A chat with: Kangding Ray

Jacopo Villanacci

Let's start from your musical roots. Who were you before becoming Kangding Ray, what did you listen to at that time?

I was a guitarist in a rock band when I was in France back in the days, in the 90's. The turning point was when we decided to buy a sampler. The band dissolved shortly after and I kept doing music with that. In those years I used to listen to Rock, Noise, lots of Post-rock, Industrial music. My big influences were things like My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, Nine Inch Nails and so on.

And then, after studying architecture, when and why did you decide to take up this career?

First, I moved to Berlin to finish my architecture studies, in the period in which I was doing really primitive sampling music, using lots of recordings. I didn't have synthesizers or other stuff because I didn't have enough money to buy a real gear. At that time, for example, I used a lot the microphone. It was a really concrete approach to the music: scratching on surfaces, tapping on materials, recording wood, ceramic... I was very intrigued by the sound of things, really common things.

And did you create music simply for yourself in that period or were you already thinking to the music industry?

Well, at the beginning when I was in Berlin I was doing music only for myself, not to release it, yet.

Therefore Raster-Noton represented a turning point in your life..

Yes, absolutely. When the guys from Raster-Noton heard what I was doing they told me I should make an album. So I started to work a lot on this new goal, it took me three years to finish it. You know, at the beginning I recorded free tracks, demos and stuff like that... they pushed me towards the album. And I just did it, releasing my first album for Raster.Noton in 2006. Since than I've been doing this. So yes, a big change.

And would you now define yourself as a musicians?

Mmmh, what could be another definition?

I can not help you, it would be unfair: the question is for you!

[he laughs] Ok. My main activity is creating music, I'm doing music all the time, I'm in the studio every day. So I guess... Yeah, for sure I'm a producer and I guess also a musicians, or whatever.. But my main activity, what I'm doing everyday is not only producing music but also playing it live.

Yes: the live performance, its atmosphere, the context, I've read these are things you enjoy most about your work...

It's true, live is a great thing. I really like the fact I have a direct response from the public. When I'm in a club and everybody is dancing, everybody is moving everything is more dynamic. There's an energetic feeling, you get the energy loaded by the crowd and it push you to do things better. Visual memory of those moments help me a lot when I'm in the studio again, trying to develop my sound more and more. These memory push me to work harder.

And do you already think at the audience possible response when you produce?

Nowadays more an more, yes. When I do a track I want it to be nice both when it's listened at home and when is played live. I do not try to create ready-tracks that could be directly played everywhere and everytime. My goals is to create elements that could be remixed live, that could be interpreted live. Solens Arc is really based on this kind of tension between quite ambient and wired arpeggios and hard techno stompers, different aspects that I can really well combine in a live environment. When you play live you have to blend all the elements you've in your hands. It's about deconstructing, of course, but also about reconstructing.

I've read you don't like too much to make comparisons between music and architecture, but I think in some way it's inevitable that your studies influence your way of conceiving things. It's not about music and architecture, but about you and music, I think..

Yes, that's the point: I would say architecture is part of my background so it's always behind everything for me, it's the way I think. But when I'm composing it's not about applying architecture roles. Music has a much more direct approach, it's more about working on materials: when you compose music you're a sort of carpenter. I'm a bit more like a carpenter actually even than an architect. Cutting pieces, assembling them together, polishing... It's like making a sculpture.

Sure. Personally I think that one of the common denominators of making a sculpture, a building or a track is the harmony and proportion between parts of a whole. In your opinion, are harmony and proportion between parts something objective or subjective?

Well, there are certain roles you can apply to be sure there is harmony, but for sure when you have to decide if the result is nice or not, that is subjective. For example, something that could be defined as "noise" for some people could be music for some others. It's the same for proportions: some people says "I like this proportion, I like this", I think the beautiful thing is that some others could say "this is absolutely not talent, it's not art!". So it's a very subjective notion at the end... If you ask to other cultures, like people outside Europe, they might have very different view of armory, proportions and scales. There are not defined rules, or better, there are defined rules but they aren't absolute, all depends on where you come from, what's your background, what's your education... it's all about culture.

