Picking up after a five-year hiatus with his latest offering, the wonderfully titled Ufabulum, Tom 'Squarepusher' Jenkinson, combines a return to his old skool, electronic roots along with an unexpected push into the future of electronic audio visual performance. With Ufabulum, Jenkinson, true to form, challenges his audience with yet another innovating shift in direction. Moving on from the dance-jazz fusion of Hello Everything, the instrumental bass solo's that compromised xxx and the pseudo 'band' direction toyed with on xxx, Ufabulum's innovation comes in the form of a live audio-visual experiencm, concieved and reproduced in sync with Ufabulum's audio tracks. Declaring toward the end of last year, via a long essay posted on the Warp site that the album was to be presented as an audiovisual experience, Ufabulum's visuals represent more than the creative marketing of a single album and in fact marks the beginning of a nw direction for Jenkinson's live sets. Those of you that have seen Jenkinson play since album Hello Everything may recognise the l.e.d's and the basic concept of the spectacle - but with Ufabulum, it has been fearlessly taken step-by-step toward its logical conclusion: a constantly evolving, hyper-detailed visual representation of Ufabulum's complex edits, grounding melodies and hypnotic fx.
With acts such as the Knife putting a lot of effort into complex, creative & animated narratives, DJs playing to the standard fractal, computer generated animations or even RDJ's recent efforts, using visuals to direct an orchestra, there has traditionally been scope and active interest in the audio-visual element in electronic music. Nevertheless the result is usually too far removed from the music for the two to really 'work' as one, especially if the artists are playing the sort of 'tunes' that are supposed to move the floor. According to the man himself we're now at 'version two' of the show and should be expecting even more than what we've seen so far as the man explains below...
So how has the live show been going? Have things worked out as you had hoped? Yeah, it's definitely been good. It's definitely working out how I wanted it to anyway. I always try not to make too many assumptions about what will happen at any of my live shows and not let the pressure have too much of an effect on what I'm trying to achieve. I feel as a performer you need to consciously avoid concerning yourself too much with what does and doesn't happen on any given performance at any given event and have it effect how you react and how you perform from then on.
Every night is invariably different in terms of how everything plays out. With live music anything can happen, you can create truly great moments when things are at there best and things may not so great at other times, you can't let it effect what you do and what you are willing to attempt.
With regards to the screens, is the idea for the audience to stand and watch the stage? Ufablum sounds like a proper dance record as opposed to something that's supposed accompany a visual narrative. Do you feel you managed to make the two work together? With regard to the music I actually wanted to take it right back to the early rave days. You see at those events it wasn't about looking at the stage or a DJ, the audience would face the massive speaker stack. Dancing all night at a rave can be a very introspective experience, looking at a stage whilst dancing is obviously not easy, it's not really a sit-down thing so I don't try to suggest what people do or don't do at the shows, especially with what they choose to do and look at. The screens are a focal part of the show but it doesn't mean you're supposed to just stand and watch it the entire way through. In fact one of the things I always liked about the electronic music scene and making music in clubs was the artist not as a focal, allowing you to get on with making the music on stage but sort of in the background. The images are concieved to work *with* the music, to come across as totally in sync throughout the show.
Is it the visual aspect that makes the Ufabulum live show so different to anything you've done before... From my perspective I would be focusing on watching rather than listening, and letting the music happen around it. But like I was saying, I don't like to tell people what they should be doing when they come to the show, it's really up to them, but it's all there for the audience to consume. I don't try to determine their response. I would see it, in trying to tell people how to interpret the show, as not respecting their intelligence as an audience. I really just wanted to go in a totally new direction, to change the way I do things to keep things interesting.
Are you working on the visuals up there on the stage as you go along? When the show is running the images are generated in real time, with real time interpretation by myself. The images sync with specific tracks from the album and reflect what I'm doing to the sound live. The images are actually, originally, generated from the audio signals, it's a vision totally designed to work in sync with and reflect the music and not act as a distraction from the music. As far as what I'm personally doing I definitely felt it would be more interesting to me to mess with the audio and have the images come from that then to spend my time editing images and working to a back track.
How were the images conceived? We saw the essay of yours that was posted on the warp site regarding 'how' the imagery came to you, primarily through dreaming and recreating soundscapes visually in your head. In terms of the live show where do they come in? They came from software I programmed and my recreating the imagery I associated with the sounds. Having spent the time creating the software and hardware that I felt could express what I do musically I was able to make the images the way I wanted them to be, as close to the way I saw them as they could possibly be. I really try to create the images to work perfectly with how the sound works and have everything working together and in sync and not coming across in a jarring, unrelated way like so many a/v shows.
