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TimeblindGhosts in the Machine
Philosophy, technophilia, hard work and genre hopping — just where is Chris Sattinger's musical mindset at? Far from the sausage factory of old techno, Spannered discovers...
By Al Fresco
There are few styles of electronic music that Californian-born Chris Sattinger — aka Timeblind — hasn't turned his production skills to. Many years ago he trained as a classical saxophonist, yet his released material would seem to belie the connection — a sonically rich mix of experimental dub stylings, cerebral club techno, crunchy, next-level hip hop and the kind of brain-boggling rhythmic explorations that require some serious fucking about with programming architectures. During the nineties he made waves in the techno community through Woody McBride's Communique empire and Tim Taylor's Missile label, and in the first half of the noughties a slew of releases surfaced by way of Orthlorng Musork, Tigerbeat6, the Agriculture and Drop Beat Records. When his Ghostification EP dropped last year on DJ /rupture's Soot imprint, the record found secret weapon status with dub visionary Kode9 and, consequently, his music reached new ears through the emergent dubstep scene. Following three years living in Berlin, honing his studio skills and hanging out with the likes of Matt Shadetek, he's back in the energising hub of New York, where he took time out from his projects to answer questions for Spannered.
Where are you at the moment? How is everything there?
After three years in Berlin, I moved back to New York. Its taking me a bit to get into it, but its slowly getting better. People are very distracted here. There are a few pockets where people are open without always acting too-cool-for-school, but one of the problems with the city now that its cleaned up is that a lot of kids have moved in who don't understand the real New York, they don't really feel the history. The city creates weird people, and now we have all of these normal people and expensive rents and restaurants. I live in a factory loft with a German artist who has been here since the 70s. He used to have two floors on Times Square for $650; he's seen a lot.Tell us a bit about your background and influences, and to what extent your original influences affect the music you make today.
Its good to have experience in many musics and scenes; you get flexibility. I put out a lot of techno in the early to late 90s — Jeff Mills territory. I did rave breakbeat stuff, early hardcore. I tried to meld techno and jungle together a few times. Those two crews used to get physically violent in the rave parking lot, but I was really into them both. Now we have grime and dubstep. I spent a lot of energy trying to fight the constriction of genre, but I've learned to interact with the flow rather than fight it. You can't obey trends or ignore them, you have to play with them.Why the name ‘Timeblind’?
The speed of light is constant, and time is not. It's some kind of a idiot savant state of enlightenment. I did a track called that, and ESP Woody McBride suggested I should start using that as a name.In one of your web posts you said you started missing the energising force of the ‘big city’ (New York) when in Berlin. Did the music you were making in Berlin reflect the pace of life and the sense of isolation you felt there, in terms of both direction and productivity?
I work really really hard, like all the time. But in Berlin I could wander down by the canal for a bit. Really the internet is everywhere so I got no break from that. New York is of course very fast paced and connections happen quickly. You just need to have your skills developed and be ready to jump on it. Berlin was mostly about developing my skills. I wrote a lot of music, I got much much better at mixing and arranging. I learned a lot of very normal song-writing, melodic and arranging skills that I never learned because I was always trying to be different and unique. For years I wouldn't do anything if it sounded remotely like anybody else or anything I had ever done before. But now I realize these things are just like buttons that I can push. There's no point avoiding them, they are pathways that people respond to so I should play with them. I even made a lot of very normal hip hop and jazz style stuff with very high production quality. People are amazed to hear the stuff. Like ... damn Timeblind the iconoclast has figured out how to masquerade as normal. Berlin was a chance to work through all this stuff. But amazingly I didn't feel much connection with the music of Berlin itself. I hung out with breakcore people, then I hung out with techno people. The techno parties are great, and techno can be very innovative and fresh if you are spinning the right records. I've been to dubstep parties where it was boring as hell, all night the same bass and beat. On the other hand Kode9 will find huge amounts of variety and keep you interested.Repression, zero tolerance policies and gentrification have killed off and restricted much of New York’s nightlife. Berlin, meanwhile, is rocking; lots of foreigners are moving to the city and the atmosphere seems very stimulating on an artistic level. How would you compare New York and Berlin in the light of the conditions that exist to allow a healthy alternative/nightlife scene?
