The audio collagist offers a glimpse into the world of 'ESTOILE NAIANT', his new album for Warp Records.
In the middle of an East London hotel lobby full of the clinks of cutlery on plates and cocktail-amplified conversation, I’m watching as D - the producer, singer, guitarist and person behind the music project patten - narrates the noises we can hear all around us, basically conducting the room for me. He’s making a point about our apprehension of reality, particularly the swarm of things that are constantly unfolding in the 99% of our environment we’re not actively engaging with or trying to engineer. Gesturing at a man a few tables over, D says he’s interested in whether it’s possible "to somehow dissolve that grid a little bit, the grid that places all of these phenomena in discrete boxes and makes the sound of the guy speaking over there meaningless at this particular moment..." as he points it out, my ears pick up on the sound and suddenly it’s not so meaningless, and D continues "...and now it fades in. Now we can hear this woman over here; now we can hear some cutlery being put down, and someone laughing, and you feel the weight of yourself on the chair, and it’s like, 'Oh yeah, okay.' All of these things - this is all happening, all the time."
This moment of superreal engagement with our surroundings comes towards the end of what’s been a pretty exhaustive but never exhausting hour in D’s company, talking through and around the ideas he has about his work and the as-limitless-as-humanly-possible approach he takes to the process behind it. Dip a toe anywhere into his intricate new album ‘ESTOILE NAIANT’ and you’ll get a feel for this unrestricted, hear-everything-feel-everything mindset. Same if you catch any of his wild collage-like DJ sets or mixes such as his recent Dummy Mix, where Iggy Azalea rubs shoulders with Nirvana in a conga line with Neneh Cherry. This is his second project for Warp Records, the first of which was his ‘EOLIAN INSTATE’ EP in late 2013, and his second full-length release, his excellent debut ‘GLAQJO XAACSSO’ having been released by No Pain In Pop in 2011. Like all of his releases, it comes inextricably entwined with artwork and videos from his visual collaborator Jane Eastlight, whose mosaic style emphasises the music’s playful elements of conflict and contrast. The question D always seems to be asking in any performance as patten is: Why shouldn’t this go with that? Why shouldn’t that sound like this?
Early on in our chat, it becomes apparent that applying any kind of linear narrative to this album - such as asking about how D feels he’s changed as a musician between the two records - isn’t the way to go. "Ideally, the kind of process that I’m engaging in, in the production of this work, could not be fully pinned down to the way that an individual might change or shift over time. It would be governed by other forces." What’s more apt is the view of his music as a vehicle - first for his own thoughts and ideas and experiments, and later for the listener's. Even in the process of making, he’s focused on the idea of the music being a separate entity to himself, actively trying to set his own tastes aside; the reference points offered on the press release - the works of Borges, Sonic Youth and developments in cognitive science - are "almost like a thought environment, through which to begin to engage with the work somehow." But not, crucially, any kind of clue to a secret message or meaning.
This is why D goes by D; why he rarely shows his face in press photos, and why he’s been known to answer interview questions and tweet exclusively in the form of hyperlinks. "My process is the making, and I really hope to present a situation where it’s open to that person on the other side, as open as it can be, and that is the kind of logic behind not really presenting my name, [and why] there aren’t really any images of my face and so on readily out there. It’s not to hide anything; I’m trying to open this world up to people, as open as it can be. To hand over total ownership to people on the other side. It’s your music. It’s your images, it’s your stuff to engage with and to explore in some way."
D is consciously striving to be unlimited in his process of music-making, looking at it in new ways - ways that go beyond his own feelings about what he’s creating. "I try to not be restricted by tastes, my own understanding of value, of things that are worthwhile or meaningful, that are displeasing - not to be restricted to my own set of responses to the material that I’m making... One could be working on something that seems completely worthless and total rubbish, but it could be that in that thing there’s something really valid and interesting, with emotional or another kind of resonance, for other people. You don’t know. It’s a strange thing. I could really dislike mustard yellow drawings with, like, sky blue - I don’t, but I could. Say I did, it could prevent me from making a painting that uses those colours together, and that painting could be useful in the world in some way. It could be worth existing in some way. So as much as possible I’m trying not to be restricted, even by my own tastes. Why be caged by your own mind?"
This set of restrictions we place on our ideas of how music can and should be made branches all the way out into our presentation and consumption of it. Like, D points out, "Why is it that a music project should have a proper name? Like the name of a city or a person. Why is that? Like a company or something. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s what most people want to do. Why does it have to have that?" What is patten, then? Is it him? "I would say it describes something that exists in the world. I’m something else."
So, if not taste, what does govern the decision-making process when D creates music as/for patten? "It’s really a case of dealing with the situation as it unfolds. Deeply woven into that is an attempt to create situations that do unfold in ways that are unexpected, to present new kinds of information, to invite new kinds of decision making, for me to then respond to. A simple example is, I use the guitar in the process of making music. But the thing is, a guitar suggests a manner of working, a manner of composition, because you hold it with two hands, you don’t have a third hand, you’ve only got so many fingers, certain notes are certain distances away from each other. So if one writes using a guitar in a traditional way, there are certain things that you might write. Obviously, your own skill is another parameter. But there are certain things you might write, because of the machine, because of the way it suggests of working.
"But, like that and any other materials that I work with, I try to find ways of approaching them whereby different kinds of decision-making would take place. So that could be through treating, processing of the instrument very, very deeply in the process of composition so it’s no longer a guitar, so it’s no longer a synthesizer sound, it’s no longer a recording of some rain. You’re no longer held to these restrictions on how one might approach this material. It’s no longer a drum machine. The methodology might make visible ways of working that would be invisible if you were to adhere specifically to the methods that all of these items and artefacts, be they sounds or instruments, if you were held to what they suggested. Same as performing a live show, or having an interview, or making a Twitter post, or whatever: all of these environments have these very specific behaviours that accrue based on arbitrary rules."
This idea of parameter-crossing exploration, of soaking up all life has to offer at once without boundaries, comes to a head in the image presented by the title of ‘ESTOILE NAIANT’, an heraldic blazon - or formal description of a coat of arms - meaning "swimming star". "The swimming star... I guess you could think of that as a way of describing the reflection of the sun in water, in a kind of oblique way," says D. "And there’s something in that image... It’s like a meeting of the very tangible and the ‘right here’, and something which exists somehow outside of time, something which is unfathomably vast, and everything in between."
This image, where different realities meet in a kind of prism, presents a space full of possibility for exploration, a space D hopes his listeners engage in. As he puts it, "I think that music, and all sorts of materials that people create and have ever created, provide a strange access to ourselves, to all number of people who have lived in the past, to ourselves and something bigger than ourselves as well... Everything we’re doing now is absolutely related to a stream of thought, or a stream of activity, that reaches back as far as people have ever been, and it’s deeply connected in that way. If one is to look at the present, at oneself, at the materials that surround us in such a way, it’s possible again to start to apprehend reality, including our comprehension of self and how we fit into things and what it means to be, in a way which opens a whole range of potentials to what can be."
This is around about where he draws my attention to all the potential humming and slurping in the room around us, noises bouncing off every surface, hundreds of realities playing out together in one space. The grid begins to dissolve a little.
Warp Records released 'ESTOILE NAIANT' on February 24th 2014.