Working under the name DREKKA since 1996, American composer Michael Anderson has toured, traveled, and collaborated extensively; collecting memories and building a personalized archive of sound that dates back to the mid-1980’s.
Drekka has released a large body of work on labels such as Auris Apothecary, Dais, Fabrica, Morc, Silber, Somnimage, and Anderson’s own label, Bluesanct. Anderson has also recorded and toured as a member of such as projects as Jessica Bailiff, Dylan Ettinger, In Gowan Ring, Lovesliescrushing, Annelies Monseré, Stone Breath, and Turn Pale.
Drekka find kinship in the soundscapes and non-linear impressionism of Cindytalk or Coil, the industrial gravity of Einstürzende Neubauten or Etant Donnes, and the cinematic collaborations of Edward Artemiev & Andrei Tarkovsky or Simon Fisher Turner & Derek Jarman. But his work is singular, unique, and very personal.
Anderson approaches Drekka performances as both a sharing of ideas and a ritual celebration of being present in each moment… celebrating a group of people in a room sharing a heightened experience unique to that space and time.
He wants the audience not to behold an anonymous face in the glow of a laptop, but a person interacting with a moment, pacing the room, crawling on the floor, surfing a flimsy card table strewn with tape players, bells, trinkets, metal, and pedals; a spirit wrestling with frenetic energy that can on occasion approach mania or ecstasy – contact microphone in mouth, hands shifting cassettes collected over time and distance… a confrontation and celebration of spirit, body, memory, sound, with an untethered faith in the ephemeral and eternal “now”.
I invite you to read the interview I conducted just before the upcoming European tour, during which Michael Anderson will also perform at four concerts in Poland.
Artur Mieczkowski: You have been active under Drekka name since 1996 but that was not the beginning of your adventure with music making?
Michael Anderson: In the early / mid 80’s my cousin and I would record silly ‘albums’ and radio programs live to cassette and make artwork for them and ‘release’ them (usually only made a second copy for each other to have one).
In the early 90’s, influenced by the industrial tape culture scene and bands like The Residents, I started working more on figuring out what my own means of expression would be. For much of the early 90’s, I was in a dadaist collective called The Stuffings, and also had several projects of industrial, goth, experimental leanings such as 144,000, Solas, Ringworm Sideshow, and Alizarin. There was a really tight knit, supportive scene in Boston at that time. I learned a lot about how to do things yourself and how to focus on art first and foremost.
In 1995, I was working on a project called 4K (or Fork) and that morphed into Drekka when I decided to focus more on the emerging ‘space folk’ scene I was getting really into which was coming out of the UK and Detroit; bands like Flying Saucer Attack and His Name Is Alive and such.
AM: What has inspired you to start making music?
MA: I have always been mostly interested in sound. That is, I was always more interested in listening to things, rather than reading or watching. As a kid, I loved focusing on things like water rushing through pipes and walking in the woods listening to the wind in the trees and the sounds of electrical boxes around the city… the trains, the reverb of voices at the mall.
As a teenager, I started listening to new wave and bands like The Cure, Cindytalk, Virgin Prunes and Strawberry Switchblade… Strawberry Switchblade led to bands like Coil and Nurse With Wound and it was all a spiral after that, hah.
I started going to a lot of shows and clubs and meeting local bands who were into the same kind of music I was into. People were really nice and supportive and the DIY attitude taught me I could also make music and sound if I wanted to. It inspires me to create work as a means of communication; to open a dialogue with the listener.
AM: I have been looking for the meaning of the word “Drekka”. One of the meanings from the Faroese language is “to drink” (usually an alcohol, but that is not always the case). What is the actual meaning of your project’s name?
MA: I originally called the project Drekka Kókómjólk, which means “drink chocolate milk” in Icelandic. But, it quickly shortened to Drekka. It means “to drink” in a few Nordic languages. I like to think of it as drinking in sound, to take sound inside and let it become a fluid part of the self.
