The blending of folk and electronic music/modern production technique

Hi Guys,

It’s my first post here, so hopefully I’ve posted in the right place!

I’m a third year production student doing a BA in here in London; for my dissertation I have chosen to explore how you can creatively blend electronic music and modern production techniques into folk guitar style music. Whilst doing my research I came across this site, what a great community!!

The small issue I have ran into is that although I’ve found some beautiful and creative music that employ loads of different cool techniques for the blending of folk and electronic (I use folk as a kind of catch all term to include ‘singer-songwriter’ stuff here), there is a real lack of writing on exactly how or why these decisions have been made.

I think there is a tendency amongst us musicians/producers to just make the music because that is what is inside of us, and trying to retrofit justification is a bit of an exercise in futility. However, as this is my dissertation, I really need some citable/reference-able material on the subject, so I can then write about how I have employed or built upon their techniques in my supporting document.

I’m looking for any artists/producers that blend folk and electronic music or modern production technique who have spoken about their choices and have given some insight into their methodology. Also any interviews/writings on the similarities/differences between folk and electronic, or really any thoughts you guys have on the matter!

EDIT -

Here is a little list of the kinds of artists I have in mind:

Junip (my personal favourite)
Four Tet
Todd Barton
Florist (Emily Sprague)
Bon Iver etc etc.

The music itself does not necessarily have to feature heavy use of synthesis (though this is great too), but the augmentation/sonic manipulation of parts within the context of ‘folk-like’ genres!

EDIT 2 -

Thank you all for you great suggestions so far! I’m going to take the time to go through it all and get back to you etc.

Just a little note to say that I’m specifically looking for writings or interviews on the topics as opposed to suggestions of music that fits the bill (though this is useful too). This is because I’ve got to have the original material to reference, rather than deconstructing the music and drawing conclusion after the fact. This is because of the nature of the assignment brief!

Many thanks in advance,

Zac

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for what it’s worth, what if you were to find instead a source in the literature that theorizes folk music well and one that theorizes modern pop music or electronic music well and see what happens if you got them talking to each other? Personally I think that would be an interesting thing to read.

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When I think of ‘folk’ electronic music, I go to The Books or Four Tet/Fridge. These groups aren’t really what you’re describing though, but they’ve done quite a few interviews, so that might help.

Check out Andrew Weathers. Most of his music is the perfect blend of modern electronic and folk and it’s done really well.

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i won’t be of much help but i’m interested in the outcome as well as others’ suggestions; as years ago i had this project of blending songwriting “guitar+voice” stuff with realtime Pure Data treatments. I figured the genre would be called “laptop-folk” or “noise-folk” (which probably exists to designate other things that what i had in mind). It didn’t go far because i couldn’t reconciliate with the use of pathos (er… singing) in my music (others did that way better (and i hadn’t heard of Jason Molina at that time)). I did a cathartic EP in one night (an edited/augmented improv session) and two “songs” the next year before letting go of the idea.

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Yes! Four Tet is brilliant and indeed the kind of music I am looking at! I am going to update to include a list of the type of artists I am talking about. Thanks

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Hi Alanza!

I have done this to a certain extent. Todd Barton talks about folk music being similar to electronic in that they both focus on timbral change. The issue is, I really need to be able to reference clear methodology behind these choices in order to write about and create stuff that has developed on this!

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http://retiary.org/ls/expanding_universe/index.html – Laurie Spiegel’s liner notes (specifically Notes on the Pieces) for ‘The Expanding Universe’ might be right up your alley.

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So this is more than apocryphal, but I cannot find the paper - there is some writing out there I believe about the modular synthesizer as a folk instrument: the players exist within tight communities; there is no formal notation but lots of patching passed on as word of mouth; whilst everyone can agree on standards and nature instruments are highly personal and often home-made or hand-built; within the idiom, musicians can also be instrument-builders; there are loose families of practice.

