The name Hrvatski first caught my attention while reading the record descriptions he wrote in the massive Forced Exposure online catalog. This Hrvatski character tossed off extravagant compliments, petulant insults and obscure cross-references in a style that made me wonder if Byron Coley, my personal dean of American Rock critics, had not been suddenly hipped to the sounds of electronic dance music. No such luck, but Hrvatski did turn out to be one Keith Fullerton Whitman of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a man who would eventually play a considerable role in kicking off the American response to the Anglo-German post-techno nutters. Whitman's "Attention: Cats" compilation LP released early in 1998 on his own Reckankreuzungsklankewerkzeuge label gave notice that, along with Schematic in Florida and Vinyl Communications in California there was more going on in the American underground than indie guitar rock pastiche. Hrvatski's followup, the "Oiseaux 96-98" CD, also on Reckan, was a dense and fragmented meditation on the mystery of the amen break, book ended by some very non-jungle experimental soundscapes and even a Pink Floyd cover drowned out by intense sampled birdsong. Keith's performance at the transmissions oo3 festival put it all together for me - a man and his laptop evoking not just the glitch symphonies of Mego and Mille Plateuax, but also the stoned avant weirdness of United Dairies and Ohr. His music manages to tie together everything that made Forced Exposure the most exciting US-based music distributor in the mid-to-late Nineties: obscure psychedelic rock, dub, punk and free jazz reissues, long forgotten Krautrock epics, the Detroit techno of Submerge, PSF's uncategorizable weirdnes from Japan, the post-techno of Mille Plateaux, the post-rock of Thrill Jockey, the idm of Warp, and the remnants of America's grunge revolution then (96-98) scouring the backwoods for Moogs and Arps.
1. Could you talk about what you performed at the transmissions oo3 festival? What was your overall impression?
I really enjoyed the festival. I'll spare the Woodstock comparisons (originally, mind you, suggested by a fellow festival-goer), but it really was something. There was a lot of patience there, people sat on the floor, closed their eyes, and listened. Can't remember the last time that's happened outside of a Gallery setting in the US. The piece I played is sort of a variant on one I've been working on for a while. Every few months I change the instrument(s) used but it's the same process. At first it was acoustic guitar, then clarinet. At Transmissions it was toy xylophone, melodica, and voice. It's based on this playthrough sytem in which I use the various VST plugin modules to process live sound, in real-time, to a very Terry-Rileyan 'Time Lag Accumulator' effect. It's pretty simple actually. One plugin is taking the input pitch data and converting it into a sine wave. I bypass this one about half of the time. I also have control over what octave and how sensitive the pickup is. From there it flows into a tape delay simulator with 4 separate heads at 4 separate times. I usually have them set at 2 seconds, 1.98, 1.96, and 1.94 so that each 2 second tap of the delay iterates 4 separate times, with the iterations growing slowly farther apart as the near-infinite feedback wears off. From there the signal is routed into a granular shuffling algorithm with plenty of variables (stereo field, grain width/length, random pitch, octave feedback) to work with, then into a simple but peculiar sounding spring reverb simulator and out into the mixer. I'll play a short melody or note, sometimes just one for the entire duration of the piece, and work within the system until the sound has built into something. Very high success rate so far.
2. You mentioned something about the mp3.com CD - could you go into that again? Will that CD or the music in it be re-released elsewhere?
