Name: Richie Hawtin
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current release: Plastikman & Chilly Gonzales's Consumed in Key is out April 1st 2022 via Turbo.
In 1998, Richie Hawtin released a work so sparse that it awarded every sound a clearly defined function; so radical in its musical architecture that it seemed to sublimate into architecture. Consumed was not just an album, it was a monolith, perfect, awe-inspiring and impenetrable. For some, the tension could indeed, as the New York Times wrote, become "too thick". To others, it opened the portal to another world, which they never wanted to leave.
As Richie Hawtin explains in this essay, compiled from two recent interviews and selected quotes, Consumed originated from his desire to strip things down to their very core. So when pianist and composer Chilly Gonzales approached him with demos for a new version of the material, he was sceptical. How can you add to something that was all about taking things away? How could you change a work which had become a monument, representative of a single inspired moment in time?
Gonzales's idea, meanwhile, although provocative, was not irreverant. On the contrary, its radicalism matched the original Plastikman spirit. Instead of remixing or re-producing the pieces, he used them as a foil for his own excursions. Suddenly, these ferocious bass lines and film-noir-like-strings, these drugged beats and delirious, discrete sound effects served as departure points for romantic, melodious and even tender piano lines. Gonzales let the music take him to a different place – and then he grabbed it by its hands and pulled it into a different direction.
Ultimately, the album resulting from their encounter, Consumed in Key, works because Hawtin felt inspired by the irritation the music caused in him. Instead of engaging in a traditional collaboration, he, in turn, treated the motives as new source materials, weaving them into the fabric of the originals so seamlessly that they feel as though they'd always been there in the first place. The music is lighter and more airy as a result, breathes more freely. By all accounts, this is not the same album it started out as – which is remarkable seeing most of it has stayed exactly the same.
Which opens up intriguing questions about the nature of collaboration, the potentials of interpretation and variation and the role that technology plays in all of this. One thing's for sure: Even in a music as obviously technology-oriented as techno, it is still human creativity that's the strongest catalyst for creativity.
If you enjoyed this interview with Richie Hawtin and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his profiles on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
[Read our Daniel Bell interview]
[Read our Chilly Gonzales interview]
[Read our Tiga interview]
[Read our Matthew Hawtin interview which considers the design aspects of Consumed in Key]
Richie Hawtin / Plastikman:
Music and technology have absolutely always been intertwined for me.
“Maybe this is because I came up in a different time but myself and the friends and colleagues that I feel really connected to, we live and dream this stuff. There’s no punch card. It’s part of who I am, and what I think about, and it doesn’t just begin or end when I get on stage. The power of technology is absolutely incredible, and even since my earlier days, it has allowed me to beyond my physical house in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and reach people in Detroit, London, Amsterdam. [...] It’s just how I live.” [From: The Talks]
“Before music, the computer was really what inspired me to go deeper into myself. Although there wasn’t a computer in the DJ booth back then, the music was still very mechanical, electronic and computerized; it was music that was infused with technology at its heart.” [From: High Snobiety]
My Dad was a music lover and engineer who often took HiFI gear apart to fix or customise. I have very distinct memories of my father sitting in front of his HiFi with records playing on one turntable while he had his Reel to Reel in pieces.
I also never had an interest in making music or becoming a performer until I started to hear electronically produced music - that my Dad also played - like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and so forth.
[Read our Tangerine Dream interview]
"I spent about two years in the basement of my parents’ house with this [...] mixer, one Technics turntable, and another turntable that belonged to my father, which you couldn’t really change the speed.” The mixer was a Numark PPD 1975. Quite progressive at that time with it’s 5 band EQ and built in sampler. From the beginning I was using this sampler to re-edit records and the EQ to reconstruct my mixes through frequency manipulation.
“I was constantly trying to figure out how to mix and match beats with a not-so-perfect setup. […] The records I really loved in the late ’80s were Detroit techno records. Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, they all had this certain futuristic, metallic percussion.
[Read our Kevin Saunderson interview]
I remember being at my partner John Acquaviva’s house in London, Ontario and he had a Roland TR-909 drum machine. I was already kind of dabbling with music, but nothing was sounding right. When I turned that machine on, it opened up a whole new palette of sonic frequencies and sounds that those Detroit guys were using. Immediately, I said to myself, “Okay, this machine is part of my direction.” [From: High Snobiety]
In the studio I was using an A&H GS3 for most of my early 1990s records. The most important feature of that – again - was the EQ. It was fully parametric and in a small amount of space, due to Its dual concentric knobs. Actually I wanted those on what would later become my own mixer, the MODEL 1!
In 1997, I had so much time on the dance floor, so much time traveling to gigs. The DJ persona was becoming bigger and bigger. Then came 1998 and it was a real year of subtraction for me.
I was stopping Plus 8 records, which I had run with my partner, John Acquaviva, for a number of years. I had kind of lost control from being in the creative industries, making music, traveling. Everything became kind of an industry, a business. And at that moment, I really wanted to just withdraw myself from the scene, and take myself out of the business side of making music, and just get back into the intimate feeling with me and my machines. That's what it was really all about: taking as much away as possible.