New York isn't exactly your grandma's living room. Wolf and Lamb throw excellent parties, Bushwick has a bunch of loft parties going down. Those gentrifying Williamsburgers bounce around like crazy to Drop the Lime. Manhattan has lots of clubs small and big that will still blow any small town mind. I was at a great old-school disco party the other night. Serious crate digging, Italian sound tracks and rare pressings from downtown New York 80s disco. Lots of exclusive in-the-know stuff happening. Dancehall parties are huge in Brooklyn and the Bronx.Can you tell us a bit about the naming of your tracks? For example, Ontological Ground of Being — was the track inspired by such philosophical thoughts, or did you decide on the title at a later stage? What are you referring to by ‘Ghostification’?
Crazy stuff does happen, but Berlin certainly parties more, longer and for much cheaper. Does this improve the artistic conditions? No. Hangovers certainly don't improve productivity or depth of expression. Many of the more productive people in Berlin go to very few parties. There's a bunch of people living very quietly there and doing good work. It's a good quiet city with nice trees and you can always grab a nice lunch in the afternoon and chat with friends. Surprisingly Berlin's experimental side seems very subdued. Belgium, Netherlands or Köln have more varied music. I'm still not sure why that is.
Ontological Ground of Being is a Buddhist technical term. It's the phenomena of your individual continuum, but below the level of thought, personality or experience. I think its equivalent to the 8th consciousness, the Alaya (seed/ground).You’ve commented that Rio funk has crossed over to Western audiences because electro beats and rave stabs are universal language. This could be said of much modern music that mixes ‘local’ and ‘Western’ elements — but when local language isn’t understood by listeners in other countries, what problems does this present?
Insight helps me to progress as a person and to understand my musical process, but the act of making music itself is direct application. There is no pre-planning or thinking during that.
Ghostification is what is happening to all of us as we spend more of our lives inside of computers and interacting with phenomena that only occur in these abstract worlds. It's not good for your body at all. It also somewhat refers to the disappearance of objects (like vinyl records that Rupture still fetishises), which is why I insisted on paying the extra cost to put it on clear vinyl.
As Mims says, "I could sell a mil sayin' nothing on a track", so no problem. I have never really spent much time wondering what baile funk guys were on about. I'm sure there are some surprises (and a lot of southern hip style nothings), but the message in the tone of voice is enough to get into it. In US hip hop I can catch so many levels in the way words are smeared or regional accents are played; a German guy is just getting the attitude and catching less than half the lyrics. The more you get into any style the more you learn. Some references are things that only people from that neighborhood will understand or from a certain group of people, but you can layer it so it still works on MTV. Everybody gets something.Ha, yes, you could call me occidental I guess [Brit in Brazil]... 'Western' and 'non Western' are loose (and problematic) concepts rather than geographical definitions, hence the quotations marks. But when such constructs are used so extensively — often by people who themselves agree they are problematic — can you see a way out of this?
By the way. What do you mean 'western'? Y'all are down south. Do you mean 'northerners'? Or by 'western' do you mean the 'cowboys and indians' audience? Are you occident or orient? I think you are occidental.
Yes, I'm just teasing because the term is funny. It's kind of like left wing, right wing. Originally that referred to the parliamentary houses in France. I always liked in India when I saw the sign that said "western food". I wanted huevos rancheros and fish tacos!Should musicians have a carte blanche to sample, or can a line be drawn?
Wack is wack. Something is rich and good for a variety of aesthetic reasons, and you can't just really come up with a simple rule based on the use of samples. Legal issues are completely different, and I'm not even interested in that old debate. Someone can be a boring copy cat and use synths, and somebody else can play the sample practically straight but do it so right-on that it blows your mind. It's impossible to explain outside of modern music culture. You have to feel it and keep up with the codes. I couldn't even begin to explain that stuff to my mother.How has traveling influenced the music you make?
When I was in India for six months it totally disconnected me from the gloomy world of northern European electronics. That stuff sounded so ill when I came back to it. I was talking with Maga Bo, wondering what would happen to my music if I moved down there for a season.Have you played your music much outside of the US and Europe? If so, whereabouts, and how has it been received?
