Interview with Doug Wallen, Mess and Noise, December 2013

In an interview with Portals ( you cited the influence of free jazz on tracks like 'Boy Sauvage'. Has your subsequent work gone further in that direction at all?

It has gone a little more in that direction, in that I've been working on some music which is very percussive in a certain way. I guess the reference to free jazz is fairly oblique - I can't really claim any revolutionary intent unfortunately, but I see some connection in that the rhythms are potentially open to flux. The process of making them is open to a certain element of chance. I like to just put sounds together and let them loop in different configurations, and throw things together in a way that's not predetermined. It's not really a literal reference, as in I'm not currently sampling any free jazz stuff. I think there was a point where I decided I couldn't sample jazz records any more, it became too repetitive and formulaic. I suppose at some point I introduced some sort of ethic to the way I sample things in order to makes sense of it all. I tend to make more detailed inquiries into particular areas these days, otherwise it's all too unmotivated and becomes overwhelming, like you're swimming around in the entirety of recorded history just putting things together willy nilly and it all feels a bit untethered from anything.

Your sampling is more conventional (i.e. slowing down a soul record) on 'It All Counts'. Are you still open to using more identifiable methods like that?

Yeah I am - I don't really have strict rules as such. I didn't think about that track too much. Initially I didn't think I would release that track because it's kind of obvious, so I did have second thoughts about it. Further on the sampling point, one of my teachers would sometimes say "putting together an IKEA shelf doesn't make you a carpenter"- and so I've always tried to make sure I feel like there's a 'greater than the sum of its parts' kind of thing going on, to maintain some sense of authorship, if I do sample.

Is your live show still pretty close to how it was in this video ( If not, how has it evolved?

That was this show I did in Canberra back in March, it was an afternoon, outdoor type of thing so I kept it pretty relaxed. I guess the only major development lately is I've started playing with some synths live, and have started incorporating my more recent stuff, which is almost maybe danceable in a pretty bugged out sort of way - so it's definitely become a bit more energetic. I guess I'm a bit less in control of some of the newer material, so things can go wrong, which is exciting for me.

Your compositions usually go beyond mere glitch into densely layered and teeming fragments. How do you decide when to stop adding to a track?

That's a good question - there's no exact formula, I just kind of stop because I like how it sounds. Without claiming to possess this skill necessarily, I think a large part of what constitutes talent in electronic music is knowing when a piece of music is done, knowing when it's working and shouldn't be messed with. Knowing when something is worth showing to people is very difficult for anyone working in relative isolation. This is getting pretty nerdy but I used to monitor with an old hi fi setup, which I wouldn't recommend anyone do, but it did allow me to make those really dense mixes, because those speakers would round things off and make them sound really warm. Since I bought some studio monitors I've made much more stripped back music, because it sort of devastates your ears if you listen to too much at once through really accurate speakers.

Where do you do most of your composing and recording? If/when you go into a 'proper studio', how does your approach change?

I have a studio, which is really just a small office out the back of a friend's place with all my gear in it. It's been important to have somewhere I can go to get away from people and just work, so it's more about personal isolation than needing an acoustically treated environment or particular mics or anything like that. I'm currently in residence at the Bundanon Trust, which is pretty great, and I'm every grateful to them. They've given me a three bedroom house with a grand piano in it all to myself, and I'm just sort of huddled in a corner with my speakers set up. It also feels very excessive, which is how I feel when I go into a proper commercial type studio - like it's all a bit over the top or something.

Your fondness for cinema includes a love of classic directors like Truffaut and Fellini. What are you some newer films or directors that might inspire you?

On a very basic level, European cinema that I'm currently interested in tended to tell quite simple stories about the inter-relationships of a relatively small group of people. In the outcome of the film, or the way in which the characters lives were affected - would be a lesson, a set of ideas, or some salient point for the audience to consider. I guess this is why I love older cinema so much, this clear sense of capturing something essentially human, of depicting relationships in all their ambiguity. Without having done much research here, I think this might have something to do with film at that time being much less encoded along genre lines - people didn't have an inbuilt apparatus for viewing cinema and understanding it's tropes and meanings instantaneously, and so directors couldn't play to that. So there's a sincerity there that I don't think we can get back to - that for me feels very novel and peculiar, watching those films now. Having just been through some personal relationship type stuff, I enjoyed seeing L'Avventura recently - which is part of this Antonioni trilogy, it's about this group of rich socialites who's relationships are all failing. It really explores this kind of malaise that sets in when you have too many options. In terms of really recent films, I loved Spring Breakers. There's so much to talk about in relation to that film - though someone did pull me up recently and point out that they don't know any women who really like it. Still, I think it explores the way mass media and pop culture create desire, a sort of objectless desire that I suspect every young person connected to the internet feels. The film looks so slick, and is so beautiful, yet it's so empty and vacuous - just like a music video. There's this obsession with artifice: an artifice populated by these objectified cardboard cutouts who seem to want so much, without knowing what they want. There are some pretty compelling parallels between Gucci Mane's character and how I think commercial rap works as a system too. It's very dense and I've been in so many lengthy circular discussions with friends about it recently, so I'll desist. Though what's also interesting is how Korine has managed to insert this film into a network of mediation which actively discriminates against any form of critical thought. I really feel there is a basic lack of ideas, an aversion to risk, and a whole fiscal structure which prevents film from being the engine of ideas and critique it once was. That's not to say there aren't great films being made, and obviously this is a much more nuanced topic than this Q&A allows for. Others have said it more convincingly, Steven Soderbergh for example - - but to bring it back to the question, I've just sort of been slowly ploughing through the work of specific directors I'm interested in, most of them not very recent.

What's next, release-wise, from you and/or your collaboration with Scissor Lock?

I'm working on a whole bunch of new material currently, which is the point of this trip to the country. There's about two years worth of sketches, ideas, and things I never followed up all waiting to be turned into something - so in terms of solo stuff I'll have a better idea in a couple of weeks. Marcus and I are doing a release through a Room40 sub-label called 'A Guide to Saints' later in the year, so we've already started working on ideas for that.

You played the first Sequence in Sydney. What was the highlight of it for you?

Probably seeing Wooshie and Kane play up in Sydney. I hadn't seen Kane play solo before and I really enjoyed the density and the subtlety of it. It went over people's heads a bit in Sydney which was a shame, so I'm very interested to see what the crowd in Melbourne will be like.