Canadian producer and multimedia artist Woulg is a self-described eternal tinkerer, and it shows in his music. With this second release on MethLab, Last Time, it’s clear that Woulg does a lot of playing around with sound design, production and even just different ways of creating sound. Bordering on experimental, it may also be a fun surprise to fans that MethLab have picked up the technical tinker toy of an album that is Last Time, but those who really know the label know that they are happy to pick up musical wild cards, especially if said wild cards are as technically interesting and high-quality as Woulg.
When Your EDM sat down with Woulg to talk about his methods (and marginal madness) when it comes to studio and sound design, we quickly learned we didn’t know the half of it. Woulg is a consummate scientist and engineer in the lab, creating both his own hardware and software, breaking stuff on purpose to find out how it works and even giving lessons to would-be sound scientists on how to do the same. This interview is definitely for the technically-minded and is a good reminder to producers and music fans alike that this stuff doesn’t just come from nowhere. If you want to get a hint about where it does come from, listen and read on.
How did you hook up with MethLab?
I’ve known Jef for quite some time and sent him a handful of demos over the years that he was keen on. My first release with MethLab was the “Dragged” EP which I had actually been working on for a super long time and I had actually kind of given up on releasing, and then I sent it to Jef accidentally – I was trying to send him something else – and he just wrote back, “woah this is good, can I release this? and of course I said yes. It was weird because it felt like my best work up until that point and everyone else just kinda pissed on it so I was really excited when Jef was into it. So of course when this album was ready I sent it to him right away. I actually didn’t think he’d like this one that much either (laughs) but he said he does. That’s one of my favorite things about MethLab actually: the open-minded attitude towards music combined with refined taste.
Your music seems to be rooted in experimental electronica and sound design. How did you get involved in experimenting with sound?
(Laughs) Well I mean, I’ve been playing music my whole life and as soon as I could get my hands on a mic I started recording and arranging music, and I was fascinated by how you could make one thing sound like something else. For example I recorded this sort of early Pink Floyd style track when I was really young and for the kick drum I wrapped a sock around the end of a wooden spoon and found a hollow-ish part of my bedroom wall to hit to try to emulate the sound.
Another big moment was when I bought my first sub. I bought it from the pawn shop at the end of my block and I remember as I was carrying it home, I found some broken car window glass inside of it. (laughs) I’m not sure if it was stolen or just in a car that crashed, but either way that was a big moment for me when I got it home and plugged it in. My original rig was two home theatre speakers plugged into one amp, and then a whole separate home theatre amp for the sub. They were all hand me downs or pawn shop finds or loans from friends, and I just remember that that feeling of taking the kick drums in FL Studio and tuning them down and just watching the sub just flapping in slow motion. FL didn’t really have any DC offset protection at the time, or if it did I didn’t know about it, so you could tune things way down and just watch the sub flap around at full volume. It was quite a profound feeling. When I moved out of my parents’ place I brought the sub with me and within 15 minutes of moving in I had knocked all the books off of one of my roommates shelves and dislodged the lights in the basement and the glass had shattered all over the floor. That was sort of my gateway into it. I wanted to control that, and play with it constantly.
On your LP Last Time it seems there are a lot of classical elements both in terms of the sound and with composition. Are you classically trained? How does that fit into how you create your music?
(Laughs) Hell no! I mean, I know a bit about some theory stuff but no that doesn’t really factor into the way I make music at all. I like those sounds, the piano has always been really alluring to me – wow so unique right – and those types of sort of minimalist melodies are super interesting to me and of course you can trace those lines through techno and electronic music in general but I mean, that’s actually interesting to me to hear that kind of feedback because I definitely didn’t intentionally try to bring in anything classical. Minimalist or futurist, sure, but definitely nothing explicitly classical. At least not anything that I associate that word with. I mean there’s a lot of experimentation with time on the album, but I don’t really think about things from a music theory approach generally, I just like taking a concept and trying to figure it out in an electronic music way. I was watching a lot of jazz drumming tutorial videos while I was making it and trying to integrate the ideas.
A lot of the sounds you put together on this album seem like you’d need new gadgets or software to create. Do you experiment with creating your own hardware and software as well?
