Tim Koch: “Taking a Formula and Using it in Reverse”


Tim Koch is an Adelaide based musician, who is playing the long game. He has released 6 full length albums under his own name, beginning with the imaginatively titled Don’t Tell Me That’s Your Volvo on Aural Industries in 2000. There’s been remix albums, collaborative albums as well as music under a bunch of aliases such as 8-Bit Orchestra, Thug, 10:32, and Ray Manta. He also formed the influential Surgery Records in 1998 alongside Ian Hamilton and James Reid, with a roster that boasted the likes of Qua, Pretty Boy Crossover and Super Science (Clue to Kalo).

His music can be characterised as well, changing. You never quite know what you’re going to get with Koch, Detroit style techno, idm, granulated experimentalism? Anything is possible. His most recent album is Scordatura, an epic undertaking self released last June with a 103 minute running time that covers a ridiculous amount of ground and is an attempt to remove himself from the computer and return to real in the room instrumentation. Significantly for this album he has utilised recordings of himself playing drums, Rhodes piano, acoustic and electric guitar which then has processed – often dramatically. Furthermore he’s gone and released it digitally, on cassette, compact disc, VHS and even 8-Track. You can read our review here. Scordatura felt like such a monumental release, that we just had to reach out and find out more.

Cyclic Defrost: What prompted the return to live instrumentation? There seems to be something romantic about this to electronic musicians.

Tim Koch: For me I think it is purely because that is where I started and always felt most comfortable. I have always played bass / guitar / drums more than anything else since the early nineties when I was delving into pure experiments with a reel to reel 4-Track my Dad had on eternal loan from Telecom (now Telstra of course). I took the arc of listening to a huge amount of guitar music in my teenage years and then sidestepping in 1993 to the Too Pure / Creation Records crossover to an extent with SeeFeel / Main / Mouse on Mars / Bark Psychosis and bands that were choosing to dip into both guitar and electronic elements. Followed by getting lost in all facets of sound but with a focus on melodic electronic with my own experiments that eventually progressed into things that actually seemed a little more complete to the point of considering any shaped release.

Throughout all of these phases though there were always acoustic and electric guitars around due to my Dad and brother who both play (and the latter constructs guitars now which is very very handy!). Therefore picking up a guitar almost felt like relief and a reward after dealing with obstinate sequencers and external midi synths and samplers. Even now with pure software possibilities on offer for electronic and expansive composition, picking up and finger picking a guitar in some ways still offers so much more excitement and instant gratification in that there is that immediacy and energy that is much harder to wrangle with Ableton / DAW based composition. I think forming ideas on a guitar is also so enriching in that it slowly teaches you to imagine an arrangement well and strengthen your ability to sonically visualise something before having the infinite possibilities of a DAW / music software at your disposal at the inspiration stage.

I had also grown much more enamoured by the process of what I did with the 10:32 material on Ghostly which felt more natural and organic for want of a better term. It just flowed so easily from idea to fruition in that all the initial sketches were purely acoustic guitar sketches that had sequences arranged around them. This sounds like a perfectly normal process for most people but I think with someone who has used DAW’s for so long you can quickly lose sight of the simple power of the interface with a real acoustic instrument – playing acoustic guitar and drums is probably more rewarding instantly than anything else in relation to new ideas that seem to have some lingering potential.

Cyclic Defrost: What were your thoughts when you started recording this album – did you know what you were going to do in terms of processing etc?

Tim Koch: I had been through quite a tough 18 months (even before Covid arrived) and I had accumulated a lot of sketches using guitar / rhodes / drums / found sound elements with the idea of constructing cohesive and more band based songs. As is the trend though I will drift into self-indulgent territory quite quickly and lose sight of a proper focus, so I decided to say fuck it and just do a series of long form passes with bad sections and dud notes and then feed it all through the granular software I was using to focus on certain parts of the performance. Originally I had the opening track (Shudder ROM) queued as an open framed piece that I used in a live gig perhaps four or five months before the album came out, and it worked quite well live so I thought I would focus on that energy of a “live” granular pass of a series of six preset “scenes” within the track that acted like markers or road-forks in that when I prompted the next scene the track could go in any direction really. That particular track is a mix of one long drum take and also a mix of rhodes and guitar flattened together, so all manner of odd clashes occurred with rolling drums that would clatter clumsily but also then take shape and cohere in sympathy with the underlaid rhodes tones. That approach was essentially applied to all of the pieces, except perhaps with the extra stuff that appeared on the 8-track cart and other formats – some shorter three minute pieces that were constructed more in a conventional manner.

