Last week, Sound Fix sat down with Brooklyn-based producer Twin Primes as part of our ongoing interview series with local acts. The conversation gave us a deep look into methods and processes a fledgling artist who works as a bioengineer by day and introspective producer by night. We got a chance to discuss the EP he released this summer, how to properly define “IDM” music, and what he has in store for his upcoming show at Bowery Electric.
Check it out:
What’s the background behind the name “Twin Primes”?
The concept of “twin primes” is basically two prime numbers that are within two numbers of each other. So, for example, 41 and 43. I had overheard that concept in a computer science class, and I thought it was really interesting. I borrowed that name, but it has come to mean, for me, a crossroads of two very different things. In this case, one of those things is ambient and orchestral, instrumental music, and the other is beat-driven, intense, upbeat music. They’re very different musical concepts. I listen to a lot of ambient music, and I listen to a lot of beat-driven music, but only as of late have I heard some really wonderful ambient dance music, which is kind of an oxymoron. So Twin Primes is my attempt to really take a stab at that kind of duality.
When and how did you start making music?
I started playing music pretty early, back when I was in elementary school. I started off playing the trumpet, and growing up as a brass musician was very interesting because I was a lot less interested in what the notes were, and was more focused on the method I was using to play a particular note. If you listen to my music, you’ll hear a lot of brass instruments included, and I feel like it gives a really emotional value to each note. In high school I also learned guitar, and I started recording myself playing it in order to hear what I would sound like as an ensemble. So basically I started producing because I wanted to hear what a group of me would sound like.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background?
I went to NYU’s engineering school where I studied chemical and biomedical engineering, which was certainly one of the most emotionally expressive of majors. But over time, I began to work in a lab, which was around the same time I began seriously making music, and I found that science and music are incredibly similar. Creativity within the sciences and being able to take a bunch of rules that are known, tried, and true, and trying to make something unique out of them is almost exactly like looking at a sheet of music. It’s important to look at old composers, and then going from there to try to create something new, while still obeying some set rules. I think I learned the way of creatively obeying the rules from science and have applied it to making music.
What were your influences when you first started seriously making music, and how have those influences changed over time?
I think the first artist that really got me interested in producing was Forest Swords, who is a great dub-ambient musician. All of his sounds seem completely organic, and he works with cheap guitars, minimal synthesizers, he doesn’t have a crazy big set up with tons of hardware. I always wondered how he was able to get such a visceral sounds out of something so manipulated, planned, and orchestrated. A lot of his songs, especially his song “The Weight of Gold,” have been defining songs in my development. I also like lot of the artists, like Oneohtrix Point Never, The Field, John Hopkins, George Fitzgerald, and a couple of other really interesting experimental artists that are pushing boundaries. Additionally, and this may surprise people, I like a lot of new-disco and neo-funk artists, like The Knocks and Penguin Prison, that are taking a lot of really old beats and revitalizing them. I would like to draw from them and maybe add some positivity to a genre that is known for having a lot of darkness and pain.
What type of genre or style are you hoping to create with your music?
One genre that I aim for, but hate the name of, is IDM: intellectual dance music or intelligent dance music. It’s basically dance music that isn’t just for dancing, it can also be for introspection and thought. I would love to be among the artists who are included in this genre, but on the one hand I feel like my music generally has a little more progression, is a little less ambient, and has a lot of sounds. So I try to find a balance between IDM and ambient-dub music.
I feel like IDM doesn’t do justice to what the genre really is. We should think of a new name.
Yea I’ve been trying to think of one.
A lot of your songs are incredibly complex and layered. What process do you follow, if any, for creating music?
Usually what I do is I sit down, I take a sound, and I hit record. Generally it starts out kind of bad, but I build a structure around that sound, and eventually I remove it and work with what I have left as the foundation. From there, I take things that I actively dislike, and I ask myself how I can fix them, and that’s my approach to every next sound I add. I definitely don’t predetermine or plan the type of song I’m going to make, it’s a very improvisational process, and I’d say I make about 55% to 65% of a song in the first sitting.
Where do you usually create most of your music?