I've had Japanese tours set up a few times and then we ended up not going. I still have never been to South America, but I want to do that for sure. I haven't been touring at all recently, though I might decide to focus on that for one tour.Your MySpace page reads ‘Been making dubstep for 10 years’. Being one of a few musicians mining similar sonic veins before a scene evolved to mark out the area as a genre, do you think a fair chunk of older music with distinct sonic similarities exists under the radar of much of the dubstep community? Has anybody taken you to task on your MySpace jibe?
African Head Charge (1979), Dreadzone (1993) techno/ragga, A Guy Called Gerald's Juice Box label (1991), Macro Dub Infection, Rhythm and Sound, Select Blood and Fire mixes (I used to mix this with Mills and UK underground records I got from Blackmarket). Tons more. Lots of cool French breakcore/dub clashes. Lots of dub-house records throughout the 80s-90s. In 1994 I put out a white label that sounded like crunchy Aphex with Burning Spear samples. All this stuff was in the 130-140 bpm range with tech sounds, dread bass and reggae i-brations. But these guys were always on the fringe of other styles. Dubstep makes it into a style. In UK Garage that sound developed for a while before the term dubstep stuck and of course then the style started to get too defined. Some of it is too coalesced, too by the book. But overall you can get away with many things and you should. All genres are boring if they stick to their own rules. You can't ignore the rules, you have to break them. The cool people in the scene are truly innovating.Your Soot EP blew many of last year’s dubstep releases out of the water. Were these tracks at all influenced by current dubstep material?
Half of it was done before the dubstep term had surfaced. I was listening to a lot of grime though. Terror Danjah for sure. There were bunches of things before grime that now we would call them dubstep. A bunch of grime classics were retroactively classified as grime.Do you hear much ‘dub’ in much ’dubstep’?
I kind of liked it when there was no Jamaican sounds in the tracks at all. I'm okay with a bit of a sample-shout-out to the past, but it sounds like it settled into another jungle with obligatory Jamaican riffs.You’ve been helping mix down tracks for a duo that have an unparalleled handle on grime in the US —Team Shadetek. Can you tell us about the tracks and working with these guys?
Matt Shadetek and I lived in Berlin and hung out a lot. I like making tracks with him, we bounce off each other really well and compliment each other's strengths. We did two riddims, one is voiced by Jammer and one by High Priest.You’ve said that grime is ‘surface frenzy’, while techno can go ‘much deeper into your psycho-corporeal’. Many people first encountered you through your techno releases... Would you say techno has the potential to go deeper into the body than most forms of electronic music? If so, why is this?
I've gotten really into mixing, and its great to pull up somebody else's track and blow it up huge. Mixing vocals is also really fun, all of these ad libs and doubles. Some of the vocals on the Shadetek album Pale Fire needed to be remixed, so I got in there and got to play around. I get to try out a lot of tricks of what I hear in hip hop or Timbaland. It's amazing how much you can emphasize in vocals by how in your face, dropped back, by what the frequencies and spatial positioning are telling you. Grime tends to have the vocals a bit too hot, where US Hip Hop melds the vocals and the beat a lot more. You can turn it up louder, and the MC sounds bigger because the track is part of him. The whole thing has more sense of scale. Lots of Space Designer work, what spaces signify: how close is he to you? Does his voice kick up into the space when he accents? Gnarl at you in the middle? That can be annoying or stunning.
Techno is such a learned response, and its a music that puts you into your personal inner world at the same time as you are physically in this field of ecstacy with everybody on the dancefloor. Grime and even dubstep have you staring at the stage, and frankly the production quality isn't nearly as good. I like grime and garage for its frenzy. The best techno is very sensitive to the physical effects of sound, and for that they have sacrificed form and melody because they would get in the way. In the 90s we always used to talk about the cellular level effect of tracks. Don't listen to it with your first attention at all. Techno goes deeper into your body because it tranquillizes your mind. Also grime and hip hop are cultural forms making social moves, so you don't have time to zone out and feel your chakras.Why do you think techno has become such a dirty word? Too much ‘surface frenzy’?
You mean grime?No, I actually meant techno, in that a lot of techno from recent years completely lacks the sensitivities you mention — it just sits in the ears, ride cymbals blazing, waiting for the next filter sweep or breakdown. It's a different kind of surface frenzy to grime, admittedly...
