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Turning Japanese

Bogdan Raczynski traces his journey from Poland to America to Japan to England, where he's furiously processing garbled beats for Aphex Twin's record label, Rephlex.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Camped out in the U.K., unable to travel to the continent because of ambiguous visa issues, Bogdan Raczynski corresponds via email in advance of a formal phone interview. It’s mid spring, and the silent gap between the release of his first album, Boku Mo Wakuran, and his second, Samurai Math Beats, will soon come to a halt, only to invoke another gap in advance of a third album, already in the works.

Both records are on Rephlex, a British label part owned by electronic musician Aphex Twin. Like Twin, Raczynski makes richly playful computerized pop in which goofiness and madcap invention feed off each other relentlessly. Hearing the two albums, one can’t help but imagine that he was a big fan of arcade games as a child. Raczynski will graciously discount the comparison, but it’s worth considering as the albums unfold. The material is reminscent of Jonathan Richman’s eternal youth and James Kochalka’s unbridled id, but thoroughly pixelated in ways that pop music fans are only beginning to wake to. To hear Raczynski talk about songwriting confirms that it’s no less new to him.


 

Date: Tue, 18 May 1999 12:25:46 -0700 (PDT)

From: Marc Weidenbaum marc@disquiet.com To: Bogdan Raczynski Subject: hello from Pulse! magazine (and disquiet.com)

Bogdan,

Rephlex’s publicist passed me your address. I am writing a story about you for the US magazine Pulse!, which is published by Tower Records/Video. He suggested we do this as an email interview, which is something I haven’t done in a while (I usually do them over the phone), but if you’re up for it, then I’m up for it. I really enjoyed your last album, and have just begun spending time with the new ‘Samurai Beats’ one.

Before I blather on, I’ll wait to hear back from you.

Thanks.

-Marc Weidenbaum

PS: Oh, yeah. Disquiet.com is a little web site I do on the side; it’s where I post material from old stories once the magazines they’ve been published in are out of date.

PPS: In the spirit of full disclosure, what follows is the unedited copy of a review I wrote of your ‘Boku Mo Wakaran’ album:

Bogdan Raczynski ‘Boku Mo Wakaran’ (Rephlex) Musicians who make drum’n’bass, electronic pop’s avant-garde extreme, often incorporate the sounds of video games and children’s toys. Bogdan Raczynski mines everything from tin xylophones to windup noisemakers, plus a wide array of modern synthesizers, to construct his purposefully distracted music. Perhaps this vein of sampling is intended to provide familiar focal points amid the hallucinogenic goings-on. More likely, though, those sounds are important touchstones — the sonic memories that inform Raczynski’s work, most of which bounces around with the pace of an arcade game. The bass end hums like an ominous, circling death ray, while melodies (or their nearest equivalent) ricochet about at maddening speeds. There are moments of peace among the 26 tracks here, notably the elegiac closer, but Raczynski loses patience with patience fairly quickly.


 

Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 07:33:45 PDT From: Bogdan Raczynski To: marc@disquiet.com Subject: Re: hello from Pulse! magazine (and disquiet.com)

oi marc, how do?

Rephlex’s publicist passed me your email address.

I am writing a story about you for the US magazine Pulse!, which is published by Tower Records. It was suggested we do this as an email interview, which is something I haven’t done in a while (I usually do them over the phone), but if you’re up for it, then I’m up for it. I really enjoyed your last album, and have just begun spending time with the new Samurai Beats one.

yeah, i reckon you can do much more via email. you have to develop an impression without hearing my voice. and you can’t really tell if i’m making anything up or not. not that truth is important when it comes to advertising media, eh? :)

PS: Oh, yeah. Disquiet.com is a little web site I do on the side; it’s where I post my old stories once the magazines they’ve been published in are out of date.

will have a peek. cheers.

PPS: In the spirit of full disclosure, what follows is the unedited copy of a review I wrote of your Boku Mo Wakaran album:

for what? yer home page?

