Sonic Router 030: EPROM's Fundamental Particles
, October 30th, 2013 04:42
With his new album Halflife just released, Sonic Router's Oli Marlow catches up with US producer EPROM to discuss his thunderous, soundsystem-slaying strain of beat music
My first impression of Halflife, the second album by the now Portland-based producer EPROM, released through Netherlands-based Rwina Records, was that it felt harder, more aggressive and menacing in places than I remembered his debut, Metahuman, to be. But it really isn't. At all...
His is a tricksy type of product. Thick, chunky and loudly compressed, it essentially consists of simple ideas executed pointedly and to a precise tee. As a result it leaves a very defined kind of taste on your palette - like how you recall a Turkish meal from the night before because the spices are still clinging to your tongue the following morning - which can often feel a little bit misleading. Yes, it's basically a bastardised strain of West Coast beat music, driven by thunderous kick drums and simplistic boom bap drum programming, but EPROM's always been more than just that - he's long been a producer who seems effortlessly able to paint in vivid, perfectly EQed brush strokes that slice through the competition with a hip hop tenacity. It's just that often, as with a rampant blackout hangover, you remember the tenacity a lot more than the detail.
"I think Halflife does build on the themes I was exploring in Metahuman," EPROM offers, when I reveal a piece of my clouded comparison to him after we've exchanged top of the interview pleasantries. "At the end of Metahuman, the last sound you hear is radio crackle consuming a dusty Sheffield-era rave chord, so I think Halflife picks up where that left off, but the new album is more built around the idea of decay. Almost every sound is decayed, or shadowed, or manipulated in some way. I've been interested in injecting noise into my productions lately; using a lot of tape noise samples, distortion, old spring reverbs, bits of vinyl crackle, and the noise floor that my synths generate to create this softly breathing field of noise."
He points out that there's also a very literal sense of decay in the way the music acts, the way the sounds trail off after their initial impact, like on 'Machine Skin' where every layer seems to take a breath over a few seconds to gradually dissipate into silence. "The musician and sound designer Curtis Roads talks a lot about decay in his writing, and that's definitely been a reference point for me," he offers by way of explanation. "He talks about sound as a series of particles called grains, so I was exploring techniques of granular synthesis in response to that idea. For instance, the two minutes of sound design at the beginning of the album is all granular re-synthesis..."
This intricacy he describes in his production approach - employing a granular approach to synthesis by physically shattering and rebuilding the particles of sound he wields - is, in itself, a pretty good indicator of the stringent precision evident in his music. I can't stress enough the impact and the pleasure he seems able to squeeze out of a seemingly limited palette of sounds – although after speaking to him at length, it's much more likely that he's put such painstaking work into shaping a lot of his building blocks that they interlock perfectly, tongue-in-groove style, across the frequency spectrum.
But - and this feels like a very important thing to note - Halflife isn't ever consumed by EPROM's inner nerd passion for conceptual approaches to sound design. Far from it, in fact. The record is as immediate and as ultimately jarring as anything he's ever released, with beats like 'Hurricane,' 'Subroc' and 'Vogel' hitting with his very real and trademark uncompromised weight. But there are times and touches throughout the album - especially on pieces like 'Lost Levels,' 'Turtle Ride,' 'Cloud Leanmixx' and 'Pentatonic Dust' - where EPROM seems light, ponderous and almost introspective, balancing his ability to be the brashest motherfucker out there on road quite deftly.
"It's important to me that an album isn't just 100% club bangers but that there are moments of pure texture, or pure melody, or just softness," he agrees. "'Turtle Ride' existed as a sketch for years," he explains. "I actually made most of it on a train from London to Manchester in 2010, but for the album I unearthed the files and connected my Korg synth up and replayed the bassline using that, to give it a kind of analog wonk and tie it in more with the album. 'Lost Levels' was more me reaching back to a childlike kind of mood, the sonic equivalent of some tucked away secret level in a Gameboy game waiting to be discovered. It's kind of nostalgic in tone - which is definitely in contrast with most of the album, which is pretty forward-looking.
"I've also been watching a lot of films and animations, like Serial Experiments: Lain, which has amazing sound design, or Tarkovsky movies - which are also a major inspiration. Tarkovsky was obsessed with the visual and sound aspects of water and liquids, and I think that's a common thread in my music that other people have identified."
And although EPROM's never really taken the bait and gone for Drexciyan levels of deep nautical mystique, that aqueous squelch he mentions has become something of a calling card for him, allowing people to instantly recognise his work just through its distinctive timbre – something it can take some artists a lifetime to achieve.
Outwardly, Halflife doesn't do much to buck that trend. It sounds like EPROM: purposefully big, broad, and absolutely masterful. As an album it definitely builds on that expectation, applying these variant techniques to push his sound into new and morphing directions. Later on in our conversation, when talking about the idea of reducing his toolkit to the essentials, he simply states that "for me, the important thing is approaching music making with a playful mindset". With that in mind, it's worth actually sitting down and noting just how many playful moments on there are across Halflife. Whether they're instances that make you want to throw your elbows up to the sky as you rap along with the "we make it hurricane, y'all make it drizzle" vocal hook on 'Hurricane', or passages that make just make you smile at their sheer bombastic nature, it's clear that EPROM's hit the balance between technicality and aural gratification absolutely particle perfect.
EPROM's Halflife is out now on Rwina.
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