LISTENING POST WITH: EZEKIEL HONIG
The music of New York City native and Microcosm label manager Ezekiel Honig is characterized by its inviting warmth, whether the music in question is more techno-oriented or ambient. In recent days, Honig has moved away from his earlier dance-based style and gravitated towards a more explorative style of atmospheric sound sculpting that's heavily reliant on sampling and found sounds. Last year's superb collaboration with Morgan Packard, Early Morning Migration, boldly signaled that shift while Honig's latest, Scattered Practices, pushes the style even further. Inspired by French philosopher Michel de Certeau's The Practice Of Everyday Life, the album weaves found sounds from the streets and Honig's apartment into provocative conceptual wholes filled with simple melodic structures, off-kilter rhythms, and distinctive textures. “Instead of ‘Let's start with a techno basis and see where it goes,'” says Honig, “it was more like ‘I have these sounds I love. How do they become a song?'”
Conducted during September 2006, the Listening Post's selections were chosen to parallel Honig's own trajectory from his more dance-oriented beginnings to the cross-pollinating style of Scattered Practices. In this ‘blindfold test,' Honig was given no information about the material prior to hearing it.
Track 1: Photek: “Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu” (Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu, Science 1997)
This is definitely Photek, either “Seven Samurai” or "Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu." I love this tune. It's a great example of the possibilities of drum and bass as a genre, and what made it so appealing to me a long time ago, the rhythms, the atmosphere of the whole thing. I think it's really funny that you used this, as I definitely wasn't expecting anything like it in this group of songs.
I chose a drum & bass track to start because I believe the style played a significant part in your own development, though the genre is perhaps more important now in your case for representing something you've moved on from. Would that be an accurate characterization?
Yes, that's pretty much right on. I think that background is really important, even if it's difficult to pick that out in my current sound. It undoubtedly has had a tremendous influence upon me, though not on such a conscious level any more.
I'm also interested in your take on the genre in its current form, as that early Photek material really impressed for being so incredibly advanced.
To me, drum & bass reached its perfect state in 1997, and this Photek track is an excellent example. I sometimes flip through some of my old records to listen to what they sound like to me now, and there are tons of records in my collection that bring up questions as to why I would have purchased them in the first place. Of course, I realize that they interested me at the time, and I've moved on from those moments, but there are several records/artists that still fascinate me, like Photek and Digital, ‘97-‘98 Optical/Matrix/Ed Rush, people like Paradox, and several others, tracks that sound just as forward today as the day they were made. I think as a genre, just as any genre I guess, there are pockets of people attempting to push the sound, but drum & bass on the whole devolved a long time ago into a constant striving for the next anthem, which seems to have been good for the popularity of the sound at first, and then ultimately killed it for a lot of people. I'm not currently listening to anything new in this area though, so it's definitely possible that new things are happening. I just don't think it's probable for some reason.
What are your thoughts on the recent wave of interest in dubstep, with Burial in particular attracting a lot of attention?
Track 2: Herbert: “Something Isn't Right” (Scale, !K7 2006)
Within five seconds I felt like this was a Herbert/Dani Siciliano collab, definitely post-Bodily Functions, something from the last three or four albums they've been involved with. The more I listened to it the less sure I felt of that, and I have no idea who the male vocalist is. Maybe it's from Dani Siciliano's first album? I really don't know what it is, but something about it makes me think that Herbert is involved, probably more so because, if that female voice isn't Dani Siciliano, then it's someone who's studied her style very closely.
Correct again (Siciliano sings on Scale as do Neil Thomas and Dave Okumu). I included this because both Matthew Herbert and you base a great deal of your music-making upon sampling though his approach is more politically-driven. Could you tell us a little bit about how sampling drove the development of Scattered Practices?
Yeah, Herbert's sampling ideas, his filtering of musique concrete into modern times, has been a huge influence on me. I love recording and making sounds myself, finding ways to personalize a song beyond just style or sonic choices, but literally, having sounds that I made. This process influenced Scattered Practices mostly in the sound itself. I record things without knowing what will come out of the process, so whatever happens happens and then I look for bits that I want to use, that feel right to me. Inevitably, these sounds will change what a track is, or rather, make the track, so it's a very direct link. I tend to focus on sounds for the sound itself, the qualities inherent in it, and less for the meaning behind it, but slowly they start to accumulate and form a larger picture that makes sense from both a sonic and a conceptual perspective. I guess in hindsight it's easier to connect the dots.
Track 3: Fennesz: “Laguna” (Venice, Touch 2004)
This really feels like Fennesz, though because there's less distortion than he usually uses, there are other elements that pop out to me. I have no idea what the song is called, but I think it might be on the Brian Wilson-inspired album Endless Summer.
This is actually a rather uncharacteristic Venice track as its guitar emphasis brings it closer to Endless Summer. It also reminds me a little bit of the work by Mark Templeton (aka Fields Awake) who I believe may be appearing on your new Anticipate Recordings label. Could you tell us a bit about it and perhaps what your plans are with respect to releases and artists?
Yeah, Mark is doing the first release on Anticipate. It'll be out in February 2007. I like that his material fits into that category of ‘people who do things with guitar and electronics,' but he very much has his own sound, which impressed me within thirty seconds of hearing it. He lets the instrument breathe when it works and completely deconstructs it when appropriate, with just tons of peripheral details that add the perfect touch. He also incorporates other acoustic sources (all of which he plays) like accordion and banjo. It's very personal and I think eventually people might start using him as a yardstick for comparison the way they use Fennesz or Tim Hecker, because I think, like them, he has his thing which one can't easily copy.
Track 4: Marsen Jules: “Coeur Saignant” (Les Fleurs, City Centre Offices 2006)
This is really pretty, very pop ambient. That made me think it might be a Kompakt person for a second, maybe Gas even, but I'm pretty sure it's Marsen Jules. I have his first album on CCO, but not his second, so I can't tell you for sure the name of the track, but it feels like his sound.
You actually had Marsen Jules appear on volume four of the Macrofun 12-inch releases, didn't you, under the name krill.minima? Can you tell us a bit about the compilation Macrofun CD that you'll have coming out soon?
Yeah, I love that track he did for that record. Different from his Marsen Jules material but you can still hear the traces of common elements.
Track 5: Heartthrob: “Baby Kate” (min2MAX, Minus 2006)
I don't know, but I feel like I should. It's very minimal techno, in the classic sense of what that means.
It's Heartthrob's “Baby Kate”—a hard selection to identify unless you're familiar with the min2MAX comp. Would it be fair to say that there are stylistic similarities between Minus and Microcosm?
Track 6: Stephan Mathieu & Janek Schaefer: “Maori Love Song” (Hidden Name, Cronica, 2006)
I don't know this at all, but I love it. It's kind of amazing the way the old source material is used as just that, rather then as a sample within the context of someone's song. The modern effects are fairly subtle and highlight the old recording and old style vocal. Really nice. What is it?
This is a tricky one for two reasons: there's little material aside from the vocalizing so you hear little direct evidence of the artists' themselves, and it sounds more similar to the work of Akira Rabelais than it does to either one of the two actually responsible.
It is a great piece of work, especially when it's that restrained. I also like how Mathieu and Schaefer add their own touch so subtly and allow the source material to do its work, but not without pulling important elements, essential nuances, out of what they have to work with.