You either get Anklepants or you don’t.
The brainchild of Reecard Farché, the 17thcentury fictional character brought back to life by Berlin-based Australian-born artist Joshua Head, is a deeply melancholic ghost. The electronic music of Anklepants is either loathed or loved, primarily because of superficialities: the mask he wears onstage has an animatronic dildo for the nose, better known as the “facé of Reecard Farché.”
Interviewing Head is an incredibly layered experience—for one, he speaks of himself in the third person, then there are his characters, plus there’s the use of the accent aigu (é) in place of the English vocabulary. With a background in prosthetics and animatronics for films like Star Wars: Episode 3 and special effects forPrometheus, he brings together his talents in robotics and combines them with beats for the one-man mechanical-faced masterpiece. With over 20 releases to date, Anklepants’ voice and input are created from custom controllers and sensors within his (somewhat scary) custom-tailored suits. He combines electronic music with hardware, synths, guitars, animal growls, field recordings and custom instruments.
The question “Why the dick face?” is understandably the most pointed question (literally), but beyond this is a musician who fuels the experiences around him for a complex soundtrack. Also, his You Tube channel is filled with anecdotes from living on top of an African church, which tried to push him out of his former home in London. Here is an interview with Head about his electro, the Atari, and his mask’s secret recipe.
Anklepants music video for "Speak You Little Facehead" which has sparked quite the conversation on You Tube
Noisey: You’ve worked in prosthetics and robotics for films like Star Wars: Episode 3. How did your trademark, the Facé of Reecard Farché, come about?
Anklepants:The Facé of Reecard Farché was in the beginning the direct fusion of prosthetics, animatronics, and 80s animatronic control (retro). Using midi input to output pwm to servo motors gave Reecard Farché the power to sequence servo motors from any conventional midi sequencer.
What kinds of reactions do you get both on and offstage?
As Reecard Farché enters the building, people are generally filled with a desire to touch, a desire for control. Watching Reecard Farché carry out his duties gives the viewer the feeling that their mind is being formatted, and they leave having no recollection of their life before they watched the Reecard Farché. It’s kind of a cleansing experience, and at the same time similar to the feeling when you have not taken library books back, and you realize this seven months after the due back date. Generally its "heterosexual" males that become the most sexually charged, they just want Reecard so bad that their little eyes light up and they forget what they were supposed to be doing. It’s really nice. The bodily gestures of Reecard Farché in the midst of extracting a linear input from the mic I take it is desirable for any social complexion. The suggestion is to try it out; it’s not tested on animals.
What is the mask (the facé of Reecard Farché) actually made of? I’d love to hear how it works.
The facé of Reecard Farché, in the first instance, was panned around central west New South Wales in Australia around the years of 1851.The precious metal was then forged into a cross which was then used as a human control system for some time, then bashed into the phallic shape we see today. These duties were carried out by a small convict boy who was later deployed and exited to Van Diemen's Land (from the main land), for stealing the very tool he carved the head of Reecard Farché with. These days, the face of Reecard Farché is in its final wearable state is of foam latex, a material that is a mixture of up to six components depending on the desired result.
It’s made of a latex base with a foaming agent, a curing agent, gelling, fine cell retarder and flow increaser all whisked in a cake mixer, loaded into a large syringe, then injected into a polyester resin mould. It is then baked at 85 degrees for around one and a half hours. The piece is then washed, dried, seamed and painted. This is common practice for the production of foam latex prosthetic pieces and creature skins. Beneath the face of Reecard Farché lies an animatronic mechanism of abs plastic, T6 aluminum and digital servo motors. This is driven by a control system written in max msp, running inside max for live. This control system deals with not only PWM wirelessly sent to the motors, but also input from the wireless microphone (facé_control_wün), and other sensors tailored into the suit of Reecard Farché. The face can be sequenced or I can hold a button on the mic and then in real time control the x/y position of the face through an accelerometer in the suit, so the face copies my hand gesture. At the same time, this is happening the same input signal can alter my voice, i.e., I move my hand up, the face moves up and so to the pitch of my voice.
Reecard Farché shows how the motion-controlled mask (or facé) works in the studio.
Could you tell us more about your custom microphone, 'facé_control_wün?'
Facé_control_wün is the first example of face-related instrument perfection. The mic instrument is mainly used to modulate voice processing with 16 buttons and eight axis of joystick control and accelerometer, where x-y position of the mic is also used to modulate and automate voice and track effects, multi-track voice looping and all kinds of sample manipulation. These gestures can also be recorded and recalled and routed to various destinations. The controller also has buttons that purely route information from the accelerometer (in the left hand of the suit) to control the XY position of the animatronic face and also to activate voice control of the animatronics and to activate the (in the left hand of the suit) accelerometer to modulate other voice effects, combinations of all of these are also available. These gestures can also be recorded and recalled, and routed to various destinations to create automated modulations. All this is done with the use of multiple max/msp M4L patches, xbee, atmega and custom terminal application, and also a hacked generic wireless mic RF transmitter receiver.
