Richie Hawtin Talks Plastikman, Psychoacoustics, and His New Arkives Boxset
Performing under his own name, Canadian-born, Berlin-based Richie Hawtin has navigated the space between DJ and recording artist for two decades, constructing epic swaths of spatial microedits and spartan percussion, bringing it to fields, forests, black box art spaces, and mega-clubs all around the world.
Starting out in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from techno's birthplace of Detroit, Michigan, Hawtin has become an ambassador for deeply conceptual electronic music, constantly promoting new means to maximize minimalism.
Recently, Crossfade spoke with Hawtin about his new Plastikman restrospective Arkives boxset, psychoacoustics, and 20 years in the club.
New Times: For Arkives, how did you actually do the archiving? Your work spans analog and digital eras and different technologies, so there must be a challenge with bringing that all together.
Richie Hawtin: I don't know if I'm a good archivist or a bad one, but I have definitely realized after going back through everything that I had that there seem to be some things missing, but hopefully not really that much. I was quite good at recording and backing up anything I was creating in the studio. Until the last album, Closer, everything was done live-to-tape, two-track, or DAT [Digital Audio Tape], there wasn't even any multitrack or computer files until later on, so I knew there was no way to go back to remix songs or bring things back up on the board, whatever I had was the final kind of version, so I was always pretty good at recording as much as possible when I was in the studio. Then maybe in early 2000, after 10 years of recording not only for my material but for Plus 8, my label, we started doing DAT duplicates to back things ups. Then in 2001 as we were backing up the DATs we were also creating computer back-ups, putting all the Plastikman and Hawtin archives on DVD, DAT and on the computer. So when I started to think about this it was really just a case of grabbing a hard drive that had 90 percent of the material and listening while I was traveling. I didn't really have to dig too much.
As you said, you recorded live to tape. But did you ever consider going back to do overdubs, combining takes together? Or would you just label that a remix or edit rather than a director's cut?
I thought about all the different options. Closer, the last Plastikman album, which was multitrack on Pro Tools, I did want to go back and create a new mix of that, reengineer it, change a couple things, but the problem was that it was the only album I had in multitrack, but to go back to Pro Tools 5/OS 9 versions with these weird plug-ins I was using turned out to be a fucking nightmare. When I recorded that album I was so happy for multitracks, the idea I could go back, but with the way technology changes so quickly to actually bring that up involves finding an old computer, old Digi[design] hardware because it was before all the PCI Express ports, blah blah, blah, and then a bunch of the plug-ins I was using were never ported to OS X, so maybe the time and energy recording that way was a waste of time in the end.
For that reason, and others, the only thing we've done with this stuff is we allowed it to be remastered, and we allowed other individuals to do part of the Arkives - Replikants, the new remixes CD - because it's interesting for me in 2010 to hear other people's takes, but not to go back. I was happy with those pieces then, I'm happy with them now, and the Arkives for me is for me to move forward. I'd much rather spend my time thinking about what I want to do next after I've compiled that. The only special edition project I'm still working on, that hasn't been announced yet but we can talk about because it may become part of Arkives, is a longer version of Consumed, which had a lot more material recorded for it but I had to cut a bunch to squeeze on the CD format of 1998. I'm still working on it as I'm on the road in Pro Tools, putting together what I'll call Consumed EX, extended, which will include an extra 10 or 15 minutes and if I finish it it will become a bonus to the package. It adds a nice middle part I really like with a greater depth that wasn't possible in 1998.
With so many changes to the tonal spectrum of technology and how evolving recording gear captures it, are there interesting dips between what went to tape versus Pro Tools?
I think it's part of the charm, actually. Part of Arkives is to let people listen to the journey, the whole story, so of course the sounds and production get updated as the collection progresses. Closer probably sounds the most different to the other albums, because it's the Pro Tools multitracking, while everything else was straight analog consoles to two-track DAT. So that's honestly one of the things I struggled with. Closer I love that it sounds so digitally different, but I always hoped one day I could go back, send it through an analog console and connect it a little bit more to the analog albums. But maybe that's part of the charm of the continuation of Plastikman. One of the core fundamental sounds of Plasktikman has always been Roland TB-303 basslines; it's on nearly every track except for a couple of drum things. It's partly by the technology that modifies it over the different albums that differentiates it and allows me to find further possibilities within that little silver box. I guess it's part of the thread that ties them all together. Even if Closer does sound more digital than Sheet One.
You've experimented with surround sound in the last decade. But at the very beginning, did you put much thought into psychoacoustics? How things would resonate beyond the studio?
I think I was more involved in thinking about that later on, as I became technically proficient in the studio. In the early days it was a dream just to be able to pan things. I did have some modular systems that allowed me to do quadrophonic panning, so around the time of Consumed I was doing testing and we did an event around the release party where I DJed with music in the similar vein of Consumed, and I used that panning. But the thing I've always loved about surround is that it allows music to be more immersive, and I hope that if people get anything from each of the albums it's that Plastikman has always been immersive even not in surround. The original idea to record Sheet One was to make an electronic full-length experience that was immersive as I could do with what I had at the time. So I hope that by reintroducing people to Plastikman, bringing people up to date and bringing it to new fans for the first time, it gets people into that idea of immersion so I can experiment more in the live field and in later recordings in my career.
Retrospectives so often open up analytical discourse. Do you hope people will recognize and embrace the material not just as cerebral, but for its physicality?
I think Plastikman was always very, very physical. It started in dark warehouse parties with pummeling bass and snare rolls. You couldn't get very much more physical than a huge speaker system with 808 kick and snare through it.
-- Tony Ware
Richie Hawtin with Gaiser and DJ Stryke. Saturday, November 27. Mansion, 1235 Washington Ave., Miami. Doors open at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $30 via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-695-8411 or visit mansionmiami.com.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.