Water Borders – “What Wiwant”

Water Borders, San Francisco’s resident electronic maestros of the macabre, will be switching up their familiar sound for a lighter set this Tuesday, as they live-score four short films from the early 20th Century as a part of the free-with-RSVP Celluloid Salon 2011 at Public Works (7pm). If that wasn’t enough to arouse interest, maybe these two words will: open bar.

I joined Loric Sih and Amitai Heller in Heller’s sunny Mission living room for a chat, sans Matt Rogers, their newest acquisition. “He’s shy,” they tell me, “so he won’t be joining us.” When I sit on the couch next to Loric, he is Google-imaging the Crass Records logo and talking to Amitai about how to manipulate it. “What ‘ya doin’ that for?” I wonder out loud. “We were talking about making a Crass Records/peace punk mix called Now That’s What I Call Peace Punk.” Get it? Like the prolific Now That’s What I Call Music series. And so sets the tone for the next 30 minutes as I talk to these smart, funny, and articulate guys.

TBB: The last time I saw Water Borders was at Public Works when you opened for Light Asylum and the fire alarm kept going off. People were saying it was the fog machine.

Loric Sih: Yeah, it was the fog machine.

Amitai Heller: I think that the better your smoke detector is, the more responsive it is to things like fog machines.

TBB: …Did not know that.

AH: Neither did we, and neither did Future Weapns, the guy that put it on. He was just as surprised as I was.

LS: That’s actually one of my favorite moments playing a show.

AH: Me too. It kind of synced up for like two minutes.

LS: That’s why it took so long to notice. I remember thinking, “Which one of us is making that sound?” I dunno, it was just one of those spontaneous moments in our music that just works.

TBB: There were also just two of you back then, right? What made you decide to have Matt join?

AH: We felt like our live shows weren’t that good.

TBB: What are your specific roles, and how does Matt come into the mix?

AH: Loric is the brain, I’m the muscle, and Matt is the scientist — no the professor…

LS: This set of analogies could go on endlessly if we let it. Basically

[laughter] Amitai sings, I control most of the music and the song structure, and Matt is just a total whiz at any instrument, so he just plays whatever the song needs — percussion, guitars, basically any instrument.

AH: We can just hand him anything and he’ll play it. I think anyone interested in performing electronic music struggles with the idea of how to make the performance engaging when the source of your sound is the computer, so, that’s where Matt comes in.

TBB: Tell me about the silent films you will be live-scoring on Tuesday.

LS: They’re actually not silent films at all, although we’ve watched them so many times with the sound off. They’re just short experimental films.

AH: One of them is an educational safety film from the seventies.

TBB: I remember seeing an old OSHA safety advert about how not to get smooshed by heavy things in a warehouse.

AH: No, this one is more about how not to slip and fall in a factory, with obstacles and stuff. [laughter] And another one is pretty famous, “A Trip to the Moon” from the early 1900s. People know it from [the Smashing Pumpkins’] Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness.

TBB: How do the film scores differ from your main Water Borders efforts?

LS: In this setting, we’re trying to make something where the music isn’t the main focus and doesn’t distract too much from the films. And when we play live shows or record, we want people to be focusing intently on the music and not us, so that’s different.

AH: Also, this music is a lot more playful than the stuff we recorded for our album.

TBB: Can we expect slap-stick sound effects, like boi-oi-oi-oings?

AH: Yeah. There’s one that’s all boi-oi-oi-oings. Essentially. [laughter]

TBB: Your debut LP, Harbored Mantras, was already recorded when Matt joined. Did he help you score the soundtracks?

LS: Yeah, everything we’ve done since then, composition-wise, has been collaborative.

TBB: What’s the ratio of analog to digital processes in your music, because it sounds more physical to me than just machine-generated.

LS: Definitely more digital, but a lot of it is sampled sounds.

AH: Most of the sounds were originally sourced by acoustic instruments and then manipulated. So that’s why the tones are a little more unique than some of things you can accomplish through synthesis alone.

TBB: Your music is oftentimes described as “disturbing,” which I find interesting because while it definitely sets a mood and may be “dark”, I don’t find it disturbing at all. It’s actually very pretty to me at times…

LS: We’re not disturbing you?

[A Will & Grace ring-tone goes off and Amitai answers his cell — “It’s the ‘other guy’. Matt’s here.” However, Matt never joins us in the living room. Shy, indeed.]

AH: I think when people say it’s disturbing they mean it as a compliment, don’t you think? Like, “Oh, your music disturbed me.” They think it’s flattering to us.

LS: I think they think that’s what we want to hear. Like, “Good job, your music disturbed me.” [laughter]

AH:Yeah I think that’s the constant frustration for anyone who is having their music interpreted. You know, you make this thing and spend a lot of time on it, not really doing it to fit into some kind of niche — you’re just trying to make something that speaks to you. In order to sell that and comodify that, people feel the need to add adjectives.

TBB: Yeah, people love to lump you into the so-called “Witch House” movement — which isn’t even a movement at all, but something some blogger made up somewhere and it kind of stuck.

AH: Yeah that’s definitely true.

LS: I’m not gonna lie, we’ve definitely thought about this quite a bit.

AH: I mean, if people like our music and want to call us that, I’m not gonna freak out because we’re being misinterpreted. It has very little to do with our intention behind the music. Whatever, it’s just another thing to call something. I know some people who despise being called that, but I don’t care.

LS: Witch House is totally real, though. It’s one of those crazy post-modern things that only exists on the internet, but is a part of people’s lives. I don’t mean to belittle it in any way.

AH:I feel the same way.

TBB: What’s the story behind your name?

AH: It’s not really a story.

LS: We are major pun freaks. When we think of song titles, we just throw puns at each other for hours until something that’s kind of funny, but also serious, comes up.

AH: The origin of the name Water Borders isn’t interesting, but I think the meaning is. International water borders is like a comedic concept to me, even more so than state borders — demarcating something that inherently you can’t do that to because it moves around, you know? To me, it reflects nicely on some of the ideas behind what we’re trying to do sonically.

Water Borders