Horaflora is San Francisco-based musician Raub Roy. My first encounter with Horaflora came on the Resipiscent records release, “Ralph White and the Horaflora Sound System,” which impressed me with its panoply of madcap pinging, pattering, and manipulated folk droning. It was the next Horaflora release, however, “The Gland Canyon” (Install), that really knocked me off my horse, convincing me that Horaflora is engaged in some of today’s most compelling excursions into what sound is capable of doing. Horaflora music, and “The Gland Canyon” in particular, has an internal logic and a strange type of sentience that I really like. I compare this music to an ecosystem, not so much for sounding like a rainforest or something, but because of all the interrelated sound components that hum with activity while achieving an overall balance.
I started playing as Horaflora in 2005 after my previous group (Deflator Mouse) with Kurt Weisman dissolved. The name was struck upon initially as a joke, a rhyming combination of “horror” and “flowers/flora,” which is an important part of the project. I wanted to work at a level of detail usually reserved for nature, and the name is a reference to an experience one may have whilst perusing a lush flower garden; at a casual glance, it looks pretty and may evoke feelings of pastorality and simplicity, but upon closer inspection, one may see many a strange insect crawling and living on the petals and stems in a dense interweaving of dependence, sustenance and balance, a life and death cycle as epic and complex as any found in human systems, and disguised as a simple flower garden to boot!
This name/concept informs my work through a few compositional and technical methods that I explore both live and in my recorded material. My live performances rely on a collection of semi-autonomous electroacoustic devices/instruments that I initially 'give life' to, but the life and death of each element, as well as their interactions with each other, is something that takes place at a more discreet level than I could have control over if I wanted to.
Recordings are similar, but each instrument/sound is recorded individually, keeping a close ear on the spectral and spatial elements in each pass, to ensure plenty of space in the mixing stage.
The “Horaflora sound system” has only been used once so far, in a collaboration with Ralph White, a Texas-based avant garde Cajun/African musician. Our project involves him playing his (electric) kalimba through my prepared speakers and transducers (or “sound system”). The change in name was meant to indicate my part as more of an effects man in the workings of the collaboration.
Ralph's musicianship lends itself to sounding great, processing or none!
I think the main thing that made this collaboration work is his openness to hearing things beyond their contextual presentation and thus receiving musical ideas less mitigated by stylistic constraints. That isn't to say he's unaware of movements in music, just he's internalized enough to not have to bother thinking about it anymore. Also he can play really fast, which is sweet!
The idea for the project itself came about at a backyard show in which I opened for Ralph. I had secreted away little prepared speakers all around the yard to use in my set; we thought they would be cool to use on his kalimba as the rest of his set was loud enough acoustically to be heard clearly. I undid most of the preparations for his set, going for as clean a sound as possible; but due to the nature of the speakers I use (transducers on different resonant objects: tin pans, drums, sheet metal, Styrofoam, etc.) there was a “specialization as a function of frequency” effect happening. The higher-pitched notes would sound loudest coming through the speaker made of tinfoil, the midrange would sound out off to the left through one of the frame drum speakers, and the lowest note would only sound through the subwoofer (which is the kind that's just a cylindrical hole, over which different papers and plastics may be draped to achieve different buzzes and “squelchgrowls”).
The overall effect of this was a paramount to a gamelan playing in constantly shifting surround sound but played by one man on a simple thumb piano! This inspired our collaboration, which was realized with maximum buzz, rattle and squelch!
As for the automatons, I was going to say, "No, they're different." But now that I stop and think about it, the automatons are like my playing partners; and though I know their limitations (I think), I don't always know what they're going to be doing from moment to moment, at the phrasal level. So yes, of course, they and Ralph occupy similar territory, though I certainly cannot predict Ralph's behavior from moment to moment—he has definitely taken me off guard a few times!
This album started out when I first discovered that I could use cheap stereo lavalier microphones to record binaurally, a recording technique wherein one places microphones in ones ears to, upon playback, closely mimic the actual stereo image the average human is used to hearing in everyday life. The mimicry is due to the mics capturing a physical model of the head & shoulders, and the “acoustic shadows” cast by the skull, which is a big part of what informs our brain where sounds are coming from in the space around us.
Since the stereo image is so vivid, I take care to place myself in different relations to what I'm recording for each source, as much as possible. Once the sources are mixed together this creates an immersive environment rich with detail (the spatial separation also helps to keep things from becoming muddy after several layers of these sources have been applied).
