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Interview with The Black Dog

img  Tobias

What did the instrumental set-up for the very first Black Dog-tracks look like?
[ken] Commodore Amiga computer (for sequencer and samples), DX7, Alesis HR16, Roland 202.
[Martin] My first set up was just a Roland W30, small mixer and two reverb units, I still have them but they had nothing to do with the early tBd tracks.

How important has adding gear, equipment and software to this initial studio been in terms of developing your music? Did you ever experience the typical feeling that you lacked the tools to fully express yourself?
[Martin] Less is more but we do changing things around, selling and buying new equipment, like a painter would buy new paint. But I know the answer isn't the machines, it's what you do with them. Without you, they're not creative.
[ken] Typical feeling? No, I've not felt limited by the technology, creatively. You can express yourself with a stretched rubber band. Recording it used to be a problem, when hard disc capacity and sampling time was very small. Modern gear offers 100,000s of hidden LED subscreens and options, but one person doesn't have the time in the lives to explore each and every one of them.

Have there been particular synths (software or hardware) which have actively influenced your sound and your approach to composition?
[Martin] None that I can think of, I’m not that loyal to equipment or one sound.
[ken] Sure... With the old analogue stuff, if you got a good vibe, you had better record it... Bbecause the chances of recreating it again the next day were next to nil. I also loved the simplicity of chaining Roland stuff together and having a drum machine play the bassline with muted percussion parts.

From an interview conducted for The Milk Factory in 2005, I gathered that at least one of you has a strong preference for Vinyl. Is there also a general tendency towards an 'analogue' sound or at least towards integrating the best of both worlds (analogue and digital)?
[Martin] I like both, I don't like the boring argument of analogue vs digital. it's been done to death, so I'll settle for both please 
[ken] I like (as you say) integrating both worlds. Sometimes digital can be too 'bang on'. I like the ebb, flow, and warmth of analogue. Feels a bit more 'human' to me. I hate it when things get locked down too much and über-anally precise. But I accept that some people love it. I didn't grow up listening to music on tiny headphones. Maybe thats a part of it.

Are there major differences between your live set-up and your studio equipment?
[Martin] About 4 tonnes of equipment, live we only use laptops and effects because budgets are tight when we are flying around the world.
[ken] The JD800 master keyboard weighs more than all of our laptops and controllers combined. And it would take all three of us to carry the OB8 and flightcase. Practicality is the main issue. Not being held up at airports longer than we have to. Budgets are tight, as well, like Martin says. Small club promoters can't afford the additional expense.

How important is usability and intuitive handling for you when buying new equipment?
[Martin] I think that often depends on the individual piece of kit, programming a 303 is and can be a nightmare but the results are worth it. All to often people want results at the push of a button but information and results need to be achieved.
[ken] Sound is more important for me. But I don't need to buy any new kit. I've got a software based modular sound system, which is enough. I can drag and drop modules and patch them up visually to make the synth/effect/drum machine of my dreams.

There are ample projects out there who rely exclusively on Software. From a recent live picture, it seems as though you are using a combination of Hardware-gear and Software Synths. What are the advantages of both formats for you?
[ken] For me, it's the ability to save patches. Like I mentioned previously, with analogue gear if you turned the power off overnight, when you returned to it the next morning, it might sound entirely different. The external controllers allow us to tweak the knobs in real time.
[Martin] I’ll use whatever I can, sometimes it just great to sit twiddling knobs all day rather than looking into a 24” screen, it really depends on my mood. Sometimes I just sit on the dark and watch all the gear just “blink”.

You are a trio. Is buying new equipment a group decision or do individual members bring in new gear to test how it will work in the band context?
[Martin] I’m probably the one who influences the hardware purchases, while Ken and Richard look after all the different kind of software we’d need for future projects.
[ken] i'm happy to leave it up to martin. the days when I'd be excited by a new purchase are long gone. I always preferred the second hand market myself, because you felt that the gear had 'history', and in most cases you got to meet the previous owner, so there was some form of connection and continuity.
[Martin] I still get a massive buzz out of equipment, I love it all :-)

Lately, more and more projects have started using Facebook as a means to exchange files and ideas. How, to you, does the file exchange method of composing compare to the vibe of three people sitting in the same room together and working on a tune?
[ken] laughs...  Three people all working on the same tune in the same room is the quickest way to arguments and tension. I actually like it that we're sitting in three different locations, but all still focussed on the same thing. It seems to be more productive, than a method where you have to state your case and back it up with justification before you can play a note.
[martin] I find it easier sending stuff around the globe from airports etc now the internet is actually fast enough. I don’t feel trapped by the studio at all, in fact we nearly missed our plane from Madrid last week because we where sat writing a track!! We all work on different things and different parts and if someone believes in a track then it goes in the mix, the advantage of us playing live also allows us to trying things out on the crowd and constantly develop the ideas. But it’s worth pointing out that we’ve yet to release a track that only one individual from the band has worked on. It seems we have found a method that works as we are writing more music than we ever have.

Reviews for your latest album ”Radio Scarecrow” have mostly been highly appreciative. Do you feel understanding has grown over the years for a style like yours, which is neither “dance” nor “listening music” but in fact both and more?
[ken] There were a lot of positive reviews, for which we're grateful. but I noticed there was a contingent from the "they're not the sound of the future" and "dance music is passe" crew as well. I don't know where we fit in, in the grand scheme of things. Are we as well known as 'Autechre'? Probably not. But you know what? I don't care. With respect, I don't make music to live up to other people's expectations.
[Martin] I’ve stopped caring what other people think, some people are stuck in the past with their boring rockisms and bullshit, wanting tBd to be the same as it was in 1992 – fuck that and fuck them!

By Tobias Fischer

This Interview with The Black Dog was originally conducted for “Beat” Magazine. Many thanks to Thomas Raukamp.

Bytes (Warp) 1993
Temple of Transparent Balls (GPR) 1993
Spanner (Warp) 1995
Parallel (GPR) 1995
Music For Adverts (And Short Films) (Warp) 1996
Peel Session (Warp) 1999
Unsavoury Products/ w. Black Sifichi (Hydrogen Dukebox) 2002
Silenced (Dust Science) 2005
Radio Scarecrow (Soma) 2008
Further Vexations (Soma) 2009

The Black Dog

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