I had always been very interested in Iceland, and the Icelandic punk / experimental scene; bands like Kukl, Jonee Jonee, Curver. So, I chose the name in hope of becoming Icelandic by association, hah. I started going to Iceland to play in the early 2000’s and met my besti’s Thorir and his wife Julia (who were teenagers at the time) and have since played there dozens of times and recorded many albums there to the point where recently someone mistakenly referred to me as an Icelandic artist in the press… so, 25 years later I seem to have succeeded in becoming Icelandic by association.
Another meaning is the English word “drek”, which means the bits of food and trash left over from a meal that you brush off the table to sweep. I like that meaning as well because I use a lot of bits and scraps of recordings to make something new from the discarded.
A third meaning I learned recently is that in Slovenian it means (very specifically) “three piles of infant poop”.
AM: In your work you use, among other ways, field recordings. What are other sources of getting sounds from?
MA: I use a lot of field recordings that I have made over the years while traveling, either on tour or just as a traveler. Everything from my friend’s washing machine in Reykjavik to the sound of thousands of cicadas in the mountains outside of Kathmandu. I also use a lot of sounds and recordings donated to me from friends and other artists. I also do a lot of vocal recordings, which are manipulated using tape or the computer. I also have a small collection of old organs and Casio keyboards in the studio.
There is a large library of recordings that I use for Drekka and similar to someone like Steven Stapleton from Nurse With Wound, I like to revisit and juxtapose recordings and sounds over the years in new ways.
AM: You also use records of other artists – your friends in creation. That makes a very interesting organic net in music. How do you see this? Where did you get this idea from?
MA: For me, creating music and art is a means of communication and community building. So, to interact with recordings of other artist friends seemed like a natural way of creating dialogues with each other. Similar to a filmmaker using a shot from another film to create a reference to something larger.
It has become a tradition for friends to give me bits and pieces of lost projects to manipulate. I also will record something like a vocal part or guitar piece and send it to someone like Michael Carlson from Remst8 to see what he might create using it as a source for his VST systems and send it back… which I then further manipulate and so on.
I am very influenced by the 70’s/80’s Jamaican dub tradition, where session recordings become the instrument for the producer to create something new and endlessly varied takes on the source material. Everything is in a state of flux, with no definitive version needed.
AM: You describe your music as “ritualistic”. That is a pretty strong term. Most of the music is some kind of ritual, of course aside from the mainstream side of it. However, this word “ritual” acts strongly on the imagination as mysteries, rituals and a strong signpost for the viewer. I’m curious how you interpret this?
MA: Yes, I suppose the term can be a little strong… I don’t use it in a very heavy, overly self absorbed way that some people might. There is no religious or spiritual meaning behind the way I think of it. I think of the act of performance as a sort of ritual. A conscious decision to sit together in a room and share an experience. There is power in people gathering together and sharing a heightened experience unique to that space and time in real time – being present together in the moment (on a good night).
And as the performer, I am listening to the moment, interacting with sounds from the past, telling stories and sharing my experience in this world. A lot of my work deals with the theme of memory and false recollections of the past. So, everytime I perform it is a new history being created – a new take on the past.
AM: And also: ambient-industrial soundscapes. I wonder to what extent this formula has run out and to what extent it is an individual approach to conveying one’s art.
MA: On my business card it says “ritual ambient industrial soundscapes”… that is just a sort of shorthand to convey in a small space the basic themes of my work to someone new to it. I don’t worry too much about where my music gets put in a record store or on Spotify. I started using the term “ritual” a couple years ago, because people would tell me they felt an aspect of ritual in my live sets, which I could see.
My music has always been ambient – lots of space and silence within it… industrial soundscapes are where my initial interest in sound began, sitting on the big power boxes in the city, listening to the wires hum. But, I also think of my music as folk, in the way of melodic tradition and communal use of themes and recordings… and also as dub, in the real time manipulation of pre-recorded source material.
