Name: Colin de la Plante
Current Release: The Mole's new EP, "Space Machine", a collaboration with SONNS, is out now and can be ordered from the bandcamp store of Machine Limited.
Recommendations: Ndagga Rhythm Force; Georgiana Houghton
If you enjoyed this interview with The Mole, visit Resident Advisors's artist page on him to find out more about his music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Writing music for the dancing, I started trying in the mid 90s in Vancouver. The local rave scenes in Vancouver and Victoria were my brightest lights. The illegal shit. Outside. Long dirt roads. Wet. Seattle and Portland meant a lot. San Fransisco. Chicago. DJs would visit from all over.
Trying to describe the music, the feelings the magnetism provoked in young me, I fail to satisfy. But trying is what makes it real, so, weakly: magic. The transportation, a higher level.
One of the original attractors for me was the facelessness of it all. The DJ was often tucked away in a corner, almost hiding. We were forced to face each other. I was forced to face myself, and I liked this very much.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
You can sleep in their beds, but the dreams are still yours.
I like to tell people that I invented my sound the same moment music chose me. The learning phase, the training, my favourite part of any (kung fu) movie, continues. Not surprisingly it is also one of my favourite parts of life.
As far as peering into the heads of others, I still try, and fail wonderfully to copy my idols. I am comfortable in my blunders because my place has always been secure between this one and that. And though He and She may change, my little spot remains. Because it is in between. There. A little wiggle with no name. My name.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
To begin I was a chowderhead with no idea how to do what. Blunder is a generous description. I had no previous training. Not technical. Not theoretical. 100% feeling, 0% skill.
I was lucky, I found amazing people who shared their ideas and discoveries, and loved to jam. I learned with my community. My friends taught me.
With time and practise comes knowledge and skill, and fresh choices. The options present new challenges, which demand new skills and understanding. The circle continues round while the perspective remains the same. It feels like walking backwards on a train going twisters climbing a mountain, or down a tunnel. It feels the same. It feels familiar. Good.
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?
My first studio was wee. Just a table in my bedroom. Akai S900, Korg X5 (WHY!?!?!?), an Atari ST and a Mackie mixer. I got a remarkable amount of stuff out of that 3.5 inch memory.
My home set up has grown and morphed with my fluctuating interests and funds. Hello Modular Wormhole. But more interesting than that is the opportunities presented by the communities where I live, Berlin. There are so many interesting people working with sound and music in this city. So many wonderful studios and spaces. For all frames of mind and motivation. Many of my heroes (for example Barry White of DJ Premier) liked to stick to one studio, but I like to wander. Visiting the systems others create while I mosey.
My studio is like a cowboy’s home, wherever I lay my hat. I work with what is in front of me. This makes my most important piece of gear Me. It may seems like an egotistical thing to say, but this realisation came from a place of abandonment. I’ve faced loss and music didn’t care. It keeps calling. It never wanted my 808. It wants me. It is liberating to be out of control.
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?
Recordings are my carrier bags. They hold the meanings of my stories. Machines do a wonderful job of transducing. Their creation of electrical currents from mechanical movement, for example a microphone diaphragm vibrating with the sound waves in the air, is astounding, and frankly taken for granted. Perhaps because humans are also wonderfully good at the same damn thing. But recording and replaying those same electrical currents, converting them back into mechanical movement, consistently, that is a domain ruled by the machine.
The human excels as curator and creator. We make the buttons that say STOP, and (everyone’s favourite) - DELETE.
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?
I don’t really feel like the author of my work. That is some greater power I can’t put into pages. I’m more like the bagman, who’s caught another one on his line. I didn’t make this fish. What you call my work is merely the product of choosing what stays onboard and what gets thrown back (most of it). Can I describe the relationship between the fisherman and the sea? No. Not yet. Not me. Not like this at least.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaborations are the foundation of my craft. My bottom bitch. I’ve learnt most of what I know from my friends and colleagues. Seeing what can be done. And what shouldn’t. A good friend once told me he couldn’t play alone. Felt like masturbation. He sincerely believed that music began when two or more people play together. And though I don’t completely agree with him (anymore), I still enjoy music most with others. Real time, same place, same time. Together.
I love to talk about ideas, share new discoveries and passions. I love to hear about the adventures of great musicians. I love the stories. But I enjoy music most in the moment, together. That’s where the magic lives.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
A day in my life won’t make sense. Or good reading. Blundering doesn’t dress up nice.
I’ll tell you instead about a little game we start our days with here at home. It is part of my daughter’s music education. Each day of the week is assigned a theme. At minimum first song of the day must be, at least loosely, of or for this theme. For example, Funky Fridays. James Brown! Fridays is a celebration! Mondays are Blues and Country. Because ... Monday joke! Tuesdays are Brazil. Second day of the week, second letter of the alphabet. Why not! Wednesdays - Wildcard! It can be anything. Thursdays are Hip Hop, Reggae, RnB, Reggaeton and anything in between. Sundays are church of Coltrane. A spiritual celebration. Reminding us to give thanks to our ancestors and those no longer with us.
