Entering into the immersive with Prism House

Sjimon Gompers

Prism House

Prism House's Brian Wenner & Matt O'Hare. (press photos courtesy of the artists)

After the anouncement of Prism House's upcoming Landfall EP coming from Ceremony at the end of April, I got a hold of the multi-instrumentalist, Brian Wenner, one half of the audio/visual duo shared with, Matt O'Hare. With Brian minding the electronic-music-media matters of things, Matt's visualized dimensions provide multiple layers to the immersive site and sound textures that propel the atmospheres from the decks and deeper into the audience's experience. Catching up since last year's Reflections EP, we bonded over our mutual affection for Slava, Kuhrye-oo, ITAL, Arca, Chrome Sparks, Archie Pelago, Sepalcure, Blondes, Com Truise, Gatekeeper, the Ceremony Reocrdings, imprint, Ghostly International, RVNG Intl, and more artists and labels coming from NY.

“There is so much good music coming out of NY right now that it's hard to keep up at times,” Brian explained, while providing us with the following current report of NYC electronica, progressions, and directions that are fresh and upbeat.

When I last heard from you guys you had just dropped Reflections, and I wanted to know how you built forth from the rhythmic audio structures/anti-structures of Reflections to your upcoming Landfall EP?

Landfall is quite different from Reflections in a lot of ways because it was written over a very long period of time and includes some really old tracks mixed with new ideas, but they all seem to work cohesively. The new record also has a darker late-night dance-floor vibe to it where as Reflections felt brighter and more grand in a different way. I think Landfall really encapsulates where we're at as a group and where I personally am at with my compositions. The mood is a bit subdued and the tempos are rhythmically more open and less dense. We still incorporate our usual textured sound collages and sporadic song structures into the mix as well.

This record also includes a lot of found sound recordings I've made that are quite personal to me, including a weird interview I did with my first girlfriend from back in 2006. It was strange to listen to that and eventually incorporate it into the music. I think part of why I love this record is because it was quite a challenge to finish. There were a couple points where I was ready to scrap everything and start over but I believed too strongly in the quality of the material to do that. There are moments where you just have to push through and finish and I feel ecstatic to be done. The first chapter of the group is really sealed with this album and it's only going to get better.

On the single “The Skyline Breathes Tonight” there are so many samples to follow, from sword fight sounds, guiding vocal cuts with a synth counterparts, and more found audio being used as percussive devices. Can you take us behind the compiling and arranging for this densely detailed, evolved drum & bass track?

“Skyline” is the newest track on the EP and was written a couple months ago. It was actually the easiest track on the EP to complete start to finish.

The track began with the main pad synth line that sets the melodic tone of the track. I think I found that particular sound on Vimeo and sampled and pitched it in Ableton to work it out melodically. There is such a unique haunting quality to that sample that I knew immediately the track would go somewhere interesting by making it the main driving force. The lead vocal was sung by my friend Nicole who is an artist that goes by Girls In Uniform. I asked her to adlib over the percussion and melody phrases and I recorded everything and went back and cut it up. I enjoy making vocalists think on their toes because you get unique and one-off style results where as if they have time to prepare you get a calculated and deliberate vocal approach. The percussion sounds and sword fight sounds and all that are all things I recorded in a wood shop space and warehouse space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I love getting dark, warehouse type percussion tones and layering them with conventional drum samples. All the other voices and textures are internet sampled material that I've sampled and manipulated.

Overall, I think this may be my favorite track on the record because it grooves in a really interesting, brooding manner. It's my most “hip hop” track I've ever made.

We heard you got some remixes too from The-Drum and Thug Entrancer, how do you feel about how a Prism House song's textures and patterns are altered in the re-arranging and re-envisioning remix arts?

I can't stress enough how excited I am that we were able to get The-Drum and Thug Entrancer to agree to do some remixes for the record. We are huge fans of those artists and I feel like they both have really interesting styles that work inherently well with what we are doing. Remixing is all about having unique content to play with and I think that since our stuff is so textured and varied that it gives other artists a lot of possibilities and freedom to make something cool and within their own voice or vision. Our music isn't hyper structured either so there isn't much of a theme that one would need to stick to to get the point across.

Hearing your music remixed is a really exciting thing and to have really talented artists partake makes it that much better. The basis of our music is about re-arranging and re-envisioning found material so I think it makes sense that our tracks get the remix treatment. Prism House is essentially a remix group in a lot of ways because we are just re-appropriating found material. I'd love to have a proper remix album at some point when we have more time to line up artists and make it something really powerful and cohesive.

How do you all feel about the whole EDM versus IDM acronym battle of the electronic artists of the world? Which do you all prefer, if any? Is this tag still relevant today?

