groups as innovative as cLOUDDEAD or Anti-Pop Consortium have taken over a few sonic lessons from Boards Of Canada. They particularly exploited all the aesthetics dirty and degraded their sound: a patina that contrasts with the rest of the production of the genre, often very clean. Finally, Norwegian Röyksopp Melody AM sails in the same waters as Boards Of Canada, while a band like Bola (signed on Skam, Boards Of Canada's first label) pushes the duo's lessons into their darkest more melancholic and full of bile, especially in the recent and very endearing Fyuti. Also among the most egregious (and gifted) Telefon Tel Aviv, EU, Manitoba, Gorodisch, Pilote or Savath & Savalas ... Boards Of Canada cultivates a modesty in this respect:
It's very flattering ... We do not really have any idea about these stories, but if we inspired anyone, so much the better.
The influence of Boards of Canada undoubtedly depends on an approach to composition that contrasts with the idioms of electronic music, rather focused on pieces assembled by superposition of sound layers. Boards of Canada, on the other hand, seems to cherish a classical approach: their songs are at first songs, in which we recognize choruses, bridges, couplets. But the duo replaces the traditional instruments with synthesizers and drum machines and singing with echoes of children's voices, distorted and triturated by all sides.
We spent years playing music in the 'standard band format' of drums guitars and voices. We were never DJ's or whatever, and we didn't come to electronic music from the computer side of things. When we first got into electronics in the mid-1980's we would record all the parts by hand, we didn't have sequencers. So it makes sense that we still write in that way nowadays.
It is this approach to composition, inherited from rock or pop, that drives the music of the duo. A music that is revealed on Geogaddi, even more damaged and battered than usual. The tracks, never sanitized, are filled with swings, stops, sails and bumps. The album, in the end, is of a dull beauty, populated by ghosts and troubled spectra.
We just destroy the sound. Most people spend ages trying to polish the sound and improve it, but we use tapes and old gear and analogue synths to downgrade the sound and make it more damaged, to sound older. The damaged sound adds a character that you can associate with an imaginary and distant time or place. It's like a barely controlled chaos, it's always on edge, threatening to fall apart, just like the best music of the past, before everyone started using computers to sanitize and sterilize music in a cold and clinical way.
Listening to Geogaddi, looking at the distorted visuals on the cover, one has the impression of holding an imaginary group, without human substance. As if these pieces were made from an intangible material, like a collage of heterogeneous materials, from lost civilizations, crystallized in lava flows. Kids' voices, informative message excerpts, which navigate between slow beats, combine to create funky, cerebral music, reminiscent of Sly Stone distorted by Brian Eno's synthesizers. A dream brotherhood that brings together, on the same record, the best musical craftsmen. The duo seeks, above all, to de-compartmentalize their music, to mislead the listener, to point out red herrings.
Another reason for the inclusion of those tracks is just the aesthetic of them, I mean we believe in the statements, but we also want to include things like that just because they evoke a certain type of Governmental public-awareness broadcast. It adds to the idea that you're not actually listening to an album by one band, but in fact a collage of different recordings, a bit like tuning between stations on a shortwave radio.
Boards Of Canada broadcasts live from Mars.
Source: J Ghosn's Blog retrieved Feb 2008
Subscript text: quoted in "Un Cabane Au Canada" 2002 Feb/Mar
Une interview de Boards of Canada, réalisée par email au moment de l'album Geogaddi. J'ai gardé la version originale, comme au cinéma, mais j'ai oublié de sous-titrer. bonne lecture et décryptage.
What are your earliest musical memories ?
: I remember annoying my family by playing tunes on my grandparents' piano all day. I had a mostly happy childhood, always getting into trouble, which is probably a good way to learn about the world. I remember when I was very little playing in a park and an older girl told me that worms were born inside the veins on the leaves on trees, and I believed her.
I've been in love with music since I was a baby, it's very hard to remember a specific time. I can remember when I was a toddler standing up on the back seat of my parent's car singing songs at the top of my voice. The earliest record I can remember hearing on the radio was Terry Jacks' version of 'Seasons in the Sun', which was in the charts at the time.
