At the end of 2014 Australian composer and pianist Anthony Pateras released Geocidal, by tētēma, a collaboration with Mike Patton of Faith No More, Mr.Bungle, Tomahawk, Fantômas, Lovage, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Peeping Tom and various solo projects. The album was released on Patton’s Ipecac label. Pateras met Patton in 2009, they collaborated on a PIVIXKI/ Patton show in San Francisco in 2011, and Pateras began work on Geocidal in 2012. This partly involved spending 10 days locked in an ex-convent in rural France sketching out the rhythm tracks, before completing the songs over the next 18 months. After this, they laid down the rough vocal tracks in San Francisco in a 48 hour burst, then Patton worked on the album for six months, bouncing things back and forth. Each track was created live with no sampling or sequencing. Tony Mitchell spoke online with Anthony Pateras about it.
Tony Mitchell: tētēma is your first collaboration with Mike Patton. How did it come about?
Anthony Pateras: I sent a PIVIXKI record (Anthony’s duo with Max Kohane) to Ipecac to consider for release in around 2008, and the next time Mike was in Australia with Fantômas, he gave me a call. We had a beer, found out we were on the same page, decided to make some music together. It’s not really that sexy a story.
Tony Mitchell: The Metal Section has referred to tētēma as Mike Patton’s ‘predictably weird new band’, and it got a stinker of a review in The Wire, whose reviewer focused entirely on Patton, concluding he had ‘dragged Anthony Pateras along with him’ in an attempt to ‘demonstrate mastery’ of ‘how many different tricks he can do as quickly as possible’, with ‘a dominant feel of corny percussion and relentlessly cartoonish vocals’. There is obviously a lot of your work on the album, which the review completely overlooks. How do you react to reviews such as this? Is this the downside of working with someone famous?
Anthony Pateras: That guy obviously has some specific aesthetic issues with Mike’s work and took this opportunity to vent them publicly. My reaction was surprise, really. Not only are there numerous factual errors, he makes a lot of assumptions about what we were trying to do without asking, and gets quite nasty and personal about both of us, for no reason, unless I’m missing something. It’s not useful, it doesn’t increase anyone’s understanding of the music, and it’s basically more about him than the record. If he feels that’s the best way to be professional, good luck to him. And it’s not really a downside, it comes with the territory no matter who you work with – I’ve been getting terrible reviews for years! If I listened to anything anyone said about my work, even the nice stuff, I would’ve stopped ages ago.
Tony Mitchell: The title Geocidal seems to combine ‘suicidal’ with ‘geology’, and suggests ‘genocidal’. Is this the intention? The album sounds very dark and at times violent.
Anthony Pateras: The term itself means the murder of place, not people. While I was making this music, I lived in lots of different places, and recorded it in lots of different places. Through the process, I was trying to create a unique space for this music not only psychically, but physically. I found the term in a Paul Virilio interview out of Animal Shelter, a wonderful journal on Semiotext(e). I find his theories on time and speed fascinating, especially if you put them in relation to musical production in the digital age.
Tony Mitchell: Geocidal begins with a ferocious blend of voice and noise, with tracks called ‘Pure War’, and ‘The Hell of Now’, but then it settles into a more subdued tone, with trumpet and percussion and whispered voice, on ‘Ten Years Tricked’, where your work is more evident. Then Patton dominates again on ‘3-2-1 Civilization’. ‘Tenz’ has been released as a single – is this predominantly for Patton’s fan base?
Anthony Pateras: When I listen to this, it sounds like I did the music and Mike did the vocals, which is what happened. Sure there’s a variety of densities on the record, because that’s how we both compose. The vocals on 3-2-1 are necessarily loud to translate and emphasize their intensity within the mix. I mean, you do what the music needs. If you get involved with thinking in competitive terms or about fan bases, you’re fucked.
Tony Mitchell: You started as a pianist, but there’s very little piano evident here, except on ‘Death in Tangiers’, which I have to say is my favourite track. Does tētēma indicate a new phase for you?
Anthony Pateras: I’m still a very much a pianist, and I’ve been writing music for other instruments for over 15 years. This album is just an extension of that practice, and was a great opportunity to extend my explorations in electro-acoustic orchestration. I got to play a lot of different instruments on this, in fact when I listed them all, we had a layout problem, so we just went with “machines”.
I’m glad you like ‘Death In Tangiers’ – it was a great opportunity to make something very intimate and focused with one of my closest collaborators, Erkki Veltheim. The whole album is mapped out orchestrationally to focus on different instrumental groupings at different points, and it seemed appropriate to end on an introspective, meditative, piano-based palate after everything else. I wanted the experience of listening from beginning to end to have a regenerative orchestrational bent threading the entire way through.
Tony Mitchell: You’re also predominantly an improviser, but a lot of Geocidal sounds very much as if it was pre-composed. Does this mean you have changed direction?
