Friday, October 12, 2012

Interview with DIVE SIGNALS

Ever since I first heard Dive Signals, the solo electronic project of Californian Angel Ortega, I have been curious to know what motivates his work. Much of his music makes use of drone to effect a mood that is simultaneously distant and inviting. You can read my writeups of a couple of his albums here. But first, hear the truth from the man himself.

When I heard 10,000 Tropics I immediately got a coastal, Southern California sort of feeling. Do you think your location has much influence on your music? Do you do most of your work in Orange?

Indeed a sunny coastal sensation is eminent in 10,000 Tropics, but I tried to embed deeper in the tracks a certain ambiguous lonely, claustrophobic sensation – a lower mood basically. For instance the track “Mother Says Please Come Home” is followed immediately by “May the Circle Be Unbroken,” a song about a man’s mother passing.

My location is very influential on my work and that location is the suburbs of Orange County. House after house, telephone wires following bland sidewalks – the environment is stifling to my creativity. My studio is a bedroom. Amidst the creation of 10kT I became extremely reclusive, almost to the point of depression. 10kT was birthed out of desperate frustration and longing for something greater, something bigger than my surroundings. Regardless of whether or not listeners see the tonality I was trying to produce I feel a sense of great emotion is unconcealed.

How long have you been working as Dive Signals? Have you been/are you involved in any other musical projects?

Dive Signals began about a year ago … I had a good amount of equipment stolen and was forced to look for other methods of creating music. This was both a depressive time and a growing experience in terms of artistic matters. About 3 years ago I was in a collaborative group with fellow label mate Opacities. Together we conjured experimental harsh noise and abrasive drones following the exuberant influence of bands such as Wolf Eyes and Sunn O))). And then came a time where we both felt it would be healthy to explore what we were capable of as solo artist. We do collaborate here and there – a split is on the way actually.

What are the details on the Opacities split? Any word as to what we might expect from your contribution?

The Dive Signals / Opacities split / collaboration EP was released digitally in July and features a collaboration track and a few remixes of each other’s tracks. Sound-wise it varies up a bit yet bears a unique flow as our sounds are both formidable yet deeply involving. On this album, we are both trying to push our boundaries as artists in that field of thinking. The tracks thus far are a bit darker and lean towards some kind of odd psychedelic meditation. It’ll be an interesting listen.

Last time I checked, you have something like 14 releases out this year. What drives you to stay productive? Do experience any 'creative fatigue' when working at this pace?

I’m not sure what drives me … I suppose it’s just in my system. Though I never settle in comfortably with one genre for too long I maintain a certain consistency that somewhat strings my releases together, but it’s loose as is the process in churning out the final product which keeps the experience fresh and challenging. I need this in my life though. I love what comes with creating music, the burdens and the triumphs – especially with me being something of an outsider amidst the current music scene. There’s an odd passion that drives me to create something bigger and better than the previous releases.

Besides the swiftness of your release schedule, I've been impressed with the variety of styles present on your recordings. Does this stem from whatever you're listening to at the time, or is it a conscious effort?

It’s most definitely a conscious effort. The last thing I want is to feel overly comfortable recording a track. Dive Signals is a free form project, an extension of my thoughts – it goes down to my very core. I should be pushing my personal boundaries. Music is obviously an art form, thus it being an expression of self; one, I feel, should grow from such experiences. And, damn do I want to grow as an artist. There’s a certain urgency in this matter that I maintain, and I’m not all too sure why… but it feels significant day in / day out. I seem to see my passion as a musician is never at the level I care for it to be. It’s difficult to maintain a fan base this route, but I’m not doing this for other people. It’s a deeply personal excursion.

Who are some of your influences, musical or otherwise? What are you listening to lately?

As production is always the primary focal point in creating my tracks I really don’t look at musicians for inspiration, but rather producers – Phil Spector, Martin Hannett, Steve Albini, Brian Eno and Mark Linkous, are some of the few – a varied group.

Lately I’ve been spinning a lot of Stax artist such as Otis Redding as well as Songs: Ohia’s Ghost Tropic, AFX, Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaborations, the electronica work of David Holmes (From which Don’t Die Just Yet was heavily inspired) and Opacities’ Field Reconnaissance – all really good stuff.

After listening to some David Holmes (his '90s stuff at least), I can definitely hear some similarity with how dynamic musical elements are presented on Don't Die Just Yet (which, I am learning from youtube, is the title of a David Holmes song ). He does a lot of film soundtracks, right? I think your work has a certain cinematic quality to it – have you ever thought of making music for films?

Don’t Die Just Yet was a straightforward ode to David Holmes; his manner of looking at music has been very influential on all my works (at least his early years as an artist) and yes, he frequently works with director Steven Soderbergh among others. Holmes’ albums are known for their cinematic nature and I fire for that aesthetic in my music. That’s part of my love for the full album experience – going from track to track conjuring mental images based on the atmosphere of each song and having an overall journey.

To work in film would be wonderful. If the occasion were ever to arise I would most certainly jump on it. My love for music began with film. Composers such as Ennio Morricone, Max Steiner and Henry Mancini, creating colorful sounds and having them matched with lush visuals – it affected me greatly.

What is your setup like? Computers? Analog equipment?

My setup consists of really the cheapest equipment around. I have a 75-dollar organ – which is always in rotation – a few pedals, a glockenspiel … most of the effects used are created in mixing: meticulous EQ laboring, heavily altering samples such as brass instruments and drums, reverb, compressors – all digital computer work basically.

For independent (and especially solo) artists, there are obvious practical reasons for using cheap equipment, but do you think there is any particular aesthetic value to producing this way?

