An Interview With Multiples

Michael McKinney speaks to Anthony Child and Jochem Paap of Multiples about their recent debut album as a duo, embracing tension, the magic of improvisation and more.
By    May 15, 2024

Image via Sander Voets

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For as long as it’s been around, electronic music has promised universes. If you listen to the genre’s true believers, kick drums offer a fast-track to the stars, carefully selected synthesizers link back to umpteen histories, and elation lies somewhere on a crowded dancefloor. There’s some truth to that, but it’s never quite that simple. Sometimes, the greatest memories from a night out aren’t when everything goes exactly as planned: It’s when a producer mixes up a cue and sends a track in an unusual direction, or when an instrumentalist takes an extra thirty-two bars for their solo, or when a stray elbow adds a bit of unplanned scratching to an otherwise beat-matched set. If electronic-music production is analogous to world-building, then it would follow that you need a bit of entropy.

Anthony Child and Jochem Paap, a.k.a. Surgeon and Speedy J, know this as well as anyone. As Surgeon, Child is responsible for a remarkable body of work, a collection of machine-funk techno that is equal parts driving, head-spinning, and playful; under his own name, he has stretched into the worlds of free improvisation, bleary-eyed ambience, and liturgical drones. Paap shares Child’s interest in tough-as-nails techno, whether that’s warehouse-rave slammers or acidic and heady material, and he has gone into similarly uncharted territories: As the head of STOOR, he has overseen a staggering amount of freely-improvised live-hardware sort-of-techno, encouraging all sorts of artists to push their instruments into ever stranger territories. Both Child’s and Paap’s work are defined by a constant search: For unexplored spaces, for novel tones, for friction between their hands and their machinery.

After years of collaborations, improvisations, and live performances as Multiples, Child and Paap are releasing their debut album. In a way, it’s not dissimilar from their live performances—The stuff their collaboration is built upon. With Two Hours or Something, they distill two days of hardware improvisations down to two hours of recordings: No-bit techno-et-cetera steamrollers, bad-dream ambient music, deep-space hardware workouts. It is searching, delirious, and a bit brain-bending; it is a continuation of the exploratory ethos that has Child and Paap for decades. This record is the sound of two live-electronics veterans locked in a free fall, putting complete trust in their gear and intuition.

In advance of the record’s release, we spoke with Child and Paap. We dug into their relationships to chaos, trust, and musique concrète; playing against expectation; embracing tension; the black-box magic of free improvisation; and plenty more.

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

What’s some of the first art you remember connecting with you?

Jochem Paap: [laughs] I guess for me, personally, it’s never really been a question of what type of art. I’ve been obsessed with sound for as long as I can remember. Even before the time when I knew what culture it belonged to, or what scene, or what it meant to other people. I was always interested in electronic sounds, even though I didn’t understand it back then. It was always the aesthetics and the sounds rather than the culture, or the lyrics, or the fashion.

As for how I got into producing music myself, I think that happened around the time when the first hip-hop and electro started to reach me through record shops and pirate radio stations. It sounded, to me, like a message from another world: a world that I didn’t know and that I was completely fascinated by. I’m still chasing that mystique, you know? It’s something otherworldly; it’s not directly traceable.

When did you start finding your way towards production?

Jochem Paap: When I got into being more than just a consumer, it was through cutting tapes. The first thing that was available to me and was affordable was a reel-to-reel tape deck and turntables. That was the first time I started to dabble in making something of my own. I was a teenager [then]—In high school in the mid-’80s.

Anthony Child: It’s interesting, what Jochem says about his first instrument being a tape machine. I would say that’s the same for me, but maybe slightly different. I was really drawn to certain records in my dad’s record collection. He didn’t have a particularly weird collection, but some things in there were a little more odd, like this Japanese electronic musician called Isao Tomita. He created these very elaborate electronic music versions of classical music on a huge Moog system—and the Star Wars theme, and stuff like that. I remember loving that as a kid. Like Jochem said, it really sounded like this was beamed from outer space. You didn’t know what these sounds were or how they were made.