Where’s the game you say? Who cares! My daughter loves the Funk!
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I rearrange things I’ve caught in my carrier bags. I wander about, picking up shiny things that tickle my ears. These things become something more when together, mashed, repeated, and sometimes, with luck and an open mind, they can become beautiful. Then, after I pull back, after I let go and give it away, then the ideas come. My babies get their names after they are born. I can’t be sure until I see their face.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I’m a pothead. I like to astral travel. I use ganja to elevate my state, release my ego and open my mind. I can’t catch the unknown if my ego is blocking the view. I am a believer in plant medicine. I am a believer in the Ital. My way is personal. I can’t pretend to recommend any path to anyone else. I’m just thankful I found mine. And I am most grateful that I no longer have to hide. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime. I give thanks everyday.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
With an audience there is so much connection, communication. These are irreproducible moments that often evade capture, even with machine recording. How does a recording do justice to the thickness of the air? The smells? Or that weird cowboy boot light in the corner of your eye, the one that’s never there when you look straight at it!
Writing in the studio is all about recordings. Filling the carrier bags.
I am personally very lifted by both the studio and playing live. The achievements I draw from each is unique to each repetition. Seeing the same thing becomes new the second, third, twelfth time. I am humbled with the experience of both.
Humbled by my weaknesses in the studio. My unknowledge and must-do-learn. Humbled and inspired by the surprises that hide in these studios spaces. These rarified airs. Anything can happen in these sacred spaces. Studios are the fertile soil for magic to be born, and borne.
And I am humbled by the power of people when playing live. Humbled by the force of the gathering. And thrilled with surprise at where it/us takes me. Where it takes us all. I am humbled by the synchronicity required for this kind of connection. As though everyone would jump with one touch of the cow fence. One small charge to jump us all.
I love this magic that only a gathering can produce, and I work in the studio to feed this magic.
I don’t see the connection of the relationship between composition and improvisation, and the live/ studio question … But I will say this about the relation between composition and improvisation. One needs a pen.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I think tempos prefer certain rhythms. Genres prefer certain sounds and rhythms. And fools prefer genres. Music needs only feeling. Sincerity is something even the uneducated can ‘hear’. You require no knowledge of harmony or history to know the singer is just trying to get laid. Any idiot who listens can hear it. We can all hear the desperation of the insincere. When we listen. We feel it.
I am less concerned with the ‘quality’ of sound(s), which is directly related to the time and place it is heard. My concern is with feeling. How you hear something, on your computer or your precious hifi, on your bluetooth noise canceling donut phones or at the bush rave, each place, and time (what if it’s raining in that bush!?!) defines certain criteria for ‘quality’. Feeling operates on another wavelength. For example the record label Mississippi. They reissue recordings that are too old for our current concepts of ‘quality’. The recordings are inferior. But the performances are superior. This is far more interesting for me than the perfect mix or competitive SPL levels. Oh dear god, let us end this ridiculous loudness war!
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I’m not sure I am an artist. I am in the eyes of the government. And my mom. Very much so to mums. I had one strong take away from Rilke’s Letters To a Young Poet. If you can live without it, stop. And so through the lens of this question I would be forced to say this art of mine’s purpose is to keep me alive. Or at least sane, in this life.
My ‘art’ is the result of dealing with it, keeping it together. You see, music needed me long before I made any money, or enjoyed recognition. Being acknowledged as having value, earning capital or that capital A(rtist) is just dumb luck. A fortune of enjoying sharing. The luck of sharing with the right people. This expression started as, and will likely return to being a simpleton’s craft. Whittling to keep the knife dull. I can’t involve social or political issues in my practice. That would default the sincerity. Everything must be personal. And in my case, blind.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Our concept of music remains incomplete. As we examine more closely, getting better at dissection, we lose more of the picture that awaits us. We have a wonderful naivety of believing we know or understand the world that surrounds us. But the lens through which we look doesn’t allow us to enjoy even the simplest of things in their entirety. We live with the blinders of our egos. Viewing our world from a singular point of view. Personal gravity warps our vision. Rarely do we enjoy the liberation of our insignificance. Our vision of music when we listen is what music really is. When we think, we stop listening. We need to listen to hear the vibrations. Music is about hearing, not He-ing. Using He and Me as the verb in our lives. When we listen, we join the universal sound. That’s where music lives. In the gateway to the everything. Not in our minds. More likely our behinds. Music doesn’t want us to think about it. Music wants us to hear it. Then we can all get on to the cosmic truth. If we all listened, we might have less problems in this world. We might see that the space we are trying to escape to, the paradise on Mars, is actually here at home. In us. In peace. In harmony.