Deepchord is one of the many aliases that Rod Modell has released music under during his illustrious career. His back catalogue is enormous, encompassing ambient and sound-art releases on obscure labels which even the Discogs radar doesn’t pick up on: imprints such as Silentes, Hypnos, Amplexus, Linear Logic and Silver to name a few. Modell’s latest album, Hash-Bar-Loops released on the Scottish techno label Soma, showcases the breadth and depth of his deep sound explorations.
Having steadily developed his sound over the course of the past 25 years, Rod Modell’s intricate constructions and engrossing aural explorations have established him as a potent force in music production and the dub techno aesthetic. We took this unique opportunity to talk in depth with Rod Modell about his past, present and what fuels his passion for deep sound excavations.
Rod has also kindly provided Inverted Audio with exclusive material including two music videos. ‘Neon & Rain’ is the final track to ‘Hash-Bar-Loops’, it’s of a rainy night in the center of Amsterdam, close to the location where Rod recorded the album. Rod made the second video from his bedroom window in Berlin. In the player we have a recording of a live Deepchord performance from a gig in Brooklyn, New York. The highlight however is the unreleased track that Rod recorded whilst waiting in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport Cafe for a flight back to Amsterdam listening to the ambiance within the airport and the mysterious conversations next to him. Rod recorded the sounds by hiding a WAV recorder on his table, he later added some MPC3000, Korg 01/w and PCM80 FX effects onto it to create a truly immersive airport experience.
Firstly can you please introduce yourself and tell us what you’re currently up to?
I’m a guy who was born and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Born July 22 1969 3:37am at Hutzel Hospital in Detroit. My mother was born in Germany, and moved to Detroit with her family in the 1960’s because my grandfather was a tool & die maker, and Detroit’s auto industry promised good work. Mom didn’t really speak English until she was in her 20’s, but didn’t teach us German because at the time there was a movement in the USA to renounce your heritage and melt into the fabric of America. We were no longer Polish, Dutch, or German, we were American, and renouncing your previous heritage seemed part of the assimilation process. So I grew up in Detroit, finished High-School and went to Art School to study fine arts photography. I became progressively more interested in music over photography as time went on. Currently, I’m spending as much time as possible in Berlin & Amsterdam.
Where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were a kid?
I grew up in Detroit and I always wanted to be a photographer or musician. That’s all I was ever interested in when I was a child. I had a grandmother who was patient/supportive enough to take me to Grinnell Brothers Music House (long gone now – was on Woodward in downtown Detroit) to let me toy with the keyboards for hours. I was fascinated with the ones that had internal rhythm accompaniment. I would sit there and tinker for 1/2 the day. I was about 5 or 6 years old. She was also cool enough to supply me with one roll of 35mm film (+ developing) per week and bought me my first 35mm SLR for my seventh birthday (it was used/old and beat-up, but worked good).
What’s your musical background? Where did your interest in experimenting with electronic music stem from?
I’ve always been interested in music. Even as an infant, all I ever played with was musical toys. I remember my most cherished toy was a Bontempi chord-organ at around 6-7 years old. I remember in Detroit during the 80’s, I would listen to the electrifying Mojo (radio DJ Charles Johnson) on weekends, and sometimes he would loop a record by alternating between two copies of the same vinyl (seemingly) forever, I loved this.
It was a pivotal moment in my musical development. I remember one night, my friend and I were listening to him (Mojo), and there was a little loop playing. We listened for 6-7 minutes and couldn’t believe it was just this little fragment repeating. Well…. we went outside or whatever and came back 20 minutes later, and it was STILL LOOPING. This was an incredible moment for me. This little several second long segment was looping for 20+ minutes now. I thought this was seductive. Something amazing about this moment. I realised that without the distraction of constantly changing notes, I could enjoy the music more. I knew what was happening next. I found solace in the repetition… like I could finally put my guard down and enjoy the song. I didn’t have to be wondering what was going to hit me next. I was finally enjoying music. I was about 10 years old at this time. It was profound.
Another profound moment in my musical development was at about age 6. My parents bought me my first phonograph. It was the typical toy-store variety that kids get. My mom was a nurse at that time, and one morning she was leaving for work, and said to me, that on her way home she would stop at a record store and buy me a new record, and she asked me what kind of record would I like her to get. She asked if I wanted a record “with talking, or music, or sound effects”. I said that I wanted one with sound effects. I didn’t want music or talking. 9 hours later, she walked in, and handed me a record called “Sounds Of Outer Space”! I still remember it. There were pictures of space-ships on the cover art. I put it on my player, dropped the needle, and was transfixed for days. Couldn’t break away. Staring at my phonograph speaker, waiting for the next wave of space bleeps and wobbles to come out. I would listen to the record at different speeds. I liked it better slower. This was a profound moment in my musical development.
