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‘Transported Elsewhere’: Campbell Irvine & Function In Conversation

In 2014, Techno stalwart and former Sandwell District member Function decided to revive his revered Infrastructure New York imprint after a nine-year hiatus. The re-establishment commenced with Function and Inland’s ‘Odeon’ EP, which received widespread praise and critical acclaim following its release in May. The following month saw the debut from 23 year old Australlian Campbell Irvine, with remarkable EP ‘Removal of The Six Armed Goddess’. The classically trained composer delivered a captivating three-track release focussing on expansive sound design and acousmatic detail. The atmospheric EP saw the Berlin-based Violinist dilate the possibilities of textural Techno with evident Concréte and Noise influences. Minimal percussive repetition and manipulated vocal samples generate immersive and supernatural soundscapes impossible to ignore.

Although the quality of Irvine’s music is undeniable, it may come as a surprise to some that Infrastructure New York is the home for these compositions. We caught up with both Campbell Irvine and David Sumner, aka Function, to elaborate on the musical background and creative process of Irvine, and collaborative process between artist and recently resurrected record label.

Infrastructure NY

The press release states that you’re a classically trained violinist, the obvious question would be, what drew you to electronic music?

Campbell Irvine: I was initially drawn to electronic music as a reaction against my classical upbringing. The constraints of classical composition, and the requirement of one performer for every instrument suddenly didn’t exist, and so I could create finished pieces of music entirely in my bedroom. Also the infinite amount of experimentation and creation possible at the tips of my fingers was truly inspiring.

After visiting Berlin for three months in the winter of 2009/10, I was exposed to entire new sub genres of the electronic music scene, and so started discovering artists who’s aural aesthetic resonated with me deeply.

How did the release on the recently resurrected Infrastructure New York come about?

CI: After moving to Berlin, I got a job in a nightclub here and became good friends with this amazing girl, Stefanie Parnow. We developed a deeper friendship and I showed her some of my music, which in turn, she showed to Dave. Then a few weeks later she asked me if I would like to release something to coincide with the re-launch of Infrastructure. Extremely humbled and excited, I started putting together some material with a story and framing in mind, and Dave helped guide my tracks to a more Vinyl friendly format and length.

What drew you (David) to Campbell’s work?

David Sumner (Function): It came together very naturally, really. My girlfriend, Stefanie, works with him, heard his music and introduced us. It’s funny, because the story about him does sound a little too good to be true, people are already saying that he doesn’t exist, that one of us are ghost writing. But he is a real person, he’ll be playing his first live set at Berghain next month. He’s an incredible young, new talent. He just made a mix tape of all original music last week in 3 or 4 days just to give to some friends and it’s so good I think we’re releasing it as an album. His ability to create endless, continuous music so effortlessly it blows my mind.


Was working together relatively easy?

DS: It’s been an exciting process to A&R. What’s great is that he wasn’t even looking to release music. When Stefanie heard what he was doing, she knew it was what I was looking for and encouraged him to start releasing music. I like how he wasn’t aspiring to put out records, it’s just something that happened. But he has so much great music, we just had to go through things and piece it together. So yes, very easy.

The acousmatic detail and creativity apparent in each of the three tracks sounds like that of a veteran electronic producer. It seems you found the transition to electronic sound easy. Would that be fair to say?

CI: The years I spent studying classical music and music theory certainly were a good foundation to build upon, and I spent the next three years studying sound design during my film studies at University. I also spent countless hours experimenting with different approaches to sound creation in my own time as a sort of compulsion. So I would say I have definitely put in a lot of hard work to get to the point I am now at with my technical skills and creative approach.

Did you approach these compositions with a particular sound in mind or are they a result of spontaneous experimentations?

CI: Knowing that the record would be released on a label with more of a Techno fan base really gave me a nice focus for my music. I had never really written music with an obvious four to the floor before and it was an exciting new feature in my music. I wanted to create music that has both emotion and a story, yet could also feature in a Techno set or as part of a club night.

The percussive detail is also very impressive throughout the EP. Was generating and implementing these sounds intuitive to you or did they require thorough attention to program?

CI: I think coming from a background in violin and piano, I was always nervous that my lack of knowledge in percussion would show my true colours in my electronic compositions. So I have really focused over the years to refine my technical percussion skills, to the point where it is quite intuitive. I have never used loops or anything like that, and I think apart from the soundscapes and settings behind the compositions, I spend most of my time focusing on getting the percussion instruments just right.

Musique Concréte and found sound seem to play a big part in your compositions. Do you actively make field recordings yourself?

CI: I have a very strong passion for sound design, and the sounds in much of my music are my own recordings, or my own distortions of sound library recordings. I spend a lot of time searching for inspiration in things such as old declassified government documents, or obscure sound library recordings, and then cutting them all up and manipulating them. This record contains samples from videos of the Syrian Civil War, which is something I myself found truly confronting and horrifying. They are distorted and processed completely different to what they originally were, but the same pure emotion and horror is there.

Each of the three tracks are dense, detailed, tribal and meditative. Was this a liberation of expression considering your classical background?

CI: Yes completely, however I grew up listening to many Russian composers, such as Stravinsky and Shostakovich, who would always fill their compositions with dissonance and sound. So I think this density has always been part of what I have done. I have also always been interested in the polyrhythm and timbre qualities of non-Western music, and I think the biggest liberation for me was applying this to my own music, without it sounding too contrived or constructed.

The tracks are infused with mystique, most perceptible for me on ‘Control Through Prohibition or Supply’ and ‘Removal of the Six Armed Goddess’. Does the allure of mysticism play a part in your compositional process?

CI: Yes totally. Music to me is a journey, and I hope I can give to people the feeling I get when I listen to something so captivating that I am completely engrossed by it, and transported elsewhere. This feeling of mystery and the unknown, which are only hinted at by my inspirations, and that for everyone who listens the story and experience is different.

You’ve managed to capture the shamanic and ritualistic outside of the conventional Techno framework. Was this a desired outcome?

CI: A few years ago I discovered Wireless by T++, and was so amazed by how this record drew on archive recordings of East African music and was based around a 2-step 140 bpm beat, yet created a truly unique, modern sound. So I wanted to create a record that had this sound quality, but also felt as though you just discovered it in the desert some time in the future. It tells a story, and builds a sense of mystery and shamanism, but also has a more familiar techno framework.

How do you feel it fits in with the ethos of Infrastructure, David?

DS: He represents a side of the label we were looking for. We’re at a point now with the label where we just want to get a lot of quality records out there without thinking about genres. And he represents that side of things perfectly.

In regards to the future, is your upcoming material in a similar vein or are you tempted to explore more straightforward dance music?

CI: For the moment I think I will keep exploring music in a similar vein.

‘Removal of The Six Armed Goddess’ is out now on Infrastructure New York. Buy your copy here

Photo: Stefanie Parnow

Interview: Manveer Roda