Q+A: Five minutes with Rich Aucoin
Canadian musician Rich Aucoin loves a challenge. In 2007, he famously supported the release of his EP Personal Publication with a country wide tour of Canada, travelling between cities entirely by bicycle. It was a feat of endurance that appealed to Aucoin’s innate maximalism, an instinct later reinforced by the inclusion of over half a thousand guest artists on his debut album, We’re All Dying to Live. His latest project sees Aucoin investigating his love of electronic music, a slight shift from the exploratory indie pop he is best known for. And of course, true to his spirit, Synthetic is as much a spectacle of endurance as it is a collection of stunningly realised music. The project sees Aucoin attempt to play “more synths than any other in recorded history,” both a love letter to the history of these iconic instruments, and Aucoin’s own obsession with the sonic possibilities of this technology. Planned in four seasons, Synthetic is massive in scope, kaleidoscopic, and daringly ambitious. We caught up with Aucoin shortly after the release of Synthetic: Season One to find out more about the project, and what he has in store for future seasons.
Set the tone for us, where did your journey with music begin?
I’ve loved synths since I was a kid. Air’s Moon Safari was a particularly ear-opening album for me, and a gateway to the sound of synthesisers. On the one hand, I was getting into more synth and prog rock, or moog albums, and on the other getting really into Squarepusher, Amon Tobin and Aphex Twin as a junior high school student, without quite the means to make that music yet.
Your latest project, Synthetic, promises to feature “more synths than any other in recorded history.” Where does your fascination with this gear stem from?
With all my records, certain rules get made to shape the albums, whether it be using vocal samples as the foundation for all the songs like with Release, writing the records to sync up as an alternative film scores like Dark Side of the Moon does, or writing an album for the USA on my bicycle while cycling across it. As this turned into my synth record, I realised it would be singular to my discography, so I might as well try to use as much as possible. So the record kind of turned into a tour of the history of synthesisers.
This is a loaded question. Do you have a favourite synthesiser, and why?
Moog Model D. It’s just such an intuitive instrument and has that classic synth sound. That slightly rolled off, filtered triangle wave is one of the first sounds that made me excited about synths.
The project is massive in scope. What prompted you to approach it in seasons?
I guess, with the big projects I do, it helps me to break them up into parts to not be bogged down by one element. Also, the sheer amount of work it’ll take would have delayed the release for at least a year, and releasing 4 hours of music in the highly competitive streaming world of 2022 is a risk. But lastly too, I wanted to start a conversation about this album, and invite folks to engage with it. And that could only really be done by releasing the material over 2 years, and taking 4 years to perfect it.
Could you tell us a bit about the process behind creating Synthetic? What did a typical day in the studio look like for you during this project?
It started with writing some demos using VSTs in my bedroom studio. Then, I did a residency in 2020 in Calgary at a synth museum. I recorded on 60 or so of the rarest synths there, and started more demos and experiments on them. Then coming back to the bedroom studio in 2021 (after a covid hiatus), I started crafting the songs from all that work. Since then, it’s been going back and forth between home, NMC, and the Vintage Synthesizer Museum in LA. I’m pretty economical and surgical with my studio time, so I just go to studios for a short time and then do more of the tinkering at home.
You’re very open to collaboration on this project. Could you tell us how other artists have been an integral part of the creation process?
No one has collaborated yet. Because of logistics, it kind of made sense to make the first part of series solo. The second half will have all the collaborators.
How can other artists get involved for future seasons?
Anyone reading this now, if this project sounds interesting to you, just DM me on any social media platform I’m on.
Stylistically, the music on the first record is diverse. Did you find that each synth informed the direction of the sound for each track?
Totally. Tracks like Tonto had no compositional ideas heading into recording. Instead, I just jammed with the synth for like 5 hours and took the best 5 minutes and turned it into the track. I’m doing the same for a new one I made on the Roger Luther Moog prototype synth. I want the record to be a multitude of genres, with the connection being synthesisers.
This volume swings from synthwave, to techno, to French house. What sort of styles can we expect to hear on future volumes?
I think more IDM, ambient, big beat, german krautrock, and classic house are all on the way.
What would this project look like live, and do you have plans to perform it?
I’ve performed a few album release shows, very minimally so far with only me, my projections, my light show, and my Moog on stage. I think it’ll expand to have drums and more synth players next year.
Listen to Algorithm from Synthetic below.
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