Cognition's House/Techno/Electro Report for October 28, 1999
by Andrew Duke

Stewart Walker

Stewart Walker has been releasing records only since late 1997, but at 25, this Cambridge Massachusetts resident has established the foundation for a career in music many would envy. This year saw him release a number of EPs and a recent debut full length called Stabiles for Frankfurt’s Mille Plateaux. Just back from touring in Europe, Walker is now set to do a small tour of North America with Unit and Jake Mandell before beginning work on his second full length, this time slated for release on Berlin’s Tresor. Andrew Duke got on the horn with Walker to talk about the album and his vocational ethic.

Your current sound is much more refined than your early recordings. How much of that is intentional?
“I’ve only been releasing records for two years, but I’ve been producing longer than that. It wasn’t my plan to release music until I had something that I really liked a lot, and so I think I’ve still grown a great deal since I did the first Matrix record [‘Amphetamine Sulfate’]. Then I was going for something that was really swinging and funky. Perhaps the reason there was so much in it is because I believe I had a tendency to over-orchestrate my music at the beginning. Things have gotten more minimal as I’ve become more comfortable with leaving certain things out and only making minor changes to a track as it’s playing.”

The liner notes to your Stabiles album mention artist Alexander Calder. How were his ideas an influence?
“The Alexander Calder reference is really just kind of a cherry on top. It’s one way to think about the album, but there were definitely more factors going into the production than just the mission statement inside. The Calder reference was just kind of a guiding principle. I always liked his work, especially the stabiles as opposed to the mobiles because they are these gigantic plate steel structures that bear no resemblance to their surrounding environment. I kind of call them ‘monuments to abstraction’ because they only express perhaps one idea very strongly—it’s there because it’s there, it is what it is. I liked trying to apply that concept to music and I liked the idea of making music which was stationary feeling. “

The album is home listening rather than DJ or dancefloor oriented.
“There are not very many home listening techno CDs that I actively enjoy so one of my goals was to make a CD that I would listen to a lot at home. I was interested in the way Brian Eno had created his ambient recordings of the 70s because you could either focus on them—they could be the focus of your environment—or you could do something completely unrelated to them and just have them in the background. I really liked that approach for my album, but I feel like I accomplished the same goals without using the floating textures. Instead, my method was to use a repetitive rhythm and bass to create more of a hypnotic effect. In a way I think I’ve created ambient music, but with the ambience created by the beats instead of by the atmosphere. The music actually originated from an EP that I was going to do for Thomas Brinkmann’s Max Ernst & Friends label and it was to be called the ‘Missing Winter’ EP. But he rejected the EP because he felt the music was to ‘indefinite’—it wasn’t techno, it wasn’t ambient, it had factors of both. Once I heard that, I sat down and listened to the tracks again and I felt perhaps more reinforced that I could do an entire album of that material because it was more likely to be bought on the CD format than on vinyl for DJing. So I took maybe three of the tracks from that proposed EP and took the musical concept as well as the artistic concept—of winter and living in the North and things that you would experience in that extreme cold. This was inspired from when I lived in Wisconsin and it got so cold the lakes would freeze and you could walk across them. And on certain days there’d be no horizon because the sky would be white, the ground would be white, and there was no depth of field and you’d feel a very strong sense of isolation, like you were the only human in this wasteland at that certain time.”

You’re focusing on textures in your music and not melodies. Why is that?
“(laughs) It’s not that I have a problem with melodies, but it’s very difficult for me to make melodies sound pleasing to me. The purpose of a melody is really to give a track a hook, you know. If I was making pop music I think that I’d be much more concerned about melody and harmony and basslines and things like that, but I feel with techno those rules don’t have to apply. I have a strength for making textures and when I close my eyes and think of music I see a room or a location or something, and then I think of the textures that I would need to match that location.”

Your success shows you’re obviously making your music a priority and treating it as an occupation.
“Occupation is kind of a dirty word, but that’s definitely what I have been aiming for. About two years ago, around the time that the first Matrix record came out, I was in the process of quiting my job as a technical support representative at an accounting company, but I had saved up enough money so that I could [afford to] not work for six months. And then every day I would sit down and work on a track because I felt that I had potential at that point, but I didn’t have super skills—I had to really work to make it sound better. I try to work on music every day. Another reason that I chose Alexander Calder as a model for my own work is because by the time of his death he had created a piece of art for every day of his life since he was maybe 25. I really like being prolific because you’re guaranteed to do interesting things just by chance. But there are days that I work in the studio from 9 to 5 and I don’t come up with anything worthwhile or I hate it.”

