While Sydnei was in in New York at the Rock N Roll Resort Psybient Soiree she got to sit down with Simon Posford (Shpongle, Hallucinogen) and Rain of Phutureprimitive for an enlightening conversation.
Sydnei Slutsky: How do you go about composing music now that you’ve started using Ableton?
Simon Posford: I don’t use it so much for composing, but it’s a great tool for live shows because you can mix your tracks up and be able to play with your tracks, add some stuff, take away other stuff. It’s a lot easier to do in Ableton as opposed to playing off CDs or using Logic, which is what I use in the studio. Ableton is great and it’s a very powerful tool, but I grew up on Logic and for anyone, it’s sort of what you know. (To Rain) Do you use Ableton?
Rain: No, I’m sort of the same, I use Logic to produce. I use Ableton sometimes as a tool for time stretching or if I have some type of loop I want to incorporate. It’s a great tool if I want something to fit into a tempo, but I definitely use it to perform live.
Sydnei: So how do you go about writing your music? Does the computer come first or do you pick up an instrument and play something?
Posford: Well, it depends. With electronic music, generally you start with the computer and you have a blank screen and you just start making sounds, then we get the instruments in later. On rare occasions, I’ve started a song with a guitar or a piano, that’s generally more for Younger Brother.
Sydnei: Are you the primary songwriter or is it more of a collaborative process?
Posford: Being in the studio is a collaborative process. Even if you have a non-musician in the studio, I’ve found that it helps to have them there just as a sounding board. With the case of working with Raj, he can’t really work with computers, so it’s me that does that aspect while he plays flute and stuff, but he’s very much the inspirational type character. He’s a very visual person, so he might come up with a visual to aid like a lake shimmering, or a journey through a waterfall where you start in the shallows with the mossy rocks and the sunlight glinting through the trees and you go into the waterfall, then you stand under the waterfall, and you have the weight of all that water rushing over you and you go through and to the other side… then you have a cave with the stalagmites and stalactites, and the dripping sounds, and he’ll sort of ramble on forever and I’ll try to make something that fits that.
Sydnei: Interesting. (to Rain) And how do you go about making your music?
Rain: Sometimes it happens before I’m ever in the studio. I actually have bunches of recordings on my phone. I’ll get inspired at the most random times, like I’ll be in the shower and I’ll go running naked to grab my phone to hum something. If somebody found my phone, they would have a field day just going through there because it’s terrible singing, it’s just enough to get the memory of the melody. Other times, I won’t have any idea when I sit down and I can be inspired by pretty much anything, like a drum beat I heard in a previous song or I’ll just play around with chords and get an idea for a chord structure, or sometimes I’ll noodle around with a synth.
Sydnei: What kind of synths do you use?
Rain: Mostly soft synths. I think most people are using native instruments. I use a mixing desk at the studio because I feel like it adds texture back to an otherwise overly sterile environment.
Sydnei: Do you ever play synths live?
Rain: It depends, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I’ve done the live band thing for a year, and I actually prefer performing that way, but it’s logistically a whole ‘nother monster. I find it easier to take strides advancing myself as an artist solo, but I like doing both really.
Posford: So tell me more about this phone idea. So you literally have a melody that you sing into your phone or do you say, “Note to self: track by so and so”?
Rain: Yep, I do it by ear.
Posford: Do you ever record sounds into your phone?
Rain: Sometimes. I just bought a really nice recorder for the tour, so we can start doing some sounds– some found sound. I love recording just anything, sometimes just the atmosphere of a room or a car going by and you can add a few simple effects or timestretch it and it becomes this whole textural sound, and I don’t think many people do that. When you start using sounds from the outside environment that you can somewhat recognize, I think that gives you sort of a backdrop to appreciate the music by. The environment in which you hear the music in has a huge impact on how you perceive it, and rather than leave it up to chance, you can steer the listener into the direction in which you want them to perceive it.
Posford: The technology is such that now you can literally take any sound, and you can make a tambourine into a liquid drop of nectar or you can take the sound of a car going by and make it into a doom-laden canyon of despair. Where did that come from that I just said that? Nectar to despair in one bar! Man…the wrong woman, the right bar, the right bar, the wrong drink… But it’s funny you talk about your phone, I actually have a deal with Ott where if one of us dies, the other person will go over and rescue their computer…and burn it.
Sydnei: Not even share what’s left?
Posford: Not even so much for the musical ideas, more for the other stuff, the other uses that you can find for a computer, people don’t need to know that stuff. (laughs)
Sydnei: Do you ever write music simultaneously for all of your groups (Shpongle, Hallucinogen, and Younger Brother)?
