David Letellier is the art bender behind the name Kangding Ray – the introspective, weighty-bass performance illustrated by graphic analyzers. He’s part of the collective Raster-Noton, also the house of Frank Bretschneider, Byetone and Alva Noto. The musical side of David has one of the most “tangible” structures of the group, as he adds up a emotive texture, rather easy to digest if compared to the laboratorial arrangements of his colleagues.
He has already launched three memorable albums. His palette generally includes bass music, guitar and a lot of intrepidness when recording material, nothing so extraordinary if it wasn’t for his ability of compacting those in harmonic narratives.
The first tale, “Stabil”, is the minimal landscape of precise bass, a meditative relecture of electronic reduction in 2006. “Automne Fold” was released in 2008, the act of existential vocals engraved in a more spacious melody, the most pop output of Kangding Ray so far. “Or” came out last year and used threatening bassline plus ripping synth to globalize the response, as if the existential neurosis of Automne Fold was shifted to the public sphere, we have then the apocalyptical sensation of our days in the shape of a long play.
Just as Raster-Noton, David also has an interdisciplinary approach, while the label embraces the fusion of art and science, the artist is busy with robotic installations and the Kangding Ray live to explore the interactive possibilities of sound, the point where all his manifestations converge.
In the interview, he talks about all his expressions, the crisis in the studio, the satisfaction on stage and details the recent tridimensional experiments Versus and Tessel. He furthermore recalls three different periods of his career – one to each album released. Lastly he gives his opinion about intellectual property and the future of our virtual extensions.
Have you had any beliefs that faded away with the time?
Kangding Ray: I thought I would turn out to be a serious man, with a car, a house and a proper job. I don’t have any of that today and i believe things won’t change. But I am satisfied, i think it’s a privilege to do what I like.
Which situation inspires you the most?
I have a lot of ideas when i travel, rather in a private context than cultural. Asia is a big source of inspiration for me: India, China and Japan for instance.
How do you control the limits between experimental phases and conclusions? Are you happy with your power of decision?
Not quite, i am slow when making decisions. I think the problem lies on the strong tools we have to create, you can always go back in time to twist and reserve, that reduces our power of definition. When recording was analog we were forced to decide, but nowadays I keep saying “I will change that later”.
Does that mean you must coercively bring things to an end?
Sometimes i feel the process is too long, in this case yes, i try to find a quick solution, also because the more you experiment, the further you are from the original idea.
Apnée – Part II
A Protest Song
Do you often have creative blackouts?
Yes. However, I try to avoid them by interleaving periods of performance with months of only production. What lessens the blackouts are the changes that occur in the phases of non-production.
How long are these phases and what they can change?
Generally from 4 to 6 months. I try to change a lot of things, now for example, i am rearranging my studio completely, not only to make it better, but to let new thoughts circle. I always feel very empty after releasing an album, the other artistic influences, just as the live performance, kind of reconstruct my creativity.
How would you describe your emotional frame to both performance and production times?
Making music is for me very autistic and intense, costs a lot of energy and sometimes I feel lost, suddenly i am not sure of what I want and i feel bad for a few days. The live is the reward for all the work I had, it’s testing directly the results of the studio, it’s when i feel complete.
What’s your relation to the visuals of Kangding Ray live?
I have a strange relation with the visual part, as I don’t control it actively, it’s a graphic analyzer controlled by midi. My intention is not an audiovisual installation, it’s a concert… the imagery serves a theme, an ambiance, it’s important that it remains a coadjutant. That’s why I try to conceive it a abstract as possible.
Could you describe three different times of your career, one to each album?
The first album took long. I got a proposal from Raster-Noton in 2003 and only finished the output in 2006. I listened to a lot of stuff during the time, but was mainly influenced by minimal electronica and ambient. It was intense, as I needed to pre-establish a style. The result, “Stabil”, was light, pure, melodic and filigran.
Automne Fold was a leap to a darker and rather instigating level, quite familiar with the dancefloor. In that time i went out more and was influenced by obscure rhythms like dub and techno. That made sense because I reunited influences of the past – industrial, noise, rock – and incorporated that in my work. I must confess that I listened to things like “NIN” and “My Bloody Valentine” in the 90′s, I had no idea of what was happening in electronic music.
Or is an album that came closer to the ideal of music i have since the beginning: tracks for the club sphere that are also in tune with a concept, that can also be appreciated out of that sphere. The particular concept of Or is apocalyptical, the idea is to transmit the modern sensation of crisis and end of the world.
Tell us about the idea behind the installations Versus e Tessel.
They are machines that move according to the ambient sound. I love the idea of producing autonomous machines, as I am always surprised by the results, it’s frightening because they are huge and you never know what the mechanical response to the sound will be. The plastic wasn’t really intentional, the concept is focused on sound, space and movement. Versus for instance, began on paper very abstractly, I started to fold and combine hexagons until I decided for the general aspect.
What’s your artistic priority at the moment?
I have requests for realizations in the same direction of Versus and Tessel, I must say they are activities that I try to separate from Kangding Ray. The sequence is still freeform, I am only sure that sound and movement will be combined again.
How do you see free culture? Does it disturb you to see your works being used without your rights being paid?
I think it’s part of the game. In the past I had a problem with that, but I realized that the more you enjoy recognition, the more you will be confronted with free culture. There are hundreds of videos that use my music without permission, just as my albuns can be also downloaded for free. I don’t care anymore, I believe the artist should be opened to other alternatives, that’s when the live becomes important, because a moment can’t be downloaded.
Do you have any kind of premonition for the development of our age?
Everyone might have a vague idea of the consequences of today’s schemes, things that can go extreme tomorrow. But one thing I think is sure, we can’t stop the digitization of our day-by-day, we should rather optimize the way we adapt to such transformation, at the same time I think it’s natural to resist the virtual world, if you only listen to mp3 and communicate with your friends online, you will eventually be bored, so that the real event gains importance again, as if to compensate the sterile coexistence.
If we put a graphic thought analyzer over your head while you are producing music, what would come out on the screen?
Glossy shapes, sometimes texturized, with all possible variation of colors. All definitely abstract.
Photo by Kenichi Hagihara