I started to make my own music when I was about 5 or 6 years old, because my grandparents had a piano and I used to beg my parents to let me go there to play it. I didn't do formal lessons at that time, so I just made tunes up.
How did you start BOC ?
Marcus: About twelve years ago we were using a few different names for our projects, as we had a live band with guitars, as well as recording electronic things as side projects. One of the projects was Boards of Canada, named after the National Film Board of Canada, because we used to watch the documentaries made by the National Film Board and the music was usually synth-based and had a distinctive 'damaged' quality. I think perhaps the tapes they mastered the soundtracks on were poor quality, and the music had drop-outs and 'wow and flutter', which inspired our sound.
Marcus: We've always been quite prolific and back then all that mattered to us was to give all our friends copies of our music, so we started making up tapes and packaging them, and circulating them. It was just for the love of it so we never asked anyone to pay for them. We were struggling to raise cash to do it so we worked in crappy day-jobs. We started to set up our studio and it meant we needed to somehow get our music out to more people so we could fund what we do. It was mostly a fun time but we had some very tough years. In 1993 we all suffered and had a terrible year for various personal reasons, and everything nearly went down the drain. But somehow we kept on with recording and playing local gigs and things got a lot better.
We recorded a sort of mini-album called 'Twoism', for the first time with the intention of sending them to bands we liked. We got 100 copies pressed on vinyl with our own cash. I think we only gave away about 50 copies in the end, to a few bands and friends and so on. One of the copies went to Autechre, and Sean Booth called us up the day after we sent it, and asked us to do a record with Skam, which they were involved with. Then we made an EP with Skam, and then Warp called us up, and we decided to make an album to be released jointly by both labels, in 1998, which turned into 'Music Has the Right to Children'.
Are you workaholics ?
Mike: Yes I'd say we are. I suffer from insomnia too which doesn't help. We spend a hell of a lot of our time writing music, and only a small amount of what we record gets released.
Marcus: We usually work on tracks in parallel, several at once. Some of the tracks on 'Geogaddi' were started in 1999 then re-visited later and finished in 2001. Some of the tracks on 'Music Has the Right…' were recorded two years before it was released. We sometimes work intensively on one track for about a month or so. An average day when we're in the studio is something like 15 hours of work. We often go for about a week doing that, and then we just snap and have to get out before we kill ourselves.
How do you compose your tracks ? Is there a method ?
Mike: I find it very easy to write tracks. I write tunes all the time. I have music playing in my head all the time. I think it's a part of the reason for my insomnia. I'll run out of life long before I run out of music.
Why do you avoid most public appearances ?
Marcus: Ha, we're not particularly shy… We just feel more in control of what we're doing if we keep everyone away from us. We're not really hermits as some people seem to think. We have a lot of friends and we do a lot of other things besides this music. We got involved with music years ago because we love the music, we've never had any desire to become famous or to push ourselves on people. We love doing what we do, and we intend to carry on making music for many years, so it's important that we keep it at a level where we don't feel that it is putting too much pressure on our lives. It's also important to us not to take it all too seriously.
Mike: To some extent, we believe that getting well known for your music is a toxic thing for the band. People start to feel that they own you and your music, and they get very particular about what they want you to do. It can become claustrophobic. So the way we deal with it is to keep everyone and everything at arm's length. We've not allowed ourselves or our lives to change at all since the band became better known. It's much better this way. Somehow we write much better music when we don't imagine anyone hearing it. I'm not sure why this works but it does. It's cool because we keep ourselves inspired just like the early days when nobody had ever heard our music.
Marcus: Yes that's just it. When we started out we spent years playing music in the 'standard band format' of drums guitars and voices. Our backgrounds in music are very different from what we're doing in Boards of Canada. We were never DJ's or whatever, and we didn't come to electronic music from the computer side of things. When we first got into electronics in the mid-1980's we would record all the parts by hand, we didn't have sequencers. So it makes sense that we still write in that way nowadays.
Mike: We still play live instruments all the time. We both play a few different instruments. We have quite a few guitars. We collect instruments, and I've got a lot of percussion instruments for example. We record music like this a lot, though we just haven't released any of it on the scale that we are releasing the Boards of Canada tracks. But one day we will.