So you’re driven to make music your prime focus, unlike some for whom music is just a hobby.
“It’s my belief that music created as a hobby is not going to be as high quality as music created for a profession. Because, if I’m making music for a hobby, which I did for a long period of time, I would still work on it very often, every day or every other day, but I think I had a real strong impetus to work harder if I know that two thousand people are going to buy this record. The fact that my work is going to be out there and people are going to be listening to it--and perhaps discussing it--makes me want to make it the best that they’ve heard.”

How do your career goals translate into your working philosophy as an artist?
“I’m hardcore about it. I wake up and I think ‘I have to go check my email and find out who I have to talk to, what interview I have to do’. The only way to really make a career of this is to attack it every day. I’m always thinking of new ways that I can make people know who I am or get my music out there. The reason that is is that I did quit my job and I did drop out of college so I am forcing myself to work by allowing myself no other choice but to succeed.”

Stabiles is out now on Mille Plateaux. Watch for Walker’s "Reformation Of Negative Space" EP and Mean New Contemporary Soul full length to be released on Tresor early in 2000. Hear a live PA from Walker in RealAudio on Andrew Duke’s In The Mix show 593 and the interview on show 594 (available through techno.ca/cognition)

Stewart Walker/Unit/Jake Mandell November ’99 North American tour dates:

Wed Nov 3: Invisible Cities @ Brownies, New York NY
Wed Nov 10: Lingual @ Go! Carrboro, NC
Fri Nov 12: The Cosmic Bowl @ Aztec Sol, San Diego CA (with Jake Mandell)
Sat Nov 13: Selected Data Playback @ The Glass House, Pomona CA (with Jake Mandell)
Tue Nov 16: Static @ 26 Mix, San Francisco CA (with Jake Mandell)
Thur Nov 18: The Republik, Calgary AB
Fri Nov 19: Motor, Detroit MI
Sat Nov 20: Blue Moon, Toronto ON

In addition to picking up Walker’s newest recording, here are 30 new releases worth your dollars:

House:
Victor Street—“Vibrations” 12” (US Aesoteric)
Rick Wade—“Deep Threats” EP (DM A Touch Of Class)
Metro Area (Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani)—“Metro Area” EP (US Environ)
Harmony Funk (DJ Staxx and Cei Bei)—“Before Life” EP (US Real Estate)
Carl Michaels—Disco Dub House mix CD (US 611)
Maas—“Powers Of Ten (Funk D’Void mix)” 12” (UK Soma)
Snowboy—“Casa Forte (Joe Claussel remixes)” 12” (US Ubiquity)

Techno:
Submania/Ekmoah—Low Voltage Clear Storm Floor (DM Background)
Dhyan Moller—“Tonal Warfare” EP (US Drone)
Tim Baker—Audio Implant (US Elephanthaus)
Tim Baker—“Soul Provider (Bryan Zentz/Murat remixes)” 12” (US Elephanthaus)
Dan Curtin—Pregenesis (BE Elypsia)
Exos—FIM 174 EP (DM Force Inc)
Sturm (Reinhard Voigt)—Sturmgesten (DM Mille Plateaux)
Twerk—“Enemies Of The State” EP (US Organised Noise)
Steve Stoll—Supernatural (US Proper)
DJ T-1000 (Alan Oldham)—“Codes And Structures Vol. 2” EP (US Pure Sonik)
Fabrice Lig—“Justice” EP (US Raygun)
Dietrich Schoenemann—“19 Bullets” EP (US Tension/DM Disko B)
Pressure Funk—“Pressure Theme (remixes)” 12” (UK Soma)
DJ T-1000 (Alan Oldham)—Progress (DM Tresor)
Steve Stoll—“212-013-1” EP (US 212 Productions)

Electro:
Disco D—“Incomprehensible Representation Of Self” EP (US Contaminated)
DJ Godfather—“Via Satellite From Detroit” EP (US Intuit-Solar)
Digitek 4—“Last Of The Finest” 12” (US Motor City Electro Company)
Cylob—“Living In The 1980s” 12” (UK Rephlex)
Sekter 17—“Remote Control” EP (US Twilight 76)
Maas 2008—“Contaminated Material” EP (US Twilight 76)
Vmax—“Movement” 12” (US Vmax)
Two Lone Swordsmen—“Receive Tactical Support” EP (UK Warp)

Check out Andrew Duke’s In The Mix (weekly internationally syndicated radio/net show) and Cognition [techno.ca/cognition] for interviews, exclusive live PAs and DJ mixes, world premieres, prereleases, classics, news, and reviews. Send tests (double copies please) for broadcast and review consideration to: Andrew Duke Cognition/In The Mix 1096 Queen St #123 Halifax NS Canada B3H 2R9 [cognition@techno.ca] [techno.ca/cognition] © 1999 Andrew Duke/Cognition. All Rights Reserved.


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