Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Upon the release of his new EP, Pressure Mine, Tristan Shone of one-man industrial doom project Author & Punisher spoke with T&E about the evolving nature of his music. We discussed the material and physical components of his artistry, the organic elements of his live sound, and the one-to-one dynamic between him and his machinery,
The themes of Melk en Honing reflected the blood, sweat and physical labor that went into your tour and music in the past year. To my understanding, the new EP, Pressure Mine, seems to be centered on mental pressures and has a more psychological feel/approach to it. Is this a reflection of your evolution as an artist and the experiences of your music career?
I would say that Melk en Honing was the most intensive touring experience so far in my career. I spent about 4 months out of the year touring. That may not be a lot for some artists, but that non-stop style of touring was pretty taxing on me. When that string of shows ended, I wanted to mellow out a little bit. I think this is a natural process that occurs for most metal artists where you become tired of doing heavy material and you want to do something more mellow. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of dark electronic music, so I was leaning towards creating something along those lines. I also wanted to experiment with singing more There is still heavier stuff on the new EP, and I wouldn’t say I’m only going to do softer material from now. I wouldn’t call this a new direction, it’s more of a moment in time. It feels like a deep breath.
You’ve stated before how your background in engineering has given you a problem-solving lens to creating your music. Would you say because of this perspective that music is more of an algorithmic and logical thing for you? If so, what then helps spark the more organic process of your music?
The algorithmic aspect mostly comes down to the gear and how focused I get on certain mechanical elements. As an electronic music engineer, I’m really gear obsessed, but I also think that working in engineering can be very detrimental to making good art. That’s why I want to take Author and Punisher in a more organic route. I like that you use the word “organic”, because a lot of people would try to argue that my music is robotic. I think if people really listen, they’d find that it’s very organic electronic music. I play the beats live for the most part, and that’s the whole point behind Author and Punisher. I want to make live music and not just play sequences.
Let’s discuss the relationship between you and the machinery. Since there isn’t a computer automating everything, there gets to be an unpredictable, raw element to working with it. Perhaps you could elaborate on this one-on-one dynamic that you have with the machinery, and how it has evolved as you’ve added more or less components.
I think initially I was looking at this as a sculptural project by relating weight with tone. I would try and take something with rotational inertia and relate a very heavy sound along with it. For example, I had a large disc as a part of my gear, and the pitch would go up the faster I'd spin it. The wheel was so heavy, and the drones had really bulky arms. I could really feel the weight when I was working with it. I couldn’t play fast music because I had to work with what I was given. The fastest I could play was how long it took me to slide the arm from one end to another, which is about a meter long. So, that relationship of having to work with what’s in front of me creates this one-on-one dynamic you mentioned .
There are a lot of things that have come into play as my gear has evolved. The past few years, I had been getting invited to do festivals and do a lot of traveling, and there’s no way to take all of this machinery with me unless I want to take a barge across the ocean or take shipping containers. So, I started building stuff that was smaller, which in some ways sucks because the weight is what’s nice about the equipment. At the same time, I was sick of playing drones. Don’t get me wrong, I love drone music. I love SunnO)) and saw them play here at the Rialto for Southwest Terror Fest and that show totally ruined me in the best way possible. Personally, though, I can only play drone music for so long.
There are basically two elements that go into my machinery now, and that’s portability and a desire for playing faster music - which actually go hand-in-hand. I had to start making exceptions because I only have so much time. Everything can’t be perfect. I can only afford so much and I’m remembering how important it is not to obsess over every little thing. So, design restrictions are a very important factor in addition to how I want my sound to evolve. The second round of my machinery that I made for Melk and Honing was based on having faster beats and a more dynamic sound. Afterwards, I built masks which was an experiment into more aggressive sounds. Now, I’m onto something new with different sensibilities.
I’m interested in how there is such a strong physical component to your music in that your whole body is being utilized to create these sound. Do you feel that the gestures and physical actions themselves are influential in developing certain moods or central ideas while you are creating music?
Absolutely. I’d say that about two-thirds of my albums are written with the instruments I’ve built and the rest is programming. I enjoy programming like everyone else, but I don’t really play those programmed songs live. The new EP, Pressure Mine, is completely programmed. I didn’t want to go and spend hours in my studio. I wanted to experiment with new sounds and programming material with all this new gear I had recently bought. So yeah, there were no physical gestures there. I tried to play it on my instruments and it just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t built on the instruments that move my body.
These are gestures, as you mentioned, but they are also restrictions. Because I’m physically limiting myself to certain motions, I’m forcing myself to do a minimal amount of things. A lot of people look at what I do and assume it’s really complicated, but it’s relatively easy when you look at electronic music and what you can do now with drum machines, modular synths and the amount of sequencing and number of tracks you can play live. I’m whittling it down and telling myself I can only do one thing at a time. I feel like if you limit yourself like that, you create this one-to-one between your audience as well by giving them room to breathe. I just saw YOB play, for example, and they have a very minimal amount of sound. I really love that, because they’re not trying to over-do it or fill in the gaps. If it were too much, it would be muddy and sound mushy like so many other doom bands now. I think everyone is getting sick of that. In the same vein, there are industrial bands that have got way too many sequences going on. They’re just bedroom bands and no one can even fucking tell what’s going on live because they just press a button and walk away.
