Name: Dominic Voz
Occupation: Producer, sound artist
Recent release: Dominic Voz's sophomore album Right to the City is out via Matthew Herbert's Accidental and Beacon Sound.
Recommendations on the topic of sound: Folks are probably aware of both Pauline Oliveros and John Cage (especially Silence), but starting with their writings is a good entry point. Not necessary though. Just listen, listen deeply!
[Read our Matthew Herbert interview]
[Read our Pauline Oliveros interview]
If you enjoyed these thoughts by Dominic Voz and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Soundcloud.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it?
My fascination for sound came from just a few artists I fell in love with when I was younger. My older brother played me Bjork’s Homogenic, and I was blown away by the textures, the massive beats that were like earthquakes or factory machinery.
Once I was a bonafide Bjork acolyte, I went down the “electronica“ rabbit hole – Matmos, Four Tet, Mouse on Mars, Aphex Twin. Like most sensitive boys my age, Radiohead also became an obsession – when Kid A came out, I burned copies of the CD and handed them out at my school.
[Read our Matmos interview]
People highlight the primacy of texture as being elemental to modern experimental music, and that seems about right to me. I just always found things like texture and thematic development just as important as the musicality.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances using sound in an unusual or remarkable way captured your imagination in the beginning?
There are a million of these. There is an incredible Portland electronic ambient artist named Patricia Wolf – she contributed to the final track on Right to the City. She has some recent work that is extremely thoughtful about incorporating field recordings – it’s such a common practice, but real masters can engage with the field recording and situate it / juxtapose it just right and all elements really sing.
In terms of innovation, it’s hard to beat the simultaneously gonzo and refined sound of Oneohtrix Point Never. He’s an influence on almost everyone I know making music. His sense of sound design is just so elevated – noise and texture and timbre are tossed around like paint splatter, and the combination is always well-rendered and dramatic.
Lastly, I’ve been pretty stunned by Michael J Blood. He reminds me of Actress a bit. The world building is so strong in the production – these sounds are coming from a world you can see – a rather dark one in both cases.
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?
Absolute teenage contrariness. I grew up in Northern Idaho.
How would you describe the shift of moving towards music which places the focus foremost on sound, both from your perspective as a listener and a creator?
Well, I would disagree that I focus foremost on “sound” abstractly. I’m not sure even people like Matthew would say that – these are still pieces of music that have intense melodic, rhythmic, harmonic components.
I just think I give the plain consideration of sound – and of an interesting, compelling sound experience – an equal seat at the table with traditional musical elements.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and working with sound? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
This is probably not for me to decide. I think I am pretty naked about my influences, so I feel comfortable being a “new music” or “experimental” musician – or “producer” for that matter. These all resonate with me.
Going back to the Fluxus folks, the avantgarde jazz movement, Eno and the ambient stuff … this all coalesced with electronic music in the 80s and 90s to give us the modern experimental sound, which (on the more electronic end) took massive influence from hip-hop sampling techniques and computer programming and smashed worlds together.
I am a very archetypal millennial laptop musician, at the end of the day. I did all the things – learned how to use DAW well before I knew my scales, produced a bunch of music by myself in a bedroom before I ever collaborated with another soul. These pathways are born of my historical context, and I can’t separate myself from that.
What are the sounds that you find yourself most drawn to? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
I am meat and potatoes on this, somewhat; the rich harmonics of bell tones or a Rhodes piano, the undeniability of the human voice.
But I have some more idiosyncratic inclinations as well – I am a little obsessed with sub bass, water, certain types of ASMR, the sound of digital interference, CD skips, cold sine waves, good room sound, the sound of whispers.
I hate the sound of really bad trap music, EDM, and Spotify artists who shamelessly bite Frank Ocean.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, from instruments via software tools and recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you personally starting from your first studio/first instruments and equipment? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Well, like anyone growing older, you do realize that craftsmanship matters.
There are synthesizers that are incomparable to others. There are guitars that are shrill and thin despite how much EQ and compression you slap on. But then again, you learn the shortcuts to get the results you want after enough time playing with even very low-quality tools.
I started out as an in-the-box, DAW editor-type musician. I am still mostly that way. However, I’ve really grown accustomed to an iterative, project-by-project approach to the palette. Little cliche maybe – turn in your synths for guitars, etc. But that’s essentially what I’m doing.
I made an ambient EP at one point completely from short record samples and Max patches. Then it was a dance record with an analog synth. Then it was Rhodes, horns, and anything I could do to brutally slice recordings into granular smears and flickers (on my album, For the Shoe I lost on Canfield Mountain). Lots of samplers always.
Then Right to the City was about blurring the line between in situ recordings of strings and winds and high-quality sample banks from Kontakt etc. It became about granulated 808s, sirens, and a kitchen sink of synthesis. The sounds of a city put into a blender.
I am working mostly with a guitar at the moment. I wanted something more immediate after the excruciatingly detail-oriented experience of making these complex little sculptures for Right to the City.
Where do you find the sounds you're working with? How do you collect and organise them?
Haphazardly. And I find them everywhere.
Synths, field recorder, Youtube, iPhone, records, my friends' performances … everywhere!
From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds? Can you take me through your process on the basis of a project or album that's particularly dear to you?
Let’s take the track “Oxycodone.“ Parts of that track were very immediate and improvisational, and other parts were tortured over. It started out with those DX7 minor 11-chord stabs – like something straight out of a harsh dance track, very SND inspired. I could listen to those chords on repeat forever, just the two of them.
I messed with some stuttered arrangements of those two chords for literally months before loading up some drum sounds and a hard compressor and coming up with the propulsive first section.
The second component was recording my friend Eléonore reciting a piece I wrote, in a language I don’t speak. The words are about the neighborhood we lived in at the time, the imagined history of some people who lived there. It is about urban renewal and decay. I integrated slices of Eléonore next.
Then, after building this minute or so long propulsive section – which is the closest thing to “beat music“ that’s on the record – I just knew that I wanted to slow it down, then completely suck the air out of it in an unsettling way. Enter the harp samples, the vocoder on Eléonore and the talkbox, and finally, the washed-out granular rearrangement of those same minor 11 chords.
There were a lot of iterations of this that sucked. I forget which composer said it, but I am a big believer in “keeping the trash can full.“ You may need to accept making a lot of shit before you finally find the right fit, and then everything glows. There is no divine intervention though. It’s work, serendipity, inspiration.
The possibilities of modern production tools have allowed artists to realise ever more refined or extreme sounds. Is there a sound you would personally like to create but haven't been able to yet?
Maximum fidelity, no air. HI-FI to an uncanny valley level. No noise floor. Plastic sounds.