Quest Interview

Kieran, so Quest for the most part has had some small events and performances put together in the recent past but for most people this is your debut of sorts.. how would you describe a project like Quest to a person who’s unfamiliar with techno or electronic music.. like your goals, vision.. maybe artistic statement?

Quest is a lot about process, and in a sense working backwards from the goals that are the furthest “out there”. On a purely sonic level, the three paths are a) design and execution of a live performance that captures the journey-with-purpose Quest vibe, b) producing tracks that DJs can use to add a touch of that vibe to their own sets, and c) DJing in ways that blur the line between PA and DJing altogether, like weaving Stems with Traktor or going even deeper than that with Ableton Link.

There’s also the frontier of blurring the lines between sound and graphics that’s a big part of the Quest project, but that’s going to take a little longer to fully manifest itself in music videos and rave sets that you’ll get to experience sometime in the future.

Can you go into how you came into this concept?

It definitely began with focused piano study during a pretty mediocre high school experience. I also took in a lot of the early rave culture thanks to older siblings, taping electronic music videos to VHS throughout the 90s until I started going to raves myself towards the end of that decade. It was around that time I started buying synthesizers, making everything from trance to ambient and DJing techtrance before the genres separated. I did an audio engineering degree right after high school, then became a music teacher before deciding I wanted to do a full degree in music. Being a recording engineer for that university led me to music technology, while also giving me a massive survey of the entire history of music. I began to see patterns in the kinds of music that attracted me most, whether it was the pure intervals in Renaissance music, the textures of Impressionism, or the rhythmic and harmonic contours of the Javanese Gamelan. I knew I was on the right track, but I wasn’t done yet.

After a break I realized I needed to do another degree in computer science to be able to do what I wanted to do. I finished that degree getting into computer graphics and animation, by which point I finally felt ready to bring it all together. Those degrees meant I had to spend about 10 years away from the electronic music scene, missing a lot of stranger developments like the rise (and fall?) of EDM.

So in a way, Quest is not really a personal project, so much as it’s a way of proving concepts towards what I’d call Texturalism, whether that’s weaving audio layers, tightening up tuning ratios, lining up rhythms in particular ways, or bridging what we see with what we hear.

Techno to me has a lot in common with my favorite classical music subgenres in that sense, it’s a blank canvas with a few basic guidelines rather than those really restrictive genres of music that wind up sounding like themselves too much, year after year.

Your techno is pretty slammin’ and well made. Why would you be interested in interactive multimedia performance than to maybe just focus on making sick tracks.. Isn’t being a dope producer enough for you?
Nope. And it really slows me down, but that’s fine. I had a bunch of works-in-progress from my years away from the scene I was able to bring forward and finish to get an initial set of tracks I can use to keep my live set fresh with, but from the beginning I was inspired by two main things. One is the footsteps left behind by the original pioneers of music, either the electronic pioneers who repurposed equipment and invented new genres themselves, or the ones before them who pushed instrument design forward and invented the rules of music theory from scratch. The other is the visions I had at a lot of the earliest raves I went to in the 90s, brought upon by genuine trance states that for me gave very synaesthetic effects. The lights and visuals started to mix with the sound, and the experience was so profound I couldn’t get it out of my head after having it happen so often to me.
What does it take to make something like this happen, I take it you’re running Ableton and, Max..? How does motion of the crowd or the dancer affect or change what is going on in your live rig?

There’s Ableton, Max, and a fair amount of custom software I had to write myself. Gammawaves Layer 1 on Hallowe’en weekend up in Vancouver experimented a lot with contrasting the motion of the crowd and dancers on the visuals, confirming what I suspected, that once you start to control the sound as well, you’ve got a new instrument on your hands that takes time to learn like any other instrument.

So in that case, we wanted to see how different inputs affected the aesthetic, and it really confirmed something else I was thinking a lot about at the time, something that goes all the way back to the very roots of techno, you can hear it in the lyrics of some of the founding tracks like Inner City’s “Big Fun”:

“It won’t take a lot of thought for you to do it, you just feel the groove and baby then you move it”

You can see this was a big part of the aesthetic in the early days of the scene, whether you watch old Prodigy videos like “Everybody In To the Place” ( ) or even some of the rare footage of the early days of the Toronto rave scene ( ). We definitely confirmed that the only kind of input that has a good result is when you’re taking Inner City’s advice, and letting the music move you. It’s strange because throughout the late 80s and 90s, this was no problem for everyone in attendance. In the Toronto rave video, you can see everyone from the partiers to the MC to the platform dancers all getting down to the music completely naturally. It’s kind of sad that so many of us have lost our ability to connect with the music on that fundamental level, and refinding that is a big part of what Quest and the production crew 7th Sun is all about.

