Name: Unknown, alias Conrad Clipper
Current Release: Herons' Book of Dream on Luau Records
Recommendations: Kyema by Eliane Radigue / Ooh Baby I Love Your Way by Big Mountain
Conrad has a Bandcamp page conradclipper.bandcamp.com
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early
passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to
So here we go, what draws anyone to music? Children have a primal connection with music, it’s vestigial and instinctive. Making sound is thrilling, look at a toddler smashing their chubby hands on a keyboard. Sound is powerful and controllable and cathartic. I was prone to a kind of melancholic day dreaming, and I clearly remember those daydreams having musical scores, very definite melodies that heard in my head, as classical music. One memory in particular: walking alone through the Lime Walk in Shere, aged about six or seven, letting the music inside my head unfold. It’s surprising that I still remember it, some trauma or need for identity must have happened later on for me to decide to hold on to that memory, to construct
identity around it.
My father is a rock guitarist so there were a lot of beautiful instruments in the house, mostly American guitars. Sadly, he is left handed and I am right handed. Everyone in my extended family is left handed apart from me. My father never pushed me to play, which is of course one of the tricks to get a child to do something. So, I started playing electric guitar aged ten and it almost immediately became a huge part of my identity, something that endures even now. I especially liked the fact that the guitar seemed to be associated with outsiders, and that there was no point to it. If you feel like this interview is coming across as somewhat distant thus far, now would be a good opportunity to let you know that the first cassettes I bought were Ooh Baby I Love Your Way by Big Mountain, and Big Ones by Aerosmith. I was also quite keen on my free Classic FM Tchaikovsky CD too. Classic FM absolutely slapped back in the day.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I disagree about the emulating thing. I wasn’t so sophisticated as to think: there’s something I like, I want to try copy that. The thought of me doing something similar to Harold Budd or Jay Dilla or Jim O’Rourke was utterly preposterous. It still is. I didn’t believe I could be as good as the people I loved. I really do suffer from imposter syndrome and I always have, it’s a funny kind of motivation. The simple thing that drove me on was that I liked the sounds that I could make, it was that simple. I found the guitar to be a tremendous vessel for dissociation, an escape, and a way of summing up my emotions and my distance from the world. If you suffer from intrusive thoughts, the guitar will make things worse. If you want to find your voice through your instrument, whether that’s the accordion or Ableton, you’re going to have to really like the sound it makes in order to tolerate all the times when it sounds awful, all the times when your experiments don’t work. And if you love it, it will transport you wherever you need to go. Copying is a completely valid way of making successful art, by the way. Because by the time it has gone through the filter of you, it won’t be a copy, just a derivation and everything is a beautiful derivation, from the Big Bang to God to Operation Doomsday.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Technology has gone bananas. I started recording on the Boss BR8 zip disk multitrack recorder. “Old school” muti-tracking, reel-to-reel tape and Tascam cassette recordings have always been a massive part of my process and probably always will be.
Here is how The Idiot’s Quest goes. The main challenge in the beginning was: how do you write a song? But quickly that was supplanted with: what kind of music do I even want to make, what is it that I am trying to express? This is the idiot’s great problem. Overthinking. It’s not even thinking, it’s just obstructing, thinking in genres, in modes of expression.
If I could talk to my younger self, I would say: "Let yourself make what your heart wants to make, be instinctive. Even if you are scared that it might not be cool. Even if it might be Kula Shaker. If you are true to yourself, then it will come out well." If you try to be cool you are fucked and will make rubbish. Also, Kula Shaker absolutely had some numbers. With everything I make, I constantly turn the interrogation light onto it: is it genuine? Is it honest? Quite often now the answer is yes. Is it good? Quite often the answer is no. I find it really hard to like anything I’ve made. I hope I grow old and find some satisfaction in it one day. Everything I do is geared towards posthumous appreciation, or more likely, the great landfill in the sky.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
A four track in the loft with a huge pair of 70s headphones found in a box of cables belonging to my father. Also, an enormously, ridiculously powerful Peavey Classic valve amp, from back when a single guitar amp needed to fill Carnegie Hall with no PA. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a proper studio and I don’t have any important pieces of gear. I don’t have any important possessions, actually. For colour, I live alone in Berlin and mostly inside my own head, as we discussed earlier.
Oh, wait there is one exception: my guitar, a 1964 Gibson SG that I have owned since the 90s when my father passed it on to me. It’s an extraordinary and precious thing. It vibrates with its own internal possibility and history. Great instruments are like wands or chalices.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I’m an arranger more than a performer, and I specialise in MIDI arrangements for multiple instruments. Sometimes I send those parts out to my friends who are the specialists for recordings, especially strings and woodwind. Sometimes I play all the parts myself, I chop things into loops and modulate the loops over time. Most music is a variation of this method, even Ooh Baby I Love Your Way.
Humans are obsessed with the creation of meaning. It’s something that we think makes us superior to animals. We’re so endlessly ignorant in our sophistication. I can find meaning in five layered phasing loops that move through various decay cycles. But it’s vastly less complex or beautiful than the average blackbird song. Computers are good at helping humans to find comfort in a world that lacks meaning.
Computers are good for constructing order and ordering food. Computers are good for playing games. Computers are good for cold judgements, for an absence of emotion, or an uncanny simulacrum of emotion where the listener becomes more invested in the ersatz than the original. This is how we live our lives at the moment: through the network.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
All instruments are tools, and some software is also an instrument. I am very interested in non-standard playing, and the manipulation of the source beyond what is considered normal for the instrument.
I use Logic and especially a tool called Scripter to run Java-based programming to create arpeggiators for piano. This is how I made my first record, Cycle of Liminal Rites. Scripter lets you make piano arpeggios that are robotic yet almost human. I spend a huge amount of time and care on the humanization of computer sounds. That, for me, is what great electronic producers do. I’m not saying I do it well,
but I have a style, a derivation.
The artist is becoming ever more irrelevant. It is the software and the processes behind a “record” that actually make the record. The artist is there simply for the audience to construct meaning around. Great artists understand the need to provide the audience with a generous narrative in order for sufficient depth of meaning to be constructed, The Caretaker or David Bowie for example.