The pace of the digital world can be dizzying. A world of pop-up ads and the jarring disconnect of the invisible algorithms that drive the endless scroll of our social media feeds can create for an overwhelming experience.But Joe Williams, a Baltimore-based producer and songwriter, doesn't necessarily see the breakneck pace as cause for concern. Whole strains of club music are dedicated to the accelerationist, dystopian feelings that the modern world can conjure, but Williams work as Motion Graphics is a little more complicated—a little sunnier somehow.
Even if you only knew the name Motion Graphics, you'd imagine that there are some futurist fixations. But now that the producer—who made some acclaimed records last decade as White Williams, and has since worked in the small scene around the experimental dancefloor enthusiasts in Future Times—is finally preparing his debut album under the moniker, his vibrant explorations of contemporary technology are more clear. Williams' Motion Graphics works are fractured and high-gloss, cycling through synth sounds and MIDI instruments at random thanks to some nifty Ableton program. The rhythms are familiar (see the subtle nods to juke on "Anyware" or to 80s synth pop on "City Links") but the movements are fast and flickering—a shuttering collision of sounds and styles that feels like it was generated from the disembodied guts of a rogue central processing unit.
But again, if that sounds scary, take a listen to songs like "Houzzfunction" (premiering here). Despite the relentless chatter of a variety of sounds, there's no tendency toward darkness. He stays centered, presses forward, sings gently like he's just on a neon-bright drive down the information superhighway. In advance of Motion Graphics release on Domino on August 26, THUMP caught up with Williams to talk about his unique take on the blinding pace of modern life, and how he chose to reflect it in his work.
THUMP: So from your moniker to the album art, through the track titles, down to the high-gloss sounds you use, this is very obviously a project concerned with the way we use technology and communicate in a digital era. Can you tell me some of the things you were specifically trying to tease out in that realm on this record?
Joe Williams: Nothing was really fully formed from the jump. I knew I was working on a synth pop record of sorts, although as I was writing it I was actively avoiding the sentimentality that often is packaged into that genre. I think a lot of the themes on the record appeared as I was making it, often in hindsight. It took me a while to hear a ringtone in the marimba from "Anyware", for example. It happens almost by accident. But I think that stuff sort of happens organically when you choose to filter things out in concept. Sift away the detritus and eventually a shape emerges.
The press materials say that the record was made with "randomized software instruments," what does that mean practically, and was there a specific feeling that you were trying to provoke with that choice?
I made this sampler instrument with Ableton Live that scrolls through 100 different instruments at random. When you hold the notes down it freezes the instruments in pitch and time. It never plays the same combination of instruments twice, and sort of mimics that rhythm we get from aggregated news.
What do you mean by mimicking the rhythm, is it sort of randomness of social media algorithms?
I wouldn't say its relationship is with math/algorithms, it's more like this daily activity that we all deal with. We live comfortably with this train of thought that gets divided so finely by however you designed your twitter feed. Everything is abbreviated. You can hear it in pop-ups, or the advertisements that precede any YouTube video. It's really common, that's why I like it. It's a shared experience.
But interruptions are nothing new really, I grew up with a TV pretty close by from a young age and I sort of also see it as extension of that. There's a personal connection there. It's fun to think about how attention span affects listening, and I see this area as a frontier to work out my ideas.
There's a tendency to look at music like this, that's so fixated on technology and made with state-of-the-art tech as being futurist, but your work seems almost more concerned with depicting the present. Would you say that's accurate?
I think thats accurate. Theres nothing on the record about an imagined future of this or that with that finger-wagging dystopian prediction. I think of this record as something more like ambient music. There are a lot of incidental pieces that make up a larger whole, and it wouldn't work that way if it didn't sample the present day.
Your record feels remarkably light—maybe optimistic even, despite the fact that it's concerned with these ideas. Is technology something you're heartened by, more than scared of?
I'm not sure. I don't really see it as two opposites like that. Those kinds of topics are so big I don't know who would be able to represent that in a record. With regard to the sound: I think there is a lightness in some of the tracks but then it can also be contrasted by more intense sounds and transitions. I think the mood moves around a lot. What I like about the record is the focus on these everyday experiences rather than "technology!" for the sake of it. This is also how I see it relating as a type of pop music.