They are shady. Very much so. I mean aside form the whole MyMP3 scandal (which was eclipsed by the Napster explosion) and their various ridiculous promotions (payback for playback, specifically) they're just not altogether there. I didn't realize until a few months ago that there was absolutely no way to unsubscribe from their service. I mean you can take down your mp3's but there will always be your page, no matter what you do, and you'll continue to get their emails. At one point I had 4 separate pages up there (Liver Sadness, ASCIII, Gai/Jin, and Hrvatski) and a DAM CD (MP3.com's 'moneymaker', so to speak, a CD-R with your music on it, converted from mp3 back into audio, for sale at a 50% profit share). I was pretty psyched when the first payment arrived for the 'Okapi Tracks' CD. In fact I remember getting like 3 mp3.com courier bags for every one of the artists I had put up there. Then I noticed a little tab for the Payback for Playback promotion that said that I had 'earned' $217 through people downloading my mp3's. Curious. At some point after that sales of 'Okapi Tracks' really took off, and there I was expecting this fat check. Well... to make a long enough story short I STILL haven't seen anything. At last they wrote me a non-form letter mail saying that if I wanted to get paid that I'd have to open a 'Compu-bank' account. Ludicrous. Makes we want to become a luddite all over again.
3. You performed as part of Lucky Kitchen at trans003 - I didn't know you were part of their roster - are you going to be releasing anything on LK or collaborating with them?
I've been close friends with LK ever since 'Blip Bleep' came out. The Lucky Kitchen billing at the festival was actually a bit of a ruse - Apartment B all-stars is more like it. As I understand it, Alejandra & Underwood were originally booked for the festival, promoters not fully realizing that they live in London now and had no means to fly over for one show. So as a surrogate, Daniel was asked to fill the gap. Apartment B is a new label based in New York run by Daniel and this fellow named Danny Wyatt, who lives on Irving Plaza, in the 'B' Apartment (sort of equivalent to the basement, although above ground) which is like the apartment where every electronic musician from out of town stays at while gigging in NYC. Their debut CD was the reissue of Nick Zammuto's 'Willscher' which blew all of our socks off when it arrived in our PO boxes in it's original 3CD-R form. The second release is the guitar version of my playthrough piece, titled '21:30' for acoustic guitar. After that I believe there's a compilation of exclusively New York based sound artists.
4. When I first read some of those reviews you were writing for FE, I thought maybe Byron Coley had suddenly embraced electronic music - did Coley's writing influence your reviewing style?
Definitely so. I had been reading FE for quite some time when I finally met Jimmy (still haven't met Byron in a formal sense, this is going on 3 1/2 years of working for FE, and given what rumors I've heard of his non-predilection towards anything remotely dance-oriented the above theory gets me all warm). Of course from a musical-taste-as-way-of-life standpoint I'm 100% in line with FE. I had been writing articles and reviews, interviewing folks for various Boston area fanzines ever since I stopped writing for Guitar World in 1992, in what would be considered a post-Bangs/Meltzer/Byron/Jimmy style, but admittedly not very well. When I finally met Jimmy after being in Boston for years, and started working for the distribution company as a sales rep it came up that Jimmy was getting a bit overwhelmed with the volume of records he had to 'describe' on a weekly basis. So I stepped in. Of course I had the feeling all along that I was becoming the scapegoat for Forced Exposure's now-not-as-pristine record with all of that questionably repetitive disco vinyl. Which is pretty far from the truth given Jimmy's predilection for obscure acid/tech house sides...
5. You used to write for Guitar World magazine? Who (or what) were you writing about?
It was on a dare actually. This was in high school; I was 16 or 17 at the time. Played guitar quite voraciously, 4-6 hours a day. Had this great teacher who was into 'extended' techniques and thus led a bridge way to Bailey/Reichel/et.al. But anyways, yeah, I used to read all of the 'trades' ('World', 'School', 'Player', 'GFTPM'). There was this glowing review of a Marc Ribot album in Guitar World (claiming it the be all end of such extended guitar techniques) so my friend Marc and I went out and bought a copy of it on cassette, didn't quite see eye to eye with the nature of this particular blurb and wrote an intelligent letter to the Guitar World folk. This achieved nothing so we then took said cassette, melted it down to it's core elements with a car cigarette lighter, then wrote an angry letter in marker on graph paper and sent them in. They offered us a job writing reviews, which turned into a full column. The catch was that of course they had never seen the first letter and assumed we were a couple of suburban dolt types and were anti any sort of avant-anything and were only interested in metal (which I admit, was derived from traces of this sort of thinking found in the second letter). So they named the column 'Metal Detector' and we proceeded to review mostly German/Scandinavian indie-label death metal (and the occasional Donovan/Cher release). This lasted for a few years, well after Marc had gone off to Carnegie Mellon (he's now a very successful architect) and I to Berklee. Apparently there's now like this cult based around that column, at least that's what people tell me. I hear that someone has made a 'Metal Detector' fan site but I've yet to find it. Can't say I've kept up with the metal community since then but it was a great education for us both...