Bogdan Raczynski’ Boku Mo Wakaran (Rephlex)

>

Musicians who make drum’n’bass, electronic pop’s avant-garde extreme, often incorporate the sounds of video games and children’s toys. Bogdan Raczynski mines everything from tin xylophones to windup

i like the words electronic pop’s avant-garde extreme. sounds quite accurate. dunno about video games and children’s toys, tho… which brings me to my opinion about musicians and their music. i think your opinion is more important than mine. of course you have to understand that from the point of view that you normally read things, you-centered. when someone reads a comment that i make about anything, they should realize that it’s my opinion and not theirs. and vice versa, my comments shouldn’t mean anything to anyone else. perhaps that’s a bit harsh. regardless, what i’m trying to say is that what others get out of my music is more important than what i say about my music. but hit me anyways…

noisemakers, plus a wide array of modern

synthesizers, to construct his purposefully distracted music. Perhaps this vein of sampling is intended to provide familiar focal points amid the hallucinogenic goings-on. More likely, though, those sounds are important touchstones — the sonic memories that inform Raczynski’s work, most of which bounces around with the pace of an arcade

game. The bass end hums like an ominous, circling death ray, while melodies (or their nearest equivalent) ricochet about at maddening speeds. There are moments of peace among the 26 tracks here, notably the elegiac closer, but Raczynski loses patience with patience fairly quickly.

indeed, i am an impatient boy. the pace of life at the moment bothers me quite a bit. i was walking home one-day (quite un-romantic story, oh well) and got really impatient with it taking so long so i started to run. perhaps it’s an impatience that exists because i know what i want from myself and others and life and i can’t be fucked to wait around for it. “…yer still young…” most will most likely react with. oh well. if my age means i demand more from myself and am too impatient to wait, then so be it. i can’t imagine i’ll change in a few years, and if i do i see it as a bad thing. i fear becoming soft and fat and squishy sitting in a chair behind windows in the summer thinking about how nice it’d be to be outside. not to say that i’m as active as i’d like, but i find entertainment in other ways. back to the self-centered me-theory. in that, i think all is defined by self. the words i use obviously mean different things to me than others. as they well should. people shouldn’t take my comments to heart because i say them, but because it might strike them. bunny rabbit style.

make sense? i suppose it’s a bit hard to make sense of things when you think that my words might mean completely different things to me than they do to you. hope none of this is insulting…


 

Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 07:33:45 PDT From: marc@disquiet.com To: Bogdan Raczynski Subject: Re: hello from Pulse! magazine (and disquiet.com)

Bogdan — good morning – Sorry it took me a while to reply. I went away for the weekend.

You asked where the review of ‘Boku Mo Wakaran’ appeared. It ran twice, first in epulse, which is Pulse!’s weekly email zine (I’ll subscribe you if you’re interested) and it will appear in the next issue of Pulse!, which comes out on Friday.

So, now for a handful of followup questions:

  1. You mention your age. I’m told you’re 21. Can you tell me a bit about how you got to 21: apparently Poland, some time in Japan, and now England are a big part of the picture — at least geographically. I suppose this is the space for those basic biographical facts — schooling, background, etc.

  2. I’ll quote from your email:

you have to develop an impression without hearing my voice.

That could be said for your music as well. The first record didn’t have much in the way of recognizable voices, which is ordinary for experimental electronic pop music but not for pop music in general. What lead you to open the new, ‘Samurai Beats’ record with a vocal? It seems like the perfect song to listen to while standing in line waiting to see Star Wars.

  1. What are the titles of the songs on the new record, anyway? I don’t know Japanese.

  2. Again, I’ll quote from the email:

dunno about video games and children’s toys, tho…

It is funny about how we hear different things in music. I heard resonances of old video games in your music, and of wind-up toys. Frank tells me that you programmed the entire record on a single computer — certainly that computer has opportunities for sampling. What is your set-up? I ask for the following reason: one of the things I struggle to do when I write about electronic and other experimental music is to describe how the music is made. The reason I do this is because I think that the primary thing that stands in the way of a general public accepting new music is that they’re so used to music whose format (bass, drum, guitar) is fairly self-evident. To your point –

what i’m trying to say is that what others get out of my music is more important than what i say about my music. but hit me anyways…

  • what I think stands in the way of people “getting” something from the kind of music that Rephlex and similar labels release is that people are so unfamiliar with the music that they hearit as noise. I think one of the purposes that music writing serves is to provide a kind of introduction, some context.
  1. The “bunny rabbit” reference was lost on me.

