Beats Over Tweets: Teleseen Talks With Audio Texture on "Passages"
Courtesy of Audio Texture’s James Barrie.
Here at Audio Texture, one of our albums of the year, already, is “Passages” from Teleseen on 100% Silk, one of the most inventive, “dance music” albums of 2013, a unique mix of great beats and global sounds submerged in a world of reggae flavours. We were so taken by the music we wanted to find out more. Below is a little interview we conducted with Gabriel Cyr, man behind this project and many more, via email from his intended new home Rio De Janiero.
Audio Texture: So we first heard about you from your Mandrake EP, released on your own Percepts label, back at the start of 2011 which immediately sucked us in with it’s global musical outlook, dub flavors and fresh beats. What made it even more appealing was that it didn’t really sound like anyone else, “By Many Names” in particular was a massive track for us both on the radio show and in our dj sets. It was such a joy to hear you deliver an amazing album with Passages, released last month, as so often early EP promise doesn’t always translate into a good album, let alone a good “dance music” album (a very rare thing) so first of all congratulations on that achievement.
Could you tell us a bit about the album recording process and that two year period in-between the Mandrake EP and the album release. You mention you were living between New York and Brazil (with a view to a permanent move at the time) and we guess also recording the album, sounds like a hectic time.
Teleseen: Well probably the biggest change in that period which affected the pace of the production of the record was that I moved in mid 2011 from an apartment/studio that I had been in for 8 years, and thought I was moving into a new more professional studio space near my new apartment, but that fell through at the last minute and I was left without a work space for about 6 months, working only on headphones or the studios of friends and with no access to my equipment. Then I moved into a space that turned out to be a total disaster, leaks, rats, angry neighbors and million other problems, then I was without a space again for another 6 months. I have been in a reasonable functional space the last 8 months but that situation seems like it may be coming to end as well. Basically in this period I worked on headphones, recorded in other people’s studios both in NYC and Rio and was very transient in my working methods. It took me moving into a space where I could really mix in order to finish the record, which didn’t happen until the end of last summer, after about a year of exile.
One of the things that immediately appealed to us was the live musical element to your work, could you tell us a bit about your musical collaborators on the album and a bit more about your musical background. Are you coming at things as a musically inclined electronic producer or as a musician discovering the joys of electronic production?
Mainly on this record I am working with one guy, Morgan Price from the group Ikekebe Shakedown. He’s been on my last three releases, he plays on Mandrake and one of the tunes on Fear of the Forest. I tried to make broader use of horns on this album. Also on the record are Jay Moherginer and Kevin Thompson, session musicians from NYC, playing trombone and trumpet respectively. Morgan plays, bass clarinet, alto and tenor sax on the record. Most of the keyboards and percussion that isn’t sequenced is me playing. I have a background in jazz and composition and with the last couple of releases have been trying to draw on that more in composing and arranging tunes.
Audio Texture: What does you studio set up look like are you surrounded by boxes, synths and instruments or have you stripped things down using today’s software options and plug ins?
Teleseen: I do have a lot of boxes and synths and instruments as you put it, but I do avail myself of software as well. I like to work with hardware whenever possible. I’ve been mixing a band record that I produced the last few weeks and we’ve been using some great hardware in a nice studio and it has reminded me what a difference it makes.
Audio Texture: You have so many influences in your music but the music of Jamaica seems to be a constant theme and almost a thread that makes it all hang together. Would you like to tell us a bit more about your Jamaican love affair.
Jamaican music has been a presence in my life since a young age, I heard Black Uhuru’s album RED at a young age and it strongly affected me, though I didn’t really know how to process it at the time in relation to all the other music I was absorbing at the time, jazz, fusion, and avant rock, other things I was hearing in the context of my musical education. It wasn’t until I went to college and had my horizons really expanded musically, by living in LA, playing in bunch of bands and finally being in an environment rich in many types of music that I began to understand what was happening in those productions. By the time I left school i was fully obsessed with dancehall and reggae and dub. In NYC it is really the soundtrack to everything, coming out of cars, people’s apartments, clubs, the constant background, much in the way it is in London too.
Audio Texture: We can’t even start to list the various global musical influences in the album, how did you get turned onto these global sounds, was it the New York melting pot or just the product of an inquisitive mind? Tell us how you work with all these influences to make your own unique sound.
Teleseen: I definitely have a highly inquisitive mind, but I have also traveled pretty constantly the last 8 or ten years, both for what used to be my day job, recording location sound for films, and for music, and just out of curiosity. I spent three or four years traveling extensively in the mid east and Africa and absorbed a great deal of music influence in that time which still has a strong presence in the music. The best part of a lot of these travels was not the listening part, but the opportunity to see how other people work and compose and produce and utilize the tools at their disposal. The last few years, having been in Brazil more, that influence has very much crept into my work as well.
