Jeff Witscher might not be a household name, even among lovers of outlier musical styles. But if your ears are drawn to the margins, there’s a good chance that you’ve appreciated work he’s done under a plethora of project monikers: melancholy ambient meditations as Marble Sky (beautifully anthologized in 2014 on the Cincinnati label Students of Decay), noisy sound collages as Abelar Scout, fuzzy black-metal/shoegaze reveries as Secret Abuse, to name only a few.
Rene Hell, Witscher’s most famous alter ego, is the toughest to pin down stylistically. He has emblazoned the name on a flood of self-released tapes, as well as a clutch of recent, high-profile LPs: “Porcelain Opera” (2010) and “The Terminal Symphony” (2011), both on Type, and “Vanilla Call Option” (2013), released by PAN. That last album, fidgety and riveting, shows Witscher’s knack for wedding the timbral breadth of old-school academic electronic music to the visceral crack of art-damaged techno.
On Saturday, Witscher brings Rene Hell to Boston’s Goethe-Institut, topping a Non-Event bill that also includes fellow luminaries Blevin Blectum and Howard Stelzer. Speaking by telephone earlier this week from his current home base in Western Massachusetts, Witscher talked about identity, itinerancy, and the ideal setting for his music.
Q. You’ve worked under a variety of band names and project names over the years. Is there some specific factor that determines that something you’re working on is a Rene Hell project?
A. It’s definitely just an aesthetic choice, and there is some kind of aesthetic imagery, at least, that I have for all these different projects. It needs to fall in line with certain parameters, I think. And now I’d just like to transition into playing under my own name, because I think there’s even less imagery around the project. When you hear a name, you start to see some kind of image; I’m trying to take that away and just focus on the sound now.
Q. Your P.R. paraphernalia includes an intriguing line: “Travel is central to ‘Vanilla Call Option,’ with its digital palette constructed on the move between airports, performance spaces, and public libraries.” Is rootlessness something a listener is meant to hear in your music?
A. I think, unfortunately, that instability does in fact permeate it, because I don’t get to spend enough time on it, and I don’t get to kind of do it in a proper work space. A lot of it is made on the move, just with my computer — and even now, whenever I find time, I can open my computer up and work on stuff. I suppose it’s part of the process, but if anything, I think it’s detrimental to the music, not being able to sit on it for long enough or have enough time.
Q. But the flip side of that is that adversity forces you to find new modes of creativity.
A. Definitely. Because there’s such a limited amount of time, it forces different kinds of ideas that I’m thinking about when I’m not in front of the computer working on music. It’s a give-and-take. But I would like to have a studio and some time, that would be nice.
Q. So there are no solid-state electronics on “Vanilla Call Option” — it’s all digital?
A. I only do two things, really. One is recording acoustic sounds with a microphone, and then the other is building all the sound on the computer. So when I’m recording the sound, then I redesign it in the computer and create different systems to play it back. And the other is just building the synthesis on the computer.
Q. Are you interested at all in old-school modular-synthesizer boxes, plugs, and wires?
A. I like a hardware synthesizer because it forces you to play it differently — and it kind of plays itself, which is nice. With the computer, it’s more like drawing; you have to have an idea initially. Whereas with the hardware synthesizer, you can kind of turn it on and let it do [the work].
Q. You’ve played in a wide variety of settings: nightclubs, art spaces, late-night parties. How do you approach playing a more formal concert setting like the Goethe?
A. Oh, well, that’s wonderful, that’s ideal for me, I think, that kind of situation where people are comfortable, they can sit down, they can relax, they don’t have to stand if it’s a longer duration. That’s nice, that’s one less thing they have to worry about, and it’s just focusing on the sound — that’s great. If I’m aware of that beforehand, then I can play around with ideas that I’m more interested in. I played a very nice show in LA recently, but I kind of knew that it was going to be in a venue where potentially there was going to be people talking, doing their own thing. If I know that it’s going to be quiet and people are going to listen, then that’s really like a blank canvas, because you can really play around with a lot of different ideas, not just volume.Interview has been condensed and edited. Steve Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.