Living analog in a digital world
“The combination of sounds that goes into a beat of mine is really strange,” producer Guillermo Scott Herren admits via phone from his Brooklyn home studio.
The aforementioned thought could easily be applied to most of Herren''s projects, including his new collaboration with Zach Hill of Hella (Diamond Watch Wrists) or the tranquil and trippy Latin sounds of Savath & Savalas (his group with fellow producer Roberto Lange and vocalist Eva Puyuelo Muns). But Herren is specifically speaking on his mysterious beat work as Prefuse 73.
“With Prefuse, I''ve always tried to keep it sampled to a sense where you can''t even understand how the fuck it''s a sample,” he explains.
Under the Prefuse 73 pseudonym, Herren helped pave the way for a style of multilayered hip-hop (mostly instrumental) that initially carried equal influence from the robustness of DJ Premier''s productions and the electro-infused sounds of Mantronix. Eight years after dropping his Prefuse debut, Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (2001, Warp), his music has grown well beyond his self-described “over-the-top boom-bap.”
Although as much as Herren prides himself on evolving from record to record, for his fifth Prefuse LP, Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian (2009, Warp), he still relies most on his trusty Akai MPC-2000XL and MPC 4000 while occasionally using an assortment of guitars and live instruments.
As Herren couldn''t care less for current operating systems, in terms of production gear, he sticks to what he knows. And because he felt that his last Prefuse album, Preparations (2007, Warp), was overproduced, his aim with his latest LP was to further escape from modern technology and, more than ever, to try to capture a sense of nostalgia. His friend and close collaborator Roberto Lange took heed of Herren''s mindset and suggested that he record his latest album entirely onto recycled Ampex analog tape. Herren couldn''t refuse given his desire to ditch the digital format.
Speaking on working with Lange, Herren notes that his friend was the one with the tape machine mastery who helped him organize his beats then “hit them to tape at different variables, different speeds, and use the tape as an effect—one that cannot be changed and one that will totally delete the digital realm of the whole process.”
Sticking to his nostalgic stance, Herren sequenced Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian as one continuous composition with various transitions, made from an old prog-rock-like perspective. He says the only reason the album was indexed into 29 tracks was because iTunes requires it. So while many of the titles are meaningless, the music is far from it. Playing out like an adventurous live producer set, these collaged downtempo beats hit multiple angles along the way, bringing listeners distorted dubby sounds one minute and airy ambient ones the next.
“In order to do a track this long, you need those sort of random and weird transitions, and that was the fun part about it,” Herren says of turning a stockpile of beats into one cohesive piece. “And that medium you meet with tape in analog in limitations is always what I''ve tried to remain in.”
Looking around his home studio, Herren yearns to get back to the days when he didn''t have so much gear cluttering his space. And making this album is helping him realize that with less he''s apt to create more.
“I was looking at old pictures of my other studios from different apartments, and I noticed that everything was so fuckin'' minimal and clean, and right now I''m sort of bombarded with things and I''ve gone back to thinking, ‘Okay, I got too much shit around me,''” he says. “It''s more from the live instruments I play, but dude, I don''t need all these amps and things—I gotta get rid of this shit.”
Adding with a laugh he offers, “I gotta have like an eBay pawn deal or something.”
Online auction hunters get ready.