But what if you’re generating the music? That’s a different story. We’ve only come up with two presets so far, each one taking quite awhile to develop. The first preset is a 3-axis joystick, like you could control sound panning moving left and right, volume moving forward and backward, and modulation moving up and down. But combining that musically with button presses for Note On and Off messages takes a lot of practice. It’s probably easier to use it to record in the studio where you can try it over and over again, than trusting it to be done perfectly in a live situation. But we’ll see!

The other presets works with spatial audio, moving sound around on a surround sound system or even on headphones using virtual surround sound processing technology. This works really well with motion presets, synth patches that evolve on their own over time, like Omnisphere.

The final step is going to be to bring these worlds of audio and visual control together, but that’s still a ways away.

The thing I keep thinking of and I suspect it might come across the minds of other people is, if you’re up there, and the crowd is in charge of the sound and the visuals.. where does that leave you as a performer? 
Crowd interaction has been done a lot in electro-acoustic music (I’ve gone through ten years of electro-acoustic music ensembles in universities..), and it tends to never have anything more than a novelty effect. So I’m not really going in that direction. Instead, we are looking at collapsing the barriers between the stage “us” and the dancefloor “them”. If a dancer is out controlling audio and graphics from the sweet spot (dead center) of the dance floor, moving sound around on a surround sound system and painting graphics on a contour projection map, that really switches things around – you don’t know whether to face the dancer to see how they’re moving, face the projection screens to see and hear better what effect that movement is having, or both. It might be a great way to finally defeat that “everyone faces the stage” effect. At Gammawaves Layer 1 we found that having the audience projected onto a layer of the visuals as a point cloud matrix added an interesting dimension for sure, so there’s still definitely something to crowd interaction we want to keep part of the picture.

Maybe the takeaway is a bit clear from all this – we want to bring down all the barriers, even the ones that were there from the beginning of the scene. Blur the lines between performer and audience, graphics and sound, performer and promoter, but still let aesthetics determine how that works out exactly. So there’s still room for what DJs, PAs and VJs bring to the table performance-wise, but the promoter can blend things in different ways, and the crowd can interact on some level as well. Everything has its place, and yet one day we might end up booking DVJs, AVJs, or even electronic music bands like there used to be in the 90s, except now these bands include dancers who use motion controllers.

I’m excited about that future.

What happens when you’re up there and the dancers have 2 left feet? Or worse, there’s nobody around?

Working with dancers who follow what we’ll now call the “Inner City code”, that shouldn’t be a problem. I mean hell, in soviet Russia, techno moves you, right? Maybe we’re only working with Soviet Russians, so to speak. We think the risk is not with dancers having 2 left feet, it’s with dancers dancing in superficial ways, instead of just letting the music move them the way the people on the dancefloor are doing.

As for no one being around, well, even that we don’t see as being a bad thing. Sure, that means whoever is fronting the cost is going to lose more money, but on the flipside, you can experiment more without worrying about gaining a bad rep if you make a mistake, which is way more likely the more you experiment and deviate from what’s now seemingly become the “cookie cutter” way of throwing events. I mean hell, that’s what makes it a show and not a rave – using the same formula over and over again. It’s safe and nowadays that might earn you a rep as a promoter whose events you can buy a ticket for knowing you’ll get a decent experience, but beyond the uniqueness a particular headliner might bring, what else are you getting that’s all that new?

That’s against the aesthetic of what raves used to be all about, that were experimental events held knowing full well that event attendance was going to be as much luck and not getting shut down as it was relying on reputation earned from following a formula that never had a chance to establish itself yet back in the day.

So here you can clearly see the blur between the priorities as a promoter and those as a performer – there’s the intention of performing at the events that are wiling to take a chance and be a rave, and the intention as a promoter of facilitating an environment where everyone can contribute knowing that they are working together towards the bigger picture – music acts should flow into one another, bringing the energy up and down over the course of the night. VJs should work with the music they’re hearing, rather than doing their own thing, etc.

This is what the definition of the Quest project really is – it’s about just being a mechanism for returning to the roots of why the electronic music movement started in the first place, and continuing their tradition of exploring new avenues made possible by progress in the technology we use as artists.

