Sometimes a formal Academic background in your chosen field can be something of a hinderance. Having studied at the Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in his native Vienna, Kassian Troyer has gone on to forge a career as a sound engineer, mastering records for top tier producers such as Pantha du Prince, Pole and his old University buddy, Efdemin. However, making records in his own right has meant that he’s had to, in his own words, “‘forget’ everything I learned and then start to remember things again.”
His experience of working with sound installations and field recordings lends a rough grain to his take on deep house – he’s released on Curle, Dial, Scape and Onitor. Perhaps Troyer’s aesthetic is best exemplified by his edition of the Alpha-ville podcast: a mixture of influences and records he’s feeling which doesn’t shy away from the rawer end of the spectrum. From Oni Ayhun to Terrence Dixon, via Kassem Mosse and a brand new cut from Troyer himself. It even finds a place for Actress’ excellent remix of Panda Bear’s Surfer’s Hymn. Essentially, the mix serves a great intro to Troyer – if you don’t know, now’s the time get to know.
First up, how would you define your sound?
Hm, that’s a difficult question. I do like a bit of dirt I guess but I sure appreciate clean and clear sounds as well. But in the rawness and in the noisiness there is some kind of space and haptic quality, which – at least for me – enriches the listening experience. It’s like that noise equals room or space. The Rodney Graham installation (photo below) has a very similar quality and by blurring the image you add some space for imagination. I just saw the Gerhard Richter exhibition here in Berlin two days ago, and I do like blurred images. I also try to make influences audible which come from outside the 4/4 world, that’s also quite important for me.
How – and when – did you get into making music? Can you single out a particular moment when you decided you wanted to make a career out of electronic music?
The interest was always there. My brother and I experimented with our cassette recorder when we where kids. We did some “experimental music” back then at the age of 9 or 10 without actually knowing what we where doing at all! We had a small electronic circuit model kit set up as a basic oscillator and some metal objects to make noises with. But i think it was when i started to study in Vienna – I actually started with literature studies but I soon realised that I was thinking about music all day, so after one year I changed to the music university.
And then there was the Sub Club, which was the weekly drum and bass night at the Flex-club, where I liked to go – and the first Mego and Cheap nights. The electronic music scene in Vienna was quite intense in those years, that was quite overwhelming.
Growing up were you exposed to much electronic music?
We had 1 cassette which was a breakdance sampler with Grandmaster Flash on it, Herbie Hancock, Chic. The other cassettes where Simon and Garfunkel.
Your brother Ulrich Troyer is also a musician so it seems natural to presume you come from a musical household…
No, actually not musical at all. It’s just my brother and I that we are both music-nerds. I think my father will never understand why we are so much into such a thing as “music”, my mother is very openminded and interested.
You’ve mastered records for Efdemin, Pantha du Prince, Pole…the list goes on. How does it feel making the leap into making your own records?
It is actually a leap to make my own records. Since you can always go on working on things, refine sounds, add some equing here, remix parts there…. but the danger is that mixes then start to become boring, or that you lose a certain spontaneity and musicality when your focus jumps to much between musical and technical aspects while composing.
With the work on the forthcoming EP I decided that I wanted to do it with outboard gear only. At my job in mastering I’m sitting at the computer all day editing sound, so I didn’t want to do that again when doing music. I used the computer only for recording the mixdown. The idea was also to capture a certain spontaneity and to force myself not to focus on details or too many technical aspects but rather record a few takes and that’s it. The result is a bit raw. There are quite a few things which now I’d prefer to have done differently but…there´s no way back. Maybe you could call these kind of “errors” or “mistakes,” also a sort of noise in terms of unintended decision-artefacts which hopefully make the whole picture more interesting.
Photo: Rodney Graham, Edge of a Wood
You’ve got a formal education in audio engineering and computer music having studied in Vienna. Does this academic background have an influence on the way you work?
It definitely has a influence on the way I work but, to be honest, all the academic background can also be a burden in the sense that you might lose the spontaneous, intuitive and maybe even naive way of doing music, which I think is something extremely important.
Can you tell us a little about the mix you’ve put together for Alpha-ville?
Basically I just put things together that I like or are an influence for me at the moment. So there are some tracks which have been important to me since the very beginning like Terrence Dixon – I didn’t listen to them for quite a while – and then there´s something of STL, I love the tracks he did on Smallville!! There´s Phillip / Efdemin with my favourite track of his – ‘Farnsworth House.’ There´s Kassem Mosse, there´s stuff from Relative, which I discovered last year, I like their raw “live”-approach…It´s rather eclectic, I’d say.
I notice there’s a record by you on the mix called ‘Stills’ – Is this a forthcoming release?
Yes, it´s the title track of an EP coming out on Dial in the next weeks!
I think I detect the crackle of vinyl in there. Do you have a preference for vinyl?
Yes i do. I did vinyl cutting for some time myself. I like the physical experience of vinyl, I like to have some relation to the music i buy and listen to, I don´t really have any relation to a sound file. Although I obviously appreciate listening to things on my phone while I’m outside.
Are there any producers that you feel are pushing the boundaries right now?
I don´t know if pushing boundaries is the right word, it’s more a personal thing: I’m really into Kassem Mosse at the moment, and I´m curious as to what they will put out on the Ominira label. And I’m following the Will Bankhead / Joy Orbison Hinge Finger label and the Relative guys.
Any interesting plans in the works which you can share?
I´m working a lot for Hendrik / Pantha du Prince lately. Currently I’m also working on a remix, I’m preparing to set up a new studio and so on, and then there’s this really big project that started just a week ago, It’s music for a dance piece I’m involved in. I’m quite happy, there’s a lot going on at the moment!
(Interview by Louise Brailey)
Download and listen to the Kassian Troyer podcast from the soundcloud track below – enjoy!
pigon – flip over pill
oni ayhun – oar004b
kassian troyer – stills
dbx – spocks brain
farben – rrival inn (all)
pigon – flip over pill
vinalog – offcenter 2
kassem mosse – we speak to those
vinalog – 45
terrence dixon – math test
madteo – xtra loose change (2010 refix)
panda bear – surfers hymn (actress remix)
terrence dixon – building blocks
stl – 2 deep
efdemin – farnsworth house
ryuichi sakamoto – exhibition