Experimental waveform peddler David Letellier, better known as Kangding Ray, boasts an impressive catalogue of glitchy, abstract, techno psychedelia. One of the most prolific members of the Raster-Noton label, the French-born, German-based producer routinely injects a component of social and political intrigue into his projects.
In the case of his latest LP, the warm and hypnotic Cory Arcane, his humanitarian themes are demonstrated through an accompanying written story concerning the album's fictitious title character, a young French woman. Earlier this month THUMP had the opportunity to catch up with the producer, following his gig at Toika in Toronto.
THUMP: Cory Arcane has been referred to as a concept album. What does that designation mean to you?
Kangding Ray: I have no idea why they decided that it's a concept album. I guess each of my albums is a concept album because I build a story around it. I release an album to express ideas and concepts, whether its aesthetic, political, or just something I can say at that moment.
The story that accompanies Cory Arcane seems like a 21st century hero narrative. Do you consider her to be a heroic figure?
She's a fictional character, but she's supposed to represent the current state — especially a lot of the young people trying to navigate in this crazy world right now. I don't have much to say with my own history: a white heterosexual producer living in Berlin is very boring. I don't have the narrative to say something big, so that's why I built this character.
There seems to be a growing concern regarding the sexualization of women in electronic music. Is Cory Arcane a reaction to that?
Yeah, I guess. You know, I don't present her in a really sexualized way. It's more the way she is struggling with being accepted and not actually succeeding in the process. It's like a tongue and cheek sort of critique, it's almost like humour.
Do you see techno as liberating, in the sense that it provides a gender-neutral space?
No, not gender neutral because that would be sad. I hope there's still gender because it's a good thing. It's just a matter of acceptance of different sexuality and different kinds of behaviour. But, it's not amelioration of gender; it's more just an acceptance of it as a whole. Differences are interesting — it's what makes the world interesting.
Telling a narrative through sound seems to harken back to the sentiment of second-wave Detroit producers like Jeff Mills and Robert Hood. Is there a synaesthetic component to your narrative?
Yeah, synaesthesia is a concept I've been working on. Even when I was an architect, that was one of the main themes. I always try to transcribe synaesthesia into sound afterwards. First, it's ideas and then concepts, textures, and colours — then it becomes sounds.
Several of the album's tracks emphasize continuously-evolving 16th note textures. Does this type of approach serve as a primary tool for articulating your narrative?
At the beginning, it's just pure sound exploration. It's actually just fucking around with a modular synthesizer. When you can put words on this is when it becomes intelligible, but at the beginning, it's so much more intuitive and has a lot to do with the physical relation of the sound. You know I will feel like Ok this is it, this is it and I don't know. Then, I realize I can actually do a track that's something people can dance to.
Cory Arcane blurs the lines between percussion and melody — many of the textures used serve dual purposes. Would you say that's a major factor in your approach?
Yeah, I'm not into this sort of clear layering of things. I don't believe in this thing where you say "this is the bass, and there's the melody on top, and there's the drums" and it sounds like a band. When you make electronic music, the interesting thing is about blurring these lines. The beat can totally be the melody at the same time, and there's so much more depth and possibilities that you can achieve through that.
Do you feel that music, electronic music in particular, is a means of spiritual enlightenment?
Totally. The space of the club is made for that, it's a political resistance to alienation. It's a space of freedom, and it should stay like that. With the commercialization of public space, and the capitalistic idea of every space and time of our life should be used to consume, this is a liberation. It's precious.