tobias c. van Veen
1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?
I began with Suzuki violin. I always made mixtapes and somehow landed a gig playing the music at skating rinks when I was just a kid. I fel in love with the echoing sound of beats off the rink… Through late night listening to CiTR 101.9FM in Vancouver, to DJ Noah’s Homebase show, the G42 Players and others, I began to dig all kinds of noise, electronic, improv, electroacoustic, and of course, techno. This led to picking up turntables in 1993 after seeing them in practice at a rave, and teaching myself how to use them. I started playing out shortly thereafter and organising events in what was then a vibrant techno counterculture on the West Coast of North America.
The technoculture was nomadic, anarcho-soundsystem oriented, just as happy
outside in a forest by a glacier as breaking into a massive warehouse. These experiences have guided my subsequent forays into radio and sound-art which I began in 1997 after becoming involved with CiTR 101.9FM while working under Anna Friz. As well as exploring all ranges of the sonic arts, be it microsound, field recordings, ambient or radio-art, I remain a DJ to this day, dedicated to Detroit-influenced techno, dub techno and all kinds of minimalisms and broken beats.
2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical
I live in Montréal, which as I write is buzzing with outdoor bands just
outside my window on the Main a.k.a. rue St. Laurent. The music outside is
horrid — a real mish-mash of wannabe punkrawk and metal bands — but at
least this city, unlike the sanitized consumer culture of so much of North
America, is awash in energy. Just up the street is Casa del Popolo, the
small venue and bar which is home to much of Montreal’s music underground,
and just down the street is Laika, the dj hangout at which any number of
very talented selectors and turntablists can be heard in a cafe setting.
There are many other venues of course. I moved here in part for the MUTEK
festival of minimalist and experimental electronic music and digital
culture, which I have been attending, covering and peripherally involved in since 2001. Since 2003 I have been the Concept Engineer at the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) which is a 30, 000 square foot digital arts space in a renovated warehouse, which hosts many a one-off music gathering, usually in the electronic, vj/dj veins. I curate the Upgrade Montreal, a local technology arts gathering, and I work on all kinds of projects involving the sonic arts locally and internationally. McGill and Concordia universities in Montreal also host electroacoustic programs, which trickle down into the indie scene through various events and the Victoriaville festival. So that’s the scene of Montreal, which despite sounding hip by this account, remains somewhat insular.
3.Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?
Music-making is not my profession — for that matter, I doubt anything is my profession. There is no bank in the muzic biz, at least not these days, on one’s own terms, especially in the far reaches of the electronic orbit. The context for some things, such as djing, has dwindled since the ’90s as the cultural appreciation and understanding of the turntablist has become diluted and dilapidated. Djing has gone from eclectic events with thousands of people to smaller private gatherings. The technoculture has migrated to rawk, or disappeared entirely, and counterculture in general feels in somewhat of a lull. As for the experimental sound arts, though “art” festivals abound, the more intriguing events which merge countercultural aspects with formal sonic experimentation have also receded or become codified in circuit festivals. The next resurgence will no doubt prove worth struggling for.
4. How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc?
I approach sound-art — which is a term I somewhat despise — as in part a
conceptual endeavour, in which a concept (which is not necessarily rational nor whole nor complete) is worked out in-sound and, secondly, as an expression of sound in-itself, insofar as sound can be isolated from its usual association with visualization or ocular structures. Currently I have become fascinated with blurring the line between field recordings of environments and fabricated virtual environments, in which — and this is by no means an example but rather endemic if not essential — the sounds of war permeate. Videogaming expresses the most profound interactive sonic environment in which war can be heard “outside” of the real thing, and working with videogame sounds and field recordings and sonic recordings of actual war allows me to further delve into the sonic density in which coming to grips with the intersection of technology with war allows us to simulate these environments in the same time that these real environments are simulations of their virtual and technological infrastructures. At this moment abstraction or non-conceptual sonic material enters the — not the “picture” — the ear. Currently, low pass sinewaves as reminiscent rumble of the air strike attack opens an entry point into this alterity of tekhne that is quite at home in our environment.
My approach to djing is perhaps still best expressed by the manifesto of
djing I put forth in 1997:
c o n c e p t
main focus: providing new and often unsettling sounds to startle the
listener and to make them question the music and the intents behind it.
do not believe: in ³playing rekkids² — utilize the full art of dee-jaying
to create a musical soundscape out of the vinyl tools.
tobias continues to impress participants in his musikal deconstructions as
he plays with journeys from the very hard realms of hard minimal techno with
cut-ups and tricks to the layerings of tech-house, sparse dub and the
Detroit electro-funk to the tension of the carefully constructed minimal
5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?
