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The Bandcamp page for the three-person project under the moniker nufraktur says simply: “best heard if played while muted.” But trust us, Michael Ward-Rosenbaum, Ryan Dunn, and Matt Hiles are being wholly modest, a little bit sweet, and a lot a bit cheeky.
Add experimental to that, and you have an appropriate summation of both the band and their ambient soundscaping. On their recently released EP, “Mauve,” their musical expertise shines behind every element of vast, sweeping compositions that include several purposely placed silences. For them, the omission of sound is as valuable as sound itself, the two chasing each other through the space between, and sometimes within, tracks–in an almost meditative frenzy.
BTRtoday caught up with Ward-Rosenbaum to chat about the origin of their name, splicing old tapes, and removing sound frequencies one by one.
BTRtoday: Let’s start with some background about yourself as a musician and how you guys first started making music together.
Michael Ward-Rosenbaum (MWR): I’m originally from Philadelphia, and I met Ryan when we were both freshmen at the Maryland Institute College of Art. I came here to study painting and Ryan was here as a GFA student. He was not as interested in sound as he is now, but he was still very, very talented at what he was doing and for some reason we became friends. The conversations always started about visual arts; we had mutual interests in sound and music and I suppose when you’re both looking for something to do with sound, you manage to find some people and some resources to do it. It’s been history ever since.
BTR: Where did the name nufraktur come from?
MWR: Nufraktur is actually a publishing company in Pennsylvania. I had a really dear friend of mine take me there when her great-uncle, who was a visual artist, passed away. His studio was in this house and upon visiting there I realized that art is very important to me. The publishing company that was called “Blind Willow,” that was actually the bookstore name but they ran a publishing company out of it called “New Fraktur.” I returned to the Blind Willow used bookstore many times over the course of my time in high school, and then sometime around my senior year I returned to find that the store had moved, all the people I was in contact with had fallen off, and I was unable to find the new store.
I found out that it had gone under, so I decided to steal the name, mostly because a lot of my favorite writing I’d been reading at the time came from the New Fraktur Arts Journal. It felt appropriate to take the name but change the context to something more personal to my own work. That was before Ryan had come into the mix, but we decided to keep the name because at the time we had a pretty small audience that was listening, following, reaching out, and giving feedback and we didn’t want to lose people.
BTR: You obviously really like playing with sounds–there’s a lot of ambient and new age sounds on the latest album. Can you tell me about the writing process and how those songs come into being?
MWR: The experimental section that we’re going into in terms of sound is something new that we picked up. The earlier work is… well, I personally refer to it as cringeworthy.
BTR: [Laughs] Cringeworthy?
MWR: Yeah, definitely cringeworthy. I was in a very different place and it’s hard for me as a 21-year-old to look back at what I was doing as an 18-year-old and still feel like it makes sense. I think that as my painting and my visual art has become less particular to things that you can pinpoint, maybe perhaps my approach to sound and to music is similar. And that’s always been the way for Ryan. Ryan is a mad scientist with sound. He is constantly learning and working in new programs that the smartest engineer could not figure out. And that’s just his obsession. I, fortunately, am just a really big fan of droning, pretty noises. So he’s influenced me a lot with that.
BTR: So the new sound is really driven by the collaboration between you two…
MWR: Yes, definitely, that’s a new thing that we’re working on. We’ve actually gotten rid of most of our older music on the internet. I think we have a couple songs on our SoundCloud, and actually SoundCloud is going under so they won’t exist much longer. And I think an MTV website has our songs, I think I uploaded them like a year and a half ago and never took them down.
BTR: What’s the recording process like for you guys? Is it recorded at home or did you guys go to a studio?
MWR: We started off sitting down in Ryan’s dorm room last year–it’s filled floor to ceiling with recording equipment. He actually doesn’t really have a living space, he lives in our studio space. Usually we walk in and sit down and I will have a short two-to-three minute either MIDI file or Logic track that I’ll be working on, a MIDI controller and maybe a couple condenser microphones. We’ll sit down and transcribe everything note-by-note and create more sounds that sound more particular to themselves as opposed to a generic, MIDI keyboard sounds with preset logic.
So I’m typically organizing the ideas and the notation, whereas he’s trying to create the sounds from scratch and use the notation to organize those sounds that he’s making. And it also comes from having a lot of having fun. We’ve been really experimenting with the splicing of tapes–taking the film out of cassette tapes and cutting them up and taping them back together and playing that and sampling it, dropping it an octave, slowing it down. He just got this program that actually enables you to cut every frequency out of a sound and then it plays them at different frequencies, almost like a chord progression. So we’ve been working with that recently, but you won’t be able to hear any of that in the new album. That might happen at a later date.
BTR: That sounds really interesting, but it’s difficult to picture!
MWR: You know, I can’t really put it into words. I wish Ryan were here but he’s in class right now. For people who are not working in the program he’s in right now… I think for the most part it sounds like gibberish.
BTR: So in one of the songs, “oneoff,” there’s about 60 seconds of silence, what was the creative process and choice that went on behind that?
MWR: Ryan and I are definitely not perfectionists in any way, shape, or form. And when we sit down and we work there are definitely accidents that happen and we end up deciding, you know, maybe there’s a reason why we don’t want to change this. And that was one of those files that I had made in a Logic program and we brought it over to Adobe Audition and in the editing process there was about a minute or a minute and a half of silence. We had organized the album together and we sat down and listened to it and we were like “hmm, maybe we should fix this,” because usually what we do is we try to make the album cohesive.
We had this album called “Morium,” I think. It was released on my birthday last year or something. And that was a consistent playing album, there were no breaks at all. So I think we were just like “you know what, this is here, let’s just leave it.”
It’s something different, it’s something new, let’s not be perfectionists or sticklers. There was no set reason besides the fact that it just felt right and there was no reason not to, so we felt that it wasn’t necessary to change it.
BTR: So what are your plans for the future? Obviously you guys are still writing and producing, any touring or gigs coming up?
MWR: You know, Ryan tours and plays shows, he has this ambient metal project that he’s working with called “Oceans of Chaos,” which is basically run by him and this kid Matt Hiles. Matt has actually done work with us in the past, he’s a really good friend of both of ours. Actually, a lot of the equipment that we use is his. But for the future, I don’t think that I’m looking to play live shows. I think that this is definitely a studio project and the idea of shows has left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve had a couple run-ins with people trying to book us for festivals and basically telling us that we’re going to have these budgets and they’re gonna fly us out and these people just never follow-up.
We’re kids making music, and sometimes I think opportunities arise that people don’t realize we’re not necessarily equipped for and they don’t know how to tell us that, you know, “you’re not gonna get it.” Or maybe they’re just not even really who they say they are. But I think the pressure of touring and limiting ourselves to writing music that we can play live is something that we’re both not interested in.
We know that our software is an important aspect of the writing procedure. Limiting ourselves to three or four tracks that we can play live… it just seems too limiting. We’re not even sure how we would do the old material live, because it would require, like, 50 guitars and a million pedals and a couple technicians. Maybe in the future we’ll do some shows but we’re really just hanging out and still just splicing tapes and trying to make stuff sound like what we like. That’s the priority, we’re not too worried about touring.
For more from nufraktur head to their Bandcamp or BTRtoday’s own In The Den.