In conversation with
Brooklyn Heights, New York
April 21, 2009—11:30 a.m.
Transcribed by Trevor Hunter
Videotaped by Molly Sheridan and John M. McGill
Video presentation by Molly Sheridan
The release of One Word Extinguisher in 2003 was a landmark in Guillermo Scott Herren’s career. It was the second album created under his Prefuse 73 alias, which followed his previous project Delarosa & Asora but marked a serious stylistic shift. One Word and its companion CD of outtakes, Extinguished, proved Herren was not only a skilled experimental producer and ambient artist, but an innovator of a freedom in music not unlike jazz. Many of the pieces were casual and relaxed, with melodies emerging and then disappearing into the flow. Each would leave a light imprint on the cerebellum, just deep enough so that on the next listen you might be able to feel that familiar beat coming around ten or twenty seconds before it arrives.
Herren has a knack for finding the freedom and openness he longs for in music while exercising a good deal of restraint. Beat loops usually imply a sort of prefabricated structure, but for Herren the beats are just one of the sonic materials at hand. The freedom is in the composition, the flow and layering of the ideas. Perhaps the best example of this structure is with his latest project, Risil, a “band of 1,000 alternating members with a core of 13.” You may describe Herren’s role in the group as composer—he’s sculpting and directing the group, treating the independent players as sound sources. Certainly this parallels the structure of something like Anthony Braxton’s groups, which follow his graphical scores. The same notion of loosely harnessing unbridled sonic creativity is a common thread throughout much of Herren’s work.
Perhaps one of his biggest struggles is found in the way his identity has been thrust on him by outsiders, even as he works to uncover it for himself. He spent years wrestling with the perspectives attributed to him, as compared to those he was experiencing day-to-day as a developing musician. It wasn’t long before this MPC-tapping producer was critically diagnosed (yes, as in diagnosed by a critic) as a schizophrenic rapper’s wheelman with ADD. Even in those early days they must have been turning a blind eye to his folk-laden Savath & Savalas project, but now with the emergence of Diamond Watch Wrists and Ahmad Szabo, the media’s persistence in describing Herren’s mindset as confined to the styles of the Prefuse project is clearly a bit myopic.
Herren’s other projects are nonetheless routinely compared to Prefuse and often criticized on the basis of whether or not they stand up to Prefuse’s reputation. Luckily for Herren, he is often just too busy to digest what people are saying about his last venture. He’s already moved on to the next. This year sees the release of four albums: Prefuse 73′s Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian, Savath y Savalas’s La Llama, Diamond Watch Wrists’s Ice Capped at Both Ends, and soon the debut release from Risil. On top of all that, he does mixes as favors and takes on production gigs with contracts based more in philosophy than on finance. One needn’t look much further than his blog to understand just how prolific he is.
In the midst of his torrent of recent releases, NewMusicBox caught up with Herren at his apartment/studio in Brooklyn Heights. In the course of a two-hour conversation that covered everything from the role of Prefuse 73 in his career to the state of the record industry, Herren revealed that no matter how far or in what direction he stretches, in the end it’s always about cutting-edge sound.
-John M. McGill