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Patten Steps Back So That His Luminous Electronic Music Can Step Forward


Who: patten — always lowercase, please — is a London-based producer of woozy, lysergic, deeply-hued electronic music that flickers like a heat mirage, way out past the edges of the dance floor. Both his sound and his titles (“Towards Infinite Shores,” “Blush Mosaic,” “Sixth Seven”) suggest a convoluted game of telephone played with Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, and Flying Lotus; fittingly, he recently joined the Warp label, home to all of them, where he released the five-track Eolian Instate EP last fall. This month he returns with Estoile Naiant, an album whose bold strokes and cryptic glyphs sound like audio approximations of the heraldic terms from which it takes its title. The details of patten’s biography remain a mystery: He declines to share even his first name, and he has a Socratic flair for flipping questions on their heads. When asked about his studio, he replies, “We’re in it now, in a sense.” (“It” being, at the moment, a café in Barcelona’s CaixaForum museum complex, where he will perform later that night.) “It’s everywhere, isn’t it?”

The Music of Chance: Such caginess can seem like a calculated ploy, but patten’s mysteriousness suits his music. Perpetually shifting, morphing, and mutating, his densely swirled beats and luminous textures betray little of their origins; they suggest a recording studio designed by MC Escher or Rube Golderg, a maze of interconnected machines so serpentine that you suspect patten himself may not even be fully in control. He likens his method to “surfing, because surfing is actually all about waiting. There is this moment where things come together, but really, you’re just putting yourself in a situation where something might happen. You’re engineering this kind of moment. The weird thing about surfing is that it’s vast. You’re talking about the interaction between the moon and the earth and gravity. And as this tiny person on a floating piece of foam, something happens for a few seconds. It’s the same with gardening — it’s a kind of parry between control and a total loss of control. And, in a sense, when you look back on your life, that’s kind of what’s going on.”

Après-MIDI Clock: We do know that patten has released music since at least 2007 — both on his own Kaleidoscope label and on London’s No Pain in Pop, where in 2011 he released GLAQJO XAACSSO, an album that takes echoes of Oval, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Four Tet and drops them into a pinball machine. Kaleidoscope’s Limited Dubs series, meanwhile, shows his fondness for the aleatory: Each cassette is a unique recording, dubbed and remixed live by the artist. “It really is open,” he says of his own compositional method. “It could be that I work a lot using the computer and using recordings that I’ve made of stuff out in the world — kind of found recordings, but not really musical.” And as much as he’s fascinated by the limits imposed by a given instrument — “like an 808 suggests a way of working, and a guitar suggests a way of working, or a harpsichord; there’s certain things you can’t do” — he’s equally interested in tweaking human temperament. “I’m trying to incorporate lots of kinds of mental states into the working process,” he explains. “Because, clearly, there are just different decisions that you make in the middle of the morning. You just had something to eat, it’s the beginning of the day, and you make creative decisions that are completely different than decisions you would make in wildly different psychological states where you weren’t necessarily thinking in a clear, logical way, [like] on the edge of sleep.”

The Color Wheel: From a name like Kaleidoscope, not to mention his music’s ultra-vivid colors and full-body rubdown, you might suspect that patten experiences synaesthesia — a neurological condition wherein different senses bleed together, like a 909 hi-hat triggering a metallic taste on the tongue, or a chord glowing pink. “The connection between colors and textures and words and sounds and so on,” he says, “I see them as being very connected, being the same stuff. It’s just stuff vibrating in the world. If you think about what color is, it’s the way that you experience the absorption and reflection of certain frequencies of light. So your experience of the color of something is your comprehension of vibrations, and sound is the same thing; it’s just in a different area of the electro-magnetic spectrum. So you have red here, and blue here, and things get really stretched out, and they actually become different things. A sound becomes an image.”

There’s a definite air of the dorm-room philosopher (and, perhaps, DMT initiate) to patten’s musings — never mind that they make perfect sense when his music is quietly rearranging the circuits in your brain. He admits as much, in fact, when he says, somewhat sheepishly, “I’m genuinely really interested in so much stuff that it can be easily misinterpreted as being evasive or trying to shroud things. But actually, it’s the total opposite. The reason my name isn’t in the public realm, and why I don’t tend to actively have photographs of my face, is that I’m trying to allow the richness of what I’m trying to open up to be accessible to people without too much getting in the way of that. So stepping back is a way for the work to step forward.”