When it first fell into my postbox earlier this year, Sydney-based electronic composer/producer Wade Clarke’s independently released debut as Aeriae, Hold R1, soon became one of the more distinctive IDM-oriented offerings to fall into my record collection, and easily one of the most memorable local angles on the well-explored genre in recent times.
While tracks such as the dark yet delicate ‘Amay’ revealed the influence of figureheads like Autechre and Aphex Twin, lurking beneath was a refined, highly-arranged sensibility more reminiscent of classical piano music. It’s a surprise then to discover Wade grew up playing the piano from an early age, and that his grandfather was an engineer as well as a classical pianist who almost made it to concert performance level: two aspects that have certainly influenced Hold R1‘s creation. While Wade’s university years saw him moving away from music in favour of short films and web comics (the infamous Ocular Trauma), it was an encounter with Aphex Twin’s Drukqs album that convinced him to reconnect with purely electronic music, leading to the beginnings of Aeriae.
It’s a well-known fact that kids made to learn a classical instrument from an early age will at some point bust out something that’s distinctly ‘off the repertoire’; invariably infuriating the music teacher who’s meant to be teaching them chromatic scales or Chopin. In Wade’s household, that was certainly no different. In this case, however, the initial creative impetus came from a slightly less obvious source: early 8-bit computer games.
“I’d made music my whole life at the piano, but (bizarrely?) recorded none of it in any form,” Wade explains. “Everything was in my head. The few exceptions were electronic pieces I made on the Apple II or Mac and which were recorded in software formats. After we got to the net age and I heard some remixed videogame soundtracks online, I wanted to try that myself. In a way, it was the kind of thing I�d been doing all along just for my own entertainment. Stuff that a lot of folk would consider bizarre or useless, like playing music from Diablo or Commando on the piano, I’d always really enjoyed. Gaming music was half my repertoire! So my first videogame remix was for a game called Terminal Velocity, and I made it with an original Playstation console and Music 2000 software. When that went down well at OCRemix, I wanted to do more and also have it sound better, so almost with each remix, I moved on to a new piece of software. I eventually forked out for Logic Pro and started injecting Aphex Twin and Autechre-like content into these remixes. This wasn’t going down well at OCRemix, but I was liking what I was doing more and more. So I ditched the remixing, started on all original material and voila, I realised I was becoming one of those producer entities.”
“I definitely liked what my grandfather played, which I later learned was mostly Chopin and Beethoven. My favourite music as a kid was from film scores, especially John Williams, Star Wars and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, which are of course modern permutations of classical music,” he says. “Then there were all those other fantasy films I loved, like Krull, Red Sonja, Dune, all with great orchestral music, and my parents would buy me the soundtrack LPs. Though I dropped Dune and scratched it. I would try to pick these pieces out note for note on the piano, and when you do this, you discover and come to understand the patterns that create their effects at a very elemental level. Musically, this is something I have a bit of a mania about, the precision of choices a person makes at that one-note-after-another level. To me, that is where you reveal their musical identity. It’s like looking at their DNA.”
It’s precisely this sort of ‘DNA’ that’s evident throughout Hold R1‘s complex, detailed and sweepingly emotive tracks. The 11 songs in many ways capture Wade’s production-learning process as it occurred.
“I think my broadest goal was to try to make sure I would have a wide enough variety to choose amongst, style-wise, when it came to deciding what would go on the CD,” Wade says. “I was still learning and exploring Logic at breakneck pace as I went along, composing all through 2006 and then for part of 2007. When I made what I pronounced to be the first Aeriae track, I’d really only produced a handful of finished tracks in Logic beforehand. ‘Clique’ was only the second Aeriae track, and that ended up kicking off the record.”
“My production set-up is 100 per cent software. My home is in Logic Pro on a Mac G5 Desktop. I do all the composition, sound design and mixing in there, render it and then take the file to be mastered. A lot of older school folk have favourite hardware synths, like the 303 or the Prophet. I’m starting to get favourite software synths, like Logic’s ES2. It has this plucky, blossoming crystalline sound. I play some riffs and ideas in with a midi keyboard when composing, but the core of it is just getting in there and manipulating midi events one at a time with a mouse, going down to the 1/192nd of a note level at times. I also have Ableton Live, which I mostly use for doing remixes, but I did make ‘AMay’ with Live. That was the only non-Logic album track. Maybe that’s why it’s also the poppiest.”
Having read about Wade’s ongoing (and apparently difficult) efforts to translate Aeriae to the live performance domain, I enquire whether he’s been able to make much headway in that direction.
“I’d have to say it’s travelling steadily,” he confirms. “Sometimes I feel like it’s crazy or a disaster, but these assessments can’t really stand up to scrutiny anymore. Mostly, I can’t believe how much work is involved! My primary goal is to avoid being stuck behind a laptop being inscrutable. I’ve seen Aphex Twin and Luke Vibert do that, and I’m not crazy about it. I use a Novation controller to cue, mix and play everything, and a midi keyboard, so I hope people will be able to mostly suss out what I’m doing. The real work is in engineering versions of tracks so that they can be manipulated in real time.”
“A lot of what I love most about this music genre is that it’s not limited to what any one human can conceive of or play in real time,” he says. “By definition, a live performance of it is a compromise, but it just has to be a satisfying compromise. I break the tracks up into more macroscopic chunks that I can cue and loop, and I have lots of smart knob effects, and occasionally I play the keyboard badly. Moldover has called this approach ‘controllerism’, and I’m happy to use that label. I saw his video on controllerism earlier this year, and that was the moment I suddenly thought, ‘Here’s a way I can do this that would satisfy me.’ I’d never been convinced before I saw that video. But I’ve only got four tracks in the rig so far, so there’s lots more work to do.”
