Ezekiel Honig is a NY based music producer, sound artist and founder of two respected labels – Anticipate and Microcosm – well known in the circles of music connoisseurs and art enthusiasts. Many people, including myself, have fully embraced his solo work with the beautiful and enigmatic “Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band” (Anticipate, 2008). Aside from having released six studio albums and an equal amount of singles/EPs and splits/collaborations since 2003, Honig has also been producing sound for picture as well as being a constructive audio thinker.
Ezekiel has generously shared his latest release with me on a rainy Thursday afternoon of April. From the first seconds of this recording I immediately sensed that I am entering a very private territory. It brought me to a place that was warm, organic, and, strangely enough, familiar. The sounds coming from Honig’s latest album blended exceptionally well with the moody cityscape outside my window as if they were the reflecting voices of the neighboring buildings or the sighs and the pulses of the passers-by. “Folding In On Itself” carries Honig’s signature sound but its textural palette tells a more personal story that ties the artist to the city he inhabits and the city respectively becomes the skin and bone of Honig’s aural canvas. A minor difference worth noting compared to his earlier offerings is that Folding In On Itself is released under the Type imprint, home to artists like Xela, Helios, Goldmund, Deaf Center, Mokira and Rene Hell among others.
Folding In On Itself Record Release Party is on May 12 at Littlefield. The bill also includes a DJ set by John Xela (founder of Type) as well as a set by Borne. More info about the event can be found here.
MP: Does “Folding In On Itself” summarize your personal soundprint within the collective memory of this city and its past?
Ezekiel Honig: Well, it’s a tiny sliver of that, an example of moving through cities. I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling it a summary, but more a version of it. Similarly, although New York City dominates the album, there are moments from Torun, Poland, and Milan, Italy as well. In a way, any city serves the purpose and the symbolism, even though the heart of it and the majority of the outdoor sounds do originate in New York. I recorded all the original sounds so it’s all remapping experience, wherever I was when the recordings happened.
MP: How long did it take you to make this album?
EH: Roughly two years. That time is of course not full time, eight hours a day and not regimented in any way. There were weeks where I didn’t get anything done and weeks that were extremely productive.
MP: A recurring pattern in your work which, I think, is responsible for the uniqueness of your sound, is its muted, slow paced meditative flow. Do you spend a lot of time with your materials until they get their final shape and sound?
EH: Making music is as much about meditation for me as anything else. Each track gets finished slowly, editing and piecing things together until they feel correct. Because the music comes out of the process itself, and is not incredibly preconceived, it needs to happen over a period of time, revealing itself to me though trial and observation, making sense as I delve further into it.
MP: How much space do you leave to intuition when you produce a track?
EH: Intuition is a big part of it. That being said, let me be clear that the intuition is based on a range of experiences and sounds and built over time, a cumulative idea rather than a make it up as you go, free-for-all. Intuition might be another way of saying internal logic, the system that a track or a series of tracks sets up for themselves, moving from one piece to another in a way that makes sense within the confines of the world it is existing in, the sounds it is using and the place I want it to go.
MP: What is your approach when it comes to field-recordings? Do you hunt the sounds that you have in your mind or do sounds reveal themselves to you after the recording process?
EH: Definitely the latter. I never look for something specific when I record outside, though of course the sounds that happen are limited by where I go. Besides choosing a location I’m more interested in finding things that just happen, searching for the sounds that occur within the recording and have potential for a track. I often find a sound that leads to a track being built around it and I never could have planned that.
I’m more excited by the happenstance of what occurs at any given moment, the accidental nature of the process of recording a situation that you can’t control, and then the paradox is that you do in fact control the final output, manipulating that material to do what you want it to do. It’s almost like digging for samples, but within a few spare moments of actual occurrence rather than records that exist.
MP: Do you have a favorite location in NY that you regard highly inspirational and sonically interesting?
EH: There are certain spaces that have a particularly interesting resonance to them (subways, museums, etc), but honestly, any second on any city street has a wealth of potential. If you’re listening carefully, it is all interesting, but certain nuances need to be coaxed out. Because it’s more about editing and processing any two minutes of recording can at least potentially yield something essential. It makes you listen to the world more carefully, which changes one’s perspective, on life as much as music.
MP: I get the feeling that in this release the use of recorded environments/spaces contains at times a denser network of metadata and personal memory stamps. How does that relate to your concept of the loop as a tool?
