Marcus Eoin and Mike Sandison will try to deny it, but they are very concerned about how the public perceives their music. There is absolutely nothing contemptible in that, quite the contrary. If he could have, Stanley Kubrick himself would have painted the theaters where his films were playing if he felt that they weren’t dark enough. For Boards Of Canada, it's a bit the same. Well, okay, they won’t come and set the equalizer on your stereo for you or change the layout of your audiophile speakers, but they will take care of all the details; from recording to promotion. So it’s only with the release of the LP, The Campfire Headphase (2005), that the duo reveal that they are actually brothers. Why hide such a bland biographical fact? Mainly to avoid comparisons with Paul and Phil Hartnoll of Orbital, they argued at the time. Curious. No doubt they also wanted to avoid a series of questions about their childhood, family, etc. As such, it is particularly instructive to read the articles written at the time about the Beach Boys, The Jesus And Mary Chain and Oasis. However, it’s not so hard to imagine that the Sandisons get along a lot better than the brothers Wilson, Reid or Gallagher. As kids, they already played music together. When they were ten or twelve years old, they tinkered with multi-track VHS. Later, Marcus joined a metal band in secondary school. But that wasn’t Mike’s style, even then, the two brothers continued to fiddle with their synths together. The early 90s is the prologue to the story of Boards Of Canada. A musical framework slowly takes shape and compositions are born. The tracks they made during that period would be enough to fill a few albums, but Mike and Marcus just weren’t good enough, at least, that was their opinion. Having heard some of their old songs; cassettes they distributed to their friends up until the release of Boc Maxima (1996); the first version of Music Has The Right To Children (1998), it’s clear they had what it takes to make the heavyweights of the IDM era (Aphex Twin, The Orb, The Future Sound Of London, Orbital and Autechre) green with envy. Ever since their first release, Boards Of Canada took time out to trim down, polish, refine and tweak to achieve the style they had in mind. Mike once said he could easily spend time and money to recover the right audio material just for a few seconds of music. This is probably why, Tomorrow's Harvest took seven long years to reap.
In electronic music, the expiry dates can be short: the days can be worth a few weeks, the years a century. Boards Of Canada’s is the sort that doesn’t ever seem to go out of date. If it seems that time has no hold over their music, it could be that the two brothers are fond of vintage equipment. Certainly, their old equipment give a certain patina to their sound, but their choice of abode and studio location must play a part, too. Of course, in the Scottish countryside where the reclusive composers live time passes slower. Much slower. If living in such isolation allow them to develop a different world, it’s also a direct route to feelings of resentment and antisocial paranoia. How to find the right balance? "Aha, but we’re not really hermits"
, Mike makes clear, email being the preferred means of communication favored by the group at the time of promotion of Tomorrow's Harvest in the world. "When we speak of isolation, it is from an artistic point of view, not a social one. We don’t feel the need to hang out in an urban context, to keep abreast of what is happening in music, what's popular, etc. That sort of thing: fashion, urban culture - is just background noise for us; radio interference, it becomes a big distraction when we try to create our own music, a good deal of modern music sounds like it was composed by artists who are constantly trying to look over each other’s shoulders. I prefer the pre-Internet era when musical styles were clearly defined. That way different groups and styles of music could evolve independently and develop fully, in a concentrated and exclusive way. The internet and an hyper-connected urban life destroys that kind of purity."