I also remember a record by Laurie Anderson—”O Superman”—that was in the pop charts in England. That was really odd: I think it was seen as a novelty single, but it’s quite avant-garde, in a way, so it’s a really odd thing to be in the pop charts. It really struck me: “What is this?!” This was something really different. I was drawn to electronic music since I can remember, but when I was at school I found a book in the school library. It was called [Composing] With Tape Recorders: Musique Concrète for Beginners. I was fascinated by it, but the internet didn’t exist; I had no way to hear any musique concrète. I had to imagine what it sounded like. So I got ahold of a tape recorder, and I made it myself.

That’s how I began creating music: I was playing around with a tape recorder, and I found it really fascinating. Playing with sound was really fun. Prior to that, I knew I loved music, so the obvious approach is to learn to play an instrument. But I tried piano, guitar, [and] violin, and I didn’t really connect with any of them. It took a while to realize that I’m actually into sound as opposed to melody or whatever. With piano, I would always want to open up the back: Hit the strings and play it in that way rather than using the keyboard in a normal way.

A John Cage prepared-piano sort of thing.

Anthony Child: Yeah. At the time, of course, I was completely unaware of John Cage; It’s more intuition and having fun, really.

Did you consider what you were doing at the time to be “electronic music?”

Jochem Paap: I never have, and I still don’t. For me, in the meantime, I’m completely aware of the mechanisms and where it sits in culture, and how it fits into the musical landscape—the context and everything. But I’m still chasing [and] exploring the unknown. At least the unknown for myself; I admit that most of what comes out is, in some way, already done by other people lots of times. But as long as, for me, it has some kind of unexplored angle to it, I’m interested in dipping into it and seeing what happens.

Anthony Child: I very much agree with that. It’s about being an explorer.

During this early exploration, is there anything in particular you were looking towards? Whether ideologically or aesthetically. I’m thinking of club nights, or writers, or films. What were you drawing from?

Anthony Child: I wasn’t thinking about anything outside of this exploration. It was years later when I actually came to realize: “Oh, wow. This is actually what I do.” It was always just a hobby. I always had this idea of, “I’m gonna have to get a real job, aren’t I?” I never had career ambitions. It’s not something I ever set out to do; it just kind of turned out that way.

Jochem Paap: I guess it’s the same [for me]. I think if you end up on this path of making music as a career, I think the only way you can keep it interesting for yourself is to always keep that approach of exploration. Of course, the more you develop as an artist, and the more you find out about other disciplines, yeah, there’s similarities. I think everyone who creates stumbles upon the same things. I guess if I draw from other artists, it probably has to do more with their attitude towards things: “This person has an approach, and I can find similarities in their approach, and that might confirm that I’m doing something that is along the same lines.” But it’s not a one-on-one comparison. That’s something that can be similar and admire in other people.

Anthony Child: I agree with that. For example, I find Throbbing Gristle very inspiring, but not in terms of their sound. I’m not interested in sounding like them, but I find their attitude really inspiring: the way they worked as independent artists, their humor, all those kinds of things.

How did the two of you connect?

Anthony Child: We’ve known each other’s music for a really long time—Way before we even met. We met in a very casual gig environment, maybe; it was a gradual process. As far as I remember, this idea came about of us performing together. We got together at Jochem’s studio just to see how we would connect musically, because if I improvise with another musician, each combination has a very different characteristic. It’s really important to figure [that dynamic] out before performing on stage together. Of course, you can go on stage without having done that, but then you have this process of figuring each other out, and maybe that’s not the most exciting thing for an audience. [laughs] I think it’s better for us to have got a good rapport before we perform, so that’s what we did. We weren’t rehearsing a set or something like that; it was just, “How do we connect? How do we communicate?”

Jochem Paap: The first time we put our setups together and had that process of getting to know each other musically, you want to find out how each of your styles contribute to the whole game. If you know that, you’re prepared. We have always improvised; it’s always been a question of pressing start and see where the hell we end up. But it’s good to know the signature of the other person in advance, so you can find common ground and see where it clicks and where it doesn’t. You keep that in your toolkit whenever you hit the stage, and you can see where it goes from there.