Most of the sources are keenly focused explorations in timbre and tone on solo sounds/instruments, kept minimal to aid the compounding of sounds later, which then instills a sense of alive-ness in the soundworld due to the depth of attention to detail. For example, some rhythms were played one drum at a time, to focus on the sound of that drum and its resonant iterations.
The sounds themselves include guinea pigs, broken hard drives, cell phone speakers in mouths (like a talkbox), playground equipment, E-bowed metals, all sorts of prepared instruments, answering machine feedback, found vibrations, as well as a bevy of spectral, granular, and quadraphonic processing and rerecording.
I only had a vague intention to create an album out of these sources, but didn't get to it for years. Then I moved into a small room above a Vietnamese deli, which I soon discovered had a constantly running refrigerator fan that was omnipresent throughout the apartment, essentially ruining any recording I hoped to do. It pushed me to start editing and layering the recordings into their current configuration.
The mixing was all done on an old computer that started dying pretty hard partway through the mixing process, so I'd burn a CD of the progress as I went along until one day the computer died flatly, and I had my last session to call the final one. I was probably pretty close to being done anyways, but there are a few giggles, sighs, and coughs in there still that I would most likely have eradicated, though I have no problem with their inclusion!
Ha ha, it is awesome! It's also lucky, as I had some pretty ill-informed guitar strumming as a main bit for a while before coming to my senses and replacing it with a ton of electroacoustic noise!
I keep the balance the old fashioned way—by ear! The mixing process for GC was an extensive trial and error of swapping out different combinations of layers and timings, and then listening to how it affected the feel of the surrounding parts. I relished the “puzzledom” of the whole thing. For example, a small shift here would affect the feel of a timing there...and as a technical point, I actually did very little processing in post, no time-stretching, compression, EQ, or other effects. Any “effect” sounds (er, all of it?) were the result of how the instrument had been played at the time of the recording. I should mention that during the execution of the arrangement process, I had one underlying guideline: don’t rule anything out as off limits, and trust my ears and intuition to the end.
Lest anybody think me a control freak, though, who can't leave anything to chance, I feel the need to mention that my live shows are also a pretty sheer tightrope-walk between control, chance, and circumstance. As I mentioned earlier, I use a bunch of little, lightly automated devices to realize my music live. I have certain strategies for maintaining a balance among these things, but the space that I end up playing in has a pretty big impact too, from acoustic properties to heat, moisture, and breeze, which all have a pretty drastic affect on a somewhat signature technique involving drumheads and balloons, above all. The navigation of these elements is considered; but in the end, completely improvised against the real-time events that unfold of their own volition.
I'll be buckling down on recording a 7" for Neel Young's Yeay! Cassettes that is to be a throwback to my days of IDM-esque beat construction, but most likely more weird, and free of typical beat structures, like tempos and rhythms! Another record should be available sooner than that: a split 12" with Secret Boyfriend on his 'Hot Releases' label. Our sides turned out very complementarily, I believe, with his decaying/dissolving song drooling out of one side, and a quite crisp and crunchy live recording of a performance on KALX, Berkeley, with my Andrea Williams (urban field recordings), on the other.
A little tour of Scandinavia is being planned for October. [Unfortunately, since this interview was conducted, the tour has been canceled. -ed.] I would like to tour more widely and frequently, but the cost of rent here in San Francisco is somewhat prohibitive to be taking off for weeks at a time without certain considerations being taken...though some day, when it's time to move to a new place (probably back to Massachusetts, though Baltimore strikes my fancy too...!) I'll take the opportunity to do another bike tour (did Maine to Georgia in '08) across the states for a few months, somehow making it sustainable (er, for both my pocketbook and the planet!). The last tour took all my savings. Luckily, I learned a few things and feel confident that I'll be a good bit better off for it.
Lastly, I'm thinking of releasing sets of the instruments I use in my live set, which I hope to disseminate to kindred minded folks who may wish to play as Horaflora in their city. The logistics of this are nothing short of harebrained at this point, but it's clear that traditional medias for the dissemination of music have been rendered nothing but a sink-pool for the artists' money; and new, creative ways of staying above water are in high demand for those of us who would prefer to make a career out of this, if at all possible. Perhaps I could freely distribute kits and then have them available in cities I'd like to play in, to free up some weight on the next bike tour...perhaps!
This has been fun, thank you very much!
-- Mike Pursley (8 September, 2010)