It is very likely we will hear about Steve Hauschildt a lot in the years to come. One of the leading figures in the ambient music scene, both solo and as a member of the Emeralds band, his latest album, Strands, was considered one of the best electronic music albums of 2016. The Cleveland-born artist will be playing live on April 1 at the Lapsus festival in Barcelona. We have interviewed him.
Emeralds was mostly about improvisation, but your most recent solo work sounds more structured to me. How much improvisation is there in your music and is programmed in advance?
Despite Emerald’s origins in improvisation there was still quite a lot of structure in our music, especially towards the end. As for my solo work, the recordings are made up of takes from improvised sessions. Some tracks are improvisations to which I then add overdubs, arrangements, ornamentation, etc. My live set is all MIDI programs, but there is still a lot of variability in them since I play the instruments live even when their sequence was programmed in advance.
How did you get to work with Kranky? What aspects would you highlight about working with them?
I was a fan of the record label even before they contacted me in 2009 to work on an album. Keith Fullerton Whitman, Greg Davis, Ben Vida and others encouraged me to work with them. They told me very me positive things about how the label was run. I think Kranky contacted me after I self-edited the CD-RCritique of the Beautiful. Joel, who runs the label, has a very specific taste and is very honest about what he considers to be good enough to be published. His taste has expanded a lot during the past 10-15 years, but Kranky still has a very identifiable sound.
What kind of non-musical influences do you have? I know you have a special interest in the visual arts. Do you think in visual terms when you conceive your music?
I have too many influences to list or think about here, unless it is something specific. During my creative process, thinking about music in a non-linear or more abstract way is very helpful, so visual arts are sometimes an escape route when it comes to getting something new. With Strands, for example, I was very interested in the idea of the tension between water and oil. I studied art history and graphic design, so I tend to emphasize details and visualize things in my mind. Sometimes those visions are difficult to materialize in reality in the exact way I want. But part of the beauty of creation is to be able to adapt oneself and interpret the energy that leads you work on your music.
I wanted to go back to Emeralds and ask about your relationship with Aaron Dilloway and Hanson Records, I really like the Solar Bridge album. Can you tell me about that and your collaborations with Tusco Terror and Dilloway? In what sense has noise music affected your perception of music?
Thank you. Solar Bridge was recorded live and somehow was a before and after for us since I recorded it using a computer instead of recording directly on tape, as had done during our first years as a band. We released many cassettes and enjoyed that sound, but that album was a step forward in terms of sound fidelity. There are still some unpublished takes from that session. The album expressed our interest in non-western raga / drone music and free jazz. Basically, we were doing a Midwestern version of free jazz with synthesizers and guitars, but we needed to get in touch with the noise community to appreciate their freedom. Meeting Aaron Dilloway was crucial for us at the beginning, not only because of the hundreds of albums he played to us in his store, but also because he is partly to blame for noise music’s success and influence. What I mean is that the “wall” between an artist who makes noise and the audience is virtually non-existent. However, the electronic music circles at the time were more inaccessible. I think that’s why we had so many connections with the noise scene of the Midwest, people were just more humble and willing to exchange and collaborate. There was less pretentiousness and more autonomy.
We were doing a Midwestern version of free jazz with synthesizers and guitars, but we needed to get in touch with the noise community to appreciate their freedom
You are known for using analog synthesizers but I know you are familiar with computers and digital audio editing programs. What do you think about digital vs. analog? Do you think behind the recent synth revival there is a lot of nostalgia?
I don’t believe in the division between analog and digital. If I really believed in it, it would cloud my creative process. There is probably a certain element of nostalgia there since synthesizers reached their greatest popularity during the 80s, when many classical synthesizers were created and used for the first time, so maybe there are people who would like to go back to it. I use synthesizers as part of a larger palette of tools. Modular synthesizers offer infinite possibilities and some people know how to use them in a creative way, but I’m critical with the existing limitations in the synthesizer community. I try to add something new to music by using new plugins and embracing the digital world.
Is there any rock or “guitar” music that has been influential for you? Do you agree with people who say synthesizers will always offer greater possibilities than “traditional” instruments or do you think it is more about how those instruments are used?
Yes, there is a lot of guitar music that has been influential for me. I’m very bad at playing the guitar, so I definitely appreciate it when I see people with a lot of technique. In a certain sense, I would say yes, some synthesizers (for example Buchla or Serge) are designed to create new and interesting sounds. But, on the other hand, the person and the approach also determines the outcome. In any case, traditional instruments such as guitars are constricted by the person who plays them. The music Keith Rowe and AMM made from the 60’s onwards is a good example.
I’m listening to music at home I establish a relationship with the album’s artwork and still create visual connections in your mind
Any artist that you would like to see live at the Lapsus festival?
Totally! I really want to see SKY H1 for the first time. I was recently in Los Angeles with Josh (Telefon Tel Aviv) and his pet rabbit, a couple of weeks ago, so it’ll be cool to see him live, too.
Do you enjoy playing live as much as composing and producing? How do you approach your live set as opposed to the production process?
They are completely different processes, so there’s no way I can compare them. My current live set has been in evolution for the past three years or so and has nothing to do with my recordings, which are born from new perspectives and go through different stages before being released. Also, in my live set there are visuals and projections, whereas when I’m listening to music at home I establish a relationship with the album’s artwork and still create visual connections in your mind.