Sound Out: Stephen Parsick - August 2017

 

Stephen Parsick

I had the opportunity to meet Stephen Parsick briefly in 1995 at the KLEM Dag festival in Nijmagen, The Netherlands. He somehow stole a moment to shake hands and exchange some brief chat - which, in this day and age of The Internet, and the distance of its vast virtual communities, now feels like a significant event.

Over the intervening years Parsick has released numerous substanstilal and significant Spacemusic releases under the name ['ramp]. Obviously influenced by the classics, his productions are always a true musical representation of nothing but himself and his world view. Having collaborated with the likes of acclaimed looper and touch guitarist Markus Reuter and the legendary Electronic Musician Mark Shreeve, Parsick has produced an ample body of work - both in the studio and at the concert hall.

In August 2017 Stephen Parsick has released synchronize or die, an album which he claims (and I concur) contains, "the pinnacle of my sequencing skills". I hope you will read this interesting interview, and gain insight into this intelligent, intriguing personality, and his views on what he might call the "Doombient" music scene.

Thanks! -Chuck van Zyl


 

Stephen Parsick STAR'S END: What is it like where you live?

Stephen Parsick: I live in the countryside, on a converted farm which lies on a slope of the Teutoburg Forest Range. When looking out of my window, it's a bit like the landscape in England's Cheshire, with pasture, orchards, and fields all around. In fact, I expect to see the Jodrell Bank dish off in the distance every time I go for a walk. The town where I live is a small farming community in the rural part of Germany's Eastern Westphalia (well, actually all parts of Eastern Westphalia are more or less rural). The biggest city nearby would be the city that doesn't exist, Bielefeld.

 

Stephen Parsick

STAR'S END: Please tell our readers of your great love and vast knowledge of all things to do with professional and amatuer sports...

Stephen Parsick: Oh, I do love sports.

No, I don't, just pulling your leg. I never got the point of "sports" in terms of "competition". Why do people do that? I hated PE lessons at school, and my PE teachers hated me. I hated doing sports when I was in the army, and it has been like that since - I enjoy riding my bicycle every now and then, and I enjoy watching the Tour de France on TV but that's about it.

 

Three Tools - Stephen Parsick

STAR'S END: What is your favorite synthesizer? the one which you have used to realize a significant work of music (or is just the most fun to use)...

Stephen Parsick: This would be the 1978 Mini Moog I've had since 1989, I guess. To me, it's the Swiss Army Knife in my work, I have used it on practically everything I have ever released. Another favourite of mine is the Yamaha CS80 because there is nothing quite like it in terms of sound and playability. I also have a soft spot for PPG stuff but this borders on being a bit of a masochist. When it's only about playing and getting carried away, it's my 1976 Rhodes Stage Piano 73, I guess, with a nice selection of stompboxes.

 

Five Movies King Britt

STAR'S END: Briefly describe the arc of your musical endeavors - how and why you got started, what projects you have realized, and where you are now?

Stephen Parsick: I set out trying to capture what fascinated me about synthesizers and electronic music, particularly the timbral quality of it and the formal liberty it gave me. I simply knew I wanted to do that. I believe in the idea that every seven years a cycle is completed - in my case, I started actively with ['ramp] back in 1996, seven years after releasing my first track ever, and here I am, 21 years on, going back to where it all started. Don't ask me where it's going from there. It's not going to be another forty albums or so, that's for certain.

 

Stephen Parsick - Listening

STAR'S END: Was there a musical event in your life (an "Ah-Ha" moment) that opened you up to the possibilities of innovative music? or is your interest in making Electronic Music just a continuing life of innovation and experimentation?

Stephen Parsick: The initial moments happened when I was a child, maybe three years old, when my dad played Walter Carlos' Clockwork Orange to me, and Kraftwerk's Autobahn was playing on the radio all the time, too (it was the summer of 1975, and it was really hot). Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygene got the ball rolling in about 1976, I told my parents I wanted to play "synthesizers", much to their amazement: "Where are we supposed to find such a thing?". There was something about the sound I couldn't quite grasp, it was alien to me but at the same time completely familiar. Another formative moment for me was when I discovered the music of both Klaus Schulze and Michael Garrison, this was a bit of a moment of epiphany for me: They can't play any better than me but they've got all these great synthesizers, and they release albums! I immediately knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do as well. My interest in electronic music is to keep it as fascinating and intriguing as it has always been to me, exploring the frontiers of sound and keeping the sense of mystery alive - this is something I feel missing with many EM releases these days. Not sure about innovation, I don't consider myself to be overly "innovative", I just try to create what I like, and I try to get better with every little bit I create.

 

Stephen Parsick - Five Films

STAR'S END: Please list (and briefly describe) your five favorite films...

Stephen Parsick:

  • Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange: I love the subtext of the film and the eternal question whether man is really good or just chooses to be good because he fears punishment or hopes for a reward of some kind. The question of whether we have a freedom of choice, and what the price of this freedom is. I was intrigued by Anthony Burgess' book, and in fact an American exchange student at school - a girl from Las Vegas, named Karen De Luna - gave me her dog-eared copy to read. I devoured it.