AM: You mention among others: Coil, Hafler Trio, Thomas Köner, Nurse With Wound as signposts to your music. Quite a wide range, even though it fits into a rather capacious bag with the word: avant-garde.
MA: Yes, for sure avant-garde is something I relate to. I have always been interested in more conceptual influences than specific influences or genres. Obviously, deep appreciation of another artist’s work is going to influence one’s own work. There is no listening to Drekka and not hearing the influence of Coil or Cindytalk… but, more so I am influenced by the ideas of musique concrete, fluxus, deep listening, improvisation, dadaism, and avant-garde.
AM: What other inspirations would you list that influence your work? Not necessarily musical. I would guess that other areas of art also influence what you create.
MA: For sure, one of the main influences and focuses of my work is the idea of memory and forgetfulness. I have a very poor memory for my own past and in general, and it used to bother me a lot. I became obsessed with documentation of my own history, to remember. But, over time I started to accept the futility of that and to embrace a more stoic and mindful presentness in the moment and to accept a sort of liminality in life.
So, I began my process of constantly reinventing my works over the course of long gestation periods.. where by the time I feel a piece is complete, it has involved hundreds of hours of work to the point where I often do not remember much about the initial source material. That was the case with my album “The Work in Question is Unbeknownst to The Participants at Hand”… by the time I had completed that album, the material had been worked and morphed so much that I could no longer remember precisely how it started – some of it dating back 20 years.
AM: Beautiful stories:). You use mostly analog recording but very often you release your works digitally. Do you prefer this way of working? Digitally processed sound probably loses a little of its original charm.
MA: When I perform live, I use a lot of cassettes as instruments – a lot of live tape manipulation. But, when I am recording in the studio I tend to use analog and digital equally. It just depends on what I need out of the recording. I will often record a vocal part, for instance, on my digital recorder, to have a clean base recording of it. I will then often record that vocal recording on to a cassette and manipulate that. I will usually digitally record this new version of the vocal and then edit it on my laptop.
To get the level of nuance and obsessively precise mixing I have become accustomed to, I have to mix digitally… but, at the same time I am using *very* old programs to mix, hah. I agree that it becomes very easy to lose the spirit of a recording by digitally processing it too much… there is a very hard balance to strike between precision and keeping the spirit of the recording’s lifeforce. It has taken decades of self taught working to learn how to find that balance.
In contrast to my studio work process, the live performances are more spontaneous and tailored to the evening, the audience, and the space. I have a basic idea of what I might work with, but it is all intuitive and mostly improvisational using primarily live voice and cassette manipulation mixed on the spot with a mixer, customized tape decks, contact microphones, and a looping station.
AM: Released for Dais Records, “No Tracks in the Snow” is a collection of songs from 1996 to 2002 – how would you describe this album? After listening to it, on the one hand you feel the diversity, the development, on the other hand it is quite consistent.
MA: Thank you for saying that about the album. For that collection, I went through my archive and made a playlist of every random track that had come out during the first few years I was doing Drekka and realized that a *lot* of what I released during that time no one had heard… a track would come out on a cassette compilation that someone made 10 copies of and things like that. I then spent a couple years slowly deciding which tracks would go together to form a unified album. I wanted to put together a collection that could just as easily be a brand new Drekka album as a collection of 20 year old tracks. I wanted to show the consistency of my process, while also highlighting some of my favorite work that had not been given a proper chance to be heard. I really love that album!
AM: You also run the BLUESANCT label. You’ve been releasing since the 1990s, on various mediums, CD, CDr, cassettes, sometimes on vinyl. Where did you get the idea to open your own label?
MA: I was influenced by labels like 4AD, which were one person’s vision and although releasing a diverse roster of artists, always felt consistent… if you liked ten other releases on 4AD, you would take a chance on anything Ivo released because you had similar tastes to him and could chance it.
