Deriving his name from the â€œCyberpunk 2020” card game â€œNetrunnerâ€, Access To Arasaka emerged on the scene in 2009.
His debut album Oppidan on the well respected label Tympanik Audio proved him a force to be reckoned with. “A futuristic journey of a cerebral nature, demonstrating a virtual equinox of surgical beat work and densely-layered atmospheres, Oppidan transcended complexity and innovation in electronic music to arrive at the very edge of its own inner space.” (quoted from Tympanik) Now in 2010, he presents the much anticipated follow-up, void();.
We here at Abstrakt Reflections we’re fortunate enough to catch up with the Rochester, NY producer for a candid interview. Here’s what he had to say:
AR: You’ve mentioned that you live in Rochester, New York, and have so all your life. Would you mind mentioning a bit about your childhood as it relates to where you are now? Â Looking back, can you see hints that you would become an electronic musician? Â Or did this course of events unfold as a surprise?
Rob: My childhood was somewhat typical of any 80s child, I’d imagine. Arcades, MTV, Pet Shop Boys, laser backgrounds in my school portraits. I think that certain things from that era definitely shaped me, though. Mainly the music and films. There was an overall aesthetic in 80s entertainment that really seemed to blend darkness and light. Perhaps I am speaking mainly from nostalgia, but it felt like a time where we were right on the brink of the future, and we knew it.
I never believed I’d become an electronic musician. It was something I had thought of, and very much wanted, yet I never felt that I would have the equipment or the talent to create the music. The latter still evades me, in many ways.
The moment that I decided to finally try is still very clear to me. It was a late-winter night, the kind where the feeling of spring somehow made its way through the cold. I was listening to Aphex Twin‘s IZ-US on repeat, and something just touched me. I felt that if I was going to have a future in music, that was it.
AR: You’ve mentioned a number of stylistic changes over the past ten years, from progressive to drum and bass to minimal and so on. Listening to your releases as Access to Arasaka I’ve noticed your focus seems to lean further from the IDM and more toward the ambient at times. Â Do you feel you are headed in a certain direction stylistically? Â Are subtle changes in your style the result of a conscious or subconscious effort?
Rob: To be honest, I have no idea which direction I’m headed in. I never really have. Part of me worries that I’ve found this equation that works, and that I will simply repeat myself until there are no more listeners willing to devote their time to it. The focus on ambience is somewhat of a conscious decision, though it does vary from track to track. The concept of the album, the feeling behind the song, my personal life while I’m making it, all of these come into play. Even if I start out with the intent to make something very much rooted in IDM, the story being told by the music can often drag it into a different direction without me entirely allowing it to.
Subtle changes in style are both planned and chaotic, it seems. I do try to alter the general feel of sounds or drums with each release, so that it doesn’t become stagnant. But a lot of my process is simply allowing the music to use me as an instrument for its creation.
AR: Do you feel your success and exposure as an artist has influenced your music in any way? Â Do you compose and shape certain tracks based on feedback from fans or reviewers? Â Or do you work in more of a vacuum with yourself as sole critic?
I began writing only for myself. However, I’ve come to realize that if I were acting as my sole critic, I would end up never releasing anything. I can be generally happy with certain aspects of songs, but as soon as I finish an album, I discard it. I don’t entirely know why, but I have never personally been blown away by anything I’ve made. Acquiring listeners over the years has helped to give me an outside view, and shows me that what I’m doing is somehow right.
The listeners and reviewers have definitely been factored in with creation since then. They have both quelled and embellished my artistic self-doubt. I still write for myself, and focus mainly on my intended goal. But I want them to continue being happy with what I give them. In some ways, it makes it harder. The reaction to this project has been greater than I ever thought possible, and I don’t think they really know how much it means to me that they continue to listen.
I knew with the creation of void(); that I would lose some listeners. It wasn’t as full and cinematic as Oppidan, and thus turned some people off. But that’s the price we pay as artists. We can never please everyone, and I have to remind myself of this so as to not put a stylistic muzzle on my
AR: Your original music is often conceptual; whether it be based on a short story, event, emotion, etc. Â Yet, you also do a lot of remix work for other artists. Â How would you say your creative process differs when working on another artists material? Â Do you make an effort to interpret and conceptualize or is it more experimental?
Rob: My remixing process somewhat depends on the source material. There have been times when I’ve tried to be very thoughtful of the original’s feeling, simply filtering it through my own experiences. The remix for Klangstabil‘s “Vertraut” was a good example of this. Though I wanted to give it my own style and everything, I used the background story and emotion of lost love from the original, simply interpreted via my own stylistic ways and with my own memories.
Other times, with songs that don’t entirely have a concept to them, I will listen to the original track over and over again until they paint a picture or write a story in my head. I then take whatever vision came from it and try to express that in my own way, while incorporating their elements as well.
I absolutely love remixing, as it’s a way of exploring worlds other than my own. And it’s a chance to pay reverence to those artists that I adore. It’s always an honor to remix something by someone else.
AR: You mention cyperpunk as a back drop to your inspiration. Â Do you find yourself weaving issues or events beyond the common scope of cyberpunk (information, technology, corporate elitism, etc) into your music?
Rob: Very much so. Though the world of cyberpunk is a main drive behind this project, I often find that I wish to express fairly personal feelings with my music. The way I make it fit with this project is by weaving these feelings into a story somehow set into that futuristic world. It’s as though these things didn’t happen to me, but to someone else, many many years from now. Therefor, all my cyberpunk listeners stay happy, and I get to let off some steam. Music is my therapy.
AR: Does Access to Arasaka bear a message for today? Â Are you focused entirely on what could be?
Rob: Well, it’s hard to say. The message itself may vary with each listener. Yes, it’s based out of what could be, and what might happen in the future. Or, rather, what I want to happen. But a lot stems from the present. Cassiopeia was imagined during a night of star-gazing with friends and a budding romance. :Port was built from people-watching at an airport, with a slight sense of loss and change.
Ultimately, despite the concepts behind each album, I’m not entirely sure this project even has a message. I never wanted to completely force an idea down anyone’s throat. The message is a constantly morphing code, that seems to be decrypted by each listener in varying ways. The message is whatever you hear.
Actually, wait. The message is always this: Watch Robocop.
AR: I’ve noticed a gradual improvement in your production. Â How much attention do you devote to production as an artist? Â Is this something that has improved on its own or do you make a conscious effort to improve technique and acquire new tools?
Rob: Thank you. I spend a lot of time trying to improve on production, though I sometimes backtrack. Originally, with the free EPs from 2006, I didn’t spend much time on mastering or recording or anything at all. As people began to listen, I worked harder at it. I got better sound equipment, I spent more time focusing on quality of recordings, etc. I’m still not where I want to be, and probably never truly will be. But I’m going to continue to teach myself for as long as I can, and constantly push myself to create something better than the last one.
AR: What does the future hold for Access to Arasaka? Â Would you mind giving us a sneak peak? Â Any new short stories or ideas you’d care to reveal?
Rob: I do have a few ideas, but I can’t entirely say. My inspiration is fickle, and I often jump around between things. All I can say for certain is that while I’m working on the next album (whatever that may be), I will also be working on at least one more free EP for everyone.