Axel Willner used to think he needed to complete songs while the ideas were still fresh without going back to rework any unfinished notions. The consuming techno he won acclaim for on his debut as The Field—From Here We Go Sublime (Kompakt, 2007)—came about from sessions at his computer with just a few guitar overdubs.
However, rather than stick to that successful formula, he added to it. The making of his stunning second album Yesterday and Today (Anti-, 2009) started with the same micro-sampling work he used with his first album, but this time the ideas were reworked, and Willner and even some friends added live touches, eventually winding up with six fully realized songs featuring an unfeasibly equally expansive and intimate sound.
“It mostly starts with my own kind of connection to a certain song. I hear it on the radio, or put on a record. I sit down and work around samples of the song and work at making it my own,” Willner says on the phone from Berlin, the city he now calls home.
Both projects started out the way Willner has worked since the late 1990s, cutting up samples in Jeskola Buzz, a program he admits is not ideal for this sort of work, but he sticks with it because he''s used to it, adding, “it''s kind of fun.” His songs start out as tiny samples, sometimes just a few milliseconds long, and he shuffles them about to build new progressions and find new ways to use the captured noises.
On the first album, the process pretty much concluded when he''d build drums to fit an arrangement he liked, and any imperfections from pushing his software too hard got worked into things. For Yesterday and Today, he still made use of the occasional software crash, but this time he let the songs grow, and he took his home recordings to Stockholm to finish the album in temporary studios set up in the living rooms of friends'' summer homes.
With no plan in mind, Willner, along with a few friends, expanded on his sample sketches with layers of synths, guitars, bass and the ample steel pans, vibraphones and glockenspiels that tie the album together. The tracks were recorded and given an initial mix in Ableton Live, but nothing was sequenced there.
“I think Ableton is a really good program, but I never make any music on it,” Willner explains.
According to Willner, the live approach to writing and recording comes from escaping his laptop and adding musicians to The Field''s live shows. The process involved a spontaneous cover version of The Korgis'' “Everybody''s Got to Learn Sometime,” which was thrown together after the song popped up in a playlist during dinner and has a contribution from Battles drummer John Stanier, after the two musicians recorded a jam session in Cologne that Willner later reconfigured. There was no master plan for the album, and he doesn''t plan to create one for The Field, either.
“It''s the same music, with a more organic touch to it,” he says. “There''s an openness to it, which I didn''t really have when I played live with a computer. It''s also much more fun.”