Into The Crackle ‘n’ Crunch [2020-12-15]Someone once said that there is real joy in detail, and you can certainly use this quote to talk about the work of Swedish textured noise/ minimal walled noise venture Rien. Since 2016 the project has mined its own often distinctively reserved, yet cleverly detailed, and often highly entrancing take on noise-making- so far release around thirty release on various respected noise labels across the globe. The man behind the project Stockholm based Johan Strömvalll Hammarstedt kindly agreed to give us an email interview- Johan is also behind Gamiani, J.S.H., J S H, and runner of the excellent Swedish tape label Ominous Recordings.
M[m]: You started Rien in 2016- what was the projects initially focus- be it be sonically/ or theme-wise, and do you think this has changed/ altered in the four ensuing years?
Johan The initial idea was a more lo-fi and minimal sound than Gamiani. And I wanted something that did not really have a theme, so the texture study would be the only focus of the project. To me it has always been about textures. I wanted to have a project strictly focused on texture studies and not have it “tainted” or defined by artwork, theme and titles. It was to be “empty”, without meaning.
I had discovered that my 4-track was functioning again, and I had just started to experiment with circular chains without sound sources. So I figured that was what I was going to do, record no input walls on a 4-track. It died again after a few months, so it’s probably only the first digital releases that were recorded on it.
There weren’t any creative rules set for the project in very the beginning, they just happened. I didn’t want to layer anything, so the texture would be more defined, so I decided that was a rule. And I never used more than 3 pedals when recording anyway, but I made that into a rule as well. I also decided that only one of them could be a distortion/fuzz.
But the rules kind of went into force with the third or fourth release.
I trimmed that down a few years back as well and decided if I was going to use a sound source, that meant one pedal less; a White Noise Generator meant I had to remove something from the chain. The decision to keep all tracks untitled, and then too have each release descriptively titled probably fully came into play with The Russian Tape. I was working my way there with the “Red” tape and the “Black” CDr. At first, it was all color based titles and track titles, but with The Russian Tape, it became a creative decision to keep that strictly descriptive way of titling releases, and ever since the fifth release or so, all tracks have been untitled.
The idea of how Rien should sound has evolved over time, of course. The early releases can still very much be considered Harsh Noise Wall since they have the characteristics of the genre. I was still creating walls of distorted textures, and it was a fuller and harsher sound, they were just a minimalistic take on it. But the harsh static texture studies became less interesting to me. I wasn’t pleased with just creating the same thing over and over again. But that goes for all my projects. I want to evolve, and perfect the sound constantly.
Rien is where I can obsess over defined, singular lines of texture and see where they take me. I might decide to increase the intensity, or lessen it, or make it even more sparse or I choose to make it a very “straight forward” recording and try and maintain the static
M[m]: you mention wanting to be more lo-fi & minimal than your other wall project Gamiani- is this still active, and if so has it’s sound been impacted at all by Rien’s sound?
Johan Well, I haven’t killed Gamiani, yet, but it’s not very active either. My focus have been on JSH this year. And there’s been about zero interest in my wall noise projects, except for Summer Interlude Records who asked for a Gamiani tape. And I haven’t really had any interest in HNW in general either, so focusing on JSH was an easy choice.
In the beginning, the effect Rien had on Gamiani was a bit more apparent, there are some older, digital, Gamiani releases that were a lot more minimal than the majority of the releases. And if I remember correctly, Les Onze Milles Verges on Marbre Negre had the same set-up as early Rien (Green Russian Big Muff, Octave Multiplexer, Whammy, no input).
The effect Rien has had in the “long-run” has been that I stopped using noise generators and started working with my hands more. The last years Gamiani releases, the few that have been released, have all been done with contact mics. A few of them layered, most of them just one take, one channel, live and direct. The recent Gamiani recordings have more movement and dynamics than the earlier stuff. But working with contact mics prevents you from being completely static. The challenge is to make it as little dynamic as possible, which is hard when you are working with a shaker and a contact mic.
M[m]: Please discuss how you came about with the projects name & did you have any alternative names?. And what does it mean to you?
Johan I was actually thinking of calling it “Ingenting” at first, which is Swedish for “nothing”. But there were a few shitty indie/alternative bands who used that, and I believe one or two of them were still active at the time. And there was no use calling the project “Nothing” because that was also taken by several current artists. I looked through discogs and saw that the most recent use of Rien (French for “nothing”) was a couple of years ok, and there were no active projects out there as far as I could see.
The idea was to have a project removed from everything except the sound itself, a nothing-project. No titles, no theme, no decipherable visual art, no layering. Since The Russian Tape, this has been the working model for all releases. I don’t do splits with a theme; I don’t agree to artwork with images of anything. Abstract artwork is the only thing I accept. Except for one of the recent releases, which have the image of the tape I used as sound source on the cover.
M[m]: I believe all of Rien releases have been recorded with very minimal set-up. Could you please detail this set-up, and what are the disadvantages/ advantages of such a sparse set-up?
