Schizoid Music for Hackers – An Interview with Assembler

The email I get from Claus Haxholm Jensen after our initial introduction is dotted with paraphrases, ideas trailing off into others, as I try to get to the bottom of his Assembler moniker and the concepts behind his latest album Quantum of Paths of Desire. The odd exclaimed “Ha” or ponderous “ah…” inches ever deeper into the psyche of the Danish composer as the eccentric personality unravels further with each sentence. It’s best described in the second track of the album Schizo Exstatic I/O; a title whose pun is only ever overshadowed by the drastic change of direction the track takes two-thirds into its existence. Haxholm Jensen’s answers to my questions act with purposeful unpredictability like that composition, a magnificently schizophrenic arrangement of words that permeates with incoherent energy, but makes perfect sense when they get to their final destination in the form of a sentence. The way he approaches the questions are similar to the way his music on Quantum Paths of Desire will latch onto the one idea, investing every bit of vigour as if it were the only idea, before shooting off into a new direction. When I ask where this unpredictable nature in his music has it’s origins, Claus remarks; “Ah finally something that might not be too schizo”, but then hesitates. “It all came from my big brother, so when he digged Nirvana, I digged Nirvana.” As his brother moved into Coltrane, Claus followed, but at the same time, turned to California Punk before things began “to evolve and get crazy” for the young Claus. “I think I quit jazz some time around Kurt Rosenwinkel, he was the last thing I remember us digging to together.” Claus vividly remembers Düreforsög’s Knee; Bad Brains’ The Youth are Getting Restless; Björn Svin’s Benene På Nakken; and Coltrane’s Giant Steps as records that stand out from his early musical development. Through these records we already see some of this eccentric behaviour we pick up in the text, and find in the abstract margins of his music. Claus refers to this inclination as the “schizo thing” that lies at the heart of the music, something resembling a collage of various cues taken from contemporary culture as they form a single thread of communication with their audience.

Claus took those early influences with him when he first turned to music through experimental noise under aliases such as Dead Black Arms and Doom Riot, all venturing into different angles from the same point of view. “It ends up being different sides of what I do and some of it was noise, drone, improv, experimental stuff and so on… “ In 2008/9 he focussed all his efforts in growing with the local scene in Copenhagen. “It’s good, experiencing a scene grow and get serious about itself, letting all the differences co-relate.” But it could only take Claus and his various alias up to a certain point, before he had to move onto the “’stupid’ things that the scene couldn’t handle.” Assembler was the result of one such “stupid” endeavour.

“One of the origins of the name and its agendas or fields of exploration was to challenge the ‘Metric Regime’, which is everywhere.” Assembler took on Techno, as possibly the most fervent enabler of the quantised form, but like everything that is Claus Haxholm Jensen it’s not merely as simple as that. “The name itself is also about metric or quantized movement of a machine assembling stuff; then I thought of a machine that would (for some reason) assemble out of time or in changing time signatures. Autonomy in some form, I guess.“ The ideas kept spiralling out from there and another element that would become an inherent feature in the future of Assembler’s music was making music for hackers. “There’s gamer music, yoga music, music for stealing cars and music to get stressed and to perform better and to concentrate better and blah blah blah, but I couldn’t find any music claiming to be hacker-music.” Naturally, these first attempts at music for hackers would find its way on to tape and local label Brystet was all to happy to accommodate the artist with mindhackers paradise & iqra / aiwa. Sinister synthesisers breaking the monotony of a wayward 4/4 rhythm swathed in airy pads, didn’t quite embody music for hackers according to the artist, but at the same time, it did recall various other visual cues. “I had a lot of William Gibson and early 90 anime cyberpunk hacker images in my mind as I made the early Assembler stuff.” He eventually caught the attention of Danish tape label Infinite Waves during this time. Hacking the Reproduction followed, and although he might have failed in creating music for hackers, he certainly fell upon something unique and it was with this unique sound that he would present his debut LP and Infinite Waves’ second vinyl release, Quantum Paths of Desire.