6. How did you get into this whole electronic dance music (for lack of a better label) thing anyway? Is there one or a series of records that got your attention?
I was making sequences and little concrete pieces (sort of like these Klaus Schulze/Heldon/Kluster things with guitar and synths) with the Atari ST with the built in midi interface and the Ensoniq Mirage when I was still a teenager. Then I went to music school to study computer music. I had a very hip teacher there, Dr. Richard Boulanger (who recently compiled the mammoth 'C-Sound Book') who was into all sorts of things ending with avant-remixology and some of the more 'out' techno stuff. I think the first thing that really struck me was Seefeel, I had bought it because it was on Too Pure which had a 99% success rate for me at the time. It was the single with the Aphex Twin mixes. That was sort of a revelation, 1993. A couple of months later they opened a Dance Music shop right around the corner from where I was living (this would be Beat Non Stop) and I went in and listened to like everything they had over one weekend. Later when Satellite opened they started getting stuff like Suburban Base records, and later Squarepusher. I had been toying with hyper-rhythmic ideas, but it was Bubble & Squeak that made it relevant stylistically. The fact that it made no sense to me; that club kids were listening to that stuff made it all the more appealing...
7. Where does your fascination with the "amen" break come from? Can you pinpoint the first time you became aware of what the "amen" break was in a jungle record?
I've always been aware of breaks. Drusca (Reckankomplex resident and RKK recording artist) and I got into sourcing EVERYTHING. Got to the point where I couldn't do a track unless I knew where each individual sound came from, originally. We had narrowed down the list of 160 BPM+ breaks to about 6 or so. Most were easy to find after scouting about armed with nicknames ('Apache', 'Lyn', etc...). But the Amen was kind of perplexing as it was never reissued on CD and never really mentioned in articles. People seemed obsessed with guarding its identity. I remember reading that the original was by 'The Amen Brothers' and it was called 'The Break'. Which is kind of funny in retrospect. Eventually we figured it out and I found a copy of the 7" in a local dusty oldies shop on 45. Of course it's the best break ever; heavily syncopated and great feel, drum sound, works at any tempo, subliminal love for God thrust in moving limbs, all that. It's a gospel track by this DC-area group called 'The Winstons', who later went on to be the Impressions' backing band. I'll never get sick of hearing that break. Ever. It's like an aural drug. I think the whole argument of using it repeatedly is a bit off; I mean you'd never complain about a Led Zeppelin record, 'Oh man, he's playing that same drum kit AGAIN?' Or Can, "Oh man, Jaki is playing that SAME impossibly syncopated beat". Heh heh...
8. Have you read "Generation Ecstasy" by Simon Reynolds? Reynolds is critical of IDM and the "geek" impulse in electronic music - in a chapter where he discusses Luke Vibert, Mouse on Mars, Achim Szepanski, Oval, Alec Empire, DJ Spooky and others he writes: "No amount of willful eccentricity can impart the luster of meaning to music; that comes only when a community takes a sound and makes it part of a way of life. So while I marvel at the art-technocrats' efforts, I often feel curiously unmoved by them, physically or emotionally." What do you think of this?