In High School, I became more interested in music (with notes and melody). I took bass-guitar lessons for 3-4 years, then a couple-years of music theory. But I was always under the impression that more formal musical training would make me worse at music. I felt that music academia spends more time forcing one to NOT think outside of the box musically. My most formally trained friends were always the most narrow minded musically. I tried collaborating with some of them at one time or another, and it was impossible. They would be freaked out when you suggest something outside of what they were taught was correct.
Apart from your interest in photography what persuaded you to move to Detroit?
Living in Detroit wasn’t really a conscious decision, my family was there and the schools that I was interested in were there and all my friends were there. It was just automatic, it was home. Moving OUT was more conscious. I live in a smaller town now (Port Huron Michigan) that’s a 35 minute drive north of Detroit. Detroit seems too oppressive, and the things that influenced me years ago have become depressing. I’m becoming more influenced by beauty rather than filth. Also, having more exposure to EU has made me feel more alien in Detroit.
I’ve realised in the past 5 years, that my general sensibilities are more in-line with European sensibilities. I never looked at Detroit the same way again after being in Europe for an extended period. After being in places where I truly felt as I belonged there (eg: Netherlands), Detroit felt like it was merely tolerating me rather than nourishing me. I know Detroit like the palm of my hand, spent 3/4 of my life there, but rarely go there anymore. It’s a desolate wasteland.
Can you expand on your relationship with Detroit’s Eastern Market, the ‘techno boulevard’ and your relationship with Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson.
Eastern Market was about a mile from the Art School that I attended. It was an area that had lots to do. It was where I went shopping for groceries etc when in school. I ended up getting a small loft to live in there. Around this time, the roots of techno were beginning to grow. Derrick, Juan and Kevin all had loft space about 2 blocks from me. This was late 80’s, and they were at work developing this new sound. It was ultra exciting. A musical revolution was about to explode, and I was living in the epicentre. I was excited. I would often see them. They would circulate in the same circles as I, and were always friendly. I had the utmost respect for them and what they were doing. I had a friend who worked at Transmat, so I would always be hanging out there visiting. Derrick was usually traveling to DJ. We would just sit around his office and drink coffee. One time, I had the privilege of checking Derrick’s studio. Got to touch the Korg SQD8 that most of his classics were sequenced on.
What encounters / experiences from this period of your life have remained prominent in your mind?
It’s funny, the very elements from this period that fueled my inspiration, now somewhat repels me. Techno was fueled by Detroit’s desolation and dark-side. I think I’ve moved on from this. Now… when I listen to music that I recorded during this period (and music from other artists that was recorded during these “dark-days”), I have to turn it off. It brings a flood of memories that don’t really make me feel good. Like living in Gotham City from the Batman movies. It was foreboding and ominous. That was/is Detroit.
When I drive around Detroit, I see a skeleton of a city. It looks like remains of an ancient civilisation. This inspired techno in the early days. There were good times with friends and family, but mostly I see darkness. I like where I’m at now (mindset wise). It’s lighter, more organic and healthier. I go to bed at night now listening to Lake Huron’s waves on the beach outside my window. That’s better than traffic, shouting homeless people and gunshots. I can’t deny that I wouldn’t be where I am today without this in my past. I may not be making the sounds that I am today without Detroit’s influence. It’s in the fabric of my being. But Detroit is becoming a fading memory… a closed chapter for me. I’m more optimistic these days, and Detroit won’t harbor optimism.
You’re an aficionado of analogue equipment. What instruments are key in creating the Deepchord sound and what instruments could you not live without?
I’ve tried all sorts of synths/ samplers. I Bought a used Waldorf Wave (from synthesist Zon Vern Pyles), Synclavier II, Fairlight CMI IIx, Oberheim Matrix 12. Most are gone now. I’ve become more “zen” about gear. I’m trying to get more mobile, and move to Europe. I could never do it with all the hardware. Plus, software options are becoming more enticing. For years, software was trying to emulate hardware. I think it got to the point where it accomplished this goal, then…. it started going beyond emulation… forging new directions.
This is when I became interested in software. When software’s goal was to emulate what I already had, it was pointless to me. I had the tools that it was attempting to emulate. So who cared. But now… it’s way beyond that. Now it’s doing amazing things that hardware could NEVER do. That being said, I’ve never used a computer to make a sound. I do use a computer to play samples of my hardware that I made. The PC is however, replacing my FX units and recorders.
When it comes to synths, I just need an impulse to trigger my FX chains. I don’t care if it’s a Waldorf Wave, or a Yamaha TG33. All the same. So little of the original signal remains that I think it’s not important. This revelation is what made me part with most of my vintage stuff in the past 2 years. Important pieces of my sound over the past years have been the Linn/Forat 9000 (x4). SCI Studio 440 (x2) and Prophet VS (x2), Eventide Orville, Publison 89/IM90, Master-Room Springs, Korg Stage Echos. All irrelevant now. Who cares. Give me a DX100 and 2 guitar pedals. Just as good… maybe better.
