Interview: Travis Stewart

The Machine Drum main man talks music and technology ahead of his May 10th appearance at Akropolis's Multimediale festival

Aleš Černý: You like to chop up sounds and you do it in a very interesting way. Can you describe a little bit the process of your musical creation and reveal where all the sounds come from?

Travis Stewart: I use a sample sequencer called Impulse Tracker to organize my songs.

I sample from many sources - radio, CD, vinyl, field recordings, micro-sampled sound, soft synths, real synths, acoustic instruments, etc. I use Sound Forge to "cut up" my sounds and make them ready for use in my songs (adding any necessary attack/decay, effects, volume changes).

AC: In your compositions you seem to be in search of new beat structures but still incorporate powerful melodic content. What is actually your goal? What are you trying to achieve in your music?

TS: I find that I am constantly surrounding myself with music I haven't heard before and at the same time I am creating music that I want to hear.

Sometimes that music is very beat-heavy and dancefloor oriented; other times it's harsh noise and atonal soundscapes; sometimes melodic. I'm never making one kind of music. I am feverishly interested in pursuing something that is new and interesting to me every day. I don't think I will ever be satisfied as long as there are always new things added to the global collective conscience.

AC: In what ways does your latest Bidnezz album differ from the previous opuses?

TS: I feel that it is a bit looser, not as rigid and conceptualized as my previous work. I think that I honestly had a lot of fun writing this album, and I didn't feel pressure to finish it. I felt like it was happening as life was happening. I know that people feel like it doesn't flow as well as older albums, but I feel that I have an easier time listening to this album. The songs for one are shorter. I'm trying not to repeat patterns a lot unless I feel it's necessary to carry the song along. There are many differences I can hear that other people may not but I think that's natural.

AC: Overall, your music may be described as a rather strange kind of hip-hop. Would you agree with that? Where did you get the liking for the hip-hop beats?

TS: I mean some of it is definitely hip-hop-influenced. I'm not sure where the influence came from exactly... I know it had something to do with getting into underground hip-hop like Company Flow and Jigmastas, then being so amazed by Autechre and what they were (and are) doing when they are taking hip-hop beats and taking them to other realms of imagination. It was very inspiring and coincidental that I was so into both kinds of music when I really started to get the hang of what I was doing (writing electronic music).

AC: What is your attitude towards today's commercial hip-hop scene, which is - in my view - presently ruling the States? Many forward-looking musicians praise the production work of Timbaland etc. for the MTV stars... What do you think about this?

TS: I think it's interesting that there are hip-hop producers like the Neptunes, Timbaland, Jay Dilla and the like, that are challenging pop music. However, I think that it's not being pushed enough.

Producers are still stuck on repetition because it is easy for the common denominator of people to understand. It seems that the forward-thinking pop producers are aware of many styles of music, but they focus on bringing those experimental sounds and making them acceptable to the public. I think it's a cool thing, it's just not what I am interested in doing right now.

AC: Besides Machine Drum, were/are there any other music projects you were/are involved in? Can you tell us a few words about them?

TS: The first project that I released on Merck is called Syndrone and is heavily programmed, very maniacally changing songs. Kind of an experiment in controlled chaos. I have another project called h8, which is something that I do with my girlfriend, Natalie Weiss. It's sort of noise-rock without guitars. Lots of feedback, strange alien sounding vocals, and performance laced with unique costumes.

Another project I am involved in is a project I have been working on with many of my friends over the past three years, including many live instruments and sampled instruments that are sequenced. I'm trying to find a balance between acoustic and electronic worlds so that the person doesn't make a visual representation of what they are hearing at first listen.

AC: Probably not many people from Central Europe had the chance to see you performing live. Could you tell us what your live show is about?

TS: My European live show is definitely different than the US performances for many reasons. I can't bring all of the equipment I normally bring on the road overseas. I've been playing with a drummer lately, but obviously I couldn't afford to bring him along at this point in my career.

So expect to hear new songs I have been working on, mixed with songs off of Bidnezz with Reaktor-processed guitar and vocals.

AC: Have you ever been to this part of the world?

TS: The furthest east I have been in Europe is Dresden in Germany. This should be quite an experience as I have heard so many good things about Prague and its architecture (a very influential source to me).

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