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Escape Velocity

Imperfectionism: An Interview With Lumigraph
Ian Maleney , April 30th, 2013 08:15

Dublin's Lumigraph crafts murky, crunchy dance tracks that draw equally from the rough sample cuts of hip-hop and techno's propulsive fury. He speaks with Ian Maleney about learning that mistakes can be good things

Until very recently, Gareth Smyth - otherwise known as Lumigraph - had very little music to his name. After a couple of free split releases on local Dublin label First Second, 'Lunar Luup' - a contorted squelcher of a techno track that appeared on Opal Tapes' Cold Holiday compilation at the end of last year - garnered interest from a much wider audience, including Hessle Audio co-head Ben UFO. Smyth has just followed that up with a full-length tape for Opal, a set of murky dance tracks entitled Nautically Inclined.

Combining the rough sample cuts of classic hip-hop and LA beats, the weed-stank vibe of laid-back house and the stomping, propulsive crunch of modern techno, Nautically Inclined fits perfectly within the dilapidated Opal Tapes sound-world. Over the past two years or so, the cassette label has been mining a rich seam where noisy and ambient textures meet classic machine-funk rhythms. That approach has become a dominant theme within underground electronic music as of late, and Opal Tapes-released producers like Anthony Naples, Huerco S and Wanda Group are now cropping up all over the map - from Boomkat editions to Four Tet remixes. It would seem that the assimilation of these abstract and noisy tendencies into the dance music world is almost complete.

Currently finishing up a degree in sound engineering in Dublin, Smyth is one of the first Irish producers to emerge as part of this particular international musical dialogue. The Quietus caught up with him to discuss Nautically Inclined and how his sound is as much a product of lucky accidents as intent.

A lot of people probably heard your music for the first time, even if they didn't know it, on Ben UFO's four-hour Boiler Room session a few weeks ago. What was it like hearing your music on that?

Gareth Smyth: It was weird, man. I was watching it from the start. At the time I was writing down ingredients on my phone, I was making dinner for the family, and I heard the hi-hats come in and I was like, "No way, not a chance". So I went back to the ingredients. Then he pulled whatever track it was out and brought mine in and I was like "Oh my god!", just freaking out. I ran down and showed my dad, because he was the only person in the house, like "Dad, look!". I don't think he really got it, but my brother explained it to him which was good. Dad is getting very interested in the whole thing now.

'This whole thing' at the moment being Nautically Inclined. Is it an album? It's long enough to be one, but I haven't really been thinking of it as such.

GS: It's kind of come out like an album but I never, even in my wildest dreams, thought I'd make an album. It's never been something that has been on my mind. I had about an hour and fifteen minutes of music to choose from when I was going to give Opal the final masters. The rest of the tapes are in the thirty minute-region, and I didn't want this to be any different to the rest of them. I also didn't want it to be something that people would get bored of after five tracks or whatever. So I cut it down to half an hour but Stephen [Bishop, head of Opal Tapes] had everything and he was like, "What about this one? What about this one?" and it ended up being about 50 minutes. I was a bit hesitant doing that, but the idea of it being an album and being a long play has grown on me. I've always thought that if you're going to make an album you'll sit down and make all the tracks within a certain amount of time, so they'll all have the same kind of feel. But anyway, this is how it worked out.

Did you set out with a strong idea of what kind of music you wanted to make?

GS: Until recently enough, I didn't have a clue what I wanted to make. It just happened to end up lo-fi or dirty or whatever. I remember when I first started making tracks, I was trying to make them sound really complicated, but now I'm focusing more on the actual sounds. There's less things going on but if you were to strip the tracks apart, the individual sounds are appealing to me in some way. That's another approach, just relax and listen to the sounds on their own. Don't try to crowd it. I don’t think I have a specific context in which I'd like people to hear the music either. I like making tracks that I think will work well on dancefloors, and I'll continue to do that because it's fun, but I also want people to be able to listen to the music at home. Or anywhere else for that matter.

There's one or two of the more 'bedtime listening' type tracks on the Opal release, and that’s something I definitely want to pursue. I've started making some slightly downtempo, dubby tracks with tape too, but I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them. I'm currently working on an audio installation as part of my graduation show for college, so that’s another area of sound that I'd like to try my hand at. I'm not sure how tied in with the Lumigraph alias it would be, but it might be nice to meld the two together in some way.

Has studying sound and engineering been important to you, in terms of making your own music?

GS: Definitely. I wouldn't have had any interest in the "artier" side of sound until I started at Pulse [College]. That's where I was shown Steve Reich, John Cage and all those twentieth century composers. So from that perspective, for sure. I'm also a huge fan of the kind of art-house set up that the Sex Tags guys have going on. Aside from the incredible music, their installations, exhibitions and the artworks for the records they release are amazing. I'd like to see a lot more of that type of thing in the label world. It's been good, too, just because I have so much time to fuck around on a computer when I get home. I studied business before I did this, and dropped out after a year. If I had been doing that while trying to do the music thing, I wouldn't have had the time. I was doing two languages too, it was crazy.

Those kinds of courses tend to focus more on rock music and recording bands than electronic music. Do you think that kind of education is useful for people making more electronic or dance music?

GS: Gaining the knowledge of EQ and compression, it'll work both ways. I think though, certainly with the things that I'm doing, mixing isn't such a big issue. I don't mix a lot when I'm making tracks. I love the kind of DIY, 'imperfectionist' attitude to the music that labels like L.I.E.S and Mister Saturday Night release. They’ve been very influential, along with the obvious Detroit guys, in the sense that they kind of showed me that mistakes and grit and dirt are actually nice and that mixing maybe isn’t all that important after all.

But then recording bands and learning how to mix that sort of music, it will eventually be beneficial to the electronic stuff. It does all fold back on itself. Like, compression I still don't know that much about, to be honest. I know how to use it as an effect, but I don't really know how to use it just because it needs to be there. I just make things sound fucking weird, so there are happy accidents all over the tape. 90% of that tape is like, "Oh, that sounds cool, whoops!" At one stage I recorded myself playing a few chords on the piano and put it on the tape loop, and it just formed its own rhythmic patterns. It's that thing of not knowing exactly what you're doing but getting a good result anyway. I think putting too much thought into writing a track or whatever, you over-think something, and it'll immediately sound like cement or something.

Do you think Dublin is a good place to be working on this kind of music? Do you feel part of a community here?

GS: I think things are, in some respects, getting better. On one hand, I'm not sure a real community has been established in Dublin for this kind of stuff yet, but I think there's definitely a growing interest. There's a group of people who would all be either acquaintances or good friends, hanging out, making music, going to gigs, all that, but it's still in its adolescence. I guess we’re kind of watching it slowly grow into a community at the moment, and hopefully it will continue to grow into something that groups from other cities dig and take influence from. Its nice being a part of that, even if I have been kind of removing myself from here since I started putting tracks online, and I'll probably continue to do so.