Robert Beatty is one of the more prolific and consistent artists in the noise and experimental circuit these days. Aside from playing in long-term noise legends Hair Police and generating an endless stream of gorgeous album art for an increasingly famous clientele, Beatty busies himself with an always fascinating solo career, generally put out under the alias of Three Legged Race.
This week sees a unique addition to Beatty’s discography – a release of soundtracks for videos made by the artist Takeshi Murata.** These soundtracks were composed between 2004-2007, and the films were screened around the same time. For the most part, this music hasn’t seen the light of day, at least outside of gallery screenings and shoddy YouTube streams. Thankfully, Jason Lescalleet saw the need to release the soundtracks on his own imprint, the always wonderful Glistening Examples. Last week, Robert Beatty took some time to talk to the Hassle about the new release, his favorite soundtracks, and the roles of intuition and intention in his creative process.
**On a special side note, Murata just premiered his newest video work, titled “OM Rider,” on Friday in San Francisco – check out a preview of that below, featuring sound design by Beatty.
Boston Hassle: How did you and Takeshi start collaborating? How did you meet?
Robert Beatty: I read an interview with him online; I think it was in 2003? So, a long time ago. Just kind of got in touch with him cause I liked his animation. And at that point he was just doing more straightforward hand drawn animation stuff rather than the processed video stuff that all of these soundtracks are for. So I got in touch with him and traded some music for a VHS tape of some of his early videos. Then, Hair Police played out in Los Angeles, where Takeshi was living at the time, and he came to the show. We ended up hanging out while we were out in LA, and he just kind of asked. Initially he asked if Hair Police wanted to do a soundtrack for one of his videos. It ended up being easier just for me to do it myself. Hair Police, you know, we’ve always been kind of scattered. Half of us in Lexington, Mike up in Michigan. Just out of necessity, I think, I ended up doing it myself. It worked really well, so we just continued from there.
BH: What was the collaboration like? I mean, I know you have some involvement in visual art; does Takeshi have any background in music? How engaged was he?
RB: Not necessarily. He plays music for fun, but he’s never really played in a band. I think he might have been in a band when he was in school at RISD, for a little bit, in Providence. He doesn’t really do music on his own. He’s obviously super into music, and he takes a lot of inspiration from it. He kind of lets me do my own thing for the most part, though, when we’re working on his stuff. He’ll have little suggestions or things; initial seeds that he’ll plant at the starting point, but for the most part we’ll just kind of send things back and forth and build on what each other are doing.
BH: Were these the first soundtracks you had ever done?
RB: Yeah. I’d done some live stuff, but never anything composed and made to be played specifically with a video – nothing this intense before.
BH: I had read that you were really into animation, and that you had gotten inspiration from that on your album covers – like, Fantastic Planet kind of stuff. Was it cool to be able to work on these kinds of animated videos?
RB: I definitely take a huge – I mean, I would say film and video is a bigger inspiration for me a lot of times than music. Just in that so much of the music that I love is soundtrack music or stuff that’s rooted in experimental film or video. That was what initially drew me to getting in touch with Takeshi, was that he was working in animation, which is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I kind of dabble in. But I’ve never really dove head first into it. Especially, when I first started working with him, he was doing stuff that was completely new for me. He had moved beyond animation and was doing the codec-glitching stuff which was like nothing – he basically invented a new medium, you know? He’s the one that initially discovered that, on his own. And I think that’s kind of why he’s moved on to something else now. It became such a thing that he moved on.
BH: And you mentioned something like that with your airbrush-style, too. That it’s kind of something – not that you would want to stop doing that style of album art, but just that push to do a different style.
RB: Oh yeah, for sure. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing that specific thing, but you get to a point where you just kind of wring something dry, and you gotta let it rehydrate, or something (laughs). I’m not sure if Takeshi will ever go back to doing the glitch kind of stuff, I think he’s pretty deep in the CG world right now, making these still lives and animations.
BH: Was your process different in making them? Would he send you the videos to work with?
RB: Yeah, for the most part he would send me some initial treatments of what he was doing for his videos and then I would kind of go off of that. Most of the time I work pretty free and improvisatory, I’ll just kind of sit down and record stuff. A lot of times my music is not made with any specific thing in mind. Its pretty improvised, and then I go back a do a lot of editing and mixing after the fact. But with the soundtracks it’s different – I’m sitting down with something specific in mind that I want to hear. It’s almost like – you have something to go off of already, you have these visuals, so you kind of have to match the intensity and movement in that, to some extent. Especially when it’s something so abstract, most of the time. But like, “Pink Dot” – that piece was made separate from the video it was used for. I made that just on my own, just as an experiment, then sent it to Takeshi, and he liked it so much and liked the way that it fit that video.
