By Sarah Stanley-Ayre
Oskar Brummel is an innovative contemporary noise musician, engineer, and producer.
CCN caught up with Brummel, who is traveling through Europe, to see what he’s been up to.
Tell us about what you’ve been working on musically. Well, I finished my Sound Arts degree at MCTC this spring, and recording the Prostate album was my final project. I finished mixing it over the summer, and we finalized it and released it in time for Terma Fest… we played a lot of shows this summer and fall in conjunction with working on/releasing the album. I took some rest time from music then, but I’m personally always centered around my harsh noise project Wince. I haven’t produced anything new with Wince for a couple years, as I’ve been busy with Prostate and just kind of biding my time for something important to flare up creatively on that front. I’m in Europe now, traveling as a driver/travel assistant for this cool 85 year-old dude I’ve worked for over the past five years. Seth Ryan (Prostate’s singer) is working on writing a second Prostate album, and has been sending me his progress, and I’m working on new material to send back to him. I hope we’ll have that album written by the time I get back so we can start recording right away.
Where can we find Wince recordings? Nothing has been posted online to my knowledge, but I will probably do that with some archival material eventually. All Wince material has been released on cassette, some of which are still in print, most of which can be found floating around in distros somewhere.
What’s happening with Grain Belt? Grain Belt still hypothetically exists. It’s a collaborative project with Sam Stoxen from Phage Tapes and Joe Beres from Small Doses. Unlike Wince, which often requires emotion investment of some sort and can be draining, Grain Belt has the simple aim of just blasting harsh noise with these two other guys. We haven’t gotten together in a while since everyone has been busy with other projects/life, but I think it’ll happen again. We’ll see.
What is your creative process with Prostate usually like? A bit of history on how Prostate has developed will help me explain that properly. Prostate started out almost four years ago as an industrial noise band comprised of Seth and myself. When we started out, we were just jamming, and I was making crude noisy loops, playing with processed junk metal and Seth was doing free form synthesizer noise and some vocals. After a couple satisfying but sonically forgettable jam sessions, Seth brought up that he thought we should pre-program some things to create more structure and rhythm to the pieces, which I had a strong aversion to at the time. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about people making “dancey noise,” as that to me embodied the insincere noise fad of the mid-2000s. However, I gradually conceded as he showed me what he’d been working on, which I thought was interesting.
Somewhere along the way, I think something serious clicked for Seth, and he started showing me new backing tracks for our sets that were getting more and more complex rhythmically and melodically. I was still resisting this a bit, but after a while, I realized that these newer compositions stood on their own as really excellent bizarre pieces of music. We kind of re-assessed what we were doing at that point, and realized that we needed to follow this tide. As the percussionist/”noise guy”, it gave me a lot more structure to work with, and I began to write parts for junk percussion – beer keg, sheet metal, gas can, etc.
After a while of this, Mike Filkins joined the band as a drummer, so he could really hold down the beat and we could take many of the programmed drums out of the tracks. This freed me up to play more interesting things with my percussion and electronics. We existed like this for a couple of years, only playing live, but it gave a chance to really hone in on those songs, so that when it came time to record, we knew exactly what to do. By that time, I was in my final semester in the MCTC Sound Arts program, and was able to record our album as my final project.
At that stage, my role in the band became engineer/producer, in tracking all of Mike’s drums, my percussion and noise, and Seth’s vocals – most of which we were able to do in the MCTC studios. This was the most labor-intensive role I had ever played in the band, or any other for that matter. I, with Seth’s assistance, mixed and finalized the record over the summer of 2013 so that it could be released in time for Terma Festival. There was a lot of back and forth between Seth and me during this phase, particularly with vocals, which Seth was having a hard time feeling comfortable with. We re-recorded vocals a lot… It was an interesting process because I had just finished my “training” on how to do all of this stuff, and Seth was learning a lot as he went along as well, so we were both doing this as amateurs and just grinding on it, and learning a ton in the process. It was a big relief to be done with that record, since these were songs we’d been messing around with for as long as 4 years. Committing them to the album and moving on was extremely rewarding for all of us.
I think the idea of you and Seth sending material to each other is really interesting, almost weirdly romantic. That’s how the XX wrote a bunch of their early songs (fun fact)… Since Seth has so far composed the core of most of our music, I see my job creatively as to offer some objectivity to his creations. He writes the music from a very personal place and with a very strong vision, so I try to either help him narrow his vision or widen it. In addition to coming up with my percussion parts, I often look to my passion for noise and dirt, adding crusty textures or more chaotic elements to the music. He’ll put together a sketch for a song comprised of synthesizer tracks that is maybe 75% done, and then show me. He might have parts he’s unsure about and wants an opinion, or something might jump right out at me as something needed rhythmically or melodically, but usually I’m suggesting more subtle changes or additions, like cutting certain layers or changing the timbre of a certain synth or something like that.
As for you thinking it’s romantic, I guess it’s been a bit like a long distance relationship so far. Sending each other correspondences – did he see it? Why hasn’t he replied yet? Does he like it? Drunken messages sent from a hotel in Spain at 3 a.m., etc. It’s a different process, but I think it will make for an interesting and possibly more focused record. He’s already written a lot of great new material for the new record, so we’ll see how much I end up coming up with on my own. I think he’s cranking on it really hard right now.
Is Europe having an impact on your creativity? Something is happening to my mind while I’m here, but I’m not quite sure what yet. I brought a small amount of recording equipment and I’m going to try to learn some new software while on the road, but I need to focus on the new Prostate material. I’ve been writing down thoughts I’ve had for stories and images here and there, but nothing has solidified at all. Still pretty early in the trip, so we’ll see how it all goes.
Tell me why you identify so strongly with noise and industrial music. I can’t really explain what it is about noise and industrial that I identify with so strongly, but from the time I discovered harsh noise around 2006, it has been a central obsession, and it has changed my life. I don’t want to try to get too philosophical about it, but it seems to explore and celebrate the grey areas of existence in a carnal way that I find very appealing. In talking about noise specifically, at face value it sounds like death, sex, and hate and in them, I can find love, joy, and peace. Loud, crumbling, violent sounds are the most beautiful to me.
It seems like more of a lifestyle thing than some other genres; does that lifestyle apply to you? As far as a “lifestyle” associated with industrial culture, there are certainly “special interests” and ideologies involved for many people, as represented in the music. I don’t care to comment on that on a personal level.
There’s, of course, a lot of silly fashion synonymous with industrial culture in many peoples’ minds, but I don’t have much experience or interest in that.
What did you think of the Sound Arts program at MCTC? I loved every second of it. Steve Sollum and Brian Heller did a great job of teaching a kind of “crash course” in the world of audio that really enables you to find where your interests and talents lie and expand from there. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in creating or working with sound, musical or otherwise.
To hear Prostate’s album RIP VIP in full, visit: http://prostateband.bandcamp.com/
Images, from the top: Brummel, Brummel, Seth, and Filkins. Provided by the artists.