To kick off our Ode to Detroit edition that will run throughout the month prefacing Movement 2010, we introduce one of our respected artists, Stephen Hitchell from Echospace Detroit. He is scheduled to perform along with label partner, Rod Modell (Deepchord) at the Bunker, NYC this Friday night.
Echospace: A Sonic Quest
Space /speis/: the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface; freedom or opportunity to express oneself, resolve a personal difficulty, be alone, etc.
Let’s begin by talking about the upcoming compilation by you and Rod, Liumin, the second full-length since the appraised Coldest Season LP (2007). You said that Liumin is more of a “sonic travelogue” of your travels together, mostly based from your field recordings from these trips together. My question is, why are you so intrigued by sound, beyond just music?
So tell me, do you ever get so carried away in your music or in your recordings that you almost feel lost in sound? What is that like?
That’s pretty much every night I record. That’s the beauty of it. Most of the recordings [we release], I’d say 90% of [them] are extended recordings we’ve cut down. Rod has a very particular philosophy in that when we do recordings we try to pick it down to the key elements that work together and create a loop of 16 - 32 seconds, then have it repeat for twelve hours or for days or sometimes weeks. If its working at 32 seconds and has this everlasting evolution, it works - even if its just one element. Rod’s developed a lot of these theories when he was in the Hari Krishnas. Part of the philosophy is in praying mantras, repeating a single sentence for hours to days on end before something actually clicks. A hypnotic state is induced. And I think we bring some of that philosophy through the music.
What is your philosophy?
Interesting. Now, I have a question for you about Detroit music. What we’re doing through the month of May on this site is running a special themed “edition” called Ode to Detroit, leading up to Movement 2010. The biggest question we’re trying to grasp more of an understanding is – why do you think Detroit is a place that breeds and inspires such originality and creativity?
Well I think environment plays a really important role in everyone’s lives. And I see right now everything in Detroit even Chicago, its quite destitute at the moment. We’re kind of in the midst of urban decay. I think in that sort of environment there’s this kind of looking forward trajectory in terms of space and future. Futurity because the here and now is almost depressing. I think techno, like what Juan [Atkins] was developing is futuristic because of the thought process. You’re thinking about what life would be like 100 or 200 years from now. Music’s all about escape to begin with. So I think a part of that attitude being placed within music is really important. I think that philosophy is probably mutually shared among early Detroit artists at least the ones I revere and look up to. In looking at that dynamic it sort of looks at a new scope on how the music was based or why it was created, why people were looking to a different place, for a different time – for a future that at that moment didn’t exist.
That’s a beautiful answer. Now I’m also curious about artistic influences outside of music that influences you. Is there any specific literature or visual art that specifically touches you and influences you?
Definitely. I would say one of my favorite graphic artists throughout history has been M.C Esher. I think one of the finite things that Esher had over any other graphic artists who I’ve seen in my life has been the art of illusion with a pen and paper. And I think lots of those fundamentals I try to bring to the music, you know, making things that are multidimensional [and] have more space than space itself. It’s like looking at things from two hundred angles. It really depends on your positioning and place of origin. M.C. Esher had this imagination to put things into twenty different perspectives when really you should only have one of that same art of illusion. That’s what I like to bring to our music. In a lot of Rod’s photography he sort of captures things in this almost surreal element to where you take something that’s natural but bring it into a particular light. It’s all very scientific. That’s an optical illusion and as much as it can be a sonic illusion something we try to really incorporate into our music is to bring this multidimensional, immersive experience. I think its very important, that level of complexity, to look at things that are simple but to make them very complex.
And I understand you were a graphic artist as well?
When I was really young, probably in my early teen’s I got heavily into hip hop culture and graffiti art. I was a graffiti artist for about 6 years and it got me into a lot of trouble and I ended up in military school which is ultimately why I ended up in the service. That’s the thing about freedom of expression. To me it was just art, adding color to relatively bland and boring warehouses and you know, unfortunately the city didn’t see it that way. It changed the entire direction of my path and my future, so I made a huge mistake in some regard but I guess it makes you who you are today. I don’t really regret it per se, I mean partially. I don’t know if I would have ever pursued music as seriously as I did or all those experiences so…it took a lot of time to build up the courage, music to me was so personal it was really hard for me to make a commitment towards release, which is partially why so much work that I’ve done in the 90s has been coming out just recent.
What were you holding back?
Well I had a lot of friends who were into music I kind of watched the trials and tribulations they went through...like if they’d get a bad review or if someone in a magazine trashed them for their record, I just saw how it affected them on a personal level, I didn’t know if I had the courage enough to deal with it, I guess that level of rejection. But ultimately I think you have to overcome fears before you can put [your work] on display or something that you hold to your heart that’s dear and personal, you know there’s always going to be someone that hates it. Everyone has an opinion. And unfortunately not all of them are going to be kind. It affects you. It’s your heart. These are little pieces of who you are.
It seems the more you explore that the deeper you go into sound. Is there something that you’re trying to get at or are you along with things and seeing where the sound takes you?
I never have a preconceived notion as to what is going to be recorded and neither does Rod. We don’t think very much. That’s the beauty of music, or the beauty of art, once you walk into the studio you turn off all the thought process. I think that if you have preconceived ideas or preconceived notions it changes the direction of what’s naturally meant to take place, I think that’s the beauty of art in itself.
Exactly, then what would be the point of art?
Right, there would be no spontaneity. To me it would be less intriguing. I think the music in itself is just the greatest reward. When we walk into the studio without a preconceived notion as to what we’re going to accomplish sometimes we make mistakes in that process…but those mistakes make the music that much more powerful. Our process [of recording] is a little bit different then a lot of friends or people I know strictly relying on a software or Ableton where everything’s written out and automated and they know how to change everything. They pinpoint every development. It’s a bit too particular for my take.
I’m not completely against that, but there’s something about the whole digital industry and the accessibility and ease of it all that frustrates me, in the context of art and creating. It’s like there’s not enough effort being put into art with all of that available.
Well everything’s too easy nowadays. One of the greatest things I’ve learned, and I learned this from a friend of mine was…start from scratch. Develop your own sounds, become your own person, become one with that instrument, learn it inside and out until you’ve really mastered something. And I think today things are so accessible with little to no financial cost. No one wants to take the time to actually learn something, like everything’s too easy, so simple. Back in the day some synthesizers were so complex [and so expensive] you had to spend six months just learning that instrument inside and out before you could feel comfortable using them in a recording and that’s the difference from today or yesterday. You had to have some sincere passion and love and desire and work your butt off to acquire a sense and the things you needed to make it. [Rod and I] grew up at a time where you had to make sacrifices just to make this music. When I was 19 I chose to walk and ride my bike everywhere and buy two synthesizers rather then financing a car. Everybody has priorities. For me it seems, it’s always been this music.