Anthony Pateras: I’m not predominantly an improviser actually; I’m a composer and pianist who works in both electronic and acoustic mediums, who can also improvise. Traditional group or solo improvisation is a very small part of my work. I hope I’m always changing direction, to some extent. Each collaboration to me is an opportunity to learn something about music from the person you’re working with. With projects, I push something to its limit, then I move on. This has been true of all of my groups – I’m interested in the space between when something is developing and something is defined, because when you find the thing you’ve been working towards, you have to be very careful not to be trapped by it. The most interesting artists to me operate with a constant sense of escape…a kind of directed slippery-ness.
Tony Mitchell: You’ve said of Geocidal, which uses no samples, “This is not a Luddite manifesto, it was more a desire to base everything in this music on feel and instinct — to never be told what to do by a machine and embrace the temporal fecundity which comes out of that.” Is this an attempt to fuse electronic music with improvisation?
Anthony Pateras: No, what it is an attempt to do is to use technology to articulate my ideas, rather than the other way around. That’s all I meant by that. It’s very useful to have these machines to make things, and I use all kinds of technology to make music. I just try to be aware of avoiding the sound of the software, so to speak. For example, if the first thing you do is pull up a temporal grid and a certain tempo, you’re already thinking of time in very constrictive terms. You block off all kinds of avenues, lose all kinds of opportunities, because to a large extent, it becomes about filling a prescribed space, rather than dealing with the mapless horror that writing music actually is.
Tony Mitchell: You’ve been based in Brussels, but now you are based in Berlin, which seems to be the mecca for a lot of experimental Australian musicians …
Anthony Pateras: The conditions are very favourable for artists from everywhere, not just Australians. You can get on with your work here with minimal interference. The best thing for me is, you don’t need a car. Brussels was fascinating on one level and completely messed up on another – I’m really glad to have spent the time I did there, but compared to Berlin, there’s no contest.
Tony Mitchell: In a 2012 interview with Bob Baker Fish in Cyclic Defrost you said ‘repetition in improvisation is antithetical to the very purpose of the act’. I couldn’t help thinking of the Necks, who use a lot of minimalist repetition.
Anthony Pateras: Maybe I wasn’t clear. What I meant by that is, if you’re dealing with music which purportedly exists to explore new territory, and you start to hear structural tropes in your own practice, its not really improvisation anymore. I enjoy repetition in music, what I was talking about back then is the wrong kind of repetition! With Pateras/Baxter/Brown, it took 10 years to hit that wall – I think we covered a lot of interesting ground and found some amazing things, but at the point where I pretty much knew what was going to happen in the set, I didn’t want to play that music anymore.
Conversely, although you do know what’s going to happen each set structurally, with The Necks it’s entirely different. I feel they’re acutely aware of the dangers in what they do, in the sense that it could just become an empty repetition of a once vital proposition. So they try to encompass different influences and approaches with each record, try to grow, even though they remain themselves. Anyone who has been making music for a while knows it’s creatively suicidal to repeat yourself, and if you look at many great composers and musicians, their music was/is always changing. What the Necks do takes a lot of musical discipline, and that discipline extends to self-analysis and critique. And one of the reasons why they’re one of the greatest bands ever is because they have the technical capacity to back that critique with solid musicianship. There are very few people who can do that, to argue consistently and effectively through sound, let alone do it for 25 years and still sound good.
Tony Mitchell: You’ve recorded an as-yet unreleased collaboration with Chris Abrahams – as you’re both primarily pianists, what exactly did this consist of?
Anthony Pateras: It’s two pieces – one is a 50 minute piece involving 4 overdubs each, where we restricted ourselves to an octave of the piano, and one is a 2 hour piece where neither of us use our fingers to play the instrument. It will be released on DVD with both 5.1 and stereo mixes.
Tony Mitchell: You appear to have an enormous range of musical interests and musical projects, as demonstrated on your 2012 box set Collected Works 2002 – 2012. One piece on this you played on the Melbourne Town Hall’s pipe organ, where the Necks have also played, with Chris on the organ. You’ve said that this piece is your favourite on that set; is this still the case?
Anthony Pateras: I think so. My favourite things always launch me into a new direction, and that piece in particular made me question what I was doing with keyboards in general. It connected me more with acoustic phenomena and took me out of virtuosity, which was an unfortunate hangover from my classical training. Right now I’m dealing with a lot of things proposed in the organ piece, except on piano. I’m dealing with longer time frames and really trying to eliminate my tendencies towards episodic form without capitulating to drone music or inheriting minimalist narratives.
Tony Mitchell: You’ve just been performing in Oslo at the All Ears festival. What did you play there and how did it go?
Anthony Pateras: A solo piano set I’ve been working on for about a year, which is an extended 50 minute work of sustained intensity that has a lot to do with creating standing waves in the room through acoustical energy emanating from the instrument. People were very affected by what they heard, and its great when sound does that.
tētēma is available on Ipecac Records