Behind the mysterious and womanly name of Patricia hides none other than New York-based producer and industrious analogue head Max Ravitz, a man of many guises and whose talent for composing haunting melodies is only equaled by his knowledge in the technical fields of music production and modular synthesis.
Driven by the firm conviction that music should stand for itself with no need for introduction or superfluous speech of any sort, Ravitz decided to make a statement for his new album on Spectral Sound, clearly underlining the importance of the immediate listening process and the “colour” of the sentiment associated to that particular moment when you press the play button:
“Any emotional associations incurred while listening come at the listener’s discretion. Furthermore, the identity of the author and/or their passions regarding the recordings herein shall bear no weight on the listener’s experience. This body of work is not intended to generate ideas; rather, its goal is to produce physical sensations in the listener.”
With that in mind, we shared a few (non-Freudian… say Jungian) thoughts on the release with Max as he opens up on the conscious and unconscious nature of his music, how modern rap is a breath of fresh air and his here-and-now approach to studio production amongst (many) other things.
Interview by Baptiste Girou
"Trying to explain music with words can often dilute the power music has as abstract expression. Why can't the music be its own description?"
As confirmed by the press release, which states “this grouping of audio recordings is for aural use only” and that “any emotional content perceived herein is borne of its listener, and is in no way intended by its author”, abstraction seems to be at the very heart of this LP. How did you approach its making?
The press release is quoting something I wrote for the vinyl insert. I’m often annoyed by people’s incessant need to classify / categorize the music they listen to, so the insert was meant to encourage people to approach the listening process in a less analytical way.
There is a tendency in journalism to attribute conceptual ideas to music, which can be appropriate if that’s the artist’s intention, but my aim in making the record wasn’t to convey any ideas, I simply wanted the music to be music, and nothing more.
Beyond that, IF the listener insists on attributing emotions or ideas to the music, I thought it was important to make clear that those are the listener’s own associations, and have nothing to do with my feelings towards the music. From my view, trying to explain music with words can often dilute the power music has as abstract expression. Why can’t the music be its own description?
The album structure’s split in three parts, each one opening on a unique sonic realm. What have been your sources of inspiration?
The digital release will actually consist of all 15 tracks, but buying a 3LP can be a bit of a financial burden, so I wanted to give consumers the option of only buying parts of the vinyl release if they don’t want the whole thing. In terms of how the songs are grouped, that decision was made by a friend and musician named Russell Butler, who has released music on Opal Tapes and CGI records.
I sent him all 15 tracks early on for feedback, and that eventually lead to Russell developing the sequencing for the release. I like to outsource decisions like these to friends, because I’m often too close to the material, and it helps to have an outside perspective.
"This self-imposed inability to edit out performance mistakes is liberating, and enables me to avoid obsessing over details, as well as finish my music quicker."
The album makes for a highly immersive empirical experience, where you feel growingly (and pleasantly) submerged in a thick haze of sound. How much time do you spend crafting these envelops and textures? I guess the ‘polishing’ stage involves a great amount of sweat and effort…
Every song on the record was made in a single sitting. In my solo practice, as opposed to when collaborating, I’m much more restrictive about what I allow myself to do. Nothing is multi-tracked, which removes my ability to alter stems, edit fine details, or readjust the mix, so once I’m done recording, the song is complete.
Occasionally I’ll make an exception and use an equalizer to fine tune some frequencies, but that is the only ‘polishing’ I would do. I’m a big fan of the Japanese concept Wabi-Sabi, which in its simplest form is the idea that imperfection and transience are inherent aspects of beauty, thus any perceived flaw can instead be considered a unique aesthetic detail.
When applying this idea to my recording process, it allows me to view mistakes that, in the past I would’ve edited out, as unique events in a song that only happen once. This self-imposed inability to edit out performance mistakes is liberating, and enables me to avoid obsessing over details, as well as finish my music quicker. That being said, I’m not trying to knock meticulous producers, I’ve just found this shift in perspective works for me personally.
Instead of emphasising the demiurgic facet inherent to most creations, you decided to step aside and let the music work in apparent autonomy from all emotional thread or any constraining guideline. Do you feel (electronic) music’s become too didactic?
I can certainly say that didacticism isn’t a goal in my own music at the moment. That statement might seem like a contradiction considering I included listening instructions with the records, but I just wanted to make explicit that my experience of the music isn’t necessarily relevant to anyone else’s. I want people to listen to the music without thinking about what’s beyond or behind it, it’s just a series of sounds I arranged in time.
For any given song, I most likely just got stoned, busted it out in a few hours, gave it a random name, and then listened to it for a few weeks to decide if I liked it or not. Obviously there is an endless array of music in the world trying to convey meaning beyond sound, much of which I can appreciate and be moved by, that’s just not what I’m trying to do at this point in my career.