There is a common quality to most of your tracks : the decaying of the sound, like it is on the verge of falling apart.
Mike: We just destroy the sound. Most people spend ages trying to polish the sound and improve it, but we use tapes and old gear and analogue synths to downgrade the sound and make it more damaged, to sound older.
You seem to champion a way of life outside of urban environments
Marcus: We've both spent most of our lives in the country, although we've both also had periods of our lives living in cities too. We get more ideas for our music and art when we're in the countryside. It's not easy to explain. We think it's because being in the city tends to make musicians influence each other, and fashions and so on get mingled. You can't avoid being homogenized in the city. But when you're away from it you can let your imagination run wild and you don't stop for a minute to worry about what other people are going to think of your work. The peace we get in the countryside is analogous to having space in your head to dream.
what about the ecological concerns that seem to be at the core of your records ?
Mike: It's not a huge deal to us, it's just one issue we're concerned about, amongst a lot of issues. We're conscious of world issues such as the environment, debt, terrorism, censorship, human rights, and so on, and we can be very outspoken about our political beliefs at times, but usually we try to avoid letting it into our music. Another reason for the inclusion of those tracks is just the aesthetic of them, I mean we believe in the statements, but we also want to include things like that just because they evoke a certain type of Governmental public-awareness broadcast. It adds to the idea that you're not actually listening to an album by one band, but in fact a collage of different recordings, a bit like tuning between stations on a shortwave radio.
Is there much pressure when working on a new record ?
Marcus: The only pressure on us when we're recording music is from ourselves. If you let the fans or the record company start to apply pressure on you, your music would suffer. So we just keep away from everyone and get on with jamming and writing, and after a while a record comes out of it. Mike: That's precisely one of the most important things about us as a band. We hate listening to perfect music, and one of the things we strive to do is to damage the sound in such a way that the listener can't tell what time-period the music comes from. We have a lot of techniques for this, such as obvious things like adding drop-outs, wobble, filtering, scratches, flutters, as well as a few secret recipes. The damaged sound adds a character that you can associate with an imaginary and distant time or place. It's like a barely controlled chaos, it's always on edge, threatening to fall apart, just like the best music of the past, before everyone started using computers to sanitise and sterilise music in a cold and clinical way.
You have been an inspiration to many musicians. Are you aware of your huge influence ?
Marcus: We're a bit clueless about this to be honest, especially as we just get on with things and we don't listen to a lot of current 'electronica'. If we've inspired anyone to make their own records then that's great.
Mike: Absolutely not. I mean it's gratifying to know that people are out there who are really into our music, and those people matter to us. But commercial success and being in magazines and so on is a bit of a stress really and we don't care for it. You can't look at music as a business or a competition at the same time as making music you genuinely love. And we will never make music that we don't genuinely love.
What inspires you ?
Mike Everything! We listen to a lot of different things, and most of it isn't electronic. We read a lot and watch films and TV. We're like sponges, we soak up everything in and it gives us ideas. Right now I'm getting a lot of inspiration from music by Clouddead, Vaughan Williams, early Cocteau Twins, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, 1970's reggae, Aspera, and books on Nikola Tesla and maths, and films like 'The Illustrated Man' and 'Dark Star'.
Marcus: We had a lot more than that. The big problem was putting together a few tracks that suited each other as a sort of continuous soundtrack. It's just an instinctive approach.
What influences you mostly ?
Mike: It's actually very difficult for us to talk about our direct influences because we've been listening to an incredible mix of things since we were very young. It's actually easier for us to name areas of music that we DON'T have an interest in! As for Steve Reich and his peers, we love this kind of music but we discovered it quite late, after we were creating our own experiments for years. Our biggest difficulty as both writers of music and listeners of music is the process of 'distilling' our influences down and eliminating all the things we don't want to do.
Marcus: We're interested in these things but not practitioners. We see ourselves as observers, outside all this stuff, like the religion theme and so on. They're all just subjects we're interested in, that inspire music somehow. At the end of the day, we're just trying to make music.