‘Click Interview’ with Numb: ‘I Started Writing Material As A Personal Response To The Social/Political Changes’

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Numb is a Canadian electronic formation that saw the daylight in 1986. The band was driven by Don Gordon, David Hall and Sean Stubbs. Singer David Collins joined the band in 1995. Numb started as an electronic formation, but the sound progressively evolved towards a harsh and merciless industrial sound. Numb on stage was a bit like facing a merciless noise wall. They released several successful albums on major companies such as KK Records and Zoth Ommog. The band splitted in 1998 and instigator Don Gordon moved to Vietnam. Twenty one years after the last album “Language Of Silence” released by the long-time defunct Zoth Ommog, Numb strikes back with a noticeable electro-driven opus “Mortal Geometry”. The work got released on Metropolis Records and reveals a somewhat old-school, fascinating electronic creation. It talked about it with Don Gordon.

(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)

Q: “Mortal Geometry” stands for the return of Numb, but also the return of Don Gordon as musician/composer. How do you look back at the past years, the feeling to be no longer releasing new music and what incited you to strike back and writing this new work?

Don: After completing “Language Of Silence” and “Halo_Gen” in 1999/2000 I had intended on taking a break from Numb. However, this break extended for longer than originally planned due to a number of opportunities that I was able to pursue when I arrived in Vietnam. That being said, the limited amount of Numb material released over the last 20 years (ie. remixes for other artists and some compilations/re-issues) doesn’t reflect a lack of activity on my part in other areas of music/sound production. After moving to Vietnam I focused more on commissions, commercial sound design and production rather than Numb. A couple of highlights from the commissions included writing and performing the music for “Missed Connections”, a video installation work by artist Richard Streitmatter-Tran that is now part of the Singapore Art Museum permanent collection. The track “The Waiting Room”, which is included on “Mortal Geometry”, had its origins as a short 30-second soundtrack for a YouTube promotional clip to the novella of the same name by the literary erotica author Remittance Girl. 

I was also engaged in audio production work in advertising and teaching music/sound production at a university in Vietnam.

About 3 years ago, I started writing material as a personal response to the social/political changes I was seeing and Numb felt like the relevant instrument through which to comment… “Mortal Geometry” is the outcome of this.

Q: You are a kind of veteran, who has seen it all; you have been involved with music since the 80s, you released multiple successful albums with different projects, you played live all over the world, worked with prominent record companies etc. How do you look back at it all and what have been the main changes/evolutions throughout the years?

Don: A complete answer to this could probably fill a book but to summarize a few observations:

-The evolution of music technologies from the 80’s through to the present day has completely transformed the way in which I write, record and produce music. The creative/technical potential that I have to work with in my home studio was unimaginable not so many years ago.

-The mass adoption of digital media technologies has radically changed how music is consumed and used by audiences as well as redefining the relationship between artists and their fans.

-The music databases at Spotify, Apple etc have created this interesting scenario in which they both provide an incredible resource for music fans and musicians while at the same time creating a situation in which new artists are now competing for attention with the whole history of recorded music

Q: “Mortal Geometry” sounds a bit like ‘going back to the roots’, but what kind of album did you want to compose and what means this album to you compared to previous Numb-productions?

Don: From the outset I intended for “Mortal Geometry” feel contemporary, but recognized that at the same time it also needed to evoke a sense of continuity with previous Numb releases. One of the ways this was accomplished was to consciously reference elements of earlier Numb to act as a bridge… a bit like picking up on a lapsed conversation with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time through the introduction of some familiar ideas and then to build on these as the foundation for new explorations.

The actual approach to production for “Mortal Geometry” was quite different from previous releases reflecting both changes in technology and in the fact that as a solo production I was able to bring the vocals into the process earlier on. This allowed for a more tightly integrated link between the music, lyrics and vocal delivery.

Q: Next to the harder songs I also noticed cinematic/ambient passages running through “Mortal Geometry”. Where do they come from and do you’ve references and/or favorite artists when it comes to this specific music genre?

Don: Numb-releases have always included aggressive industrial/EDM tracks along with abstract/cinematic tracks. On “Mortal Geometry” this is more pronounced as there are several instances in which both aggressive and cinematic elements are combined within a single track.

I still think of an album as an integrated whole through which the listener navigates, rather than as a collection individual tracks.

My interest in cinematic/abstract music goes way back to my first hearing of releases like side 2 of Bowie’s “Low”-album, early Berlin period Tangerine Dream and composers like Edgard Varese. My exposure to traditional Asian musical forms over the last 20 years, in particular Gamelan and Smot, has furthered this interest. There is an abstract trance-like quality to this music that is particularly strong when experienced live.

