Interview: Terre Thaemlitz aka DJ Sprinkles

It’s a chilly London afternoon in February, and there are thirty-odd people sitting in lounge chairs, listening to Terre Thaemlitz talk. Over the course of the session, hosted by the Red Bull Music Academy, Thaemlitz – aka DJ Sprinkles, aka a myriad of other monikers – speaks openly on issues of sexuality, gender, music and culture. The Academy participants listen intently – Thaemlitz’s intense, multi-faceted and academic approach to music makes for fascinating listening, one of the few electronic music producers who can articulate the complexity of their art without a hint of pretentiousness. We caught up with Terre after the session for a quick chat.

It’s obvious what the participants got out of that session – do you feel you benefit from things like this?

Certainly. However, as environment, it was quite unusual for me. Obviously there is the corporate connection with Red Bull, plus I am used to lecturing and presenting on my own, without the aid of a moderator. But I really enjoyed the whole thing.

Now the dust has settled from Midtown 120 Blues, why do you think it achieved so much success?

Well, sales wise, I don’t know if it was any better than some of the stuff on my own label. But I think its popularity comes down to the distribution channels, and the PR of the label that released it. People want digestible music, and this record was more digestible than some of the other things I’ve done. But I was upset when people tried to frame Midtown 120 Blues as a transitional record, as a new path, because it was just one of the many different directions I take. People find it difficult to adjust to the idea that a musician can have more than one sound.

Tell us about your new release, the Mastorjakor EP?

I’ve actually had that lying around since 1992. It was ready before Midtown 120 Blues, but I never got around to releasing it. It’s totally old and referential. I wanted to go back and see if I could make it into something from it that would work.

You have a very multi-faceted and complex approach to making music – does that ever come as a burden when its time to sit down in the studio and make music?

Totally. I hate switching on my gear, it’s trauma. There’s one switch in my studio that boots all my equipment up, and when I switch it on it lights everything up like a Christmas tree. It freaks me out. I have an old computer and software and I need to upgrade everything and convert it all. It makes it stressful to do simple things. My two favourite keyboards are my Casio F2 10M samplers – they were the world’s first 16 bit digital samplers, but everyone thought they were crap because they were Casio. They take floppy disks and it takes two or three goes to load them – it used to be one or two (laughs). When they are gone … who knows what I’m going to do.

“I hate switching on my gear, it’s trauma. There’s one switch in my studio that boots all my equipment up, and when I switch it on it lights everything up like a Christmas tree”

Is there an emotional burden too?

Maybe I bring emotional or personal baggage when I’m producing, but to me it’s not so important. What’s more important to me is how the music is constructed. I approach music as a collector, as a consumer, because as soon as I present the audio clips to the record label, it’s no longer a private piece of work.

Let’s talk about your ambitious 30-hour piano solo project, Soulnessless – how did that come about?

I am very interested in the limitations of the album format. At first it was whatever you could fit onto a 12″ vinyl record, and then it was the 80 or so minutes for a CD. I thought mp3 could essentially be unlimited, but then I found out about the Fat 32 restriction (which limits mp3 files to 4GB). It was a process to figure out what can actually function. I like the idea that at the moment a 4GB file is the maximum. Soon it will be 8, then 16 … the ability to play it back will become better too. All these glitches will be ironed out in time, and they will be able to handle massive files.

So how far into it are you?

The piano part is done, so now I have to finish the hour-long video DVD of other materials, and text and photos in .PDF format. It will be all part of the experience. There will be two discs – a data disc and a video DVD. You won’t be able to play either of them through your stereo – so that’s the first hurdle. No doubt some people are going to think “it’s crap”, but that’s OK. It’s OK for people to be upset with it because it will make them think about the formats by which they consume music. It should be fun!

How did you record the piano part?

I’d sit there for eight hours at a time, working on it. It was an acoustically dry room, no reverb. Sitting there by yourself, you develop a connection to the melody but it can be easy to lose perspective. I am interested as to how people will consume it – work, sleep, have times where it is in the background and don’t even notice it – I am fascinated by how people will interact with it.

Your formative DJ years were spent in New York, but you’ve been living in Japan for nearly a decade now. Are you still interested in the US house scene?

I am totally disconnected. I rarely buy records anymore, except in second hand shops. I don’t really follow what’s going on, I’m ignorant in that way. I think my record collection has reached capacity – I have 20,000 or whatever hours of music, and if I can’t come up with a DJ set out of that, there must be something wrong, right? I find now that I rediscover a lot of tracks from old EPs, where maybe I was playing one track off it originally. Now I listen to the rest and find something that is relevant now. It’s also an economic thing – 85 per cent of my money goes towards rent and food. That’s OK because rent maintains my collection – I’m living in a house designed for a family of five just to store my records.

You had some amazing experiences in your early years of DJing, such as your residency at the transsexual club Sally’s – what do you get out of it these days?

I think moving to Japan gave me back my energy to DJ. After I got fired from Sally’s there was a long time when I was never getting gigs, and when I’d play, especially in Europe, and people would just ask for harder stuff. I lost my ability to enjoy it. But playing at the Modular and Deeperama parties in Japan, I began allowing myself to enjoy it again. Nepalm in Kyoto would put on these original, one-off events, where you’d have deep house and then a noise/punk band would come and play for 30 minuets, and then it would be back to deep house. I love that kind of thing, those events where the people are full of energy and ready to listen to anything.

“I think my record collection has reached capacity – I have 20,000 or whatever hours of music, and if I can’t come up with a DJ set out of that, there must be something wrong, right?”

Your DJing style was one of the topics of discussion at the session – you are often known to let track play out in their entirety. Is this indebted to David Mancuso and the Loft?

I call my DJing Loft-style, although whether others would agree with that, I’m not so sure. You know, when it comes to DJing, I love the whole idea of being totally eclectic, playing poorly pressed records on a $10,000 turntable. It’s all very innocent and sweet.

What else does 2010 hold in store?

Hopefully I’ll get the video segment done for Soulnessless soon. I’m very much committed to that at the moment, and how it will function. I think it’s an important follow-up to the dead stock archive (a complete collection of his audio). If my entire career up to that point could fit on 8GB, and this project alone is 4GB, well that shows you something. You can consume it any way you like. I made it to be listenable; it’s not a goof off. There’s no looping, and no processing other than to get it onto mp3. It is computer music – it can only exist in mp3 format.

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