How did you learn robotics? Was it a good escape job from shitty bar jobs in Sydney?
At a young age, I was very into radio control cars etc., so I learned about electronics and sculpting through this from a very young age. As for learning techniques used in animatronics, I was very lucky to be surrounded by very helpful inspiring and open people that guided me into the realms of my interests, which were most areas of the creature effects field. Before this, I was a parts interpreter for European car companies in Australia, microfiche and digital parts catalogues, sadly my mind is still filled with the part numbers for a 20,000 km service or a front-ender for Peugeot 206's but yeah, I kind of finally got out of this with the creation of some stop-motion pornography as my portfolio.
The penis actually moves. Why? Does it make it easier during live shows when holding up the mic?
It moves because it has motors inside it and because I’m trying to hypnotize the audience with a phallic pendulum.
Your character appears to be a man, but women’s dresses play a role, too. Is there more than one character or is there a variety of role playing?
I believe you are talking about the recent photo story Österreichische Edelweiß Geschichten shot by Dina Schweiger in Austria this year, it’s a story based on the Austrian story of the man hunting the rare Edelweiß, the mountain flower that you only find above 1,500 meters. The story ends in horror. Featured is the face in "the male and female role" no gender related commentary is intended, I suppose people can make of it as they wish.
I see you use the accent aigu (é). What is your fascination with French culture?
It is very important to sound exotic, coming from the opposite side of the planet to the é, it is common and in high regard to mimic and or come across foreign to receive and interest or respect within many a social enterprise, this is simply used to constantly outline and enforce this, oh so important notion (i.e. face, hyé and or salomé).
Any new releases in the works?
There will be another 12 inch out early next year releasing four tracks mainly from the Icky Wicky Lollie Pop EP. There are some parts and tunings which have been clarified for the next album. Currently, I’m starting the construction of new instruments, based on non 12 et tunings, varying in aesthetic qualities, some animatronic some slightly autonomous. The first of which is the facé_tar, which will be a fully lip syncing robotic ventriloquist puppet guitar. Once these have been created the complete new show and sound will be well underway, with new facé_es also. Anklepants: both at one with nature and at one with his Lederhosen. Photos by Dina Schwieger.
The track “Why Don't the Cool Kids Like Me” (which immediately starts playing to anyone visiting your website) is serious in its tone, darkly poetic, moody, hypnotic, and beautifully sensational. Do you sometimes just wish people would look past your visuals and take your music for what it is?
This was a live recorded piece using Atari 2600, Ableton and dx7. My face is such a large white flag that sometimes from the visual end, which I think a lot of people first find me, is sometimes locked onto for too long. But if one was to come to a more recent live show, they would understand it is a much more sincere physical experience. I would wish for people to delve frothier into my facé workings and sound and or do with me what they please, but focusing on just the face is only exercising the global message too well, people are so superficial.
The intro of your track “Monk Wün” on your 2012 album Social Patching and the Pixel Pageant Facéd Boy starts with a God quote. Do religious undertones resurface in your work occasionally, that or other forms of worship? “Fucking the Wild” really feels like an anthem.
In my time in London, my studio was in-between two churches, top floor; I was in the middle and ground floor, with five churches in total in the building—African ones. They practiced all kinds of things in that building with completely no regard for anyone including the people paying for the priest’s Mercedes. They attempted to cast voodoo spells on me, and many other death threats and etc.
Anklepants made a video about his religious neighbors in London.
So yes, religion based on Christianity, undertones resurface, definitely, and also the way genre and social collectives borrows religious practice and then class themselves as atheist, this dilution also fascinates me. “Fucking the Wild” is a song that I spent years putting together, its heavily based on the work of Edward Bernays, it’s the alignment of many current musical and social trends all carefully placed next to each other, all wrapped up in a cloak of Bohemian Grove think tank scuba fun. To me, the social experiment works perfectly.
You're an artist who has had over 20 releases, from Anklepants Pl-easekill to öömbianté. While your most recent album is an incredibly layered masterpiece which took three years to create, your past work is somewhat minimal or ambient. What direction do you see yourself moving in for the inspiration for your next album?
The next Reecard Farché album will be an exploration into the wider spectrum of sound, no more 12 song EPs, it’s time to stop seeing the world in 12 colors and flipping through pre-set emotions. This will be further exploring eastern European and newer harmonic voicing, this coupled with new instruments and possibly more members will be the newer face of Reecard Farché.
I see you’re playing Halloween in Berlin. What can we expect to see?
I will be performing at the workplace of Julie and Percy, a juvenile convict that runs the fine establishment N.K. on Elsenstraße in the neighborhood of Neukölln in Berlin. The show will be the most genuine Halloween experience.
Well reading that was kind of intense. Nadja is on Twitter - @NadjaSayej.