Quite a few songs from the album are really abstractions separated from the original parent songs such as Huntsman which exists as a more formed conventional song that hasn’t even been property arranged or recorded as below. Huntsman:

I had also collected quite a few field recordings from a trip mid 2019 to America and tried subtly to graft these sounds into mixes using the same granular process. Somewhere in the mire is a Central Park saxophonist and drummer, horrible slot machine sounds twisted out of recognition, and mostly just ghostly passing voices from airports and unusual pancake parlours deep in Oregon forests.

Cyclic Defrost: Were there any touchstones in mind?

Tim Koch: Loosely just aesthetically the broad and open ended feel of Talk Talk’s “Laughing Stock” and by association Bark Psychosis especially long-form meandering dynamics of songs such as “Pendulum Man”. Tim Friese-Green’s approach of alternate forms of placing microphones and also an altered mindset on recording of acoustic sounds in general has also been a big fascination of mine. I had been listening to a lot of early Cul De Sac and bands that are happy to let songs stray into ten minute plus territory, and personally that resonates in the sense that my judgement of a song that transcends the three and half to five minute trad pop format vanishes when there is more an experiential aspect than willing a song to behave in a certain way in a tried and tested radio friendly play length.

Cinematically speaking I think these songs were all paired in my mind at an early stage with imagined colours and scenes, and the well-worn reference to imaginary soundtracks is still the best way encapsulate a creative process a lot of the time when using sprawling and emotive swathes of sound as opposed to short form percussive and melodic sounds sequenced in a repetitive way.

Cyclic Defrost: Why is it so long?

Tim Koch: I simply made the decision early in the process to reduce the amount of edits drastically and accept that it was going to be a very long collection of ideas that had no obligation to even be classed as a conventional album. Perhaps it will be construed as self-indulgent but definitely was not intended that way, but perfectly understandable that it will test some attention spans and perhaps it is a statement of sorts on my part towards people’s absolute lack of dedication to any one thing with the current swathe of visual and aural stimuli that exist at one’s fingertips at the current time. I still love the notion of losing oneself in a movie or album that truly asks you to let go just momentarily and let it become a micro universe just for a short time. We now live in a world of a ridiculous amount of crosstalk, with even a commonplace conversation being threatened by social media feeds and the lure of an endless stream of distraction.

Cyclic Defrost: I’m interested in the significance of the title Scordatura (yes I googled it). How does it relate to this work? Is it about taking it somewhere new – where it wasn’t intended to go?

Tim Koch: Absolutely just about taking a formula and using it in reverse, hitting a randomise function on a whole workflow. It also applies to all aspects of using instruments in a manner they were never intended, or even software or any creative tool for that matter. Someone will comment that I fingerpick with my little finger (for say a five note arpeggio etc.) and I never understand what that means because I have always just done that as a process rather than knowing any prior convention. I have just accepted that I seem to do most things in a way that just seems organic for me but that most other people seem to have issue with.

Cyclic Defrost: In my review I suggested that Scordatura is ‘…confounding, elusive and quite intoxicating. It’s the kind of album that you put on, let it wash through you and when it finishes you just lean over and press play, and it sounds new again.’ I guess what I was saying was that it wasn’t an easy album to understand and that no matter how often I listened, though I remembered certain motifs I never quite knew what was going to happen next. I’m just wondering how you approach composition.

Tim Koch: That is a really appropriate way of describing what I was trying to achieve and thanks for expressing it that way, it really is so useful to hear how someone encounters the way a bunch of songs are constructed individually and also as a whole in album format. Composition for me is just haphazard and fragmented with welcomed things always appearing at unwelcome times. Music from passing cars is a wonderful notion in that by some odd doppler mechanics coincidence the most striking timbre and melody always seems to appear when something sounds almost like a half-dream or in an unnatural and distorted form or state.