With Wade having done a few remixes now for other artists, including Catcall and Chain Gang, I’m keen to find out more about these link-ups came about and, particularly, whether remixing is something that he’s interested in exploring further in the future.
“They came about when I forced myself on these poor individuals,” he says, wryly. “It always starts out that I either like the band or song. Remixing them and suddenly presenting them with the remix is my way of trying to be involved with other local artists. Plus, in life, I enjoy surprising people with something I’ve made and seeing their reaction. Catcall was the first one. I sent my ‘August’ remix to her without warning. Her response was ‘OMG amazing I love it!’ but then she never spoke to me again. I sent several of my typically over-polite emails asking, ‘Could I have your permission to ‘do’ something with this remix?’, but she said nothing. And I know she’s there, her MySpace light is on all the time. So that was kind of annoying, actually! So I just started disseminating the remix under my own steam. With Chain Gang, I went mad for them after hearing them on FBi early this year. Months later, some chap named Blaze Tripp gazumped me on being the first to remix them, by a week. I think you can hear my pissed-off-ness about this in my remix of ‘Get Off My Stage’. Which, by the way, I hope Chain Gang will plug on their site, a la Blaze Tripp.”
Given Wade’s self-stated fandom for Delta Goodrem, I also can’t resist asking if he knows whether Delta’s actually heard the unofficial Aeriae remix of ‘Believe Again.’
“I don’t know if she has. Though since it’s a totally unofficial remix and she’s biggish of fame, I’ve been plagued by vague nightmares that if her people knew about it, they might sue or something. But I have confidence she’ll get to hear it at some point. I’m going to her concert in January, so maybe I’ll take a copy with me and wave it at her while crying out, ‘Delta! Oh Delta!’ I wonder what she’d make of it. It’s kind of a dark take on one of the most blatantly inspirational songs of all time.”
Taking into account that Wade’s Fantavision-based 8-bit animated clip for ‘AMay’ was a recent entrant in the Portable Music Awards, you’d also be easily forgiven for thinking that animated visuals were an avenue he’d perhaps like to explore further on other album tracks. From the sounds of it, though, it’s the actual logistics involved that prove to be the most problematic factor.
“Hmm, actually they’re not,” he says. “In terms of video clips, they would be if I had the time and resources myself, or access to people who’d do something extraordinary for me on the cheap, but I don’t. The thing about ‘AMay’ is that it was something almost only I could do. It takes intimate knowledge of the Apple II hardware, and how it operates under emulation, and of the software Fantavision, just as the starting point. This is a very particular collection of knowledge that barely exists anywhere on the planet in one person, and then that person then needs to have animation and directorial skills. In that sense, I was the only candidate!”
“But if you drop me in a far more typical modern context, like with some 3D software I barely know, and Final Cut Pro or something, I’m suddenly less empowered and skilled than the zillion people who work in these mediums day in, day out, producing ads or movie effects or whatever. I’d love to get more unique clips happening in the future, but I can’t do it myself, and I barely have anyone to help for now. Or the money to pay skilled strangers.”
Knowing that Wade has a university background working on short films and as web comic artist (perhaps most notably on Ocular Trauma, itself an infamous cultural meme of its own), and his love of film scores, I ask whether it’s a direction he’s interested in exploring with Aeriae in the future.
“I wanted to be a director of feature films, but ended up abandoning that road for many reasons,” he explains. “During uni I helped on tons of shorts, rarely enjoying it. This probably isn’t surprising as I don’t even like to watch short films, only features. But uni was where I got my hands on Pro Tools and was introduced to digital sound editing. I loved doing soundtracks, I just disliked being on set, especially doing the boring sound recording.”
“Comics were something I had drawn all my life. In high school I turned Macbeth into a gory comedy, and surprisingly they printed that in the annual. I think I wish I had created Peanuts, but failing that, I did want to publish a long-running comic, and the net age made it possible. So I cranked out 200+ issues of Ocular Trauma. I still sell the spin-off mugs and t-shirts. I don’t know if anyone ever forwarded you the comic Find X in an email, but I made that, it was part of Ocular Trauma. People don’t believe me when I say I made it, they think it’s too famous or a part of folklore that must have always existed or something, but I made it. I had hoped for Ocular Trauma to catch on in the web comics boom and get a big audience, but it didn’t. Maybe you can’t be big if you write comics about necrophilia and people having sex with trains. In retrospect, I’m pleased I ended it when I did, because if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gone on to do Aeriae.”
“I would like to score a film, but I don’t think the style I’m most amenable to is very ‘in’ these days,” he says. “In the seventies or eighties, there were lots of scores that were more obviously mantra-like, built out of hypnotic structures that kept coming back. Everything John Carpenter did, plus Goblin’s work in Dario Argento films. Lots of horror films in general. That’s a lot of what I grew up on and which influenced me, and the kind of thing I think I’d be suited for. Even in indie films now, the scores are becoming entirely dynamic to the action. I think the style I like gets more of an outing in video games these days. I love the Resident Evils, the Silent Hills. I’d love to work on something like that.”
Alongside his ongoing efforts to successfully translate Aeriae’s highly-detailed textures to the live arena, I’m also curious to find out if Wade has started making the follow-up to Hold R1 – something that he confirms is continuing apace.
“At the moment I’m alternating working on tracks for album number two with working on my live rig. I also joined Clan Analogue recently, and there are a couple of things happening there, like a Severed Heads tribute album in the works which I’ve done a track for. The Clan seems to be getting on a bit, though. I mean I’m in my thirties and still get ribs like ‘YOUNG PERSON ALERT’ when I say some stuff. Plus they communicate by mailing list, not message board. If I was as whippersnappery as they say I am, I’d say it’s all a bit early nineties.”
Aeriae’s Hold R1 is self released at aeriae.com.