Johan Rien has gone through three different “standard” set-ups by now. I’ve experimented more of course, but there’s been three that I have done most releases with. And they are chronological, because I haven’t returned to a previous one when I’ve moved on.
The very first “standard set-up” was FX send (from mixer) – Digitech Whammy – ElectroHarmonix Octave Multiplexer – Channel 1 (on mixer). And then I worked the Low/Hi/Blend knobs on the Multiplexer, and the send/return FX levels on the mixer.
It was a circular, no input chain, and it could go horribly wrong with the slightest tweak of one of the knobs. I sometimes added a Sovtek Green Russian Big Muff to that set-up, but I often left out the fuzz, because I could still get the textures I wanted out of just the octave pedals.
The second “standard set-up” was after I had gotten my hands on an RMA “The Brick” and decided to pick up a Zvex Fuzz Factory because I wanted a fuzz with gate function. It’s also the set-up I used when I performed in London at Noise Fest in 2018.RMA “The Brick” – EH Octave Multiplexer – Zvex Fuzz Factory – Mixer.
I worked with that one for over a year.
The third set-up is what I’ve been working with the last year or so. It’s a contact mic and two pedals, one being the Fuzz Factory. Then I’ve switched back and forth between Boss EQ and the Multiplexer. But for the most recent release, “black c25” it’s just a contact mic and the Fuzz Factory. And I always work with some kind of fabric against the contact mic.
The advantage is definitely both in sound and procedure. With a very minimal set-up, the frequency and texture is the only thing that is there. Nothing is buried under layers of more sound. I get a clear sound of the studied or chosen texture-frequency combination and I can work with it. And shape it. Which leads into the procedural advantages. It is easier with a minimal set-up because I have total control over the sound. It all comes down to very slight tweaking of the knobs on the pedals, the mixer or (now) movements with the contact mic.
The disadvantage is, of course, the other side of the same coin, it’s very sensitive, an unsteady hand or too much tweaking can turn it all to shit in a second and then I have to trash the entire recording.
M[m]: I imagine you have to have a lot of patience when creating more minimal textured noise- please discuss your normal process of developing, creating, capturing and then mixing more pared-back work?
Johan At first, I decide on a set-up, which is usually the one I used the last time. I still have my Fuzz Factory on the same settings as when I recorded the Black C25 release a few months ago. I just put it in the box and haven’t used it since. So when the time comes I’ll just take that out of the box and plug it in and see if I can continue where I left off and explore that set-up more. After I have plugged in the gear I’m going to use I tweak knobs and flick switches until I feel I have something. And then I hit record. And then I record for as long as is needed or as long as I’m still exploring the sounds. And when I’m done I listen. Sometimes the captured sound in the file isn’t what I heard in my headphones, so I work the eq settings a bit to bring back more of what I heard while recording. If pleased with it, I listen to it in headphones through the computer, I transfer it to my phone and listen with a different set of headphones, listen to the track on my surround system, burn a disc and listen to it on my stereo, and if I’m still pleased, I listen to it about 15-20 times more just to make sure I’m really pleased with it. And then I send it to a label or release it myself. If I somewhere in this obsessive listening find the track to not be good enough, I scrap it entirely and record something new. I don’t remix, or tweak anything in Cubase, mix or master. If the raw material isn’t good enough, it isn’t good enough no matter how much make-up I put on it. If I’m not immediately satisfied, I won’t be after listening to it another 15 times. I always scrap things I’m not sure of.
Each new release should be, or feel, better than the last, because otherwise, why bother? Or it should at least be the driving force behind each recording session, what you are doing now should be better than what you did yesterday. If you are not learning, and not trying, why are you even doing this? And the only one who can decide is you, if people don’t get it, fuck them. Where I take my projects is completely up to me
M[m]: So far Rien has put out just over thirty releases- please talk about some of your favourite releases thus far, and explain why they stand out to you?
Johan “Réduction” (Altar of Waste)
This 4-disc set is an important work because it was the first, and I guess only, release that came with any kind of statement of what I was doing.
I hadn’t really discussed my ambitions or driving thoughts behind it with anyone but a select few. Nor had I done any kind of public post, presenting or explaining the project.
But I know Cory appreciated, and still does, releases with some actual thought behind them, so I wrote a little about the project and the release he agreed to do for me.
The first disc was three pedals and WNG, second was just three pedals in a circular no input chain, and the third was just two pedals. The final disc was just one pedal.
The title was a description of what I was doing, reducing the equipment by one unit for each disc.
“the contact mic recording” (Perpetual Abjection)
This was the first recording I did with a contact mic that got released. I wanted to have a different movement of the texture. I didn’t want static in the usual way and I felt that I had done what I could do with The Brick, so I revisited the contact mic. I had tried to work with it previously, but never really felt satisfied with the results. The random set-up this time was a good fit though, and by chance I was really pleased with how it sounded.
Also, Polwach did an amazing job with the packaging for it.
“The White AmericaTapes” (Self-released, US HNW Tape Swap 2020)
This release is a combination of the second and third set-up. It’s a double tape release, and side A and D are the contact mic set-up and B and C are The Brick as sound source. It is one of the most subtle, quiet, releases I’ve done. I guess that’s really quiet, considering how the output has been sounding the last two years or so.