6.

it’s an impatience that exists because i know what i want from myself and others and life and i can’t be fucked to wait around for it.

So, what particularly are you wanting — the release of your records, more work with other artists, some kind of stature in the world of music? I ask because I’d like to know what drives you. One of the beautiful things about electronic releases at this point is that they’re generally not intended for a mass audience, which means that the music is often more personal than the stuff you hear on the radio.

  1. Speaking of patience, please give a try at the following: If you could invent any sort of music-making machine, what would it be like?

  2. A simple one: what are the three most recent albums you’ve purchased and books you’ve read?

I think I’ve gone on enough for now. Perhaps it would be a good idea for us to talk briefly on the phone. I am in California. Are you available tomorrow morning (Wednesday, 5/25)? I could read your email reply and then ring you. I think there’s an 8-hour difference, and I am an early riser (that’s how my impatience plays itself out).

All the best.

-Marc

PS: I’ve asked question #7 of many musicians. Aphex Twin described a future music machine as follows:

With a computer, definitely, with a really good interface, not just a keyboard and a mouse — some sort of wicked interface you can stretch and squeeze and blow into and

lots of other things, as well as use with a mouse.

Meat Beat Manifesto’s Jack Dangers described a sampler with a built-in record catalog, so you could pull up not only samples but also information about the source of the samples (record cover, liner notes, discography). And several other musicians declined to answer, including Photek, saying that they’re most interested in exploring the limitations of the machines available.


 

Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 15:38:41 PDT From: Bogdan Raczynski To: marc@disquiet.com Subject: ‘allo

Sorry it took me a while to reply. I went away for the weekend.

anywhere sunny?

You asked where the review of ‘Boku Mo Wakaran’ appeared. It ran twice, first in epulse, which is Pulse!’s weekly email zine (I’ll subscribe

you if you’re interested and it will appear in the next issue of Pulse!, which comes out on Friday.

where does it come out (pulse!) ? is it an american mag or a uk mag?

So, now for a handful of followup questions:

i think i got hit by a car this weekend, are these questions going to appear in an interview article? or just for fun? :)

  1. You mention your age. I’m told you’re 21. Can you tell me a bit about how you got to 21: apparently Poland, some time in Japan, and now England are a big part of the picture — at least geographically. I suppose this is the space for those basic biographical facts — schooling, background, etc.

i was born in poland, but during my first few years i was apparently (as my parents have recounted romantically on rare occasion) sick in the hospital to the point that my parents didn’t know whethere i would come out. my mom used to talk (once we were in america) about how she’d wait in food-lines for four hours just to get some bread or a bit of meat with her meager food ration stamps that she received each month, only to be turned back when food ran out. so we moved to america. i fattened up and discovered the wonders of soda pop & transformers (the bug ones were my favorite). i’m still fascinated by the concept of individual modular robotic units that are self-sufficient yet can combine to form a much larger more utilitarian function/machine. went to japan at the age of 20 and wound up skipping school to roam the streets of nagoya at night stealing cardboard and manga. eventually i went to tokyo to look for work where i had my stint with the yakuza working in a jazz club (i used to play trumpet). visa ran out, no job, no money… yak yak. went to america. went to england to play chinese checkers with rephlex.

  1. I’ll quote from your email:

That could be said for your music as well. The first record didn’t have much in the way of recognizable voices, which is ordinary for

experimental electronic pop music but not for pop music in general. What lead you to open the new, ‘Samurai Beats’ record with a vocal? It seems like the perfect song to listen to while standing in line waiting to see Star Wars.

i like to think of my voice as a synthesizer. for example, i can hum melodies far quicker than i can play them on a real synth/instrument. i include lyrics but whether they’re understood/heard is not as important (to you?) as the vocal pitch. well, i suppose that’s a lie. the lyrics are the songs. oddly, the concept of using vocals seemed new to me at the time. all the tracks were made in 2 days directly after the intense chinese checkers competition with rephlex in england. actually, i use checkers in the track to symbolize doing something with someone. i suppose that’s obvious? it’s no fun to just say “let’s get frisky” when you can be more romantic and mysterious by saying “i just wanna play checkers.” or perhaps i put in vocals because i knew it would mean that i would become more comfortable with my voice. slowly moving away from the shy and sheltered boy that i’ve been for the past 20 years.

