TEN QUESTIONS WITH: KILN
“KILN construct radiantly textured soundfields that envelope and immerse the listener in a panoramic smudge of chromatic rhythms and syncopated tones.” The text, which appears ever so discreetly at the bottom of the group's home page, neatly encapsulates the opulent electroacoustic sounds Kevin Hayes, Kirk Marrison, and Clark Rehberg III create under their chosen guise. The trio's ultra-atmospheric music, which has been insinuating itself into listeners' lives for a number of years now, gained prominence with 2004's Sunbox on Ghostly. Twinewheel (Division Sound) appeared a year later while 2007 saw the release of Holo [re/lux], a digital-only re-imagining of the 1998 release Holo, and Dusker, last fall's fully-realized Ghostly full-length. KILN's latest offering Thermals is actually a re-visitation of “sonic-carousels, tonesheets, loopstrata, and slo-wave microsymphonies” created between 1993 and 2000. Fielding ten questions, the group generously pulled back the curtain to discuss the artistry involved in building "immersive sonics" and "neurologically satisfying event(s)," as well as give KILN devotees a rare glimpse of the group's working methods.
1. As photos of the group members are not widely published and, if memory serves me correctly, KILN refrains from performing live too, would it be fair to say that a key part of KILN's master plan is either to maintain anonymity or cultivate mystique? Why so shy, in other words?
Facelessness was something we cultivated early on. I think we wanted to avoid the distraction of “who's who” and the cult of personality fixation that is so much a part of this world. It was a way to force an accentuation on the sound, the imagery, and the experience of the record. Nearly fifteen years into it, we're not as hardcore on that aspect as we once were—but I still prefer an evocative image representing us or our work any day rather than a photo of the three of us looking pensive.
As far as the playing live thing goes, we just don't have the time. As lame as it seems, our current configuration allows for creating new tracks and that's it—that's just where our lives are at right now. Perhaps it's a block that has been built up over the years, but I think a performance should always be something special for the audience—a venue for translation, reconfiguration, and immediacy—and since none of us are interested in doing something half-assed and we've no additional time for rehearsals, we don't put on shows. That hasn't always been the case; through the mid-‘90s, the three of us set up several studio-houses where we lived and breathed music—playing, listening, and recording. We all had shitty jobs and were trying to put everything towards making something solid. During that period (1994–1996), we performed a handful of live gigs in different settings to various sized audiences—our first was in front of 500 people—using two treated guitars, kit drums, and tapes. In late 1997, we reconvened after a year and a half break, and were so focused on getting things done that we never mustered the energy to put together another show. Ultimately the recorded works are what will last and that is what we put everything towards.
2. Is KILN the full-time “job” of each member? If not, what do you do in your non-KILN lives, and are you geographically dispersed or live in close proximity to one another?
We all have “careers” (some intentional, some not) that pay to keep the heat on and food in the fridge— audiowerk is delegated to the fringes of the day, early morning or late night. This isn't ideal, of course, but this is where the path has taken us for the moment. Perhaps something will change, and that would be fantastic, but we've been grinding it out for so long, at this point the thought of jettisoning our day-jobs seems unrealistic—though I should add, we would if we could.
Currently we all live in the same state—just hours apart. Schedules are a constant challenge to navigate, so we rarely get to actually see each other in person (as a whole) anymore. Ten years ago, we shared a house studio and were constantly recording something. Now, because of time and distance constraints, we rely heavily on a system of file exchange to build up a piece.
3. Could you tell us a bit about the musical backgrounds of the group members and the musical projects you were involved with, if any, prior to KILN's formation?
We operated a project called Fibreforms back in the early-to-mid-‘90s and also solo projects called Waterwheel and Owleye during that same time period.
4. Dusker's sound design is so meticulous and textured, the listener is held spellbound by the production style alone. How would you characterize or describe your approach to production, and how informed is it by dub production techniques?
Our production style relies heavily on our trust of one another—we just sort of intuitively know what to throw at each other to generate a spark. Somehow or other, over the years we've managed to maintain an attitude of "egolessness" in our work. Early on, I think we all saw the value of building immersive sonics that could take a receptive/attentive listener somewhere that's emotionally, perhaps spiritually, satisfying. Ideas about tuning a listener's space, rewarding the deep listening experience, resonant harmonics, and the human nervous system, etc.—these were subjects we were always kicking about as we dreamed up new combinations. Of course, at the same time, making light of our propensity towards theory, we recognize that musicality has to come first.
We pretty much fill the frame and then slowly use a reductionist approach to bring the piece into focus. In the end, after going as deep into a mix as possible and pulling it inside out—obscuring, blending, colliding everything against itself—we hope the result is what we intended: an instance of elemental, intuitive beauty.
5. Given that there is so much detail packed into any given KILN piece, I'm curious about the process you use in creating one. To put it into painting terms, do you broadly and roughly sketch in the whole area first as a base layer and then refine smaller sections until the finished image gradually comes into focus, or do you build up the image piece by piece with each individual section perfected before you move onto the next one? Do all three of you work together and or do you come together with individually created sections and then work on assembling them into wholes?
We do have some “standard procedures” for putting together a piece. That being said, each one requires an individual approach. And actually we use all the methods you listed, and more. For Dusker, we wanted to focus on Kevin's growing archive of MPC beats (which we had been itching to dive into) as a basis for the new set. Most of the disks— Fyrepond, Rustdusk, and Arq for example—began their lives as a layered groove on Kevin's MPC. We spend a great deal of time on rhythms, getting them to that mystic point of balance between clean density and lush heaviness. Later, we typically record “live” instances of shakers or other percussive elements to take the groove even further. Anyway, once we decide on a beat then a basic melodic fundament is tracked. Whether that melodic is improvised or has been “lying in wait” really just depends on what gels with the tone of the beatform. We've had it go both ways, and we've also built beats specifically to accompany a melodic idea—which gets close to the way we used to make music together—droning on a chordal guitar movement until something locked with the kit drums.
