Many contemporary production tools already take over significant parts of what would formerly have constituted compositional work. In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Are there any promising solutions or set-ups capable of triggering new ideas inside of you as a composer?
There are a lot of construction kits and presets that sound great, but they don’t feel like they are your sounds or parts. We might sometimes start with a preset, but then always mess with it plenty to make it unique. Sampling is always interesting and we do sometimes sample our own tunes, often stuff that never got beyond a demo. Cloud Red on our album is largely made up of samples from a remix we did of an old song of ours, so it’s 3rd generation really. We are musical environmental activists - good recycling!
There are interesting loop based things out there that demand some creativity to really work well. Sonic Couture Konkrete 3 is class because it gives you limitations on the sound set, but gives so many options to customise it. Just last week I got this thing called Flutter Dust by SoundDust which literally blew my mind with the sheer amount of sounds you can coax from one simple wavetable. This freedom within a limited framework can really push composition ahead in the kind of cross-genres that we work in.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
The track Seek is quite an interesting one. Before any music was written, it started as a concept that we wanted to create a rising piece that started from utmost silence and eventually became as heavy and loud as we could get it. Probably the piano chords came first, and then we started to add quite dreamy tickles of other instruments, and then some stuff that looped a bit too for a hypnotic effect.
The heavy bit we wanted EDM sounding but with a distorted guitar sounding synth playing a simple riff and then this John Barry-esque string line. A sweeping orchestral arrangement really helped it get even bigger sounding. Then, inspired by the kind of intricate programming of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, it led us to the bass and drum breakdown that again sets up another musical impact. It took ages of fiddling to do all the pans and glitches due to all the fine editing.
It’s a song based on shape really, inspired by the elevation maps I use when I go trail running. This up and down journey became our blueprint. So much contemporary music is just at 100% all the time with no dynamics. This whisper to a cry aspect of Border Scout is something we’ve taken from classical music and soundtracks.
With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
These days the barriers to market are totally evaporated. Anyone can release anything to the entire world with a few clicks and £20. It means a lot more music and so many complex genres and an increasing challenge to be original. I think it is technology that will be pushing the realms of what is original, be that new sounds and instruments or traditional instruments re-imagined in how they can be played and manipulated. The limited sonic palette of a guitar band can only go so far. I think that is what Radiohead realised in the late 90s as they shifted genre. Bands like that though are not just pushing the actual sounds, they are pushing the song form. Pink Floyd did the same. I think we might be looking at extended song forms or even micro songs in the next 50 years as people push to be original, not just lyrically and in the production, but also in songwriting.
Music trends are fickle and we always try avoid following them (the Kurt Cobain still in us!). However, although part of the challenge we set ourselves was to try make something that sounds like no one else, in practice it has made it tricky to sell both within the business and to the public, as it does not easily fit into anything out there. I think although people will say they want original they need it tempered with plenty of familiar.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
There is not a strict separation for us as often we are recording and producing at the same time as initial creation. If improvising means making up music on the spot but not documenting it, then we’ll always do this at the start and then finesse and improve upon this original idea. This latter stage I guess would be the composing side of it. Sometimes the improvisation gets caught warts and all and is never touched again. However, more often than not they are working closely together for us, each process affecting the other continually.
We often do a lot of improvising whilst using a new bit of gear and suddenly as you are noodling around you stumble upon a cool melody or chord sequence by accident. As you then add other parts and solidify that improvised part it suddenly become less transitory and it is moving towards the more considered discipline of composition.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
As Border Scout we are fascinated by blending real sounds with artificial electronic sounds and atonal atmospheres. Space is critical for that and although our tunes are quite full on and dense there is still a sense of space in them. Some of that comes from Allen’s unconventional method of only using one reverb setting on one particular hardware unit for the entire album - that really ties it all together.
Sometimes though you need real ambience. Whilst making ‘The Nature Of Things’ we felt the beats were becoming too rigid and flat, so we set up an anti-drum kit in a cool local studio called Blast with some vintage mics and preamps. Basically it was everything but the drums, so we had an array of vintage and modern hats and cymbals mic-ed close and far and Dan played them across the whole album. It gave a real organic and lively feel to the programmed parts.