Yeah I make a lot of my own software. You can get it on woulg-related.bandcamp.com for the most part, I’m planning some new releases on there in the near future and there will be some new bonuses for subscribers too. I don’t release all of it though, I try but a lot of it is so broken that it’s only really good for a one or two time use. I’ve been experimenting with electronics for a while and just recently got back into making my own midi controllers and I’m working on making some lights. I also made some custom VJ software for this new A/V show I’m doing which is based on the “Last Time” album.
What interests you about creating art with science, and seeing it as an engineering project as much as a form of expression? What do you think artists could learn in tinkering the way you do?
Yeah I mean I’m a tinkerer at heart, I always have been. I learn the best by taking things apart and putting garbage or broken pieces together into something functional, like collaging ready-made pieces into new things with new functions. I think the real eureka moment came when I realized that I could actually use the sounds I had made while tinkering or actually incorporate the software I made into my live sets or things like that. It was weird, it was like this big eureka moment like “oh this sounds like crap now, but I can see a clear path of what I can do to it to make it usable.” Like it was a pipeline problem instead of a content problem. But yeah, I think it’s really important to try to break things. You really don’t know what a tool can do until you try to test the limits of it, or try to use it the wrong way, that’s when you really understand it. There’s all these people going around talking about how the possibilities of computer music are endless when they haven’t even come close to the edge of what their DAW can do. It kind of bothers me actually, I won’t go too far into it or it will turn into a rant. (Laughs)
What is your main goal (or goals) in creating music?
I’m not quite sure how to answer that, I have a lot of different goals in creating music, I guess some of the main ones would be trying to get people to dance in weird ways to weird timing in music, and trying to put into sound what I imagine in my head. Something that might start out as just a feeling or collage of two memories or something like that; that’s one of the things I love about sound, it can really handle that type of memory or feeling collage better than any other art form in my opinion. My third goal is probably to take people on some kind of journey, whether it’s through their own thoughts or their ideas of the story of the sounds, or moods or whatever, just to take them on some kind of adventure. Lastly, my goal is to fuck with people.
What kind of stuff are you working on for your next release?
I have like two, maybe three albums worth of unreleased material so I’m just trying to figure out what to release, where and when. I’m also working on a new project where I’m using the system log and some internal processes of the computer to generate music that I can then interact with in real time. Sort of like conceptualizing the computer as another musician that I can improvise with. Sort of shifting its role from instrument to composer and player. That will be an A/V project eventually, I’m still working on how I want it to sound at the moment.
Any other projects you’re working on aside from Woulg?
Everything is Woulg related in my life now (laughs), I make max4live devices at woulg-related.bandcamp.com, I give lessons at woulg.com/lessons. I’m trying to get a scholarship program off the ground right now for new students actually, so hopefully that will be coming soon. Also just constant tinkering really. I’ve been experimenting with neural networks for music and sample generation, making midi controllers like I mentioned earlier and lights. All sorts of random stuff. It all leads back to Woulg though.
Do you plan to collaborate with other artists or tour?
Yeah so in September I’ll be touring with Push 1 Stop for the Interpolate A/V show. The show is 45 minutes and it’s presented in a projection dome with surround sound, with a varying amount of channels based on the venue. I basically have to mix the whole show every time we arrive on location and it’s this kind of a wacky set up where we both control the sounds and the visuals. So like some of the controls for the music actually directly control the visuals and vice-versa. It’s a really fun show to perform and people seem to really like it so if you’re in Western Europe in the fall please come check it out. We’ve played it in Montreal, San Francisco, Tokyo, Kyoto, Beijing, Wuhan and Mexico City so far and it’s still going so we’re really looking forward to this next tour and to the next iteration of the project. Cadie (Push 1 stop) does some insane live coding, audio reactive, generative stuff and then on my end, a lot of the tools I used to make the sounds are custom synths and samplers that are just made in a totally wrong way, i.e., FM synths that feed back into each other into a crazy tangled mess with randomly generated envelopes for the amounts. I’m really proud of the show and please come up and say hi after the show if you come see it, I love to hear people’s thoughts about it.
Last Time, Woulg’s latest release with MethLab, is out now and can be streamed on Soundcloud or purchased on Beatport or MethLab’s Bandcamp page. If you’re interested in all of Woulg’s multimedia tinkerings and tour, check out his Bandcamp page and website.