Published Mar 19, 2014UK IDM producer patten recently released Estoile Naiant, his first album for Warp Records. patten doesn't do many interviews, reveal his real name, or show his face in press photos, choosing to preserve his anonymity in an attempt to allow the work to speak for itself. Exclaim! caught up with the electronic musician recently about the meaning behind his work, his process when producing and playing live and his attitude towards the way as a society we are sometimes too focused on the narrow present.
What's the meaning behind your album title Estoile Naiant?
The title of the record is made in this medieval language called Blazon. The language was developed for use in heraldry to describe coats of arms in a detailed way — so anyone with just the set of words could reproduce the imagery accurately. I've used that language to describe something, a specific image, an idea, that can act as an entry point into what this record and other records can be somehow.
Your material is quite different live than it is on record.
There are big differences actually between the way some tracks are on the record and the way that they've evolved in a live arena. The material that exists on the record is still in a state of flux. The way that I play live, it's set it up in such a way that it can be really open. I can make a lot of decisions as I'm playing and things can shift. Every time I play I'm really testing things out and just seeing what the tracks can be in some way. So there's always this dialogue between live performance and studio work, whereby I'm going out and playing things and then working some stuff out from that and bringing those findings back into the studio, continuing this cycle.
So even though there are tracks that are in what I would describe as a snapshot form on this record, or any other recording that might be made, I still consider them as things that are completely open to being developed and changed and so on — and they are. So what you'll see now is a situation where some people come at the music with a familiarity from some of these recordings that the live performance will take on a different light. Those dynamics will be more visible to those people. It's an interesting thing. So the tracks themselves are diverging in a sense from what's on the record because I'm always developing them. Just because they are in this snapshot form on pieces of plastic that are distributed all over the place it doesn't mean that they are now fixed.
That's interesting. It's almost similar to how the Internet is reviving a fluid, oral culture and away from the fixed state that has often existed in printed work since the Gutenberg printing press.
Well, I don't think books are fixed. I don't think that fixity even exists. A book changes every minute as the world around it shifts. I don't believe there's any such thing as fixed entity — none of us are fixed. Even though we talk about the self as a kind of continuum, the person talking to you now is physically an entirely different thing to the person that was five years old once. Those concepts of constancy are part of a set of mechanisms that our brains use to understand time in a less confusing way but I definitely don't believe in fixity as a reality. Our understanding of certain cultural artefacts change over time and as such they can't be fixed.
But the physical object of a book, for example, can't respond to those changes in people's perception in the same way as continually updated information on the Internet or the process your work is going through.
But it does. Just purely by people perceiving it differently. There's a really interesting spread in John Berger's book Ways of Seeing, where it has a black and white reproduction of a Van Gogh painting and says, "Paintings are often reproduced with words around them. Look at this image for a moment, then turn the page." Then when you turn the page it gives you some biographical information around the historical resonance of that particular painting. Where it fell within Van Gogh's life and how that radically adjusts how you could see the painting. In that infra-thin moment where one turns the page the object drastically shifts and it can never remain the same thing after that new knowledge is attributed to it. That's just one example of how nothing is fixed.
But these cultural artefacts are by their very nature an attempt to fixity, even if that attempt is in vain.
The past, and every single artefact — image and book and thought — is shifting second by second so there is no fixity. History is also constant revision — it's telling stories with the past. When you write something down, you don't fix it, you accelerate simultaneously into the past, into a certain relationship with other written word, and in a strangely anachronistic way you push it right into the future. It's bizarre. You accelerate it into a time beyond itself, so you don't fix it, you set it in motion by writing it down. It's the same with photographing something — if you photograph your hand right now you don't fix it, you push it into the future and allow it to continue existing in some way, and you suddenly throw it into this stream of information that is the whole history of photography, painting, biology. It's an act of setting in motion.
That's almost like a quantum theory of art.
The distinctions between different disciplines are sometimes a barrier to understanding the way that things are, rather than an aid. So it would make sense that those connections would be apparent in descriptions of different kinds of phenomena in the world. Objects, thoughts, quarks, waves and all that stuff.
That reminds me of the video for "Agen," which is full of all these visual patterns throughout time, of artefacts manmade and natural, new and ancient, religious and secular — like cartoons, waves, paintings. It's comforting and unnerving at the same time.
I think there is something uncanny about recognising the today in the past and recognising the potential for the present in the future as well. The video was made by a visual artist called Jane Eastlight whom I collaborate with on all the visual elements of the project. There is something very strange about being able to read a story that was written 500 years ago and to actually be able to identify with this person. A certain way of looking at time would have you think that you couldn't be more different from them. You live in the 21st century and everything that comes with that, but I think sometimes there's something very strange, and quite poignant, about the realization of there not being such a huge distance between yourself and someone who was very much like yourself, living and breathing 500 years ago — falling in love; feeling the weight of gravity on their body as they move through space; unexpectedly hearing a distant, clear and beautiful sound; waking up minutes ahead of an alarm clock's impending ring and all of those things that people do and people will always do.