Audio Texture: We weren’t aware you were a location sound recordist. That sounds like an interesting job, could you tell us a little bit more about what that entailed and I guess you must have one or two amusing stories regarding that work – prey tell? Does that mean you are now relying on production for others and yourself for your livelihood?
Teleseen: I still do it a little bit but I am in the process of shifting over to working as a producer solely and mixing albums for other people and post production work and so on. After 10 years of working on all types of projects in 20 or 30 different countries I am feeling the need for a change. By far the most interesting stuff I have done is when I have had the opportunity to work on nature programs. I have a few great experiences going to jungles in various places and recording ambiences and sound effects for different projects. Definitely the best results you get are when you set the microphones up somewhere and the recorder somewhere else, so the recording is not disturbed by your presence. If you do that and leave it for many hours you get the best results. I’ve got some wonderful stuff doing that technique in early mornings in jungles and rivers in places like Trinidad, Costa Rica, Tanzania, and Rwanda…
Audio Texture: Do you have plans to take the Teleseen project live, if so what will the group look like?
Teleseen: TI would really love to do that but I haven’t made any moves to just yet, mainly because I have been very itinerant the last year, but it is something I dream of. I think it would consist of me on electronics and keyboards, two sax players and a percussionist. I have been hoping to but together a a Rio version of the band and an NYC version.
Audio Texture: So after living between Brazil and New York for a year you’ve finally decided to make the move to Brazil. Why choose Brazil – is it because of the music, for love or did you just need a change of scene. Do you intend to stay?
Teleseen: There are many factors informing the decision, mainly they are personal, just feeling like it might be time for me to truly live away from my home country and not just be a traveller but a true migrant. But also I feel very captivated by what is going on down here musically and I want to be a part of it. I’m in Rio, but haven’t made the permanent move just yet, that will be happening at the end of the year hopefully, I’m still between the two places at the moment.
Audio Texture: Are you starting to hook up with Brazilian producers and musicians and if so have any new projects that are starting to hatch?
Teleseen: I just produced the record of a Brazilian band called Dorgas, and in talks about a few other projects. I have been blessed to meet amazing people here and I feel like I am at the nexus of a lot of potential here. Here’s a video for a song from the album I produced, it’ll be out next month on Vice Brazil.
Audio Texture: Have you discovered any new musicians or groups since arriving in Brazil that the world ought to know a bit more about?
Teleseen: One of the best things about being here is that I didn’t really know that much about Brazilian music when I came here so it has been like being a teenager again in terms of musical discoveries. As far as new groups there’s Holger, who are an indie band from Sao Paulo who mix a lot of Axé and samba styles in their work. I just finished a remix for them that should be out next week. There’s a long list of other music I’m excited about down here, B Negão, Lucas Santana, Jovens do Cristo, Baiana System, Maga Bo, Do Amor, and on and on….
Audio Texture: Will you miss anything about New York?
Teleseen: The list of things I will miss about New York is surprising short. Mainly they are food related. NYC has the best food options in the world I think. Bagels, trinidadian food, Lebanese food, indian food, good coffee…
Audio Texture: We’re hoping to head over to New York later in the year perhaps you could give us a tip or two in your old neighborhood that a hapless tourist would overlook and perhaps a couple of record spots for a bit of digging. Is it still possible to get a vinyl bargain in New York?
Teleseen: Definitely still possible to find a vinyl bargain in NYC. Probably the real digger’s paradise in NYC is a store in greenpoint, bk, called the Thing, a giant dusty room full of disorganized records where everything is under $5.
Audio Texture: Are you much of a record collector, if so let us in on some of the details of your collection and record buying habits. Will you take your records to Brazil with you?
Teleseen: I’m a huge record collector, but I have had to dial it back in recent years since my collection is about 4000 pieces at the moment, not including CDs and tapes and that’s about as much I can manage not living in a big house. I have not figured out yet what I am gonna do with my records, probably my mother is going to end up with them in her basement, alas. My collection is about a third reggae/dancehall/dub, a lot of african music and jazz, and a lot of rock and folk and country too.
Audio Texture: How do you feel about digital music, is it something you’ve embraced or do you still prefer to physically hold your music?
Teleseen: I have embraced digital music as a consumer, a little bit less so as a producer. There’s still really nothing quite like records, I still really like to make physical objects and wish that art options were better for digital. I really don’t understand why they aren’t, mainly a lack of imagination on the part of apple. Though it seems to me that most of the digital music platforms are made by people who’s focus is business and not music, though they have certainly bungled the business part as well for many of us. More and more the changes in digital music seem to be aimed at killing independent music and not nurturing it. That is certainly what streaming services like Spotify and Rdio are doing.