  • Stanley Kubrick's Doctor Strangelove: A film which is more up to date than ever. I love the wicked sense of humour it has, and I have always been in awe of Peter Sellers.

  • David Fincher's Fight Club: Some people simply seem to mistake this film as a vehicle to showcase Brad Pitt's chest or whatever but - as with A Clockwork Orange - I love the subtext it has: What is the price we have to pay for the lives we lead? How can we break away from the ties of this life? Is the life we lead really the sort of life we wanted to have?

  • Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, of course: If you have to ask why, I can't help you.

  • The Big Lebowski is a film I also enjoy watching on a regular basis - I even know someone who looks a bit like Walter Sobchak, bar the gun, luckily. I like the films by the Coen brothers, great sense of humour.

 

Stephen Parsick

STAR'S END: Please provide some insight into your work as ['ramp]. What does this word mean? How is it suited for this music project?

Stephen Parsick: The word is of Dutch origin and means "disaster" or "catastrophe". In Dutch post-war culture, "de ramp" represents the disastrous flood of 1953. I don't believe in accidents happening, this word just came to me when I was looking for a new name for my musical enterprise, and it was Frits Couwenberg of Dutch KLEM who told me about its meaning which I wasn't aware of at all then. It just seemed to fit in perfectly, and I have always tried to make my own work sound a bit more "dangerous", if you wish. And to some, my music seems to be utter disaster... ['ramp] is my main vehicle for my musical ideas, it just seems to be more firmly rooted in people's minds, for some reason.

 

Steel and Steam STAR'S END: The album Steel and Steam (2011) cites Mark Shreeve as your collaborator. Please describe your contact with Shreeve, the sessions and the resulting music.

Stephen Parsick: Mark and I met for the first time in 1995 when he was playing at KLEM festival, it was just a little chat about synthesisers, and he told me he had just acquired a Modular Moog. Next time we met was at Alfa Centauri in 1998 when I gave him a copy of my Traces album which he apparently liked. Then, ['ramp] opened the Alfa festival the year after, playing before Redshift. When we played at Jodrell Bank in 2001, we actually wanted to go to London for a brief stint with Mark but this didn't work out. I got in touch with Mark the next year and asked whether he would like to record some music with me - he agreed to. Even though I spent as little as a couple of days with him as his apprentice, this experience is still lasting. The sessions with him were as relaxed and easy-going as could be, it just so happened that we ended up with some music we found quite decent, and Mark generously allowed me to release it on one of my own albums.

 

Stephen Parsick

STAR'S END: Throughout all your musical output I've sensed a tone of mystery - too much so to be the product of mere random synthesizer tinkering. As I imagine your albums to be an extension of your personality, please shed some light on what it is you are expressing in your work... Does it help define who you are?

Stephen Parsick: A sense of mystery and otherworldliness is what I have always found attractive about electronic music, and this is the essence of it which I want to incorporate into my own work. Even though a synthesizer - ideally - invites you to actually "play" it, I find it utterly important to know a thing or two about the tools you're using, and how to use them. I also like this sense of "how on earth did he do that?" when something is bigger than the sum of its parts - Larry Fast's early albums are full of that, or Michael Hoenig's Departure from the Northern Wasteland. I suppose my music is a reflection of my personality, of my personal outlook on life and my personal sense of humour (even though I'm German...), and how I perceive the world around me. Of course, my music is me to some degree, I could never create anything that I can't identify myself with. I try to stay true to myself and be authentic. Whether music helps me to define who I am? I'm not sure. To me, my music has always been proof to the fact that I'm still alive, that I can still overcome obstacles in my life, and succeed in doing my own thing in the end.

 

Technology

STAR'S END: What does technology want from us?

Stephen Parsick: Our time, energy, heart, mind, and soul - I appreciate technology if it supports us and makes things easier. If it becomes the be-all and end-all of our very existence, I try to avoid it like the plague. It's like Rick Deckard speaking the famous phrase about replicants and other machines.

 

['ramp]

STAR'S END: Please tell us about any significant times you have had while performing live concerts? Has the experience had a lasting effect on how you make music? or on other aspects of your life?

Stephen Parsick: One of the more significant moments was the ['ramp] performance at Alfa Centauri in 1999. The main sequencer rig crashed and caused quite a bit of a mess on stage. I've always relied on a Plan B since, just in case - and I do not take the spark of inspiration for granted as this can seriously go wrong, as evidenced by one of my earliest live concerts. The most beautiful moment on stage was playing live at Jodrell Bank in 2001 - this was as perfect as a concert can be, and I have never experienced anything quite as blissful after that. One of those few perfect moments in life that I still draw energy from, and that I still try to capture when making music.

STAR'S END: How are your live concerts performed? Totally improvised? Entirely pre-programmed? Hardware or software synths?

