It's -26 degrees Celsius, dark, and I'm terribly under-dressed for the weather. Clutching a recorder in one hand, and using all my efforts with the other to balance myself on the slippery path, I'm beginning to regret choosing Toronto's High Park to interview David Psutka (a.k.a. Egyptrixx). Two minutes in, with my pasty Irish face already as red as a stop sign, I nod fiercely—not in agreement or out of sense of journalistic professionalism, but because I'm scared that my head will freeze if I don't keep it in motion.
Fortunately, after a while my my blood sluggishly begins pumping; perhaps it's just the outgoing nature of Psutka himself. Either way, warmth begins to creep in. Only now does the haunting beauty of High Park at night reveal itself. Usually crowded, the lack of people makes it all the more striking: its atmosphere is somewhere between fairytale and murder scene. Cold, vast, and intriguing, the landscape inevitably invites comparison with Psutka's new record Sign of the Cross Every Mile to the Border.
"One of the ideas was to do things with sound that were almost glacial," he says. "I wanted it to be really big, almost to the point of being physical or tangible. So, some of the songs are full spectral sounds. It's the entire spectrum frequency, the entire width of sound, which, especially in a venue, will seem huge."
This new album is the first full-length under his Ceramic TL moniker. Its immense sonic landscapes are often hard to get a grip on, leaving you to wander the punishing tundra with no real landmarks to speak of. Though it's not necessarily a stylistic 180 from his prior Egyptrixx material, Sign of the Cross is a different animal entirely when it comes to the recording process.
"The Egyptrixx project is actually pretty rigid," says Psutka. "It's about hijacking these ideas and arrangements from club music and then just blurring and distorting them. Ceramic TL is completely independent of that. It's about really unusual and singular abstractions of sounds. So, I guess I sort of started the record with visual ideas and arrangement ideas first and just kind of went from there. It's much more free. It's a much more liberated writing style."
As we trundle through the wooded wonderland, only briefly interrupted by some LED joggers—which Psutka perfectly describes as a "cyber-punk after-school group"—our conversation goes thoroughly off-piste without either of us really noticing. We hop from his crazy great great uncle (a drug-dealing pimp and Olympic gold medal winner in rowing) to Belarusian wrestling without a bump in the road. All the while, the ever-amiable Psutka is acting as tour guide, offering up little tidbits of knowledge as we approach parts of the park like Grenadier Pond — which is "so named because some Grenadiers fell through the ice and drowned during an American attack on Toronto" — or the zoo—which is "pretty shit".
Psutka's sometimes poetic, sometimes erudite inclinations are prominent in everything he does. He just recently got his own show on NTS Radio, runs his own label, Halocline Trance, and has thoughtful track titles like "I Often Wondered How the Group Would React When Eco-Apocalypse Finally Struck"—a comment on last year's Indonesian fires—and "Our Leverage is Weak, There Are Things We Can Do." Considering his linguistic indulgences, some might think it strange that Psutka favours a lyric-less, often beat-less style of music.
"It's less obvious how a record of songs without words can be about anything," he says. "I try to channel scenarios, emotions, reactions, sounds, dynamics, when I write a record. The 'meaning' comes through nonetheless in textures, sounds, melodies, arrangements, structures, and titles. For example, the decision to create physical sound is a nod to the human desire to want tangible things to hold on to in times of crisis. I wanted sound that could be felt and could comfort."
It's perhaps this esotericism, this desire to create music that requires some reflection on that part of the listener, that has Psutka taking up the position of an outsider. Though a Torontonian through and through, he scarcely considers himself to be part of its scene, or that there is in fact a scene at all.
"I know a lot of people that are like scene cheerleaders in the city, who think that Toronto's really happenin' and that it's really on the radar, but that's not my experience," says Psutka. "I'm not really excited about much that's going on here, but at the same time I don't really participate. I'm operating on the fringes, so to speak."
Sign of the Cross Every Mile to the Border is out March 15th on Halocline Trance.
Daryl Keating is on Twitter.