Q&A: Wires Under Tension

Wires Under Tension: Light ScienceWires Under Tension: Light Science (Western Vinyl, 2/8/11)

Wires Under Tension: “Electricity Turns Them On”

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The revolution may not be televised, but the Zombiepocolypse will be soundtracked by Wires Under Tension. The duo’s newest album, Light Science, meanders around the musical spaces between hopeful and hopeless, maintaining its taut excitement throughout.

Classically trained violinist Christopher Tignor brings the carefully orchestrated strings, while Theo Metz manages to organize the chaos with his syncopated rhythms. Loops, bleeps, and boops chime in from somewhere beyond the present. WUT never intended to make popular music, and it succeeded spectacularly. Between tour dates, Tignor was kind enough to answer a few of ALARM’s questions.

You discuss making music in a very intense, detailed, deliberate way. (“This violin technique, known as bariolage, makes use of high-energy string crossings to create melodic arcs which convey the very essence of the instrument.”) What formal musical training do you have, and how does that influence the sound?

Theo and I both grew up playing in rock bands and also [had] some classical training. As a violinist, that was the first way I began playing music, so dealing with scores is built in. As with discussing the music, I’d say we create music for an audience that isn’t interested in being underestimated and that would be excited at the prospect of bumping into new ideas. I think we’re in a unique position to do that, given our intense and varied musical backgrounds.

The first image that came to mind when I heard “Сказал Сказала” was the abandoned cityscape in 28 Days Later. The second thought was, “This is the soundtrack playing in my head when I’m lost in the Bronx.” What’s the connection between the album and the new neighborhood?

The neighborhood I live in the Bronx is Mott Haven. It’s a very down-to-earth residential place, in essence the antidote to hipster-dom. After living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for 13 years and seeing its changes, I find that quite refreshing. There’s a real urban energy tied up with risk and struggle that a place loses when [it] starts feeling more like an extension of some liberal-art college campus. Just like string instruments, without tension there is no resonance.

The only words on Light Science are a recording at the end of “Position and Hold.” What is that from? (It sounds like a space mission or something.) Any thoughts about the decision to keep words almost entirely out of the album?

Think for a second of how much music in the world is instrumental, aside from all of the Western classical music you’ve always had and [the] endless supply of folk music from all over the world usually there for dancing or other social functions. And there’s tons of dance music today that’s basically instrumental, maybe incorporating some vocal samples. Really, when you think about it, perhaps most of the world’s music, outside of popular song, is instrumental. I think it’s pretty clear we’re not making anything like popular songs here. So there’s no real “decision” to be made to not use vocals or anything else.

As for the source of the speech recordings, you should really check out our site devoted to all the forces at work (and there are many) on this record, “Light Science 101,” at http://wiresundertension.com/ls101/. Those samples are taken from live recordings of air-traffic controllers from around the world — the title of the song ties in with that, too — check the site!

Do you build tracks around Christopher’s violin? How do you bring all of the sounds together in a coherent manner?

Songs can start from anywhere, any instrument, an effect — anything, really. The only thing consistent in the process is that it is never linear, but it typically involves lots of gutting, reworking, orchestrating things out, and other zig-zags to get from the beginning to the end.

Wires Under Tension really is a phenomenal name for a band. What’s the origin?

This was a rare case where the name for the band and the concept appeared more or less in the same instance. There are several meanings for me. As I mentioned, it was forced to confront the notion around this time that resonance in all things is only really possible with a balance, and not elimination, of tension. The visual imagery is closely tied in with both the endless streams of wires in the studio, which go along with being an electronic musician, as well as a life growing up with the violin, yet more wires under tension.

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