Patten interview: “Trying to describe dreams.”

29.09.11 Words by: Ruth Saxelby

“When you think about what music is; what is it? Is it the stuff – data? Is it what happens when the pianist plays a note; or is it the vibration of bones in people’s ears; or the way they think about music when they hear it? Or is it the memory, what the music evokes when it is no longer there? What is it? Where is it? It’s really strange. I find it all fascinating.” London electronic musician patten asks more questions than he answers as he sits cross-legged in an east London park. Like his music, patten is enigmatic, urgent and intellectually dazzling as a conversationalist.

‘GLAQJO XAACSSO’, pronounced “glack-geut zack-so”, is his debut offering. Just released on No Pain On Pop, patten’s LP, like its title, evokes a parallel universe. It has a different space-time continuum to other albums. Where it should make me feel claustrophobic I feel euphoric, where recognisable contemporary dub pressure usually evokes the metropolis it conjures up a turquoise sea. And for everyone it’s different. Tangling together gorgeous melodies, techno rhythmic tendencies, digital abstraction and hallucinatory swathes of samples, no one track stands out. More than the sum of its parts, ‘GLAQJO XAACSSO’ stands up against seminal Warp releases from the likes of Autechre, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada.

patten is happier in the metaphysical realm in conversation as well as composition. I try to keep up as he trapezes from discourse to discourse, touching on pop music, the poetic and critical thinking. He’s most animated when speaking on the relationship between subject listening and music playing, deflecting or objecting when I ask for some basic facts about him: “Um…again, I don’t know if that’s important.”

Too much information can be corrupting and patten knows this. In the lead up to the release of his debut album he’s replied to interview questions from Dazed using internet urls, communicated via his favourite Youtube videos in another feature and hasn’t given out his full name or shown his face in press shots. “It’s all the information that you get. You get some sounds, you get some words, and you get some images and so on. That is the information that’s out there, encapsulated by this thing. When you think of ‘GLAQJO XAACSSO’… it is those things, it’s all very important.”

‘GLAQJO XAACSSO’ occupies its own little space, a space created for it by the artist and a space we’re invited into when we listen to it. patten is someone with an acute interest in how his album is received, not because he’s vain or desperate but because he’s genuinely interested to hear how this enigmatic record makes people feel, including me. Here follows extracts of our two hour conversation.

patten: Have you listened to the record?

Yes. I thought it was great. I’ve listened to it quite a lot now and I think with any record, it’s getting better with every listen. The main point I took from it was that I felt it was a very cohesive record.

patten: What would you change about it?

I’ve got a hankering for pop songs. There are some really great melodies in a lot of the tracks but where a beat comes in and it’s slightly off, an off beat – you’d be able to dance to it if it was in a slightly different place. I’d change that – so I could dance.

patten: Okay. So make it a bit more… Simplify it somehow?

Slightly, yeah. But then it would be an entirely different record. Just to change that tiny thing…

patten: Which is fine.

I saw you play at the Nail the Cross Festival a year ago, before that I hadn’t seen you. You were playing guitar and then also live beat making and looping. It’s interesting, the relationship between instrumentation and production…

patten: Were you surprised by the show?

There was an element of mystery because I didn’t necessarily know that it was one person making the music. That was a surprise. And the approach to using the guitar was not something that I necessarily expected. I think that’s a point about the record, the guitar sounds on it you don’t relate to a guitar and on first listen you don’t know it’s a guitar.

patten: Do you think that’s important? That aspect of the record… When thinking about it. It’s interesting mapping out a few different things – the first point you made about how it could be changed in some way, how it feels. How you respond to what you do with the record, what its for. The great thing about pop music is that it’s very user friendly. It comes in discreet chunks that are easily digested and it tends to come in forms that have spaces demarcated for them already like the dancefloor, or headphones, or on the way to work. Everyone knows what to do with it, where it goes. The thing about quantizing the record, bringing together the rhythms and stuff, the polyrhythms; I guess that is partly about what the music does and what its used for, how its digested and so on.

The second point you’re making about the guitar and so on, the experience of the live show and it being more transparent, the process; what the music is and what its made of, that’s a different kind of analysis. That’s about thinking about the mechanics of it, how you think about the music. So I wonder… do you think it’s important how you think about the guitar sounds?

