Tabs Out | An Interview With Karl Fousek

An Interview With Karl Fousek
6.30.15 by Mike Haley

karl large

Karl Fousek seemingly came out of nowhere last year with the release of a mega-pleasing cassette on Denmark’s Phinery imprint. After thoroughly digesting his boiling array of modular synthesis and tape delay I went poking around for more. Turned out it was his (impressive) debut. Fousek has since kept the pace going with releases on Adhesive Sounds, Dionysian, and a dosage of compilation and remix tracks. I caught up with the Montreal jammer over a series of tubes known as the internet.


Your first release was the “Relative Position Of Figures” cassette on Phinery last year, but how long have you been playing experimental stuff in private?

Privately I’ve been making electronic music since my early teens, so maybe 15 years give or take. That was mostly just messing around with sounds and samples on the computer and on my dad’s cassette boombox. I’ve been working with the analog modular stuff for maybe 4 years or so.

Any really old, embarrassing stuff collecting dust on a hard drive?

Oh totally. There’s an old Apple PowerPC computer at my mom’s house collecting dust in my old room. Lots of attempts to make instrumental hip-hop on that thing. Also there used to be stuff on MySpace that you could find if you looked hard enough, but I think that died the last time they changed the site.

I’ll commit to a good 3 minutes looking for it.


What artist in particular got you into playing modular?

Keith Fullerton Whitman. Although not actually the Eurorack performances he is known for now, but a record called “Multiples”, which has several tracks done on different vintage synths. That record made me do research and discover old systems like Serge and Buchla.

What modules did you use on “Relative Position Of Figures”?

That was all Intellijel. The Atlantis, Metropolis and their wavefolder module.

So what was it about that material that made you finally decide to start releasing stuff? And how did it end up on Phinery?

It wasn’t the material per say… I felt like I had reached a point where I was comfortable as a player of my instrument. Other life factor also made it an opportune time to put more energy into music making. I actually just sent Ben (of Phinery) an email after hearing his first compilation release and he liked the music. I had already been contacting some more established labels and was getting a lot of positive feedback, but everyone’s release schedules were too busy. Phinery was just getting ready to do their first batch. It was great timing.

How different was your setup for the “Codicil” tape on Adhesive Sounds?

Same setup. Actually, I think that stuff was recorded slightly earlier, but it’s all pretty much part of the same “session” in my mind.

When you record, do you generally have a project in mind that you work on in full, or do you record a few tracks here, a session there, then put it all together as you see fit?

Both those first two tapes were just things that I recorded without really knowing were they would go. A lot of it was edited out of larger jams and later arranged into an order that felt right. Now people tend to ask me to do tapes before I have a lot of music recorded, so I’m starting to take a more project oriented approach.

Do you recreate much of your released material live?

Not really. My live shows tend to be improvised, sometimes using the same systems I use on record, sometimes not. I like to do a new patch for each show. I think live I tend to be more free flowing since I can’t edit myself so rigorously. I think lot about live synth playing and improvising and really admire people who have been doing it a long time.

karl synth

So who was the first label to reach out to you about doing a tape?

Adhesive Sounds, not that long after Relative Position came out.

I feel like your tape for them was a part of one of their earlier batches, if not the first one??

I think it was the second or the third. I remember Demonstration Synthesis and Hobo Cubes already had tapes out just ahead of me.

You said that you first sent demos out to “more established labels”. Were you already into tapes when you did those two releases, or did the Phinery and Adhesive Sounds introduce you to a bunch of the smaller cassette labels floating around out there?

Yeah, I knew about the tape scene, but wasn’t that deep into it. I would mostly go for the digital downloads instead of the physical. That said, doing cassette releases has definitely opened me up to a lot of label I didn’t know about – Adhesive Sounds was new to me at the time, for example. And now I have a healthy tape collection, mostly from trades and traveling.

What labels and projects have you been digging lately? Off the top of your head, give me one of each. Go!

Kara-Lis Coverdale’s tape on Sacred Phrases has been on repeat a lot lately. And I just discovered the Generations Unlimited label – I need to dig into more of those tapes.

You recently did a collaboration with someone I’m not familiar with named Danny Clay. Tell me a little about him and how this collab came to exist.

Danny got in touch with me a few years on soundcloud before I was even posting modular stuff, we talked about collaborating but nothing much happened. Later I suggest we do a synth album because I really wanted to work with an acoustic instrument and process those sounds with the analog synth. He comes from a “classical” new music background and I believe he is trained as a composer, but he’s also involved in the tape scene in San Francisco and has done a few tape collaborations with Greg Gorlen (of Turmeric Multitudes, Cascading Fragments, etc). He also has some solo tapes composed for gameboy. You should track down some of his tapes, they’re all really good.

And he played the pipe organ on that recording?

Yeah! He sent me pipe organ recordings I ran those through synth patches and we pieced the album out of those recordings.

Is that how you handled the Citrus Glaze remix you did on the “Rebuilding” tape?

For the most part. I have this thing made by monome called the aleph, which is a small computer for sound processing that can programed, voltage controlled and sync’d to the modular. So the remix was done by running some stems of the original track through the synth and then through the alpeh, which rearranged the sounds sort of at random – kind of like an automatic tape collage. For the Danny Clay album I only used my synth and a delay pedal.

Anything in the works?

Next up is a four way split release with Sculpture, D.Hansen, and .glia. And I have a few live shows coming up in Saskatoon and Seattle. After that I want to sit down and do a more composed solo album, but I don’t entirely know what that will be. I would like to do a live release too, but I never seem to like the recordings enough.

karl gear

photos by Brian Young

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