I think the whole EDM/IDM genre tag thing is sorta hilarious because both terms are so broad and general if you really think about it. I do think it's helpful though even if the names are kinda warn out at this point because it gives a new listener some sort of context as to what the music may possibly sound like, even if it's not a totally accurate portrayal of the sound. Electronic music is so varied and different, even within certain genres, that I think genre tags are necessary despite it immediately putting a certain picture in someone's mind.

I think genre and sub-genre tags will always be relevant as long as there are journalists trying to better describe a scene or style. As a musician, I don't necessary subscribe to any particular genre but at the same time we are definitely influenced by 90's IDM and a bit of the punchy and danceable aspects that EDM incorporates. A lot of musicians get really hurt or upset when critics or fans coin their sound as something in particular but I honestly find it flattering. If someone has taken the time to listen to my music and wants to describe it in genre terms that they understand then I can respect that depending on the situation. Creating music or art for the purpose of it perfectly fitting into a genre is a bit odd to me but I try to make exciting, new sounding music and whatever genre it may be similar to is perfectly alright as long as I believe in what I'm making.

How do you feel about the state of NYC electronica?

NYC has an amazing electronic scene right now, particularly in Brooklyn. It's incredible to look at the amount of venues, promoters, and artists who are all working together to make the scene feel unified and important and are pulling their weight to ensure that great shows are happening on a regular basis. The crowd in New York is very unique too and it can feel daunting at times to keep people interested, but it honestly just pushes everyone to get better. People have really high expectations for the quality of shows in NYC and it translates to the performers.

The only real negative I can think of in NYC is that the scene here can feel a bit insular and there are a lot of small groups of artists working independently of one another without much communication. Collaboration seems to get tromped here and artists often seek success on their own individual terms. I think that is a good thing sometimes but I come from the Midwest where everyone collaborates on projects and there is less status associated with an artist's name or persona. NYC is a tough market and people aren't going to give up their talents for just anyone. Despite this, the scene is surprisingly small and you tend to run into the same people at a lot of shows. I find solace in that and it keeps me interested and excited about participating in the scene here.

Then is there any kind of collaborative business behind the decks that we should be aware of or are allowed to be privy to?

I'm currently writing a lot of vocal-centric electronic arrangements and have been talking to a couple different female vocalists to collaborate with. I've wanted to branch off and work on more vocal oriented music for a while and I finally have some time to begin working on that so I'm excited by the possibilities. I'm also talking to a couple producer friends about doing some splits or 7″ collaborative records as well and doing some more straight dance music tracks. I've been pretty focused on finishing this EP so it'll be nice to start working with some other people again. I'm always planning and working towards collaborations and new records so I can guarantee I'll have some stuff coming out with others very soon.

There is an interesting organic entropy that this EP plays with in the sinkhole vortex on “False Future”, through “Drift”, the quicksand of “Soft Spot”, to the portal opening of “The Sky Breathes Tonight”. Then you have the “Approaching” interlude and “Shame” tying up the experience. Was there this kind of narrative arc concerned in mind when putting Landfall together?

I think we always strive to have a narrative arc to the music and Landfall definitely feels like a singular work best listened to as a whole. What's really different about this EP from our last release though is that half of the tracks on it are quite old and the other half are the newest things I've recently finished, as opposed to it all being written in a similar time frame. The reason the older tracks weren't already released is because they didn't fit the mood or vibe of our last record and it just so happened that the new material seemed to come from a similar creative zone. Generally, it's difficult to work on new material and have it tie into old ideas but I suppose we got lucky with this release. There were definitely moments where I felt like I couldn't pull off combining all of this material, but ultimately I made it work out. I'm proud to have stuck with the material to see it all the way to the end point.

I have always liked the Prism House aesthetic of repping this kind of multi-dimensional jewelery sound-stone that really shines light on the various multifaceted movements at work in in the world of music right now. What do you feel some of the next big steps and evolutions in sound, movement, and culture might be?

I'd personally love to see a further integration of sound and visual art into a truly cohesive and immersive environment that incorporates movement. I still feel like there is a defined separation between the “music” and the “visuals” but technology is allowing for really exciting things that can push it into a realm where it's really hard to decipher the two as being separate. The melding of these two mediums has a really exciting cultural possibility where we may begin breaking down the barriers of who is the musician and who is the visualist or the dancer, but rather just witness something as a whole. I think that we are ready for something like that culturally because we already have so much interactive technology at our fingertips. The average tech consumer is much smarter nowadays than in the past and demands much more out of their products. I think the art world can take a cue from the commercial world and further develop tools similarly for artistic means.

On a lesser scale, I'd really just love to continue seeing how dance and experimental music can be fused with improvised movement incorporating dancers. We'd love to do a Prism House set with dancer where the movement controls the visuals and music as much as we do. It's an exciting time to be involved in electronic music and art in general and we are excited to be able to participate in it.

Prism House's Landfall EP will be available April 29, with pre-order available from Ceremony Recordings.

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