A. Artaud wrote in 1938:”In our present state of degeneration it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made to re-enter our minds”. Mr Surgeon seems to have made his own this idea whereby the use of devastating sounds, as sharp as blades, the obsessive minimalism of his groove and the perpetual movement of his musical texture , are the best tools to detonate the human intellect and its boundaries. In his by now two decades of incredible musical activity, seems to have been aiming at one exclusive goal: that of perceiving and let his audience experience the existence of a utopic reality beyond all rational codes of interpretation, the metaphysics of sensation.
In several occasions, you underlined the importance, within your background, of the most esoterical and transgressive side of industrial music: Coil, Psychic TV, Nurse with wound… Jeff Mills numbers european industrial among the genres that inspired him. It seems to me that this kind of music played an important role in the minimalistic turn of techno around the mid ’90 – in which you had a major role. In what sense, according to you, did industrial music influence the evolution of techno in those years? And why?
Well I think that Industrial Music is a strange term. It’s mostly used for music that doesn’t interest me at all.
It was the transgressive nature of Throbbing Gristle that interested me, rather than their sound. Their methods were the greatest influence for me.
Talking about your album “Breaking the frame”, you said you wanted to express in music the aesthetical utopia of an inner “transformation” and a “deep spiritual essence” – specifying that this goal became clear to you through the study of the masters of minimal music – La Monte Young and Terry Riley. What do the acoustical shock and the tone-colour aggression of industrial have in common with the hypnotic cyclicity and the reductionism of classical minimal music in this process of spiritual transformation?
On the surface they’re very different, though they both have hypnotic qualities. I don’t think to compare, for example British Murder Boys with Breaking The Frame. They are two very different projects.
If your attraction for experimental and industrial music has more to do with “abstraction” than with ideological and political issues, is it possibile to say that abstraction is a gateway towards “transformation” and the achievement of a “deep spiritual essence”?
There are many pathways to climb the same mountain as they say.
What is the function of technology in this quest for a spiritual essence? Do you think it is neutral, or does it assign a specifical constitution to this process of inner transformation, defining its quality and its final result? Are the use of drum machines, the precision of four beat patterns, the tone-colour manipulation of the sounds which define the groove, just simple instruments like the traditional ones? Or do they lead to a particolar kind of insight, enlightening us about a new and specific way of being spiritually receptive?
For myself music technology has always been a tool, a means to an end. Of course every tool has it’s own set of qualities, positive and negative aspects. For example – Techno is a very versatile form, it can be bent and stretched a great deal and still remain techno. It’s very effective functional music that people connect with in the club environment in a very deep way.
In an interview with Quietus you spoke about the desire, when you play live, to “shift the consciousness” of the people who are listening and dancing to your music, to “blow their minds”, to “make them see the world in a different way”; at the same time, you said that during your act you achieve a state of trance, of annihilation of the intellect, without premeditation, simply following the sensation of the moment and the inputs of the environment. Does it mean that you share with the audience an experience of unity which transcends your subjectivity as well as theirs – of which, at the very end, you’re just an instrument rather than an architect or a dominator?
Yes, very much so. I feel that I’m directing the energy, rather than creating it.
Why is it so important to annihilate the intellect, when the technology you use is quintessentialy a product of that same intellect, in its more rational and instrumental expressions? I mean, how is technology linked to exstasy?
I believe we are out of balance, too much thinking. I’m not speaking about permanently annihilating the intellect. Just readdressing the balance.
I’ve always found the names of your labels extremely interesting: Counterbalance, Dynamic Tension… Do they refer to the quest for a point of balance, for a mediation between different elements, feelings and individuals? Is it possibile to say that this is the “spiritual” aim of your live/dj sets and – I daresay – of the best techno music? To achieve the common denomination, the form in which the soul and the body, the individual and the community, finally become one? Is this the “purely utopistic aesthetics” that your music persues?
It was an unconscious action, choosing the names for the labels. Of course they both refer to states of a balance of opposing forces.
I didn’t realise it at the time I chose the names, but they make perfect sense after the fact.
Your productions with Karl (Regis) like “British Murder Boys”, have titles that sound like precepts – “Learn your lesson”, “Rule by law”, “Don’t give way to fear” – and quasi-mystical innuendos – “Father love us”, “All the saints have been hung” – while the tracks in themselves are very sharp-edged and aggressive. They suggest an imagery where crime, violation of the uditive and acoustical limits are considered as a path towards knowledge and self-consciousness, along which the producer acts like a sort of guide and master. Do you agree with this analysis, and what kind of concept did you and Karl have in mind when you were working together?
I think that every persons interpretation is valid and correct for them. British Murder Boys was the first truly pre-meditated project that Karl an I made together. British Murder Boys are Britain’s best loved absurdist space rock duo.
Apart from music, what kind of readings and art did inspire you or interest you in particular?
The whole journey of life really. Pure existence is what truly inspires me.
I’ve listened for so long to your music and I think that you’re one of the very few artists that can build a dj set as if it was a journey with a coherent sense and direction. Do you think that the power of techno is that of turning into an aesthetic and spiritual experience what would elseway be mere entertainment and buzz? To play with this ideal in mind, to transport the audience into a different dimension – instead of simply getting together in order to drink, dance and drag – and to exceed the materialistic and personal motivations that usually bring people to a party?
I enjoy the fact that everything operates on many different levels. If you tune into only one level, that doesn’t make the others go away and you may not be aware of all the levels in the first place.
A techno party can operate on many different levels, it can be a transformative spiritual experience or a nice night out with your friends.
Surgeon (Dynamic Tension Rec.) – UK