After-dark inquiry: The Field's Axel Willner
The talented producer loves his loops.
Mon Oct 17 2011
Photograph: Sonia Alvarez
Celebrating the release of the new Looping State of Mind, Willner & Co. perform their hypnotically swirling sounds at
The title of the new album refers at least in part to your loop-based production technique, but I'm guessing that its meaning goes a bit deeper than that, right?
Well, yes—it wouldn't be a very good name if it didn't, would it? [Laughs] You know the state of mind you can be in when it seems like your thoughts are in a loop, when your mind keeps repeating itself? That can be good, like when you're in love, or it can be bad. My mind was working that way when I was making this album, and I realized, Hey, that would make a pretty good title!
Through the looping process, your music can become quite meditative, but never so much that it becomes sleep-inducing. How do you balance its inherent repetition with a need to sustain interest?
I've found that if it works for me, then it will work for other people as well. If I start to find that a song is getting a little bit too dull, or if I push it a little bit too far, it's best to do something about it. Sometimes, that can be as simple as making a song shorter. But one of the best things about working the way I do is that loops can play tricks on the mind; after a while, you start to imagine things that might not really be there—or they might be there, you never know—especially if you are listening to something that's super repetitive.
There also seems to be a sense of spirituality involved, not so much in an overt sense, but in a sense of spaciousness and depth that runs through the Field's music. Is that something that comes from within you, or is it sort of an accidental by-product?
It's maybe not spirituality for me, but there are a lot of heavy feelings involved with the music. Every track means a lot to me, of course. One thing about the Field is that I can't really just close myself in the studio and sit down and push something out. The music really has to come from inside me, and when I have this feeling that something has to come out, that's when I go into the studio. And since it can be emotional, melancholic music, I guess that people can put the music into context in their own lives.
With the new album, it sounds like you are using more live instrumentation within your loops than ever.
That's correct. Even on the second album, Yesterday and Today, I was using a lot more instrumentation than on the first album [2007's From Here We Go Sublime]. Things kind of changed after touring with just myself and a laptop for a year. I got really...not bored, but I just realized that this was not really what I wanted to do. I come from a background of playing in bands, being part of a team, and I said to myself, It can't just be me and a laptop any more. So I invited two old friends to play with me, and I ditched the laptop and replaced it with samplers and drum machines, and figured that what I can't do with the samplers and drum machines, I can do with people. I now haven't played a solo show since the 30th of November, 2007.
Wow, you know the exact date!
Yes—I guess that was a big deal for me! Anyhow, it's become more and more like a group over the years. On Yesterday and Today, I was really just trying it out, but on this album, there was no other way. I couldn't see myself going into the studio and doing it alone. We used a lot of instruments, everything from drums and bass—double bass, even—and synths to vibraphones and guitars.
What does the live set consist of?
The live setup is a lot simpler—we can't do it the same as we did in the studio. That would be just to much to carry around. We have someone playing drums, another on bass and synths, and me on samplers and drum machines and effects.
The Field has been with the Kompakt label from the start. Some people think of Kompakt as a club-oriented imprint, but it's also the label of Wolfgang Voigt's Gas, for instance. Which side of Kompakt was it that attracted you?
I really like the Pop Ambient stuff they had put out, but back then, I was enjoying the techno side of Kompakt as well. But the reason I originally sent stuff to the label was entirely because of Wolfgang Voigt. I such was a huge fan of Gas—that was a really huge influence on me—but really, what he's done through all of his monikers has been a huge influence. I thought, Why not try to work on the label of a guy I adore?
You've had a lot of critical support from the start, some of it from unlikely places. Your first album, From Here We Go Sublime, famously got a 9.0 review from Pitchfork, for example. Did that surprise you at all?
Oh yeah, big time. That really was a shock. I had put out a couple of EPs before From Here We Go Sublime, and I have to say, they passed by pretty unnoticed. That's how I expected things would be! So when the album came out, I was blown away by how it was received. I really couldn't believe it.
This probably won't come out right...but one wouldn't think that the Field would have that kind of an impact, as it's fairly subtle music, and a little bit strange.
No, you're right. If you listen to the Field with half an ear, you'd probably think, What the fuck is wrong with this record? Actually, I think there are a lot of people who think that anyway. For example, my mother—she does not understand what the hell I am doing.
Tuesday October 25; Looping State of Mind (Kompakt) is out now.