Rival Consoles released their seventh album, Articulation, at the end of July. The album continued Ryan Lee West’s deep explorations of electronic music, combining the recognisable rhythms and dramatic gestures of dance music, but filtering them through concepts that owed a debt to the natural world and modern classical music through graphic scores inspired by György Ligeti.
Further. spoke to Ryan about the album and his idiosyncratic approach to composition, the emotional potential of synthesisers and writing for strings.
It seems like you tore up your own compositional rulebook with this album, particularly in the use of something akin to a graphic score. Was that a conscious effort to challenge yourself? How did the visual score influence how you organised the tracks? Was it a freeing experience?
It was mainly a way to problem solve and to daydream possibilities. For example, say I have several pieces of music that are stuck. Perhaps they reach a point where I am bored of what I have tried to move them toward. I would sketch various structures and then try to recreate them. The beauty is that because it isn’t a science, simply drawing anything makes you re-consider things in a refreshed way.
My main issue is that because the computer is so quick and infinite at what it can do, I feel my creative choices are steered a lot – that the ideas don’t come from me, and that I am just randomly stumbling through some forest trying to grab onto things. This can produce great unexpected results of course, but for the most part I guess, I am sceptical about whether it is me or the computer that is making music.
In the process of sketching music structures and then trying to recreate them, it helps remove the influence of the computer and is a way to just be playful in a more simplistic way.
I also feel that electronic music in particular has a deep connection with graphic score like this, because electronic music is generally abstract, it feels perfect that the graphic score is a way to understand it.
The press release for the track ‘Vibrations On A String’ talks about you trying to ‘mimic the physical world with synths’ – placed in context next to the use of a different way of structuring the tracks, it sounds like you’re almost trying to rally against what me might call the traditions of electronic music. Why is that? Where’s that coming from do you think? Do you feel trapped by electronic music convention somehow?
I feel I am always doubting the authenticity of my ideas in electronic music. It’s easy to make something loud, multi-layered, chaotic or complex, but I find it extremely hard to create simple things that mean something to me, and I am kinda drawn to do this thing that is difficult. I think by trying to mimic nature is one way to help do this. As I grew up a guitarist, I’ve noticed that I am often making synths behave like post rock / shoegaze guitar parts at times. It’s not intentional, so I guess it’s more of an unconscious thing.
‘Sudden Awareness Of Now’ begins with birdsong, which is something that I’ve become acutely more aware of since lockdown began. To me, birds sound like tiny synth improvisations. Your notes on that track seem to reflect back this need to escape – from what? Are you a naturally restless creator?
Yeah, I think most makers are though. I mean I do subscribe to that cliché of escapism: I want music to escape into, or a film to escape into. When you are transported somewhere it is magical, so a part of me desires to do that with my own music, but of course it is sickly to force this, so I am trying to find moments of it that appear amongst my constant music making.
I’ve quoted this before for my Persona album, but there is this amazing video on YouTube of Legowelt demoing a synthesiser, and out of nowhere he just casually says “synthesizers are like translators for unknown human emotions”! I really love that, and I think there is some truth to it. So in Sudden Awareness of Now, I think there is a sense of nostalgia – hope, bittersweet regret, escape – but it’s not really fully certain; there is some unknown quality, and this is probably the strength of music, that you can describe feelings without the precision of language but with just as much power.
You’ve performed with the London Contemporary Orchestra – what was it like to fuse together electronic music with classical convention? It feels like that experience might have had an impact on your approach to your music, giving the tracks on Articulation a sort of depth and austerity that feels familiar from the world of classical music. Where do you think you might go next with Rival Consoles?
I think a lot of the parts of my music are influenced by strings, so there is some immediate crossover from synths into strings and strings into synths.
I have explored writing for strings a lot over the last ten years (though with a computer string library) although I did learn to play the violin to a pretty bad standard some years ago also! I do find a natural connection when writing for strings, especially as my main focus in my music is harmony, so it is something I definitely would like to explore more, and perhaps create a release with the LCO.
Articulation by Rival Consoles was released July 31 2020 by Erased Tapes – https://idol.lnk.to/articulation With sincere thanks to Zoe.
My review of Articulation was published in Electronic Sound 68 – www.electronicsound.co.uk
Interview: Mat Smith
(c) 2020 Further.