You self-released the Pressure Mine EP to help offset the cost of fabricating custom instruments, and as you said you’ve been working on new machines for the past several months. I know you’re trying to keep info relatively secret until things are done, but what can you tell us about the new machines?
In terms of instrumentation, there were a lot of elements that went into this. Portability is definitely a main consideration now. I’ve gotten a lot better at building this stuff and broadened my understanding of what really goes into thirty days of being on the road. Shit just needs to be really robust and much simpler. I think I’ve complicated some things because of sculptural elegance. I’ve started to move away from the sculptural side of things and exaggerating elements and instead began focusing on functionality of what makes me play live with gestures.
As far as new material, I have a new rhythm controller. It’s a much larger throw but it’s a more compact device. It moves in two dimensions, and it’s a much more industrial object. I determine what the speed is and how it snaps into place. I can do these fluctuating mechanical beats with it too. I’ve got a rack mount with a bunch of small devices which are all very physical. All together, there are probably five new devices. I’m using a lot more stage speakers, like guitar and bass cabinets, in addition to a lot of analog synths and electronic gear. The big difference will really be in the tonality. It’s not going to be the same sound. It’s going to be all analog electronic material and I’ll be using my devices to control analog synths.
Is the sculptural element you mentioned due to your academic background? You studied sculpture in college, right?
Yeah, there is a bit of that background and elements of presentation that go into it. I think I’ve got a good design aesthetic, but I’m much more influenced by the tech that I work with at my job. I think electron microscopy is beautiful in a lot of ways. The optics department really does not hold back on any expense for the quality of their laser equipment. I get to experience the material from those labs and feel the way things work and lock down, and the type of electronic connector that they use. I don’t spend money like that personally because I can’t afford it, but I just don’t like the cheap plastic knob shit. So yeah... I don’t know if people will be bummed that my gear isn’t going in a bigger direction, but maybe someday I’ll get back into that again.
I imagine working so intensely on these machines causes you to have a very hermetic lifestyle. Do you think this type of creation style contributes to the claustrophobic intensity of your music?
I like practicing, performing and writing by myself. I’m very isolated most of the time, and I think it’s the best way to do it. I recently moved to a new warehouse that’s renting from a company that makes carbon fiber molds and 3D printers, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in an industrial sort of environment. I’m very social at shows but I’m not a very social person in that regard. There’s something about getting really creative and becoming hermetic, as you said, that I think is very crucial to my experience.
I’m not a collaborator, really. When I hear a band is going to be collaborating with some other famous artist, it doesn’t make me excited. For the most part, I don’t think a lot of collaborations bring out the best of each artist. I’m never going to say never, though. It would be fun to see how people react, but if I ever did a collaboration it would probably just be a fun experiment to try out at a show.
I'd like to talk a little bit about the relationship between your music and visuals. You’ve stated how every song has its own identity for visuals, so how do you work with Cutmod to ensure that each song is being properly represented with your vision?
Well, he hasn’t been traveling with me lately because we came up with a system where we don’t have to bring him out. He designed this touch OCS app so I can have someone else control the visuals. He’s working on so much high tech shit in LA that I only bring him out for big events now.
We basically just sit down in my warehouse and observe and interpret all the data off of my instruments.. We want to express the gestures of each instrument and how it works up into the set. “The Barge” for example is set to an algorithm where the visuals of the ocean increase with intensity as it goes from one point of the song to another. I wouldn’t say it’s quite as conceptual as one might think because we just go off our instincts. We’ll draft out some ideas, but each visual image doesn’t necessarily represent something. It’s just whatever we feel in that moment.
On a personal note, tell us who are some of your favorite drum ‘n bass producers.
I haven’t listened to drum ‘n bass in a while. I’ll always love the late 90’s d’nb artists like Wormhole and Ed Rush & Optical. I also really like a lot of the early British dubstep.
I’m really into artists like Andy C, DJ Markie, and even some of the Adrian Sherwood dub stuff. His Boiler Room set is amazing. CutMod and I would play that set on repeat some work nights. So yeah, as of right now I’m not heavily listening to d’nb, but on the electronic side of things I’m listening to a lot of Modern Love, Andy Scott and Demdike Stare.
Anything else can we look forward to from you for the rest of the year?
The Pressure Mine EP physical copies are out now and should be shipping out to those who ordered a copy. I’ll be posting images of the new gear soon so people can check it out. It’s going to be a more dynamic feel in the past...more upbeat, industrial kind of stuff. I think this is going to be an interesting shift for me.