In the summer of 2010, Alec Koone’s Myspace page was discovered by Robin Carolan during the genesis of his label Tri-Angle Records, and weeks later the debut EP See Birds emerged, much to the delight of the blogosphere and the world of electronic music. This period was the zenith of the infamous “witch-house” genre’s ascent, and Koone, going by the name Balam Acab, was naturally pigeonholed into that movement by journalists with little regard for detail. True, Tri-Angle’s roster aims for “haunting” and sports the likes of oOoOO and Holy Other, but Koone rejected the witch-house characterization and for good reason.
Perhaps the confusion stems from Balam Acab’s reliance on slow tempos and samples distorted into spectral layers of atmosphere. But in contrast witch-house’s use of club banger material fostering proto-ironic nihilism, Koone’s music is infinitely introspective and earnest. Subtle nods to hip-hop, R&B and dub earned his first full-length Wander/Wonder a “Best New Music” distinction from Pitchfork, but the more we hear from Balam Acab, the more his enigma grows. We had the privilege of asking him some burning questions.
I can’t help but wonder where you source your sounds, which often have a very organic sound. Is there a repository somewhere you grab sounds, aside from the manipulated samples, or are you out there in nature with a mic?
I just find sounds on the internet. I also sample from real music. I guess I probably download most of the real music that I sample from on the internet as well, but I mean that’s not really different than ripping the real music from the physical record or CD it was released on, disregarding audio quality, of course.
There’s a lot in common between your work and that of aleatory composers, even down to the removal of the ego and preconception. By using aquatic sounds as percussion, for instance, there’s more rhythmic irregularity than if you had just used programmed drum sounds. Do you identify at all with the experimental avant garde, chance composers like John Cage etc.? You mentioned a local noise scene in one interview.
My music, especially W / W, is made in the complete opposite way that chance composers made music. It’s all very calculated. I don’t even record myself playing the bass lines or synth parts, I just draw them in. My friends and I used to play a bunch of noise music in high school and we would put on our own shows, so we kinda created our own little noise scene in contrast with our super-conservative, suburban sprawl-y hometown. But we would get banned or kicked off the stage from coffee houses and stuff when we would try to play at open mics.
The noise music we made was pretty much always improvised, so that stuff may have had things in common with chance composition. But pretty much anything that I’ve released as Balam Acab is the opposite of chance composition, even if it may give off the impression of occurring by chance. With W / W, I did want the music to feel natural, almost as if it was spawning from your surroundings, which I guess is kinda similar to what the chance composers wanted with their music. But at the same time I went about doing that in the complete opposite way that chance composers did.
You’ve approached the live performance with some trepidation. Without spoiling any surprises, do you have any plans for adapting to this format? Will the music itself be changed for the presence of an audience?
All the vocals are being performed live by my friend Morgan and myself. All the songs are at least slightly different from the studio versions, and some are very different from the studio versions. I wanted to make the live show a completely new and different experience from listening to the records.
You put out a Tweet not so long ago, putting out a call for rappers to spit over your production. Any bites? Any notable other notable collaborations going on right now?
There are always bites, but I don’t wanna produce for other people just to produce or just to make some money – I have to feel their music and want to produce for them because I like what they’re doing. So nothing notable has been established yet.
Speaking of Twitter, you’ve also mentioned having numerous other projects and monikers, and are a multi-instrumentalist by trade. Is there anything you’ve done in the past that might surprise your fans?
Oh yes, most definitely. I’ve made some incredibly strange music in the past.
Hypothetical: You are trapped in the cave on the Wander / Wonder album cover, which has a power source and outlets. You have your laptop, and a choice of two other music making devices. Which would you choose?
A wonderful female voice and a guitar.
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