Consumed wasn't about accentuating these machines that were so common to Plastikman. It was about leaving something which was more the aftereffects, the shadows of sound. And emphasizing more about delays and reverbs, and effects more than anything else. For me, it really was an architecture of sound. It was - "can I continue to make music coming from dance culture, coming from a DJ perspective, but reduce the sounds, the rhythm, bring back the kicks, so that it doesn't feel like monotonous 4x4 techno anymore."
When I was making Consumed, I had crazes. I went from one song to the next, and in a couple of weeks the album was done. It was really an album that captures me and my studio as if we were all kind of intertwined at that moment. I knew the machines, the machines knew me, and we both felt confident enough to allow us to disappear a little bit.
So there's less Hawtin, Plastikman acid lines, there's less 909s in your face, and there's just more atmosphere. It's organic, it's bubbling. There's things interacting with each other, and sometimes the delays in the reverbs would feed back slightly.
Partly that was me. Partly it was machines. It was just really a beautiful moment in time.
I'd never imagined an acoustic instrument with one of my works. So when Consumed in Key came together it was something that felt slightly uncomfortable. I think it was creatively inspirational, you know.
My past collaborations were really in the studio, together with Pete Coleman, Pete Namlook, ALFO. That was really just sharing ideas, and very much something that was spontaneous. That's actually what I love about the studio, about being spontaneous with my machines, with whoever else is there. It still comes back to the power of electronic music for me. It unlocks creative ideas from a kid alone in a studio. I love the power that one person can have when they feel connected and intuitive with technology.
The beauty of this new version of Consumed is that we never met once. If we'd been too intimate during the recording process, I think we would have lost that contrast. These two dynamics have made a tension, which has created a really beautiful new work.
Still, I really wasn't sure if this was the right thing to do; for me, for my fans, for Consumed. It's so hard to revisit an album. Not only from an artist side, but I think from a fan's side as well. To have someone remix, or even just remaster ... suddenly the little influences and pieces that have been in your mind for 10 or 20 or 30 years change. So here, we are at a point of not only remastering, but adding a complete new layer.
I think this album came at the perfect moment, during COVID. We were all isolated anyway. I was in the studio with my machines. I was actually right in the moment of rediscovering some of the ways I used to work in the 90s, while I was trying to understand how to work with a more digital kind of setup. When Chilly brought Consumed in Key to the table, it was nearly another way to force myself into the studio, into a new corner, to create a different kind of exploration that I wouldn't have done if I was just by myself.
I knew that I was going to be mixing the final album, so there were new techniques, new plug ins, new ways to figure out how I might fuse these two things together. That is at the core what I love about electronic music. That every time you think you know it all, or every time you think you've done it all, there's a new piece of technology, or a new relationship that comes before you and challenges everything that you've done before. That's electronic music, the electricity that makes me feel young, makes me feel excited, what drives me to the studio. That's what it's all about.
“Electronic music lives and breathes through technology, technology that is continuing to evolve and offer new, exciting possibilities in sound creation, performance methods and interactivity.
As we push forward into a future based on and assisted by more and more technology, techno will be the only soundtrack that makes sense.” [From: Black Book Mag]
For example, “the potential for AI is limitless. You have human and AI interaction then you have the interaction of AI and AI, there are unlimited permutations that can come out. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. We’re heading towards augmented reality and real-time simulations where we can live in a world where experiences just unfold in front of us.
This can’t be done by humans alone, the collaboration between man and machine could bring us into a whole new world of clubs.” [From: Attack Magazine]
The importance of the mix applies to DJing as well. I DJ and produce music in the same way, everything is happening in the moment. That goes with EQ’ing, mixing as I’m writing songs, or mixing things together. It’s all really intuitive, following a feeling and searching for the frequencies that bring that feeling or atmosphere to the forefront.
My style of DJ’ing really lies somewhere in between the general definition of DJ’ing and full on studio production. I’m always looking for tools that enable me to modify, interact and manipulate sounds and bring them into the direction that I’m feeling at the moment. In both situations EQs, filters and effects all combine and interact to give me that creative freedom.
And so, the mixer is the most important part of the DJ setup. Think about it, whether you use CDJs, computers, vinyl or a combination OR even an all in one-digital DJ setup - there’s ALWAYS a mixer in the middle!
I really believe that it’s in the mix where the magic happens and where songs turn into new songs and where people are taken away to another place. That’s why the mixer needs to have very well thought out tools in order to creatively manipulate the signals that are coming through it.
Part of the process of mixing Consumed In Key was rediscovering the texture of the original Consumed. I immediately took Chilly's piano and I sent it through this effects chain of old devices, that added reverb and delay. And in one way, it made complete sense because it really fused straight away and became part of the album.
But it did, in the end, lose some of the real intimate and beautiful moments of Chilly and his instrument. I was discovering and learning, through listening to Chilly, what made him a brilliant musician. And then came these dialogs back and forth just on email, "Hey, this is sounding good." "Why did you bury this?" And it was very polite. and that made me really think about what journey this was. It was really a journey. Incredible, frustrating, annoying, and challenging.
But isn't that why we became artists in the first place?