110 - Boards of Canada
Artist Interviews 🎶 Studio Tours 🎛
Hello music people 👋
Today in the spotlight, Boards of Canada
Recently, I went down the Boards of Canada rabbit hole (again). I decided to share with you my findings. The deep dive is focused and presented in a way as BoC were guests of G.A.S. Newsletter.
An introduction to Boards of Canada
Boards of Canada are a Scottish electronic music duo. The brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin have been making music together since 1986.
They started as a band with more people involved but, later on, it morphed into just the two brothers making music. One of the former members was Christopher Horne, who left the band in 1994 to pursue his own project, Christ. Another former member was Peter Iain Campbell, who was involved in some of the early releases, such as Twoism and BoC Maxima.
They are not very open and do not share a lot of information but they have a huge fan base that touches the definition of a cult. The fan base has made a huge amount of effort collecting information, sometimes speculating, about their ways.
The very first band, consisting of various people, was inspired by the experimental and psychedelic music of the time. They also had a fascination with nature, childhood and media. They released some cassettes under various names, such as Music70, Hell Interface and Boards of Canada. Eventually, when the two brothers started making music as a duo, they adopted the name Boards of Canada.
Since they are kinda secretive about the gear they use, there are almost no photos online. The pictures of gear shown in this issue, are photos of the gear they’ve admitted using, or speculation of fans, coming from other sources.
Equipment essential to Boards of Canada production process?
Boards of Canada have used a variety of gear in their production, but if I had to guess, the most essential ones are, tape recorders.
There are mentions of: Tascam Portastudio, Akai GX-4000D and Sony TC-377.
The following excerpt, coming from an interview they gave, shows the extreme ways the duo goes to maintain their sound aesthetic:
"We're definitely vintage hardware freaks. We've always used older gear. Everything we use is decrepit. Our studio is full of wooden things covered with red LEDs. We'll go to great lengths to get hold of a specific instrument just to get a particular sound. For example, there's a sound in Cold Earth that is something like only one second of audio. It comes from an obscure old effect unit that cost us a lot of time and road miles to source, and it ended up being one second of audio on the record. As for our percussion, it's never just a drum machine or a sample, we put a lot of real live drumming or percussion in there, woven into the rhythm tracks, and it brings a bit of chaos into the sound that you just can't achieve any other way.”
What is the least expensive piece of gear that they use?
That’s a hard question to answer because they’ve been using analog gear since the 80s until their latest release on 2013. So now their gear is considered vintage and that means there is a huge fluctuation in price.
There is a mention of Tascam Portastudio. You can probably get on at around $400-$500.
What is their process for creating and producing music?
Since they are very secretive about their process, it makes this question extremely difficult to answer. But, here are some of the things they have said about it:
A combination of analog and digital equipment, such as tape recorders, synths and samplers
They record sounds from nature and use them as samples
They also collect old media, such as VHS tapes, cassette tapes, vinyl records and record samples from them
A lot of pitch shifting, time stretching, filtering, modulation, and a lot of degradation
All this, they do on their studio, which is named as Hexagon Sun.
They take a long time to finish their albums, sometimes taking years between releases.
In an interview they’ve said:
“So we’ll maybe spend days just playing various things, wind instruments, strings, guitars, bass, synths, for hours into the samplers and then feeding those sounds through stacks of destructive hardware and resampling them to make unrecognisable new sounds. This is all before we even begin writing any tunes.”
Aside from how they use their gear, their main approach is:
“It's easier to affect people emotionally if you keep things simple. Obviously there's a lot of great music in the world that's complex but as far as we're concerned the important thing is that you can whistle our tunes.”
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How would you describe their style?
“Nostalgia” is the most common used word when people talk about BoC. The following excerpt from an interview, gives another touch to the description of their music:
“Arriving at that sound was a really gradual thing with us,” says Eoin now. “We’d been recording in various forms of the band as teens through much of the ’80s, and already had a big collection of our own old crappy recordings that we were really fond of. Then, around 1987 or 1988, we were beginning to experiment with collage tapes of demos we’d deliberately destroyed, to give the impression of chewed up library tapes that had been found in a field somewhere. That was the seed for the whole project. In those days, everyone used to have drawers full of unique cassettes with old snippets from radio and TV, it’s kind of a lost thing now, sadly. To me, it’s fascinating and precious to find some lost recordings in a cupboard, so part of it was an idea to create new music that really felt like an old familiar thing.”
Keep in mind, that description is not explicit. And there’s a reason for that. They keep their gear away from the spotlight for the same reason they keep their music descriptions vague:
“If we were to explain all the tracks and their meanings... I think it would ruin them for a lot of people. It’s more like viewing something through the bottom of a murky glass, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Creativity tips from Boards of Canada
I haven’t found any direct tips, but reading their interviews, the most prominent one is to get involved with nature. The city is too loud and fast to shove trends to your throat, so avoiding that, it can result in making the music that you want.
In the technical realm:
Find ways to create meaningful degradations.
Have they mentioned books or music artists?
The Incredible String Band
Why The West Rules – For Now: The Patterns Of History And What They Reveal About The Future by Ian Morris
You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier
Musicophilia: Tales Of Music And The Brain by Oliver Sacks
This list is a collection of gear they’ve said that they use. Or gear that people have reported to spot on their live gigs:
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