By Maria Bungau
A Temporary Autonomous Zone is a liberated area “of land, time or imagination” where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with.
I’ve always seen, or at least liked to see, music as having the power to inspire change, to fuel people's desire to want more from them and from the environment, to make them take the energy from the music and channel it towards the possibility of social change.
Of course, not all music and not all the time, but some, especially techno, can bring people together on a dance floor or in a club, while leaving behind everything that makes them different and instead invites them to focus on what makes them alike. It doesn't always have to come from explicit powerful lyrics, it can be a certain trance state in which people dance away their thoughts, or it can be the intention behind the music, like in the case of Kangding Ray, for whom music is a medium to convey stories and concepts, organize resistance and fight against simplifications.
There’s always going to be art for art’s sake, or music for music’s sake, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but when you can take something so powerful like music and put it in a socio-political context which can create an almost unspoken dialogue between the artists and the audience and even between the audience itself, you’ll know that what you’re listening to is not just another release being thrown in an unstoppable wave of albums released every week.
Whether HYPER OPAL MANTIS, Kangding Ray’s latest album and first full length on Stroboscopic Artefacts, can do all of the above, is also a question of personal preference and a bit of an effort from the part of the listener, who needs to break through the cryptic, almost daunting first encounter with these 3 states of desire, HYPER, OPAL and MANTIS. Like with previous releases, this album gave me an opportunity to dwell in meanings and create my own version of the story Kangding Ray is telling through each track. My immediate reaction to the music changes with each listening and from one space to another.
The album is filled with poetry, but also with darkness and takes you through multiple emotional states, from the cosmic highs of an "immeasurable heaven" on Laniakea (which is the galaxy super cluster that is home to the Milky Way, the Solar System and Earth) to the depths of the melancholy on Saudade (an emotion that’s said to be specific to the Portuguese or Brazilian culture), from remote deserted dunes to the overseas, creating a journey where the destination is less important than the experience itself, and music remains a means to an end, rather than just a final product.
HYPER OPAL MANTIS is out on Stroboscopic Artefacts and you can purchase your copy over here. We also caught up with David Letellier aka Kangding Ray to find out more about what lies behind these 3 states of desire.
The Brvtalist: Hi David, thanks for giving The Brvtalist a bit of your time. Before getting into techno, you were more of an industrial/noise/post-rock kind of person. Can you tell us some records you’re still listening to, that used to be your favourites back then?
Kangding Ray: Mogwai “Come on die Young", Nine inch Nails “The Fragile”, My Bloody Valentine “Loveless”
TB: Do you think that coming from that background, and playing in rock bands, has helped you develop your own distinct sound? Or did you prefer to distance yourself from that scene?
KR: Whether you use a drum machine or a violin, shouldn’t matter, to me it’s just music, that’s all. The different scenes and genres don’t have to be separated, they can inspire each other. My roots are in rock, noise and industrial music, but I am just a musician first, a guitarist who happens to produce electronic music nowadays.
TB: You’ve described in the past the club as a space of liberation, which can work as a political statement. Can music and clubbing still have a social and political value? How?
KR: The club is indeed a political space, and by extension club music is intrinsically political, but hedonism and consciousness should never be separated.
Releasing an album means that I will get a little bit of attention time, through press and interviews. I like to use this opportunity to express meaningful ideas and convey stories and concepts, rather than just promote myself or simply describe the tracks. And yes, organizing resistance and fighting against simplifications are more necessary than ever now...
TB: I remember reading in an interview that Cory Arcane was influenced by Hakim Bey. I’m curious, do you see the clubs where you play nowadays, especially here in Germany, as having the potential of a TAZ?
KR: A good club, a good festival, or a good event in general, should be the exact definition of a Temporary Autonomous Zone.
TB: You recently released Hyper Opal Mantis, your first album on Stroboscopic Artefacts. How do you feel about it? Tell us a bit about the composition and production process. Did you change anything in the studio set-up, as you did in the past?
KR: I worked for more than two years on this album, this was a complex and labyrinthic process, but I’m very proud of this album, it is a strong statement. I sold all my vintage gear and old synthezisers, I wanted to eliminate any form of nostalgia or vintage fetichism, I searched for a raw, modern, hyper-real sound, for hi-definition raving.
TB: You mentioned before that you tend to know beforehand if a track you’re writing is suitable for Stroboscopic Artefacts or for Raster-Noton. Was this album meant to be a SA release right from the beginning? Or how did it happen?
KR: I’ve been evolving since a couple of years at the outer fringes of the club culture, where it overlaps with different experimental and avant-garde genres.
While I intend to continue to explore that zone as a free maverick, I also wanted to give back something to the scene, something strong, beautiful and functional at the same time, while retaining enough personality to be exciting, and of course Stroboscopic Artefacts seemed like the perfect platform to bring this out.
TB: The press release reminded me somehow of Guy Debord’s The Society of The Spectacle, which is still as relevant as it was 50 years ago. What's the concept behind the album and what fueled your creativity this time?
KR: Yes, Guy Debord is an important figure for anyone interested in those subjects, and this particular book, La société du spectacle, has had a profound influence on my intellectual and artistic development.
There is a duality is at the center of this album, and to explain it, I can only refer to what I wrote for the press release: "the tension between the natural and artificial, the body and mind, which are central themes in electronic music in general, and Techno in particular.
The means of creation, focused around technology and interactions with machines, contrast with the emotional response to sound, the mystical ritual of collective dancing, and the ethos of liberation and tolerance embedded in the culture it has produced."
TB: Was there any “suffering” involved in the music making process? Is Hyper Opal Mantis the result of a catharsis?
KR: Not really a Catharsis, but suffering is an essential part of the creative process, I try to load my music with as much depth and emotions as I can, so that it can last longer and touch people on a deeper level.
TB: I love how the titles of the tracks seem to play with my imagination, drawing meanings from several languages, and allowing me to create my own stories. How did you come up with titles like Outremer, Saudade or Laniakea?
KR: They just come up, like images, while listening to them. Tracks have working titles while I’m developing them, usually between one and two years, sometimes tracks morph together, so that’s why I have titles like “ONDE MANTIS” , which used to be two separated sketches. At the very end, I just decide whether the working title will be the one, or if I change it because sometimes the name doesn’t fit anymore to what the track has become.
TB: One final question: what are you listening to at the moment, any beginning of 2017 favourite releases you could recommend us?
KR: I’m not so much up to date I’m afraid, I’m a bit too concentrated on producing my own things. But the last album I’ve been listening to a lot lately was Frank Ocean’s “Blonde”.
Thank you to Kangding Ray for speaking with us. For more music, please visit Soundcloud.