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Interview with Conforce

img  Tobias Fischer

In a former interview, Boris Bunnik once remarked that he could only truly achieve happiness through constant change, being equally blessed and cursed by a low attention span. Indeed, Bunnink's discography under the conforce moniker has sailed through a series of incisive shifts and changes, transforming from his Detroit-techno-inspired debut releases - still recorded during his time on the tiny Dutch island of Terschelling - and the science-fiction driven dub-techno-concepts of first full-length Machine Conspiracy to the mesmerising harmonies and delicately intertwined groove patterns of breakthrough Escapism. The latter sounded so utterly confident and defined that most artists would have been happy to simply vary and re-work the approach on at least a handful of follow-ups. Bunnik, meanwhile, regarded the perfection of that work as a call to move somewhere else, withdrawing into the depths of his studio in search of a new approach, sound and set-up. EPs under a variety of aliases as well as the first experimental electro album of his alter ego Versalife would allow for glimpses at the slowly progressing stages of his metamorphosis, which the producer describes in-depth in this interview, until Kinetic Image finally presented a fully-fledged vision of the new conforce style. It would turn out to be a both challenging and organic result, with some of the tracks opening up vast, dark spaces underneath twitching fields of abstract noises and pounding bass drums bathing in oceans of gargantuan reverb. And yet, there is still plenty of beauty to discover here, with the sensual pads on a track like "Spatiotemporal" creating a bridge from Escapism to the new material. It goes without saying that fans of the album should make sure not to get attached to the approach too much. As someone equipped with a notoriously low attention span, Bunnik is no doubt already headed towards an entirely new horizon as we speak.

After releasing on digital-only labels for a while, how would you describe the road leading up to the release of your first EP, Our Concern?
I was still in a big learning phase. I'd already released on a few digital platforms, but at some point, I wasn’t really feeling comfortable with digital releases at all anymore. I was also still searching where I wanted to go with my sound. I ended up with the track "Our Concern" at some point, kind of as a result of getting inspired by many Detroit records. I got in touch with Rush Hour, through some social media like myspace I think, about a possible release. It was in a period that vinyl was still selling really well, so that suggestion resulted in a one track EP with three versions. But I only see the Our Concern EP as a start, also productionwise. I’ve learned so much after this first release. It was made in a very naive state on Terschelling, far from knowing anything basically.

What was the Dutch scene for house and techno like for you in the '00 years?
At that time, I was still listening to gabber a lot. Also some post 90’s house and a lot of music that was played in the Amsterdam scene. House was very much starting to boom back then. I also started spinning records a year later and ended up using techno/house records from Luke Slater, Gerd and early Drumcode stuff. When I moved from Terschelling to the mainland, I was focusing more on progressive house and bits of techno in production technique. At the age of 16 I had the honor of warming up DJs from the club scene in Amsterdam. I returned to the island to play in the summers. DJs that often dropped by and inspired me were 100% Isis, Dimitri, Angelo and Marcello. In my hometown on the mainland I didn’t dj that much, though. It was concentrated on the island.
Then, in 2010, I released my debut Machine Conspiracy. There was no master plan for the album. I was just looking for something that sounded authentic enough to me to be released as a coherent piece. Together with the guys from Meanwhile Recordings I decided on a selection and that was it. For me it wasn’t like: Hey, let’s make an album. It was just a good productive phase with a certain consistency to it. Trying to give my own twist to influences. Not making something catchy or dj-hyped. Just a personal collection of tracks.

What were some of the developments and interests in terms of production that facilitated the gradual development from Escapism to Kinetic Image?
When you're working with a new setup, it’s always a kind of research and a new beginning: I wanted to shift from chord structures and arrangement to a bit more of an organically evolving approach. I wanted there to be more modulation over a longer timespan with less elements. I also stepped back a bit from full hardware production to more of a crossover of digital and analog tools. I didn’t want to end up with particularly outspoken and musically defined tracks. It’s a less melodic approach, so there is more free space of interpretation for the listener. Also, I was trying to make it sound more consistent and not specifically four-to-the-floor.