So is the show more geared toward what you're doing musically, ith the imagery complimenting that? Or do they come together in tandem? The best thing for me is to focus on the audio. I do have control over the imagery but the bulk of my effort goes into the audio and what's coming out of the speakers as far as the show goes.
The images on the visor look different from what's happening on the screen. Is there a conceptual difference between the images on the mask and the back display? The images on the backboard are directly linked to the images on the visor by the software, they are designed to work together but not be exactly the same. They are different visions, but completely connected in my mind. I don't want seperate streams of images. I want the two to inherantly relate.
Because that would create the distortions and distractions that generally come with artistic a/v shows... If the two weren't related it would lose some of the impact. It's why I have the one massive screen. I don't like multi-screen performances, it's too distracting and it's much harder to focus on the wider narrative.
Are the updates to the show leading towards some ultimate performance of Ufabulum? Is that what you're eventually trying to achieve here? Not as much trying to 'perfect' the show, more letting it naturally evolve as it goes, to keep it interesting for the audience and interesting for myself. If you take the idea that you are trying to perfect something you will most likely ruin it completely by constantly fucking around with it.
So it's just trying to improve the overall show as a whole... Well, for those of you that saw my show in Hackney before, the next version at the Roundhouse will bring some changes that I decided to make then. The imagery at the Roundhouse will be updated and things will be brought more up to how I want things to be now. There's also changes with the audio and the way I want to do things. This is basically version two of the show.
So what can we expect from version two of the Ufabulum show in general? Version two of the show really started to came about after I first played Sonar Barcelona, as its developed, the level of improv has gotten bigger and more sophisticated and I decided to make it a bigger part of the show. The show has also gotten longer now there is more to put in the to justify that. It's a becoming a two-part thing, the first part is about Ufabulum and the visuals that were always a part of that and the second part is more improv' based and uses the bass as a controller for digital signal processing.
So you are still using the bass in the show then? Because Ufabulum doesn't sound like a jazz-fusion album like some tracks on Hello everything. It comes across like a return to pure electronics and the traditional dance music experience... I'm using the bass more as controller with this show. I liked the idea of using the bass as a controller, it can be used as a controller to generate images as well as playing and controlling effects and obvious parts in the music. As things move on, I expect the second part of the show, the improv part, will become longer and evolve into the focal part of the show. And of course, regarding the bass, I just really enjoy playing it. There's nothing better than coming up with something that you really love playing and doing that live. Playing bass in the mask is mental. Totally strange, with all the l.e.d's and the way it's laid out, my vision is obscured which effects the experience.
So the next show or even album could come through a slow evolution from this... Ufabulum was the first outing for the new show but I'm looking to stick with it beyond. The show was never just for Ufabulum, it was for the foreseeable future, not just to sell an album. In two years of course it will most likely be very different but that will through an evolution over time. Of course there will be new elements and updates, and of course some things will stay the same. It's a format that can develop with me and my music and what I'm doing as time goes by.
You were talking about maybe doing some of your old stuff with the second half of the show this time around... I always wanted to avoid going through old tunes and just avoid anything old really, it's always a battle with getting an audience to accept new material and a lot of acts never even attempt it and just rely on their big tunes for their entire careers. It's an old concept I wanted to break and in doing so break new ground between artist and performer.
Relying on nostalgia and things never going anywhere is a cliche' even, it can be a double edged sword though, and people can get bored of hearing the same old same old but still hostile to anything new. It's good that those tunes are still so special to your fans all these years into your career... I always said before in interviews that I'm not hugely into nostalgia, going backwards, supposedly playing things safe and just giving people music mainly related to through recognition. I want the audience to experience something new when they come and see me and I want to do something new. There's always an element of the entertainer in musical performance, even in underground dance music, and it's at it's worst when people only want the big tunes. It always did and does still, bum me out, it's old news and no longer means anything to me.
But you've decided to relent now that you have a new way of presenting things... I have decided to relent and go through a few of my older tunes for the Roundhouse show and version two of the show in general. I have relaxed the old attitude lately and am less militant about avoiding *anything* old. I want to start using some old material in the second part of the show, bring a few classics along with the more purely improv stuff. It will most likely be split into two parts with me going through purely Ufabulum for the first half and then some of my back catalouge for the second half.
Squareousher's Ufabulum Live takes over Camden's Roundhouse on the 30th March, more information here.