I think that relationships important for thinking about the whole record. It was something I was going to ask. How did some of the songs take their form on the record now? Were they born out of experimenting live or experimenting at home or experimenting in the studio?

patten: All of that stuff. One thing that is interesting for me about this piece or collection of tracks is that it was a combination of all of those things, which for me is out of precedent. I tried using the live environment as a testing ground but also as a compositional zone, using those spaces as a place to, if not actually compose, to consider further compositional decisions. The technology available allows a lot to happen in a live situation. It’s important for me when I’m playing live that there’s a whole thing where it’s slightly out of control, always different. There are certain trajectories and arcs for different tracks, ways in which I want them to develop. The guts of it is really intuitive; it’s always very exploratory.

What’s your relationship with new technologies and old technologies? I feel like a lot of the sounds on the record are quite analogue and are bouncing off more digital sounds. Is there equipment that you use that is analogue?

patten: I was trying to use as many different situations to fit into the compositional process as possible. I’d work a lot when falling asleep; laptop on my chest, pushing things around. There are decisions that I’d make in a subliminal state between waking and sleeping that I just wouldn’t do another time. Trying to use different types of brain function, see what could be coaxed out of those situations and brought back into the process.

“I’d work a lot when falling asleep; laptop on my chest, pushing things around.” patten

Are there any things you regret about the record?

patten: No. I don’t think so. It’s a good question.

Any decisions that you made that you regret?

patten: No. Not at all. Like you, I’m interested to know or see what can happen next. For example, in the live show there are things that happen in tracks that are on the record but there are also things that happen live that don’t make it onto the record. There’s nothing wrong that happens live that wouldn’t be suited to that collection of tracks or that way of doing things. I don’t see the record as a closure. It’s a document; it’s a document of a moment in the life of those pieces of music. It’s not a closed book once the record is produced.

Are you going to adapt your approach to playing live now you’ve put out a full album and people may expect to hear that…?

patten: Good question. I don’t think I will adapt it. I think that’d be a mistake. I think the ethos at the heart of the whole project is one of seeking and experimentation even though the word experimental, I wouldn’t use it to define the music. It’s one of those words; it gets used in wrong context.

What would you define it as then?

patten: It depends on the question; it’s music, it’s recorded. It depends on what kind of criteria you’re using. If you mean what section it would come into in HMV…? HMV won’t exist by the time it comes out anyway.

Does it need its own vault?

patten: No. The interesting thing about that is that the vault is always someone’s mind. When you’re composing music, that could be writing a piece for a choral ensemble, or writing the music for a music box; any kind of compositional activity is about making some kind of software for some kind of hardware that gets used later. For example, the hardware could be a pair of earphones, or a pianist or music box or sound system. You’re always programming software to be used by hardware. It’s always a production of something that comes into being elsewhere. When you think about what music is; what is it? Is it the stuff – data? Is it what happens when the pianist plays a note; or is it the vibration of bones in people’s ears; or the way they think about music when they hear it? Or is it the memory, what the music evokes when it is no longer there? What is it? Where is it? It’s really strange. I find it all fascinating.

“Music is something that happens in time, you can’t pause it like a film. Every instant is only meaningful because of what came before and what comes after.” patten

Music is something that happens in time, you can’t pause it like a film. When you pause a film you can see something perceptible. Unless you count granulation, which is a freezing of sonic time, you can’t pause music. Every instant is only meaningful because of what came before and what comes after. If you take a note from a Rachmaninof or something like that; it’s not meaningful anymore, the note doesn’t mean anything. The same note played with the same intensity, it loses its meaning if it’s taken outside the context of its surroundings. Musical sense happens in time. When you think about composition; it’s like producing a series of experiences that are connected in time. I liken it to a roller-coaster. If you take the moment just before the roller-coaster plummets down towards the ground; if you just take that moment out of the stream of events that lead up to it and follow it, it’s no longer meaningful. That idea of composing as a whole series of experiential moments is really important.

What if anything were you trying to achieve with this particular record or project?

patten: There are so many things, too many to list. The thing comes out in a couple of weeks – I’m keen to get a sense of what, if anything, it means to anyone else. In terms of your response to the record… What did it feel like you? What was the atmosphere to you, what was it like?

Again, this links into the way music is consumed. As I’ve consumed it over time I developed different feelings to it. When I first listened I felt like it came from quite a dark industrial place. I was listening to the start of the record a lot, I felt like the first half came from the inside of a machine, a dark, industrial, urban place but then it comes out of that and there are brighter sounds in the second half of the record. I ended up feeling it was quite uplifting.

patten: What do you mean when you say uplifting?

