Ri­val Con­soles We meet Ryan Lee West and get the lowdown on new al­bum, Night Melody

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

Orig­i­nally from Le­ices­ter, where he stud­ied sound en­gi­neer­ing at De Mont­fort Univer­sity, Lon­don-based elec­tronic pro­ducer Ryan Lee West first came to at­ten­tion ten years ago as Aparatec with the EP

Ve­meer. The re­lease was the first on the renowned Erased Tapes la­bel, now home to re­spected neo-clas­si­cal mu­si­cians such as Nils Frahm and Óla­fur Ar­nalds. The same year saw West’s first Ri­val Con­soles EP re­lease, The

Decadent, a brood­ing col­lec­tion of acid-tinged IDM. De­fined by its gritty, dis­torted Techno min­i­mal­ism, his de­but al­bum IO sur­faced two years later, while fur­ther al­bums Kid Velo, Howl and Night Melody have seen West mu­tate his sound and ma­ture his craft to cre­ate some in­spir­ing sonic sculp­tures.

FM: Who did you grow up lis­ten­ing to as a young­ster in Le­ices­ter?

Ri­val Con­soles: “My par­ents played clas­sic Bri­tish Pop mu­sic by The Bea­tles, Rolling Stones, Bowie, and stuff like that, but never went be­yond ob­vi­ous Pop mu­sic. I started learn­ing gui­tar when I was 12, so my in­tro­duc­tion to mu­sic would have been bands in the late ’90s like Ra­dio­head, whose com­po­si­tions were in­ter­est­ing but also quite pop­u­lar. When I was younger I was ob­sessed with how they would struc­ture mu­sic. I’ve al­ways liked those pa­ram­e­ters and peo­ple that are will­ing to ex­plore things, but not just for the sake of it.”

So you were more into gui­tar-based bands back then?

“My tastes were def­i­nitely more band-driven than elec­tronic, but when I was 15 or 16 I started to hear stuff like Aphex Twin and Square­pusher when they were re­ally get­ting to­wards their height. But even though I was ex­cited by elec­tronic mu­sic, I didn’t think I could make it. For years I was still play­ing gui­tar, and then I started work­ing with Cubase just to record and sketch out gui­tar ideas. It was only af­ter work­ing for five years with com­put­ers and synths that I be­came more in­ter­ested in what I’m do­ing now.” You stud­ied sound pro­duc­tion at univer­sity… “Yeah, I stud­ied Mu­sic Tech­nol­ogy at De Mont­fort Univer­sity in Le­ices­ter. Be­fore that, I’d stud­ied sound en­gi­neer­ing at col­lege and done a few other mu­sic cour­ses. What I didn’t know about the course was that it was re­ally ex­per­i­men­tal and avant-garde, and I had no real back­ground in that at all be­cause no one in my fam­ily had ever been to univer­sity. It was so crazy be­cause there was no prac­ti­cal; it was all about how to think about mu­sic and learn­ing about the last 200 years of ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic – peo­ple like John Cage and Philip Glass. The first thing we did was to bring in a gui­tar pedal of some kind and con­nect them in a loop in a way that we shouldn’t, be­cause the sound runs away from it­self and cre­ates this un­pre­dictable, chaotic loop. The point was that ev­ery­one’s chang­ing the sound, but no one’s in con­trol.”

Do you think tak­ing that course in­spired you to move be­yond the or­di­nary and led you in a cer­tain di­rec­tion with your mu­sic?

“I think it took quite a long time be­fore it made an im­pact on my mu­sic. I’ve never been the kind of per­son who likes to force some­thing for the sake of it. I grad­u­ated in 2009, so I reckon it took five years for a lot of these ideas to slowly creep into my mu­sic. I’ve re­alised that in the last few years a lot of tones in my mu­sic are noisy feed­back tones that, on their own, sound un­us­able, but I layer them in a col­laged way to cre­ate some­thing quite beau­ti­ful.”

When did you feel con­fi­dent enough or de­cide that this could be­come a ca­reer path?

