The Reverse Engineer on his new LP & DIY studio
Dave House, aka The Reverse Engineer, on his forthcoming album Elusive Geometry and how 'experimental' music can still be dancefloor friendly
On the morning we call to chat with Dave House, the Google doodle illustration is celebrating the 66th anniversary of the first studio of electronic music, built in Cologne in 1951 and 'hailed as the first modern music studio, a home for electronically synthesized sound.' It seems an apt coincidence – and interesting point of discussion – as we speak to the experimental electronic musician whose own work is created via improvisation, experimentation and algorithms.
House moved to Edinburgh in 2011 to study a Masters in Visual Composition and Performance. Prior to this he lived in Brighton for close to a decade, and during his time in Edinburgh he also upped sticks and lived in Berlin for a year; "living the cliché," he laughs. While in Berlin he became friends with the German DJ and producer Jona, who has released music on the Get Physical and Planet E labels.
House explains, "We met at language school in the first couple of weeks I was there. We basically just chatted about techno for the whole lesson. He had this project he was working on where he was collaborating with various people, so he wanted me to be involved in that. So the 12" Transmission Breakdown was released about a year and a half later, it took a little while to get off the ground. He's had records out on various labels, so it was great to be asked to collaborate with him."
Of his stint in Berlin, House says, "we had a nice lifestyle – drank a lot of coffee, hung out a lot, went clubbing a lot," he chuckles. But, he adds, "in comparison to Berlin, I find Edinburgh much more... manageable. I know more people – it's kind of cosier! And I think there's some interesting stuff happening there... what I really love about Edinburgh is it's a city that feels like people are doing stuff. You know, people get stuff done. When I lived in Brighton, it felt a little bit like everyone had an idea, and everyone had their ambition that they wanted to achive, but they all just sat around smoking weed and drinking and never got on with it. Maybe I'm just talking about myself now," he adds with a laugh.
House is a graphic designer, sound artist and electronic musician, known as The Reverse Engineer. Describing his live performances, he says: "I use the computer, and some controllers, so it's kind of an electronic performance. [But] I hope it's more than a guy behind a laptop, twiddling knobs and stuff," he laughs. "One of the interesting things that emerged when I started performing this music is I just started to move around to it! I guess that makes sense, because if I want the people to move to it, I should lead by example!"
November marks the release of House's new album, Elusive Geometry. The style of his music – made up of "African rhythms, found sounds, [and] field recordings" – is pitched as experimental and abstract, but when you listen, the record is full of emotive, dancefloor-focused moments. When asked if he believes the term 'experimental' music can be an off-putting label for a listener, House responds, "when people say to me 'well what kind of music do you make then?' I think a lot of musicians flounder on the question. And I certainly do, I never quite know what to say. Genres can be useful to a certain extent. We do tend to want to apply labels to things, because it makes it easier – it's kind of shorthand isn't it? At the same time, it is restrictive."
He continues, "There are elements of the stuff I make and I can see how they're slightly less obvious and approachable, in some respects, but it's coming from a background of club music, you know? It's from that world. I've been doing this for nearly 20 years, and DJing throughout that time as well, and I've sort of gone through my phases of you know – drum 'n' bass, techno. It does surprise me sometimes when people react like it's this crazy, unapproachable thing."
What inspires him as a musician, he reveals, "are artists who are sort of breaking down those structures, examining them, and putting them back together, as it were. I think dance music as an artform is established enough now that it's kind of self-referential. Whereas in the past it used to have to refer back to disco, or funk, or [old vocal] samples, now it can refer to itself."
Elusive Geometry slyly addresses these genre boundaries with its opening and closing tracks. House points out that "on the album, the first track is called Proto, and the last track is called Post. And that's a kind of a nod to these sub-genre labels. You know, people will talk about proto-jungle or proto-techno when you hear something from the 70s; and then that moves on and people start doing different things with it and then it's called post-punk, or post-techno, or whatever. So it's my little nod to that."
The forthcoming album was conceived in House's own studio The Noisefloor, a self-described 'unique DIY music studio' based in Leith. "It's aimed at anyone who works with sound, really, who lacks a suitable space to work in," he explains. "It came about because in all the years I've been doing this, I've always wanted to get into a studio, but it's prohibitively expensive. And often there's so much there that's surplus to requirements. If I just want to go in, plug in my laptop, and have a decent soundproof room and some speakers, I don't need an audio engineer, I don't need a live room, I don't need a million bits of outboard gear and hardware and all this kind of stuff.
"So, it was kind of me thinking, 'well, I need this, there must be other people that do,' and it turns out that yeah, there are indeed," he laughs. "One of the main remits is to keep it as affordable as possible, because we're 'struggling artists' and we all need a space to work in!"
Though the new album was made primarily with computerised sounds, it also features renowned harpist Esther Swift, BAFTA award-winning cellist Atzi Muramatsu, and percussionist Pete Vilk. House's sister, the Brighton-based jazz singer Matty Eeles, provides vocals on two of the tracks, including the minimal, atmospheric lead single Metastability. His brother, the acclaimed photographer John House, has also contributed a set of limited edition art prints to the CD edition of the album, created in response to the music.
Of his siblings' involvement with the new record, House says, "it's really fascinating seeing their response. Seeing how they interpret the sounds. My brother, he kind of almost performed the photos that he did. So he set up still lives essentially, and lit them, and then he put the music on and moved around with the camera. It's actually quite touching and humbling when people connect that much with what I've done."
Summing up the process of his work, House muses, "when I was at uni, there's the sort of the 'academy' side to it; the academic side to music. I dipped my toe into [it] for a little while, and that feels quite lacking in emotion to me. Why else would you make art, other than to elicit some kind of emotional response?" he states frankly. House's compositions may be the product of some complex engineering, but at the heart of Elusive Geometry, there's still a very human touch.
The Reverse Engineer plays Henry's Cellar Bar, Edinburgh, 11 Nov; The Rum Shack, Glasgow, 26 Nov
Elusive Geometry is released on 24 Nov via Floored