Here’s one quotation from the old monome forum in 2012:

i relate to the current state of eurorack (and some other) modular systems as something akin to a contemporary folk instrument, largely by, of, and for its people.

in that sense it shares something with monome, but in lieu of refined, flexible and minimal devices, the common denominator is simply a (sometimes varying) voltage and mechanical standard.

but I feel sure I’ve seen a longer paper exploring this theme. Anyhow, that might be an idea to explore.

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Ah, ok - great. Glad we’re on the same page.

I would dig into the back catalog of Tape Op magazine - I’m certain I’ve read a Books interview there at some point and you’ll probably find a lot of good stuff around process for them and other groups.

Kieran Hebden did a bunch of interviews with Future Music magazine and I think they posted some of the videos too.

i relate to the current state of eurorack (and some other) modular systems as something akin to a contemporary folk instrument, largely by, of, and for its people.

I disagree with this premise. I think a laptop with a DAW is the true folk instrument of our times - cheap, relatively simple, and accessible. Modular is definitely not the first and is the others to varying degrees. Largely I think the cultural impact of modular is overstated, perhaps because so many of us spend time on hobbyist forums.

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If this thread isn’t for @stripes, I don’t know what is. :smiley:

(edit: just noticed you specifically mentioned her in your original post)

I mean I also think your point is right too, from a different angle. I was mainly trying to recall a longer piece of citable prose I remember reading, rather than saying that it was a thing I 100% agreed with.

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I would suggest checking out Tunng
I had the pleasure of opening for them many years ago and really hit a sweet spot in the crossroads of folk and electronics.
Check out their albums Good Arrows and Comments of the Inner Chorus

Also the album Diamond Mine by King Creosote and Jon Hopkins.

And Some of Greg Davis’ work.
Stunning.

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How about Sarah Louise? Blend of Appalachian folk and drone, the latter of which has acoustic roots as well. Here’s the Bandcamp feature that introduced me to this artist.

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I feel like Greg’s album “Arbor” was the first I recall being described as ‘folktronica’ or ‘laptop folk’ or something along those lines given the blending of laptop electronics and acoustic guitar.

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Here’s a track I did with my friend Chaz (aka Lake Mary), I would be happy to get you his email if you’re interested in talking with him. We often use electronics to augment the available sonic pallet. We also both love listening to various folk musics (especially American and Eastern European), ambient and atmospheric electronic music, and artists who combine those influences, many of whom have already been mentioned. I also really like Jewelled Antler Collective, Sam Amidon, CocoRosie, Josephine Foster, certain Animal Collective records, Braeyden Jae, Willamette, and a lot of the artists on Scissor Tail and Constellation records. Some of those might suit your purposes better than others.

Also, my two cents: I’m no expert, but I steer clear of defining any genre based primarily on what instruments are used – to me it’s like saying that all guitarists make rock, or all pianist play classical music. So there is likely a subculture of electronic music makers (and modular synth users) that are doing things in a way that is in line with folk practices. I just personally wouldn’t call modular synths folk instruments by default. Though I suppose the way you make a banjo was transmitted orally and nobody knows who (if any one person) invented it, so that would make it a folk instrument. Perhaps open-source anonymous modules could fall under that category.
In that same vein, the internet seems to think the things that define folk music are tradition, oral transmission, and generally unknown authorship, regardless of instrumentation.
I would say, however, that the challenge of blending acoustic instruments with electronics, from a production standpoint, is a real passion and interest of mine, and is a big influence on my creative process.

Your idea got me thinking a lot, so I’m curious to see what you come across! Thanks for providing an opportunity for dialogue.

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I think it maybe just skirts the definition of folk (which, to be honest, I’m not sure I totally understand as a genre), but @bushel posted an album a few months back elsewhere on lines that may relate to what you’re looking for.

As a piece of music it winds up moving between field recording & noise sections into folk sections rather than heavily blending the two in the same moment, but the transitions feel remarkable natural, given the distance being covered.

I don’t know of any source material like interviews you could pull from for that artist, but you may want to consider just reaching out. You may be able to dig more towards what you want to answer if you can ask the questions.

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Hello Zac and welcome!

I’m really interested in what you’re doing and would be keen to read up on what you do.

