The universe is making music all the time

Step Right Up: Rival Consoles

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Interview with Ryan Lee West.

“I don’t like to construct an illusion, I like the parts to feel special from a less is more approach.”

—Ryan Lee West

Words: Mark Carry

Rival Consoles - press photo_by Lenka Rayn H. Fine Art Photography_PRINT

The closing note on the inner sleeve of the ‘Erased Tapes V Collection’ – a celebration of the pioneering independent label’s first five years reads: “At the end of all music happiness will be erased.” Over a short space of time, the listener and early Erased Tapes music explorer alike, have been blessed to cross paths with such a gifted family of music-makers that have served a trusted companion to each and every turn of day and close of night.

2014 marked the continuation of this special journey with releases from London-based singer-songwriter, Douglas Dare (the wonderful debut full-length ‘Whelm’ in addition to several mesmerising EP’s), the enthralling, dub-based collaborative project of Greg Gives Peter Space (the gifted duo of renowned artists, Peter Broderick and Greg Haines), and soon-to-be-released full-length releases from A Winged Victory For The Sullen (‘Atomos VI’) and Kiasmos (‘Burnt’). In addition, earlier this month saw the eagerly-awaited arrival of Rival Consoles’ (aka Londoner Ryan Lee West) latest EP, entitled ‘Sonne’, – and follow-up to last year’s ‘Odyssey’ EP – an exploration of atmosphere, space and the power of colour with his analogue set-up of the Moog, Prophet and tape delay, and a central desire to create a more organic, humanised sound. As ever, the music contained on ‘Sonne’ reveals an artist’s desire – and innate musical capabilities – to transcend space and time, as an enriching experience is beautifully carved out in the shimmering canvas of sound, just like footprints in the sand.

The glorious title-track, ‘Sonne’ is built on layers of synth patterns that unveils a delicate beauty with each gorgeously-rendered melody and rich dappling of colour contained therein. A softness and tenderness lies at the heart of ‘Sonne’ that gradually transforms into a pulsating ambient tour-de-force, reminiscent of Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works’. The lead single ‘3 Chords’ is a kaleidoscope of enchanting sounds that feels a close companion – existing in a parallel orbit perhaps – to the synth-based works of label-mate, Nils Frahm such is its monumental beauty. ‘Helios’ contains that special spark and driving momentum of UK’s Fuck Buttons as waves of sound and rhythm ascends into the forefront of the mix.

Part B of ‘Sonne’ reveals the musical journey’s most formidable moments. ‘Haunt’ is one of those electronic-based tracks that immediately leaves you dumbfounded. I’m reminded of a previous interview with Nils Frahm where he explained his desire to “translate music into psychology” where the audience would “feel like anything’s possible”. Certainly, this is the case for not only the shape-shifting creations sculpted by Germany’s Nils Frahm but London’s Ryan Lee West too (and indeed the entire roster of Erased Tapes). A dimension of other-worldly proportions is attained here on ‘Haunt’, particularly later on as the live instrumentation of drums and acoustic guitar blends with the soaring synth-based patterns. Music’s endless possibilities shine forth like the ceaseless array of sound waves (and power of colour) captured masterfully by West.

The closer ‘Recovery’ transports me back to an older recording of Rival Consoles, entitled ‘Daddy’ – a haven of electronic bleeps and glitches featuring label-mate Peter Broderick on vocals – combining the synthetic and organic, resulting in something deeply affecting and human. Gentle ripples of synths serve the opening notes to ‘Recovery’ as a sense of healing and solace prevails. As ever, West’s compositions traverses the human space.


Sonne’ by Rival Consoles is available now on Erased Tapes.



Rival Consoles - studio shot

Interview with Ryan Lee West.

Congratulations Ryan on the incredible ‘Sonne’  EP. After a string of sublime EPs released in a relatively short period of time, your music is constantly evolving and taking on new forms- all the while, a deeply humanised foundation remains at the core. Firstly, please talk me through the new tracks on ‘Sonne’ and if your process or technique –  in creating these sounds – changed in anyway from your previous works?

