Interview: Best Available Technology

Often abbreviated as BAT, Best Available Technology is the alias of Portland based producer Kevin Palmer. First appearing in 2012 on Stephen Bishop’s now highly prolific label Opal Tapes as a split release with OND TON; BAT then went on to put out the impressive Excavated Tapes 1992-1999, Vol. 1 the following year on the always on point Astro:Dyanamics. Delving deep into a massive cassette collection he found when clearing his loft, the release featured some of the audio explorations he produced and recorded to tape throughout the nineties. Despite some of the tunes being made more than over a decade ago, BAT’s sounds operate effortlessly between approximations of warped techno, house and industrial noise rhythms that comfortably fit alongside the productions of some of his fellow label partners. With a seven track EP also released on Further and his recent contribution to the excellent BASH series on Style Upon Styles we had a long chat with Kevin about his formative years listening to hip hop, the Forbidden Planet soundtrack and his video creations among other things. With the news of a forthcoming EP on a well respected UK label and the prospect of some exciting collaborations too, Best Available Technology might be one of the most humble yet interesting producers to emerge in the last two years.

Stream: Best Available Technology – 1952 Eniwetok (Opal Tapes) 

Just want to start with asking when did you take the first steps to getting your music released. Did people reach out to you or vice versa. “Well the first thing I did if I remember correctly is try to do a Myspace thing when someone told me about it. I’m always a few steps behind with the internet stuff. Like I appreciate it for what it is but I don’t really keep up with it if you know what I mean. I’m a little out of touch with that haha So I started doing the Myspace thing when I was doing this project with my buddy Max and that felt weird and I wasn’t really into it. I guess it was just my first taste of social networking. I can’t remember what time I was introduced to Soundcloud but it totally felt right and and it’s social network elements at the time felt really small and minimal to me. You just put your sounds up and sit back I guess. I was then fortunate enough to start chatting to Ben Thomas (BNJMN) who had obviously heard some of my stuff which definitely helped and I’m sure he played some of my tracks to Luke Owen over at Astro:Dynamics. Then Stephen Bishop from Opal Tapes getting in contact was completely out of the blue.”

You mentioned your friend Max. From what I understand it’s he who originally came up with the name Best Available Technology. Can you tell us a little bit about that? “Well, I moved back to Arizona for a year from Portland and he was already living there and he’s a writer and was pretty much a sound head as well. He does some spoken word stuff as well. I actually need to give him a lot of credit for helping me feel confident about my sounds. Like I had never really played my stuff to anybody. I have tonnes of friends who are into music and play in bands and stuff but I felt they wouldn’t be into my corner of music you know. So Max was totally into it and felt good about it and came up with the name. The name actually stems from written regulations in law to do with future tech and pollution problems. We have a lot of old stuff recorded actually which is great and I really enjoyed working on that stuff with him. I’m super proud of it so one day I’d like to get it out there.”

Are you generally quite open to collaborations and working with other people then? “I love it. It’s actually one of my favourite things about this and using any exposure I may get to connect with people that have the same kind of ideas about sounds or at least are into the same sorts of music I’m into. I’m working with two people at the moment who I can’t really mention who they are right now (there’s a clue in his Sonic Router mix). I’m just super excited about it though as both these guys do the coolest stuff.” In another interview you stated that you exchange production techniques with OND TON a fair bit. Was wondering if that had developed any further than just casual conversations about production? “At the moment no but then again Hugo is hard to get a hold of haha We’re friends on Facebook and every once in a while I reach out to him to try find him again. He likes to keep a pretty low profile I think. He’s such a nice dude though and his music is amazing. He should have had his own tape. He didn’t need me on there too haha That guy definitely needs to fill out an album full of his own music.”

We were reading a past interview and from what we can understand you listened to a lot of hip hop in your early days of production. Three 6 Mafia and Ice-T right? “I did. You know not so much way back. I don’t even know when they were putting stuff out, maybe 92? I guess I’ve always leaned towards that West Coast stuff like N.W.A and Ice-T. It was fascinating you know, being a kid in Southern California and then all of a sudden all that gangster rap explodes and it like really changed the culture for a young male in that part of the world. I was massively into skating at the time too and it seemed like all my friends were into this type of music. They were probably responsible for leading me onto that type of stuff actually. But you know what, I was still listening to a lot of punk rock stuff at the time. Loads of stuff such as JFA and other things on that level.”

