Perth software engineer and electronic artist. Minimal beats and beautiful melodies. David Miller’s introduction to digital music came via his enjoyment of the heavy and harsh sounds of industrial: clubs and pubs, Detroit and Chicago house, chillout sessions to the dubiously titled IDM. Religiously listening to local Perth radio 6RTR gave David the inevitable urge and inspiration to start buying the music for keeps. Vinyl addiction and production instruction ensued.
“I was always interested in music production, but never learnt an instrument. When I found out some of these producers were doing it all on a computer it made sense to try it, and I started to play around with sounds. In time I began to be more happy with my production and was continually bugged by friends to send demos out to labels.”
Favourite sounds and nice noises: “I like many – like bass. I also like nice warm chords, moody or happy, as long as they fit. Sometimes the best songs are the ones that don’t fit and need to be chopped up so they do.”
The time spent perfecting his digital art has given David a number of years of learning when to limit his sounds and layers. “I just go by what sounds right by me. Whether it’s two or twenty [minutes], it depends on the producer. I’m sure many people would consider it [my music]too minimal, but there’s probably other people who would want to strip it down even more. At the risk of sounding very corny, I guess it is just instinct.”
It was when David Miller supported European producer Jan Jelnik that the transition from bedroom to beyond began. Handing demos to Jan, these snippets were again passed on, eventually landing in the hands of Germany’s Andy Vaz, owner of Background Records.
Founded in 1996, Background was set up to “build a home for unique left of centre minimal electronic music” (quote: Andy Vaz). A suitable place then, for David’s own minimal outings.
As the original home for Akufen, Sutekh and Kit Clayton, there is no doubting the calibre of Background’s A&R. For Andy ‘good electronic music’ is one that “takes a risk. Trying things out or trying old things in new way [sic]. Combining function and intellect, minimising sounds and structures which allows deepness to flow.” When looking to sign an artist to the label, he is constantly aware of “unique, personal music that takes a risk, [and is]never compromising.” He is also keen to take on artists from
around the globe, an essential international flavour.
The Grey Summer EP was the first release for David on Background, and the response from international press was encouraging: “dexterous and rather colossal bass seesaws in finest shuffle time brave new auras of sound as if Akufen had been taught to play harp beats that look for ways through digital trees.”
Despite such positive reviews, it is interesting that David has yet to find a local home for his music. Unable to locate an Australian label that pushes a similar sound [insert arguments from local labels here], David admits that he was virtually forced to look overseas. Distribution too was a contributing factor. “I would like my music to go to as many places in the world as possible. If anyone wants to get the music, they should be able to, whether it’s via the web or their local underground record store.”
While Background do have a worldwide distribution deal with Neuton, Australian distributors are yet to pick it up. “Hardware used to distribute the Neuton stuff throughout Australia. Now that Hardware have shut, it means that only the stores that deal direct with Neuton can get it here.”
And here lies the major gripe for David, the fact that people in Australia really can’t access his music. Having been signed to a German label, “It’s just a shame that stores have to import it themselves.” We all know what the price on overseas releases can reach.
Away from the intricacies of label distribution, David Miller is primarily a computer compulsive. Apart from creating digital minimalism, he is currently putting the finishing touches on a degree in software engineering. With screen time for David reaching critical, there is no doubt about his binary addiction. But he concedes that not all producers would necessarily share his love for computers, explaining that the interaction with hardware would more be just a way of life. “It has just become easier to get great sounds from a computer. Computers have caught up to most pieces of hardware. It has produced forms of music that wouldn’t have been imaginable with analog gear.”
His own tech specs? “I’ve had a G4 PowerBook since the start of the year. I just started using Ableton Live to play live, I think it’s great as I have the opportunity to do somewhat of a ‘live remix’ of songs I have done on the fly, so there is a lot of spontaneity in my live sets now. Should I want to dub things out, slow things down, strip them down, I can do so it at my will. I can also throw loops into my set of tracks that I’m yet to finish which is great as well.”
So is David Miller just another in the current glut of laptop producers? Another faceless screen creating minimal glitches and clicks, an art mirrored by hundreds of other Mac happy producer-wannabes from all sides of the world? “Laptops have made playing this music live around the globe possible,” he argues. “Before it would have meant having to pack up half a studio of bulky equipment to find that some things were broken in transit, and others were lost.
“The growth of their use,” he feels “is due to the fact that it’s a lot easier to do for the producer, and a lot of people are producing music solely on their computers these days anyway. For the punter it has made it a little less interesting to watch, but at the same time, there are a lot more people playing live these days, with a lot less gear hassles which is a good thing.”