Ryan Lee West: Thanks! Glad you like it. A very similar approach from Odyssey continued, both are concerned with finding minimal, emotive electronic ideas. The main difference to me is that Odyssey was darker and consistently moody, with this Sonne I tried to use more colour: sounds that feel more vibrant and brighter, hence Sonne (meaning Sun in german), because the title track and others have a lot of light and warmth in them. There is quite a range of techniques throughout the EP, I tend not to milk one technique, for example Sonne is a layered melodic journey of synths almost like a quartet. And this achieves everything through melody and harmony, where as 3 Chords and Helios are about the sound of the parts, the distorted synths rising, recordings of switches, clicks, guitars, vocals, chopped up and recoiled to make shimmering details etc. Recovery is actually born from Philip on Odyssey. because I wasn’t finished with this rapid synth idea. This is the most considered point on the release, where every single chord is placed in time and out of time to form these changes in speed and density, it took a long time to get this right because I need it to sound natural.


One aspect I love about the latest EP is the presence of live drums and acoustic guitar, in addition to the shimmering electronics. It is obvious listening to your unique blend of electronic music that a huge amount of care, time and attention to detail pours into the music. For these tracks, would the starting point often be an electronic loop and then a case of adding layers? I imagine the instrumentation of drums/guitar is added later? Would there be a significant amount of splicing tracks, and adding/removing layers before the final sonic creation is fully realized?

RLW: Exactly that, though I don’t really work in loops per say. I tend to improvise out a long sequence of ideas and then improvise a second sequence over the top, then if anything interesting has happened I start to construct a sense of structure. But I’m constantly recording in little moments of ambience, or details like drums, guitar etc. The problem is I don’t like over laboured music, so I might add a bunch of stuff, delete a bunch of stuff, but the end result will not be complex to me. I don’t like to construct an illusion, I like the parts to feel special from a less is more approach.


Your music always enters this special dimension of radiance. For example, the seamless layers contained on ‘Haunt’ evoke a stunningly beautiful world of sound where the listener gets beautifully lost in. I feel your label-mates such as Nils, Peter, and Ólafur all share this innate ability to transcend space and time through the musical compositions you create. Forgive the generalness of the question but I would love to gain an insight into how you see or visualize music? Has the creative process changed in any way for you since the inception of Rival Consoles project?

RLW: Thanks! I usually hear music as a structure I guess, as you get so used to thinking about structure and layering. I think when I first started I was making music it was a product of the latest tricks I learnt and liked. So there is a sense of the music being made up of techniques rather than any kind of meaning. As I’ve got older, I am needing a little more meaning or a more considered angle. so I have thousands of ideas/ techniques/ production ideas in my head, but I think well why would I choose one over the other or any at all? So I guess I am more questioning about what I include. But this doesn’t mean that there are no accidents. I do a lot of improv and some great moments appear that I love. I think I’ve always been interested in a composition achieving something interesting, but as I’ve got older I need to feel that a recording has captured a performance or sensation of something happening. This is my problem with a lot of electronic music is that people spend loads of time editing and effecting and tweaking details to form the illusion of capturing a moment, I prefer to try and create a moment with a more natural approach.


Can you please take me back to when your fascination with sound began. I would think this started from an early age? Did you start composing music using digital or analogue?

RLW: I started learning guitar when I was 12, and I was really obsessed with learning to play new music. I got pretty good quickly. but I always remember wanting to make music and not to just play it, I have composed music since then really, but I haven’t really had much guidance in this until I was at university, where I was shown a whole world of possibility. So I guess I started with analogue (guitars/bands), I didn’t start making music with a computer until nearly 10 years later! and then it was very much digital for me. But over time it has become more 50/50.  I only use 2 analogue synths now through a chain of hardware,you can make good music with just a laptop if you have god ideas though. For me it is about physically things to play with. I’m not elitist about analogue vs digital at all.


In terms of electronic music then, what were the early days like experimenting with IDM, glitch and dance? What records during this time made a big impact on you?