Stephen Parsick: The final concert that was completely improvised was the show at Jodrell Bank. There were a couple of parts that had been clearly defined beforehand, but the rest just happened on the spur of the moment. After that, I knew this concert was a godsend, a gift, and this would most probably never happen again. Since then, my concerts have always been a very focussed and very well-rehearsed affair - I hate things going wrong, I hate noodling on for hours without getting anywhere (some people call it "improvising"), even if the audience seems to be appreciative of that. There is a fairly rigid scheme that leaves me some room for improvisation but, in a larger context, I want to know where I'll end up once I've set out. I tend to rely on hardware instruments on stage, unfortunately, and I have a backup that does all the sequencer stuff and some textural work as well because it would be financially and logistically impossible to bring as many instruments to the venue as that Jean Michel fellow does.

 

Monument Valley

STAR'S END: Do you travel the world for pleasure? Have you ever been to the USA?

Stephen Parsick: Honestly, I don't like travelling too much. It's a very time-consuming thing to do, and my budget is always fairly tight - spending a fortune on travelling elsewhere is out of the question for me, my priorities are set differently. On the other hand, though, many of my fellow colleagues hail from countries all over the world. I have colleagues from India, Japan, Russia, Poland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium and The Netherlands, the USA and Canada, so there is no pressing need for me to travel - the world greets me when I get to work every day. Also, most of my supporters live outside Germany, that's also a nice way of travelling to other countries - my music does that for me. On the other hand, though, I fancy what it would be like, standing in the desert of Arizona or New Mexico on my 50th birthday.

 

Lake Constance

STAR'S END: Please list the top five concerts you have attended, and a line or two about each...

Stephen Parsick: Ugh, I am not such an avid concert-goer.

  • Sigur Ros at Cologne Philharmonic back in 2002 was one of the greatest concerts I have ever attended, musically, in terms of setting and mood, it was just perfect.

  • Karat from the former GDR was the first live concert I ever attended, back in November 1981. It was quite an impressive moment for a nine-year old to watch a really good band playing on stage - not to mention the political dimension this concert had.

  • Michael Stearns playing at the final KLEM festival in 1997 was amazing as well - I thought the hall was about to collapse. Just massive.

  • Steve Roach playing KLEM dag in Breda back in 1991 and Paderborn in 1992 were also memorable moments - there was this fellow from the USA I had previously only heard on LP and CD, and now he's standing right there on the stage within an arm's reach. When he got out his didge for Thunderground, I was literally blown away, I'd never seen anything quite like this before. And the best bit, he turned out to be a very kind person to talk to after the shows. I wish we were still in touch.

  • Portishead playing live at a big festival in Belgium. I could witness the show from backstage, that was quite intense as well. I have a feeling Adrian Utley wouldn't remember me anymore, though...

  • I had the pleasure of being on Coil's guest list with two shows back in 2002 and 2004. That was also quite intense emotionally. Oops, this was six concerts... I'm sorry.

 

STAR'S END: It seems that most Electronic Musicians have a career outside of music by which to earn a living. Please tell us about yours, and your achievements in this realm.

Stephen Parsick: I work as a freelance language trainer, I teach Dutch and English. My main clients are language schools, and major companies that send their employees abroad. I have been doing this for almost 20 years, and it has become some sort of a career. I really enjoy turning people on to other languages and cultures, and I believe that my work - at least to some extent - is something that makes people get along with each other better.

 

Scotch

STAR'S END: Do you enjoy drinking beer? If so, then: what kind? name your favorite pub?

Stephen Parsick: I am not into drinking beer that much, I must confess, I am - if at all - more into Scotch Single Malts. I like having a pint of Tannenzapfle lager from the Black Forest in the summer when it's hot - it's refreshing. When going to Belgium, I need to have a bottle of Trappist or Abdij brew with some solid Belgian meal but rather than drinking beer, I love using it for cooking. Flemish stoverij, for example.

 

synchronize or die STAR'S END: The release of synchronize or die (2017) comes after what seems to be a dormant period in your musical output. Please tell us something about what has been occupying your life away from music, and what this new release consists of, and what it means to you.

Stephen Parsick: Life is keeping me busy all the time, bills need to be paid, sometimes you need to relocate because you find yourself in a place which isn't good for you, sometimes you simply have to re-arrange priorities in your life. Nothing spectacular, actually. Being a creative person doesn't mean I am detached from everyday issues or existential matters. I'm past my 40th and I am beginning to realize that I do no longer have the sort of energy and stamina that I used to have when I was 25. When I started working on synchronize or die and its follow-up, wilmersdorf, I knew I most likely wouldn't have the time to do a "redux" version of these albums in some twenty years from now, that's why I spent a lot of time on fine-tuning the tracks to make them as close to perfection as I possibly could. synchronize or die is, to me, the pinnacle of my sequencing skills - it took me a long time to get there. wilmersdorf will be my personal high point of my quest for that Berlin-type of sound of the 1970s - this is what I was trying to achieve when I cobbled Traces together, it took me merely twenty-one years to get where I wanted to be back then. Time well-spent, I'd say.

 

-Chuck van Zyl/STAR'S END Interview with Stephen Parsick - August 2017


 
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