I haven't heard that kind of stuff for years, but then I have been living in Berlin. Sometimes it's very good (Ricardo Villalobos, John Selway), sometimes it's just limp and weak and boring. Lots of records in that scene just sound too small and clicky or too samey. It's all Reaktor or Reason blippy noises. Some of it is really good though and very seductive (it's always stopping short of hitting you, pulling the sound back inside). It's the female sexual response, not the sausage factory of old techno.Since you set up the Dance Music Business Resource pages in 1995, the industry has changed tremendously. During this time, do you think it has become harder for musicians to earn a living solely through making music? What urged you to establish this online resource in the first place?
There is also a lot of housey minimal techno with deep internal sounds and echo spaces opening up, sometimes very strange episodes. The form has gotten more interesting with extended breakdowns. I wish there were more basslines.
But I haven't heard this old style of hard techno for quite a while. The ride cymbal thing always amused me. It's exactly like the choruses in heavy metal: the drummer brings in the ride cymbal and keeps it steady, then a crash at the end and back into the verse.
But for me to say techno is interesting is like me listening to Kode9 and saying that dubstep is great and innovative and wide-ranging. Then the person I talked to goes to their local dubstep night and hears half-step and wow-ow-ow basslines and rasta samples ad nauseum.
I thought I wanted to start a label, so I collected information about it. I am always meaning to write new articles for it. I would have to approach it as a job and try to monetize it to make it worth doing, and there's many resources now like the BBC site. Lately I've been posting interesting news items that I come across and commenting on them.You mention Wolf and Lamb — a crew who run an open source label, distributing their music under a Creative Commons license and providing Ableton layout files of tracks to boot. Have you put any of your work out in the public domain under a 'copyleft' license? Do you know of any other collectives/projects pushing similarly forward-thinking creative initiatives?
There's less income from records, but there never was that much for indie people. It's possible to tour MORE now, and to more countries and networking has gotten much easier. If you live cheaply and do something that people want to go to parties to see, then you can make money. It's always been like that.
The last time I searched through the net labels I didn't find too much music that was great. MOD files from back in the day were cool. I should actually play around with W&L's ableton files. Tampopo at www.sumodehouse.com are cool. Some of the tracks are good. The art work is always great. Sign up for the emails just to get the graphics in your inbox.At the bottom of your site you mention your accounts on MySpace, Flickr, del.icio.us & Last.fm... Where do you see Web 2.0 technology in years to come, in terms of social importance for web users? Does the data collection element of such sites concern you — or, in the case of MySpace, the number of people placing their communications and the promotion of their art in the hands of wealthy, powerful corporations?
I'm not so concerned about the corporations as I am about some other entity (for example a Bush-run government) getting their hands on this data. But they can spider that off MySpace already, they don't need inside access. An oppressive government is always a fear, but the quality of people's life is affected more by what the technology itself does to the spirit. Research and learning is greatly enhanced, I love it. Distraction and screen-trance is a huge problem though. The next huge step is when Web 2.0 converges with mobile devices. Then you can really be social. I'm looking forward to the computer disappearing. I have a Blackberry now and I already like it better that I'm not always at the computer. I was trading emails from my mobile with Rupture today about some stuff we are doing. I was in desolate industrial East Williamsburg. I have no idea where he was. This kind of connection does improve relationships. It's like the Amish: they test every technology to see if it tears the family apart or keeps it together. They use cell phones when they are away from the house because it keeps the family connected. When they get home they keep them in the shed. But once you get implants...You say you’ve made thousands of tunes. Can you pick out some personal favourites?
Shit, I have 350 finished tracks sitting here now and I can't figure out what goes where. It's one of my biggest weaknesses. That and making tracks that didn't know where they were going to start with. Rupture says there is at least an album there, but not by my standards. I want releases to stand for something, to establish something. There's nothing worse than putting a record and thinking "well, that was OK". But then I did that in the 90s and now I think those records are great despite the faults. Jeff Mills spun it, why should I complain? I always feel like I am just about to come up with something way better than ever before. I've always felt like that. Just give me some more time in that studio...Finally, what’s in the pipeline for you?
I've been studying film scoring actually, learning all the dynamics and language of film music. I want to score some indie film, but I'm still trying to locate the style of film and the style of music. There's a dubstep/worldstep compilation coming out on the Agriculture featuring me and a bunch of people including DJ Pinch. I should finish another record, right?Ghostification is out now on Soot Records. Track down a copy while you still can!