The way my work schedule goes, I make a lot of music on the train, otherwise I wouldn’t really have time. I usually get a seat on the subway, so I just work on my laptop. My job as a bioengineer is creatively intensive, but in a very different way than the how I make music, so I’m usually very excited to go back to my music. I’m pretty much making music everyday.
What are your aspirations and goals as a musician?
I love my job as a bioengineer, and it’s been the one thing that’s really enabled me to pursue music. I definitely have plans for myself as a musician. I want to keep playing shows, especially now that I have people that consistently come to them. There’s been a good response and a good vibe coming from my fans. I also plan on having a short-length album out in the summertime; I have a lot of songs already picked out for that. I’ve been approached by a few smaller labels in the city, but I don’t want to focus on that. My work is my obligation, and I don’t want to think of music as an obligation. As for goals with my music, I hope to make songs that can act as a sort of choose-your-own-adventure for the listener.
How does living in New York City affect your music?
From an exposure standpoint, you can’t help but feel like an incredibly small fish in a massive ocean when you’re living in New York City. The nice thing is that I’ve never found that I felt like I was competing for a spot, I kind of have my own thing going on the side. So the bustling and crowded nature of the city, for me, isn’t so much about me trying to go for the same space as somebody else, I have my own space that I can work with. I’m also an avid concert-goer, and I’ve been able to learn a lot about music by watching shows. The sheer number of artists I’ve been able to see from such a diverse set of backgrounds just by living in this city—whether it’s local acts or big bands who are coming through on their world tour—has been indispensible for me. I’ve even gotten to speak with a lot of musicians that I like. I had a Facebook message conversation with Forest Swords, I sent him some of my music and he gave me some pointers. Heathered Pearls and JLin are some other artists that I’ve been able to interface with.
Your released an EP back in the Summer, The Gilded. What is some of the background behind it?
The songs were all part of a grand vision of what’s going on within a drop of gold. I grew up actually not really liking the color gold that much, I felt like it just represented someone showing off their wealth and status. So I started thinking about how there are not only so many gold things, but there’s also so many gold-coated things, gilded things. I thought that was a very interesting concept, and it brought together some very cool imagery. A lot of my music references materials, like there’s a song called “Topaz,” there’s a song called “Rhizanthella Gardneri,” which is an endangered flower. There’s also a song called “Catch the Brass Ring,” which relates directly to that idea of gilded objects. I chose a lot of materials as titles because I want to try to instill some sort of image. Topaz is a jewel, a brass ring is an object that is owned and cared for. There’s also a song “Naomi(Cross of Gold),” which ends with the William Jennings Bryan quote about a gold standard and the US relying on a gold standard not being sustainable for human development. So this EP was meant to be an amalgamation of all of those images.
You’re preparing to release two new singles, can you tell us a little bit about them?
Yes, “Underground” and “Real Fealty”. I realized that a lot of the music on my EP started out as dark dance music, and I always ended up adding some sort of positive, cathartic element to a lot of the songs, and the finished product would come out a lot different than how the song had originally started. So I was brooding a little over the making of The Gilded, and I wanted it to be positive and I wanted people listening to it to not have their day ruined. But “Underground” is a product of that feeling, because I wanted to actively fight it and say that this doesn’t need to be for an audience, it doesn’t need to be for a group of people. My music is already strange and layered in ways that aren’t typical, so I took that further, and that song is an attempt to channel the feeling of anxiety. The song starts off with J. Robert Oppenheimer’s famous quote about the Manhattan Project’s first test of the atomic bomb, where he’s thinking about what he’s created. It reminds me of showing strength to prove what you can do. So it’s a pretty aggressive track, and it still carries a tribal beat with a strong focus on strings, which is akin to my earlier work. I also think it signals an increase in production capability. The second single, which I’ll be releasing this weekend, is called “Real Fealty”. That one is going to be—I don’t want to say more positive—but it will definitely get people moving more than “Underground,” which is more of an orchestral movement piece. “Real Fealty” is definitely more of a dance song, and it’s one that I think illustrates what I’m really about and what I’m going for.