Once Hollowed, Now Bodied: An Interview with Innovative Electronic Producer Ital Tek
Brighton-based electronic artist Ital Tek has astounded listeners with his unique and innovative sounds, and he tells PopMatters about his new album Bodied as well as what it took to make his break-through album, Hollowed.
7 September 2018
Few electronic artists have continually re-invented their sound as effectively as Ital Tek. From the breakbeat garage of his debut 2008's Cyclical to the hip-hop influenced Whip It Up EP, each project the man behind the music, Alan Myson, has thrown himself into, has always seen him distort everything you thought you knew about him. Never one for repeating himself, Myson steadily earned himself a reputation as an innovative, sharp and intuitive artist. However, it was his 2016 album Hollowed that changed everything.
Hollowed was something else entirely. By far his most accomplished and radically different album to date. With only the briefest vestiges of his previous work still present, Myson deconstructed his sound completely and, as a result, made one of the most unique and intelligent electronic albums of the last ten years. It finally saw the Brighton-based producer, justifiably acclaimed as one of the most innovative electronic artists of his generation by critics and fans alike.
Now, with new album Bodied he has evolved his sound even further, as it is closer to avant-garde, classical music than anything remotely approaching traditional electronic music. Myson has skilfully managed to reinvent himself on an album of breathtaking scope and vision. It naturally follows the more cinematic, immersive soundscapes that he created on Hollowed but pushes his sound to the next level. The success of Hollowed has clearly freed him to follow new, previously unexplored directions and to create fresh, captivating sonic landscapes.
While that success may seem obvious now, the idea of Hollowed becoming a universally lauded, genre-defying triumph couldn't have been further from his mind during the making of it.
"I genuinely didn't know if it was any good or not when it came out. It was kind of an experiment. I thought this is going to alienate everyone. I mean I finished that album in probably about July 2015, and it came out in March 2016, so that was a long time. It could have been even longer. That whole time I had no idea if people were going to like it or not."
So unsure was he, that he even considered a radically different release strategy. "To be honest, I wasn't even going to release it under my Ital Tek alias. I was making it thinking I might just put it out as some kind of side project or something because I wasn't that sure about it."
Hollowed was a difficult, often arduous record to make but it ended up as his definitive artistic statement and, as such, has not only granted him the freedom to push at the edges of his sound but also instilled in him a greater belief in the music he wanted to make. "It was real labor. That was the longest it had ever been between albums. It had been like four years. I'm really proud of that record. I think it was very important for me to do that and it's the record that I was trying to make. It definitely set me on the path to be more confident in myself and trust my instincts a bit more which set me up for this record."
After such an all-encompassing project like Hollowed which involved, "being in a really dark room for two years, totally alone making music", Myson, soon realised that he needed to take himself away from creating any music as Ital Tek for his own sanity and to maintain any sense of artistic relevance. "I tend to go through the same cycle on every album I've ever done. I do an album, it comes out, and then I spend whatever amount of time after it comes out writing a really crap album that I then bin before I then write another one." He explains, "For this one, the way I got back into writing was taking a lot of time off, to be honest. I don't think I made any of my own music for about a year from finishing Hollowed."
Time away may have meant that he avoided the typical pitfalls of writing a follow-up album but also raises the obvious question of just what was Myson doing during that time? "Off the back of Hollowed I was being asked to compose a lot of things, and that took up a lot of my time. I'm quite glad that I took a breather from my own music. It was kind of forced upon me because I didn't have time but it gave me a bit of space, and it stopped me fretting."
For what would become the Bodied album, Myson went back to the idea of music as a hobby, sketching out ideas and writing in quick bursts while working on these other projects. As a result, he became much more enthused about the writing process. "The great thing about this record is that I made it whilst working on other things which meant it wasn't all-consuming for me, which the Hollowed record kind of was. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing but what I really enjoyed was making this record as a genuine release for me. I was working on loads of other projects, and then I'd have half an hour at the end of the day, having already been in the studio for 12 hours, to go "oh great I can make some of my own music". It would be exciting. It was this precious moment, and it didn't feel like my job anymore. For this record to be my treat at the end of a long studio day was beneficial to how it ended up."
