We speak to the Warp Records-signed electronic duo as they prepare to release their symbolically-titled third album Ψ
Things have changed for UK experimental group patten since the release of their last album, 2014’s ESTOILE NAIANT. For starters, patten is no longer just one person – whereas previously the project was helmed by a producer known only as ‘D’, on new album Ψ he’s joined by fellow musician ‘A’. “There have been other people involved in patten in the past,” D explains. “There have been patten concerts that have had five people sitting and playing nylon string acoustic guitars or simple percussion. So internally it’s a really major part of what we do, that flexibility, but I definitely understand that a lot of people might be familiar with seeing one person behind it. It’s a very natural continuation of the process.”
patten’s musical direction has changed, too. Ψ was born out of live performance, with many of its tracks road-tested at gigs and club nights around the world. You can hear the impact that these environments have had on patten’s sound: the hazy textures and layered samples of ESTOILE NAIANT have taken on a more hi-tech, visceral, and club-primed quality here, resulting in an album that makes as much sense on a club sound system as it does on laptop speakers or in headphones.
With patten’s insistence on lowercase lettering, the duo’s reluctance to use anything other than their initials to identify themselves, and Ψ’s direct but seemingly unpronounceable title (it is, in fact, the Greek ‘psi’ symbol), it might be tempting to read the album as being obtuse. But it’d be wrong. In fact, it’s simply a continuation of patten’s long-held fascination with symbolism and imagery, as represented by their creative networks 555-5555, their Kaleidoscope record label, or the curated feed of videos and images shared on their social media networks.
You can exclusively listen to Ψ ahead of its release on Warp Records (home to other electronic innovators like Aphex Twin, Autechre, and Boards of Canada) below, and read on for an interview with D and A about the album and their creative process.
D, when you released ESTOILE NAIANT, you said that you saw patten as a process of collaboration, ‘in the sense that I'm always trying to move past the self, to get past the restrictions of my own imagination’. Has your approach changed with this album?
D: I definitely see it as connected to previous records in that sense. The idea of openness, and finding ways to push through into interesting creative spaces, has always been a core part of what the project is and what we’re trying to do. We want to make things that invite a way of looking at things differently. Creatively, it’s really exciting that we both come at music from different backgrounds and reference points. It seems to go off into quite an exciting place.
A: In terms of collaboration, D has been doing that not only with music, but also with designers, widening the whole project.
D: In all the discussions we’ve had about patten, we’ve been looking at the idea of images and artistic personas. We don’t hide anything about ourselves – we do the opposite, we try to draw attention to certain things either by revealing something or keeping something aside.
“The way something feels is more important than how it’s made” – D, patten
Do either of you feel like you have a defined role in the group?
D: A lot of it’s blurry. There are decisions that get thrown around between us about how things should be – so that could be how we look at arranging the stage and designing those elements for our live show, or it could be the volume of a hi-hat, or a certain kind of feeling. There’s a lot that’s hard to define in terms of how the roles operate.
A: (The process of writing the record) was testing (things) out through the live gigs that we’ve done in the past year. I think there could have been two records coming out – we’ve tested out quite a lot of different things. It was nice to do that, because we saw how people were reacting to different sounds and different things that we worked on, and through that we came out with a final decision and direction. It’s a bit like a laboratory, or being a scientist, just testing out things and seeing how people feel towards it.
D: There’s one track called ‘Pixação’ that’s a good example – that used to be this morphing melodic piece that was 10 minutes long, and it ended up becoming one of the shortest tracks on the album. Saying that, there are some pieces that haven’t been performed yet.
A lot of artists who make electronic music tend to value things like the live jam, where you capture something’s inherent energy by recording a track in one take. And then others argue that you can use new technology to constantly revise and edit your ideas.
D: I wouldn’t limit that dichotomy to electronic music, that’s just a thing in music (in general): studio vs. live, composition vs. jam. It depends on how you define ‘compose’, or how you define ‘jam’. You’re jamming when you’re DJing; you’re creating on the fly. We’re definitely interested in those questions. The way something feels is more important than how it’s made.
A, are those your vocals all of the album?
A: Most of them, yeah. There’s one track…
D: ...there’s one track that is pretty obviously me. It’s got a heavily treated vocal.
How do you treat vocals differently as a material to work with?
D: One thing that I found interesting about the discussion around the most well-known patten records is that a lot of people haven’t realised that they’re songs. There are some songs that are basically electric guitar and vocals. That’s never really entered into the conversation about the last couple of records, which to us is bizarre. It’s interesting how people have come into contact with the music, and how the narratives that come with that space have a big effect on what people pull out of the record. With this record, we’re interested in song form in everything from the mixing to the track lengths. The vocal has more primacy than the last record. On the other hand, everything has more primacy – it feels more stripped back, and that means everything can have its space. We tried to be more succinct and pointed with what we did put on each track and what we left out.
The album is named Ψ, after the ‘psi’ symbol. What led you to choose that?
D: With a lot of our records in the past, we’ve created words to specifically define them. When you think of the word ‘Nirvana’, you can’t not think about the group – that becomes a sign for the world that they created musically. We were interested in creating words to frame the things that we’re producing. It’s like making music – why not make new words to frame these new sounds you’re making? It seems really logical (to us), but I think it can be difficult for people to see these things because they don’t necessarily recognise it. We’re interested in putting stuff out there that isn’t immediately recognisable – that’s something that we’re excited by, but it can be interpreted in a lot of different types of ways. The psi symbol is interesting because it has so many different meanings. The flexibility and liquidity of that symbol seemed to be a very apt name for the record. We’re trying to see the world in an open way, and we’re trying to put things out there that have that openness woven into them.
“Making music is a political act in itself. Making anything is a political act” – A, patten
Around the time of the general election last year, you put up a video encouraging voter registration. You’ve also posted other political messages on social media, like around the EU referendum. How do you work these political ideas into your imagery and music?
D: We’d never force an ideology onto anyone, but we have things that we want to do. We’re interested in flexibility of thought and creativity, and people moving forward positively. We’re trying to do something worthwhile in the world, even if that’s just putting a video out there that trips someone out enough to create their own different way of thinking about something. With the political thing, with all the ways of communicating (available to us now), it’s important from our perspective to use those spaces to throw in some dialogue about the things happening in the world. We don’t work in a vacuum, we don’t think of images as just images – these are important forms that shouldn’t be wasted.
A: And we’re living in a global world. It’s a universal world, and sometimes there are things that happen out there and we feel an urgency to say something. But on the political side of things, making music is a political act in itself. Making anything is a political act. That’s something that’s quite important.
Do you see your music as escapist?
D: It depends on how you define that. What people are doing when they go to clubs, or gigs, or they open a book, is open their mind to a certain space that is definitely real, but accessed through other paths. I wouldn’t describe those kinds of experiences as escapist. What you could define as ‘escapist’ is in a way ‘realist’ – it’s just a different kind of reality. We’re interested in altered states of perception, as I guess any musician who wants you to feel something is. We’re interested in taking people out of their regular ways of thinking.
Warp Records release Ψ on September 16; a launch party takes place at London’s Corsica Studios on September 28