Posford: I like to do one until I get sick of it.
Sydnei: How do you transition back and forth because they are each so unique sounding?
Posford: It’s easy. It’d be harder to just stick with one thing. I bore myself sometimes. I mean I’ll have Raj come and stay in my house and work at my studio and soon I’ll be sick at the sight of him.
Sydnei: With technology continuing to improve, how you guys see your music evolving?
Rain: For me, I don’t have a particular direction. I think it’s important for me to stay open-minded. I really like the idea of collaborations a lot.
Posford: Do you generally like to work on your own?
Rain: Yeah, I have a harder time working with other people. I have a harder time focusing if someone is in the studio with me just staring at me.
Posford: Interesting, I find that quite inspiring. It’s gotta be the right person though. You get so absorbed in working on all the details that it’s nice to get a fresh perspective.
Sydnei: What does shamanism mean to you?
Posford: Most people think of it as a witch doctor, kind of guiding someone on a psychedelic journey. Shamanism itself I see as more of a connection to nature and plants and medicine.
Sydnei: How has that specifically influenced your music?
Posford: The psychedelic experience influences my music in many ways. They don’t call it mind-expansion for nothing.
Sydnei: Have you ever participated in a ritual with ayahuasca led by a shaman?
Posford: No, but in a way, Raj is my shaman. He was there the very first time I took DMT. He was my mentor, my guide. I was terrified, how can you not be when you hear stories about it? Terrence McKenna said, “If you have taken a psychedelic and you’re not thinking ‘Oh I’ve done it now, I’ve taken too much, I’ve really done it this time’, then you haven’t taken enough.” Me and Raj talked about other people’s experience and we did some meditation and breathing. I think that’s what a shaman might do.
Sydnei: Expanding on that, have you ever experienced any sort of reoccurring being that consistently shows up throughout your trips?
Posford: Yeah, I have. To talk about experiences on DMT… how long have you got? Revelation after revelation! For me, there was an intelligent energy that communicated with me not always through language, sometimes telepathically and sometimes hieroglyphic forming multidimensional different shapes and colors. I could see the stuff in my mind leaving my mind in a stream of liquid holographic symbols. There was a flute riff in there, and we were working on “Behind Closed Eyelids” at the time, and these beings said to me, “That’s the riff. That’s it, right there,” and he pointed to a little segment of mercurial stuff that was streaming from my brain and he told me to make sure I recorded that. Sure enough, after I came down and didn’t speak for a day because I was absolutely astonished beyond words. I thought, “Language…what’s the point?” And now I’ve forgotten the question.
Sydnei: And what about you (Rain)? Do you have any experiences like that?
Rain: Yeah, and I’m certainly a different person on the other side of that journey. My biggest thing that I’ve gotten from it is that I confronted my ego in an entirely different way. I saw myself in a way that I never had before, and when I came down, I was incredibly humbled and I was really quiet for a while just trying to process everything. I’m quite certain I only remember a small fraction of what I was gifted.
Posford: Do you think it changed your music?
Rain: Yeah, for sure. I think every experience you have has the potential to and it will show up in little ways in your production or what melodies you’re inspired to make, I’m sure of it.
Posford: My trip was very reassuring. A lot of people often say to me, “Your music is so DMT” before I had ever taken DMT, so what does that mean? I don’t have to take DMT to make “DMT.” Then I took it, and I said, “Yeah I get how that sounds DMTish”.
Rain: I was listening to “Divine Moments of Truth” during that trip and when there would be percussive sounds, it didn’t really do anything for my journey, but when there were strings or melodies, it catapulted me further into my experience.
Posford: I’ve never done it with music. I like to do it in silent, dark rooms. I find that any external sounds, even a bird chirping, it’s a little thread to reality and you need to sever all those threads.
Sydnei: I have one final question. I noticed in both the DVD and the live show I saw, Raja had a few crazy instruments that look completely ridiculous. I remember a tripped out saxophone that lit up and had stars and whatnot. Do they actually do anything or is it all for show?
Posford: Some of them make sounds. What you described is what we call a “shnorkelflute”.
Sydnei: Does that one make noise?
Posford: Raj can make it make noise, nobody else could.
Sydnei: Where did you find Raja?
Posford: In a cartoon somewhere. In a psychedelic cartoon, and he just leapt out of it.
Sydnei: Sounds about right. Well thank you so much to both of you for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk today. I’m really excited to see what kind of music you bring to the table tonight!