For what it’s worth, I have a background in improvised music as well; I understand the necessity of building that rapport. You’ve got to know what kind of trust fall you’re taking.

Anthony Child: What’s your instrument, or whatever you want to call it, of choice for improvising with?

Piano and percussion.

Anthony Child: It’s interesting you’re involved with that. In a lot of interviews we’ve done, we spend a lot of time attempting to explain improvisation, and it’s quite difficult to get across to people who haven’t done it and don’t get it. They want to somehow pick it apart, but you just open yourself up to it, and that’s it. That’s what we do, but we happen to use electronic gear.

How did you find your way towards that approach, though? It’s not one I’d immediately connect with live electronics, and maybe that’s just my ignorance.

Jochem Paap: I’ve always been quite hands-on with things. I’m not very good at spending loads of time behind a screen piecing stuff together; doing things in real time just suits me much better.

I really like to capture a moment when I’m making music, whether it’s solo or with another person. I think doing things in real time makes you work more intuitively, and there’s a bit more truth about it. Whatever happens, happens, and you can choose to like it or not. I really like that approach. I’ve always done that: Even the records that sound more structured and arranged are really the result of stitched-together jam sessions or live takes that have been incorporated later on. There’s always an element of play involved. I think that’s a much more effective way to inject energy, emotion, or tension into a recording. I didn’t slide into it. It’s always been part of the way I record and make music.

In terms of the project with Tony, we got together at the moment where we both felt that that was the skill that we wanted to use in this combination. It’s a very equal thing. We both have a very hands-on, immediate, here-and-now approach to it.

Anthony Child: I think that’s why we work and perform really well together. I connect it back to the idea of, essentially, dub production techniques: The idea of playing the mixing desk as an instrument. That idea is very important to me. There have been times when I’ve tried to get more into making music by programming it, but it’s such a struggle for me. Other artists are great at doing that, but that really doesn’t work for me. I have to work in a hands-on way. In any sort of electronic music, no matter what genre it is, I love hearing this relationship, and tension, between the human and the machine.

I like to hear that underneath whatever’s happening, and you really get that by being more hands-on and improvising rather than having things [be] so structured, controlled, and programmed. I think a lot of people are drawn to electronic music, and techno, because it’s so ordered and controlled. I actually like to hear the chaos in it. I don’t want to just hear the machine. I want to hear the human and the machine. That’s more exciting to me than pure machine-music.

Jochem Paap: I totally agree. I think any piece of art is more interesting when there’s a certain amount of risk, or a certain amount of attitude, incorporated into it. The spirit of things needs to come from somewhere, right? You can program things to death; you can flatten any dynamic, or any human element, by spending too much time trying to make everything fit. If there’s an element of risk or danger built into the process, you get a much more alive, and more human, stamp on the whole thing.

When you’re looking for that tension between the person making the music and the hardware they’re using, is there something you’re listening for?

Jochem Paap: But I think what Tony and I are talking about is taking the risk of pressing start, going into a certain direction, and going wherever the music takes you. That introduces some risk, because you don’t know where it’s going to end up. You have to let the machine do things, and sometimes you have to tame things, and sometimes you have to excite things to make it go in a direction that you think is interesting. It’s more like guiding the machines, and working together with the machines, in a process where you don’t know the outcome is. You introduce a certain element of danger into the process, so you know that things can go wrong. That causes this excitement of pushing and pulling, and taming and exciting that creates this liveliness.

Tell me about your headspace coming into making the latest record. My understanding is you put it together in a two-day-sprint of sorts. Where were your heads at?

Anthony Child: We played a show together in Berlin, at a venue called Zenner. It was a three-hour live set. I feel like we went deeper into weirder realms. At that show, we explored some stranger places than we had at shows previously. We really enjoyed that, and I think that set us up really well for the recording session. We both traveled to the Netherlands and worked in Jochem’s studio for the next couple of days. That set us up for the recording sessions. I feel like we took what we did at the gig and went further with it. It was about exploring uncharted territory. That’s what I really enjoy when Jochem and I perform and make music together.

