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Endif: an interview with Jason Hollis


Despite nearly 20 years of existence, only relatively recently did some recorded output by Jason Hollis’ project Endif become public, with the 2006 release of his debut album “Meta” on Crunch Pod. An album which gathered some well-deserved critical praise, it was followed in 2008 by “Carbon”, this time on Tympanik Audio.

Avoiding clichés and touching on several experimental electronic music genres, Endif’s music is hard to categorize. Extremely energetic, it is detailed in the extreme and the result of a seemingly perfectionist approach to sound creation and composition, an approach which combines technical proeficiency and unrestrained but methodic experimentation, the result of which is truly unique.

1 – Usually I leave this kind of questions for last but, seeing that events are still quite fresh and knowing that you are anything but apolitical, what are your thoughts on the recent US presidential election and beyond?

I’m optimistically relieved that, finally, the center of the empire (and that’s what the current order is, for good or ill) has a leader at the helm that is not only up to the task but makes a point of calmly taking the high road. I have no illusions that Obama is some kind of messiah, but of all the possible options available, I’m glad we finally picked the best one. From what I’m seeing, most of the rest of the world seems to hold a similar opinion on the matter.

And not a moment too soon. The global economy has been damaged by system wide deregulation, the geopolitical situation is mutating rapidly, and we’re juggling Peak Oil and global climate change all at the same time. We all have our work cut out for us, Barry most of all.

2 – I may be opening a few cans of worms here but… Care to comment on the 3 G’s of “God, Guns & Gasoline”?

While I accept that it is remotely possible that there is an über-daddy in the sky or a four-armed destroying mother-of-all or a behorned albino equine, given the absence of anything remotely resembling evidence – much less proof- of the existence of the supernatural, and given the highly contradictory information in the many myths we’ve created for ourselves over the long millennia, I find it highly unlikely that such things exist.

In short, there is no supernatural, only nature we do not yet understand.

Guns are tools, like cars or synths or drugs or screwdrivers. Used properly, they fulfill their purposes admirably. Used improperly, people can sometimes come to harm. The higher the risk of harm from the tool, the more training and regulation should be applied to its ownership and use.

The legitimate purposes of guns are defense and deterrence. Sadly, many people seem to focus on their illigitimate uses, such as offense, and seek to restrict legal ownership. All this does is leave guns in the hands of those that are willing to break the law while denying protection to law abiding citizens. An armed society is a polite society – criminals greatly prefer low hanging fruit. The state I live in, Nevada, has an excellent concealed carry law that Jennifer and I take full advantage of.

I sincerely hope I do not have to fight the president and congress we just elected on the issue of an assault weapons ban.

[As for gasoline,] the petro-economy has served its purpose but has overstayed its welcome. It is long past time for our species to find sustainable energy sources; for environmental reasons, for geopolitical reasons, for economic reasons. There is no one single magic bullet solution. Any near term path carries us over many stepping stones; wind, geothermal, clean coal, natural gas, hydrogen, fission, fusion, biofuels, tidal, solar.

The advantage that biofuels have is that they can take advantage of existing vehicles and infrastructure while minimizing the negatives associated with their use; the carbon released was in the air months prior, they tend to be locally made and used which creates local jobs, and money does not flow into the insanity source that is the Middle East.

But clearly abstracting the power source and using electricity directly is the most logical and effective method going forward. The technology is there, it exists – remember the EV1? – but the patents have been bought up by Big Oil and the major automobile manufacturers and licensing restricted to consumer electronics in order to prop up their portion of the energy monopoly that has everyone by the short and curlys.

The public demands a solution. And one way or another we will have it.

Endif3 – Slowly shifting to what really matters here (music), do politics have any influence in your music or do you keep the waters apart?

I try not to preach when it comes to the music. I don’t want to become the next Consolidated or whatever. But ones context set is what it is, and it informs everything we do. So yes, there is an influence, but don’t expect any lyrical tirades about market fundamentalism, the push toward a theocratic oligarchy, or petro-politics any time soon. That’s what blogs are for.

4 – Which brings the question about what influences your current music work and the (necessarily) broad question about past influences and the evolution of Endif. Care to give us an overview of these?

Musically? “Every piece of information that passes through you changes you” I scrobble everything I listen to onto my lastFM page, easier just to direct people there instead of listing it all here!

Direct musical influences though are probably mostly pretty obvious; Skinny Puppy, Front 242, Haujobb, Coil, Foetus, NIN, Pink Dots, Nitzer Ebb, Neubauten, Babyland, Aphex. Anything that really pays attention to both the sound design and structure. I always loved the Razormaid! and other remixes from ‘back in the day’ too. Sucker for production I guess. Anything that makes me think ‘now, how the hell did they do that…?!’.

5 – One thing that I always wondered about is your creative process, how does it work? On the surface, your music may seem to be rather simple but one quickly realizes that the ‘end product’ is more complex and thoroughly planned than what first meets the eye (or rather ear).

I started composing using sampling workstations like the EPS16+ and W30, and even after I went to computers I sampled most things to save processing cycles, so sampling is always a huge part of it.

I basically experiment, and record it. That’s where it all starts. Analogue synths, reel to reel manipulation, granular synthesis, delay fuckery, feedback loops, however it goes that day. I chop that experimental recording up in an editor program, and classify the resulting samples by how I’d likely use it. Kicks, snares, glitches, drones, breaks, bleeps, bass, synths, etc.

Perhaps that’s why most abstract noise put out as a finished work doesn’t do it for me; unless it’s really fantastic on its own, I’m always thinking about how I’d cut it up and use it.