Going through your influences list for the Ransom Note we couldn’t help be drawn to the Forbidden Planet soundtrack and how you mentioned that film and tv and had a massive impact on you too. “I guess when I put together that list I felt like the stuff I listen to at the moment wasn’t that at all interesting for an ‘influences list’ but with the Forbidden Planet stuff it’s the complete opposite. My idea with the list was to come up with stuff  that I had heard before I even thought about doing music myself. Like before it even occurred to me that I could even do that or have an aptitude for it you know. So with film and tv the first interest would definitely be like the sci-fi elements, being a nerdy little boy and loving anything that had a whiff of science fiction and outer space. Then there were the sounds and there’s nowhere you can really hear that stuff. Those sounds were just so alien and unsettling. It must have been so bizarre hearing that when the film came out in 1956. So without even knowing it those sounds had a big influence on what I love about making sounds myself.”

We were also excited to discover you do your own videos for your tracks on Youtube as well as for others, such as that John Heckle Remix of Bantam Lions. Interested to ask how long you’ve been interested in those side of things as well. “Well we got a video camera when me and my wife had our daughter in 2000. It was just a Hi 8 so I couldn’t do anything digitally with it and I can’t really edit myself. I love photography and visual arts though so when I got a copy of Vegas I just started screwing around with it. Every time I use it to make one of those videos it’s just an experiment for me . What I like to do with it and because my computers have never really been that fast, is I can mess with the visual effects and automate things but when I play it back it doesn’t really look right and it kind of skips around. When you eventually go to render it, you never really know what it’s going to end up looking like. A good example is the video for “Ebb Uncut” which was released on Astro:Dynamics. The way it’s real shaky and the squiggles move really frantically, that wasn’t the intention. When I was making the video it seemed like everything was really smooth and fluid but it still kind of worked in the end.”

Going back to Excavated Tapes we wanted to talk about the selection curation for it and how you decided which works to commit to tape and which to leave off. “Well, I devote a chunk of time to ripping tapes. It’s such a long process and I have to sit and monitor them as the levels are usually pretty all over the place and I kind of have to ride the fader from the tapebox to the computer to make sure the levels are somewhat even. I guess a mastering person could fix them but I still want to make sure I can hear what’s going on myself. In addition, a lot of the tapes are really old and physically they’re a little bit fucked. I’ll start to play them back and I’m like ‘These are hammered, there’s no way they’re going to work.’ Sometimes it’s just a case of the spools being a little messed up and needing tightening but that’s always the initial process. Then I’ll end up with like one tape as long as two forty five minute sides that are full of sounds. I’ll go through and basically chop out the embarrassing parts. I had this funky little tape deck and I would just turn it on and record everything, so on a thirty minute tape there might just be fifteen minutes of me just screwing around with the SP12 and filling it with sounds and doing the most ridiculous approximations of a hip hop beat. Some of it sounded so dorky haha At one point I had a turntable and I would try and scratch and record it in. That will probably never see the light of day ha However I’m in the process of ripping some more stuff at the moment which I’m hoping will come out on Excavated Tapes Volume 2. So yeah I chopped out the embarrassing parts and sent the rest of it to Luke (Owen) who then sequenced and compiled the release.”

In a past interview you stated that when you were initially trying to make beats you would try approximate the hip hop you loved yet the approach was really naive to you. Do you think being naive back then helped contribute to the style of music you were making? “Yeah I do for sure. There’s definitely something to be said about approaching creative endeavours with that level of uncertainty, surprise and experimentation. Like I still don’t really know what I’m doing but it’s different now. Like I love gear and I love reading about it and I’ve just had that more exposure over the years to it all. I’ve still never had a guitar lesson and I don’t fully understand theory but I’ll learn a chord here and there. Maybe now on the mixer I’ll have a kick on one channel and a snare on another and so on but back then I would just have a drum machine going into a pedal into the tape deck ha So sometimes I have to kind of slow down and remember that it’s still fun to just use that crappy gear in the moment.” 