Jochem Paap: Agreed. [laughs] The Zenner thing was an afternoon concert-type thing rather than a strictly dancefloor / club show, so there was a willingness amongst the audience to follow along wherever the music took us. After that gig, I think we realized that our vocabulary as a duo was a lot larger than we had previously explored, so we got this kind of confidence to go even further when we hit the studio. The environment—with no boundaries from being in front of people, where we were the only spectators—Caused us to explore much further and go into directions where we hadn’t gotten before. We didn’t set any boundaries, rules, or goals to where we wanted the music to go. We just let it happen and chose the bits that we felt represented the sessions the best.

Anthony Child: There was something interesting that Jochem did with the clock—with the main tempo. Normally, the master tempo we’re working with is, basically, digital. So you can look: “I see we’re playing at 132 BPM,” or something like that.

But Jochem decided to clock it from his 909 drum machine, and that’s a dial. We’d reach a point in the set where we’d want to destroy what we had going and inject a lot more chaos—Burn it down and start again—So he’d turn the tempo up and down in a random way. It would settle somewhere, but we wouldn’t know where that is. It could be 40 BPM, or it could be 150 BPM. That sounds really simple, but it felt really liberating: We weren’t tied to this strict metronome.

I’m ignorant to the technological specifics here. When you’re working with that sort of metronome, do the other sounds you’re currently making automatically adjust to the new tempo, or is it manual?

Jochem Paap: Everything runs from one clock, and the machines all follow that clock. Whether it’s a synth line, or a delay line, whatever you have chosen to match the clock will follow along. Some things will not follow along, because they’re not listening to the clock.

For example, some effects might not follow along. But, because you randomly whack the tempo knob, those fall out of sync and create new patterns and respond differently to the notes that are going through those. If you destroy a tightly running sequence by whacking the tempo, the way things click together completely changes. You basically consider that as a new starting point, from where you can start to rebuild the set. Some of it might be technically out of sync but still make sense musically, because it falls nicely into a certain sequence. You create chaos, but out of the chaos, some new patterns emerge. And once it’s stable again, you have to work with that.

Sometimes you need to make your sequencer go at half tempo, because the notes on your sequence are going way too fast to make anything fit. Other times, you have to make divisions, or lower the amount of notes that are thrown out to make sense in the composition that arises from it. So it’s a way to reset everything, and to have a new starting point to build the music back up. Like Tony said, it’s very liberating, because you’re basically causing yourself to be presented with a new challenge. It’s a new situation that you have to work your way out of. I think the nature of our music allows [for] that quite easily—If something repeats, even if it sounds very weird in the beginning, the more times it repeats, the more your brain starts to make sense of it and find new patterns in it. You get ideas of how to compliment or change them; that’s how you find a new form where everything starts to be more harmonically correct. The challenge is to make sense of it somehow. And, by repetition, it sort of does so automatically. [laughs]

If things are chaotic, it challenges you to make sense of it, and that somehow creates more interesting stuff than starting very simply or to do the obvious things you do when you think you are building a track: Put in the kick drum, then the hi-hat, then a bassline. You fall into structures that are the easiest to do. But if it’s chaos, then you have to work harder to make sense of it. And, most of the time, that makes for more interesting results.

Anthony Child: I think it comes from the amount of time that me and Jochem have produced and performed this music. We’re at a place where we feel comfortable in our own skin, so we’re just having fun with it; we feel confident and trust each other in the live performance. You mentioned something about trusting the other musicians, and that’s very important. We’ve found a place with this project where we’re just really having fun and saying, “What are the weird places that we can explore?” That comes from a lot of trust in our tastes and each other’s abilities as improvisers and performers.

