Photo by Gene Smirnov
March 19, 2010
Back from Chicago for a visit, Bay City native Candle Nine and I sat down over energy drinks as he prepared for the local launch of his debut album, The Muse in the Machine (Tympanik Audio).This CD, which contains nine original tracks and two remixes, has already earned the praise of critics abroad. Ed Loxapac, a reviewer for the international contemporary electronic journal Chroniques électroniques, gave this release by "the mysterious Candle Nine" a rave review. Pointing out "a very particular use of synthesizers, which creates a luminous fabric," he went on to describe the sound: "The rhythm is hard and precise. The beat constantly changes throughout this majestic work. The omnipresent glitch gives the work a bit more of an electric feel. The listener is constantly alert for the slightest contrast, the smallest change. The use of a piano and gentle chords, interspersed at regular intervals, adds a more poetic, almost orchestral feel." He concluded: "The Muse in the Machine flies in the face of those who swear that composers of IDM are soulless beings living in ivory towers."
Let's shed a little light on the humanity behind The Muse in the Machine.
360 Main Street: What led you to become interested in music?
Candle Nine: I was always interested in music. I was raised on it. My dad was into rock quite a bit, and from that I reached out and discovered what kinds of music I like. I always wanted to play guitar to be like the guys I'd been hearing, so I taught myself how to play an acoustic guitar. Everything else that I've learned to do in music has branched off from learning to play the guitar. Sometimes I'd transcribe from guitar to keyboards. The kind of music that I do comes from an evolution from that acoustic guitar—searching and finding what I like. Eventually I found what I needed to express what I want in my music.
360: How did you make the leap from guitar music to keyboards and then to electronic music?
CN: The guitar that I'd personally been into was punk music, like the Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex, and the Buzzcocks. There is a lot of influence behind the guitar sound I was trying to get from My Bloody Valentine. I'd never heard guitars done like that before. It's a very overwhelming sound. It blends together and contrasts and plays with the other sounds. I understand from reading interviews with Kevin Shields that it's apparently many different guitars playing at once, but when it all comes together it becomes something incredible.
I think that what drew me to punk music at the time was its cathartic nature. It was like a lashing out, not with negative emotion, but just the desire to get the emotion out. I don't think that industrial music is much of a leap from that tradition in that regard. Industrial music came out of the same kind of atmosphere that was going around in the punk era.
JB: When people think of industrial music what do they think of?
CN: Industrial is really an umbrella term that can describe many different styles. Mostly they would consider it a lot harsher, noisier than what I produce. Despite that, I still consider myself an industrial musician. I think the whole cathartic nature that set it off split into different ways of organizing sounds. Right now there is quite a bit of dance music coming out under the "industrial" category. I think that I'm at some bridge in the industrial music world, but I just can't be sure what that is.
Early on when I started getting into electronic music and composing it, I had a huge desire to try as hard as I could to "sound industrial," and I was never really satisfied with my music at that point. There was a weird dynamic going on, as I kept listening to different artists, like Haujobb and Gridlock; particularly those two artists changed my outlook on how to compose, not really industrial music, but music in general. I realized it wasn't so important for me to sound industrial but to express myself through the music.
360: What kind of equipment do you use?
CN: My laptop computer is the centerpiece of all my composition. Other than that, I use a Roland D-50 linear synthesizer, Roland R-8 rhythm composer and an Elektron Machinedrum SPS-1UW.
360: I understand that you previously had work on a compilation album, Divergence (IDMF Netlabel, 2009). Tell about the genesis of your latest album, The Muse in the Machine.
CN: The title The Muse in the Machine and the beginning of the album music came about at about same time. In the beginning the album was just supposed to be a collection about things that inspire me, like "Penumbra" and "Wintermute." That was how it started, shadows and technology, respectively. The title comes from Terry Hummer's book of essays The Muse in the Machine, which my girlfriend introduced me to. The title just seemed to fit in perfectly with what I was trying to get across. As I went on, it seemed to fit better and better as different pieces popped up; the idea of internal struggle between acceptance and self-expression and to strive toward an artist doing art in a world that believes that art is unproductive kept coming up. All of those themes really affected my work over the course of composing it, though I don’t know if it really gets those themes across.
Existentialist literature is a big inspiration to my music, though I don't know where the transition begins from the literature to the music. The last thing I did before The Muse in the Machine was a remix for Ad.ver.sary's album A Bright Cut Across Velvet Sky; the song I remixed was "No Exit," and I named the remix "Sartre Wasn't Kidding." [Laughs.] In particular, Sartre is, if not my favorite, one of my favorite existentialists.
As time went on, the album became harder and harder to do, but at the same time more important to do because I had to get the ideas I'd been thinking and things I'd been feeling out and off my chest.
360: Would you give us some insights into your composition process?
CN: It's hard to describe. Every song begins with an idea or a melody. I hardly ever improvise. I don't think that I could work that way. My songs often have titles very early in their development because I usually have a very good idea of what I want to get across when I'm composing. Like "Icarus Descending" is the theme of falling from hope. The composition procedure comes from trying to put that idea into music. I don't really know how I do it; I just do.
I don't think that it's my talent [skill] that got me anywhere. I was never taught to play the piano. I have only the vaguest idea of music theory; for the most part, I just use my ears and try and pick up what I'm doing, and if it's capturing the ideas and emotions that I'm trying to get across.
360: How do you know when a piece is done?
CN: Is there such a thing as finished art? Isn't finished art destroyed art? Can't be touched, can't be envisioned, can't be seen. So, if it's perfect, it's not art—it has to be imperfect. I don't think that there is such a thing as perfection; perfection is a misnomer; the only thing that could be perfect is a void. And when you give something a form it's not perfect, so imperfection shouldn't be thought of as unfavorable. Perfection is a stagnancy, where all things have stopped and ended.
The Muse in the Machine is available at http://tympanikaudio.com/releases/ta037/.
© 360 Main Street, 2010
Translation from French by Jeanne Blum