"Retro" you can say that again! So then, urban modernity creates negative vibes that affect creativity. On top of that, as he confessed recently by email to the Guardian, in reference to the book You Are Not A Gadget (2010) by the American author Jaron Lanier, Mike believes that “modern technology often gives an illusion of empowerment while in reality it's increasingly all about removal of liberty, and homogenising the user base." This morose yet relevant observation of society has been growing for some time. It recalls the post-apocalyptic films of the 70s - Soylent Green (1973), Logan's Run (1976), Silent Running (1972), Phase IV (1974), etc. - paranoid low budget series of the early '80s (Italian zombie films notably). A fairly uninsightful and downright fanciful forecast, these films are much more interesting in that they reveal our social and ecological anxieties; our collective phobias. Despite the appearance of a clichéd Instagram, the cover of Tomorrow's Harvest just… fits: the San Francisco skyline breaks the line of a desolate horizon and disappears as if engulfed by an incandescent glow. We look upon a city as if in agony, then as a mirage, the persistent memory of a forgotten utopian future ... When the needle hits the vinyl, the atmosphere is almost palpable. Mike lays it on thick in the Guardian interview again "We've become a lot more nihilistic over the years. In a way we're really celebrating an idea of collapse (the track Collapse is in the middle of the album) rather than resisting it. It's probably quite a bleak album, depending on your perspective. It's not post-apocalyptic so much as it is about an inevitable stage that lies in front of us." So much for setting the scene. Certainly, based on one’s personal film experience, or the rapport that each of us has with the music of Boards Of Canada, the album probably won’t evoke the same images. The precise dramatic outline drafted here by the Scottish duo, show that the random and abstract Super8 collages that once served as promotional videos are now an irrelevance. Even if we find a few smooth, familiar sounds, Tomorrow's Harvest is not really an album of progressive ambient electro or an acidic sound kaleidoscope. It was conceived as a soundtrack and must be taken as such. Unfortunately, today, no one is around to make the ideal film for it and this is probably also why nostalgia operates from the very first notes. The Sandison brothers also tip their hats to low budget series composers from the 70s and 80s : Mark Isham, Fabio Frizzi (the composer for Zombi 2 in 1979, a fake Italian Romero sequel), Stefano Mainetti (Zombie 3, 1988) Wendy Carlos (The Shining in 1980, Tron 1982) or John Harrison. The latter seems to find a special place in their repertoire. The sinking feeling of White Cyclosa (track 3 of Tomorrow's Harvest) strangely resembles the introduction that Harrison plays for The Dead Suite, from the soundtrack of Romero’s Day Of The Dead (1985), whilst not being as oppressive and nihilistic as a zombie film. The atmospheres are more subtly layered and the emotions that emerge more diverse, but no less intense. This is certainly one of the more sincere and moving tributes given to this genre of cinema from the electronic music genre. Now let’s allow Marcus and Mike show off their wares in their own way.
What is your strongest memory (musical or non-musical) of the past seven years? Have you been missing the recognition all this time?
Mike Sandison :
The births of my children have been the most intense memories of recent years. Being a dad makes you more aware of our planet’s long term problems. On a more personal level, this probably gives me greater self-confidence and esteem, which helps make up for any external approval. Anyway, I would say that I still couldn’t care less for artistic recognition. I’ve learned to go with my gut, my instinct, to compose music that I really want to hear
The treasure hunt for the promotion of Tomorrow's Harvest, searching for hidden clues on a variety of media and over different continents was fun. Aren’t you afraid it will make your fans search for hidden meanings (wild ones often) in your music? Or is that part of the musical experience for you?
It may actually be part of the musical experience but you’ve got to avoid making it seem forced or artificial. The music has to be enough in itself. In this case, we thought that this method would go well with the general atmosphere of the album. It also gave us the opportunity to get away from the boundaries of the audio format and create a game that involves the listener.
We know that you enjoy paranoid or post-apocalyptic movies from the late 60s to the early 80s. Instrumental electronic records are often compared to film music, and even if it’s a lazy or easy comparison to make it really seems relevant in the case of Tomorrow's Harvest.
Yes, of course, is exactly what we wanted do. We have always collected these sort of films and soundtracks, so this is something that has influenced our music from the very beginning. And it became more intentional on this album. We hope that anyone who likes this kind of cinema will be inspired enough by Tomorrow's Harvest to make their own visual interpretations.