Audio Texture: One thing we are trying to get to the bottom of with our interviews is how the changing nature of the music industry over the last 15 years has affected the independent music sector. Technology has given todays music consumers the options to increasingly use Youtube, stream, buy digitally or rather worrying freeload on a massive scale. Perhaps you could tell us a bit about your experience of people’s changing methods of getting hold of Teleseen/Percepts music. I know this is a bit personal but if you could throw in a few figures for records sales and income generated to highlight these changes that would be great.
Teleseen: Well, my first record, War, which I released in 2007 is my highest grossing release, and the one that sold by far the most physically. I can’t remember exactly how many but close to 1000. But that was back at the end of the age when people still bought CDs and mp3 didn’t sound as good. (Even so that album was produced to be consumed on CD and didn’t translate very well to mp3, it had a lot of very high and very low frequencies that didn’t translate very well to mp3.) It’s pretty much been downhill since then. There was a time when the label was making some money off of digital sales but that pretty much went away when spotify came around. And even when I released Fear of The Forest, two days after the record release half of the first few searches in google where free download links, the same is unfortunately true for Passages. I’m not really sure why people do that. Is it a compliment?
Audio Texture: Youtube views, Facebook likes and Soundcloud listens are almost like a new currency to the young generation of artists and producers, with some people using bots to increase their hits and then trying to leverage these results into bookings. How do you feel about this strange new world and are you actively embracing the web 2.0 way of life.
Teleseen: I don’t feel good about it at all. I really couldn’t care less about the twitter feeds of most artists I like and this is one of the reasons I don’t really use twitter or update my pages unless it is about something to do with the music I’m producing and releasing or something I feel like I want to recommend. Artists are under immense pressure nowadays to keep up their social media presence and be constantly releasing music that the quality of work has really taken a major dive in the last 4 or 5 years. Rarely do you hear well thought out, well produced long players that are beyond 40 minutes. Not to sound like a cranky old man but people really need to focus more on music and less on the number of followers or plays the new flavor of the month has. I try to be apart from all this business, perhaps to the detriment of my career but… Less tweets more beats….
Audio Texture: So with your Percepts label you decided fairly early on to take business control of your musical creations. Could you tell us a bit more about that decision, was it just to have total control of your work, a distrust of working with labels or just entrepreneurial spirit?
Teleseen: At the time it was a combination of all of those factors, along with impatience.
Audio Texture: So after running your own label for a number of years what made you take the leap to work with 100% Silk on your third, and latest, album?
Teleseen: I’m at the point where I have a lot of finished products and I have been not releasing anything for two years and felt like it was time to try something new.
Audio Texture: With a good income from recorded sales harder to come by a lot of producers use the exposure their productions give them to get live gigs and/or DJ bookings. Is DJing something you do or have considered? What would a Teleseen DJ gig sound like?
Teleseen: I have DJ’d for years, but I haven’t so much DJ’d in connection with the Teleseen project, being that the sound of it is so unique its hard to make a dj set that connects perfectly to my releases. Historically when I have toured I have been doing a live PA set, and a few occassional dj sets on the side. My background as a dj is more in pirate radio than in party rocking, so I try to take a more left field approach, though I certainly have done my fair share of party rocking as well. I had a show on NYC’s free 103point9 pirate radio station for many years, and dj very regularly still.
Here is a promo mix I made for Passages, which is a little more dance music oriented.
Audio Texture: We are well aware of the London pirate radio scene with a couple of the old iconic dance stations Kiss FM and more recently Rinse FM both finally going overground and geting proper licences. The history of Pirate radio though is an ongoing battle, with the pirates, who could be playing everything from Zouk, Techno, Reggae, Hip Hop and Salsa, playing cat and mouse with the radio authorities, hidden attenaes on tower blocks, secret studios, raids and equipment and records getting confiscated. Could you tell us a bit more about the scene in New York and your personal experiences.
Teleseen: The pirate scene in New York has quieted a great deal in the last 7 or 8 years, but it still exists. Mostly its reggae and dancehall here. free103point9 went legal about 7 years ago I think, and now doesn’t even stream online anymore, the same with east village radio, but they still have online programming. What we used to have was the studio in one apartment and move the transmitter every week to a different apartment and connect them by internet streaming. Rumor has it that the big dancehall pirate station here operates out of a van.
Audio Texture: Have you started to develop any new revenue streams since starting out – synch or merchandising for instance?
Teleseen: No. Suggestions welcome!
Audio Texture: What is the reality of being a smaller independent musician these days – is it possible to survive and how do you see the future for yourself as an independent artist?
Teleseen: I will always be around because making music is a very essential, reflexive activity for me, its not something i have a choice about doing, its like breathing. I get horribly depressed if I don’t make music for a while. So I will always figure out a way. The last year or two I have been producing projects for other artists, both bands and individual artists, and its interesting to note how artists live much more in the short term than they used to, and this seems to me to be a by product of the increased rate of consumption we have for media. I notice myself tiring of things quicker, moving on to new subjects quicker, and have been trying to fight it.