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Voices Vary

The More Prefuse 73’s Scott Herren’s Production Evolves, The Less We Know Who He Is

SCOTT FREE: Producer Scott Herren minimizes his presence on Prefuse 73’s new Surrounded by Silence.

By Tony Ware | Posted 4/27/2005

“I’m obsessed with voices, layers, and textures from the body (the pretty sounds, not the ill sounds alright?),” writes producer Scott Herren by e-mail from a London hotel, his schedule too hectic for phone interviews. “Vocal science. Vocal studies,” he continues, appropriately dropping a clip of the name of his own 2001 full-length debut as Prefuse 73, Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives.

“From the Beach Boys to Steve Reich to Morton Feldman to Dungen to whatever the hell we are talking about,” he continues. “The best plan is to know the weight of the voice you’re working with, then decide where it goes.”

On Vocal Studies, 2003’s One Word Extinguisher, and its companion disc Extinguished, knowing the weight of the voice was more a metaphorical concept. Primarily instrumental, Herren’s production sounded strongest in the insular melodies draped across the chipped drums (though One Word did feature uninterrupted verses from Mr. Lif and Diverse).

With his new Surrounded by Silence, however, what’s got everyone talking is Herren’s adopted and adapted voices. Across its 21 tracks Silence features contributions from vocalists including Ghostface and El-P, Tyondai Braxton, Camu, Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, Aesop Rock, Masta Killa and GZA, and Beans, plus instrumental voicing from the Books, DJ Nobody, Pedro, Piano Overlord, Broadcast, and Café Tacuba. Underneath it all still are Herren’s spicy notes, the essence of Prefuse 73 (named for Herren’s love of pre-1973 jazz—pre-fusion—but now more representative of his brand of journalist-labeled “click-hop”).

“I set up a concession stand and serve ice cream,” Herren cheekily replies about Silence. “There are 21 flavors, the ‘others’ pick the flavor, I scoop it out for them, hand it over, and smile.”

Not to say that Herren’s work as Prefuse 73, as well as his more lilting, folk-flecked guise Savath y Savalas, hasn’t gotten him a fair share of positive press, plus a livable wage. But Herren’s tracks are similar to the diet of a starving artist, someone totally caught up in the act of composing. Like pasta with a sauce quickly made from the random shit rummaged out of the fridge, a Prefuse 73 track is chunky, full of roughly chopped but thoroughly stewed samples, and you know it’s going to be warm and fill you up. Herren’s cobbling of rhythmically shuffling pecks, claps, and analog pulses is the succession of Prince Paul, Mantronix, the Bomb Squad, and Just Ice, producers who ate shit and scrapped together papers to buy samplers, establishing the jump-off of hip-hop’s cut-up aesthetic.

Even so, when Herren debuted Prefuse 73 with 2000’s Estrocaro EP, critics debated whether his chopped-up vocal hiccups and more glitchy tracks were truly hip-hop; now everyone may wonder whether Prefuse 73 is still Prefuse 73: Silence is the most “hip-hop” of Herren’s albums to date.

Hip-hop guest appearances often merely gloss over tracks, cramming a bunch of big names on a back sleeve because the overall material is wack. With Silence, Herren showcases his production breadth with appropriately innovative vocalists’ breath. He produces his most concise vignettes of closed-circuit stutter to date, from Ghostface and El-P’s revolving verses over a wind-chime garden, to Claudia and Alejandra Deheza’s breathy chorales, to Aesop Rock’s fable atop start-stop steel strings. The standout tracks remain the most abstract, such as the asthmatic banjo duel with the Books on “Pagina Dos,” the looping of Tyondai Braxton in “Ty Versus Detchibe,” or fluttery spaghetti western “La Correccion Exchange” composed with DJ Nobody.

So what is the Silence of the title? More than likely it’s Herren’s creative process, his means rather than his ends. “I don’t care what haters say about all my music I put out, it’s useless,” he says. “I try to be quiet unless I’m provoked by something more personal. If a person knows me well, they know I get quiet and think—then all of a sudden I explode into some theory in which I have fooled myself that I’ve reached a higher level of wisdom. In other words, the silence sounds different when I shut up.”

And so Surrounded by Silence and surrounded by friends, Herren has unleashed another conceptual facet of his personality through an increasingly collaborative process that keeps his identity perpetually in flux. “When I have time I look out my window and wonder where the hell my life is going,” he says. “I’m almost 30, living like I’m 16 still! Making a million beats, writing Spanish folk songs in the same day, and touring my life away.”

And it doesn’t sound like Herren’s going to slow down any time soon. Between his tour, other projects, and remix commissions (for the Mars Volta and Battles, among others), he’s putting together a Silence companion disc as well. “Yep, much more noisy, annoying, and at the same time lovely,” he says. “For lovers, actually, something I wish I could always have. Like LL, I need a settled-down love situation in my life. A good girl, you know? (A Casio preset R&B beat plays in the background).

“Then again, sometimes silence is beautiful. By my apartment in Spain sometimes the sea sounds silent. I like to go at sunset and watch the ships miles and miles away. But I also love sad music. I love banging-ass M.O.P. hip-hop. I love talking politics that doesn’t end up in a redundant debate. I just like feeling content.”

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