The Campfire Headphase was built as a collection of pop songs while Geogaddi (2002) was much more abstract and ambient. The general structure of the new album is actually a lot more elaborate than that.
Actually, we decided early on that we wanted to give it a soundtrack feel, but to make this type of album is a real challenge without it sounding too cheesy. So when we started working, we listened to a lot of soundtracks, including some from the 80s, by focusing on specific issues, studying the practices in terms of layout and timing. The ideas we learned gave us a framework, a structure to expand upon. We knew exactly how it should begin and how it would end.
Could you give us a soundtrack in particular?
No, there’s no theme or soundtrack in particular that inspired us. As I said, we mainly shaped the sound and visuals of Tomorrow's Harvest based on our memories of some of the films of that time, generally dark and pessimistic. There are a lot of budget films based on survivalism, horror, political conspiracy, uncontrolled science, etc. Electronic music is regularly used in these works ranging from dark loops, synthetic atmospheres and sometimes even tribal sounds. Strangely, the horror and sci-fi movies of the 80s are often filled with a sort of cheerful dark humour. That's the kind of atmosphere that we tried to recreate.
The production and arrangements of Tomorrow's Harvest are really impressive. All your albums have this retro warmth, in comparison the latest release sounds much more hi-fi. Have you changed something in your recording methods and how it was this part of the writing process?
Because we designed this record as a soundtrack from the past, we knew that the production would be a very difficult exercise and everything had to be perfectly arranged, much more than on our previous LPs, where we went out of our way to fuck up elements to get that grainy sound. We certainly used a lot of vintage gear for this album but if you play back the music that inspired us carefully, apart from the fact that they are often made with analog synthesizers and other rudimentary electronic instruments of the time, you realize that the arrangements are very accurate and that the production is still very high.
In light of Tomorrow's Harvest, do you consider The Campfire Headphase, with samples of guitars and the jolly almost euphoric atmosphere, as a digression in your discography?
This may be a digression in the context of Boards Of Canada, but not for us as individuals. We’ve been playing guitar since we were kids - especially Marcus, he’s an excellent guitarist - but we didn’t really want to put this to the forefront in our albums, mainly because we think it would not be consistent with the rest. What we did on The Campfire Headphase is injecting naive guitar loops in the sampler and write our songs around it like we usually do.
Is the material in Tomorrow's Harvest entirely new or have you (re)used any old stuff?
We write and record music all the time and this album consists solely of new songs. We do not have a strict way of working, but generally, we first create several drafts independent of each other, then we choose the ones we like the most and develop each in parallel.
Some of your fans think that there is a link between Tomorrow's Harvest and Deadly Harvest (1977), an obscure Canadian sci-fi film. Is this the case?
Honestly, no. We were not inspired by this film, but I recognize that there are undeniable similarities between the two works. References to the "seeds" on the album are not to be taken literally
How should we take them then?
There are clues in the song titles but if we explain all of it then it longer has any interest!
Do you pay attention to how the public perceives your music? You say you play a lot of guitar music but that this has no place in the context of Boards Of Canada. Why not start a traditional band or even release solo albums?
We don’t really pay attention to how the public perceives us, we only make music we love. On the other hand, we are obviously aware that our centres of musical interests go beyond the usual Boards Of Canada sandbox. And yes, we write and record a lot of music that has no place on a BoC album and perhaps we will explore this in the future.
What does this music sound like?
It’s much less synthetic. I can’t give you a good idea of the style because it’s a bit all over the place. Some pieces are very experimental. We record with friends and use whatever comes to hand in the studio - guitars, drums, stringed instruments and other classical means. In a sense, it looks much more like the work of a traditional band.
And the acoustic version of Music Has The Right To Children, where is it?
Well, it exists. It's pretty lame, but that's what gives it it’s charm. I'm not sure that we’ll ever release it.
The review and BoC interview here.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ea4 ... sp=sharing