Prior to forming Second Woman, Turk Dietrich and Josh Eustis were known for different takes on sounds often described as “warm” and “human”, with an electronic bent.
As part of Belong with Michael Jones, Dietrich mined the intersection point between shoegaze and experimental drone music – and incorporated unintelligible-yet-very-present vocals on 2011’s Common Era, not far removed from the sounds of clear influences like My Bloody Valentine or Seefeel.
As Telefon Tel Aviv (originally a duo with the late Charlie Cooper) Josh Eustis sounded the zeitgeist of a more organic-sounding glitch music with 2001’s Fahrenheit Fair Enough, before also adding vocals to later albums such as the more personal Immolate Yourself (2009). With side project Sons of Magdalene, Eustis has also embraced industrial/synthpop roots, in tandem with a stint as part of Nine Inch Nails.
While it was initially a surprise to hear such pounding, SND-esque rhythms from Second Woman, Dietrich and Eustis have since yet again brought out the “human” side of technology. With a new EP out on Tresor, we caught up with the duo for an interview.
Second Woman’s latest EP, Instant / Apart
Much has been made of Second Woman’s music transcending the grid – though for the latest release, you’re on Tresor, a label which has done much to define the sound of grid-based techno. How did this collaboration come to be?
Turk Dietrich: I think it came to be through the Tresor crew just being fans of the albums and having seen us play at [Tresor Berlin venue] Kraftwerk. They asked us and we were stoked because Josh and I have been big fans of that label forever.
Joshua Eustis: I think, also, to [Tresor label manager] Paulo Reachi’s credit – Tresor is being more adventurous these days, so we make a little more sense on the label now than we would have, say, even a decade ago.
Second Woman – “Apart I”
In the past, you’ve name-checked Moritz von Oswald as a significant influence. The tracks on Instant / Apart bear a clearer dub techno influence than anything else you’ve released so far – in particular, a track like “Apart I” feels like a “smuggled in” version of the timing shifts that mark much of the Second Woman material. There’s a steady kick pulse and it’s a track that you could mix in a techno set, but the repeats are all over the place. What was the thinking behind embracing steady kicks here?
Turk: We wanted to have a couple tracks on the EP that would pay respect to the Tresor lineage, but at the same time we wanted to have elements contained within those tracks that represent some of our core ideas. So a track like “Apart I” is, by our design, exactly as you described.
Josh: Yeah, I think you’ve dissected it, exactly.
Turk: Actually for the two LPs and the two EPs that are currently available we haven’t used the OOG effects much. They will be getting some use on the next batch of material from us though! I think it’s fair to say that the most used device on that first batch of material was EXT– it might’ve been used on every song.
Josh: Yeah, the OOG stuff wasn’t out yet for most of the time we were making music. But Tragedy has featured prominently, as well as EXT, which is one of the most important plugin devices ever made, in my opinion.
How does the collaborative process work between the two of you? Are you normally working together in person, or exchanging files remotely?
Turk: I’d say about 95% of our stuff has been done remotely … sending stuff back and forth after we each have something we are proud of. When we do get in the same room together we don’t get much accomplished. Being in the same room can lead to a lot of chit chat and distraction. I have an upcoming project/album with Duane Pitre and we work remotely as well. I’m much more comfortable having a back-and-forth this way. It’s easier to refine ideas, and I know that I work more efficiently this way. Other people might be more productive in a traditional band format, sharing ideas in the moment, in the same room, and that can be fantastic. For me though, I now prefer to trade ideas over space and time and have the studio to myself.
Josh: Turk and I devolve into talking shit and goofing off if we’re in the studio together at the same time. A symptom of being old, maybe. We can get together once a piece is nearly completed and sort of collaborate on the mix down if need be, but we work extremely quickly via email.
Second Woman – “///”
How do you structure a track? Do you try to edit pieces on a timeline, or is it moresomething you try to lay down in real-time? This seems like it would be a uniquechallenge given the shifting nature of timing in your music.
Turk: The DAW is mostly a recorder and editor for us. We do arrange a lot of what we do by hand … but a lot of our ideas are first generated in real-time using devices.
Josh: Basically what usually happens is one of us will have a sketch, a 16 bar loop or something, and then send it to the other person to iterate on the idea, and then it bounces back and forth a couple of times. But what that also means is that usually these ideas are sort of worked out in real time, tweaked live, and then cut down to size.
Related to the unique timing on many of your tracks, how do you keep things organized in thinking/composing? Is there a particular trick you have to bending and manipulating the timing of your sequences?
Josh: Not one particular trick, but a handful of techniques that we figured out to make things work. Believe it or not, things repeat in our songs, just not always where something would normally repeat. Sometimes we still work in larger chunks that we then go into and edit or change in ways that separate that part from its surroundings.
Tools like Max/MSP used to have a mystique about them. Fast forward to today, and Max for Live devices exist now that allow for incredible user-friendly control over algorithmic and probabilistic composition tools. Do you feel that there’s a next technological frontier (or hurdle) for electronic musicians?