“I never thought that, and don’t even think that now. I’ve been mak­ing mu­sic as Ri­val Con­soles for ten years, and it’s only in the last two years that I’ve got to the point where I’m lucky enough to be mak­ing a liv­ing from it. Ob­vi­ously, I’m not turn­ing money down, but I’m not go­ing out of my way to make money and I think that’s the best way to live your life as an artist. I make a lot of my in­come from play­ing live, but when I’m play­ing live it is just my mu­sic.”

What was your first en­try into the world of gear?

“The mi­croKorg was the first synth that I bought. It’s been out for quite a while now – I prob­a­bly bought it in 2002. I saw it in a mu­sic shop in Le­ices­ter that sold a few synths and was ex­cited by the sim­plic­ity of it. This was pre ev­ery­one go­ing mad on the in­ter­net and buy­ing stuff sec­ond­hand. It’s got arpeg­gia­tion but I mainly use it for pads and record­ing sim­ple basslines. I didn’t get any­thing else for a long time af­ter as I was do­ing most things in­side the com­puter and record­ing the mi­croKorg into Cubase as au­dio.”

You were record­ing on Cubase ini­tially…

“I was us­ing lots of plug-ins in­side Cubase, and Stein­berg’s Nuendo. I re­mem­ber us­ing the A1 synth and I ab­so­lutely loved that, and I know a lot of pro­duc­ers that love it as well. I saw a Nathan Fake video and he was us­ing it. It’s very mu­si­cal, you only have to do a few things to get some­thing quite ex­cit­ing and in­ter­est­ing. You can mess around with a sim­ple melody for a few min­utes but go through so many in­ter­est­ing vari­a­tions.”

As cer­tain sys­tems stop supporting var­i­ous bits of soft­ware, it’s in­ter­est­ing how they are start­ing to be­come as rare and unique as old hard­ware…

“Ex­actly. It just goes to show how ev­ery­thing is in tran­si­tion and noth­ing’s re­ally per­ma­nent. You could be us­ing the most pop­u­lar plug-in around right now, but in five years’ time it might be­come very niche.”

You use Max/MSP, which has stood the test of time and has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing quite com­plex to work with…

“Ini­tially, I prob­a­bly would have seen that pro­gramme as be­ing too re­moved from the mu­sic

mak­ing process, and it did take me quite a while to get into it – de­spite hav­ing be­ing taught. I think it took two or three months be­fore it clicked and I felt con­fi­dent with Max/MSP. I re­mem­ber be­ing stressed out and think­ing it was be­yond me, but now I’d say that it’s ac­tu­ally not a hard pro­gramme lan­guage at all; you just have to al­low your­self to not un­der­stand it straight­away. It’s not like cod­ing; it’s ac­tu­ally much more in­tu­itive.”

Your early sound was quite dif­fer­ent to re­cent al­bums like Howl and now Night Melody. Did you have a clear idea of where you wanted to po­si­tion your­self back then?

“A lot of Warp artists would have been in­flu­enc­ing my sound, but I tend to think that my mu­sic is de­fined by all the things I don’t do. I’m against lots of things in mu­sic. Even at the be­gin­ning, my mu­sic sounded quite to­gether be­cause I was ex­plor­ing lots of things but also say­ing no to lots of things in terms of pro­duc­tion, melody and struc­ture. My mu­sic’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent to a lot of other Dance pro­duc­ers be­cause I have a song­writer’s ap­proach in terms of the struc­ture. In the past I was more im­pa­tient and try­ing to do too much in a small space of time, whereas I could have made an amaz­ing piece of Techno mu­sic that would pa­tiently un­fold over ten min­utes. I’m in­ter­ested in both, but it took me a long time to ab­sorb that ap­proach.”

Is it true that you some­times write mu­sic on acous­tic in­stru­ments and then tran­scribe them into elec­tron­ics?

“Not in a pre­cise way, but I’m al­ways play­ing on the piano so I’ve got a data­base of chord pro­gres­sions in my head. Some­times, with­out even think­ing, I’ll play those on my Prophet 08. So there’s al­ways a cross­over be­tween the two; some­times I’ll jam along to elec­tronic stuff on the piano and vice versa. I think it’s much eas­ier to un­der­stand har­mony and melody on a piano be­cause synths can so eas­ily sound clumsy, which might re­strict what you’re go­ing to ex­plore, whereas a piano sounds much bet­ter, quicker, so you’re freed of the bag­gage of try­ing to make some­thing sound good and can just con­cen­trate on what you can ex­plore in terms of melody and har­mony.”