I use all manner of equipment. With tomas phillips, working in a meditative framework (some might call it “microsound”), I have become interested in bells, singing bowls, and the like. I record sounds — the _if not, winter_ album is in part constructed from recordings of my breath conducted at STEIM in Amsterdam (and/LIVE 002, 2005). All kinds of software play a role, as do all kinds of gear — synthesizers, tape machines (which I truly enjoy), radio broadcast stations, samplers, microphones, turntables, etc.
6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general and you personally?
The term “New Media” does not best capture sonic arts such as turntablism,
which is an analogue art. So for me, “personally,” I am not that intrigued
by simply what is new in music or sound production. For the most part,
sound-art is still secondary in most curator’s *eyes* to the visual arts,
and this remains regrettable, while for electroacoustic directors,
experimental electronic music is “too pop” or not pure enough or rather,
even, naive; and so on and so forth depending in which territory one camps.
Nonetheless these instable areas are always the most fertile, while also
somewhat frustrating. One must separat the flotsam and jetsam from the warp and the woof.
7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?
How about it! What a wonderful idea. Unfortunately funding in Canada for
hybrid “music” as I have described it falls into the cracks of state
support. And of course it never “sells” well. So production comes down to
micro-labels, loans and personal funds. Whatever can be scavenged. I have
detailed, in an article for FUSE magazine, how the lack of Canadian funding from the Canada Council for rhythmic techno music is also grounded in a racialized system (“experimental” = non-rhythmic = high-art = Europhilic understanding of meter; “pop” = rhythmic = low-art and, consequently, the basis of diasporic African and Jamaican dub musics in
8. Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or
If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?
I have worked both collaboratively and alone and I must say that
collaboration gets the job done — but only with people I can trust
intimately. Such is my collaboration with tomas phillips and especially our 2004 project with the Montreal Opera and the SAT mix_sessions collective, the technOpera series, in which we rewrote and performed Strauss’ _Ariadne auf Naxos_. This remains a deeply moving work for me. For whatever reasons of the contemporary climate, I am less inspired to work on solo projects, at least now, though I still enjoy djing for 7 to 8 hours at a stretch and would enjoy performing on the turntables more often given the chance. In the past I have worked in artist collectives [such as shrumtribe.com] and such projects, though straining, and intense enough to envelop the totality of one’s life, nevertheless push me and others to engage in actions closer to performance art and whatever lies beyond the intersection of art and life.
9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting influence on making music?
Lee “Scratch” Perry and dub music has irrevocably changed the way in which
music is made. Genesis P-Orridge and the members of Throbbing Gristle as
they went on to form Psychik TV, Coil and Chris & Cosey will later be
acknowledged as incredible waves of revolutionary energy. The fertile early ’90s moment of crossover house music productions — Technotronic to The KLF — have had a momentous impact. Without Ravel we would never had had the spiral. Nor without Terry Riley, Phillip Glass, Steve Reich. And then John Cage. And Stockhausen. But without *cough* Pink Floyd interpreting the latter, what then for the psychedelic imaginary? And what can be said — or not enough said — of Laurie Anderson? Where does one begin or end? With Derrick May’s “Beyond the Dance” or Phuture’s “Acid Tracks”? Or perhaps we must return to Russolo’s intonarumori and the Art of Noises… Or to Bach, the fugues, the Medieaval toning system, La Monte Young’s justified intonation, Phill Niblock’s standing particles, and running the river with Barry Truax. Without Traux, no granular synthesis, no Fennesz, no Tim Hecker, but no Truax either without Curtis Roads and Iannis Xenakis. And somehow, none of this without Nirvana. And of course Sonic Youth. And Afrika Bambaata. And Fela, and George Clinton. Or for that matter, Brian Eno. And
— — — — this continues indefintely — — — and once this
indefiniteness is played into, something of the mentality and openness of
the DJ is understood.
10. What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician?
To once again DJ for thousands of people, and to command a space — say an
aircraft hanger — for a sound-art piece based on an aerial bombardment.
_ tobias c. van Veen
[ http://www.quadrantcrossing.org ]