Jochem Paap: You’re trusting your intuition, and the other person’s intuition. People who don’t know what it is to improvise confuse trust with confidence. They think, “You must be really confident in what you do if you go on stage with nothing prepared.” No; it’s not confidence. It’s trust in the process. It’s, “This is the place where I feel comfortable. I know I can do this. I don’t know where it’s going to go.” It’s not a matter of confidence. It’s trust in the process and trust in each other.

Would you say your work with Multiples has informed each of your own solo creative practices?

Anthony Child: In a very general way, what I’ve found all along [is]: When I have different musical projects, or even basically anything in my life, at first, when I think A is separate from B, at some point, I eventually realize, no, it’s not.

Jochem Paap: It’s the same song all over again.

Anthony Child: Yeah. I do some projects which are more tonal [and] meditative, and I do projects which are very based around pulses and percussion. At first, I try some techniques out in one of those areas and I think, “Oh, yeah, these are two completely separate things.” But then, over time, I realize that on a deeper level—not the surface and aesthetic level—these do cross-pollinate each other, and one informs the other. A technique I learn in one area or discipline, I find myself applying or thinking about in another. They all inform each other, but it may take me a while to realize that.

Jochem Paap: It kind of works the same for me. The great thing about collaborating is that each person you work with has a different approach, and has different ways of going about things. You pick up from each collaborator. Every time you play with that person, there’s something new that emerges. It’s a very valuable thing, because it expands your view on things, your skills, and your approach. It’s hard to say what exactly: I wouldn’t say, “This particular trick.” But you expand your skill-set and your vocabulary with each collaboration.

How did the record surprise you?

Anthony Child: What surprised me about it was how weird it turned out. I was very happy about that.

What do you mean by that?

Anthony Child: This may not make sense to you, Michael, but I’m very aware about how quite a lot of fans of my music, and Jochem’s music, could imagine what a collaboration by us would be like. And it’s probably not anything like how this turned out. [laughs] I love how out-there it is. On one level, it’s really out-there, but it has a thread that you follow that draws you in very quickly. So it somehow immunizes you from how odd it sounds. It’s very odd, yet accessible at the same time.

Jochem Paap: When we were making the music, we both had the feeling, at some points, that it completely broke our heads. In that sense, it was a surprise during the session. We didn’t have any restraint; we let it go where it went. There weren’t any boundaries when it came to how abstract some of the passages turned out to be. Since we were making the music in real time—I always say this. You’re as much a spectator to the thing as you are the maker, because you’re witnessing the whole thing unfold in real time.

When we chose the bits of the sessions that we wanted to be part of the record, after listening to them a few times, I agree with Tony: They’re not that difficult to digest after all. While making them, they sounded very alien, but now, if you listen to the whole album as one piece, there’s a common thread. Somehow, it still makes sense. You can enjoy it as a piece of music, even though the structures might be weird or the sounds might be out-there.

What is something you recently came to learn about yourselves?

Anthony Child: I’m constantly learning things about myself, but the frustrating thing is that I keep forgetting what those things I learn about myself are. I apply that to the way I work with music, as well. My path in music is—I’m discovering and learning things all the time. I love this sense of learning and discovery: About music, about myself. I don’t have this sense of looking back. In a weird way, I don’t have this awareness of: “I’ve done this for 30 years,” or something. It still feels new and exciting. I’m discovering and exploring. So that’s my way of getting out of answering that question. [laughs] That’s what my viewpoint is. It’s not, “I’ve done this for so many years.” It’s always moving forward and discovering things.

Jochem Paap: I recognize that, and I think it applies to me as well. For me, techno is about the future, not about the past. I always try to keep an open mind to things. The more I do [that], and the further I get into the process and the journey, the more I realize that the way to deal with it is complete acceptance of whatever comes out. I don’t try to steer it; I’m not after a certain result. The older I get, the more it’s about the exploration, and the journey, and having peace with whatever comes out. I’m becoming more comfortable with that, and happy with what’s going on. Just let it happen and see what happens, you know? Whatever comes out, comes out.

I’ve avoided asking about techno during this interview, but now I’ve got to.

