The Director's Cut: John Digweed & Nick Muir - Juxtaposition

Nick Muir and John Digweed break down their ambient CD 'Juxtaposition' from the four-part compilation 'QUATTRO' by Digweed.
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John Digweed, Nick Muir

John Digweed & Nick Muir

John Digweed and Nick Muir have done a lot together in their career. They have a record label and collaborative music project together, Bedrock, have worked on countless songs, played gigs and essentially been creative partners for decades. Climbing the DJ mountain and staying there has been a challenge they have done together and earlier this month they took on what may have been their most ambitious project yet: Quattro. It is a new stylistically diverse 4xCD album curated and mixed by John Digweed.

The four CDs are split into four different styles. Soundscape brings a “diverse array of ambient, downtempo and cinematic vibes,” while Tempo combines a “futuristic blend of atmospheric breaks, deep techno and hypnotic house.” Redux ups the ante a bit with a “combination of deep house, nu-disco, melodic techno and acid,” before ending with Juxtaposition with experimental ambient compositions and widescreen dub from Nick Muir and John Digweed.

We asked Muir and Digweed to break down one of the CDs and they chose the one they did together, the final one, Juxtoposition, which fits the times of mandatory at-home listening. The entire album is their own compositions, unlike the other CDS, which include tracks and remixes from other artists, plus some remixes and originals from Muir and Digweed. You can listen to a mini-mix of the full Juxtoposition album below. Purchase the entire 4-CD compilation on digital via Bandcamp (or you can wait until next Friday to avoid Bandcamp fees) or in physical here.

Read on for their Director’s Cut on the album.

Nick - “John first floated the idea of Juxtaposition a couple of years back, the thinking being that it’s always great to have a set of tunes which are not aimed specifically at the dancefloor, which can be included as part of a larger release so that it hits more bases. The idea stems back to the chillout part of the clubbing experience, it’s good to have a set that you can play the day after the night before, when everybody is feeling a bit fragile and a deeper, less energetic vibe is the order of the day. We’ve always made music like this alongside our activities making club tracks. We enjoy doing it and those that buy into the Bedrock sound seem to as well.

Originally, we started out making a set that was summer sunshine, maybe poolside type tunes, but quickly realised that we would be more comfortable with a slightly more serious approach - we tend to fight shy of material that is lush and harmonically rich and the lighter material can start to get a little ‘cloying’ - so we went to the dark side.”

John – “As a master of making and producing amazing club tracks for many years Nick’s unique skill lies in his ability and range to also make mind-bending tripped out sounds alongside beautiful melodies and soundscapes. This is something that only someone with a vast musical knowledge can really deliver and Nick has done this for many years. Our fans love our club tracks, but they also appreciate the productions that are not for the dancefloor and are designed to take you to another place entirely. The reaction so far to Juxtaposition has been fantastic, which is something that Nick and myself love to hear and see.”

1. Windmill Hill

This is an unusual outing for us as it involves guitar - specifically, our friend Danny Fisher from the band Acer Maple. Danny’s been a friend for a few years, so we thought we’d try something with him and this track was perfect, as we could use guitar without any of the usual clichés and what Dan came up with was perfect. The track is an 8-minute beatless drone-type atmosphere with “events” dropping into a massive soundscape ocean. The idea is to set the tone, maybe reset the listener in preparation for the trip ahead.

2. Stems & Beams

A lot of this type of music - electronica, ambient, chill - whatever you want to call it, has patterns as part of it’s DNA, deriving as it does from music that was made on hardware sequencers. The beauty comes from the hypnotic nature of these sequences and now that all the parameters on the sound sources are automatable, you can move the sonics of those sequences gently around to weave together a patchwork of sound that undulates, moves and mutates as you move through the track. The name actually refers to musical notation, but reminds me of light streaming through windows.

3. Lights Out

There’s a more dystopian feel to this number. Again, sequences at the heart of the arrangement, but deliberately more disturbing. The track reflects the slight madness that is apparently afflicting us all in the face of the tsunami of information technology that has come about in recent times. There’s a collage of found sound at the center of the track - news footage and random snippets layered up to give the impression of constant and unfathomably large amounts of information with which we are bombarded 24/7.