  1. What are the titles of the songs on the new record,

anyway? I don’t know Japanese.

they’re really pretentious concoctions. i could blather on about it and that may make it more pleasant or it may make me seem more pretentious. each character was selected for it’s meaning with the rest of the characters in a title. but also, each of these characters was given a reading which meant something different altogether. for example, track 4 is can be read ‘iai’ , the first character means ‘different’ the second means ‘love’, in my mind meaning something like bad love. but, the reading for the first character is represented with a different character and so is the 2nd character. the meaning for the reading is ‘the art of drawing ones sword.’ hmm… not as complex as my inability to explain it is. please tell if you still don’t understand. i’ll try to re-explain.

  1. Again, I’ll quote from the email:

dunno about video games and children’s toys, tho…

It is funny about how we hear different things

in music. I heard resonances of old video games in your music, and of wind-up toys. I’m told that you programmed the entire record on a single computer — certainly that computer has opportunities for sampling. What is your set-up?

i use(d) a ratty old laptop and a sequencer program. no external gear, just the laptop. although, now that i think about it, the albums might be more interesting if i had actually used the laptop as an instrument (ie, slamming it against the wall-literally) instead of just using software.

I ask for the following reason: one of the things I struggle to do when I write about electronic and other experimental music is to describe how the music is made. The reason I do this is because I think that the primary thing that stands in the way of a general public accepting new music is that they’re so used to music whose format (bass, drum, guitar) is fairly self-evident.

does that mean that if i sampled nothing but guitars and drum loops (ninja-poon? chemical sisters?) that i’d have a bigger audience? perhaps this is true, i’ve never really thought about it, good theory though. i’m not sure why people would be interested in the method at all. in fact, i think the more you know about the music the less romantic and beautiful it becomes. you may be impressed and awwed once you find out that i only use a laptop but that will also probably make it seem less beautiful than if i told you i had $130,000 worth of gear. the secret is out so i won’t hide it, i simply ask that people don’t assume that there’s a direct relationship between quantity and quality. or perhaps there is, but it’s the inverse of what you would assume it to be. that is, the less you have the more sincere it is because you explore every possibility. the more you have, the more tired you become trying out all the posibilities and the less you explore.

what I think stands in the way of people “getting” something from the kind of music that Rephlex and similar labels release is that people are so unfamiliar with the music that they hearit as noise. I think one of the purposes that music writing serves is to provide a kind of introduction, some

context.

i think music is noise. i so rarely hear real instruments anymore. in fact, i’m quite often disgusted by blatant use of real instruments. often, not always, of course. but there’s no need to get into the debate over what sound becomes once it’s digital and what sound is if it’s analogue. again, this topic of mediums and method only distracts from the possible romance and aesthetic/beauty. i imagine people are uncomfortable with electronic music (those who are) because of the context that it’s in, that is, dance. who these days listens to electronic music in their daily lives except from the saturday/sunday alcohol binges (perhaps it’s only an english thing — alcohol)? instead pop music and acoustic music seems to fill this void. electronic music is rarely associated with listening and mostly with experiencing (ie, on the dancefloor). in which case i think my music makes sadly pathetic dance music except to me. nobody (except maybe dutch gabberheads) is interested in bobbing their heads to 250bpm breaks and melodies.

  1. The “bunny rabbit” reference was lost on me.

no reference, i just like the sound of bunny rabbit. i dislike animals in general, but the sound that the words make are appealing. it sounds obscene, bunny rabbit.

