Exploring The Circuits : Astral TV Talk ‘Travelling The Circuits’ and Improvisation

Featured Photo by Kristoffer Vollmann

Two years ago an album dropped from the ether called Chrystal Shores. The album was by the electronic duo Astral TV. The record didn’t actually drop from the ether. More like Denmark, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Chrystal Shores was an immense electronic album for me. It was this analog beast that buzzed and beeped with circuital life. Classic heavy synth vibes, but with emphasis on ambient and new age undertones. Astral TV is Rasmus Rasmussen and Keith Canisius, two musicians very adept at making heady music in other music projects(Causa Sui and Aerosol, for example.) But when these two Danish musicians get together to write and record as Astral TV they allow improvisation and their imagination to dictate the vibes. I spoke to Rasmus and Keith about how they came together and their creative process two summers ago. You can revisit that conversation here.

Astral TV have returned with their sophomore album. Travelling The Circuits, which comes out on September 6th on El Paraiso Records, feels like a step further out into the unknown. It’s noisier and buzzes with experimentation. There’s a desolation between the buzzes and beeps, yet a warmth in the desolation. It’s a stunning record, and one I wanted to know more about. I sent some questions over to Rasmus and Keith and they were happy to provide some answers. Check out our talk below.

J. Hubner: It’s been two years since your last album ‘Chrystal Shores’. Now Astral TV is readying the new album ‘Travelling The Circuits’. Did your approach to writing and recording the new record change at all from the last time around?

Rasmus Rasmussen: In a way it did, because this time we were more conscious of the approach. The fact that we could jam and it would actually sometimes turn into something useful. On the first record it was more by accident we discovered that this could be a way of working. So more of that record was prearranged and recorded in layers. On the new record almost everything is based on improvisation, but some of it has been heavily reworked, overdubs added etc. So it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a easier record to make. This way of working might actually have dragged things out a bit. We would just press record and jam whole nights on maybe a weekly basis, and in the end we had so much stuff recorded, that digging through it, selecting the best bits, making tracks of it and then selecting the best of them, was pretty time consuming. In the end we probably had about 60 tracks we were considering for the album.

J. Hubner: So how long did the whole writing and recording process take for the new record? 

Rasmus Rasmussen: Two years, on and off. It wasn’t really supposed to take that long. We actually thought we could have a finished record a year earlier. It seemed very close, but then I had a kid. We recorded more stuff, reworked some stuff, and then another year had passed. But it’s a better record for it.

J. Hubner: What were your sonic touchstones this time around? What were some inspirations for the writing process?

Rasmus Rasmussen: I think it was less concrete this time. Our sessions were very open, and would go into very different territories. On the first record we had a pretty clear idea of where we wanted to go, but with this one it was much more loose. I’m not really sure what this record sounds like to be honest. We clearly both have influences that shine through, but I wouldn’t know how to categorize the album. What I think is central to it, more than a specific style or influence, is this organic vibe. The sound is always in motion, never static, it kind of takes the mechanical out of the electronics, to become a living thing.

J. Hubner: How much does improvisation play in the writing process? Are you two writing together in sessions or are you sharing sound files?

Rasmus Rasmussen: It’s probably about 80 percent improvisation. Most of it is done in sessions, jamming together, sometimes completely free, sometimes based on a pre-written sequence, some chords or a bass line. We live close to each other, so meeting up is pretty easy, and we always multi-track when we jam, so that’s the main way of working. But there’s been some file sharing too, sending tracks back and forth, adding new layers.

J. Hubner: What’s the story behind the title ‘Travelling The Circuits’? 

Rasmus Rasmussen: We were struggling to find a title for the record and then that came up. It kind of reflects the process I guess. This exploration of electronic circuits. And if you stretch it a bit the Danish word for circuits actually also means orbits, so you kind of have that double meaning too, but not really. People should make of it what they want. There’s not a concept as such, for me it’s more about a vibe and I think Keith and Jakob nailed that vibe perfectly in the cover art.

J. Hubner: First single “Different Dreams” feels brighter in tone from ‘Chrystal Shores’. What’s the mood you guys are going for in this excellent track?

Rasmus Rasmussen: It’s the last track we recorded for the album. We wanted a longer track and were going for a mood that would be interesting for an extended period of time. It’s uplifting but there’s something else in there too. Some melancholy. It’s ambiguous. You can’t exactly pin it down, or at least I hope you can’t. One dimensional music is rarely that interesting.

J. Hubner: What’s some of the go-to hardware you guys are working with on ‘Travelling The Circuits’. Is there a preference towards analog or digital? It sounds like you guys use a variety of gear.

Keith Canisius: I sold most of my synth gear and went into Eurorack territory. I did keep a Polysynth though, which I use a lot still. With that being said most of the tracks on the record are recorded before I got my Eurorack going, so I think you will hear more of that on future records. “Different Dreams”, which is the newest track on the album opens up with sequences made on my Eurorack system. I am still building my synth and find it to be really inspirational and motivating, although a little expensive. But I always loved putting big chords together, so that will never change, where the Eurorack is more of a mono thing with various synth voices.

Rasmus Rasmussen: My setup didn’t change a lot from the previous record. It’s almost completely analog. But there’s been some digital processing in the mix. I’ve bought a few digital rack effects from the eighties recently – some delay and reverb. We used some of them along with plugins and digital editing.

J. Hubner: Since we last spoke I know you two have taken Astral TV to the stage and done some live shows. Do you like the live experience? How do you approach the songs? Is it more improvisational?

Rasmus Rasmussen: Usually it’s a lot of fun. We did more conventional shows at first, with pre-arranged tracks, set list etc. But the shows have become more and more improvisational. Actually almost completely free. We do rehearse before the shows, trying to work out some loose structures we can tap into, but there’s no set list anymore and no predetermined route to follow. That can be very liberating, because you can dig completely into the parts that work out that night, that connects with the vibe and the audience, and not be forced to move ahead to something that maybe really wasn’t the right thing at that specific moment. But there’s also the chance that you’ll have bad sound on stage, won’t be able to hear each other and actually have no idea what it sounds like in the audience, and then you’re kind of lost. So there’s pros and cons. We’re still trying to work out the perfect formula.

J. Hubner: ‘Travelling The Circuits’ feels like a next step sonically for Astral TV. Where would you two like to take Astral TV from here?

Rasmus Rasmussen: Great question. I think it could go lots of different directions. We probably both have our individual ideas of where to take it. But to be Astral TV it has to keep a certain vibe. We know it when we hear it.

Keith Canisius: We like exploring sounds and creating creative moods in our music, but how we come up with it is pretty open and a question of how things sometimes work out. I think we might try working a little more around sending files to each other next time, but we will still meet and jam, because that is something we enjoy a lot.

Travelling The Circuits is shipping now. Grab a copy over at El Paraiso Records

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