Hunter-Gatherer is an electronic artist who makes the music of the sultry night. The kind of music you toss and turn to, where you zone in and out of sleep, awake but caught up in your own half-dream visions. You might find him at The Box Social, wearing a robe and conjuring melancholy but never focusless electronica from his laptop. My ears are unschooled as programmed music goes, but there is occasionally something of the anhedonic warmth of Kid A/Amnesiac Radiohead and the obscurantism of Plaid in this. There are links to various EPs through MySpace, and you can look forward to an album in late 2009.
Hunter-Gatherer – I Dreamed I Was A Footstep In The Trail Of A Murderer
Q 0.5 How are you?
Q1 Nowadays, when everybody has a decent computer and gear is more available, it’s much easier for anyone to make music and have it heard quickly – does the bedroom music explosion devalue music at all by making it so easy to do?
If there actually is anything that is capable of devaluing music, it’s certainly not bedroom recording. Look at Atlas Sound – he makes music in the eternal bedroom of his mind. Its lo-fi qualities are a testament both to its immediacy and to the childhood he spent indoors, sick and isolated. It’s a solitary and honourable pursuit. What Bradford Cox does as Atlas Sound is noble and beautiful. Closer to home, Patrick Kelleher’s album is the work of one man and a lot of cheap equipment; it’s the product of total creative control in a comfortable environment. It sounds right the way it is, untarnished and elegant. My own music is made alone, in a dark room, when those around me are either elsewhere or asleep. The ability to produce music at home has allowed me to indulge myself over the last few years; when you have a day job, it can be a struggle to find the time to work on music. I’m grateful that the requisite hardware and software are now so easy to come by. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have found the time to make the music I make (for better or worse).
Q2 Is downloading a good thing? Does the fact that it’s possible to get so much music so easily and for free make it more disposable at all?
Again, if you’re making something good, that will shine through; music is only disposable when its intentions deviate from the ideals of purity, truth or genuine feeling. Sorry if that sounds preachy or high-minded. In art, value is a function of feeling, and the only thing that can devalue it is a lack of sincerity. You can look at it as a commodity if you like, but its monetary value generally isn’t dictated by its quality; the languages of art and commerce can’t help but describe music in different ways. To this day, Tony Wilson is probably the only record exec to have stepped into the unknown; to him, the only disposable link in the chain was the label. It’s impossible to ascertain the value of new music – regardless of hype – until we simply take the plunge and listen to it. To many, downloading is the equivalent of standing at a listening post in a record store. Who’s to say we actually buy less now than we did before the advent of filesharing? I never actually bought that many CDs, tapes or records when I was a teenager; I would develop obsessions with certain bands and wear out their latest album for weeks before I felt the need to buy another CD. Radio, MTV and tape recording used to be a big part of the process of discovery; the technology has changed but the intention is the same. I buy the albums I like, because I appreciate the work that’s gone into making something so great. And if you’re doing something on your own, it’s nice to recoup your investment before moving onto the next release, I suppose. Most of us recognise that if you’re chasing the money, you need to go on tour. If you’re not of that persuasion, you’re free to make your own rules.
Q3 Is there anything that makes your music quintessentially Irish? Is it intentional?
No. If anything, what I make is deeply personal. My motivations, and in particular the aesthetic of the music, are in no way rooted in Irish culture or the Irish ‘experience’. There’s nothing in my work that can be traced back to a movement in Irish music or art. I don’t think there are any obvious cultural reference points. It’s electronic and there’s no doubt that musical influences from across the spectrum of electronica are apparent after a cursory listen; some of it is ambient, there are elements of electro, and so on. And of course, in geographical terms, modern electronica has moved beyond its origins in the USA; there’s a lattice, a network of styles fusing and separating, spanning the globe. The UK has a rich history of electronic music (I don’t use the term ‘IDM’ for the same reason that I don’t spit on trance fans) – I’m a devoted fan of Warp Records’ and Rephlex’s back catalogues, for example – and there’s plenty of excellent dark electronic music coming from Scandinavia, not to mention some great Irish names, like Herv, Spectac, The Last Sound et cetera. But my music being Irish? I don’t see it. Ideally, there would be no nationality, identity, story or cultural signifier associated with what I make. Can anyone say Autechre sound English? Not a chance. They make music, pure and simple; it can’t be tied to place or time. It’d be interesting to see more musicians with a similar ambition.
Q4 Do you find it difficult to self-edit, or to take a step back from your music and look at it objectively?
Everything is difficult to walk away from. I often compose/record in a manic burst in the middle of the night and have very little recollection thereafter of the process which led to the piece or indeed its melodies. I often find myself nauseated by a phrase or a loop which I’ve spent an hour creating; it can take a degree of restraint not to delete it there and then. There is very little I produce of which I’m actually proud, to be honest. At the time, you can only really evaluate a new track in the most basic terms: timbre, melody, rhythm. Does it move you in any way? Are you compelled to close your eyes? Is it emotionally resonant? It’s only afterwards, when you return to this unfinished mess, that you notice its failures and strengths. Does any of it have potential? Is it better than the last thing I made? Is there something missing or is it already bloated and overwrought? And then there’s the question of when to stop working on something, knowing that it’s finished. I have no answers. I’ve got a long way to go before I get to where I’m headed.
Q5 Is there a Dublin scene, or even smaller genre-based scenes? Are you a part of one?