4. Contrafact

Another co-write on this track, this time with one of the giants of the UK contemporary music scene - Simon Rogers - who many fans of UK house music may remember from the seminal dance act Slacker and before that, Ramp, whose track

“Rock The Discotek” John famously used on his JDJ compilation in the 90’s. Simon is a great friend, a wonderful musician, and he contributed the main theme, which is interspersed between samples of a psychologically disturbed patient trying to explain why he doesn’t fit into most people's idea of normality (conversely sounding extremely sane).

5. It From Bit

On this track, we took our inspiration from hip-hop type beats - the loping, almost trap like feel. It would actually sit well underneath someone rhyming and who knows, it may get that treatment someday? But ‘til then we are very happy with the outsize beats and psychedelic widescreen Rhodes motif set under samples of people tripping. The title is a quote from physicist John Wheeler – “It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom - at a very deep bottom, in most instances - an immaterial source and explanation.” In other words, it’s all in the mind, but you knew that anyway.

6. Beacon

The shortest track on the album, it’s an example of what you can get if you throw a filter over a looped sampled voice - it becomes a rhythmic, melodic twisted entity all of its own, completely divorced from it’s original intention and meaning. Backed up with a couple of ridiculous pads that I found and tweaked on a couple of VST synths, I can’t even remember where now, but most probably somewhere deep in the recesses of NI’s Reaktor, which is a big enough program to last several lifetimes.

7. Cover Me

One of my personal favorites, it’s a heartfelt “song without words” in the grand trip-hop tradition and borrows from the idea of dub, on which much of that musical movement was based. It actually has “changes,” i.e. there’s a chord progression. This is a device we don’t use so often, but sounds more at home on a track at this tempo than it would on one of our club tracks. I love the double meaning in the title - you could take it to be the phrase often heard in movie gun battles, or perhaps in the sense that you are asking to be covered in a more comforting way.

8. E.X.P.

The title comes from the sample, which deals with the idea of experience. Again, patterns are used and woven together to create a texture - very hypnotic, tweaking parameters to give the lines more intensity as the track moves through. These are set over a glitchy backdrop and pulsey bass.

9. Psychism

A lot of the tracks from this set were made with a certain setting in mind. We envisaged one possible scenario in which these tracks might be appropriate to be at a music festival in the morning, before the live performances had begun, when everybody is just starting to come around and feeling their way into the day (I’m also envisaging a sunny day which is slightly less common in the UK, but magic when it happens!) You often hear the sound techs spinning a little spacious dub at these times and it sounds fantastic at not ear-splitting volume but with the sort of bass depth you only hear on large systems. This was the inspiration for the sound on this track.

10. Open To Close

Really subtle pattern sequences here in the German electronic tradition, moving through a chord progression that takes you from the start key and lands you gently back in the same key that the track started. This track was actually in the first draft of the more summery lighter tunes we’d planned, but it was originally in a major key, which we changed to minor. I can’t even imagine how it originally sounded as it sounds so right the way it is now. It is set over some extraordinary ASMR voice work in a foreign tongue, I’m not even sure which language, but somehow it doesn’t seem to matter.

11. With You

This track has more of a recognizable theme to it - I can almost imagine it as a TV theme, except it is characterized by a long unchanging section in the middle of the track, deliberately made longer than you would normally leave a motif turning over like that. I realized a long time ago that it was an option with our type of music to not be changing things all the time and that sometimes, if you hit on a groove, you can just leave it for a while. As a DJ, John has always understood the value of simplicity in music and that was a valuable lesson he taught me as a musician.

12. Bloodstone

The final cut from Juxtaposition is a tad more upbeat than many of the other tunes and strikes an optimistic note on which to sign off. John and I are both optimistic by nature, I would say, and of course one of the hallmarks of the scene over the years has been to stay positive and keep a smile on your face where possible. Although quite dark, we try and avoid the music becoming too gloomy and of course we want it to leave the listener in a good frame of mind. The aim is always to give an experience and create the kind of music you can lose yourself in. This whole set represents the other side of the music we create, in juxtaposition with the intense energy of a club set - and that, I think, is where I came in? Thanks for reading, if you got this far!

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