Positive sounds. I know that sounds ridiculous.

patten: No. No, it really doesn’t. What’s interesting about talking about music is that it operates in a series of modes that are very hard to translate into language. That’s one reason there are so many words used to describe music, it’s like trying to describe dreams. Before you begin to utter a description everything makes sense, it’s a totality. It’s not ridiculous at all. It’s really interesting. Uplifting in what way then?

I don’t know if I can quite articulate that to be honest. Another interesting point in relation to how we consume music is that I wrote down, ‘I feel like this is kind of a beach scene’ when listening to track nine. Then I looked at the song name – ‘out the coast’. When I saw that I felt like I’d justified my own thoughts and interpretation of the song because the song name happened to relate to how I felt about it – which is interesting.

patten: That is interesting.

How do you go about titling songs?

patten: If that happened the other way around, you never would have known that was your own thought. If you’d seen the title and you felt it evoked this particular space you’d always feel like you were prompted, but there are prompts. What you’ve just said about that one simple thing is really interesting news for me. Fascinating that the content of that particular song; that’s the reaction you gleaned from it. I’m hugely interested in the psychological effects of music. Not just the music, all the related stuff; imagery, the text, the stuff that surrounds music. It’s a unified spectrum that affects a record. In the live situation, how responses to music and information can effect people’s perception of time and their emotional state; I’m really fascinated by all that. There’s something interesting about forms; forms which do not dictate how they’re received. Where there’s a space where there is lack of clarity; the individual who is being exposed to that thing can wade in and explore their reactions.

There’s something interesting about finding methods of working where you can transcend your imagination so you’re not necessarily beginning with an end in sight.” patten

The same concept can be applied to composition, trying to access ambiguous spaces. Ambiguous to be clear about that… Ambiguity being a state of being where something has two or more solutions that conflict with each other, they can’t coexist, they can’t both be true but at the moment when you’re considering all the information, there’s a possibility that both things can be true; it’s an ambiguous state. It’s not unclear, it’s not foggy what the options are; they just can’t coexist logically. That’s an ambiguous state. There’s something fascinating about finding working methods where it’s possible to transcend your imagination. There’s a difference between thinking ‘I want to produce this thing’, than just going about and producing it. It begins with ideas that are defined, defined by one’s own experience and understanding of what already exists in the world; bound or restricted by that, by a perception that existed before any kind of process of making started. Maybe there’s something interesting about finding methods of working where you can transcend your imagination so you’re not necessarily beginning with an end in sight.

Do you feel then that there’s a direct relationship between your mood during composition, having ideas and tweaking things, and what comes out on the record?

patten: Who knows? It’s certainly interesting the idea – what remains? What is actually in the matter, the material that is produced? We’ve been asking the question – we don’t even know what music is or where it is. Is music about having an idea and putting an idea down? Where is the music? Is it then in this ideas re-ignition in someone else’s mind, or is it coming from the speakers, or the air between the speakers and the ear? Is it back in the initial concept? Our minds just work from electrical impulses anyway so is it the same when we think about that? What is actually contained inside the form of music? You were talking about that track and how it evokes a certain thing for you, what is that? Why is that? It’s fascinating.

You’ve mentioned falling asleep and tweaking songs and that having an effect on the music you’re creating. Are there any other situations that you can give examples of which have effected a compositional process?

patten: There’s a whole range of situations that there were compositional decisions made under. Even for one track, it’s not like it was done in one day that I was in a really good mood or one day when I was like this or that. The whole idea that the record as a whole and the individual pieces were made under a range of different conditions, it’s interesting to know whether that means anything. Is that at all apparent? Has that had an effect on how it’s received by other people?

When did you start making this record?

patten: Good question. It’s a very simple question but it’s a good question. That’s very hard to say because I think the process… it’s really hard to say. The annoying smart-arse answer is that I have always been working on it. Again I’d describe that musical object as a punctuation mark in a much larger process, a process that is ongoing.

*How do you feel you fit in with what’s coming out of London at the moment?

patten: I can’t hear my own music. I don’t know what my music is; I don’t know what it sounds like. If you think about yourself, in the world, there’s a weird void in the center of your world which is you. Oddly, you know yourself more and less than everyone else because you never get to meet yourself. It’s a strange paradox of existence and it’s the same relationship with things that you make as well. It’s really weird, isn’t it?

No Pain In Pop released ‘GLAQJO XAACSSO’ on 26th September 2011


Submit your music Close