RLW: Aphex Twin Come to Daddy EP – incredibly diverse collection of ideas, from the brutality of Come to Daddy, to the softness of Flim, the intelligent exponential rhythms of Bucephalus Bouncing Ball and the nostalgic vibes of Iz Us, I just think the ideas are inspiring and exciting, this made me think about exploring the sounds of instruments more, it’s easy to get a synth sounding ok, but to make it sounds unique takes lots of time and thinking, so this EP made me want to explore this.

Clark Body Riddle – this is the best electronic album ever made in my opinion, it has everything, Herzog is the greatest track. rich, yet simple through line, swelling, pulsating, organic, heavy, melodic, atmospheric, it just does everything I want in such thoughtful ways! It is my favourite electronic composition ever.

Radiohead Kid A – I was a huge fan of Radiohead when OK Computer came out, I would learn all the guitar parts and play them in bands with friends at school. When Kid A came out I didn’t understand it fully, I didn’t like that they had abandoned guitars, but as the years went by I understood what was going on. It’s a very unique album that has it’s own world of sounds and ideas.


As an accomplished sound designer, you have frequently performed at the Tate, and recently created a bespoke audio-visual performance for Boiler Room at the V&A. I would love to gain an insight into the whole area of sound design, Ryan? Would this aspect of sound design feed its way into your solo project of Rival Consoles, or is it a case of each one having a synergistic effect on each other?

RLW: Lots of sounds that are in modern electronic music are influenced by film, people realised long ago that capturing sounds can be used in a musical way very effectively. I’m always looking for sounds which behave like other things but are different. So instead of using a bass drum I recently have been recording the hammers on my piano falling to a resting position and then compressing the hell out of this! And adding lots of bass etc. I record lots of clicks and switch sounds with a contact microphone to use as percussion. I’m actually in the process of building a board of different switches so I can play this kind of sound live. I guess for me it’s usually to accompany an idea rather than being the idea itself.


It’s difficult to highlight just one track on the new EP but I adore the closing piece, ‘Recovery’ and the gorgeous electronic loops that build continually throughout. There is a real sense of a climax to the journey here, especially when the analogue synthesizer layer is added, bringing to mind Laurie Spiegel’s pioneering works. Please talk me through this particular song and the construction (or de-construction) of ‘Recovery’?

RLW: I wanted to create a track that messed with sense of time, like time compressing and expanding, but retaining some general direction, this is basically the same technique as used in Bucephalus Bouncing Ball but instead of applying this to rhythm I apply it to harmony so I have repeating chords, which I drew into the computer as midi, which have complex timing and then I drew in huge curves of velocity which also opened the filter. And then basically the computer plays the analogue synth and I record it back into the computer, whilst slightly messing with other parameters like tape delay and pitch. It’s very simple as a process, it’s just very hard to write the right chord progression with the right pace and the right sense of direction. The rest of the track I played in live over the top of existing parts to get it more human. Apart from the drums which are just arranged like a collage.


In terms of your live performance, I would love to know what is your live set-up? Is there a certain amount of live improvisation, Ryan? It must be a wonderful feeling when you witness a certain piece of music change or transform into new ways, depending on the moment in time the concerts are occurring?

RLW: I have run Ableton which plays back hundreds of stems, little loops, patterns, etc so I can construct tracks differently live, but as I play the prophet a lot, I tend to keep things stripped back live, for example, I have recently been finishing shows with just a contact microphone loop I make and then a improvised wall of synthesis. This is something I have been working on everyday for the past month or so, I have got to a stage where I could improvise a whole set, but the issue is that the musical ideas wouldn’t be as strong as my thought out work, so its about finding a balance between the two. I plan in the future to make it fully live, with other musicians, because that is where the magic happens.

Equipment list: laptop, prophet 8, copycat tape delay, boss dd3, midimurf, boss od3, contact mic, loop pedal, secret granular pedal* and 2 midi controllers.


Lastly, please discuss the albums you’ve been listening to most these days?

RLW: I’ve been listening to Dawn of Midi, I was late getting round to them. But love some of the things they achieve.

Buke and Base – I heard/saw them at Halden Pop festival and was blown away! I love their 2 albums, incredible melodies and song writing and catchiness and technical moments.




‘Sonne’ by Rival Consoles is available now on Erased Tapes.




Written by markcarry

September 30, 2014 at 3:21 pm

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