Ok, let's get back on your music now. The melodic component is one of your distinctive traits in the Raster Noton universe. Why melody is so relevant in your music, especially in your first albums?

Because from my point of view melody is a subject that should not be let only to sweet pop and mainstream music. I think experimental artists should take this subject and, you know, not be afraid to work on it. I have the feeling that sometimes is too easy for experimental artists to go directly into non-harmonic structures and compositions  � that actually sound like experimental music, at the end. On the contrary I think melody it's important, melody has so many aspects that could be used. I mean, it is also possible to work on it through really different ways from the radio format. What I think is that we should not let this subject only to Rihanna and Katy Perry. Melody is what touches really profound things inside the human brain and human body. It goes directly very deep. It doesn't need to go necessarily thorough the brain, it's a fantastic medium to actually convey messages and to get back an immediate emotional response.

From Stabil to OR there are lots of changes, and I suppose there will be many others with Solens Arc...

[he grins] Yes, you bet..

From your point of view, how it has changed your music from Stabil to Solens Arc?

I guess my music has been influenced lot by my live experience, like playing live, places where I've played, responses I've got from the crowd. I guess, more and more in last years, I've been influenced by the techno world, by simple things like going out in Berlin, clubbing, encountering new human beings. I've met people from Ostgut Ton, Sandwell District, guys like Peter Van Hoesen and so on. All these people I met on my way I think have really influenced my music, until the point I was asked to make a release for the Stroboscopic Artefacts, that is definitely a techno label.

And do you think the collaboration with Stroboscopic Artefacts has been decisive for this change?

I think all this happened after Lucy listened to OR album. Priutt Igoe EP was the turning point, I think. I guess Lucy was really impressed by this record, he felt the potential in me to do something significant in the techno realm. In my opinion this is way he asked me to do something for the Monad series. Everyone remained surprised by the success of the EP, because I don't come from a proper techno background as Monad series do. And I was really surprised too, I mean, for me it was something wired to create so functional tracks. For sure this started to shift my music into a more techno environment.

And I imagine this changed purpose and concepts behind your tracks, at least in part...

In part, yes, it is inevitable I guess. But I've always thought my music is understandable without having to explain the concept. It needs to be direct, clear and emotional... if one wants to dig into the concept he can do it, of course, concept is something I really take care of, but you don't need to go into it to understand music. I try to create music that is enjoyable also if one doesn't read words about it.

Ok, finally,  a silly question, but I want to know: why "Kangding Ray"? Are there links with the chinese county?

It's a very practical thing: I needed to send a name before the first album was released and I was traveling in China in that time, backpacking. I was in this small town in the Sichuan, like a small tibetan culture town so I sent "Kangding", since I was in Kangding, that's it. [he laughs] No Concept behind!

No concept but this is still a story, isn't it..

Yes, it's true: it's still a story.


Kangding Ray

Raster NotonStroboscopic Artefacts

Kangding Ray is David Letellier.
Born 1978 in France, lives and works in Berlin.
Studied and graduated in architecture in Rennes and Berlin, works in different fields : music, architecture, performances, installations.
Evolved as a guitarist and drummer in bands whose influences ranged from noise-rock, to jazz, before buying an akai sampler and moving on to electronic music.
Kangding ray's music reflects his wide musical background, and a particular way of merging beats and textured soundscapes into slowly evolving compositions.
KR combines machines with « real instruments » in a subtle and rythmic suite, integrating digital anomalies, walls of distortion, massive bass lines, micro-noises, voices and field recordings to create tracks that sit right between noise-pop, dubstep and experimental music.
On raster-noton he released two albums so far: stabil r-n073 and automne fold r-n094.