My interests in music lean towards production and recording technique, so my songs are typically just a production exercise. Most of my listening is focused on this too. When I listen to music, I’m usually picking apart how a song was made, not trying to figure out the artist’s message. That might seem shallow to all the music philosopher types in the world, but I’m much more interested in figuring out how a good song was produced.
An example that springs to mind is all these people who talk about how rap is dying because lyricism isn’t always the focal point these days, but in many ways I think the production involved has become much more interesting. From my perspective a lot of modern rap is much more about the feeling of the music than the message, and to me that’s like a breath of fresh air. Too many people are caught up in classifying music neatly by genre, and then trying to keep that style of music the same, rather than giving it room to evolve. Personally, I can only listen to so much of the same thing before I’m bored.
"When I listen to music, I'm usually picking apart how a song was made, not trying to figure out the artist's message."
What gear did you use mostly?
I’ve been collecting gear for about 15 years now, so trying to run through this list would be a bit excessive. I used a wide range of equipment from song to song, a lot of vintage synthesizers and drum machines, both digital and analog. I think a lot of people associate what I do with analog equipment, but I’m using maybe 60% digital gear.
I’m particularly a fan of the digital/analog hybrid equipment made when digital technology was just starting to get introduced into music production. I also work part-time at a modular synthesizer store in NYC called Control, so I used a fair bit of modern modular gear. My interests in modular definitely lean towards the digital side of things.
There is a trend in Eurorack, (the most popular modular format at the moment) to give older digital synthesis methods a new lease on life with expanded parameter controls via analog control voltages, and I really love all of that stuff. Things like wavetable synthesis, phase modulation synthesis, or FM synthesis, which are inherently digital and often complex to program, now can be thrown into a module, and given easy and direct control over parameters that on older synths you would have to dive into menu after menu to find and change.
The piece of equipment I used most on the record is probably my Roland Space Echo. I have the less popular RE-150 model which is stripped of all the bells and whistles like eq or spring reverb, but I love the way it sounds, and use it all the time.
Has dance music become too cerebral?
I don’t keep up with enough current dance music to be able answer this.
How do your surroundings inflect the way you make music? Are you highly receptive to the place, time of the day and mood of the moment when making a track? Or do you manage to distance yourself from your current reality?
For my solo music, I’m producing it all in one place, so my surroundings aren’t changing too much. I can say that I prefer to produce music late at night, usually around 4-5am. I think my brain shuts off in a way I find conducive to making music around that time of day, and if I manage to find the right amount of concentration I’ll ride that into the late morning. Also, my wife can be sensitive to volume, but since she’s a heavy sleeper, I can be louder in my house late at night (laughs).
"Intention can be a very restrictive thing, so I don't want to force Active Cultures into a mold before I even know what shape it will take."
The album is co-released by Ghostly International’s sister label Spectral Sound and the imprint you recently started, Active Cultures. Can you tell us more about the label and how you envisage it?
Active Cultures is really just an experiment, and I don’t know what it will become. I wouldn’t even call it a music label, it’s just a nebulous business entity. Releasing music will be an aspect of the project, but I just want to use it as a means to give myself freedom to pursue new ideas, as well as support my friends doing interesting things. Intention can be a very restrictive thing, so I don’t want to force Active Cultures into a mold before I even know what shape it will take.
How’s your summer schedule? Any support dates or release parties planned?
My summer schedule is pretty slim at the moment. I did some touring with my friend Jahiliyya Fields not too long ago. We played shows in Japan, Australia, Belgium, and France, but I’ve been staying put since then. I got married recently, so I’m spending time with my wife, recording music, developing a few Active Cultures projects, and playing shows in NYC. I’ve also been learning more about electronics to get better at repairing and modifying my equipment.
I do have a release party coming up on July 29th at The Gateway in Brooklyn, I’ll be playing live along with Jahiliyya Fields, Stallone The Reducer, and Nihal Ramchandani. Jahiliyya Fields and I have also been talking about starting a monthly party in NYC for Active Cultures, so we’ll see how that develops.
Several Shades Of The Same Color is out now via Spectral Sound. Order a copy from Ghostly.
1. I Know The Face, But Not The Name
2. Liminal States
3. Speed Wagon Night Bride
4. The Words Are Just Sounds
5. It Gets Worse At Night
6. Deku Tree
7. Étant Donnés
8. Thoughts Of You
9. Thoughts Of You
10. Shiba Inu Dub
11. You Never Listen
12. Feel Your Body
13. German Friendship
14. Alternate Mindset
15. Upper Peninsula (feat. Terekke)