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Amen Tma: Messages from another place

Published November, 2014
by Jakub Juhás

Amen Tma is a project of Danky & Acidmilk. The ideas, sounds, atmospheres and thought processes on the album Insect Phonetics Research had been growing for three years. The collected material was released a month ago by LOM and the release was met with wide acclaim. This interview attempts to at least partially, shed the light behind the thick fog that veils this duo.

„We have a long history of unfinished tracks, recordings made during rehearsals for a number of shows cancelled last minute. We also played together in the later live incarnations of Angakkut, where we started experimenting with polyrhythms, layering and percussive sounds. We were wondering how these things could be sequenced, in both analogue and digital domains, partly because we no longer had any other players to try out the ideas. Also, Danky finished his monstrous modular synth case around that time and we jammed on it in the evenings. We wanted to know what is possible with that setup and how would certain things sound like.“

A monstrous modular synth. That sounds interesting, could you elaborate?

It’s a large, yellow wooden suitcase filled with 504HP worth of modules, mostly Doepfer, but there are also some custom DIY ones, truly a wonderful machine. It’s kind of an old school euro modular synth, modules are very basic function-wise, in Doepfer style and there are no crazy modern digital complex multiwave oscillators, no fancy automated sequencing, everything is done manually. That was what we wanted, to put the sounds together from the simplest elements and have total control over it. Even with such a large instrument, we were not able to run more than a couple of lines at a time, but they all had a very unpredictable, vivid quality.

Danky, in another project, Angakkut – on the album Unshaped Unspoken – uses plenty of acoustic instruments (bells, mandoline, xylophone, …), Acidmilk together with Gottlieb immerses himself in psychedelic folk and both are members of a local gamelan orchestra. How have these experiences translated on Insect Phonetics Research, this passion for a wide spectrum of acoustic instruments?

At first, we mainly worked with sequencing and synthesized material, but as foundations of songs began to emerge, other sound sources were brought in: samples, live electric and acoustic instruments, such xylophones, overtone flute or bass guitar. We just played with what we liked at the moment.

We also had the desire to get closer to the complex sounds of acoustic instruments with the synths, as they bear certain unpredictability in the character. Each time you hit a drum or a string, the result is a bit different and it was important for us to achieve such qualities.

We both play in a local gamelan orchestra as you mentioned and this experience definitely influenced us since the initial rhythm experimentation in some, yet unreleased Angakkut tracks, stemming from out fascination of how complex structures emerge, when you combine and layer very simple, but complementary patterns.

And how have you divided the tasks in Amen Tma?

During the early jam sessions it was quite straightforward, Danky was the sound designer and Acidmilk did the sequencing. First shows were also performed in this vein but the dichotomy began to dissolve as the time went on. We tried to split the work on the album evenly, although the final mixing and related matters are in Danky’s hands, since he is more experienced with that.

Your label LOM mentions a three year process of creation. During a careful listen, numerous micro-processes emerge (the metaphor of an ant-hill is in place), replaced by extensive dark planes, the detail suddenly eaten by a black hole from which it reappears across the whole album. Complexity comes to mind. Is this complexity or density reached by a lengthy process of creation? Do you feel in the final result a mark or footprint of these three years?

Definitely yes. The tracks saw some radical changes over time. Before we even began jamming, Danky was working on a song carrying the concept of insect phonetics, that we eventually used for the whole album. For a long time we thought it’s almost finished, but as the rest of the material evolved, we couldn’t leave it as it was.

Looking back now, the recordings of our modular sessions were very raw, they needed to be taken up and processed and that’s when the real composition phase started actually. Before that it was just fooling around with sounds and fragments of rhythms or melodies.

Throughout the album, an initial chaos takes turns with certain order, concept with intuitive construction of an atmosphere, organic noise with regular steel tempo. At times, precise paths emerge, at others, it is not easy to even find the way leading to the next corner. Have you preferred a certain method in your work, which would be somehow more prominent in the result and which with certain distance, would seem present when listening to Insect Phonetics Research?

The concept itself is woven deeply into the fabric of all the songs and we are convinced the album carries a specific, very audible otherworldly presence because of that. Messages from another place, alien to most humans and the desire to experiment with things we haven’t tried before, those are the leading factors that shaped the material and somehow even drained off to the remixed tracks, even though their authors never heard our renditions before the album was released.

Among the bonus remixes, there’s also Sion Orgon. How did you manage to work with him, or in case of the aforementioned album Unshaped Unspoken, how did the connection with Andrew Liles [sometime member of Nurse With Wound and Current 93] come about?

Danky: I met Andrew Liles in 2009 after his solo concert in Vienna. He was interested in my work and I sent him some stuff after I got home. He was enthusiastic about it, so I asked him if he’d like to do a remix.

As for Sion Orgon, I adore his vocals in “Paralyzed” – go and listen to that song, if you never heard it, but I’m not in any sort of contact with him. The remix was arranged by our manager Jonáš Gruska.

Are you planning or thinking about a live rendition of the insect phonetics or is it purely, as the name of the album suggests, a long-term research, which has reached its objective? What are the future plans of Amen/Tma?

We are certainly interested in performing again, hopefully starting early next year. We’re still not completely sure how to do it, but we hope to introduce some new elements. In the past, our shows were largely improvisational, based on messing around with some patches and sequences. We would like it to be more coherent now and about playing some actual pieces, we’d also like to adapt some of the album tracks for the live context, let’s see to what extent that will be possible, since there are so many layers of material. We have no specific plans right now, besides refining our stage performance and maybe compose some new tracks in the process. The research surely isn’t over yet.

This article was supported by the Intenda Foundation.