I was once at a place where I had vast amounts equipment and that time came to an end – just stolen, all of it – and I never really recovered what was lost. I was then put in a position where I had to find other ways of creating the sounds I wanted. These moments were influential on the sound I have now, though I’m not one to particularly shoot for lo-fi production, à la garage rock, or anything of that matter. My core point with music is creating atmosphere and ambiance that is deep, enticing, and involving. I go to great lengths to achieve the sounds I produce. If that should mean my production style is to be categorized with the lo-fi genre then so be it. I have no qualms with the matter. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum and I prefer the route I take.

Well, I guess what I was trying to get at is that while your setup is very lo-fi, the actual music sounds anything but. As a non-musician, it appears to me that the availability of a wide range of (often freely acquirable) production software makes ostensibly 'lo-fi' equipment potentially more powerful for recording than it might otherwise be. Do you think this is the case?

My equipment is ridiculously cheap; what one can do with software these days is astonishing. My early base tracks sound just bare-boned and thin. Some computer magic goes a long way. Working with Bryan Schuessler of Opacities was an experience. Him being a laptop based glitch artist who utilizes MAX/MSP, high fidelity mics, etc. – it was just something else. My production style does indeed maintain a lot of PC work: extensive EQ, multiple overdubs, reverb and heavily altered samples, but I personally don’t use high-end software, though I now understand the unlimited possibilities of its practice.

Your recent EP, 1989, makes me think of the drone work of This Heat and Future Days-era Can (especially the track 'Pop Route Love Song'). I guess the highlights of the EP for me are opener 'Slow Kitten' and 'Holly.' Those two in particular have such a well-conceived sense of spatial sound; I feel like I'm being led around in the song as if it is a real place. It's very psychedelic. You seem to approach songs in terms of space and orientation, changing in time, to the end of crafting a rich and unique experience that is an EP or album. I don't really have a question related to this, but I was curious about your thoughts on this topic, and/or on 1989.

1989 was me making a bold effort in culminating all the ideals I carry when creating a Dive Signals release: lush atmospherics, loose cinematic notions – just a dreamy wall of sound platform for the imagination to run rampant and do what it does best. I tend not to look at typical song writing for direction when putting together a track, but rather psychedelic production and crafting textures that mix and mingle with a unique sense of space. Upon close inspection you can see that these are the elements that tie my releases together – from Don’t Die Just Yet to Mesa Verde as different as they are from each other genre wise. 1989 was just me striving to push these ideals to their full extremities.

How does a Dive Signals song get written?

Well, it depends on the vibe I’m shooting for. There’s no real formula – what really matters is showcasing the center piece that will drive the track, be it a drum skit, a guitar strum, anything really and just building drones and vibrations to amplify the center piece and mood, but keeping the process loose to allow for mistakes and surprises to happen as to make the experience of creating the track interesting.

I know very little about ambient/drone music myself, but I think what puts a lot of people off it is the relative "inactivity" of the music. But when I listen to a Dive Signals recording, I've found it works well for both ambiance and active listening. Is there anything in particular you do to keep listeners engaged?

As I stated before, production is my main focus – that being said, upon careful listening a lot of crucial elements are brought to the attention of the listener – vibrations, tones, unique atmospheres all hidden beyond the foreground. Amidst this I try to implement multiple genres into one track – the most blatant would probably trip hop, dream pop, or shoegaze – basically, just creating something unique from pre-existing statements and letting the drone ride.

People seem to look at music these days as tracks rather than the whole album experience. A lot is lost skimming through albums rather than playing the beast straight through and really sinking into the subject. Artists such as Spiritualized and early Cure albums are perfect representations of this. I feel when the vinyl scene slowed down this matter came up.

Is Dive Signals a studio-only project, or do you play live?

I do play live, but Dive Signals Live and Dive Signals Over Cushiony Headphones are completely different entities as I cannot replicate what I do in the “studio” live at this point in time.

So what is Dive Signals like live? Do you present the material differently onstage?

Dive Signals live is mostly original drone work, often improvised and varies tone-wise from show to show. Sometimes a calm atmosphere is presented and other times more abrasive vibes are emitted – simple instrumentation backed with live, almost metronomic drum work and heavily altered vocals. Playing live is as of this time is not really a priority, though this may change soon.

Whenever I google "Dive Signals," most of the results have something to do with scuba diving. It seemed an apt term, given the sense of place and atmosphere communicated nonverbally in the music. Do you partake in any such hobbies?

Dive Signals is a term used to describe hand signals scuba divers use to communicate with each other underwater. I suppose a sense of irony is embedded in the name, though I did not know this at the time I picked it. I thought of Dive Bars and lo-fi frequencies – fused the two … I dunno, the former is pretty cool I guess. I do like dive bars though.

Can we expect any other new Dive Signals releases in the near future?

I may take a short break in releasing material after this Opacities split to focus on expanding the label I co-run: Static Reason Recordings. So far we have a few artists’ releases coming that we’re very excited about. 10,000 Tropics will be re-issued and sold as a CD-r / Cassette package. I may also be producing an upcoming Static Reason artist’s EP. I don’t know though, an EP or single may slip at some point in between all that. I have a few ideas I’m tossing around, but we’ll have to see.

Finally, what can you tell us about Static Reason recording artist E. Bry? The double single up on bandcamp is a real jam, and I'm intrigued.

Well, we’re releasing an upcoming LP of his. The album is expected to drop around early winter. From what I hear the general sound is going to be a bit different from the single released through Bandcamp. Be sure to be on the lookout for it – I expect really great things from this up and coming talent.

Well, it was a pleasure discussing all this with you.  Thanks for your answers and insight!

Thanks for doing it, I really enjoyed the experience.