I’ve been building this sonic reservoir up since ’93 or so. Songs usually flow from going back over those sounds and seeing how they’re best used, be that as a beat or something else. Once a proto-song is rolling, I, er, sort of ‘pRemix’ it; why should remixers get to have all the fun? Just put it in the song in the first place. This means more experimentation using the proto-song as the source material, more cutting, rebuilding. Rinse, repeat. In fact, I almost never give out remix kits for this reason.

Sometimes I’ll wind up with several versions of a track and have to pick the best one. From there it’s about honing that til it’s right.

So if anyone out there is wondering where their remix is… Sorry, sometimes they just don’t coalesce in time to meet deadline.

Endif6 – Intricate and elaborate indeed and it makes me wonder about how you approach playing live. How much creative freedom do you allow yourself onstage?

That depends. I have everything rendered to a couple of tracks for live, and I mute out the bits I want to play that time. This synth, these drums, those samples, this feedback network, whatever. I usually play the same bits though, it seems, so some of that versatility is unused.

The parts I want to play at any given are waiting in a sample bank or softsynth or whatever, be it on the laptop or the SPDS or Simmons SDSV drum pads; when I can bring them – not so plane friendly. Laptop-based is usually me playing samples out of Battery or the multisampler in Ableton Live on the percussion pads on the Kontrol49. I love having keys, pads, knobs, sliders, and a joystick all on one controller. Only thing missing is a proximity controller like the Dbeam..

On top of that, I usually have some effects over various parts of the mix, a granulator or delay or something, mapped to a controller.

Once in a while, if there’s room, I’ll bring a small hardsynth like the Malfunctionator or SX-150 or Moog Taurus II.

7 – Perhaps your work method implies that Endif’s sound evolution can be somewhat unpredictable… Sound-wise, what you have been experimenting with lately? Have you ever considered working with different composition structures to accommodate, for example, voice elements?

Always, yes. Sometimes I play with other styles – breaks or dubstep or synthpop or EBM. But most of that will never see the light of day. I keep hearing more melodic elements lately, so maybe that will surface… who knows. I had a year long dry spell though, that just finally broke; wrote a track I’m really happy with a week or two ago. It will be appearing on the IDMforums.com compilation that’s currently in the works. Expect the unexpected, I guess.

8 – I suppose your approach to composition goes hand in hand with being a gear-junkie. What’s your current favourite piece of equipment? Did anything catch your attention lately so much that you’d loot it from a burning store? Also, did you ever build/modify your own material or engaged in circuit bending with any interesting results?

You suppose right! Lately I’m pretty much interested in modules, mostly analogue, but some awesome stuff happening in digital realm as well, like CV bit crushers and delays, and control modules like the Blacet Hex Zone. Something about being able to patch anything into anything, literally, in hardware form is pure awesome.

I hope Analogue Haven never burns down, but I’d get 2nd degree burns for some Harvestman kit, like the Tyme Sefari. Oh, or some Live Wire or the Zeroscillator. Or go big and drag a PolyEvolver or Prophet 08 through the flames? So much awesome stuff, I’d probably die of smoke inhalation before I decided!

I’ve been building my own modules over the last year and a half. I’m not very good at it yet though. Several failures, some with smoke, but some successes too. A sequencer, a tube overdrive, an ADSR, some Blacet kits. I took a beginner-level electronics class, hopefully it helps.

There’s this whole world of people out there designing modules and instruments for themselves and each other. Often they’ll make a tested circuit board and parts list available, or better yet, a kit including all the parts and good instructions. Most of these are intermediate and up, but some of the kits, like the Blacet, are beginner-friendly. That’s how I started. I recommend it to anyone with the urge. Much cheaper and far more rewarding than buying pre-made gear. Usually.

The D.I.Y. imperative, the democratization of technology, is a core component and theme of all electronic music since its inception – and in my opinion, one that has been largely ignored in favour of increasingly meaningless posturing and excessive reliance upon set genre rules for direction. I’m the Operator with my Pocket Calculator, and so are you. With the growing influence of DIY activist entities like Make Magazine and ElectroMusic, the alt fuel/energy people, and all the other DIY movements happening now, hopefully more and more people will take direct control of the means of production more often.


9 – And I suppose also taking control of distribution channels as well, with the Internet being a serious boon for the DIY scenes in general and artists in particular – from promotions and networking to direct/free distribution. How has this worked for you? Did you ever consider resorting to free online distribution for your music (in addition to or instead of physical CD releases) or do the limitations of sound compression for net releases bother you?

It’s not just the compression/bandwidth issues that keep me away from giving away my work. It’s the idea of giving away my work, for one. Couple that with the fact that what mass-media outlets remain for the genres I am associated with generally don’t give the time of day to downloadable releases unless they’re put out by big name artists – and even then, only because every time those names blow their noses it generates a news item.

10 – You mentioned making tracks available online (on the IDMforums) for feedback and I suppose you’re also on the lookout for others doing the same. Are there any artists from this expanded network whose work you particularly recommend?

Wow. So many. How much space can you devote to the list?

11 – Excluding remixes, what about collaborations with other artists? Is there anything in the cards for the future or anyone with whom you’d like to work with?

Intoner and I keep talking about how we should put together a really gritty dubstep project, but it hasn’t come together yet. There are plenty of people I wouldn’t mind working with, but it just never comes together or they’re way out of my league, heheh.

12 – Might as well be fair here: do you think there’s any hope for the mainstream or is it a ‘no-go area’ for you?

There’s always hope. Remember the 80’s: just as there was an explosion of plastic, manufactured projects, there was also an explosion of genius.

13 – Wrapping this up, do you have any final comments or requests?

Think. Prepare. Then act!

Relevant links

Endif @ MySpace
Endif @ Last.FM

— interview by Miguel de Sousa (December 2008-March 2009)

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