A/V duo patten revel in re-wiring physical and digital music formats.
“One of the cool things about this kind of conversation is, that as a participant in it you get to take a step back from your own experience and look at it in a semi-objective way,” D begins. As an answer to a question about early musical experiences, it’s clear immediately that patten’s evasively-named D and A are interested in discussing and analysing form as much as content.
From seemingly throw-away CDR releases and mini-disc mixes released during the 2000’s to the limited dubs series put together under their Kaleidoscope imprint – in which artists recorded original takes for each physical release – the formats through which music is disseminated are crucial in understanding the pair’s art.
Whether analogue or digital – the interview began as one about record collections, something which quickly becomes apparent is too restrictive: “there’s just so much it’s missing in terms of CDs and digital music, which is how we’re consuming things these days” – patten like to hijack forms to create emotive electronic music, as influenced by cinematic techniques and comic book fantasies as skewed ’80s industrial.
On the verge of releasing Ψ, their second full length LP with Warp, D and A invite us to their HQ to talk about objects and their power to emote.
Interview: Anton Spice / Photography: Michael Wilkin
Let’s start with a few early experiences. Were you exposed to records growing up?
A: Starting from the beginning, when I grew up my parents had a record player and recently we found some of my mum’s records and it was quite funny to go through the things she had – like Donna Summer. And I had a brother who was really into techno. And then it’s about your surroundings, all your friends, who you hang out with and listening a lot to hip hop in the ’90s and being introduced to things from Björk to Autechre and opening up a new world really. I’m a big fan of sci-fi so I think that’s also part of it. It’s something that I always refer to.
D: Particularly when you’re super young, I guess everyone can remember specific records, specific tapes that actually opened up those new worlds.
Can you put your finger on any of those specific moments?
D: A really early memory, I remember being tiny and being upstairs with my siblings and my mum at some relative’s party and falling asleep and just feeling the bass through my body from the music downstairs. I remember it being a nice thing, not being a discomfort.
Earlier on I was flicking through some of the records, and it’s a very odd collection that we’ve got here, because in part it’s a time capsule of a specific moment when we were buying a lot of records, and also just these weird things that have slotted in over the way. Then there’s just so much it’s missing in terms of CDs and digital music, which is how we’re consuming things these days. The relationship with records is a very specific set of moments in time. I think music does have the capacity to frame time in a certain sense.
Are there records here that will take you back to that time?
D: Yeah, there’s one that used to really freak me out. Basically, I don’t think I asked for this specific record The Magic Flute of James Galway – I think James Galway was on TV or something. And I remember asking for this record and I couldn’t listen to it. I found it very uncomfortable to listen to and it scared me and it’s interesting because only recently did I go back to have a listen and see what it was that scared me, and I think it’s the way it’s recorded and the sound. It’s really emotional music.
These are the stories that make up the fabric of your musical experience.
D: Yeah, as you go through life and start to look back things start to take on a different resonance and I think that’s a really incredible thing about putting music into the world is to actually throw things into the stream for other people. And there’s a moment after you release something into the world that it’s not really your own thing, it becomes part of other people’s lives.
Do either of you remember what moment it was that you went from listening to other people’s music to making it yourselves?
D: I think it’s always been a part of it. These things tend to happen in steps. I can remember specific records that seem to suggest you could do that stuff. So things like Beck’s Odelay, and Sebadoh.
What was it about that which unlocked something for you?
D: It’s just the fact that you could use primitive tools and make something. And that was something that was quite cool about lo-fi music and I think Odelay was a good example of that because it was just messed up – it sounded messed up, but perfect.
A: Technology as well has made it within reach for lots of people and that’s really important. But also, to me when I was younger, when I was listening to Indochine, which is French pop and the songs they were singing were telling a story to you in a direct way.
You’ve put out music in lots of different formats. How has that evolved?
D: I think as well as recordings, there has always been a big focus on live. There is a selection of CDR recordings that only a handful of people ever had, there are mini-discs that were recorded for people. But a lot of it was live, and was never really recorded. It was pre-MySpace, pre-internet in the way that it is now.
There’s no online documentation of this stuff. We’d be playing, putting on parties and making music to play at these things. And I suppose if we really got it together we might put some tracks together put on a CD, which you’d distribute.
Those recordings are little physical fragments of that time, which can, in retrospect, capture those moments. It made me think of the music you’ve released on your label Kaleidoscope, specifically the limited dubs. Somewhere there seems to be a desire to preserve something?