Jochem Paap: Oh, sorry. My fault. [laughs]

Do you consider your work to be conversant with techno?

Jochem Paap: First of all, none of us invented the word. This is just a sticker that was put on a genre and, through the decades, it has taken on a different meaning for different people. Personally, I don’t feel in any way responsible or pressured by the fact that I somehow belong in that category to some people. It’s just a way to be able to put tags on your music on Bandcamp, or to put it in the right crate in the record shop.

But I don’t feel representative of the genre. I’m completely detached from it. There’s some general ideas which match my description of techno. If people talk about techno, there are certain characteristics that are true to the way I work, or to my music. Like I just touched on, I’m always trying to think about what’s next rather than what has been in the past; I try to push for territories that I haven’t explored. They might have been explored by other people, but as long as it’s new to me, and as long as it’s a challenge, it has a value to me, and I try to go in that direction and see what happens.

I think the general perception of techno is that it has this sort of open-mindedness, or an
outward-looking attitude in music, and I feel connected to that idea. But as soon as a term creates boundaries or restrictions, or as soon as there’s police watching over the do’s and don’ts, I’m out. That’s not the way I would describe my relationship to techno. The general idea about what techno is, I can find some things that match my look on my work and how I approach it. But it’s not something I think about. It came along in this conversation now, but I never think about techno and my relation towards it, or to it.

Anthony Child: I have two layers to my answer. The first one is: If I meet someone and they ask me, “What do you do?” Just to simplify things, I’d say, “I’m a DJ.” I don’t particularly enjoy that label; it’s just an easy way of answering. And they might say, “What kind of music do you play?” And I would say, “Techno.” This is an easy way to simplify, because explaining what we do is complicated. [laughs] But every person involved in it has their own idea of what techno is. It’s a personal thing. Like Jochem says, it’s a label put on something, but everyone’s label means something slightly different. It’s a very wide-open term.

The thing I really enjoy about what I personally define as techno is that it’s a type of music that is very wide, and very malleable—To me, almost more so than any genre I can think of. I think you can stretch, and bend, and fuse it with other elements way more than other genres. That’s why I still really enjoy working with what I define as techno.

Jochem Paap: But Tony, if it’s so wide open, and it can take on basically any form, then what’s the definition?

Anthony Child: It’s a feeling. Techno is a feeling.

Jochem Paap: That’s a nice T-shirt. [both laugh]

Anthony Child: To me, when something is techno—Maybe I should just stop. I don’t know if I’m even going to be able to explain it; Jochem’s gonna poke holes in it. Other styles of dance music, like drum-and-bass, for example—You can take it quite far, but if you take it so far, it stops being drum-and-bass—to me, personally. Whereas I feel techno is something that you can bend and stretch a lot more. But I would say that maybe my personal definition of what is and isn’t techno is very wide.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

Anthony Child: I think the next gig we play is at Sónar in Barcelona. I think that’s actually a set we’re doing at Sónar by Day. So my assumption is we can do something way-out there as well. [laughs] As always, we’ll figure it out when we get there. But I’m also looking forward to trying some different technical setups, in terms of the instruments that I’m going to use. I’m looking forward to trying some different approaches. I haven’t told Jochem about any of this.

Jochem Paap: [laughs] You’re making me curious.

Anthony Child: It almost doesn’t matter what gear we use; we largely don’t know.

Jochem Paap: We show up to a gig and there’s only [a few rules]: That we have stereo output, that Tony has stereo output on his gear, and there should be something that listens to clock in his gear. But the rest is up to him. He can make noises with basically anything. Both of our setups can provide the whole range of sounds that you need to carry a show. It’s just a matter of choice what each person brings. If we have a setup at our disposal that we know has a certain range and is quite flexible, that’s basically the only thing that counts: Having a wide range that is quite controllable.

We actually don’t talk about these things, to be honest. You ask “What’s next?” Well, we don’t know, in a way, because we show up and we put the stuff together that we bring, and then we make music. That’s basically how it works.

Anthony Child: What’s next is more exploration.

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