by Andrew Duke
Detroit’s Theorem first drew attention in early 1996 with the “Nano” album for Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva’s Plus 8 label. The work of Dale Lawrence, “Nano” investigated the Detroit blueprint and the results received much acclaim. When Hawtin started the M_NUS imprint for Plastikman and his other work, Lawrence’s Theorem was the only other act that moved from the Plus 8 roster to this new venture. With the progression from the former label to the young startup, so too did Lawrence’s music change. In 1998, M_NUS released the first of what would go on to be a four EP Elements series—“Shift”, “Cinder”, “Embed”, and “Fallout”. Evident in these recordings were more dub influences and less of the ambient and house sounds of Lawrence’s previous material.
“Around ‘Nano’ I was like 100% Detroit and all my inspirations came from Detroit. I was kind of closed minded about it, actually, but it was a nice exploration of the sounds.” Lawrence is calling on a cell phone from the Detroit airport, waiting for friends to pick up their luggage. His confident tones override what could easily be a less-than-robust phone connection. “Over time,” he says, “I started really getting into a lot more European acts like Autechre and the whole Basic Channel thing, which was the dub and the textures. And I really just wanted to work that in, see if I could bridge the gap a little better between Detroit and a lot of the European things because I wasn’t seeing a lot of channeling between the two; it was like two distinct sounds doing their thing. A lot of people attribute the Berlin sound coming out of the Detroit sound, but the path between just wasn’t as clear as it used to be, I think, and I just wanted to explore and see what would happen. I really love both styles of music, so why not incorporate that.”
Identified by the TH prefix in the run off matrixes of the vinyl on which the four EPs were issued, the Elements series came together as Lawrence juggled with textural possibilities. “I just had a big wave of inspiration, it all came out at once, this exploration of textures. The first track was ‘Shift’, I wrote that two years ago now,” Lawrence remembers. “I was so into that track, it just screamed ‘texture!’ and I just saw a new sound coming out of that that I wanted to sector off from the rest of my stuff, and that’s when I had the idea for the TH series. About six months later, I just started kicking out tracks and within a two month period, I wrote the rest of the tracks in the series.”
‘Shift’ went on to work its way into many a DJ’s set, striking in its use of samples of the traffic whizzing by on the I-75 Interstate Highway in front of his home. But, Lawrence explains, it’s not as if his environment is affecting his music, it’s gone beyond that. “Now it’s like I’m trying to create an environment,” he stresses. “I keep the Detroit vibe and the Detroit soul with me, but it’s like I start off creating an environment, but then I want to plug in all the stuff I’ve done in the past into it. It’s not so much about hearing a song anymore, it’s just being immersed in this space and just existing and this is what this particular space in this sector of the world would be at that point and always is.” Lawrence readily admits it’s not an easy concept to grasp, and puts it more simply. “It’s hard to explain; this stuff gets really abstract. I kind of want to take people to another place, and while they’re there, just feel the emotion and the state of mind while they’re there.”
With the Elements released on vinyl, twelve tracks now begged for availability in the digital medium. But with some of the songs at upwards of ten minutes and more, it was soon obvious that not all of the material in the series would fit on a compact disc, a format that can hold a maximum of 78 minutes of music. “I spent a little over two weeks just listening to all the tracks over and over; I really just wanted to create an album out of all the singles and the ones that really worked together to create a journey.” Lawrence is quite happy with the result. “It’s like one giant track almost—the rhythms and the climaxes and the breaks, something that you could listen to over and over that just takes you somewhere else. I didn’t just throw a bunch of singles together. I really wanted to have motion and expression.” Lawrence’s time spent wrestling with the dilemma was well used; in the end seven of the tracks from the Elements series were used for the Ion album, and the all important flow is certainly achieved.
By day, Lawrence works at a web development company called Sigma 6 in Detroit doing, as he puts it, “fun stuff—making pretty sites that work.” The more visually-oriented tools of his dayjob--programming languages like HTML, Cold Fusion, and others, and graphic devices like Photo Shop—are a contrast to the audio represented in the Theorem sound, but his work at Sigma 6 also has a symbiotic relationship with his music. “I couldn’t do one without the other,” Lawrence confides. “It’s like my creative side can only do one thing at a time. Like I’ll be very visually strong at one point and creating a lot of nice looking web imagery or things with Photo Shop or whatever. And on the other side is the music side. But they kind of bounce off each other. I was also a photography major in college, and even with photography I was doing a lot of work with high speed grainy film and getting into the texture of the grain. And that kind of inspires the music and it goes back and forth. While I’m really into visual mode, I can’t write music worth anything. And when I’m really creative with music, I can’t design anything, I’m hopeless. I need both sides, it’s just this weird ying yang kind of thing for me.” Andrew Duke
Ion is out now on M_NUS. Watch for the upcoming THX series to feature
collaborations with Swayzak,
William Van Loo, and Sutekh.
Unreleased Theorem material can be heard on Lawrence’s www.th.m-nus.com