The Field's Axel Willner On Superlong Loops and Cooking as a Recipe Slave
Berlin-based Swede Axel Willner has spent the last six years exploring elongated ambiance and saturated contrast. Producing as the Field, he dwells in the pockets where melodic digital shards teeter creatively in and out of time with live, loping krautrock-influenced grooves. Here he answers a few questions about his angles of approach toward cooking up music and food. The Field is now touring behind its third full-length, Looping State of Mind (Kompakt), and comes to the Rickshaw Stop tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov. 1).
Axel Willner, the Field
For your new album, did your workflow change?
The core is still all about the loops, so that is something that is a big challenge, to find the good loops. We brought in more analog sources, but ... it's a natural flow.
Are there times that live, analog sources are too dirty? And are there ways you have to fix them?
I have never been too much for having superclean sound. The way I've always made my music is in the moment; I don't like to polish too much, so I think it's never too dirty. It can be the other way around, too clean. Recording drums and so on, you have additional information recorded, all the dirtiness needed. I've never worried too much for carving things out. Every since my punk teenage years, I've never wanted to keep things too overproduced.
With a fair amount of this album coming from the live side of things, did shows from the last tour or rehearsal sessions influence the album?
It all started off with bringing everyone in, and finding together how I really enjoyed hearing things sound. Ever since the second album, it's been a little bit more instrumentation from other people. But with this album there [was] a personnel change, and I couldn't see making a new record without having them along. It's been a process of finding people I wanted to play with.
What is the biggest change in personality with the new bandmates?
Since I started the Field, it's always been me and no one else who takes the last calls and supplies the initial creativity, but when you make music with other people something else happens in the middle. For me it's very interesting, because if I have a sketch I thought would sound like something, it could turn into something completely different in the studio. That's what I like, people bringing their own stuff into it. The whole process starts with me making the core of the tracks, which is completely loop-based, and it's recorded around that, and we try to keep that part as natural as possible. We look for the part that brings the most to the track itself.
When working, where do you determine where the best place for a loop to shift is?
Most of the time it's when I feel like it's time to do something different, and it seems to have been working for most people. Not everyone, as some people still think the music is just records that keep skipping. But I still wait till I feel like I might have pushed it too far and then I change it.
People have connected your music at times to techno, based on your German label and location. But I've been thinking about how house music has more warmth than tech-house, as does your music. So do you feel any kinship to house, cosmic disco, those genres?
Not really house or disco, but kosmiche stuff, old German things with electronics, yes, that is a huge influence. I think moving away from the computer, the music just naturally got warmer through the hardware. And it was something I really wanted to happen.
With the last album, I felt almost aqueous moments. Would you say that the sea played a part, and that the Earth is now more influential?
You're pretty right, actually, because water was very influential on me. A lot about the ocean influences me, coming from Stockholm. And maybe once I moved to Berlin, no longer lived coast-side, I felt a yearning from the mid-country. I really do miss the ocean. On the last album we borrowed a friend's country house outside Stockholm and recorded there for a week, and that was really interesting to see what would happen. It was a good time.
Does the new album have particular colors and shapes that come from your experience in Berlin?
Yeah, maybe. Nothing comes to the top of my head right now, but the city is really for me pretty new, even though I've been here almost three years. It's so big and ever-changing, and I can always find new places. But there are places I go more often, parks I can wander, and it can be like being in a loop, so to speak.
So did the first Field recordings initially come around because Stockholm was becoming too boring and predictable?
Yeah, maybe. I had a lot going on, but it was also a little bit dull and I needed to start something new.
Where are some of your favorite places to perform, then, where you can have positive distraction?
Italy, definitely, for the food. But most of the time there isn't extra time, just you arrive, sound check, perform, and leave.
Is food and cooking a passion of yours?
Do you stick to recipes or like to improvise?
I am a bit of a recipe slave, but I always try to alter them in small ways.
So, is live performance the same, where you stick to a recipe with small tweaks, or do you stray from the tracks a great deal?
There's quite a lot of improvisation -- we try to see how far we can push each other live, [and] we like to change where the next change might be to keep it interesting for ourselves. With all the new tracks, however, we will need to be very good about looking at each other from time to time as we learn how to work with the material.