Words: EMILY TAN
When describing DJ-production techno-wizard, Richie Hawtin, the term â€œgeniusâ€ would not be inappropriate. In excited anticipation of his latest release, DE9: Transitions (Novamute/M-nus), Hawtin has been inviting select journalists and electronic music heavy-weights in a handful of cities to preview portions of the 96-minute recording. What fortunate guests have been treated to hearing has been radiantly pure, unadulterated, celebratory techno.
What makes DE9: Transitions different from the sea of other DJ mixes and compilations is that Hawtinâ€™s mix was assembled and produced from the ground-up, entirely in 5.1 surround sound. Says Hawtin, â€œThe CDâ€™s constructed; I wouldnâ€™t say itâ€™s composed.â€ As listeners of DE9: Transitions have witnessed first-hand, the CD has been heard only at private screenings hosted by Richie Hawtin, and at his live shows including Sonar in Barcelona, since no promotional advances are being distributed for this somewhat secretive project-the listening experience can be unique with each play of the surround sound CD, based on where the listener is positioned in the room. This is because, unlike conventional surround sound recordings, Hawtin crafted DE9: Transitions to have sonic elements of equal yet varying degrees of importance on all channels. For example, traditional surround sound recordings place the bulk of information in stereo: voices in the mid-channels and special effects in the rear-channels. Says Hawtin, â€œAs you know, my music isnâ€™t traditional. I put things all over the place. When we got to the tweaking, Ronald Prent [of Galaxy Studios in Belgium] pushed me even further. The mid position is the best one, but it an encompassing experience. When I was in Sonar last week, I was sitting in different areas of the room and listening to the mix, and each area was a different experience.â€
One can hear layer upon luxurious layer of sound that emanates from the strategically placed speakers pumping tracks from DE9: Transitions. Big, bad-ass techno slices the air with the incisive sound of synthesized high-hats, the low-end rumble of the bassline, and the boom! of heavy 4/4 beats, forming the foundation of Hawtinâ€™s heartfelt, powerful techno. Listeners at Hawtinâ€™s preview sessions think to themselves, This is gonna be fat on a thumping dancefloor! Indeed, Richie Hawtin knows intimately well how to move a packed dancefloor, and DE9: Transitions is an immersive experience.
Following the critical acclaim of earlier Richie Hawtin releases, Decks, EFX & 909 (1999) and DE9: Closer To The Edit (2001), this latest installment in the DE9 series uses technologyâ€™s latest advancements in recording, production and automation to free Hawtin up and allow him much more sonic head room in which to work. Says Hawtin, â€œThe more I thought about it, the more it seemed to be the right time to jump into the surround-sound world. Before, I had to use three or four different programs and patch things together. Almost like doing things manually. Now, with advanced software like Ableton Live, I donâ€™t get bogged-down in the non-artistic, menial tasks.â€ Although DE9:Transitions has a lot going on, it doesnâ€™t sound over-worked. Hawtin has also added elements like spooky, supernatural-sounding Plastikman vocals and bits and pieces of previously-unreleased original material.
Born in Windsor, Canada and today working from Berlin, Germany (when heâ€™s not touring), Richie Hawtin is unsurprisingly the son of a robotics engineer. Having grown-up in a forward-thinking household where experimenting with machines and dreaming about the artistic possibilities of technology beyond its normal bounds was encouraged, itâ€™s no surprise that Hawtin has evolved into one of the most technologically advanced DJ-producers today. Together with John Acquaviva, Hawtin contributed to the development of Native Instrumentsâ€™ Traktor Final Scratch, which-having been co-produced by Stanton Magnetics-is changing the art of DJing. With his independent record labels-Plus 8 (which was started in 1990 with Hawtinâ€™s then-partner, John Acquaviva) and M-nus (pronounced â€œminusâ€), Hawtin is able to release music that he feels needs to be heard. While also recording music and performing under the moniker Plastikman, Hawtin has gained a reputation for frighteningly honest, minimal techno, as heard on the haunting Plastikman albums, Consumed (1998) and Closer (2003).
Only a handful of world-famous DJs are as obsessed with his music as Richie Hawtin, and his tireless drive is a feat to behold. In the months and weeks leading up to and preparing for the Mutek show in Canada in 2003, Hawtin took time out from his schedule to give three interviews to DJ TIMES Magazine in the US, sleep-be-damned. Since Hawtin was set to perform as a one-man show at Mutek-lording-over parameters beyond the usual audio-custom-made controllers were necessary. One of these custom controllers was a special CTRL mixer customized for Hawtin by Allen & Heath; the other was a set of bass plates that Hawtin stood on for monitoring. These plates sent bass frequencies up Hawtinâ€™s legs, and although they were effective for passive monitoring of bass frequencies, Hawtinâ€™s repeated practice sessions using them might have caused temporary nerve damage to his legs. (Thankfully, Hawtin feels fine today.)
DE9: Transitions will be released with a DVD containing original visual content. Both 5.1 surround sound and stereo versions of the audio CD will be available. DE9: Transitions is scheduled for release in North America on October 18 (Novamute/M-nus).