“black c25” (Self-released)
The most stripped-down set-up so far, like I mentioned previously, just a contact mic and the Fuzz Factory. This is also the first Rien recording in almost a year. The “crackles” are completely controlled, not a single sound is accidental, every crackle is produced by me, intentionally. And I feel I really got into the core of what I want this project to be about.
M[m]: You mention Réduction the altar of waste release that disappeared rather fast- any plans by you or the label to reissue this?
Johan It didn’t actually disappear that fast if I remember correctly, it was limited to 10 copies, and I think Cory sat on the last two-three for a couple weeks or even months before it was sold out. If Cory reads this and I’m wrong, he can correct me!
Sadly Altar of Waste is defunct, even though I totally understand why Cory choose to kill it. And I haven’t actually given any serious thought of reissuing any of my own work. I did have an idea of doing a CDr box set of older Rien material that was only digital or super limited, but nothing came out of it.
M[m]: You’ve now played a few sets with Rein- could you talk about how these set vary from your home recordings? And visual what do you present in a live set?
Johan Even though it was very well received, I feel the first performance in Paris was a complete failure if I am to see it as a Rien set. It was not minimalistic crackles, or sparse, deep textures. It was more of a standard HNW set. But I panicked during soundcheck because nothing sounded the way I had rehearsed it back home. The massive speaker system and my inexperience with making HNW live were a bad combination. I am however pleased with it anyway, much thanks to the sound tech who was very keen on making sure I was pleased with the sound. After trying a few different set-ups, I surrendered to the situation and just tried to make a good sounding wall.
The performance at Noise Fest was a much better set, and it definitely had the Rien sound. I got minimal, sparse crackles out of my set up, working with a guitar amp instead of the PA. And I was just slowly raising the volume for 10 minutes.
Live is completely different compared to recording at home. When recording at home, there’s nothing that colours the sound or intensifies it, or makes it bigger or louder. It’s a very closed space. Everything comes down to the chosen pedals, sound sources, and recording technique. But nothing is amplified. It’s easier to control the sound when you are recording. I found it very hard to move Rien from recordings to live sounds. I did rehearse with a PA in my rehearsal room many times before going to Paris, but that didn’t do me any good. For the London performance, I just brought what I used when I was recording and hoped for the best. I figured there wasn’t any point in preparing anything, because it could very well just go to shit anyway.
Visually I don’t really present as much. Not as Rien. It’s not a performance-driven project. You’d have a more rewarding experience seeing me as JSH.
M[m]:Rien work is very much focused on minimal & tense wall work- how difficult is it to maintain the longer ‘walls’ focus?
Johan It isn’t, actually. It’s a study, an analysis, of something that I feel is very interesting and captivating in itself. It’s like studying bird sounds or reading something that interests you. Each session is a study session and it goes on for however long it needs to. Of course, the offered or planned length of the release is in the back of my head when I record, but for the Perpetual Abjection release, I just sat there, working the contact mic until I felt I was done. I know I could have recorded almost twice the length since it was to be a CDr, but I was done. Knowing when a recording is done is just as important as knowing when a recording is not good enough. I’m not out to exhaust, or even bore, my listeners just because I could go on forever. And I see no point in making any release longer than it needs to be.
M[m]: The most recent release put out by Rien is The Blank Tape Recording- please could you detail how you created this release using a blank tape, and how many processes did you have to go through?
Johan I’ve tried it before and failed, because you usually just get hum and that is useless to work with if you want crackles. But I had used the SpektrBox Double Grinder (a filter/fuzz pedal built by Chier) for deconstructing the material of another artist, and then I used it to deconstruct the Nine Inch Nails track for the A Future of Meaningless Tomorrows / J.S.H. split, so I decided to try that one.
I had a blank C90 in my Walkman, ran that through the Double Grinder, and the Fuzz Factory, and I managed to enhance the very, very subtle sounds from the tape and shape them into crackles
M[m]: Have you been working on new Rien recordings, and if so what can we expect?
Johan No, I haven’t actually. The material for “black c25” is the only Rien material I’ve recorded this year. I will record more, when I feel it’s time, and I guess you can expect more of what the “black c25” sounds like. I’m not done with that set-up yet.
M[m]: When you can play live again, are there any particular venues or events where you’d like to play a Rien set?
Johan I’ll gladly go wherever. And I’m not picky. I’m an old punk and have played rehearsal rooms, trailer parks, squats and big venues. As long as I get travel expenses covered (or mostly covered) I can go wherever anyone wants me to go. I’ve only performed twice as Rien, and I’d like to take the current set-up to a live setting and see how it works.
Thanks to Johan for his time & effort with the interview. Riens bandcamp is https://rienhnw.bandcamp.com/ & it’s facebook is https://www.facebook.com/rienhnw
Picture credits: menu pic London show by Raxil4, Paris by Gregory Perier & London by Raxil4Roger Batty