So, what particularly are you wanting — the release of your records, more work with other artists, some kind of stature in the world of music? I ask because I’d like to know what drives you. One of the beautiful things about electronic releases at this point is that they’re generally not intended for a mass audience, which means that

the music is often more personal than the stuff you hear on the radio.

i find that the opposite is true, most electronic music is impersonal because it’s not intended for emotional consumption but rather quick physical consumption. again, kids are at a club, they don’t have time nor the care to wonder what the implications of the vocals squelching out of the speakers might mean in their lives, they just want a quick hedonistic fix. i’m all for hedonism. the more joy the better.

as far as what i want from music i’ve been thinking about it myself as well lately. strange how it’s normally an afterthought. i’m not sure stature is important as i’m aware that that sort of thing is quite temporary (i’m not innocent tho, i can’t lie and say that i’d hate to see my name in big print and to have people recognize me in the streets, i want to feel important just like anyone else). what i want is happiness (you must be laughing at my horrible spelling!). i definetly want to have more of a musical impact, not in the sense that i want to change peoples minds because only they can do that themselves and i doubt that sort of thing ever happens through music and always through people. it would make me happy to do remixes and other musical projects (installations/other mediums of art) because it would mean that i could meet more people and try different things. my life isn’t delegated to sound, i also experiment with visual/writing/yak yak. doing this will hopefully put me in touch with people who have interesting ideas and opportunities. i want to write music for streets and toilets and buildings to be played via conspicuously placed speakers. i want to live, and live to me means being happy doing what i want and being with good people. eating well is a bonus.

  1. Speaking of patience, please give a try at the following: If you could invent any sort of music-

making machine, what would it be like?

it would be a direct mind sequencer. in that, i could directly compose things with my mind. although computers make it easier to work with music than in previous years, i still think it’s an archaic process. ideally, what i hear in my head would be recorded. then i could multi-track this or sequence it or chop it up or do as i please with it. i can’t be bothered to learn about chord progressions or how to play an instrument, so often translating what’s in my head to audible sound is quite difficult and results in a completely different outcome. i’m not talking about using the mind as a sequencer in the way that keyboards or guitars or samplers are used to sequence midi, but quite literally recording the sound that is in the mind. strange how it isn’t even sound tho. what exactly is the sound that appears in your brain? it doesn’t make any noise yet it has pitch and noise content!? harnessing it and recording it will be my ideal way of making music.

i’ve thought about a mind-camera as well quite often, that would allow you to simply take pictures of what your eyes see. thus you wouldn’t have to worry about lighting or angles or any of that bizmackle, you could simply look at something and take a picture of it with your eyes.

  1. A simple one: what are the three most recent albums you’ve purchased and books you’ve read?

music is too expensive to buy these days i think. my own albums included most likely. instead of big blocks of audio (albums) i listen to subway trains and cars and shoes shuffling and people chattering. instead of reading books i eye in the corner of my eye the insane amount of advertisements in the subway trains and billboards and on covers of newspapers. albums and books seem to be the idealistic representations of audio and visual. but the most of what i inhale in regards to these two mediums is (perhaps arguably) without plot and without melody. imagine if all this worthless advertising and street-noise actually had as much meaning as books and albums. i suppose it sounds then that i’m not interested in meaning, which i don’t think is very true. no, in fact, i so rarely hear music or read anything that is the slightest abbreviation of personality or emotion or desire. everything seems to be catered for quick-consumption now-a-days, and i’m desperate for something more staying and permanent. i can read a book and it’ll end and so will an album, but the cars never stop and the trains never stop and advertisements are always there and they change often and develop often. seemingly this trash develops and progresses more than music and literature. ironic. what do you think?

I think I’ve gone on enough for now. Perhaps it would be a good idea for us to talk briefly on the phone. I am in California. Are you available tomorrow morning (Wednesday, 5/25)? I could read your email reply and then ring you. I think there’s an 8-hour difference, and I am an early riser (that’s how my impatience plays itself out).

sorry i wasn’t able to reply quickly enough. you’re welcome to call anytime of the day anyday, chances are i’ll be home if it’s in the morning (and most likely any other time). let it ring at least 15 times tho cuz it might take me a bit to get my trousers on and run to the fone. i’d love to be woken up and then talk, i imagine it’d be a completely different perspective.

forgive my horrible english, i often forget words (although i hear them in my head i forget to type them) and my spelling is shite at best. i had to make room in my head for the masses of japanese characters and so my sense of grammer/writing went out. All the best.

have fun!

bog

pardon if the response is a bit too long for you, i lack control when given such an opportunity. thanks!

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