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INTERVIEW: Rene Hell
Ned Raggett , October 4th, 2013 05:25

With his playfully abrasive new album just released through PAN, Ned Raggett catches up with Stateside electronic musician Rene Hell to talk Vanilla Call Option and running into cement walls

Jeff Witscher lives a life recording and working under any number of aliases, but the one that’s gained him the most attention is as Rene Hell. Deservedly so - whether on cassette, CDR, online or in other formats, he’s released a dizzying amount of work that conflates, synthesises and explores many strains of experimental and electronic music. Calling him a drone artist, a glitch composer or anything similar is at once accurate enough and extremely limiting - he just is, more than most. Following last year's split with Oneohtrix Point Never on NNA Tapes, his latest formal release under the Rene Hell guise, Vanilla Call Option, feels like a series of ambient soundtracks to recently emptied areas - or they would be if there wasn’t something still kicking around, somehow. It's released this week via the PAN label. The Quietus dropped Witscher a line in advance of his heading off on tour, to talk running into cement walls and questioning tradition.

I like the fact that your work, under any guise, resists easy or obvious genre tags.  Do you see any one thing unifying all your work as its creator, if it's readily expressible?

Jeff Witscher: No, I don't think so. Possibly the process I use for putting together recordings as that's generally the same, but that's about it.

Does your work emerge first and then get assigned a name, whether it's Rene Hell or something? Related to this: does creation flow easily, take much concentrated effort, or vary all over the place?

JW: Sometimes I run into a cement wall, and look at the imperfect cracks from weather. It serves as an oracle on what tunes I spit out.

Vanilla, as I 'see' it, almost feels like a set from a 1970s movie computer room, something alive, mechanical, but strangely pristine. Do you find yourself 'seeing' or otherwise sensing music, your own or others, beyond the aural range?

JW: It all works on an electromagnetic spectrum. The color was a bit dusty. You can hear that in the recording. I generally hear music, then either think about it or not. Sometimes it moves you and sometimes it doesn't. There's quite a bit of music I don't understand at all, like a foreign language. That's kind of bizarre I guess. But in this case, ‘vanilla’ is referring to the stock market.

Given that experimental music has its own series of canons, do you aim to step beyond them or do you find yourself consciously extending a kind of tradition - or does the question even apply?

JW: It doesn't apply, but it's important to question tradition and to see if that does anything interesting.

What is something about your music that is most misunderstood or missed by listeners, as you sense it? Related to that: what's the most surprising take or description by someone else that gave you a new perspective on your own work?

JW: Most listeners understand the music, unless the PA isn't very good. Then they are definitely missing out on certain key frequencies. Of course if you're unaccustomed to more abstract listening, ie. music without obvious structure, song structure, beginning and endings, then they think live performances are completely lost, useless, etc. In other words, they can't assign a purpose for it.

The stereotype of people in many fields of electronic music is that they simply 'push buttons' when performing - but how do you see it yourself?

JW: It's simple, you prepare something to present to people live. In this case the medium is audio or even audio visual, and they arrive and should be content to listen and be affected. In the same way that you don't go to a museum and require some sort of physical accompaniment or additional stimulation while looking at a painting.

Finally, is there an ideal way for someone to listen to your work, or do you see it as something that could be listened to any time, any place?

JW: I think if you're focused on that as your main experience it can be quite stimulating, but if you're trying to perform other activities it's definitely irritating and distracting.

Rene Hell's Vanilla Call Option is out now on PAN

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