More recently I have also focused on running consecutive or concurrent A, B and C mixes of the same initial idea and trying to keep them as separate as possible – then at the point of feeling like each mix that has stemmed from original idea has developed sufficiently I will edit all three mixes back into (sometimes) a cohesive new whole but the new mix is afforded a new sense of dynamism (on occasion) due to the splintered method of almost remixing the initial idea “in house”. Probably nothing revolutionary at all but for me it is just a process that often works effectively to get the most I can out of a chord progression or sequence of sounds. I used this quite a lot with the material I have done (and am still doing) for an album as “Isolated Gate” with Ian Masters, as using a dynamic voice with my music opens up the equation dramatically and basic conventional verse to chorus switches don’t do some ideas justice at all.

Cyclic Defrost: What happened to Surgery Records? That’s where I first encountered you. It was such a great label with so many incredible artists?

Tim Koch: Surgery just ran its course really after close to ten years. Shifting strands of life and priorities, and Ian who was also a co-Surgery guy moved interstate and had some kids so his focus shifted somewhat. We did have some more releases planned but the oomph was gone and I fell into a period of four or five years after that where I essentially did no music other than aimless meandering. With DataDoor I just do sporadic releases now with no constant roster or consecutive release schedule, but have released on Commodore64 cartridge and data floppy so it is more of a data-art label in some ways but post-pandemic the shape of what a label is has changed remarkably I am guessing?

Cyclic Defrost: You self release material now. What’s the reason for that?

Tim Koch: I still have affiliation with labels for sure, have a 12” EP out on CPU records late February which is a total return to heavy rhythmic melodic electronic stuff which is a weird conjunct with Scordatura. In regards to self releasing Scordatura though I think early on I just decided that every album I have had released has had an amount of disappointment associated with it as the connection of songs and track order has always been broken and fragmented by labels choosing final sequence and play order. Initially I wanted an album of ten ten minute songs but that changed and with the differing track-listings for each format it all swiftly went out the window. Also I wanted to release it on CD / cassette / VHS / 8-Track / minidisc / vinyl (sadly not happening yet) and I am positive no label would ever want to embark on that format-quest haha!

Cyclic Defrost: Let’s talk about dead technology for a second. Is there a reason you didn’t offer a version on an Edison scroll? Am I wrong in thinking that with cassette, compact disc, VHS and 8-track, you’re offering your album on every format except the one format that people want? Are you torturing us?

Tim Koch: I know I know! I am guessing by the one format people want you are referring to laserdisc, not to fear it is forthcoming! Vinyl would have been a logistical nightmare in that it would be a triple album or more – having said that I have almost done a minidisc edit (80 mins max) that is more like one long remix, so if that comes in at a smaller play length I may get some onto wax somehow.
Dead Media Tapes in the US lovingly and expertly crafted the 8-Track cassettes by grafting old Reader’s Digest tape stock together which enabled such a long album to be able to be recorded onto one cartridge (apparently it is the longest album on a single 8-track cart coming in at 110 minutes but that may be incorrect). He also committed to releasing it on reel to reel on his own Dead Media imprint to add to the madness of covering all formats!

Cyclic Defrost: Did you get what you needed from returning to live instrumentation? What did you learn from this process? What happens now?

Tim Koch: Absolutely for me it was something I should have endeavoured to do much earlier, and I think the isolation component of the pandemic certainly nudged me toward committing properly to recording live instruments. My brother Sam makes guitars and built my acoustic and electric so that is a huge part of this album for sound sources as well as his Gretsch kit and an old Rhodes he has at his place. This band room is where we are currently jamming as a Flying Nun cover band as well as a bunch of other jangle-pop oddities (and a few original songs that may appear at some point!). To play drums in a jam setting for the first time in a few years is such a simple but refreshing thing mostly because of the interplay with bass and guitar and the fact that there is no locked grid or loop to play against.
I have the CPU Records EP “Tourbillon” out in late February, then straight onto the collaborations I have been working on with Ian Masters (Isolated Gate) and also a trio with two friends / artists in Michael Upton (Jet Jaguar) and Adrien Capozzi (Adrien75 / Tawdry Otter). Somewhere lurking is a 10:32 record which will delve into more traditional song-based experiments too, with a cheeky lathe 10” to be released sometime later this year with some teaser tracks.

You can find Scordatura here. And Tourbillon released on Central Processing Unit here.


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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.