Moving on, in an interview with Stephen Bishop he states that “his love for cassettes stretches beyond mere nostalgia and to him they’re legitimate sonic vessels for the music he loves.” Wanted to ask about your personal relationship with cassettes and what is it about the format that draws you to it. “Well, it’s funny you ask that because as I look around to the corner of my room where I have my gear there’s a milk crate overflowing with tapes that I need to organise. Just spilling everywhere. I’ve always had a tape player and there’s still one in my car. I don’t think I’ll ever get a CD player in my car. The one in there is a little bit beat up by I just love it. As a kid most people I knew had access to a tape recorder of some kind and it would be the first time you could capture sounds and play them back. It was pretty fascinating for me in ways and yeah that’s the beginning of the relationship. Then you just begin collecting them and it was always the format that I bought music on. It felt more accessible and portable than records, even though I’ve definitely bought many records over the years too. With the tape deck you could buy a tape and listen to it right there. Through the nineties they were also super cheap so you’d go into a record store and come out with handful of used albums for a fraction of what you’d pay on vinyl. Was very cool for like hip hop stuff where I could just buy it and drive around listening to it minutes after haha It’s a cool medium for music and even though I’m not a fan of when they start to get that tone drop out it’s still a format I’ll keeping coming back to. Cassettes have been pretty popular for experimental electronic music for a while it seems and even though I’ve never sought out that stuff I’m pretty sure there’s a healthy movement of people doing tapes. My exposure to that stuff actually comes from chatting with Stephen Bishop about sounds and he’s turned me on to a lot of cool stuff from that world. I’m a little out of touch with the more recent music but it’s something I enjoy being part of to an extent, you know.”

You’ve just had a release on Style Upon Styles for their BASH series. Can you tell us a little bit about that? “When they approached me for it I knew what the concept was and I loved it. I do quite a lot of different stuff and I don’t tend to stick to one style of music but I’d like to think there was some continuity in what I do. So for an opportunity to do a release that was a little conceptual and having a different kind of sound on each side was great. So I went through my stuff and picked out some tracks that I thought would be appropriate for it and then they made the final call. Getting some four by four stuff out felt right too as I had remembered listening to a lot of stuff by Bandulu, Jeff Mills, Jay Denham and a lot of tracks on Black Nation records and being blown away.”

Stream: Best Available Technology – BASH004 (Style Upon Styles) 

With the Style Upon Style release was Nazusk, the designer of the stencilled jacket, chosen by you? I know he’s based in Sheffield so keen to know how you first heard of and got in contact with him. “I heard of him from this little zine called Nut City, which I think I first saw on Rewind Forward. They threw up a little thing saying check out this zine and I was blown away by his art. I’ve always been a big fan of graff so I saw his stuff, crossed my fingers and threw it out there for Phil from SUS to contact him and yeah he was cool enough to do it. I’m super proud of it and I’m so happy he was down for working with us. If I had the money I’d love to do some T-shirts! It just looks so cool. It resonates so nicely with the spirit of collaboration that I love so much about all this. What a crazy world we live where I can see his work on the internet and do this partnership haha Just this little package we’ve managed to all put together.”

Can we expect any live shows from you in the future or is this something that doesn’t interest you at all? “Never never, haha. Actually I will do some live stuff eventually I think, I just don’t feel like I have a way to do it that will be interesting to people. I don’t really have the drive to get out there in the world and voice my music on people at the moment. I don’t know actually, maybe I’m too much of a perfectionist but there’s also the reality that it scares the shit out of me haha I’ve done it a couple of times and it’s terrifying. I did actually do a performance with Max and my friend Jeff around around 2010 and somewhere out there on Youtube there’s a five minute thing of us doing this thing at an art gallery. That was a crazy experience. We basically did this droney, real drifty gig for what seemed like hours and there were these rock bands playing after us. That was fun but for the time being live shows may be a while.

Finally, what else can we expect from you in the near future? “I’ve got something coming on Left_Blank. That label is such a good look. I love the sonics and the aesthetics. There’s such a variety of sounds yet a strong continuity that I really admire. So there’s that and then I’m ripping a bunch of tapes to come up with more stuff to send to Luke. There’s also the collaborative endeavours that are in the work which I’m excited to get out.”

Stream: Best Available Technology – Young Echo Radio Broadcast #17 3/10/2013


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