Interview: Lee Gamble and His Approach to Sound

Approaching music as space and projection: London’s electronic experimentalist deciphers his sonic hallucinations and dehumanized sounds.

Growing up in the outskirts of Birmingham, young Lee Gamble found himself drawn to the old school electro and early hip hop sounds on the radio, followed by a deep interest in original UK rave variants. However, shortly after starting to dabble in music himself, he got bored with the formulaic aspects of loop-based club music, and started to explore the dehumanized sounds and endless possibilities offered by computer music and digital composition. Combining the academic roots of electronic music with the functionalism and tangible excitement of pop culture, Lee Gamble has worked with Bill Kouligas’s experimental hub PAN for his past few projects Dutch Tvashar Plumes, Diversions 1994-1996, and KOCH. A perfect fit, as it turns out, as they provided just the right platform for Lee’s vision of future sounds that could not exist without his deep running, surgical dissections of the UK’s musical heritage.

In this edited and condensed excerpt from his recent interview with RBMA Radio, Lee discusses his unique approach to sound.

Can you talk a bit about your first release?

I was looking into coding, using programming languages to make the sound. I didn’t have a sampler, didn’t have keyboard or anything, I just had this early G4 Mac. I had very few programs, so I started playing around with what you could do with this machine on its own. I started getting into historical computer music, where they were designing synthesis methods and vocalizations of the computer. I don’t know why particularly, but I just had this real interest in working out a way of making this super-dehumanized sound with the machine.

I started typing this code in to create these mental sounds that don’t exist in the real world.

Basically, that first thing I released on Entr’acte – which was a small 3-inch CD – is just me badly coding. I’m not very good at it. But I realized that you could do stuff with it that you couldn’t do with analog synthesis. If you wanted to have 5,000 oscillators going at once, you would need a huge analog synthesizer to do this. So I started typing this code in to create these mental sounds that don’t exist in the real world. I was thinking, “What can I do? What does this computer sound like, in a sense?” I would crash pieces of software and record the output of the crashes. I released another two things in a similar vein, but a bit different, a bit more further developed but still retaining the same fundamental idea of pure digital abstraction. More like sculptural pieces, really.

It’s quite interesting the way you talk about a computer as if it was an instrument. As though a computer has a sound, software has a sound.

They do have a particular sound. Even certain types of programming languages have a certain type of sound. There was two at the time, one was called SuperCollider, and the other one was Max/MSP, which has become a bit bigger now. I remember doing some experiments with some people, listening to a pure sine wave out of SuperCollider and pure sine wave out of Max. There were these weird intrigues.

Also, I was very fascinated by a guy called Curtis Roads who developed a form of synthesis called pulsar synthesis, which is based on the idea of a pulsar, which is a really fast rotating star. If you listen to it on a radio frequency, you’ll hear it just clicking, “tick-tick-tick,” really fast. That’s how they know it’s spinning really fast. It’s more of a granular synthesis than granular synthesis. You’re getting into these absolute pinpricks of sound, which are still sound, they’re still audio, but the musicality is gone from them.

I have to say, it was really not particularly rewarding, a really laborious way of working.

Of course, when you start putting them back together in large swarms like Xenakis was doing, you end up with these huge clouds of sound. I was just fascinated by it. We can take this back down to the smallest sound that we can produce with a machine, then put millions or billions of them back together and see what can happen. I have to say, it was really not particularly rewarding, a really laborious way of working. I would spend such a long time. Maybe if I was a better programmer, I wouldn’t. But I’m not.

For me, it was just pure experimentation: If I do this process, if I take this tiny bit of sound and try and multiply it over, put a process on overnight, let a computer run overnight, come back in the morning and hear what it did, it might just be like a tiny bit of a little buzz. All right, okay. Now you could obviously just press a key on a keyboard and make that sound, you know? But you actually couldn’t, because it’s not the same thing.

Everyone’s got access to all this software now, so I think it’s really important for me to try and have a bit of sound that’s distinctive to me. I think as a byproduct of working like that, that’s helped me to do that. That wasn’t the aim at the time. It’s a bit of a lucky byproduct of that silly way of working.

I don’t think it’s silly. I think it’s process-orientated, as opposed to being result-orientated in a way.

Sure. I’ve read a bit about how other people produce. They generally start off with drums, then put the other stuff in, whereas generally, I’m the other way around. I’m more interested in the fabric of the track. I don’t know whether it’s the way my brain is wired or whether it’s the fact that I’m interested in it, but I always think of these things very sculpturally. For me, it’s as much as a sculptural object as it is a piece of sound.

I don’t want to sound over the top about it, like I’m trying to make it sound more interesting than it is. It’s just a genuine way that I feel about it. Once I get to the point with the track where it feels like something visible, something tactile. Is it warm? Does it have a rich edge? I guess it’s a kind of synesthesia approach? I don’t think I have synesthesia, but I have an interest in that kind of dimension of sound.

By Hanna Bächer on August 28, 2014