How do you think your mu­sic has evolved in re­cent years?

“I think it’s a com­bi­na­tion of a few things. One, it’s be­com­ing more at­ten­tive to de­tail over time – not try­ing to do too much with a thou­sand things and see­ing what two things can do. But that comes with con­fi­dence, which means you ex­plore things in a bet­ter way. I didn’t have min­i­mal pas­sages in my mu­sic – I guess I was think­ing that some­thing al­ways needed to be hap­pen­ing; but now I hear things dif­fer­ently, like depth and at­mos­phere and the way the sounds play off each other.”

Your mu­sic is slower too, which pre­sum­ably means you have to fo­cus more on space, time and sound place­ment?

“Yes, I’d agree with that. I do go from one ex­treme to the other. I have mu­sic that’s 74bpm and 155bpm, so it’s a huge spec­trum, but it’s def­i­nitely be­come slower. I find it a lit­tle bit stress­ful to make mu­sic at a higher tempo be­cause, for me, it re­stricts what I can achieve melod­i­cally and har­mon­i­cally.”

Your mu­sic is quite rem­i­nis­cent of Jon Hop­kins; dark and club-tinged with a sense of con­tin­ual for­ward mo­men­tum… Are you a fan of his?

“Yes, of course, I’m es­pe­cially a fan of his last few re­leases. I do like the bal­ance he gets be­tween home lis­ten­ing and club-ori­ented mu­sic, and I think I’m in a sim­i­lar vein to that, where the mu­sic can work in both ter­ri­to­ries. I think what he did well with

Im­mu­nity was to cre­ate very sim­ple and hyp­notic pat­terns that ex­tend over time in a clas­sic Techno way, but it was still per­sonal. That’s prob­a­bly what in­flu­enced me about it the most.”

What’s the ori­gin of your ideas and what do you turn to first as a com­po­si­tional tool?

“I don’t have a spe­cific way of ap­proach­ing mu­sic, but there are cer­tain things that I’m in­ter­ested in. For ex­am­ple, I’m al­ways look­ing to find in­ter­est­ing chord pro­gres­sions. Even if they’re just sim­ple, I try to find ones that are sub­tly in­ter­est­ing. For ex­am­ple,

Odyssey is con­stantly tied down to A, be­cause it’s ex­plor­ing the ground be­tween ma­jor and mi­nor. That in­ter­ests me be­cause you can carry a five-minute piece of mu­sic, but all you’re do­ing is ex­plor­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween two notes that are in con­flict and never re­solved. I’m also in­ter­ested in driv­ing rhyth­mic tex­tures that don’t sound like sam­ple packs; I like to mix rough low-fi sounds with heavy kick drums. I think my ap­proach is all about son­ics and cre­at­ing tones that are haunt­ing – I like synths that sound sad, even if they’re played in a ma­jor chord [ laughs]. If you can do that, then you’re onto some­thing good. There are some tracks where I’ve had re­ally spe­cific ideas. With Re­cov­ery, I spent months ex­plor­ing the idea of cre­at­ing the sen­sa­tion of ex­pand­ing and con­tract­ing time. For ex­am­ple, like Aphex Twin when he did Bu­cephalus Bounc­ing

Ball. What I did was sim­i­lar, but through har­mony in­stead of rhythm – I spent a year on that track.”

So you tend to work more with hard­ware than soft­ware these days, with the soft­ware mostly act­ing as a se­quencer?

