Richard Chartier: Decisive Forms Interview

chartier.jpg It's been pleasurable and informative to speak with hyperminimal soundartist and LINE co-founder, Richard Chartier; having been immersing myself in his latest, decidely "light" composition (decisive forms), I appreciated the opportunity to question him about his out-of-the-norm stylings.
AmbiEntrance: So, are you "obsessed" with near-silence? And where did this inclination come from? Were you the kid using the white crayon... on white paper?

Chartier: i wouldn't say i am obsessed with silence. the concept of silence and its perception is a fascinating one. i don't think my work is all that silent actually... much of the more recent work takes the form of implied silence.

for example many of the sounds on series seem silent but if you watch series on a level monitor on your amplifier you can see that it is actually quite active or "loud"... a lot of energy in the sounds but they seem quiet.

i do remember doing a white crayon drawing as a kid now that you mention it!

AmbiEntrance: Are my ears that damaged from my pre-ambient days, or are these deceptively-active sound energies at a level below (or above?) ordinary perception, or what?

Chartier: they are very high or very low frequencies quite often. they are perceivable... they just dont register as loud for example.

AmbiEntrance: decisive forms stays away from the overt clickiness of much microscopica; was this intentional?

Chartier: the work decisive forms is much more of a highly composed piece... some have compared it to an orchestra piece which i find very interesting. the title decisive forms is taken from a term that the german artist jean (hans) arp used to describe, early in his career, the biomorphic shapes that appeared in his work. as a counterpoint to series which is more pointalist in a way, thus more clicky, decisive forms is more of a slowly shifting and evolving piece. a flowing shape.

i am still not sure how i became lumped into the clicks and cuts type genre... my cd post-fabricated is definitely of that mileau but beyond that ... we have seen a lot made of the "click" and many people say it is an expended form but there is still more that can be done with the concept of a "click" or an error but it needs to places within a new context or form and removed from its current formula.

AmbiEntrance: When you say "composed", obviously you're not penning the notes on a musical scale... how do you approach such a (seemingly loosely) structured piece?

Chartier: with the work i am creating a standard musical scale doesnt come into play. the construction of a piece like decisive forms is intuitive, it doesn't follow a strict compositional system. This is one of the things i admire about the work of Morton Feldman, he created his compositions without a systemic process, which someone like John Cage would not have, Cage relied on chance... so Feldman's work is based more on intuition, very subjective. there is a similar fascination with the slow, the slowly shifting and repetition. with repetition of sounds the listener can often become lost in the composition, starting to hear new patterns, where there perhaps are not.. this type of work creates a focus, and a need to focus

Morton Feldman's work has been very influential on my work, i think it becomes more apparent to some in the more recent works i have created. i share, but with a different palette and a different "instrument", some of what i think are the sonorities that he dealt with (especially in his later works), the attention to detail and subtlety and his works' requirement of the listener to pay attention to that detail and subtlety.

AmbiEntrance: How did decisive forms get released on Bernhard Günter's Trente Oiseaux label?

Chartier: After Bernhard heard series he asked me to a CD for Trente Oiseaux, i have been friends with bernhard for several years as well.

AmbiEntrance: series has been re-released as well as garnered an Honorable mention at the Prix Ars Electronica; what do these achievements mean to you?

Chartier: They are definitely things that have made me happy. Its always humbling when some one person gives you positive feedback or some organization of your peers recognizes you in such positive way.

AmbiEntrance: Playing the Devil's Advocate here... why couldn't you record your sounds at a "normal" level and trust the listener to keep it turned real low?

Chartier: As i noted about series much of the work is recorded at a loud level or at least a level that helps to keep the sounds from distorting... the last thing i would want is for people to play my cds loud and have the dynamics of the sounds turn to squelchings and rattlings as their speakers got fried : )

and i guess it just reinforces the aesthetic of the pieces as well. with minimal works, volume can substantially alter the perception of a piece.

AmbiEntrance: While reviewers are saying such great things about your soundworks, do you ever get an "Emperor's New Clothes" reaction from someone claiming not to hear *anything*?

Chartier: i haven't gotten that... yet.... but i look forward to it. i got a hate email that was close to that though...

two of the cds that taylor and i released on LINE have had this effect to some rather amusing results... no names of publications mentioned but one reviewer/fact checker called me and said that his copy of Bernhard Günter's monochrome white... cd didn't have any sound on it.. and asked "maybe you could send this recording to me on audio tape".. it turns out he was listening to it on a home computer with is internal speakers.

The Immedia CD 2|1 on LINE is one of my favourites, i remember the first time hearing it in London while i visited them one evening and just loving it, but definitely it has confused some people.

AmbiEntrance: Your first self-release was 1991's that now hollow chamber how does that compare to your current discs?

Chartier: the early work is very droney with reverb. i was very influenced by zoviet france during the late 80s.

between 89-93 i was working with synthesizers and filters. i stopped in 93 to focus on my visual work...i felt i had done what i wanted with that time periods audio work. then there were four years of silence. i stared making work again in 1997 when i was pointed out to some sound programs all shareware and started again... i missed working with sound... but i didnt realize it until i started again... and the progress in the visual work, in theory and work methods had an influence on how my audio work began to take shape again.

i debated recently on whether or not to release/digitally remaster the tracks from 1991-2... some of it in hindsight i still like (usually i cant listen to my past work... i just pick it apart) but i dont think i will re-release it... maybe one or two tracks and rework them.

AmbiEntrance: Do you think you'll have the same reaction in the future to your recent releases?

