Thomas William – “Boy Sauvage”

Listen to Thomas William’s “Boy Savage,” and read a short interview we did with him.

Thomas William "Boy Savauge" Art

Finally I arrive at posting one of my favourite pieces of the year so far.

Thomas William‘s “Boy Sauvage” is dense. Its percussive elements not only provide movement to the piece but add subtle melodic elements to it as well. The drums are dry and un-quantized; they are slowly built up from simple rhythm loops to more complex combinations as the track progresses. As these loops are layered it feels as though it could be a live recording of a performance, a rarity in electronic music. Threaded alongside the drum loops are bizarre organ sounds that are there for purely atmospheric reasons, and they grow more and more prominent towards the end of the piece as the mood intensifies.

To better understand Thomas William’s “Boy Sauvage” I’ve asked him a few questions:

It feels like the drums in “Boy Sauvage” are doing all the melodic work, was that conscious or did it happen naturally when constructing it?

It wasn’t really conscious as such, it just sort of happened at the time—but I suppose lately I’ve been really trying to make stuff where percussion has a role other than purely as a marker of time. I’ve always been a little perplexed with rock and some genres where the drum sounds are taken for granted—I couldn’t understand how they could make music and not be concerned with that. I get it a bit more now but I still think it’s really important to use percussion in a way that’s thoughtful and individual—it’s really interesting to note that the 808 and similar sounds have taken on a role in hip hop and dance music that is similar to the standard drum kit in rock or jazz—where the percussive elements are standardized, and thought of as having the role of a generic timekeeper.

In a similar vein, in electronic music rhythmic elements are generally thought of as utilitarian, as being the building blocks of something danceable or functional—whereas I’m interested in tapping in to something else. I suppose I think it’s possible for rhythms to carry some sort of emotional content—this is all getting pretty vague, but in basic terms yes it’s something I’ve been thinking about and this particular tune is probably the most developed exploration of these ideas that I’ve made at this stage.

I collected free jazz records really avidly at one stage—ESP, AACM, Sun Ra, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, all that stuff, and I think the use of drums and percussion in that music really rubbed off on me, particularly the Art Ensemble of Chicago in some of their live recordings. I love a certain violence, or physical presence, that’s apparent in some rhythms—the sort of cathartic element involved in marking time in a kind of aggressive way. This is a really good example of that, though on a slightly funkier tip I suppose.

A lot of your music seems strongly influenced by cinema (“Boy Sauvage” in particular).

Yes people often pick up on that which is interesting. Cinema is a huge source of inspiration for me. It seems like an obvious point, and I suppose it is, but I find it fascinating that cinema can take you to heights of pathos which are almost excruciating. Fellini’s La Strada is one of my favourite films—the final scene where she dies and he’s left alone and it becomes apparent he loves her even though he treated her so badly is one of the most gut wrenching things I’ve ever witnessed, and yet it’s a construction, and I find that interesting about human beings; what’s ‘real’ is not so important as what’s sensible. There’s this element of manipulation going on in most forms of art, other than perhaps in high modernity—which interests me greatly. In fact, I’ve been working on a collection of tunes for a while now which play on this idea, at least in my mind—I’m very interested in these moments of transcendent pathos and emotional manipulation, and my way into that is to try and test the conventions of film scoring. I’ve been isolating fragments of audio taken from these precise points in various films, and then trying to extrapolate music from these moments—attempting to make cliches transcendent, or to reclaim the content of musical cliches for my own purposes. The results have been very mixed, I suppose because it’s very difficult transcend cliche.

Do you ever envision these sounds making an appearance on the screen?

I’m very much open to my music being used in other contexts, I’d love to compose for film. If someone gave me the opportunity I’d jump at it. But it hasn’t really come up thus far, and in some ways I don’t really like the idea of pursuing music making where the primary medium is something other than sound. I suppose like most things it takes some pretty serious time and commitment to get anywhere in that world and I’ve so far been distracted from it—but yes if it comes up at some point I’d be stoked.

And the obvious question: what’s planned for TW in the near future?

Well, I’m not sure really. In terms of releases, I have quite a lot of material which is slowly accumulating—but there’s no obvious thread between it all so I’m a little confused about how to release it. I think I’m just going to finish up some demos and send them around to some people and see what comes of it.

Though there’s my long running duo with Marcus Whale—we’ve been asked to do a release through a label I really like, which is pretty exciting, but I can’t really talk about it yet because it’s in the very early stages. Gig-wise, I’ve had a very busy start to the year, so I’m looking forward to having a little time off from that in the near future and just getting into the studio.