There's something quite poignant maybe about that realization and in a way rethinking the idea of the self as separate from everything and everyone else. Seeing those connections can rupture some of those ideas of the present, the self, past and future and so on as being entirely separate entities. In the video itself, there's a whole stream of activity, which you could file under the heading of "typology," where it begins investigating the classification of seemingly drastically diverse artefacts.
Talking of "self," your work has a real mystery to it, with the cryptic yet evocative titles and your insistence on anonymity.
I don't put too much out there — I don't really show my face in photographs, I don't give out my name — and sometimes that can be seen as a kind of withholding when in fact the intention is the absolute opposite of that. It's a generous gesture in the sense that what I'm trying to do is allow the work to be owned by other people, so it can really become part of their lives and is really theirs to use. So without anything being presented that could hinder that connectivity between an individual and the work itself. So there's nothing being put out there that is wasting someone's time or isn't crucial to that connection.
I would hope that all of the work — be it the visual components with Jane, the linguistic elements like in the titles or the live performances and recordings and interviews — I hope that those materials could offer a space for other people to engage not only with the work itself but engage with everything outside of the work, so the world itself really. I'm really interested in that idea of what it means to be in the world and engage with that in a really full way and I hope that the work that I'm making wouldn't hinder people being people in the world in a full way and maybe it could be helpful somehow. I value the time of people out there so highly that I would go to all that effort to not be present so the work can be more theirs.
It also follows a strong tradition of electronic artists being anonymous producers.
I think one thing that's really important is that, especially when discussing culture, we shouldn't forget that history existed before 1950. If you look at tumblr, the Internet, music criticism and lots of disciplines of thought that are supposed to be quite thorough, often you realise that people don't take on board what was happening in the world before five, ten, 15 or 20 years ago. When thinking about traditions of creative work in relation to music, there's a tradition of work, some folk music for example, that exists outside the individual as such and predates any sense of the individual author being a key component in engaging with it. "Anon." adorns countless work from these spaces. That construction of being obsessed with the individual is actually quite new in terms of how people have created and shared information over the existence of humanity. There's a lot of information circulating in the present, but there's a lot that isn't — a lot of types of thought, ideas, imagery that isn't included in the narrative and I think that's a really interesting situation.
That's one of the things that's dangerous is that sometimes there can be an illusion that everything is accessible and everything is getting shared around but in fact there's a lot that's missing. Once you realize that, you'll struggle to find images that precede a certain date, you'll struggle to find references to texts that precede a certain date. There's a lot that can be got from looking a bit further back. It's so dangerous to look at a subject with a lot of pre-existing dialogues surrounding it, and before you know it to find yourself taking a certain pre-defined stance simply because that's the discourse that exists around it. Not because it's that simple and clear or because that's how you would actually think given half the chance, but because that's just the way that it's spoken about — because that's just the only readily-visible existing schema for approaching it. I think there's something useful about putting materials into the world that don't produce that predetermined response and that's a really key part of this project. I'm trying to put things out there that aren't closing perceptual doors for people but are maybe offering up spaces to be creative in one's own thinking. To remind how active one is in making sense of music, of words, of images, environments and in defining what the world can be.
What's your process when composing your work?
When making the music I try to get away from my own notions of what can and should be done compositionally. I work in a range of psychological states – sometimes I'm very aware and clear of what I'm doing and then other times I'll be in a state where I'm not as aware of what I'm doing, for example on the edge of sleep. To allow decisions to be made in a range of psychological states so that the work in the end can reflect that whole range of decision-making. Sometimes you could be working on something and think 'This is just terrible so just get rid of it,' or 'This is wonderful. Don't touch it... this is a great thing,' and in both cases there can be some value in taking the opposite decision. You could be working on something that you think has no value, but who are you to judge at that point? Maybe this thing that seems to be a waste and to be nothing. Maybe there's a value in it that you can't perceive. And maybe the thing that you think is great needs to be torn apart and re-calibrated and pushed through in order to become this other thing that it could be.
Personally I'm trying to transcend the imagination and to not be fixed by defined ideas of what things could be. Not to be constrained by your own notions of aesthetic or taste or value and try to move past the self in order to produce things that you could never have thought of making or expected could exist at all.
What software do you use when playing live?
The main software we all use is our minds. I would say that was the key instrument that runs all of these things. The live performance aspect is a very important part of it for me, as are the videos or the LP recording or this conversation. Those are the parts that are publicly visible, though they are just a few elements of a fully lived thing. It's a wide, wide thing. I think sometimes the dialogue that people have or the intentions that people have are very different from how I approach this whole practice. I really value the unfathomable potential that music and this whole discourse can have.
What's on the schedule for you this year?
This record is part of a process that will unfold in various different forms across different media over the next few months and onwards towards and through the end of the year. So there will be explorations and developments of some of the themes that have been explored on this record that will weave their way into other forms as the months go on. It is boundless.