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Friday, April 4, 2014

INTERVIEW: Koen Holtkamp talks about Effects Pedals, His Love of Film, and Hatred of Microwaves!

Pictured above: Koen Holtkamp fading out of existence after his radical teen brother fails to shred guitar enough in time, thus causing his parents to never fall in love.
Koen Holtkamp is half of sound-gineers Mountains. I caught Mountains about a year ago today, and they certainly left an impression on me, as gifted shapers of sound. I'm not exactly certain how else to explain Mountains, or for that matter, Holtkamp's solo career, which somehow manages to be both ambient and kinetic. Fitting then, that his newest release for Thrill Jockey is named "Motion," given the propensity of his music to exist in what seems to be a perpetual state of movement. This year, Holtkamp is out performing solo sets across America, which will find him in our neck of the woods this Friday at the Dreamland, where he will showcase both his films and his music. That's tomorrow night, which I would have to suppose puts it as part of the Trolley Hop, so you might want to get there early and get a good seat and/or parking spot. The show starts at 8pm.

Never Nervous: What sets your solo work apart from your work with Mountains?

Koen Holtkamp: I guess the obvious answer would be it's just me, but from a sonic perspective I've been focusing more on a purely electronic approach with the solo work as opposed to the combination of acoustic and electronic sounds that we tend to work with in Mountains.

NN: What was your process like for creating "Motions?" What instrumentation did you use, and why?

KH: There a couple different approaches with this record.  The last piece 'Endlessness' was something I performed live quite a few times so the studio version was based on that whereas the first few pieces on the record were studio creations.  Most of the sounds on 'Motion' were created via a series of patches on my modular synthesizer but I also used harmonium, electric guitar and even some virtual instruments on 'Crotales' to get wider dynamic range.

NN: I understand you'll be showing some films on tour as well. What's the story there? What inspires you as a filmmaker?

KH: I studied film and video before I got into working with sound and have been getting back into it over the last few years.  In the same way I like collaborating as well as working alone it's nice to go back and forth between different mediums.  They really inspire one another.  I'll be performing with a new video for this tour and will also be doing a special screening of several videos I made over the last few years prior to the performance at Dreamland in Louisville.  In terms of inspiration on a basic level they're aestheticised, abstracted documents of a place or moment so it usually just stems from an environment I experience which could be purely visually stimulating or something that really means something to me.  Usually both.  
NN: How did you get into synthesizer work? What's your choice synth and why?

KH: It was a pretty natural evolution.  While I had the opportunity to work with some modular synthesizers back in art school I started out mainly using computers to process instruments as that was the most accessible option for me at the time.  Eventually I got frustrated with staring at a screen and the limited physical interface so started getting more into hardware electronics, pedals and other things with actual physical nobs.  Looking for a more customizable situation led me into world of modular synths. Being able to constantly recreate and customize my system just by changing the routing of things by moving around some patch cables has been a great learning experience that continues to inspire me. I've spent the last 5 years or so putting together a Eurorack format modular.   It's a pretty mixed bag of modules (Mod Can, Make Noise, Intellijel, Doepfer, Addac, Synthesis Technology, etc.) but having so many options as far as people making new stuff to me is one of the biggest strengths of the format. There's a lot of relatively tiny manufactures really pushing the possibilities and making truly new modules versus trying to just emulate some classic diode ladder filter from the past or whatever it might be. There's a reason there are classics but it's super cool to see people really stretching the concepts and possibilities of what we can do.  Recently I've been getting into combining the computer and modular as one system so I guess things are coming full circle.

NN: Relative to that, and because I'm a gear nerd, what are your favorite musical toys to play with (like effects pedals, etc.)?

KH: I'm not really using pedals these days but I always thought Zvex made some great stuff.  I was given an Ipad recently and as much as I feel a little silly discussing an app, I've gotten some great results from the Waldorf Nave.

NN: Since there is a lot of non-traditional instrumentation going on, how do you control your sound live? Most venues don't seem especially attuned to that sort of thing, and I'm sure you've run into that problem before, where the PA wasn't really cut out for that. What do you do then?

KH: With Mountains we learned fairly quickly that if you're going to play live particularly as a touring band it's going to be pretty varied so you just have to be flexible.  General crap sound or broken systems aside one of the enjoyable things about performing in a variety of situations is that it's different every night.

NN: How did Mountains come together? What's the history there?

KH: We met skateboarding back in middle school and both went to art school in Chicago years later but didn't start Mountains until were both in Brooklyn in 2003.  We were both doing more studio oriented solo work at the time and decided to start Mountains as a way to concentrate on performance.

NN: What's next on the agenda? More solo touring, or anything new for Mountains?

KH: After the upcoming tour I've got a few new collaborative recording projects planned in the spring and summer as well as getting to work on some new Mountains material.  There are some other solo shows and a video screening in the works as well.

NN: What is the best show you've ever experienced and why?

KH: Milford Graves solo at The Empty Bottle in Chicago 1999.  It was just the most focused, physical, pure performance I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

NN: If you could change anything in the world, what would it be and why?

KH: Get rid of all microwaves.  

NN: What non-musical things have inspired you lately, and why?

KH: I've gotten sort of re obsessed with Soccer in the last year or so. I'm was born in the Netherlands and I grew up playing so it's was a big part of my early years.  Thanks to the Internet I've started watching a lot of the European leagues pretty regularly.

NN: What have you been listening too lately?

KH: A lot of Indian classical music.  Two that I've been coming back to a lot - Ali Akbar Khan, particularly the 80 min raga and U. Shrinivas 'Mandolin Ecstasy'.

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