Jeff Mills' Axis Records was to these ears and to many, many others a seminal label in the evolution of Detroit and the electronic. To celebrate 20 years of the label he's just released a book entitled Sequence. We could give you a full potted history of said label but we expet better from you to know all about it already. We could also furnish you with a limited Q&A over email where you get one word answers and are bored to tears by the third question. Instead we chose to ask Mr Mills to talk us some of the pictures in the book and why he chose them.
Hi Jeff. Can you please explain a little about the front cover images.
The front cover bares sequential frames from a film taken at my first installation project entitled Mono. It was during a Sonar Electronic Music/Arts Festival in Barcelona.
What my objective was to capture the initial impression and reactions of the people as they approached the structure. The various physical reactions to something they're not very sure about.
The concept was taken from a chapter in Arthur C. Clarke's book, The Sentinel and a cinematic scene played out in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey. In it, engineers approach a mysterious, unknown Monolith discovered within a crater on the Moon.
With Mono and in most cases, the people approached it with caution. Once the people realized that it appeared to do nothing — that it was just a idle structure that just occupied space and light, their reactions were more relaxed, even disappointingly passe'. Most people were expecting it to do something. This I think, really reflects the type of society and era we live in now — that the subtle interactions are carelessly overlooked or taken from granted. When humanity begin to comfortably travel Space and to other planets, I suspect the reactions will be the similar. We will assume a huge boulder rock is just a lifeless rock and nothing more. This might be a grave mistake.
Why did you choose to include the Tranquilizer artwork?
Because this was the first 12" single of Axis Records. It was this release that was most crucial. If it had not been received very well, that reaction might have made me consider other ways to structure the label. It was entitled "Tranquilizer" because I assumed the release as a sort of pill or medication that will be taken when heard. A antidote to make the listener feel better after experiencing.
What does Man from tomorrow mean?
It means those people that work towards exploring new things in hopes of discovering something new for the sake of humanity.
The good robot – what is the most important thing you've learnt from robots?
The most important thing I've learned is that their evolution will be determined by the limitation of humans. Robots will conduct tasks humans aren't able too or won't want to do. For this, we'll have to make the machines in our likeness as much as possible — minus human error.
Exhibitionist – Do you consider yourself an exhibitionist?
Personally, no. Professionally, yes. It's my job to watch people for reactions. Directly or indirectly.
I've always seen you as one of the quieter personalities from Detroit.
Again, as a DJ my job is mostly about observing in order to take advantage of situations. As a DJ, timing is everything.
3 decks obviously mean a lot to you. when did you first bring in the 3rd deck into your set up?
I first learned to operate 3 turntables back in 1983. At the time, I used to produced a live mix show on a radio station in Detroit called WDRQ 93FM under the alias The Wizard. Because it was a nightly live show, the radio station engineers installed a third turntable in my studio set-up, just in case one of the two turntable I mainly used had a technical problem. After a while, I simply started using the third deck because I needed the make the impression that music is constantly being mixed. I could play more music in a short period of time.
Photography plays an important part throughout the book. Who are your favourite visual artists working with film, alive or dead.
I quite fond of Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Remedios Varo, Norman Bel Geddes. Photographers that had a unique insight of what the camera lense should capture.
The 909 is an important part of your music. The design is pretty amazing. Not only does something sound incredible it looks amazing too. Do you think the design of the object added to the aesthetic of the noises you created on it?
No, I think that if the machine had looked differently, it wouldn't made much difference for the sound and how programmers approach it. It was designed in the 1970's, a time when the idea of a machine that you worked on had to be practical on easy to operate. Like a IBM typewriter. I think the machine was probably designed with the idea that a musician might operate it in real-time, play it as if a drummer would play a drum set, so that 909 really has two ways to use it.
I love the machine, but I would like to have something that really reflects the time we live in now. Something that operates in multi-dimensions. A machine that just doesn't let me play the sounds that inside it, but a machine that reacts to the way I'm feeling.
Space features heavily in this book and your artwork. What does space mean to you and how important has it been in the evolution of you, your label and your musical journey.
I believe its important to all of us – as a human animal and a race of people. I'm convinced that the subject of Space will be the most important topic we'll be speaking of in the decades and centuries to come. It will be this because the atmosphere and climate of Earth will drastically change. Mostly likely making it too difficult to exist on the surface of the Planet. Yet, Earth will still be a place of great viable resources that we'll need to exist. Water is one important reason we won't go to far away from here. So the sky or inner atmosphere of Space, just off of Earth or maybe the Moon might be the most logical place to be.Outside the extreme changes of nature and its unpredictable results, the world we created and how we exist is predictable. Humans basically haven't changed for thousands of years. We're obsessed with loving and hating ourselves.
Can you talk us through the Blue Potential version of The Bells and how it came about.
Out of all the tracks we had translated into classical arrangements for the Blue Potential performance at Pont Du Gard in Montpellier back in 2005, The Bells was one the tracks that had the most attention and focus. I knew that it would practically define the project and that it had to be translated that really emphasized the most important parts of the original composition. Not knowing how to read the score, but knowing the original track, one should be able to see and understand its structure. Narrowing the complexities of understanding written compositions.
And What About the Truth?
This speaks to all the underhanded activity and deception in Music that has occurred where quality and true talent was hidden, looked/passed over and ignored for reasons the stem from greed, envy and fear. It doesn't matter what's its called, who's the best, how many like or hate it, the truth is always there. It's never very far away that one can't find it.