Dollars to Pounds: Rudi Zygadlo

March 24, 2010

If he hadn't died 100+ years ago, Charles Darwin would love dubstep. From early experiments in monstrous and monotonous bass, through the skittering grey rain of Burial, to the laidback licentiousness of purple, it has been evolving (ha!) at a ridiculous rate. Glasgow's Rudi Zygadlo is here to confuse matters by stuffing his album full of ecclesiastical influences and taking inspiration from dissident eastern European writers under communism. It's like Frank Zappa dubstep: smart, weird pop songs built with big ideas and the kind of magpie ingenuity that is sometimes mistaken for mental illness. Rudi told me about great books and swanny whistles.

There's a song on your album called "Manuscripts Don't Burn" So are you a Bulgakov fan?
My Dad handed me The Master and Margarita before I went to university and I read it without any knowledge of the social context that Bulgakov was writing in. When I started Uni I and was delighted to find it on the literature program that I took up, which meant I had one less book to read. I think Bulgakov had to burn his manuscripts for the story on a number of occasions to protect himself and his wife from the Soviet authorities in the event of a raid. He died before the completion of the novel and his wife completed it. I can't remember if it's a quote of his or a posthumous tag, but the phrase "Manuscripts don't burn" really struck a chord with me; the notion that you can't destroy an idea, no matter what. In Bulgakov's case I guess its two fingers to totalitarianism too.

And is "Filthy Logic" a Beckett quote?
I wish I could claim that "Filthy Logic" was a Beckett reference. No, I can't really remember where it came from. I think I was disgusted with someone's behavior or something. I'm sure literature does influence my music. The more you read the more your head is occupied with the ideas you've picked up—narrative structures and what not—which, combined with all sorts of other influences, are regurgitated onto the stave in some way. How it translates from words to music I think depends on the composer's idiosyncrasies.

Certain movements are inspiring too. In literature, for example: dissident eastern European writers under communism. We mentioned Bulgakov, a case in point. Novelists were greatly restricted in what they could write about. If it wasn't considered socialist realism it wouldn't be published and you'd probably be persecuted. So they would write allegories to circumvent censorship. Here and now, you can write about whatever the fuck you like. It's great. I think most people are glad about that. But I think there is something to be said about restrictions. My flat mate is always going on about the superior quality of certain musical equipment and I'm sure he's right. He laughs at my primitive set up (a bongo and a swanny whistle). But I like maxing out the possibilities of restrictions, my whistle masquerading as a sub bass etc.

Who are the Great Western Laymen?
We all are! No. What was I thinking again? For starters the title pays homage to the surroundings in which the album was conceived and written: my room on Great Western Road, Glasgow, in between two looming churches. I had already decided on layman before I realized that it also meant a "non-ordained member of the church." The album flirts with the ecclesiastical in songs like "Something About Faith" and "Laymen's Requiem." Furthermore, the track "Missa Per Brevis" is what remains of my original intention of setting the Latin mass to electronic music. There are other connotations of the album title which are a bit personal and a bit vague (maybe a bit naive) but point an accusatory finger at certain vices in Western Society. Silly really.

I was listening to your record today and I had to sit down at a bus stop for a while, until a song ended. It's really dense with sound. It makes me feel a bit anxious. In a good way.
You mentioned that it's tightly packed, dense. Yeah, I'm glad you think so. Certainly on the Laymen album the idea was to have no superfluities. In my mind, there isn't any unnecessary repetition. So structurally there may be a dense feel. With regards to the orchestration, I was kind of going for a wall of sound, fill in the gaps approach a lot of the time: Any Spaces? Ok, stick in a sly arp there, or a screech there and vocal snap over there. So, dense in this respect too. The sequencer looks like a collage. I've never really thought about how I want people to be affected by it. I'm not sure i want them filled with anxiety though.

There's a lot of great musicianship on your record. "Magic In The Afternoon" descends into an amazing piano solo and the alto sax "Missa Per Brevis" is awesome.
The alto sax workout is by Leah Gough-Cooper. A friend of mine I've been sporadically collaborating in some way since school. She is a fantastic player. Having studied jazz composition at Berklee in Boston she is now living in the States fronting her band Human Equivalent. I had my friend Gerry McKeever play trumpet at the end of "Opiate Of The Mass," the album's finale and one of my favorite moments. As a player of instruments, incorporating them was natural. With "Magic In The Afternoon" the piano solo is an abrupt breakdown which succeeds probably the heaviest riff in the album. Adding this gave the track a new dynamic. The juxtaposition of laboriously programmed electronics and instantaneous solo improvisation can be really effective I think.

I would love to see your live show. Are you touring?
I'm doing a few shows here and there. Maybe a little album tour at some point. Setup wise there are logistical obstacles with performing computer based compositions live, which every electronic artist tackles in a different ways. And because live computer music is in no way a novel thing anymore, these days audiences are pretty alert to computer miming. DFA knobs and what have you. At the moment I'm working on a set with live vocals, keys and guitar. Only done a couple of those. I think I'll be doing some laptop DJ sets for a spell while I perfect the live show.

Rudi Zygadlo's album Great Western Laymen is out soon on Planet Mu.

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Dollars To Pounds
Dollars to Pounds: Rudi Zygadlo