boards of canada pisd interview


printed in issue 7, dated feb. 1999

"Strong Emotional Melodies". That pretty much sums up the essence of what Boards Of Canada are about. After various releases on hard-to-get cassettes and Skam Records (and itís enigmatic offshoot Mask), the Scottish duo have released one of the finest albums of 1998, "Music Has The Right To Children" on Warp. The first of five on the Sheffield label!

Five albums. That might explain why Mike Sanderson (Gemini) and Marcus Eoin (Cancer) are extremely busy in their Hexagon studio and reject most interview requests. So many tracks to finish, so little time. But PisD managed to enter the bunker which hosts the Hexagon Studio, via e-mail. Here is what they said.

POPISDEAD: The name Boards Of Canada is inspired by The National Filmboard Of Canada. Could you explain what was so special about the nature documentaries and their soundtracks?

MIKE: Yes, the NFB films were one of our influences when we were younger. I think most of their films have been socio-political, but there are animations and suchlike. The thing about the older films is that the quality of the picture and soundtrack wasnít perfect, it was grainy and wobbly. We used to record compositions on cheap tapes which gave a similar rough quality, and weíve always returned to that sound becuz it feels personal and nostalgic.

Were you living in Canada when you saw the documentaries?

We saw a lot of those films here in the UK during the 1970s, but we both lived in Alberta briefly in the late 70s.

Apart from these soundtracks, you also namedrop Joni Mitchell and the Incredible String Band when it comes to instrumentation. What was so special about their musical approach?

Much of the music we like is not electronic, although weíve probably been influenced by Devo. We love acoustic music on old recordings becuz they tend to have natural qualities such as tape compression and distortion. But I think Joni Mitchellís voice is so beautiful it almost sounds synthesised, so maybe thereís the connection. The Incredible String Band still sound unusual today, becuz they changed the arrangement for every song, and their own influences were far and wide apart, and they always wrote emotional melodies which were a bit unusual, you know, a bit twisted. A unique band.

What else do you consider important musical influences, past and present?

Devo, Walter/Wendy Carlos, DAF, television themes, corporate jingles from TV and film, Jeff Wayne, Julian Cope, My Bloody Valentine, 80ís pop music.

Could you tell me more about your so-called Psychedelic approach, the alterations from start to finish in a track?

We sometimes make a tune metamorphosise as it plays. An example is "Nlogax" from the "Hi Scores" ep on Skam, which begins like an old electro or disco track but halfway through it suddenly becomes something nightmarish, like your brain is starting to malfunction in the middle of the tune. Psychedelics make music sound entirely different. Tiny details become massive, a five-minute track can feel like itís five hours long on pyschedelics. You know when youíre on a ride at a fairground, the pitch of the music rises and falls with the Doppler Effect? Thatís another thing we love to do in our tracks, and itís a fairly psychedelic-sounding effect, too.

How *DO* you write music? Whatís the starting point? A feeling, a sound or an idea? And who of you two makes the first sketches?

Itís a team effort. Usually, the starting point is a melody. We write hundreds of little melodies, and the most attractive ones last in our minds. We go back to them and pick the ones that really stand out, then we start piercing together rhythms. Both of us write the tunes and rhythms. On the album, 50% was by Marcus, 50% by me. Not one of the tracks was totally written by one person.

The album is a joint release by Skam and Warp. Was this done to aid promotion and distribution?

We began to work on the album at the beginning of 1997 and it was meant to be for Skam, but in the summer Warp came to us and said "we like this album", so the labels decided to co-release it.

Skam gained respect amongst abstract minded electronic music lovers in very little time. A new Skam record is considered something special nowadays. But theyíre always hard to find.

Skam is truely underground, truly independent. Iím sure that if we asked Skam to release only one copy of a new release, they would do it.

But why make music that (almost) no one can get their hands on, like the two MASK eps, which were released in issues of 100 and 200 copies?

Weíve been making music since we were at school in the early 80s and nobody will ever hear most of it, so it doesnít bother us to do a really limited release. Our friends and families hear all the music we write, and thatís all that matters really. You wouldnít believe how much music we have on tape.

But why release records at all, if all that matters is that your friends and families hear all the music? You must feel some sort of pride when records are bought by music lovers and get good press reviews. Or donít you?

Of course, itís lovely to hear that people weíve never met are really enjoying our music, becuz it feels as though we must have something in common, I mean psychologically, with those listeners. So it is satisfying, and fascinating.

Do you feel any pressure, now that youíve signed a contract with Warp?

Yes, thatís part of what you accept when you sign to a bigger label.

Warp has announced a second BoC album in 1998. In what ways will it differ from the first album?

I wonít give away our plans for the next one, but it will be different. Itís going to be stranger, more concentrated, more melodic.

Melody is very important in most of your work. While many other electronic musicians focus on rhythm. Is this perhaps one of the secrets of your success?

Weíre much more interested in melody then rhythm, and we appeciate the emotional power of a melody. Maybe thatís too uncool for a lot of electronic artists.

Some people might argue that BoC make "depressing" music. Would you like to comment on that? Are you pessimistic or optimistic towards life?

Weíre very optimistic. We might sound melancholy, but thatís just the way we write music.

What kind of special equipment do you use? I understand some of your machines are quite big. And you have something called the ĎSecret Weaponí?

If I told you what the Secret Weapon is, it wouldnít be a secret weapon any more. We have more than one really. We use a mixture of old and new equipment. We donít have lots of synths, we use hi-fi gear and other tricks to achieve our sound.

You run a company called Music70. What is the goal of this company?

Music70 makes short films and creates images, paintings and other art. Itís done purely for ourselves and our friends, and it has no commercial aims at all. Most Music70 work is like D.I.Y., but itís always emotional.

How is the planned full-length Super-8 movie with soundtrack coming along?

That film will start shooting in the summer.

You use a bunker in the Pentlands Hill as a studio. Does the atmosphere of the Hexagon Studio reflect in any way on your music?

We donít have an urban lifestyle, so that might make us even more unusual in electronic music. The things we do with friends are more rural or organic, like outdoor gatherings and so on.

Some of the track titles are quite cryptic. Could you please explain some of them?

Our titles are always cryptic references which the listener might understand or might not. Some of them are personal, so the listener is unlikely to know what it refers to. "Music Has The Right To Children" is a statement of our intention to affect the audience using sound. "The Color Of Fire" was a reference to a friendís psychedelic experience. "Kaini Industries" is a company that was set up in Canada on the day I was born, to create employment for a settlement of Cree Indians. "Smokes Quantity" is the nickname of a friend of ours, and "Olson" is the surname of a family we know.

Is Bocuma perhaps named after Bochum Welt? It sounds very ĎBochummyí:o).

Sorry, Iím afraid not. Itís an abbreviation/crossover of BOC Maxima and Documa, an obscure reference to 80ís video culture.