For those musicians who haven’t been poured into the eyes and ears of the public over the past while, there does seem to be at least one reasonably healthy if nebulous ‘scene’ at the moment. I’ve had the good fortune to know and play for some time now with members of Children Under Hoof, whose ‘sound manipulator’ Ger Duffy is the driving force behind the Box Social venue, and it’s always a pleasure to play there. There seems to be a web of hugely talented and hard-working musicians and artists coming under the DIY umbrella these days, from the Joy Gallery crowd to the Hideaway House to Nouveau Vadge, and all of a sudden print articles are appearing. That’s surely a sign of something. Last year’s [freely downloadable] compilation by Analogue magazine touched on something approaching an underground scene. I suppose the current climate of underground music in Dublin was inevitable. It remains to be seen whether or not its constituents will outgrow it. Will it be labelled by some lazy hack? Will it be subsumed into something else? Time will tell. There are scenes everywhere, some more stable than others, with their own blogs, venues and musicians. It’s important that there’s a space for them to thrive, be they metallers, breakcore producers, noise bands or electroacoustic composers. But they are scenes, and that’s the way of the world. There’s so much terrible music in Ireland, supported by so many journalists, that some of us need to set different personal goals as musicians. Too often, we hear of great music failing to find an audience because utterly worthless acts have the entire audience eating from their hands – the poor turnout for Fever Ray at Oxegen is a recent and sobering example. But the reality is that – unless we witness a paradigm shift – certain people will never listen to certain music, and there is little point actively trying to break down those boundaries – never the twain shall meet. You can make the music you feel you have to make, or you can compromise yourself in an effort to reach an audience. Those Irish acts who have managed to straddle the divide and continue to produce good music are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Q6 Name a non-musical influence on your music.
I should probably name a few: Andrei Tarkovsky. The Maysles Brothers. The Cement Garden. Jan Svankmajer. David Foster Wallace. Alexander Trocchi. Geraldine Page. Jim Woodring. Thomas Kinsella. Herzog and Kinski. Fear, guilt, regret, memory, loss, dread.
Q7 Take one of your songs and explain the process of writing it from the beginning to the finished article.
There’s one called “I Dreamed I Was A Footstep In The Trail Of A Murderer”. It must be four years since I first began work on it, but from what I remember, I put together a Kraftwerk-esque drum pattern, which I then sped up, embellished and developed. Most of the subsequent work, synth- and structure-wise, was done over a long period, always late at night, in an effort to articulate something significant and personal. Whether or not I achieved that goal is hard to say. It was slow and I kept abandoning it and returning to it – a familiar pattern. Most of the time, you end up somewhere you had no intention of going (or ideally, no prior knowledge of), but in this case I tried to acccurately reproduce a sound that had stuck in my head. It’s an interesting way to work. I’d bet that a lot of musicians begin songs with chord sequences, beats or phrases that provide the catalyst for longer pieces, only to find that the finished product has quite often either mutilated the original idea or discarded it completely. It’s rare, for me at least, to translate a fully-formed idea into music, and all the more rewarding when it works.
Q8 Has music criticism ever influenced your music, or at least made you think about it differently? I mean proper reviews, but also blogs or even just hearing someone you don’t know talk about you.
Any and all possible criticism of my work has already been made by me a thousand times before I subject others to the music. I exist in a perpetual state of self-criticism and self-doubt. I’ve had very little press anyway, although when the album comes out I’ll no doubt find myself on the receiving end of some choice words. Which is as it should be – if nobody else notices the flaws in the music, either I’ve been obsessively and excessively self-critical or they’re not doing their jobs properly, because the day I make a perfect album is the day magic beans rain from the sky. And no, music criticism has never influenced my music – I’d be doing the music a disservice if I let that happen. It’s nice to have been listened to, really. I get a quiet thrill when a reviewer remembers to type the hyphen between “Hunter” and “Gatherer”.
Q9 Have you ever felt guilty for trying to get other people to take an interest in your music, if you aren’t making the effort with new music yourself?
If I understand the question correctly, then yes. One of my earlier tracks was entitled “Tedious Enthusiasm”. More often than not, I play something to someone I know without mentioning that it’s mine. If it produces no reaction, it needs a lot more work. I suppose I’ve always abused the patience of friends in this regard, and probably in many others too. I just hope my unremitting, if unspoken, desperation for feedback has led to me producing better music. Nowadays, I don’t play new tracks to friends unless I’m genuinely proud of the music – that way, I don’t feel like I’m wasting as much of their time. These days, I can usually tell whether something is worthless or not, without any input. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.
Q10 Would you call yourself a traditionalist with regard to music, either as a listener or in how you go about writing/recording/performing?
Am I a traditionalist? Maybe. What does that imply? Making electronic music on your own entails ‘jamming’ ideas, that much I know. I’m not sure really. Everybody starts with nothing and waits for a spark. It’s hard to force music, to will it into being. There are so many approaches and I’ve tried lots of them. Sometimes you land on a peculiar sound. Sometimes a melody comes to you as you stare out of a window. Sometimes a beat finds its way into your bones. Sometimes you play something by accident. Sometimes I – very, very briefly – actually hate music, or at least I feel I do. But something always grabs me and drags me back in. I’ve listened to and composed music in a fever a couple of times. A bizarre and rewarding experience, despite the obvious physical discomfort.
Q10.5 What’s something you’re listening to right now?
Recently: Fever Ray – Fever Ray. Tangerine Dream – Alpha Centauri. Ixchel – Dreams Of. Tim Exile – Listening Tree. Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime. Scott Walker – Tilt. Patrick Kelleher – Coat To Wear. John Frusciante – A Sphere In The Heart Of Silence. Aphex Twin – Richard D.James Album. Venetian Snares – Rossz Csillag Alatt Szuletett. Thom Yorke – The Eraser. Herv – Snap Hands. Awake My Soul – Original Soundtrack. Wire, Philip Glass, Residents, Angkorwat, Catscars, early Venetian lute music, Ligeti.