“Well I do use lots of ef­fects; re­verbs and de­lays, EQ and com­pres­sion. 99% of my synth sounds are hard­ware, not be­cause I’m against plug-ins, but once I got the Prophet 08 it re­ally clicked with me in terms of its sounds and fea­tures, so I nat­u­rally ended up us­ing hard­ware af­ter that and run­ning it through gui­tar ped­als just agrees with me more. I guess for me, you have to do a lot more in the box to cre­ate some­thing that sounds as earthy. I can cre­ate re­ally muf­fled, real-sound­ing drone tex­tures re­ally quickly go­ing through these ped­als. If I had a plug-in go­ing

through a whole bunch of equiv­a­lent ped­als, they’re do­ing the same thing but this sounds a lit­tle bit more lo-fi to me. I play all the keys in a lot of the time, with no MIDI, and it’s a lit­tle bit wonky be­cause of that. But I’m not a dig­i­tal snob; I’d say it’s 50/50. If you were to look at 1,000 MIDI screen­shots that have been drawn in, I would say that play­ing by hand ex­plores so many dif­fer­ent things. I just think you’re much more var­ied with your hands, be­cause you’d get bored oth­er­wise.”

You’re still us­ing Cubase?

“I use both Cubase and Able­ton. I def­i­nitely un­der­stand the ar­gu­ment about Able­ton be­cause, if you’ve got a lot of things go­ing on, it seems to be a bit of a vis­ual mess when you’re mix­ing. Cubase or Pro Tools are a lot cleaner and a lot eas­ier to see and fin­ish things in. I fin­ish in both, so I’m not against them, but I pre­fer Cubase be­cause it’s cleaner to look at. Ob­vi­ously, in Able­ton there’s much more flex­i­bil­ity in terms of get­ting things to af­fect other things, whereas with Cubase I don’t think you can route loads of dif­fer­ent LFOs in the same way that you can in Able­ton with Max for Live. But I think some peo­ple like the sim­plic­ity of mix­ing on a clean can­vas.”

What ef­fects plug-ins are you us­ing?

“All the ones that I pre­sume are men­tioned time and time again. Some of the Sound­toys things like De­cap­i­ta­tor and its de­lay plug-ins. I like Waves’ 1176 com­pres­sor. When I do re­ally noisy, clicky drum sounds that I’ve recorded my­self, I al­ways max out on 1176, and I also think Max Bass and R Bass plug-ins are great for in­ten­si­fy­ing drums and per­cus­sion and adding ridicu­lous low-end. Ob­vi­ously you have to be care­ful if you’re mak­ing a Dance track that’s go­ing to be played in a club, but I’m not so pre­cious about those things. I use FabFil­ter all the time for EQing and there’s a re­ally good plug-in called Sal­tyGrain – it’s a gran­u­lar plug-in that I use to break up the drone sounds. With my mu­sic, if you hear a static tone, it’s ac­tu­ally never static, it’s al­ways got a bit of move­ment to it. I do use real spring re­verbs, but for ef­fects, com­pres­sion and EQ, I move in­side the DAW.”

Your mu­sic has a de­struc­tive el­e­ment to it…

“I think it’s re­ally es­sen­tial to ex­plore tone – the tone of synths and drums and how bright or dark they are and to lis­ten care­fully to how they be­have along­side other sounds, ex­plor­ing tiny amounts of dis­tor­tion, de­lay, fil­ter­ing and com­pres­sion. But also, don’t be scared to de­stroy sounds. Some­times, chaos is needed in elec­tronic mu­sic more than acous­tic mu­sic be­cause, by its very na­ture, it’s quite rigid rhyth­mi­cally and clean-sound­ing. I would also add that to gen­er­ate more in­ter­est­ing melodies and chord pro­gres­sions, you should reg­u­larly ap­proach this with­out a beat or grid. Sim­ply record long pas­sages of im­pro­vi­sa­tion with a synth sound that you en­joy, and then later you’ll be more in­spired to make it work with rhyth­mic sam­ples, be­cause grids of­ten re­strict some amaz­ing yet sim­ple pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

Able­ton Live and Cubase “I love both of these DAWs. I mainly make mu­sic in Cubase and per­form in Able­ton Live.” Fo­cal CMS50 “I re­cently switched back from my Mackie H824s to these small, but very ac­cu­rate, mon­i­tors. They are very flat and make you work hard!” DSI Prophet 08 “This is my main synth in my mu­sic and I love it for its warm and thin am­bi­ent pads, es­pe­cially when the VCA pot is fully up!”

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