Could a person look at this project like something like a lifesize interactive game? Like, take Electroplankton, or Rez for example. Your background has a lot to do with gaming, does that have an impact on your productions and do you think you’ll find a balance between the audience participation and your role as a performer guiding this project?

In a certain sense, absolutely. I think that in the future we’re going to have a lot of blurring going on around locality. So it might be that everyone has virtual reality systems but they are sculpting audiovisuals in shared virtual spaces that they can log into and share together with other people physically located elsewhere. This might develop the skillset of anyone to the point where they might be able to bridge the gap at a rave where people *are* located together, since they feel confident with the practice they got, and have also become connected with the growing crew that helps to organize the line of raves they’re attending.

It’s hard to put into words what that progression will be like, except that the end goal is the most obvious:

As Scriabin might have put it “All will be participants. The work requires special people, special artists and a completely new culture.”

Another constant is that we’ll continue to let aesthetics lead the way. Some things might be more appropriate for virtual realities, while in real life, people might be more comfortable with letting the performer/attendee divide stand as-is. It’s not up to Quest or the 7th Sun crew to set those rules. We just want to push things along rather than let things stagnate. It’s what the pioneers would have wanted us to do.

Do you consider Quest as a technological, or social experiment? 
I think it’s starting off as an experiment on a lot of levels, whether that be technological, artistic, or social. But I see it evolving into something that probably won’t feel that experimental at all, because there will be a better and better idea of what’s going to come next.2014 and 2015 were two years of pure experimentation under the radar, which were the toughest because they had to be conducted with almost no feedback or support. It wasn’t developed enough to explain and show to people and come across legitimately. Now that it’s getting easier to vividly depict what it’s all about, I think the experimental phase is starting to crossfade into a phase of pretty strong intention – towards maintaining aesthetics while still allowing things to push forward as quickly as possible. In that sense, Quest hands itself off as an initial test-case to the Integrated Multimedia Collective, which is imagined as a group of artists who share the same desire to really make the 21st century stand in its own right, a major new movement in the classical tradition.

While the Impressionists shared their aesthetics between music and visual art independently, they were massively influential on one another.

Now, with what I’d call 21st-century Texturalism, we are taking that to the next level, and literally blending the aesthetics of all these art forms together, and never looking back.

If Quest is something of an experiment.. What’s the best possible outcome if you’d like to see come out of it or where you’d like to see paths for it to evolve?

“Quest” was a name chosen for the Techno manifestation of this effort, which is already strongly interwoven with many other levels of a project that is much, much larger than Quest alone:

“hitonic” as a parallel downtempo/ambient/etc manifestation of the same effort

“KBLFR” as an alternative rock manifestation of the same effort

“1kirin1” as a classical electro-acoustic and pure acoustic compositional manifestation of the same effort

“Integrated Multimedia Collective” as a group of artists that all four of the above projects, for starters, could be organized under, where the priority is creating truly integrated multimedia as the artform itself: the video doesn’t subordinate to the music, and the music is not background music to the video

“7th Sun” as a promotion crew that organizes events to facilitate experiencing of media striving towards the IMC focus, no matter how far along it is

“Texturalism” as a categorical term you could apply to output created by IMC artists who’ve chosen to take that aesthetic to the absolute extreme, where you can hear the ridges in the animation patterns, and see the contours created by the LFO, and so forth. The way we bridge the senses texturally will in turn largely influence how we create for each form of media independently as well, reinforcing the patterns anyone could find in all the forms of media that influenced me in this way over the years – whether it was the classical musical styles mentioned above, electronic and hybrid music styles like minimalism, techno, ambient, traditional art like Impressionism or more modern digital art like the demo scene, the more abstract electronic music videos, etc.

In other words, the paths for it don’t just evolve, they converge. There will be a very fluid and freeform way of creating in the future, shaped by the ebb and flow of whether some people work better on their own, or in groups with others. This may be different depending on how each person applies themselves, i.e. promoted events are more successful with reasonably large teams coordinating their efforts, whereas highly specific artist performances may need the concentrated intention of a single individual.

The whole point of it all is to get away from it having anything to do with an individual’s effort in that way that became so glorified in the early 21st century – i.e. the lone superstar.
An individual’s lone effort may be necessary in certain specific cases, but it is anything but the point of it all. The point of it all used to be very much obviously a collective experience thanks to truly coordinated efforts by many contributors, and sadly this was forgotten largely somewhere along the way.
We need to find that collective spirit again and take it as far as it can go.