The Digital Reality – A Q&A with holymachines

Image Version finds Berlin-based composer holymachines and Münster-based visual artist, Aquiet collaborating on an introspective work of immense proportions pulling at the frayed corners of reality to open up a world of surreal musical and visual encounters through which the listener is able to escape into his/her own thoughts. The album’s musical expression is reinforced by Aquiet’s visuals in which they question the very reality we find ourselves in when the digital realm and reality collide. holymachines creates majestic and overwhelming collages with elements pieced together from contrasting corners of electronic music, to combine in an immense organic structure that swells and pulses on the waves of some inorganic thought. The artist is said to take inspiration from a wide range of influences, breaking them down to a point where they loose their unique eccentric, genre-specific design and, in an altruist fashion, creating a bigger picture from these individual smaller parts.

holymachines flits somewhere between the subtle arpeggios of Oneothrix Point Never and the passive aggressive ambience on someone like Lawrence English and as a result it ticks all the boxes, while subscribing to none to begin with, It’s all put into a ocular perspective through Aquiet’s stimulating visuals, which work remarkably well on Golden Days, Bold Oblique in emphasising this introspective quality in the music, while adding something unique depth to whole experience through sculpting 3D visuals that pulse and swell in the same aesthetic as the sonic landscape suggests. But how did the visuals influence the music, and which actually came first? It’s questions like these we sent to the holymachines via email, in the hope that he could clarify and give us a little peak on how and why Image Version came together.

First off, can you give us an introduction to holymachines and the core ideas behind the project?

holymachines is my platform through which I channel my creative output. It doesn’t have a fixed shape; it’s always evolving and changing, like myself. Today holymachines might be an electronic music project using digital technology; tomorrow it could be an installation, the day after it could be something else.

We’re to discuss Image Version specifically. How did this collaboration with Aquiet take shape initially?

Aquiet hosts a regular audiovisual showcase in his hometown of Münster, Germany and I got booked to play a live set there in 2014. Although we had never met before and he even only listened to a few tracks I had uploaded to Soundcloud at the time, our performance had a magical vibe to it. The imagery he had chosen was so heavily resonating within me, that afterwards I just hit him up, asking if he wanted to collaborate ‘on something’ in the future – quite a common saying amongst musicians/artists. A lot of these projected collabs just never happen, but we stayed connected, shared images and music and eventually, while I was working on my debut album, I felt that I wanted a very strong visual component – so yeah, that’s how it started.

I’ve read that the album focuses on a world where the digital realm and reality collide; questioning the very essence of the reality we live in. Did the music take shape around this theme or was it more about the theme coming to life as the music came together?

I think it influenced the way I think about sound in general. When I started messing with sound, I applied a pretty common musique concréte approach to my work, meaning using mainly field recordings to construct my tracks, but after a while I realised it’s not the path I wanted to follow. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is still big territory to explore in this field – e.g. Matmos are showing that brilliantly, using the musique concréte vocabulary applied to a pop syntax – but I was looking for sounds that you couldn’t distinguish whether they have been recorded, synthesized, or simulated anymore. I was very fascinated when I read about Nick Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis, and found out there is actually a lot of research going on about the simulation of sound in hypothetic environments.

Were the visuals subject to the same theme?

Our mood-board consisted mainly of images of machine vision, rendered reality art and new aesthetic artworks, so from the beginning there was a strong visual connection to the question of how machines shape our reality. What I found very cool was how Aquiet mixed these influences with his own hypertextural and extremely detailed work and took these themes to another level visually.

How did Aquiet’s work on the visuals influence the music if at all?

Aquiet came into the project at a point when I had about 70% of the sonic material finished, but had no real clue how to connect all these pieces of the puzzle into one big coherent piece. But through working with him on an underlying narrative for the project this helped me to finish the album and make it ’rounded’. So yeah, working with him had a big impact on how the tracks flow in the end.

In your music we hear elements of noise, ambience, shoegaze and a host of other influences, distilled into a collage on each track. How does that reflect the theme behind the album?

During the time of making the record I was also reflecting on today’s micro genre obsession/fragmentation, since I was very aware of how certain sounds you choose can trigger certain genres immediately. At some point it almost felt like genre observation to me, seeing different micro genres pass by within months. The influences you cited are definitely there, but I was trying to strip them down to their core and used them more as a template to try to create a more timeless kind of sound. Of course – the narrative of the album relates to a certain period in time – but when I played it to people the references ranged from early 1950’s computer music, over Los Angeles influenced psychedelics to current Vaporwave.

Everything appears to be kind of broken on the album, from the structure of the percussion, to the ambient glitches. How did you achieve that in the music and is it something that you consciously set out to do?

I am very happy that you refer to this particular aspect, since it was one of the aspects I spent most of the work on. I come from a classical music education background I was really trying to leave behind my education as much as I could, to be as less a possible restricted by my knowledge. It ended up with me trying to write ‘non melodies’ and trying to work around concepts like harmony and rhythm, but still acknowledge them and nod to them. So in the end, this ‘Cut and Paste’, William S. Boroughs collage approach was what worked best for me, and I think some of the rigid sample cutting I applied makes the album feel broken.

It gives your very electronic music a very organic feel, almost hinting at some sort of artificial intelligence. Can you pull back the curtain a little and reveal some of your working methods?

This is a though one, since part of the explorative nature of the project is, that there are no fixed working methods that I could apply. The process itself is what interests me. I can spend a week with only one little portion of sound – be it found somewhere in obscure internet archives, be it generated by some of my programs, be it recorded – setting up different processes like randomising patches in Max/MSP, applying different time stretching algorithms, granular synthesis… so from maybe one second of sound I can create hours of material. And a fraction from this material might resonate with another process I started, and so forth…

Particularly, how much do the machines and electronic components influence your work, and how do you find this balance between creating these synthetic textures and your own human instincts?

This depends on the particular stage a piece is in: when I create or even generate material, I tend to give up a lot of control to the machines, setting up randomising processes, letting accidents happen. But even here it was my human instinct that led me to set up a certain process. Later, during editing, writing and mixing stages, it’s definitely the instincts and human decision making that shape the work the most.

Were there any outside influences except the overall theme that had an effect on the making of this album?

Big parts of it where made in an old forest house in northern Germany, where I used to go when I needed a break from Berlin. I spent some very focused time there, so this place definitely shaped the album. 

What do you hope the listener will take away from the experience? And how do you see that experience being affected by the visuals?

In a best-case scenario, the listeners/viewers are going to immerse themselves in our work and meditate about their own reality. The visuals are an essential part of this, since Aquiet constructed these abstract layers in a way that they guide the recipient, but still leave a lot of room for your own imagination/interpretation.

What have you taken away from this album and especially working with Aquiet, and how do you see it influencing your work in the future?

Before working as holymachines, I was playing with a lot of bands and projects in all sorts of musical situations. Although I was also contributing to the writing process with these projects, I felt the urge to start a solo project where I could be in full control of all artistic decisions. So at first, I took away this huge freedom of being able to find out what kind of artist I really am. Collaborating with Aquiet helped me not to be afraid to open up holymachines to other people, because he took the whole thing to another level, for which I am very grateful.