You have a wealth of aliases behind you such as A601-2, CV, Delayvarience, Global Systems Silently Moving and Imax. Why did you create so many monikers and what is the status of them now?
They’re all gone now. I think we took a lesson from WaxTrax during the late 80’s and early 90’s. They put out tons of records from (seemingly) numerous bands… and there were the same 3 guys behind most of the music. I think there was a feeling that if an artist turned out too much music during a small period of time, it was quantity over quality. One way to side-step this misconception, was to make it seem to come from different artists. It also made the label seem larger. More like a collective rather than one guy churning out tons of stuff. Also, back then, I thought some of the aliases sounded more different than I think today. I wanted different names for different styles (ie: more ambient). However, today I listen and most sounds more similar than I thought back then. Once I realised this, I said screw it… it’s more confusing than it’s worth.
How did the name ‘Deepchord’ come to be coined? What made you decide that this was the name to keep and develop further?
When Mike Schommer and I formed Deepchord, he wanted to call the label “Output Records”. We did some research, and found the name was taken. So I said to Mike… “how about that term that I always use to describe a sound in a song… Deepchord?”. Like (while listening to a track)… “here comes the kick-drum, here comes the hats, here comes the Deepchord”. After some deliberation, we decided to run with that name. “Deepchord” was a term that I invented to describe a certain chord-sound in techno music (perfect example: the chord in Rhythmatic – Demons – Network Records 1990). I used this term for many years prior to calling the label Deepchord. I never heard anyone else use it. It was just a Rod Modell invented-word to describe this sound. But it seemed to fit well. Then eventually, it shifted more to me as an artist name.
Mike moved away from Deepchord to focus on other things. He was busy restoring an old home, and starting a family. I tried to get him re-inspired just before the Echospace period (w/ Steve), but he was (more-or-less) uninterested. So since it was only me, it shifted to be my artist name. I guess in hind sight… it wasn’t a conscientious decision to call myself Deepchord, so much as assigned to me. I just wanted to make music, and didn’t spend much time focused on these details. Even as recently as with ‘Hash Bar Loops’, Glenn at Soma said “what name do you want this released under”. I told him that “it didn’t matter to me”. He said it would be nice to have Deepchord on Soma, so I said “fine… it’s Deepchord”, but honestly didn’t really care so much if it was Deepchord, Rod Modell, or something completely new.
What stages of events led up to your decision to start work on your new album Hash-Bar-Loop¹ and for releasing it on Soma as opposed to Echospace?
Steve was having a bout of family matters that needed his full attention, combined with some health issues (hearing related) that were preventing him from traveling. This was difficult for me because I was ready and willing to do extensive traveling/ touring. I love traveling. Much more than being home.
We had to turn down a string of show offers because of Steve’s setbacks, so I had a long talk with him about issuing these tracks (that I recorded while staying in Amsterdam) as a solo Deepchord project, thinking it may be best since Steve wasn’t planning on any traveling in the near future. I had his complete blessings and encouragement because of the circumstances. I wanted to release them on a completely different label than any Echospace material to further emphasise this was not Echospace. I was afraid that if it came out of Modern Love or Echospace (the label) it would just get tossed in with Echospace material.
The borderline between Deepchord and Echospace has always been blurry anyway because if the whole “Deepchord presents Echospace” naming. At the time that I was discussing the Deepchord solo-project with Steve, I was working on some Remix-work for Soma, and had an open channel of communication with Glenn there. It just seemed natural, so I asked if they wanted to hear these tracks, and one thing led to another.
Did you have a specific musical direction when you began working on Hash-Bar-Loops and if so how did this direction develop throughout the process?
I don’t think I did. I was staying in Amsterdam in a small apartment and working on music in my spare-time. Hash-Bar-Loops is the outcome of these sessions. But the music (style) wasn’t premeditated. I just did what I thought sounded nice. I’m sure that the environment did influence the music. Would I have made the same music at “home” (quotes because I feel more at home in Amsterdam than where my mailing address is)? Probably not. The music is a interpretation of stimulus around me at that time.
When listening to the album I find it impossible to stop my mind from wondering off. Can you expand on your philosophy on sound design and your fascination with creating sound to provoke the human psyche?
My main influence is environmental stimulus. More-so than any other music or artist. To the extent that I haven’t played much music in my home for the past several months… only field recordings when I want to listen to something. I make sounds governed by my surroundings. I feel like a conduit that absorbs the essence of a place, and converts this essence into sound. It’s strange.
