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Taylor Deupree
Architecture and Microscopic Sounds

By Richard di Santo
2 July 2000

I had the pleasure to sit down with Taylor Deupree while in Montreal for the MUTEK festival. He was at the festival mainly due to his involvement with the Architettura series on the Caipirinha label. He performed a great set (though he wasn't pleased with the result): a piece full of sound slides and dimensional shifts. Not at all like the minimal click music he's producing for his own 12k label, or like his latest release .N on Ritornell. It was more like a remix of material heard on his Architettura CD The Tower of Winds, produced together with Savvas Ystatis (aka Sound Track).

His involvement in the Architettura series arose from his friendship with Caipirinha founder Iara Lee, who already had a film company and was ready to try something new. She came up with the idea to somehow combine music with architecture, the latter of which was one of her photographic passions. Taylor was eager to participate, so she gave him the the job of producing the first CD. He did so with stunning result: the music on this record is beautiful, multi-faceted and full of rhythmic abstractions unlike anything I had heard from either Taylor or Savvas.

When I asked Taylor about the conception of the Tower of Winds CD, he said that initially he didn't know so much about architecture, though the idea of somehow combining architecture with music was fascinating: "So, without knowing much about architecture, Savvas and I would flip through Iara's books of photographs until something struck us, and the Tower of Winds in Japan really struck us as something that could easily be translated with sound." The tower is a tall translucent structure with a computerised facade. This facade is subject to random changes in light and colour, depending on the random fluctuations in sound and wind in its immediate environment.

The Architettura series has had results of varying success, at least from my point of view. Tetsu Inoue and David Toop produced some impressive results, and using some very intriguing techniques. But I feel that the theme of architecture seems to be only an amusing pretence for some of the artists involved. Panacea's Brasilia, for instance, has little architectural interest in it at all, but I suspect that it was merely another way to present some harsh audio abstractions that just long to morph into a hardcore drum'n'bass rhythm. So my interest in how Taylor and Savvas approached the architectural theme formed one of my first questions to him that afternoon.

RDS: How would you describe the relation between the Tower of Winds the building and the Tower of Winds the composition?

TD: The album is less about the building itself as a subject: Savvas and I made ourselves the building. So the album is what the building perceives around it; kind of like an environmental album of what surrounds the building. The computerised facade of the building is affected by wind and sound, so we made a soundtrack for that wind and sound and street noise. We made it a very random record, because environmental sound is random, and all the sounds we used on the album were found sounds, all processed samples, nothing original. So it's like you're on the street and the music is... the street! We gathered literally about 2000 sounds for the album. What we'd do is take a sample and use a program on the Mac called Recycle to chop these sounds up into little bits until we had a big archive of tiny sound snippets. So we'd choose sounds one at a time and work them into the piece. We entered everything into a grid in a sequencer with the mouse. We didn't play anything live, we wanted as much as possible to remove ourselves from it being a musical thing. Savvas and I have done so many records together, we wanted to challenge ourselves to do something entirely new and work in an entirely new way.

And so we have the Tower of Winds.

Taylor's music has undergone some incredible shifts in recent years. From his origins producing techno and techno-style ambient music, he has redefined his musical programme and moved to making very minimal recordings. Sometimes rhythmical and sometimes comprised of only a few sparse clicks on a smooth sheet of silence, Taylor's recent output is an impressive foray into what he calls the use of "microscopic sounds", an accomplishment that led to my next set of questions.

RDS: I'd like to ask you about your interest in microscopic sounds and your new minimal approach to making music. What's the appeal of the minimal and microscopic?

TD: It's a long story. I started my professional career in 1993, and I was part of the techno scene, doing a number of techno-related projects, and some ambient recordings. After about 3 or 4 years of doing it, I didn't really know who I was, deep inside. Music is the most important thing for me, and I've always liked electronic music since the early 80s, so I finally got my recording contract, finally on my way to having some kind of career. I loved techno, so I wrote techno; I liked ambient music so I wrote ambient music. But I always felt that I was just following in the footsteps of Jeff Mills, or any of those big techno guys. At the same time I was getting disinterested with the whole techno/rave scene: the kids got younger, the drugs got harder, and I felt like 'why the hell am I playing my music for these kids who probably don't really care about the music?' I really came to a point where I didn't know what I should be doing musically, so I closed myself off and started really what felt natural to me. And then I discovered quite by accident a Rastermusik CD in a record bin that I bought just because of the cover. It was a CD by Frank Bretschneider [aka Komet]. I listened to it and it sounded exactly what I was doing. I emailed him to tell him this, that I didn't know there was necessarily other people doing this sort o thing. So, to make a long story short, i began focussing my life. I finally found what I wanted to be doing. My graphic design and my music were starting to merge. Minimalism was my lifestyle choice, and I started my label [12k], and once the label got its foot off the ground things really took off. I began to really focus on sounds, and that's where the microscopic thing comes in, a literal focussing microscope into sound itself. Taking one sound and getting inside it, or ripping one sound apart, as opposed to layering sounds on top of each other. You really get inside something, and it's kind of a mode of subtraction: you discard the parts that aren't interesting.

RDS: Hearing you describe your approach to sound in that way makes me draw a parallel with a figure in alchemy. The alchemist begins his procedure with base metal, the massa confusa, a dark mass of confused and impure elements. He then sets to work and, through various processes of sublimation, extraction, etc., he really focusses in on the pure elements of the matter, discarding the impure elements, those that "aren't interesting" to him and his art, and proceeds to turn that material into gold, the purest matter of all. The alchemist subjects his material to all sorts of procedures of manipulation and modification, just as you subject your sounds to a similar barrage of processing techniques, discarding the uninteresting and focussing in on the "pure" elements.

TD: That makes a great metaphor...

RDS: I'd like to ask you one more question, this time about the role of listening. I was trained in literary studies, so I have a particularly literary approach to listening and interpreting music, as if I were "reading" the sounds. How would you rate the role of listening with your music? Do you feel that your music merits the close attention of a meticulous listener, or is it something that can be put on for background ambience? I ask this because here at MUTEK there's been this sort of mixed bag of environments. One is a very formal listening space where the audience keeps quiet and really focusses on the sounds. The second is much more laid back, reaching a very loud noise level with all the talking and motion. Since you've played in both environments while you've been here, I wonder which one you prefer for your music.

TD: The role of listening is very important for me. When I got out of the techno scene making dance music, I became more and more interested in sound as art and listening music. So the role of listening is vital to my music; I don't want my music to be put on while you go to do the dishes or talk to a friend - I really want it to be paid attention to. Because it's so minimal, there might not be a whole lot happening, you really have to pay attention to those subtle shifts, because that's really what makes it, and what grabs you. People who listen to this music have to come into it knowing that it's going to require a little more from them. They are going to have to put a little more effort into listening, which is nice because then you get the people who really appreciate sound for what it is. With the absence of mass marketing with my label, I want people to work at getting to this music, and then work at listening to it too, to come to it on their own, and get some kind of meaning from it all. I don't charge my music with messages, though; it's really just a sound appreciation sort of thing.

Talking with Taylor, he was quite open and direct with me, and his enthusiasm for his work is unmistakable in the way he becomes so animated when he is describing what he does. His music has definitely matured at a stunning rate in recent years. His work carries a self-awareness and confidence that mirrors the self-awareness in Taylor's personal development as a sound artist. Listen to his music and focus the microscopic lens in your ears: you'll be sure to find an infinity of possibility in the silence beneath the surface of sparse clicks and shifting sounds.

Taylor Deupree's most recent work can be heard on his own 12k label, Caipirinha and Ritornell.