John Digweed and Nick Muir tell us about their new project The Traveler

The musical partnership between John Digweed and Nick Muir has lead to an incredible body of work that’s seen them become one of the most highly regarded production duos around. The pair’s latest offering, to be released next month on Bedrock Music, is an intriguing collaboration with much loved, but enigmatic science fiction writer John Twelve Hawks.

The Traveler album is inspired by Hawks’ Fourth Realm trilogy and features passages from the books, which Hawks wrote while listening to Digweed’s mix albums and weekly radio show.

The resulting record is a unique and powerful work, transporting the listener into the intense Fourth Realm world. We spoke to John Digweed and Nick Muir about the Traveler project and their collaborative approach to creating music.

Hi, how are you and what have you been up to today?
JD: I have just landed in Ibiza and getting ready for my gigs this weekend

Can you tell us a little bit about the initiation of the Traveler project
And are you both fans of the Fourth Realm trilogy, and sci-fi in general?

Yes we both love the Forth Realm trilogy and also  are big Sci-Fi film and music fans. The whole reason this came about was a mutual admiration for each others work, John Twelve Hawks was listening to my Radio show and CD mixes while writing the Trilogy, he sent me a copy of The Traveler and I read it and got in contact with him, we connected and decided to try to figure out a way of working together in some shape or form.

How did you settle on which particular passages/phrases would be featured?
John Twelve Hawks came up with a whole selection of passages and we chose the ones we thought would work best with our music.

How did Hawks’ writing inspire the accompanying music?
It’s the atmosphere that he creates in the book that we took as inspiration for the cuts on the album. There are several themes, all of which lend themselves to different moods. The central idea is based around the dangers of a surveillance society, one in which all our movements and communications are constantly monitored at all times (we’re not so far from that now, it seems) and the resistance that some people put up against this. So there’s a slightly forboding atmosphere to these sections of the book. Another theme is that the main character in the book is one of a small number of people who are able to travel to other realms or dimensions; this is the more mysterious, trippy side of the book which we also reflect in the music.

John Twelve Hawks is notoriously strict about maintaining his anonymity. Can you tell us about some of the difficulties that arose due to this need for secrecy?
We tried to record his voice down the telephone and also with Skype but as he speaks with a voice scrambler the quality was not good enough for what we were trying to achieve.  We suggested him coming to our studio to read the passages so we could have great quality to work with and then treat in varies different ways.  You can imagine how pleased we both were when he agreed and this allowed us to be really creative with his voice.

How did you go about altering Hawks’ spoken word recordings in order to protect his identity?
Well I don’t want to go into to much detail about how we processed his voice but generally speaking we set up various different effects chains, which normally
involved vocoders and various different types of voice altering plug-ins. We had already recorded some of the passages down the phone through his own voice-changing
devices so we took that sound and pitch as the starting point for how his voice would sound on the record and did a high resolution variations of that, basically.

When did the two of you (John and Nick) start collaborating?
Nick and myself have been working together since ’92 and our first original track,  ‘For What You Dream Of’ famously featured in the Film ‘Trainspotting’.

What is it about your approaches to creating music that is so complimentary? Can you tell us a little about your combined creative process?
NM: There are many reasons that a creative partnership like ours stands the test of time, one of the main ones being that we are on the same page as far as music is concerned. We can discuss aspects of the music we are working on and understand the points each other is making. This may seem obvious but in my experience is quite rare. You often hear the cliche that bands and production teams break up because of musical differences, well we tend not to have those.
Also we have very well-defined roles within the partnership. John is a master selector and DJ and I have a strong background as a musician and arranger, the two skill sets seems to
be complimentary. The direction tends to come from John and I do a lot of the arranging legwork but this varies from project to project.

Are there any plans for more collaborative work in the future, or do either of you have new solo material you have been working on?
We have had some fantastic remixes done of tracks from the ‘Versus’ Album, with Fairmont on Gigawave, King Unique on Dawnbreaker, Extended Play on Morphism, and more to come over the next few months.

The Traveler is released on 6th October through Bedrock Music and can be pre-ordered here.

Interviewed by Will Van de Pol