New York producer and DJ Gunnar Haslam has long honored the brainier side of techno, and his latest album on L.I.E.S, Lebesgue Measures, released on February 17, is no exception. The LP's cerebral title references a technical term used to describe a standard way of "assigning a measure to subsets of Euclidean space" (thanks Wikipedia!). But while you might expect a complicated explanation for his choice to name a release after a math equation, Haslam nonchalantly explains that the title mainly just applies to the fact that all music is reducible to quantitative analysis. "Could I make [a track] that isn't measurable?" Haslam ponders over sips of coffee when we meet up on a recent February afternoon to go through the record collection stored in his sunny Fort Greene apartment. "No, it's impossible," he continues. "I got obsessed with the idea."
When asked how the tracks on Lebesgue Measures came together, Haslam said he doesn't give much thought to his productions—his songwriting decisions are unconscious. He also stressed how the process took longer than expected because he wanted the album to be on only one disk, so it could play for longer without having to be flipped or subbed out for another side. In other words, his musical concerns are pragmatic, rather than academic.
While Haslam's approach to the heady concepts driving his music can seem casual, his output over the last few years has been ruthlessly efficient. Lebesgue Measures is his third album in as many years, following a string of celebrated EPs on labels like Brooklyn's Mister Saturday Night and Dutch juggernaut Delsin. Like his previous releases, the new record thrives in its simple dynamic shifts; on tracks like "Nonservo," he toys with sparse atmospherics that unexpectedly unravel into in-your-face acid bombs.
To get a window into the mathematical world of Lebesgue Measures—and Haslam's own eclectic tastes—we asked him to take us through his moderately sized but unusual stash of records. Read on to find out which slabs of wax influenced the new album, what his favorite L.I.E.S. release of all time is, and even what he throws on while cooking.
THUMP: Can you tell me about some records that influenced your new album?
Gunnar Haslam: Ryuichi Sakamoto's "B-2 Unit" is a reason why I love and am generally committed to the single LP. It's 40 minutes long, a really nice length. Sakamoto is a big pioneer of all sorts of electronic and popular music and iit's kind of all on here, but it has a cohesion, and that's generally what I'm trying to go for in any of my albums. The constituent parts are all very different, but if you zoom out on a more macro level, here's a more unifying sort of thing.
NSI's Max Binski is record I've loved for a long time. It's on Cadenza of all places, which was actually a pretty good label in like 2006, though now they only just put out really awful techno. NSI is Max Loderbauer and Tobias Freund, who both have been huge influences on me for a long time. A lot of my album was written using MaxMSP and also my Korg MS20, which I think has a similar sounds to this record. The track "Clara Ghavami" was sort of the hit from this record, as it's a really subdued, bizarre techno thing. That really influenced the record a lot—strange melodies and textures.
Another big one for the record would probably be most of Sun Electric's stuff, which was Max Loderbauer's group in the 90s. Self-Titled is probably my favorite record of theirs, which is kind of weirdly a split release between R&S, and Apollo, the ambient subsidiary of R&S. So it's a strange record all over. The sleeve was done by Designers Republic, who went on to do all of Autechre's record sleeves. [Designers Republic] actually did all the design for Wipeout, the Playstation game. The record has some dancefloor things, some ambient things, but it's all doing pretty much the same, just coming from different vantage points. I don't know if you're driving to or from the rave when you're listening to this one, or if you would always hear it in the club, I like playing it out though. It's got a really unique vibe.
What's a record that represents your formidable years coming up as a DJ in NYC and going to The Bunker?
I had been going to the Bunker for years at this point, but playing out live at one of the No Way Back parties they would hold in the back room one time was Jay Ahern, as Cheap-N-Deep.
It's worth mentioning that the front room at the night was Container, Bee Mask, John Elliot, and Ricardo Donoso—people who are pretty well known and huge now in the experimental-synth scene these days. Jay Ahern is someone who I think is criminally underrated, and he's been involved with techno forever under a shitload of names. I play [Words, Breaths and Pauses] all the time, and when it came out in 2008 [Jay] was also doing a bunch of records under the name Hauntologists. I had heard some live recordings of him, and was really fascinated by it. It was this really dubby 808 music, and it's just so good. This is one of those records that I feel like it should be really rare and hard to find and super expensive, just because of how good it is, but it's not, and I don't really understand that. I guess that's not why I'm some sort of record speculator or something. This is what I want to hear, peak-hour of going out—really super hypnotic, ultra-heavy techno.
Can you pull something that's a bit strange and weird?
I futuribili by Egisto Macchi, who was part of the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza which was an improvisatory Italian group in the 70's. It was led by Ennio Morricone, but it was kind of leaderless. It's a library record, and it was really the guys from Demdike Stare who turned me on to this stuff. They sampled these records to hell and back, so I don't sample them, but it's incredible, highly avant-garde, and deeply strange music I would have paid $300-400 for this before it got a very small reissue, and that's probably what it will cost in 20 years. I don't know if the audience for these kind of records will ever be huge, but there'll always been weird people coming down the line that need this record—they were done with the assumption that someone would use them in a film score or something down the line. I think this is the way that composers like [Macchi] got to make music that they wanted to make. They felt a sense of freedom and just put it out.
I'm seeing a lot of cookbooks around the apartment and I can tell you like to make food. What's something you throw on when you cook?
I would definitely be something that I don't have to turn over very often, because if got sauce on my hands, I don't want to get it over all these records. Usually I'm not listening to techno at home, I listen to a lot of reggae. I'd say this record is listened to a lot — Peace and Love by Dadawah. Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald have been the kings of reissuing reggae over the years, and I think this one is on a new label, with Mark Ernestus and Mark Ainley, who runs Honest Jon's—it's called Dug Out. They reissue all of these reggae records they love. It's kind of spiritual dub music.
You have had a pretty intimate relationship with L.I.E.S. What's one record they've released that means a lot to you?
[Two Dogs in a House] is Ron [Morelli] and Jason AKA Steve Summers' project. I had known Ron for a while, and he would just send me all of his records. I think he sent me this in the summer of 2013, and I guess this was the record that convinced me to send him music, because it was so good. I think it's not one of the most fetishized records in the L.I.E.S. catalog, but it's one of my favorites. It's just two long jams, one on each side, and it's really bizarre. Ron sent me a bunch of stuff when I started making music, and I was trying to figure out who to send it to, and then he sent me this and it really blew me away. This was when I decided I wanted to send stuff to Ron, and I did. That day he was like, 'cool, let's do it.' It feels good to choose a L.I.E.S. record that Ron made. He's also a very talented musician in his own right, and I don't think that's always recognized.
What's a record that you bought during one of your stints living in Paris?
Xenakis is the best. I can't think think of any 20th century composers that loom a large as him for me, not just because he was a crazy architect and mathematician, but because he was very different from I in the way he thought about his music. He thought about it a lot, and I don't think about my music at all. He was also obsessed with things like randomness in music and while a lot of this genre of music can sometimes feel really dry, his stuff was super forceful. Metastasis/Pithoprakta/Eonta isn't electronic but it has "Metastasis," which is probably his best known composition. I got it for 1 euro or something at a flea market. Whenever I see Xenakis' name on something, chances are I'm going to buy it, because I love it so much.