EH: There are certain moments which feel like they can work as a loop, while others need to play out on their own a bit. I don’t know how to explain this accurately because it is based on instinct (leading back to your previous question). This instinct (or intuition) is based on all past experience and sound work, so it is incremental in a sense, and part of being myself. Just as a loop is a tool to be used in the construction of a piece, any sound is a tool in the same vein. That is, however, a simplification of something more emotionally complicated.
The fact that I recorded the sounds of these spaces inherently carries with it a memory association, but it also gets manipulated from a source of all memories. It’s difficult to separate the event itself from all other events. Sound is so powerful for memory. While a photograph is missing what was out of frame, and one fills that in with what they think was there, sound is just as it is, if it hasn’t been manipulated of course. It retains all things which were within earshot (microphone-shot, more specifically). Listening to a recording of a space I am instantly transported there and begin remembering details about the moment, even if it was from years ago. While I may remember some things incorrectly, the sound is what it is. I may have forgotten that this car drove by, but I hear it very distinctly, so I know that it happened.
Editing those moments into something new, utilizing shards of them for a new purpose, is a layered process because depending on the processing and the arrangement it can either color the rest of the track with those memories or it can get lost in the new thing which it is now a part of. It completely depends on the way it is used, how it is mixed, and how strong the associations are. In many ways working with these materials can be flashback oriented, movements through personal stories, and sometimes they’re just sounds with potential, a tool to be harnessed like any other towards the desired goal.
MP: Recently I read a very interesting article about the state of music industry. The author made the remark that an artist who has developed a unique aural vocabulary can stand out and defy the challenges of the democratized and yet cluttered music community. Do you think that being “unique” is enough and if so how would you define this term?
EH: This is a question I think and talk about often. There are so many interwoven layers to it, of art, business, social culture, technology. Unique as an idea is of course defined differently for everyone, based on their taste. What is unique for one is boring for another. It all depends on context, on cultural associations, so it’s an extremely “eye of the beholder” type of construct. There is also the need for something to be unique and ‘good’, another word with a multitude of definitions. My point is simply that uniqueness helps you stand out, but the work needs to also connect to something familiar enough that people will respond to it. It’s an interesting balance.
To comment on the article you read more directly, being unique is necessary to stand out in the crowded marketplace, but it is far from being enough to make a difference, or to stand out to the extent that people will support the work (i.e. support the artist, support the label). There is so much out there, that while some things rise to the top because they touch a specific emotional or cultural chord with audiences, much of the success of something still relies on how loud the shouting is (promotion, marketing) or the label that it is released on. A small number of labels have an established enough brand for it to affect how a release does in the marketplace. An overwhelming majority does not.
Similarly, the crowding of people’s time and mental space creates a situation where all of us miss out on material that we might love, but will never find out about, or have time for if we did. Aggregation is consistently being given more attention because it can use filters for people, but the filters still leave something to be desired.
The thing which is both interesting and scary, exciting and challenging, about the current musical landscape (and all media for that matter) is the fragmentation that we are in the midst of. While there used to be a set route of producing, releasing and promoting a work, there are now pretty much no rules and lots of options, both tested and still to be thought of. It’s amazing, and also can be confusing. It calls into question some basic tenets of distribution and finding an audience. One can dream up a new approach and make it work, and there is no need to really follow the same path that has been used for the last bunch of decades. This then calls into question the whole concept of course, and reminds us that what we take for granted as the manner in which music is released and received is an extremely new thing in history, and we are merely at the beginning of the next phase, and we don’t know how it will turn out and what the effects will be. Because so many of the boundaries have been removed, there is less authority of taste in a sense, which is amazing, not just because it creates a situation which makes it easier for more creative ideas to break through, but because it requires the average listener to curate their own taste more concretely, to shape one’s listening habits rather than turning on the radio and accepting whatever the pop charts are. I realize many people still do that, but a lower percentage than it was twenty years ago.
MP: How did your release with Type occur?
EH: I’ve known John Twells, the owner of Type, for a few years, through music industry circles. He asked me about doing a record for the label after hearing my Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band album, which I released on my Anticipate label in 2008. Thankfully the resulting record met his criteria for a release on his label. It’s pretty amazing to be working through Type, with a label and a person that I respect creatively and organizationally, that I trust with my work. Self-promotion has always been a necessary evil for me, rather than something which comes naturally, so having another company take care of that end of a release is pretty rad.
MP: Do you have any other creative activities currently going on apart from your latest release?
EH: I took a bit of time after finishing the album to clear my head creatively, but am back in full swing now, working on a couple collaborative audiovisual projects which are in a different direction, am in the early stages of a collaboration with Mark Templeton, and beginning to work on music for a couple of short films and possibly a documentary later in the year.