The record is a continuation of some those original ideas moulding together in the same schizophrenic collage, while at the same time bringing in new influences, piling onto the multation that is Assembler as it persistently evolves. Japanese film composer Masaru specifically infected the way Claus would approach his percussive parts for the album. “I had just seen Yojimbo, and there’s just some percussion that’s mixed and recorded really delicately, so they stand out with much more clarity and with crisp dynamics.” Although he might have eventually moved some of the elements to the rear of the tracks favouring a pop mix over his earlier techno orientated stuff, the influences are still notable on a track like Screensaver Hypnosis where the hi hats take centre stage in all their brilliant prominence. This track and the way the trap-like high-hats are arranged also bring up an interesting occurrence on the album. For me and many other listeners QPoD looked to recall much of a nineties and eighties sound palette, but when breaching this subject with Claus it appears this is not exactly the case. “As a trained contemporary artist I should have the skills to separate and know time-specific icons, but I really thought of QPoD as being a…contemporary release. I didn’t want emphasise some kind of retro sound, but I guess I was totally off. I linked the 808 to Kanye West and not new order (they used it, right?) or what ever.” Assembler plays in the “local swag or flavour” of contemporary tastes from Copenhagen, which is in fact a global pop-culture aesthetic. Having “binge-listened to all kinds of new RnB and Trap”, Claus fell into the same universal pre-disposition with certain sounds from the past and they filter into popular consciousness once again, but at the same time it avoids anything as concise as a trend. “My sounds have been calculated to fit the moods of the tracks or my ideas but not specifically to deal with or glorify the 90’s electronic music scene. I gotta change my arp and 808 plugins… (laughs). Gotta hack some hardwell and nicky romeo and all that stuff sometime soon! Nah sylenth1 is dead right? Anyway, so there’s some really beautiful fluxus and cornelius cardew scores – how would they go with high pathos absolutely, fucking no distance EDM?”

Suddenly we are driven down into Assembler’s ever-fascinating schizophrenic rabbit hole of references and ideas that eventually make up the music that is Quantum Paths of Desire. Compositions quickly flit from one idea to the next, referencing everything from contemporary culture, Masaru and even the traditional Korean song, Gagok. He puts this spasmodic nature in his music down to two things: “My short concentration span and my will to keep being convinced it’s a skill and not a flaw, so that it can become a method.” Although he favours a minimalist method in the music he enjoys to listen to, he opted to counteract that particular aesthetic through his improvisational skills, or flaws, depending on your point of view. “I’m a skilled improv musician and I decided to let my schizo-improv style (somewhat a kind to the drunken master style in Kung fu) be a stick in the techno-wheel.“ There’s still something of a minimalist appeal to his music, as the dense textures Claus created on QPoD, are born from a few parts effectively, influenced again by Yeochang Gagok. My stuff is primarily 2 or 3 elements moving around, but for QPoD I wanted to make it bigger and I guess that’s where the Gagok recording came in: arrangement, having only the elements that’s needed, and push and place them.“ This often comes across as a very rigid underlining theme that runs concurrently throughout the phrases while Claus improvises freely over the top, breaking up their machine-like metric rhythm through human intent. “It’s kind of a CERN situation where the human cog is still somewhat based in me, but at the same time, when we (the daw and me) are playing and constructing and talking together…well…two things are smashed together, making a field for a time where certain characteristics seem to blend.” In blending these characteristics the schizoid-nature of the music is emphasised specifically, developing music that transcends either to form some bio-mechanical, trans-human music with a focus on breaking the strict constrains of the rigid machine in favour of the random misadventures of the human.

It takes us back to the track that captured it all in one singular event, Schizo Exstatic IO. “I’ve made quite a bunch of arpeggio works (some of them released on Brystet, an Århus based tape label) and I wanted to elaborate on that, you know, Phillip Glass and Darude or whatever, and it turned out much like a Motorik kind of thing. Maybe it’s the synths or something that remind me of 70s Germany. When I made it I had a very ecstatic feeling and that just stayed in the title and I’ve just been thinking about schizophrenia as a skill and the information overload thrill that it could create…” And with this we tumble further into the artist’s mind’s eye taking schizophrenia as the new subject matter. “I don’t know any schizophrenic people and I’ve only heard of it as a bad thing, which might be a misinterpreted Cage virus I have, but when something is bad it’s worth diggin’ deeper into it until it become a super rocking experience…” And just as Claus Haxholm Jensen gives us valuable some insight, we trail off again. “I guess it could relate to some Deleuze and Guatarri thing though I mostly read them for the fun of it, which means I love their language, but I’m not sure I understand-understand much of it…” The uplifting trance melody, which has kept the energy levels at their peak, suddenly drops off into white noise.