French producer David Letellier, otherwise known as Kangding Ray, is once again travelling into the unknown. Closely affiliated with Chemnitz’s raster-noton and their sonic identity of minimalism and clinical precision, he’s not afraid of radical experiments whilst pushing the bounderies of what can still raise the roof during peak time hours. After four LPs and a slew of EPs, the follow-up to last year’s Solens Arc, Cory Arcane, will be released this Friday through raster-noton.
Who is Cory Arcane?
Cory Arcane is sort of a fictional figure I invented to express the character of this album. Both are full of contradictions. They explore the weirdness of the contemporary world. So this character is representing the state that I’m in.
She’s basically you.
You know, my personal story is pretty boring. White heterosexual European guy, coming from the French countryside, doing techno in Berlin. There’s not much of a big statement with this, that I could tell the world, so I’m using a more conceptual approach to express ideas which are actually interesting. This time, I thought it would be interesting to represent this as a character, someone I could relate to in her crisis. And also to use the phenomenon of putting out an album – which means PR campaign and videos and reviews and all that – to express something more than music. Like political statements, or aesthetical statements as well. It’s not just functional tracks. But don’t get me wrong, it’s also just fun to invent stories.
It’s not the first time that you’re using the club for a political statement.
The club is a space of liberation. That’s the way to be active in it and to support this. It’s a culture and it’s an art form. It’s not just: about having fun and geting wasted. The club works as a political statement because the resistance is already embedded in it. The fact of promoting counter-culture and gender equality or other kinds of sexuality, for example.
Cory is also a name that can be both, male and female – is that why you chose it?
That’s it. She’s a she. But she could also be a he. She might have been a he at some point. Nobody knows really. But I thought the struggle that she has, trying to fit into the world at first and then get sort of radicalized by the contingency of not being accepted for who she is – that seemed to me much more fitting to a female character in a way.
Because I think it fits more the discourse I wanted to put towards, reflecting the state of the contemporary society, and how it’s built right now. There’s obviously loads of issues which are being discussed concerning gender identity or male/female equality. I don’t have the answer to it, I’m just telling a story, adding depth to the concept, and weighing in with those ideas. It’s also a question of attitude. There are lots of people who are directly in the position of conflict. And I’m not. I’m unwillingly on the dominant side. Even though I don’t care, even though I don’t want to be. I’m out of the question, because I can’t be part of the change. I try to just have a relaxed attitude towards it. But don’t forget, in the end it’s about the music.
Then let’s talk about the music. You said about yourself that you’re a very slow producer, usually releasing records once every two or three years. After Solens Arc last year, Cory Arcane seems almost like a quick shot.
It’s definitely the album I made in the shortest time, and which I have probably reflected the least on. Olaf Bender [alias Byetone, co-founder of raster-noton] heard the demos and said „We need to put this out – NOW!“, so I had to finish it quickly. It was enjoyable though, a much more direct way to produce. Just came out like that, rough demos. Before, it was a continuous process, I would go on and on and on and then I would be like „Ah, that’s shit“ and come back and produce another thirty versions of the same thing, while composing and adding. It meant that it was partly over-thought, not intense enough. I wanted to change that.
You once said in an interview that every time you make a new record, you reconfigure the studio. How did you do it this time?
So this time I completely separated composition from production, which I have never done before. My set-up is more modular now, and I use portable recorders. Spending a lot of time outside the studio, doing things on the fly, without thinking about bpm, without thinking about functionality, without even thinking whether that would be a track or not. This reminded me of when I was still playing the guitar, where most of the time you don’t record when you play, you just try out. Only when you have the material, you would go into the studio. So I was working more like a Rock producer would do.
Less carving out the essence, more assembling then.
I used a very minimal set of tools this time as well, no weird complex set-ups. That means the sound I could get was also in a way more limited, but at the same time very undiscovered for me, rough and oscillator-based. Solens Arc had a more melodic approach and was mostly made with vintage synthesizers. All these CS80s and Jupiters – they sound beautiful, but they sound the way they were meant to be. This time I had no pre-conceived idea of what the sound could be. I like to go places where I haven’t been before. There were no synths this time, it was all coming out of random sources, drones, cut with VCAs and stuff. So Cory Arcane happens to be very transient-based. It’s transient madness. [laughs]
On your early releases, you used to work loads with field recordings. Did you lose interest in that?
No, I still do, but much less than before. I started with field recordings, because in the beginning I didn’t have money for proper gear – that’s changed of course. But I’m still using this way of thinking, you know, looking for the very corporal, very organic sound. Also the machines I use are like that. Mostly analogue stuff, physical things, that I process with cube compressors. On the track „Safran“, for example, I used this new kind of synthesis, a physical module, where you can sort of design an instrument that doesn’t exist. It’s a pretty old technique of synthesis, but hasn’t been used very much in hardware until recently. This is the area I’m exploring.
For this year’s Atonal festival, you were working together with Mogwai’s Barry Burns for a project called SUMS. It was a commissioned work, crafted around the Kraftwerk in Berlin. I swore to myself I wouldn’t bring the „architect“-card, which you must be fed up with by now…
[laughs] It’s a bit like a bad tattoo you can’t get rid of.
…but in this case, you probably approached this space a lot as an architect.
The starting point for SUMS was indeed the space. It’s maybe one of those few moments where my knowledge of acoustics has been put to use. When I was still working as architect, I worked a lot for concert halls, classical ones as well, like the Philharmony in Paris, and dealt a lot with un-amplified acoustics. So yeah, the whole composition was thought for this, it’s the dialogue of architecture and sound.
And happening at the same time, and in such a different set-up to your usual output, did SUMS have any influence on Cory Arcane?
No, these two are absolutely separate. The process was very different. Cory Arcane was a direct research on club music, and SUMS was this Ambient Post-Rock kind of thing. I don’t think it had any influence. Just two sides of the music I like.
Bearing in mind how eclectic the music you like is – your Secret Thirteen Mix is a great example for that – what is on your heavy rotation right now?
Drake. He’s genius.