I haven’t gone through all of the responses just yet, but I would really recommend looking into psych folk for areas where folk and electronic often converge. Maybe get in touch with Fonal records from Finland, who kind of champion that sort of wyrd electronic folk music (and more). They would have some interesting things to say and could be a great starting point for connecting with a whole scene of this kind of music.

Also, I write psych folk music with acoustic instruments combined with electronic instruments and production (lesser so at the moment but I’m sure I will return to it sooner or later). I would be happy to be an interview subject if you’re looking for artists to speak to! :slight_smile: Here’s a sample of some sounds:

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Incorporating electronics into folk contexts (while at the same time transforming these contexts) isn’t just a contemporary thing.

There are examples going back to the early 1970’s – basically as long as electronics have been widely available commercially.

While your focus may be on contemporary perspectives, I think it would be interesting to explore this broader history, and to do so especially with an openness to the diverse worldviews and mindsets that flow in and out of this work. I hope you are able to interview at least some of these people as we are talking in some cases records that came out 45 years ago, there may not always be time to wait.

One of the more fully realized approaches is a folk album played entirely on Serge modular in 1980, by Will and Kalima Sawyer. (Synthesis - Planetary Peace). This was reissued in 2016, on Love All Day. The Sawyers’ current project though not a musical one is also quite interesting: http://starclusters.cc/public_html/STARCLUSTERS_ebook.html
– you may find contact information here or through Kalima Sawyer’s Facebook

One of the earlier electronic folk ensembles was the Hawaiian band These Trails. Their only album (S/T) came out in 1973. They mixed ARP 2600 with guitars and other instrumentation and delay effects. The major creative force, Margaret Morgan, passed long ago. However ,the person responsible for most of the electronics, Dave Choy, is possibly still active. I read in an interview with Don Slepian (very notable in the Hawaiian electronic scene in the 1970’s) to this effect, but I’ve since lost it. Since I don’t know how to track down the “right” Dave Choy I’d suggest contacting Don Slepian [Note: Slepian did not himself have anything to do with this album] http://donslepian.com

For more background on the people behind These Trails, there is a tragic biography of Morgan’s sister Karen, __ by Karen’s daughter Tara Bray Smith, called West of Then https://www.amazon.com/West-Then-Daughter-Journey-Paradise/dp/0743236807/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1524621658&sr=8-1&keywords=Tara+Bray+Smith. It should add some depth to the story.

The legendary festival band, Zorch, also played live with three VCS3’s. There lone album, recorded in 1975 but not released until the 2000’s, was done on a Synthi 100 in Peter Zinovieff’s EMS studio while Zinovieff was away. Howard Scarr’s contact is here: http://www.zorchmusic.com/hscarr/. While this especially stretches the definition of “folk” (and may be more similar to Tim Blake’s early projects), it’s hard not to see in this light, given the nature of the venues where this music was originally performed.

Emerald Web, their first album Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales(1979) definitely touches on folk (Flight of the Raven), though subsequent efforts are more ambient. More to the point the members (Kat Epple and Bob Stohl) seem to have come from a traditional folk background, so it would be very interesting why they turned to electronics. Kat Epple is still around and very active with soundtracks and such: http://www.katepple.com

Johannes Vester and of Sand/ALU must also be mentioned, with Sand the more folk-oriented project, though a very experimental and non-traditional one (which I love, but it is a bit different from the projects mentioned above). The lesser-known Dusseldorf band Dom can also be mentioned more loosely in this context (Gabor and Laszlo Baksay).

Everything I mentioned is from 1973-1980, so it might provide an interesting counterpoint to the approaches considered thus far.

I should also mention many of the more experimental English bands in the early 80’s, on the fringes of the postpunk/industrial scenes: Legendary Pink Dots, Eyeless in Gaza, and the recently rediscovered Woo, who were there all along (with their first album on Cherry Red) . but this perhaps stretches things too far. But there is a strong folk undercurrent in this type of music which obviously made ample use of electronics.

OK, that’s enough for now. Much to say from a personal angle but I’ll leave the discussion for now with these links.

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