I believe I possess some form of synesthesia that acts as a converter to process this stimulus. I’m not influenced by music, but drop me in a beautiful place, and I can pump out hours of sonic textures that were inspired by that place. The soundscapes are very multidimensional. There are so many layers for the mind to process. I think this causes the “wandering phenomena”. Lots of the field recordings drop you in a unfamiliar place where things are going on around you…. conversations, environments, metaphysical occurrences, all documented sonically and incorporated. Lots of artists use field recordings, but one big difference between them and me is… I use field recordings that were made while something significant was going on. Not just field recordings for field recording sakes. Big difference. A field recording can’t just be documentation of nothing. It’s a documentation of something significant (on some level), and there’s lots of this on Hash Bar Loops.
What environments do you prefer to create your music in? Where did you spend the majority of your time working on the album, what studio[s] did you spend most of your time in?
I always make my music at night. This has been the case since the 80’s. I think it’s just because when I wake up in the morning, there is always a million things to do. The only quiet time is night. So I’ve fallen into this night routine for recording sounds. It’s also more in-line with my sound I guess. Maybe if I recorded during the day, the music wouldn’t be as “nocturnal sounding”. To me it sounds like 4am.
Most of the album was recorded in a small apartment in Amsterdam’s centre. That was the primary studio… and the streets of Amsterdam. I like hiding a small wav recorder somewhere, and going off to sit 50 yards away and let it record whatever inspired me put it there. Then go home and review the recording and see what I got. I think formal studios are completely unnecessary for electronic music. This is a wonderful bonus that electronic musicians have. We can put some $300 headphones on anywhere, and be in our studio. Acoustic musicians don’t have this option. They need expensive mics and quiet space… unfortunate for them. I’ve recorded (years ago) in very high-end studios. No point in that anymore. A studio is a place that’s to be inspirational above all else. There was a time where I was inspired by a big SSL mixing console. Nowadays… I’m more inspired watching lightning flash over the red-light district from my apartment window at 2am. Studios are boring and unnecessary anymore.
Who’s behind the albums artwork? To me it looks like it’s a scene taken from Amsterdam’s red light district illuminated by the Echochord logo. Does the artwork have a relationship to the music contained within or is it arbitrary?
Funny… I never noticed the similarity to the Echocord logo before. I guess I can see some similarity now. Well… Soma commissioned an artist to create the artwork. He emailed me with several graphic designs and asked which I liked. I thought the intertwined circles seemed most appropriate because of the “Loops” theme. So I would say yes… the art is related to the work.
After I picked the “loops” design, he made a great cover incorporating it, but I thought it was lacking something. I asked about incorporating some photography (there were none in the original design), and he wrote back saying he “prefers to stay away from photos and focus on a strong graphic, but it depends on the photos”. So I went through some of my Amsterdam photos looking for something that wouldn’t pull from his graphic design too much, and was taken near where the music was recorded. I wanted a photographic representation of the sounds. He used the ones that are on the final cover, and we both liked how it turned out. The cover photo was of the old church in the middle of the RLD. I took that one night wandering around around before bed.
You released sixteen records on the Deepchord imprint, why did you establish Echochord as well?
Echospace (the label) was mainly Steve Hitchell’s project. Originally, when Echospace (the label) started, it was to be run by both of us, and early into the label… I decided I didn’t have the stomach for it. I started to recall all the annoyances that aggravated me with the business-side of running Deepchord (the label).
Steve really wanted to do the label and I was tepid about it. So he took it and ran with it. Steve always asks me for feedback about what to release, or how I feel about a demo that he likes… and does act on my feedback, but ultimately… it’s his baby. I guess we just never considered continuing Deepchord as a label. I honestly never thought about it till now…. maybe that would have been a good idea I suppose.
One funny thing about Deepchord… and maybe this is why it never came up as an option… Steve and I were always a little opposed to calling Echospace “Deepchord presents Echospace”. That was the idea of Modern Love, and it kinda just stuck. We were happy with simply “Echospace”. But Modern Love thought it was important to capitalise on the Deepchord reputation, and we trusted their marketing expertise, and went with “Deepchord presents Echospace”.
Its almost 20 years since Basic Channel defined an initial ‘dub techno’ aesthetic and, timbrally at least, the vast majority of the genre has remained faithful to it. Do you feel there is much space left to explore?
Definitely. I think we just scratched the surface, but artists need to mine deeper for more unusual tones, or it will be the death of it all. I hear a complacency in this music. Everyone is utilizing the same sounds at nauseum. For me, it’s about being more creative with the sound-design. It’s funny how the tools used to make this stuff has become 100X more complex in the past 10 years, but the music has stayed the same. It’s an unexplainable phenomena.
Finally do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share?
Words of advice to musicians…. stop striving to be “good” and strive to be “unique”. Hows that?DeepchordSomaJune 2011Basic ChannelDub Techno