Q: You said you started to write new songs ‘as a personal response to the social/political changes’ so what did you try to express with the album title and the lyrical content of the album?

Don: The title and artwork reflect a convergence of different themes that are explored on the album. Living in Asia for the last 20 years has had a massive influence on me so it was important that the cover art visually capture an element of this experience.  The visual core of the artwork is a series of images by Andrew Stiff who produces ‘extrusion photographs’ as a part of his PhD research. In particular he is looking at the application of Tschumi’s architectural theories of space, event, and movement in the context of the (destructive) urbanization in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. This approach to representation easily extends to include how digital technologies are mapping/recording our lives as data points within spatial geometries over time… in essence, surveillance to predict and control. In parallel to this there is the impact of digital disruption on communications/media that corrupt and erode meaning by intent (editing/redaction/hacking), error (glitch), spectacle and apathy… and through this, a death of social rationality. So “Mortal Geometry” is a kind of metaphor for this convergence visualized through an Asian lens.

Lyrically the album presents a number of themes that reappear across the different tracks. The challenge was to present these in a manner that draws a listener in rather than coming across as didactic… to seduce and entertain rather than having the listener feel that they are being lectured to. I think that Mortal Geometry has been successful in this.

“Redact” is very much a reaction to the corruption of language and meaning in the media-sphere to ultimately redefine a new compliant ‘reality’ that aligns with the narrative of those wanting power and control. It contextualizes ideas presented in the novel “1984” within the modern media environment of social media, commercialized news, contemporary technologies and the rise of authoritarianism. “When Gravity Fails” reflects some of the same issues but presents this more from the perspective society becoming increasing divided and falling apart.

“Hush”, suggests that rather than the dystopian cyber-punk futures, or a technological utopian futures suggested by some… these have been replaced by a ‘future’ that looks suspiciously like the past and which in turn looks like the present… a kind of ‘forever now’ loop. Mark Fisher and others have written about this sense of ‘haunted by lost futures’, the ‘persistent recycling of the past’ and an ‘inability to escape old social forms’.

“Complicit Silence” builds further on some of these themes while at the same time rejecting a simplistic, homogenous view of society. Silence is about so much more than just an absence of sound. Its power comes from what it reveals or makes you confront… the objects, events and ideas that are normally masked or unspoken and as a result gain an acceptance just through their being. Noise, on the other hand, is about immersion in complexity, diversity and change…qualities that I see as desirable. So the line ‘resurrect the worlds of noise’ is a call to embrace this.

“How It Ends” is about lost opportunities, a society contracting on itself, a focus on spectacle over the real and the rise of the sense of ‘the other’ through the distancing of human interaction.

Instrumental tracks like “The Waiting Room”, “Shadow Play” and “Mortal Geometry” reflect aspects of my time living in Asia while the ‘morality of altitude’ theme from the first Numb-album finds a new expression on “Mortal Geometry” in the track “Summer Lawns”.

Q: I think too much bands are sharing a similar sound today while “Mortal Geometry” sounds as a truly antidote! I can’t understand the more equipment and facilities so-called ‘artists’ have the less creative they become! What makes “Mortal Geometry” different from the rest and what means ‘creativity’ to you?

Don: For me creativity is a process in which an initial core idea gets translated into a final form which successfully communicates its intended ideas and emotional context. The challenge in this is in developing the core idea into the larger form that both amplifies and reinforces the initial inspiration without losing its essence. This can be harder than it might seem and for me is where most of the effort is applied. Interesting core ideas often come out of improvisations or  ‘planned accidents’ which help you get beyond your own habits and the strictures of hardware/software interfaces that try to force you into a particular way of interacting with them.

“Mortal Geometry” succeeds at a number of levels. It is a very personal statement that incorporates a diverse range of experiences and influences; it challenges the listener with new ideas while still retaining a sense of familiarity.

The ‘early’ decades of electronic music coincided with quantum leaps in music technologies… the introduction of drum machines, analog/FM/wavetable/digital synths, samplers, etcetera. This meant that musicians, both through intent and chance, were creating new timbres, forms and genres that had never been heard before almost by default. While music technology is still evolving today these changes are much more incremental so the seeming quantum leaps in creativity appear to be fewer. Also, electronic music has been with us for at least 40+ years and as a result has developed a canon in much the same way that rock or classical music has. One outcome of this is that new electronic music tends to be viewed and contextualized against this framework by audiences and artists.

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