Chartier: of course... the process of creating is a process of learning... when i listen to my work i can find things that could be changed no matter how small... but i think that is part of being an artist. if you dont look/listen to your own work with a critical eye/ear you stop growing artistically

AmbiEntrance: How/when did you meet 12k's Taylor Deupree?

Chartier: i met taylor through my friend nosei sakata who sent me a copy of the AIFF cd ( it think) sent an email to taylor telling him how much i had enjoyed the compilation. at that time nosei and i were working on what became 0/r which was later released on 12k.

taylor and i are very similar in our backgrounds, we also are both designers although he comes from a techno background and i come from a very experimental electronic background of listening and creating. we have been best friends ever since. one of those people you meet and you just click. oh there's that word again... "click"

AmbiEntrance: You co-founded the LINE label with Taylor; how was it conceived?

Chartier: i was working on series and wanted to release it .. taylor and i had been discussing with the idea of sublabel or me starting a label in the past one thing led to another and LINE was born quite fast. i wanted LINE to be a label dedicated to digital minimalism... we are continuing to focus on artists who work in various mediums as well and releasing work intended as installations or as documents of installations. we have gotten great feedback from listeners. i am glad to be providing a showcase for these works that taylor and i enjoy.

AmbiEntrance: Did you design your website? All that lovely white space certainly seems to indicate so... (and what does "3 particles" refer to?)

Chartier: i design the website. i haaaaaaate designing for the web so much because there is never a sense of finality. a project is never finished. i much prefer print design, i guess you could call me an object fetishist. its still not as minimal as i would like... its a very simple site... which i think is most effective for providing information.

3 particles ended up being a reference to the 3 families of particles: electron, muon and tau. also refers to my track on the "lowercase" compilation. i have always liked the idea of delineation... particles, sections, compartmentalization. i think comes from being a graphic designer.

AmbiEntrance: Sounds like you've got a bit of a scientific bent, too... If you weren't doing graphic and sound design... what might you be doing career-wise?

Chartier: i cant imagine not doing something creative or arts related. i was interested in gardening and botany as a child... that is something i could do... i miss not having a garden of some kind, creating landscapes with living things that grow and evolve... i find that fascinating.

AmbiEntrance: You mentioned Jean Arp, what other visual artists whose work particularly interests you (and why)?

Chartier: i have noticed that the things that influence my sound compositions the most have been visual. i think of sound in visual terms which stems from my education as a painter/designer. (and vice versa.. i often describe visual works with sound terms)

harry bertoia has interested me for a long time... his monoprints, his sound sculptures, his recordings, his design. i have collected mid century furniture since 1990 so thats where his work first entered my life.

marcel duchamp... because of the complete interrelationship between his works and his life, and the different mediums he explored.

other visual artists: gyorgy kepes, william baziotes, agnes martin, donald judd... off the top of my head

AmbiEntrance: Tell us about your DJing at the Blue Room... what would a visitor to your show find?

Chartier: well, the blue room event called FILLER that i host and curate focuses on a wide range of electronic music. from tech house to minimalist beats to electro... it al depends on the mood of the 4 resident djs

it is definitely not a dancing night. we have a film theme on huge wall projection screen .. basically a great friendly crowd, a loungy type large space, and a fantastic sound system.

the reason my friend william alberque and i created FILLER was a sense of a hole that was in between the two major scenes in DC music.... punk/indie/hardcore and then the, what is still called, "raver" crowd. we have dischord records and fugazi and we have Nation voted the best techno club in north america but there is nothing in between really. so william for example plays quite a bit of seefeel, scala, locust-type work..dreamy droney crunchy, i guess you could if you wanted to call it indierock electronica?

i play anything from minimalist 12k/raster type work to odd bits of sound and the occasional fad gadget or other vintage track. two other djs milo and george spin techhouse and electro. so the evening is really a showcase for a wide variety of what people would just lump as "electronica" plus guest djs...

AmbiEntrance: Does being in and around DC worry you in thse days of war and terrorism?

Chartier: yes, my home is less than 2 miles from the pentagon, i have walked home from the subway station there before. it was quite terrifying when it all happened. i actually didnt hear the explosion because i was on the phone with friends crying, watching tv and generally just losing my mind in incomprehension.

there is a different atmosphere here... tension... confusion... people are now just starting to venture out into the night.. FILLER has been substantially quieter... luckily we got a lot of people to come out last month for a benefit for the red cross at FILLER.

AmbiEntrance: I see the 12k/LINE site also has a little PSA about supporting the Red Cross; do you see your (or general) music as an opportunity for healing, or at least escape during times of crisis?

Chartier: music is a form of escapism but it is a positive form (in most cases)... i think art in general has tremendous healing properties. i used to work for an arts education/therapy organization so it is something i strongly believe in.

music, especially music that creates a spacial sense, like many minimalist or ambient works is a viable option from an overly complicated world where it is hard to stay focused.. the media is filled with diversions.. i dont really watch TV except for the simpsons (my form of escapism)... so much effluvium out there.

AmbiEntrance: What projects are in your future?

Chartier: I am in a show of sound art entitled "Re:synthesis" at the Betty Rymer Gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago in December and January. my work will be a headphone piece. Possibly doing a sound installation with taylor deupree for the Lovebytes festival in Sheffield UK next year.

i am currently finishing up my next cd of surfaces for LINE which will be out in January. To me it sounds like cross between series and Decisive Forms

Two collaborations are currently underway. Working with Nosei Sakata (*0) on the next 0/r cd entitled varied which will be out on 12k in april and with COH on a work called Chess Machine.

plus much much more which i cannot divulge right now.

This interview posted November 4, 2001 | Interview Index

AmbiEntrance © 2001-1997 by David J Opdyke (except CD cover art, rights retained by original owners).