In 2012, I released an album as Silent Harbour. It was an almost entirely digital production and dealt with the reprocessing of some field recordings. The focus for that record was on ambient. It’s very claustrophobic and was made during a long stay in Berlin in a seven floor high apartment in a December month full of fog.

Before Kinetic Image, I was really stuck about where to go. It felt as though I was experiencing a writer's block. Keeping things going is difficult if things have become a bit established and it’s something that can’t be forced. When feeling uninspired I just do other things. I don’t want to get frustrated in the studio. Everything is there to make that new track you’ve never heard or made before, you just have to let go of what you have done in the past. The production phase for Kinetic Image, therefore, was quite an intense period of sketching. So in that sense there was more control over this album than there was with Escapism. It’s mainly about using new tools and using them effectively until you end up with satisfying results. It was important to me that all tracks should be good on their own but still contribute something to the piece as a whole. Something I dislike is versions of versions simply because it makes the album sound consistent. So the challenge was to make it variable but still coherent and still a pleasure to hear after the first listen or even after a week or so. It’s intense sometimes to make these albums but you just have to be in the studio at the right time.

The title Escapism seems revealing with regards to your general approach to electronic music. Can you tell me about your concept of music as a different reality?
I want to lose sense of reality in some form. In the studio, you want to reach the fun zone where technology and gear turn into translators of your actions and intuition. You end up with something you never expected yourself to make in the first place. There is no pattern or definition beforehand. It is about the moment where everything comes together and you transcend by making music or sounds. I mean, you can really end up doing a lot of technical things in the studio and not having fun and only tweaking a single frequency band for three hours and not being satisfied. That is not how I work. Music is beyond words, so it should trigger that kind of sensation inside me. I think autechre, Aphex Twin and Drexciya are a few of the artists that were capable of creating a different time and space with sound. I can not deny that this has been very influential to my idea behind an album.

You seem drawn to a kind of isolation in the studio.
It’s not healthy but it’s good for creativity sometimes. There is a golden rule: Every studio hour needs to be compensated with at least one hour of socializing or decent travel experience. At the same time, I need breaks to get inspired again, so it’s unpredictable.

What are some of the limitations you're faced with in terms of technology?
The only limitation is a 4/4 kick, which can really pin down your creativity. Or technology that isn’t functioning properly can kill creative flows. Therefore an effective workflow is essential. But aside from that, I’m not really interested in technology. I just want it to work properly and do the things I intuitively want it to create. I want to end up with something that surprises me within the context where it’s supposed to be played or listened to. It depends whether you work on a club record or more conceptual piece. I like both.

What is your current studio like?
It’s all about the workflow. It really doesn't matter, if you're using digital or analog tools. My studio is very compact and I use various synths, ranging from fm to analog and wavetable. I love romplers, their sampling quality is strange and warm. In the end, if you know what kind of timbres you like, you can make them with any piece of equipment but I’m not a conventional synth type. I love post production and onboard effects. The advantage of software is that you can make your own channel strip settings and unique sound combinations. That's something I really like.

Generally, though, I just listen. The tool as such is not important, the timbre is. I think the pads on a track like "Spatiotemporal" were even made with a Logic onboard plugin, the pads on "Underwater Settlers" come from a Nord synth. We sometimes say here in my hometown with my studio friends: "Analog ears and digital production."

How do you shape space in the studio?
It’s something I learn more about with each day - getting mixes sound proper instead of muddy and dull. I love to get the right balance in all spectrums. But the more you produce, the more you learn to already adjust this during the production process. I do very little post production after takes. Sometimes I’m a bit extreme with reverbs, but I don’t care, I love the space it creates. I’m sure it doesn’t work that well and direct in a club. But I guess they will play it elsewhere. It’s always a challenge to make the right combination of timbres that have a full chemistry on a musical and technical level. There is no formula for this, however, I’m afraid.

Conforce interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Conforce
Homepage: Delsin Records