BH: Isn’t the video for “Pink Dot” shorter than the actual piece?
RB: It’s kind of a weird thing, because I don’t know if anybody’s seen that unless you’ve seen it installed in a gallery. The video is a five minute loop, but played four times. So the soundtrack is 20 minutes long, and the video is a five minute loop. So you get basically four different versions of the video within that timespan, depending on how it syncs up with the soundtrack. And that came out of – I sent the track to Takeshi, I think it was longer than 20 minutes, and it was made to be just a slow-building piece. It might have been 25 or 30 minutes long, and he was just listening to it while he was working on the video. He decided to do it that way, where it was a short loop but the soundtrack was longer.
BH: Do you have some favorite soundtracks? Any soundtracks you really admire, that you were thinking about while working on these soundtracks?
RB: Definitely the Andromeda Strain. Gil Mellé composed that. That’s definitely one of my favorite pieces of music of all time. And I think “Cone Eater” was directly inspired by that. Obviously the piece I did was a lot more abstract. Also, a lot of the Tarkovsky soundtracks like Solaris and Stalker. It’s hard for me to be put on the spot – I can never really think of anything. But I did a soundtrack radio show for about a year on the local college radio station here at the University of Kentucky…
BH: So it’s something you’re pretty into…
RB: Yeah, I think it’s almost a cliché thing to say, but I definitely think of a lot of my records as soundtracks to movies that don’t exist. I think about music in that way. I feel like it helps when you’re making pretty abstract music to think about things with some sort of narrative there, whether there is one or not.
BH: Do you feel like a lot of records these days are rushed out?
RB: Yeah, I feel like there’s so much more potential when you take your time. I mean, I’m all for immediacy. Sometimes I’ll record something, and it’ll be one take, and then I’ll sit on it for a year, and release it as is, with nothing done to it, exactly, as it was on the day of recording. But just having that time to evaluate something makes such a huge difference. Most of the music I release is released long after it was made. Just because I don’t want to put out a bunch of stuff that I feel isn’t worth putting out there. And a lot of times you can rush things and it can make everything a little too hasty.
BH: How do you usually judge when you’re done with something?
RB: It’s kind of just a feeling more than anything, I guess. Sometimes when you’re listening to something you can just sort of tell (laughs). There’s a lot of back and forth, for sure. I’ll add a lot of stuff to a piece of music and then go back a couple months later and take out all but one thing. It’s that back and forth, that adding and subtracting, that makes all the difference. I’m not a big fan of deadlines or knowing when the stopping point is. So it’s definitely pretty intuitive, I would say, as far as knowing when something is done. You can work on something forever, but that doesn’t make it any better than the first pass you had at it. It’s just kind of based more on the way something makes you feel. I mean, I’ve been doing this for a long time now, so I think its kind of just knowing what you’re trying to accomplish with a certain piece of music.
BH: Has the way you’ve approached music changed a lot? I mean, you have been doing it a pretty long time; I wanted to ask you a little bit about that.
RB: I definitely feel like I’ve gotten better (laughs) at knowing when to stop, or what is good, you know? I mean, every Hair Police record we record, everybody’s always like, “Oh man, this sounds so much better than the last one.” In terms of fidelity, and dynamics, and, you know, actually sounding like we sound live. But the thing is we’ve been recording on the same exact four track with the same exact set-up for over ten years now. So, it’s kind of just getting better, you know? Just knowing how to do things, whether it’s where to put the microphone or knowing which things to totally blow out on the tapes makes a big difference. I definitely feel like I’ve gotten better at being to accomplish what I want to accomplish over the years.
BH: So, what’s up next for you?
RB: I’ve got a bunch of Three Legged Race stuff that’s gonna be coming out next year. I’m gonna try to do twelve inches – not really singles, but something along those lines. I’ve got one coming up on this label Underwater Peoples, outta New Jersey, probably in the Spring or early Summer next year. Couple other things in the works. I’ve got a duo with Darin Gray, who was in the Dazzlin’ Killmen and Brise-Glace with Jim O’Rourke and Kevin Drumm, and he played on a lot of Jim O’Rourke’s records, and he’s in a band called On Fillmore with Glenn Kotche from Wilco. But we have a new duo that’s upright bass and synthesizer that’s kinda weird free jazz. It’s called Attic Talent. I’m starting a new cassette label next year, mainly focusing on projects I’m involved in, and a couple other things. I’m working on an art book as well, of all new stuff – not, like, a retrospective of record covers or anything. Probably some art shows next year. Keepin’ busy.
Order a copy of Robert Beatty’s Soundtracks for Takeshi Murata from Glistening Examples, here.