I haven't read it. I read 'Blissed Out' and I've read his Wire 'new-genre expose' articles ('Adult Hardcore', right...). As far as willful eccentricity goes, I have issues with this. It runs rampant throughout the whole underground electronic music scene, predominantly at the micro-levels (small town folk & CD-R labels). Crippling in most cases, nothing brings naivete to the forefront better. As far as music being a part of a way of life (and not the life itself mind you), I think we're well past that. Aside from electing a class leader and/or culture tags (approved clothing/soft drink/automotive brands) recognition and/or daily practice/application of this music is awfully prevalent. The fact that we've taken this decidedly non-dancefloor electronic dance music and made it a sensible part-solution for modern living means we've come a long way. Remember how this stuff was treated in 1992? We've made gargantuan strides. And from what I can tell it's not close to its apex just yet. At every show I play I meet a handful of kids (mind you this isn't a derogatory term, I just feel about 10 years removed from them) who are so incredibly excited just to be there, to hear this 'forbidden' music. It's pretty inspiring really.
On a relevant tip: I've seen Simon Reynolds' website where he attacks the bedroom production mold (members.aol.com/blissout/over98.htm), presumably in favor of the galvanizing power of the teutonic two-step rhythm discipline. He mostly seems worried about the increasingly regionalized success story (limited/custom records, etc...) which, in theory really, he should support with bells on. He also claims not to like Autechre so I kind of have to discount his opinion on many things. They're a great cultural barrier, Autechre, I think. Not to dis Reynolds; I mean he's a phenomenally clued-in writer, tactful, etc. Probably one of my favorites.
9. There was some grumbling at trans003 re: laptop performance. You were using a laptop and other gear - what's your take on the criticisms of laptop performers - the lack of visual element, etc?
People definitely aren't ready for the laptop performer invading the 'rock' performance space. In due time. Transmissions was an odd example where people were in the majority very cool with the idea of folks just setting up computers on stage and plugging away; they were there for the sound, not the spectacle (ok, maybe a little bit of spectacle). It all comes down to effort though. I mean you have your band; you had to lug all of your gear to a practice space, set it all up, learn all your songs, drag your stuff to a club, co-ordinate everyone, etc... Laptop shows; one guy, minimal visual cues (aside from 'ghost face'). There is no tangible sign of effort, of the 100s of hours spent coding and programming to get your set-up to par. To the educated listener there's an obvious divide between the heavy max/msp/lisa/supercollider programmer and the reaktor preset user. Plus the fact that no matter how much work you put into your live setup it won't rival your studio recordings (unless you're REALLY creative). I still haven't found a way to present Hrvatski-musik live (aside from an extended DJ set with realtime processing) without dragging out the studio here. So I mainly play these instrumental pieces, drones. The beat freaks really hate it. Good for them.
10. In a recent FE update you said something that made me think you encourage the mix of live instruments and electronics- do you think this is "where we're headed"? Who do you think is doing this particularly well?
The music that's interested me the most over the last year has been of this ilk. Carpet bomb records, specifically. But this applies also to people like Fennesz who (until recently) still used the guitar as an input device. I think the most exciting live shows I've seen recently were by Mouse On Mars (who were gracious enough to sponsor me as their opening act here in Cambridge and down in New York, thanks guys!) who play guitar and bass, have a live drummer, but still have the sequences coming out of the g4, the Nords, all the squiggles and burps that make their records so intriguing. I saw the Chicago Underground Duo recently with Casey Rice doing dub-style mixing from the board, that was pretty intense in spots, very electronic with the Moog ostinatos and all.
11. The "catstep" kid 606 remix you did - where did that insane robotic toasting come from?
Heh. Not telling. Well ok. There's this app called 'vocalwriter' for Mac, it's sort of like a vocal sequencer. You put in the melody then you can graft syllables onto each note using the macintalk voices (I think I used Fred). I got this really early demo of the app back in January of 99, when I did the track. Thought I'd be all daft and get those vocals onto a track before anyone even knew about vocalwriter. Of course in the interim, that Cylob 'Rewind' track came out (which, incidentally, didn't use vocalwriter, Chris must have typed all of the vocals into 'so to speak' or some other macintalk app then manually edited each phrase to fit in the tempo of the track. That's hard work) and a couple of other things with Mac voices on them (various console tracks...). The 'lyrics' are really funny. They're all about my disdain for kid606 basically. They're pretty defamatory.