To that end, he felt he needed to create a very definite sonic framework for any new music he created. "On this record, a huge amount of time was spent on sound design and just creating the sonic world for what the album could be. I also need to give myself the tools to make the album, so I give myself a lot of time recording stuff. I've got a whole selection of recordings of different instruments, making sample patches and recording vocalists. Recording my own percussion in weird spaces just to give myself some sources to be inspired by. It's all just experiments, and I just see what works, and the vast majority don't, but when I see a path that leads somewhere, I just hammer down on it. If I have enabled myself to have enough tools, when that moment strikes, I can just go with it."
Recording in such a way meant that Myson was left with a colossal amount of material to work from. "I mean these 13 songs that are on the album in January this year were just in a folder with about 100 tracks in it. I didn't really know where the album was in there. It could have been any number of combinations. Songs are like composites of three or four other tracks. "Cipher" for example starting life as about seven tracks that I've kind of stuck together."
The making of the track "Cipher" illustrates perfectly one of the things that mark Bodied out from its predecessor. Throughout Bodied, Myson employs a range of organic instrumentation. However, these instruments are rarely used in the traditional sense, as he explains:
"On "Cipher" pretty much the whole track is made up of a cello and an auto-harp. I wrote this weird harp piece that was like 20 minutes long that came from just flicking it or messing around with reverbs or whatever and then I crowbarred in the cello thing. Most of it wasn't anything that can be called "playing a cello". I was hitting it and bowing it while detuning it, stuff like that. It's just poorly played. I'm not particularly good at playing any instrument really. I just quite like the challenge. Take something that I don't really know what I'm doing and just try it out."
This rudimentary ability to play instruments does have certain advantages. "One of my favorite string sample software that I've created is called "shitty violin" which I use all over this album. I have all of these expensive samples and patches, but I keep on returning to this patch I made called "shitty violin". I can't play the violin, but I used it all over this record."
For all the unique mix of electronic sounds and organic instruments, Myson is conscious of the music not descending into a boring technical exercise at the expense of the bigger picture. "I'm not particularly bothered if people can pick up on what's what. I want it to be its own thing. I want every track to be its own sound, its own environment. This time I think I've just been a bit more mindful in thinking about what I'm actually doing. Without trying to kill the intuitive, playful side of making music. The last thing I want to create is an academic record that's a study in something. It's got to make me feel something when I'm doing it."
The beauty of this record is that it lends itself to radically different interpretations of different tracks, Myson is not the kind of artist who is explicitly going to tell you what to think or feel when listening to the album - an idea that is artistically redundant to him. "Something I'm very keen to do with my music is not beat people around the head with "this is emotional" or "you must feel this here and this here". It's definitely open to interpretation. I want my music to have a level of autonomy for the listener. If a track is overtly intense or emotional, it kind of removes that autonomy from the listener and they're just experiencing whatever I'm telling them to. I definitely don't want to do that."
The overall impression is that making Bodied was a wholly positive and fulfilling experience for Myson. "I'm confident in myself and with what I've done. I'm comfortable with the music that I'm putting out there. I do find this record very personal, and it is truly made for my own fun really." Most importantly there is an overriding sincerity to his work with a real sense of artistic accomplishment, as Myson creates a sonic world representative of who he is as an artist.
"It's hard for me because I can't really describe what my sound is or if I even have a sound but I know what feels honest to me. I know if I'm making a piece of music that feels dishonest or if I'm trying to eke out an emotion that doesn't feel right. I tend not to get too involved in tracks that I feel have come from a dishonest place. If I ever do, there's literally no point me doing it."
- Ital Tek's 'Bodied' Is Breathtaking in Its Scope and Ambition ›
- Ital Tek: Hollowed ›
- The 20 Best Electronic Albums of 2016 - PopMatters ›