D: The limited dubs thing is a good example. It’s actually really simple to describe. Basically you had an artist who was invited to do a project and do say 12 tapes, and every single one of those tapes was recorded separately – like a live take on that tape – so that each one on the edition was completely different in the sense that a live set would be completely different. So for some people the Sculpture one for example was quite wildly different from take to take because of how they played.
What we were trying to do with that was look at how a recorded release could be similar to a live set. So each one of those things was a unique moment, while using formats for mass production to disseminate individual pieces of work. We always try with Kaleidoscope to use formats in a way that is self-aware.
I think that comes back to what we’re doing, whether live or on record, there is a sense of hacking things, or hijacking them somehow. Re-wiring stuff.
There does feel like there’s a DIY, punk ethos to that whole approach. Musically was that scene also an influence?
D: It seems like almost second nature, because of the way that we come at it, from the visual, sociological background that A brings. So the idea of making things always seems to have breaking in it.
Actually there’s a Carpenters record which has a good example of this. Their studio craft and stage craft was insane, and there’s this weird moment on this which is basically just a drum solo with all this phaser on it, I don’t know how it happened.
When you’re buying records, what are you listening for? Are you looking for weird sounds to sample?
D: There has been that, there are records in there that are for that. Weird tones and test recordings. Now you can record stuff on your phones, there’s so much out there to capture.
Continuing in that industrial theme, there’s a quote in the blurb for your new record that lists “industrial, bass, hardcore continuum, ’80s goth, techy weirdness, grime, footwork and techno” as influences. What is it that connects those things for you?
D: It’s almost harder to separate them, it doesn’t even seem that wide to us. Because when we talk about our experience of music, that’s how it is, it is very all over the place, so it seems natural to write quite openly and not close things out.
Are they references to different parts of your musical life?
D: These things just become part of you. That’s the thing about records, as you’re going through life and discovering stuff, they become part of your DNA as a person and sometimes when you revisit these things, you see something you never noticed before.
Would you like to show us some?
D:Earth was a set of compilations by Good Looking Records, which was LTJ Bukem, drum n bass, basically. The first nights I experienced going to clubs was this kind of music I suppose. At the time it was so deep. I love the fact that there was this jazz aspect, a blurring of these different things.
And there’s a huge visual part to what you do?
A: It’s almost not separated, the visual is part of the sound. That’s what I was going to say when you were talking about the experience of listening, and all those different types of musics. It’s all inter-linked in a way. The thing we were saying about the time capsule is part of that. For the visuals we have been working with a designer called Jane Eastlight who has helped us on the visual side for quite some time.
I guess this is expressed in the books you have here too?
A: The books are part of us, pieces of our memory or ourselves.
D: You’ll notice that we try to have not so much around and so what it means is that these type of objects can have quite a lot of resonance.
Comic books are quite a good example because in the world of a comic book anything can happen. It’s similar to electronic music in a sense, because there’s no real limit to what you can create and what you can do. It’s the same as when you talk to people who do animation as well.
Is it important to you that the music you make now is being released as a physical object?
A: I think that’s something we feel is really important still.
D: This is the first release we did on Warp – a picture disc with Jane. We made this decision to have the outside sleeve as very clean, but obviously in record shops the record is sealed. We were happy with presenting something that didn’t really scream out for attention, but just invited some space for people who wanted to come to it. I think there’s something really special about those people that find things. It’s a two-way thing and this is quite a nice metaphor for the way that we work.
And I’ve got this tape, too from our label Kaleidoscope. Benedict Drew. This is a newer series, called Chrome series and the idea behind that is simply long-form work. With a cassette like with a piece of vinyl you just put the thing on and let it run. So there’s more coming in that series. We’ve got quite a lot planned looking again at formats that we’ve not yet experimented with. We’re trying to find ways of embodying the digital and engaging with the way that people consume different kinds of data.
And how about the new album Ψ? How does that fit in?
D: We’ve really enjoyed putting it together. There are a lot of things happening on the record. With being quite concise, from the lengths of tracks to the way in which they’re put together. You’re not going to listen to it and think of The Pixies, but one of the things that we really enjoy about that kind of music is that if you took away one part the whole thing wouldn’t make sense. So trying to make it so that everything that’s there is really crucial. Trying to bring together lots of elements that we find intriguing in books, in film, in music, fuse that to make something that we hope is emotive.
patten’s Ψ is released via Warp Records on 16th September. Pre-order it here and check out the launch event here.