Thomas Köner of Porter Ricks: “Porter Ricks used a valid formula—four to the floor—and used it as a key to open a door.”

The seminal dub-techno duo Porter Ricks performs live at Unsound Festival New York.

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Andy Mellwig and Thomas Köner of Porter Ricks

Andy Mellwig and Thomas Köner of Porter Ricks Photograph: Philipp Virus


Porter Ricks’s 1996 album, Biokinetics, is, for many, the ne plus ultra of dub techno. Released on the none-more-influential Chain Reaction imprint, the LP’s cuts are pulsating, fractally arranged productions, ever-mutating compositions that sound as if they emanate from a warm alien sea. In short, it’s beautiful and totally cool music. The seminal record was rereleased in 2012 on the Type label, and last year, the German duo—multimedia artist Thomas Köner and sound engineer Andy Mellwig—reunited for a series of live shows. The pair will play the Bunker installment of Unsound Festival New York on Saturday 5; Time Out New York caught up with Köner in the run-up to that much-anticipated gig.

Porter Ricks was the name of the warden in the ’60s friendly-dolphin series Flipper. How did you even know about that show?
It was running on the telly when we were kids, and both Andy and I used to watch it a lot. Then, of course, we both forgot about it.

As did most people.
Yes, that is probably true! But later, when we were discovering the idea of heroism—in everyday life, but especially in the studio—we thought of this character of Porter Ricks, who somehow would always come in at the last minute and rescue everything. I guess everyone has a hero hidden in his memories and his heart. For us, it was a character from an obscure TV show—I hope that doesn’t say anything about us! [Laughs]

Just that you have interesting taste in entertainment, perhaps. The name also serves as a sort of water metaphor, correct?
Yeah. It has to do with the whole idea of how our music moves and interacts with other objects; there is a liquid quality to that. The music isn’t sharp. You wouldn’t use a broken-glass metaphor to describe it. So the idea of the name Porter Ricks was a holistic concept, a combination of the heroic aspect and the liquidity of our productions. On a simple level, you do have enhanced hearing under water, because the sounds are transported much more quickly. And the high bands are cut off, as well. So in some ways, it’s a simple and direct application of the idea of liquid behavior, or of how you hear that sound.

It’s as if you are actually listening to the music while underwater.
Yes, that’s right.

It’s been almost two decades since Biokinetics came out. Did you have any inkling that you were making music that people would be excited about almost 20 years later?
I think that much of the current interest comes from the rerelease of Biokinetics on Type. It seems as though that release was more welcome than the original, really; it may have been too early for that music, I think. It’s always a little sad to not get the recognition you think you should get. Andy and I came from very different positions, and we merged and created a very powerful situation—so one could have expected more resonance. It’s like with tectonic plates—if they meet and make an earthquake, and then not even a single building crumbled, then perhaps it was not so successful. [Laughs]

Some buildings certainly crumbled when the album was rereleased, though.
Yes, maybe that is true. But we both had moved on and got involved in other things. I’ve been involved in audio-visual work; Andy’s composing a lot for orchestras, contemporary-classic sorts of things. But with Porter Ricks, I think we are now more relaxed. If we don’t expect anything, we won’t be disappointed.

Perhaps that’s just the wisdom one gains from getting a little bit older.
Yes!

You had been working as a sound artist before Porter Ricks; what originally inspired you and Andy to create something that vaguely falls into the club-music category?
I believe that the joy and the creativity that you share in your work is determined by the audience, or by the consumer. It’s somehow limited by the setting, or by the…education is too harsh a word, but perhaps the audience’s cultural setup. Within that culture, you can communicate; you can create a dialogue. And if you refuse to create a dialogue, you don’t gain anything. You don’t make yourself more sophisticated; you lose a useful form of expression. It like if you refuse to use a hammer and screwdriver because you think that’s too proletarian, you won’t get anything done, and you’ll live without shelves and everything will be a mess! This is the kind of attitude that some serious composers are applying, and I don’t have an inclination to share that attitude.

But why specifically work in the field of techno?
I would say that Porter Ricks used a valid formula—four to the floor—and used it as a key to open a door. The space that opened up was completely ours. We were happy to get into that space, and we weren’t too worried about the key that we used to open that door.

Porter Ricks started performing again at last year’s Unsound Festival in Kraków, Poland. Was the reception of the Type rerelease the impetus for getting back into doing live shows?
I had already been in contact with Andy about different aspects of the music and what we could do with the technology of today. We both wanted to share some of the ideas we had. We were talking about working on some new tracks, and maybe releasing another album. We are working on that new music, and we also have commissions for some remix work, which we’ll be doing over the summer.

Wow!
And not long after we started deciding this, [Unsound artistic director] Mat Schulz asked us to play, as if he somehow had an intuition.

What is the methodology that you’re using in the live set?
The main thing is that we always write our own software; Andy is the one doing that. It can be very creative and very intuitive—but also sometimes very annoying. Certainly it is for me! [Laughs] We’re working on this software that will enable us to generate, mix and master all the music on the spot. This is not really finished yet, so I can’t predict how it’s going to be. We’ll see what we can do with it. We only have a week before the set in New York! [Laughs] We’ll be playing some old things and some new things, but I can’t say exactly what it’s going to be, because we don’t really know yet. It’s still in development.

It sounds like there’s quite a bit of improvisation involved.
Yes, for sure. That’s the interesting part. You don’t want things to be predictable; that’s just too boring and too sad. Both Andy and I enjoy the danger and the risk involved with the improvisatory approach. Porter Ricks himself was fearless, you know.

Porter Ricks plays the Bunker Unsound Edition Saturday, April 5.

Follow Bruce Tantum on Twitter: @BruceTantum


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