Reto Mäder is a Swiss electronic/electro-acoustic musician who records under several names and in several groups, including Ural Umbo (sometimes Vral Vmbo), Sum of R, and RM74. A lot of his work has come out on the Utech label, and the music’s ominous beauty is matched by its dark, enigmatic artwork and deluxe packaging. His latest release, RM74’s Two Angles of a Triangle, is a two-CD set containing 73 minutes of music, so clearly it’s divided into two sections for aesthetic reasons, not because it would have overshot a single disc’s running time.
The music is difficult to categorize. It contains conventional instruments (piano, bass) played, recorded and mixed in unconventional ways: ultra-close miking and various methods of computer-based processing after the fact are used to warp and layer the sounds until they become abstract and atmospheric. The finished pieces sometimes recall Robert Hampson’s work with Main, other times feel kin to 20th and 21st Century avant-garde composition, and at still other times lean in the direction of the dark ambient music that has soundtracked many modern horror films and horror-themed video games.
Mäder was interviewed by email in February/March 2013. A longer version of this interview will appear in Burning Ambulance #6, which will be available soon.
Please describe your compositional methodologies—what instruments do you play on this record? How much of it is created directly with a laptop or other sampling technology? How do you build a piece—is it a melody which is then surrounded by other sounds, or can a found sound (or a bit of spoken voice) trigger the rest?
Bass guitar, piano, electronics and synthesizer are the most prominent instruments on the whole album. Percussion instruments like bells, wind chimes, timber baton and glockenspiel join them also. Instruments like cello, organ, kalimba, harp, theremin and of course components like found sounds, taped voices and field recordings also appear sporadically.
All the instruments are played by hand. But still the so-called sampling technologies play a role by which the recorded instruments were also used as a source for processing to feed them back in a manipulated form as an expanding sum in an interaction with the original recordings of those instruments. For this album, the computer was primarily used to fathom different sound arrangements, for the mix, and to create effects like time stretching, pitch shifting and chorus, which the ear associates with the deflection of time. Because of my penchant for less calculable tools for the rest of the sound processing, I used tools like analog, scrapped guitar effects or dusty filter modules. My definition for Two Angles of a Triangle is “an instrumental album with a share of electroacoustic music as backing.”
There are many different ways a song comes into being, and not all of them always lead to the target—stumbling, getting lost and discovering belong purposefully to my tracks. To me the constructive work on a track develops in most cases through an aimed or playful search for melodies and harmonies, which translates a deep emotion or situation into a musical language. Thematically a lot of them revolve around longing, loneliness, passion, pain, dis- appointment, hope, symbolism, mysticism, fear, inhibition and things reflecting each other like light and darkness. There aren’t any fixed rules of how I pace through a song. There are times where I follow a loose melodic sequence, sometimes a nostalgic music box recording accompanies me, other times I might follow the rustling of breaking scrawny tree branches or let myself get seduced by the call of a distorted sound. Getting inspired and driven by things, taking my time, experimenting, listening, arranging and selecting based on my own taste and mood became the important components of my music making.
There’s 73 minutes of music here, yet it’s split into two CDs rather than one. Why?
After the ultimate selection of the 14 tracks on the album, at some point the question appeared, if this should be an overlong album or two more “easy-to- consume” records. This division seemed to make more sense to me than an album of 73 exclaiming minutes at a time. Especially since this is a music outside of classical song formats, which because of that demands more from the listener. Demanding is good, overcharging is bad. If you go to an exhibition, you’re only receptive to a certain number of paintings, objects etc…and the deeper the individual parts of the whole go under the skin, the more saturated you become. I think it’s the same with music. You can only absorb and process a certain amount of it at a time. And not too much at a time doesn’t mean that you miss a part of the whole. Quite the contrary… Moreover, on a double album, I especially like the idea that one can decide personally if and when he or she listens to the second CD, as well as which one he or she begins with.
The music reminds me of soundtracks to modern horror films and horror-based video games—why do you think this aesthetic translates to that realm? Do you hear these similarities yourself? Have you created music to accompany visuals in the past?
Principally I think that the atmosphere and the tension paired with depth and the unknown are elements both in my music and in horror movies and games, which as creative mediums could give—in proper doses—again and again important impulses for the whole experience. However this connection is not in my music on purpose, because I know that such similarities emerge not just in horror genre or generally in movies. They also exist in our own experiences, wishes or dreams where the horror mostly animates the deeper, digging fear of losing someone, fear of the unknown, bad consciousness or a possible failure. I love movies and I want to live a life where, besides music, movies and other art forms are also passionate parts of it. If people feel that my music could function like a soundtrack, that’s certainly because I work just like in a movie, with cross-fades, hard cuts, width, distance, closeness, details, time loops, different resolutions, and above all with contrasts and blurriness through distortion. The more indistinct the contours in certain moments become, the clearer and sharper become the senses.
In the past there were some soundtrack offers I always rejected because of various reasons. In the future, when the right offer comes, I’ll put my heart and soul into it. Preferably for a dead-end road movie set in a wasteland, or a cold science fiction in cryptic time and bent space, rather than a bloody horror movie set in a cabin in the forest.
Here are two videos from Two Angles of a Triangle, both directed by Sera Timms.