Turk :I think you will begin to see more complex systems as far as algorithmic composition goes: the A.I. Max patch, if you will. But honestly, there are so many currently available tools that haven’t been fully abused … it still feels like an exciting time right now in the present. I’ve never understood these cats that constantly need the next tool or another device for their modular rig. Hack what you have now.
Josh: My hope is that it grows the understanding of musicianship. We shouldn’t be limited to playing or performing! Max and similar systems allow for the musicians to insert themselves into an aleatoric or stochastic process and therefore shape the outcome, the beauty being that in the code, or the programming, the decision-making of the artist is present.
It’s interesting that you mention AI and the artist-code-process relationship. Actress is now touring behind Young Paint, an AI he designed to analyze his music and then compose more of it. Do you see yourselves rolling the creative dice with Second Woman like that in the future?
Josh:I don’t imagine we’d do something that drastic, but certainly I think we’re both interested in creating systems for composing music that can engage in scalable amounts of decision-making.
Genre – it’s one of those obnoxious unavoidable things. Humans think taxonomically,and journalists/fans like to look at movements. Interestingly, much of your work fromthe past decade seems to have escaped genre classification and stands outside oftrends, for better or worse. Common Era was a very strong shoegaze album yet it didn’t seem to fit in with other shoegaze revivalists, while Move to Painfeatured gorgeoussynthpop/EBM type songs yet wasn’t lumped in with that current revival. Are you conscious of wanting or not wanting Second Woman to be seen alongside “clubputer music” (I just coined that awful term) acts like Gábor Lázár, Rian Treanor, Spaces, et al?
Turk: When we first set out on the Second Woman path we wanted to just be … we were not thinking about genre or a movement. It was this idea that we had and we wanted to hear it. Obviously there were some other artists out there prior to us doing similar things, but we weren’t thinking “let’s be this thing or that”. After the release of the first album, we did begin to realize that there is this movement of artists that are working on a similar plane … trying to one-up each other but also inspired by each other. And guys like Gábor and Rian are obviously in that number. We actually have plans to collaborate with Gábor when the timing works out in the near future.
Josh: All of the artists you mentioned are making really terrific art, and I find that inspiring, personally. Of course there might be a little bit of an “arms race” to make the wildest thing out there, but honestly, Autechre ended it once and for all when they made Confieldin 2001. So now, there’s just a small international community of beat weirdos, all who have extremely unique signature styles and sounds, all trying to expand the edges of what’s acceptable as music, whether it’s in the club or the car, or wherever.
Second Woman live at Sónar Festival 2018
Jumping off Autechre and Confield, that was around the era where they started performing entirely in the dark, removing the visual to focus solely on a listening experience. How do you manage the visual spectacle of live performance with the amount of “under the hood” processing that goes into your tracks? Have you found a decent way to improvise live? And do you find it different to connect to an audience without vocals or lyrics?
Josh: We don’t manage the visual spectacle – Krsn Brasko of Pfadfinderei does. He’s now the third member of Second Woman, and is given the freedom to make all of those decisions as he sees fit. The group is officially a trio now.
The way we add improvisation live is to set up those composition systems and live chains and then tweak them manually in ways that weren’t done on the recordings, and then generally smearing things a lot more than they were on the recordings as well.
For me, Second Woman isn’t really about *connecting* with an audience in an emotional way, at least not yet. That’s what Telefon Tel Aviv is for. Second Woman is about taking an audience ELSEWHERE entirely, some unimaginable place, a utopian future, maybe: or maybe just into the middle of the Crab Nebula. I dunno.
Turk: Krsn is a genius and he fully gets Second Woman, maybe even in ways that Josh and I don’t. We want the audience to experience something during the live show and the best example I can give is that what is done with visuals has a direct correlation to Gysin & Sommerville’s Dreamachine. I’m not one for utopian ideals, so I hope that reaction of the audience is much more physical and hypnagogic.
Belong – “Make Me Return”
Both of you come from projects which introduced lyrics and song structures in later albums – vocals and lyrical content played a key role sonically and emotionally in Belong, Telefon Tel Aviv, and Sons of Magdalene. Have you considered working with vocals for Second Woman?
Turk: We haven’t considered it yet. For me personally I feel like I had my moment working with vocals and songs back in the Common Eraperiod … it’s something that is extremely, extremely low on my interest meter these days. Josh and I both went on a song-y kick a decade ago, and I know for me, it’s not something I’m prone to ever want to do again. That’s not to say that we won’t ever do something with vocal snippets or pads, but in regard to more traditional use of vocals, or working within traditional song structure …. it’s not for me. My brain just isn’t wired that way.
Josh: I have to do this enough in other projects that it isn’t really a priority for Second Woman. There’s enough of that going on in Telefon Tel Aviv that scratches that itch for me…
What’s coming next from Second Woman?
Turk: We are currently working on new material and will have the third Second Woman album out next year, 2019.