So, with a melodic and beat coupled, in tandem we just start to plow into it: we mutate all source signals, taking each and every sound and dialing them into a neurologically satisfying event: counter-melodics, textured spaces, scene changes, etc. It all just sort of happens off of a virtual checklist that will point the track towards a finished structure.
It's a lengthy process because we are nit-picky, but also because we keep the piece open to surprises during the building process. The synergistic approach to how we create a track is difficult to talk about but I believe it's a key to our output.
6. The mini-album Sunbox came out in 2004; Dusker appeared three years later. Did the KILN sound change over that three-year period and if so in what way? How much if at all have technological advances had an impact on the evolution of the group's sound?
Simply put, the only thing that changed between Sunbox and Dusker was that we became more adept at our current process. None of us miss the twelve-hour sessions we used to endure in the mid-90's, trying to get that one “perfect” mixdown through an analog board to DAT. When affordable hard-disk recording became an option for us, the fantasized world of volume draws, panning automation, and editable regions suddenly became a reality (how much of that you could do with 32MB of RAM is another story….).
I'd say advances in technology have massively impacted our process. For one, it's helped ease the route from idea to form. For another, we've been able to pull away from being locked to the “reality” of linear recording, and most obviously, the fact that we can easily send tracks and files to one another, allowing us to continue to work in the absence of proximity. We've been freaks for signal processing and samplers since the beginning, so we're always interested in the twist a new piece of gear (real or virtual) can offer so in that regard, our methods are always evolving.
7. One of Dusker's most arresting pieces is “Airplaneshadows” which puts a piano at the forefront and includes an almost country-like shuffle as its rhythm. Though it's as texturally detailed as the album's other material, its sunlit jubilance makes it a rather noticeable departure from the typical KILN sound, and some of the other material likewise signifies a change in tone (e.g., “Flycatcher,” “Arq,” “Sunsethighway”). Did you purposefully pursue this shift in tone on the album, or was it something that simply emerged naturally as you were working on it?
“Airplaneshadows” was an exercise in building a structure of simplicity whose aim was pure consonance and smooth angles. Hence, the piano, woodwinds, strings and guitar. Its sister piece “Korsaire” was designed to provide a more jagged and mashed-up image of the same song.
“Flycatcher” was the first completed piece for Dusker—late November 2004. We all felt it was a significant departure from anything we had done before and had a great deal of enthusiasm for what we had come upon in building that piece. Essentially “Flycatcher” became the flagship track against which all other works intended for the “new record” were compared and/or matched. As far as the overall tone of the album is concerned, our only real guidelines were to use twilight hues and the feeling of the “magic hour” as inspiration. What came through as a result was a natural progression on those themes.
8. Most of Thermals' twenty-three miniatures were “rescued from quarter-inch tape obscurity via hard-disk editing and digital-audio restoration software.” In fact, a fair amount of your discography consists of material you've returned to, exhumed, and re-imagined. What's the reason for that practice? Do you have a digital vault where you're constantly stockpiling bits and pieces that you constantly return to for inspiration?
Individually and as a unit we've done a lot of recording and the majority of it is unreleased (and rightfully so). Most of it predates our work as KILN, and much of it still strikes me as fuel for modern translation. So many of those old tapes, many presented to a few friends as cassette albums, hold ideas that could be interpreted through the current skill-set. We consider those cassettes and miscellaneous recordings to be sketchbooks—full of drafts and experiments—and we cull from them when the mood hits. For instance, “The Colorfreak” was originally done in ‘94, the theme for “Airplaneshadows” is a performed variation from a carousel created in '95, the melodic for “Sunsethighway” was derived from a carousel piece also from '95, and “Rua” is a resuscitated sculpture based on a scrapped framework built in 2002. The unique thing about “The Colorfreak” is that elements of the original four-track source were used in its formation.
9. KILN's material sounds so fully-formed and therefore seems so self-sustaining, it's almost as it's bereft of outside influence—“hermetic” might be one way of putting it. Be that as it may, are there certain artists and/or works which exert a strong influence upon your material, whether that be in stylistic or production terms (the glimmering organ in Thermals' “Drala,” for example, calls to mind Philip Glass's North Star while the album's ambient character is reminiscent of Eno's Music For Films)?
One of the pitfalls of taking so long to make a full length is that it's difficult to maintain a level of cohesion for the duration. Because of our current piecemeal process, some material gets bogged down and has to be set aside and germinate before becoming an active track again on our machines. Whereas other pieces we burn right through. The tracks that tested our will to complete—there were many permutations on the concept of what those pieces wanted to be. Influences sink in over time and the longer a piece takes to complete, the more “exposed” it is to what we are listening to for enjoyment outside of the studio.
I would site the initial onset of the microhouse movement and the deep static-haze resurgence of dub drone that frothed to the top around the new millennium as having had a pivotal affect on our attitudes. It just seemed natural to incorporate some of those stylistic methods into our own.
10. Could you talk a bit about your own current listening, your current favourite artists, and perhaps name an artist or recording (or two) that you regard as criminally underappreciated?The entire future3 consortium from Denmark has been in rotation for awhile. System-Dub Tractor-Opiate Acustic and People Press Play—all being projects of Knak, Remmer and Skaaning either solo or as a unit—are all quality musics and I would also say that they are totally underappreciated for how great they are. The self-titled People Press Play record that came out last year should have been a huge international hit in the electronic/fringe/pop category: a masterpiece in its own right with very clean structures and lovely vocals that are arranged in perfect accordance to the “standard” future3 soundbed.