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In the Moog: Britain's Add N To (X) favors analog over digital.

On The Wires Of Their Nerves

A pop quiz with Add N To (X)

By Natalija Vekic and Christian Bruno

Across two American releases, British trio Add N To (X) have been rediscovering the imagery and depth of the analog synthesizers. From the dark schizophrenia of "We are Add N to (X)", to the melodic "Barry 7's Contraption" and the manic fusion of both on "Machine is Bored with Love," the group is hardly retro.

While they were touring the States, we had the chance to chat with Barry 7, Ann Shenton and Stephen Claydon. We discovered three surprisingly unpretentious artists in absolute love with their materials and their palette of infinite synthetics. We started the conversation with a question of preference:

Analog or Digital?

Barry 7: The analog stuff is just brilliant. You can't really beat that.The difference between the two is like, with digital stuff, it controls you, because it tells you where to start. You push button A, it's an organ sound. And that's the organ sound; you can't really change it so much from what it actually was in the first place. It's a factory preset. There are strange right angles with analog synthesis. It doesn't really work in any sort of shape or form. You have to get inside it: it's always surprising you, always goes off on different tangents, always has such depth to it. And that's really an odd thing, it's a really aesthetic thing for us. And it's not like we're saying this is a museum, and we're out on the road with it. For us, they're real, living things, they've got their own personality, their own smell, their own ways of doing things, that sounds a bit odd.

Ann Shenton: And the way they look as well. Not like digital, these faceless, black rectangles, you can have just piles of them, can't you? It's not like when you get a hold of a Wasp synthesizer. Or a Spider, or something like that, and they're black and yellow, and they look like insects. They're replications. The noises they have.

Barry 7: And you invent the sound each time, that's what is brilliant about them. I had a Moog for like three years and I thought that I had got to the end of finding new sounds that were in it. People come round and they fiddle about with it, and suddenly they find something completely different, that I could never have thought of.

Ann Shenton: It's brilliant the way that people that don't know the machine go about it. They just go about it in a haphazard manner, which is probably the most brilliant way to approach it.

Stephen Claydon: To really discover it. You might have a thousand permutations on a digital keyboard, but they are always based on one original sound.

Barry 7: And it's not like a retro thing, that's the other thing. We're not trying to recreate certain sounds. Obviously, that taps into a very funny musical memory that every body has. Which is a good thing. But what's brilliant about them is that they can't be retro. A guitar isn't retro, or a clarinet, or a violin isn't retro. All it basically is, as far as I'm concerned, is a manufacturer decides that it's retro and makes it obsolete. And then a collector comes along and decides to make it a valuable object. And in doing that, buys every single one of them so they become really scarce. And therefore, what they are sitting on is a goldmine, which is bullshit, because everybody should have access to things. We don't believe in museums. Alot of people say to us "Where'd you get this stuff from?" And we seem to find it quite cheaply--maybe we're sort of lucky.

With the millennium upon us, does Add N to (X) have any fantasies of what will happen in 2000?

Barry 7: No! Nothing will happen. Everything will stay the same. Everything's still made of brick. Nothing will be made of plastic anymore because oil is too expensive. The millennium is a great big excuse for capitalists to sell shit to you. And I think it's bullshit. And people are just sitting back and wanting this entertainment bullshit, and I think it's really fucking sad. I really do. I think the whole concept of the millennium is this thing where everybody expects change but they're not prepared to go and fucking change anything, they just want to sit down and see what fucking television programs change or what piece of architecture changes. This is not right. Everything should fucking collapse. ...

Nothing means anything. So for me, the best thing about the millennium is that it points at the fact that there is no such thing as time. Time as a concept is dead. There is no such thing as the past, there is no such thing as the future. All you've got is this present time, you've got your dreams in the future which are star wars, which are like fantasy bollocks. You know what I mean? There is no conceptual future. That's why we're interested in someone like Buckminster Fuller because what he said is there is a conceptual future, there is a mathematical future. There is something that actually gives back to human beings.

Stephen Claydon: Shifting kind of systems and energies. And channeling his vision.

Barry 7: This guy is absolute fucking nuts over [Fuller].

Stephen Claydon: What he did was to decide that his life would be an experiment. He called it Guinea pig B, he was the experiment. What he did, with no money and backing, was try and make other people's lives better. He ended up inventing the geodesic dome, the dymaxion house.

Barry 7 [reading from book]: This is good, what he says here: "Fortunately the 'do more with less' invention initiative does not derive from political debate, bureaucratic licensing, or private economic patronage. The license only comes from the blue sky and the inventor's intellect. No one licensed the inventors of the airplane, telephone, the electric light, or radio to go to work: it took only the dedicated initiative of five men to invent those world-transforming, world-shrinking developments." I love the way he talks, the "do more with less" invention initiative. And that's what we try and do. What we set out to do is buy this equipment incredibly cheap, because we can find it and it's obsolete. And do more with it than anyone else. ... That, everything, is the plan to Add N to (X).

Stephen Claydon: Buckminster Fuller had massive respect for anyone who dared to be naive. This is one of his challenges. To go out and put yourself on the line with this stuff. It's so radical.

Barry 7: He's very anti-politician. The whole political structure is designed by these people to suck your energy, suck your money, take as much as they can from you, but give nothing back necessarily to the people that are actually there. Like, we've been driving around, and you see certain things that just sort of crop up in certain places.

Like what?

Barry 7: Detroit is a place that is going to happen. You can just sense it. And there are people there, and they are living amongst absolute derelict shit. But they got a record shop, and they're doing this weird stuff, and there are bits and pieces of it here and there. But there is no reason for them to be there. No one lives around them to make them cool or trendy. But they got the guts ... that's what's great about America. They got that frontier sort of spirit. When you go to Seattle, you can see that Seattle used to be like Detroit. Now it's not. Now on Capital Hill, for instance, everything's antiques and everything's like ...

Gentrification.

Barry 7: Right, and all the cool people have moved in, exactly.

The cool people with money.

Stephen Claydon: Who act as a kind of filter between the interesting stuff and the person at the end of it who ends up having to buy it. And getting their knowledge of the world through that. Detroit is this fucking crazy shit, and you've got to get out of it, but at the same time, it's vigorous.

Barry 7: It has potential, and that's what's brilliant about things, is that wherever you go, there is some place that has potential. You drive past trailer parks and they have potential, everything has potential. You've got to find a new way of living in order to find a new way of expressing the way that you're living.

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From the December 20, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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