So, I decided to start my own little label to release my friend’s projects I loved and to use it as an excuse to write to other artists I loved and see if they wanted to work with me.
AM: Looking at discogs, you have made about 80 releases, that’s a lot for an independent label. Is there any rule you go by when selecting the artists you release?
MA: The goal for the label is 100 releases – I am currently on 97, I think. The only rule to who I release is that I have to completely love the album. I have turned down releases by artists I love, because I didn’t want to be dishonest with them or my audience and release something I was not 100% in on.
AM: You have participated in various musical collaborations. Has anything in particular stuck in your memory? What has been the most challenging for you?
MA: I love playing live with other people, although I find it a little bit stressful sometimes. It is amazing and I love to play and be part of someone else’s vision, but I also have a very bad memory and an not a great musician, so it is challenging for me to make sure I am being an asset to the artist and not fucking up their set, hah.
That is part of why Drekka is almost always a solo performance, because I don’t expect someone else to be able to read my mind and know what I am going to do next.
Working with people in studio situations is a different thing, and I feel much more confident when I am recording an artist or playing on their recording or mastering an album for someone.
AM: How did you find working with the psychedelic-neofolk band In Gowan Ring?
MA: That was definitely a huge dream come true to release some albums by In Gowan Ring and to also play live in the band for a couple short tours! Also, a bit stressful because B’eirth is a great musician and the rest of the band he puts together is also. But, B’eirth knew my heart was true and had me sing backup and play bits and bells and percussion.
Singing “Dandelion Wine” at the Terrastock Festival in Seattle in the late 90’s was definitely a highlight and dream come true for me. B’eirth is a beautiful person with a heart of gold and I love him very much.
AM: From a very impressive list of concerts played by you. Have any particular ones stuck in your memory?
MA: Coming up on 1,000 concerts, it is hard to come up with highlights. But, I always love playing in small towns in places I have never been. There is that beautiful thing that happens sometimes when you show up to a town and within minutes you feel like you have known everyone for years and it feels like home. This is the case with places like Bergamo, Udine… (much of Italy, in fact) – Gent, Reykjavik, Todmorden… for me touring is all about experience and community building, so when I end up with a new homebase in a city I had previously never even heard of… there is nothing better.
Occasionally, I will have a fun fanboy moment where I am playing a show and someone introduces themself and it is someone from a band I love and I get all nervous and excited… and then, end up sitting down and having a beer with or something and it is another one of those experiences that validate life. Underlining how we are all the same, and as time moves on I end up working with and befriending people who I never thought I would ever have a chance to know. It is powerful.
AM: In October you will play in Europe, including four concerts in Poland. You have had the opportunity to play in our country before. What are your impressions?
MA: I played a few shows in Poland in 2012, and played a festival in Poznań put on by Uro Ruro and LAS in 2018. I am so excited to come back! I will be touring with my friend Sascha from Emerge and soon to be friend Chris, who will be doing a duo called Bu.d.d.a..
We will be playing this year’s Uru Ruro festival in Poznań again, so it will be amazing to be part of this great event. And we will also be part of the Fab_In festival in Łódź… plus shows in Kraków and Warsawa – I have never been to Łódź, Warsawa or Kraków, so I am always excited to see new places.
Everyone in Poland has always been very helpful and nice. I would like to especially thank my friend Radek Dziubek for his help with this tour and to Rafał Iwański who was extremely helpful and friendly in offering suggestions for places all over Poland for me to contact… and he is who told me about Anxious Magazine!
AM: This is very kind of them :). What do your concerts look like? Do you focus on playing prepared material, or do you wander off into improvisation?
MA: A table with a mixer, tape decks, various bells, trinkets, bits of metal, and pedals… a bare lightbulb bathing the table in blue light. I stand or sit or pace or climb; singing and shifting tapes collected over long periods of time.
I have some prepared structures to work from, notation of pieces from my albums as well as a new piece I have been working on for the last couple years – but, there is a large focus on listening and interacting in the moment, improvising within these structures… or discarding them altogether. Every performance is different, although there are recognizable elements and reference points to some of my released material.
