by Andrew Duke
Currently based in Minneapolis Minnesota, 24 year old Jake Mandell has a growing discography and list of places to which he's lugged his laptop to perform live. With a new EP out on New York's Carpark imprint and a full length on Germany's respected Force Inc, Andrew Duke grabbed a few minutes with Mandell (on a short break at his computer-related day job) to talk about his music and the processes behind it.
You have a background in classical piano. How did you move from studying that to the styles of music you're interested in and recording now?
"I was studying classical piano when I was younger, but after awhile you want to do your own things and aren't so interested in studying whatever they gave you to play by rote. That lead me to more interesting lessons like jazz improvisation and stuff in high school. From there, I think it was a natural bridge into people like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea who are doing improvisational jazz stuff and electronic stuff. From those guys I went into Detroit techno, it was a nice little link. And once you're in techno than you can get into all these other styles as well."
With the full length Quondam Current release on Force Inc being more in the techno genre, whereas many of your previous releases has been in the IDM field, many are calling this Force Inc album a change in style for you. But you've actually always been recording IDM and techno.
"A big part of it is the order in which the recordings are being released, which I have no control over. Techno is not a new thing for me; I've always done the different styles--a mix of techno, the stuff with the fast beats and the melodies, and ambient material as well."
Speaking of ambient, you have a full length recording on Kodoma in your discography. This release consists of one track, a 74 minute ambient piece. Tell me more about that.
"It's an older piece I did, probably like '95 or '96 or so. It was an interesting concept where there was just one sound in the whole piece, but it never repeats in any way. There's all sorts of undertones and echoes that are behind the sound, so it's different every single time. It was just so that you could put this on and then go about your business-eat your breakfast, read your book, watch TV, whatever; you're not supposed to just sit and listen to it, though I guess you could-and it's just meant to go completely in the background, to be unobtrusive, fill in the blank space. I think it's quite useful because a lot of people, if they're trying to read in the dorm or in an apartment, it can get kind of noisy. If you turn on regular music, it can get a little bit distracting and you might not be able to concentrate very much, but if you put on this release on Kodoma, then you'd be able to concentrate much better. The noise is so repetitive that your mind won't focus on it, and yet it's not repetitive because it changes enough to keep your subconscious somehow interested in it."
Your earliest releases were on your own Primedeep label. What was the thrust behind starting the imprint?
"Primedeep was started because I was writing pretty much drum n bass at that time and I was mailing demos to drum n bass labels and they were like 'this is way too weird', so I just decided to release the material myself. About a year before I started Primedeep, I had actually signed a contract with another label, and they were going to put some stuff out, but then that label never put anything out, and they actually didn't even start up as a proper label. So this lead to my frustration when I was shopping the less straight-forward material around on demo and hearing it was too 'out there', so I ended up putting it out myself."
Your latest full length release is the Quondam Current album on Germany's Force Inc. Most of the material on this recording is four on the floor techno material. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
"Stewart [Walker] suggested I send some stuff to the label. I just sent them techno stuff because they're pretty much a techno label, and they liked it. I wanted to get some non-techno tracks on there too just to round things out a little bit because I don't write just techno, or just IDM, or just ambient; I wanted to make the album a bit more diverse. The record is made up of five or six tracks that I sent them on the original demo, five or six new ones, and then some miscellaneous ones. I think the album definitely has parts to it, I tried to sequence it so that it starts out kind of hard techno and then stays techno for awhile, and then it kind of goes away from that toward the end."
You've described Quondam Current as "metaphysical techno". How do you approach your four on the floor recordings, the "techno" stuff, as opposed to the material that is quite different, along the lines of IDM?
"It's all done the same way, but mentally it's just a little bit different. When I'm writing four on the floor stuff, I think a lot more about the sounds. And when I'm writing other stuff, I think a lot more about the sequencing. The techno stuff isn't really micro-sequenced, it just, I think, has interesting sounds in it, whereas the micro-sequenced stuff gets kind of crazy and I focus on thinking 'how can I make this even nuttier?' I never do that with the techno."
When you record your techno material, do you keep in mind the fact that it is more likely to be mixed into a set by a DJ, whereas the IDM with the crazy tempos isn't?
"Not really. I just try to keep the 'head nod' factor somewhat present, where you could bob your head along to it. But I don't really think about how it would work in terms of a DJ set, and I'm sure there's a lot of things that absolutely wouldn't work at all if a DJ were to play it. But then again, I think that makes it kind of interesting because that sort of determines what DJs will play your stuff, and I'd rather have good DJs play it, than just the average Joe who just learned how to mix techno records together."
Your full length on Worm Interface was more in the IDM style. What is your motivation when you're recording music that is different from your techno and ambient material?
"Ambient is separate, but if we compare the techno to the non-techno stuff with beats, then I always try to work in the 'head nod' factor, no matter how complicated the beats get. When I'm doing techno I try to make rhythms that people can fall into by listening to them, where they, if they listen to the music for a little bit, they'll find the rhythm and they'll be able to go with it. When I write non-techno music, I try to write rhythms that would grab the listener, so someone who is not really paying attention would be sucked into the music, whereas with techno, that doesn't really happen so much. I like to do both styles for the sake of diversity. It gets kind of boring to write the same thing all the time. If I wrote techno all the time, I think that would be really frustrating, and if I wrote music where the beats always have to be changing up every eight bars, that would get really tiring too, so I like being able to switch back and forth between the two mindsets. I think it really helps each style grow independently and I can apply things I've learned from writing other styles of music to the style I'm currently working on at the time."
So you're making a conscious effort to make it a little bit more, as you say, "metaphysical", as opposed to more straight minimal techno?
"The basic concept of my techno tracks was that the minimalism would provide a framework that I could work with to write--and this word has so much baggage with it--intelligent music with. That's a pretty snotty word, but I just wanted to do interesting things using the elements of techno music, be it the kick drum, the snare, and the atmospheres of techno. The 2 and the 4 is pretty formulaic, but that kick/snare combination is an effective formula and I wanted to take that formula that has been around for years and try to something a little bit different with it."
The "Placekick" EP and the Quondam Current full length are out now on Carpark and Force Inc, respectively. Forthcoming from Mandell on Force Inc is the "House Restoration" EP, while "The Cultivar" EP (including a remix from Push Button Objects) is out soon on Beta Bodega. More Mandell info can be found on primedeep.com Stay tuned for the audio interview with Jake Mandell to air on an upcoming edition of Andrew Duke's In The Mix (available on techno.ca/cognition)
Quondam Current CD/2 x 12" (Force Inc) January 2000
Healing CD (Kodama) June 1999
Parallel Processes CD (Worm Interface) January 1999
"Placekick" CD (Carpark) December 1999
"Lawnshower" 12" (Pitchcadet) July 1999
"Midwest" CD (Lucky Kitchen) July 1998
"Dlue Veacon" 12" (Primedeep) August 1997
Clicks and Cuts 2 x CD/3 x 12" (Mille Plateaux) January 2000
"I'm so Bored with the USA" 12" (Diskono) September 1998
Blip Bleep CD (Lucky Kitchen) fall 1998
Alt Frequencies 3 CD (Worm Interface) August 1998
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 [firstname.lastname@example.org] [techno.ca/cognition] © 2000 Andrew Duke/Cognition. All Rights Reserved.