12. What are you currently working on, and what are some of your upcoming releases? Any more touring in the near future?
Ok, let's see. I've got a few different singles that I've done or been involved with on the horizon of being released. Which after a solid year of depressing silence other than the odd comp track is... gratifying to say the least. These'll probably come out in this order:
Gai/Jin - gai/jin ep 7" (Gun Court/Wabana)
Which is this record I did with my old college chum Jiroh before he moved backed to Japan earlier this year. It's sort of High Rise level guitar/bass overload (Jiroh) with cutup breaks & organ (hrvatski). Our complete recordings give or take.
Hrvatski - Räume 7" (Tonschacht)
Which is the first in (hopefully) a series of more concrete-aligned rhythm and sound design oriented records. There are three pieces; 'Badraum', 'Eintrag Raum', and 'Kochen Raum', which exclusively use sounds from the Reckankomplex bathroom, entryway, and kitchen respectively. A nice dsp-free exercise.
Keith Fullerton Whitman - 21:00 for acoustic guitar CD (apartment b)
Which was a 3" CD-R I did in an edition of 25. Very similar to the transmissions piece, only using an acoustic guitar through all sorts of realtime computer processes which render it most un-guitarlike. Two 10+ minute drones.
Hrvatski - stop.gap.measure 12" (planet mu)
Which is the greatest hits or so for the DJs. The 606 remix, 2nd zero fidelity mandible investigation, some field recordings, some hardcore, some more guitar-oriented stuff. Maybe a cover or two.
Hrvatski - 73 (Drei und Siebenzig) 12" (Deluxe)
Which is this record I've been working on for a year now, sort of replaces whatever full length I would have been working on. It's my 'krautrock' record, the A-side is this 15 minute cosmic opus in multiple segments, and the b-side has two short tracks, a sort of 'Musik Von Harmonia' styled minimal looping phase thing and a cover of 'giggy smile' from faust 4. I'm still working on it but in the last week I've made ardent strides in completing it. Definitely the least digital of all of the stuff I've been working on, in fact it's very analog. The only thing sequenced so far are the drums (of which most are krautrock breaks; just we, Haze, Out of Focus, etc...). I'm pretty damn excited about the whole thing, safe now to admit its imminent existence...
and the rkk-13 behemoth of course. Which was like this two year project wherein we sent every sound used in every track on the 'attention: cats' LP to our favorite 50 or so producers with some cross platform dsp software and instructed them to send us back 120-second pieces. 35 artists on the cd, 15 more on the vinyl (high success rate). Contributors include: Fennesz, Push Button Objects, Drusca, Jim O'Rourke, Pimmon, Alejandra & Underwood, Chessie, Thurston Moore, Jayrope, Blitter, Framers Manul (sic), kid606, etc...
Plus rkk has a ton of stuff hinging on the release of rkk-13: the DJ hekla 7" (finally), an EP and a full length from Blitter, a few EPs in a likely 'artist' series by Cex, Fred Bigot, Chessie. That's enough for now. I'd like to get some sleep sometime during the next year or so.
13. So what's the best Tomita album?
I highly recommend checking out 'Bermuda Triangle'. Not the $30 Japanese CD, but a $2 vinyl copy, usually the solitary record in the 'electronic' section of any used record store (although occasionally sharing space with TD's 'Phaedra' or some cutout moogsploitation LPs), the more beat the copy the better. The first electronic music I heard was that Columbia Varese LP with Poeme Electronique, Kraftwerk (Computerwelt), and the Tomita LP in question. Undoubtedly the Tomita had the longest standing effect, if not for the song titles alone but the general post-cosmic tone of it all. I remember seeing this photo of him in concert in the early 80s, he was suspended like 200 feet above the stage on this glass platform, playing an Arp. Can't shake an image like that...
PS - fuck JM Jarre...
Hrvatski and related discography:
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