Listgeeks Feature #8 – Ezekiel Honig

Ezekiel Honig, an NYC-based musician and label manager (for Microcosm and Anticipate Recordings) has developed a unique and compelling brand of electronic/acoustic music over the past few years. Oscillating between muted, downtempo techno and warm, organic-sounding experimental ambient, Ezekiel’s music has evolved over the course of the six albums (in addition to numerous EPs and singles) he’s released to date.  His most recent release – and also his most accomplished – “Folding In On Itself,” just came out on the prestigious Type Records label.

Honig draws from a rich palette of field recording samples, acoustic instruments (including piano, horns and guitars), Rhodes pianos, and subtle percussion to keep his deeply textured sound moving forward. Sparse, heartbeat-like rhythms, mixed with washed out and decayed micro-melodies and drones, evoke a sense of intimacy crafted for late nights or early mornings.

Ezekiel Honig – “Between Bridges”We’re happy Ezekiel took the time to answer a few questions about his work for Listgeeks.  After you’ve read the interview, be sure to check out his lists.

Listgeeks: Listening to your albums makes me wonder about your recording process. Not so much from a technical perspective, but more in terms of the question: Where do you start? It seems that the field recording elements have increasingly become a major part of your music and of your signature sound. Would you say they are also a key component when getting started on crafting a track, or is it rather that you start off with more of a “musical” idea and then add those elements later?

Ezekiel Honig: I don’t have a standard way of beginning necessarily, but one thing which is standard for me is that all the elements need to be working together for most of the process. The rhythm that feels a little off suddenly makes sense once there is a melodic tone added to it. The melody line which sounds close, but not quite there, can suddenly make perfect sense once some texture is added, etc. It all begins with a sound, or a handful of sounds, and wanting to turn that into something that feels like a complete thought, but that beginning point can be anything.

LG: As for your field-recordings, do you actively go out hunting for specific sounds, or do you just draw inspiration from whatever surrounds you at a given time?

EH: I never go out looking for something specific. For me it’s about finding the gem in the middle of a recording, searching for that series of moments that I didn’t know I was wanting until I found them. I choose where I go to record, but that is almost incidental. Finding what happens in the middle of the recording is the thing which excites me and drives the process. The accidental nature of it is where I focus.

LG: Not unlike photographs, field recordings generally capture a fleeting moment in time, inevitably hinting at past events and evoking a feeling of nostalgia. Is that something you would say you consciously play with, that feeling of nostalgia?

EH: What I like about recordings in relation to photographs is that the frame is much bigger. Anything within the range of the microphone is there, as opposed to a photo, where you know that so much was happening just a foot away from what is seen.  I’ve been thinking a lot, especially with this album, about how much is not intended in an overt way, yet comes out and is threaded together after the fact. What I’m conscious of is the sound itself and how it makes me feel while working on it. Instinct plays a large role in these decisions and other things come out of that naturally. For example, I wasn’t aiming to play with a sense of nostalgia, but inevitably with recordings of places, that feeling is on the verge of being evoked. After finishing the record I was a bit more aware that I was exploring past experiences, including some that involved the recordings themselves, as well as using certain sounds to touch on those ideas, those memories, reframing them and re-editing them. My hope is that it’s more about how a sense of the past relates to the present and the future. How we remember is important for right now because it steers our behavior in the day-to-day.

LG: A lot of the street scene noises and other atmospheric sounds you are using seem to capture an auditory experience that we rarely take notice of on a daily basis. Our brains ignore the background hiss. Interestingly enough, once these sounds are played back to you on a recording, they instantly evoke an emotional response, transferring the listener to a different place and time, yet there aren’t many artists using these types of sounds in a compelling, creative context. Do you feel like the art of field recording is neglected, if there is such a thing?

EH: My hope is that there’s an emotional response. I think it’s important to listen to the world around you in general –  to take note of your surroundings – if for no other reason than to train yourself to pay attention. It can translate in a lot of ways that are helpful, if not meaningful. I’m actually less interested in field recording itself than in manipulating those recordings. The recordings are fodder to be edited. So, for me, field recording is just a step, and not the end in itself. I’m making something with it to inject some of that real-world incidentalness into structured musical pieces, to have that element which I want to hear, to tell a story of sorts, without actually telling it.

There is a sharp, perceived division between music, sound art, meditation, environmental sounds…but these are all the same thing. We have fallen into a trap of thinking they need to be different categories but they’re on a fluid continuum.

LG: On your earlier recordings, your approach seemed to be more deeply rooted in minimal techno/dance music. Is club culture still something that you draw inspiration from?

Ezekiel Honig – “Past Tense Kitchen Movement”

EH: Absolutely, but increasingly the inspiration comes more from past experiences getting funneled and filtered forward to the present. Once something becomes part of your language it is just part of your language and you begin to make it your own. It is meaningful to know where it originated but it can move out of that context and begins to be used differently, to become part of a new system. Sometimes I hear a new techno/house track that gets me excited to play with that structure again, but it inevitably turns into something else, getting buried and muted in the mix because that’s just what I want to hear. I have always been more interested in things that hint at something which they aren’t, that nod towards an interest without wanting to completely be that thing. Yes, dance music of various kinds is a big influence, translated through my distance from it.

LG: Is the album format something you consider important in regard to your musical output?

EH: I have thought about this so much, and in fact, with almost every album I’ve made there has been a moment in the process when I thought I would just do an EP or a mini-album, and then reconsidered and pushed forward. It’s funny because I do it every time and I never remember that it’s part of my process.

I wrote a post about this question a year ago or so on my site, thinking about the importance of and need for the album, especially in light of the changes of the music industry landscape, the way things are contained and sold. At the end, I think the album format is essential for me because it allows a more developed statement to be communicated, a more nuanced story to be told. If I made tracks that were club hits or ‘singles’ in some sense then the album would be unnecessary, but that isn’t the case. An album (or something longer) gives me the room to write pieces that are meant to specifically not stand alone, but to add a touch to the whole. As examples, the final track on this album and on my previous one – both make more sense in context and in the sequence in which I laid them out. They are scenes within a broader work, and that is one of my favorite aspects of producing an album, that means of communicating differently.

LG: Finally, are there any future projects or releases (whether your own or music you release through your labels) you want to point out?

EH: I’m working on a handful of projects which I’m not quite ready to talk about because they’re in such an early stage. On the label side, Anticipate is going to release a 12” with a track by a duo from Philadelphia, Bunnies + Bats, with remixes by myself, David Last, and Nicholas Sauser, followed by a massive CD/DVD by Offthesky, entitled Geometry of Echoes. Those will both be out later in 2011, probably late summer and fall.

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