While on tour, some sort of patterns develop and build on the previous night’s performance… but, every few days or so I consciously change things up so that I don’t get too comfortable or lose the spontaneity of having to be present in the moment and open to anything that presents itself.
AM: Do you have a dream to play a concert in some amazing place? In some cave or in the desert at 3 in the morning?
MA: Absolutely, I want to play everywhere and anywhere… I love playing longform, overnight performances where people can relax and sleep or just listen for long periods of time. I have played in a pre-Roman castle and an underground room where donkeys pressed olive oil before the Common Era. On boats and in a lighthouse… I am interested in playing everywhere, for sure.
AM: Could you tell us a bit about your gear / recording techniques you use when composing the music?
MA: The workhorses of my setup are a very old Boomerang looper, a few old Tascam 4-tracks, and some C-1 Library of Congress tape decks. Generally, I will begin with some sort of environment to use as a base… a field recording or tape loop or some recording of a friend playing piano.
I will then listen to and record along with this, building layers of sounds and sometimes using those layers to create new layers… I then will start the process of removing as much of these as possible, until only the most essential material is left.
Then, I usually let it sit for a period of time and revisit it – I take away even more… then, I usually end up adding a little more and letting it sit again… etc. until I feel like this version is finished.
The parts that are not used, I add to the library to possibly use later for something else entirely.
AM: Are you currently working on new material?
MA: During the first couple years of the plague, I was hyper prolific and finished a *lot* of new material for various compilations and EPs. This year, I have been focusing on booking tours and re-issuing several out of print Drekka albums on cassette. The only new thing released was a collaboration I did for the new Bu.d.d.a. album that was just released.
But, I am always slowly working towards my next new full-length. It usually takes me 5-10 years to complete a full-length album, during which time I also release several EPs and lots of compilation tracks.
One of my main projects for next year is to finish up a boxset of all my recordings from the 1990’s. It will be released on cassette and CD. I like the idea of creating this all in one library style collection of everything from that time period. Most of these have been out of print for a long time, so it will be nice to see them all together in one place.
I am also making pretty good progress on a new album, which I began in around 2008, hah.
Now that the plague has subsided somewhat, I have been focusing on touring – which I missed hugely the past few years. Touring is my lifeblood, so without it I have been getting a bit creatively anemic.
After this tour in October, I will be touring the west coast of the US in April 2023, the UK in November 2023, and I hope to travel and perform a few concerts in the Middle East in September.
AM: How does the experimental, avant garde, independent scene look like in USA?
MA: The USA is so large that there are lots of localized scenes for each region, but there also seems to be a larger country wide scene, esp for touring artists. The noise scene seems like it has its own thing going on, where all over the country there will be these massive festivals with upwards of a hundred artists playing. And when you see photos of these festivals, they seem to be held in a tiny room somewhere… where do all the people fit, never mind the artists, hah?
When I go on tour, it seems I can always find a show in even the small towns between cities (which I prefer… I love to play the small places where the few people who are there are really invested in their scene and shows).
I am not someone who can keep track of every artist and every release coming out… I love going on tour and just stumbling across a project that blows my mind.
AM: Could you recommend to us some projects worthy of attention in your opinion?
MA: Compactor, out of New York, is one of these artists who seems to be everywhere at once, playing every one of these strange noise festivals I mentioned. I have also been really excited to see Post Doom Romance evolve; Mykel Boyd’s new project with his partner, Seah. And I always devour everything released by Adam Park’s projects Lightning White Bison and Timber Rattle.
Mostly, I listen primarily to artists I know… that and Jamaican records from the 70’s/80’s. Although, this month I have been on a massive Virgin Prunes and Dave-Id Busaras kick.
AM: Thank you for the interview and good luck with your plans.
MA: Thank you so much for asking me, and maybe I will see you at a show!