Ramon Mills aka Production Unit Xero (aka PUX) is an American electronic musician who has been cultivating high-quality IDM that stirs emotions and expands the mind since circa 2001. His work which also heavily incorporates ambient and breakbeat constructions evokes the likes of Jega, early Mike Paradinas projects, and Proem. While many like-minded artists who explore the fragmentation and deconstruction of electronic music hot rod down the proverbial bit-crushed strip of plugins and knob twiddling to only forget the importance of emotional connection, Ramon does not fall into this trap. Instead his work summons the spiritual and emotional element that often escapes experimental electronic music. His work takes me elsewhere and this is an important variable that I look for in art.
Mr. Mills who resides in Portland Oregon (via the experimental electronic scene in Austin Texas) also runs the exquisite and stealthy net label Heterodox Recordings – which boasts a fine selection of experimental electronic releases from an assortment of underdogs and low profile programming wizards. Hypnos Audio caught up with the busy and semi-reclusive Mr. Mills recently in an effort to understand his creative process.
HA: What inspires you to create music?
RM: I take inspiration from a lot of sources. The things that I experience over the course of the day and the things that are on my mind get transferred to thoughts of different timbres and beats or desires to make a certain type of music. Sound itself inspires me a lot. I carry a portable recorder with me most of time and I record sound everywhere I go, people talking, random sounds and whatnot. I also get inspired by the idea of creating soundtracks for different things that I’m thinking about, be it some sci fi concept from a RPG or movie, or different metaphysical concepts.
Also, I get really inspired by dorking out and talking about different synthesis and production techniques. I feel pretty passionately about the exploration of sound and working out different sonic ideas. I have a lot of fun with this and it prompts me to use this inspiration in new tracks.
HA: Could you describe your process of starting a new musical project?
RM: For starting a new song, my process is fairly free flowing. I make music whenever it comes to me and I jump around from idea to idea. The most common way that I start a new project is by just playing with something, be it playing a synth or mangling some field recording or making beats. From there, once I get a solid chord progression or phrase down, I just feel out what needs to come next and continue to flesh it out.
A lot of my projects or albums start by going through periods of making and recording a lot of music and then sorting through it all once I have a decent amount of stuff done – or if I am close to finishing it. Themes will always pop up and I’ll use those themes to decide the overall feel of the album. From there I’ll start using the pieces that fit the theme to tell a story and make more pieces to fill in the gaps as I go.
HA: Do you set boundaries or time constraints on your process? What do you use to structure your creative sessions?
RM: I have never really placed any time-based boundaries or constraints on my creative process. If I’m in a creative period or mood, I’m always in some phase of working on music, so I don’t really feel like I have sessions, per say, for my solo work.
Sometimes I’ll just wait to work on sound design all night and end up just making patches on whatever piece of gear that I’m into at the moment and maybe recording something. Other times I’ll have a clear ideal of a song in my head and I’ll just work on that for as long as it takes to get it out. With the way my work flow is structured at the moment, I end up finishing tracks pretty quick, trying to not spend too much time editing and just let the track be what it is.
HA: I have a similar process of finishing at first or second take and not getting lost in the trap of over production, second guessing and editing options. Have you learned any creative techniques to inspire projects and would/could you share them if so?
RM: I find that my creative techniques change from time-to-time and the best thing that I’ve learned is to focus on what’s really enjoyable and stimulating. In my experience, this can quickly take you down the road of expressing the feelings or thoughts that you want to get out or get you in the mode to actually sit down and make something.
I feel that everything else is fairly subjective. Like, for me one of the best creative techniques beyond that is to take a deep dive into my mind and thoughts and attempt to pull something out that I feel the need or desire to express. That’s a pretty personal way to go about things and does not always lead to results that are directly sharable. Also, I like to just think of one musical concept like a type of synthesis, or a “sound” and see what I can do with that and where it leads me.
HA: How long does it typically take you to start and finish a musical project/album?
RM: I don’t know if I have an average. I’m normally working on a few different types of music at the same time and once I’ve written a few pieces that kind of match or create a theme, I start focusing more on making an album. Sometime this happens quickly, a few of my more recent albums have been written in about a month, others have tracks that are 2 years apart. Sometimes, once I have a playlist of songs down it will just sit on my computer and I’ll listen to it forever until I decide that it’s an “album,” give it a name, and release it. I have way too many of those on my plate right now that need to go out into the world.
HA: What do you find more important the tools/equipment or the creative process?
RM: All in all, the creative process is key. I’ve written music using all different types of gear and software and having stuff that you are comfortable working with can make it easier to get the ideas out of your head and let the creative energy flow. I think it’s good to use stuff that you enjoy using, if you really like the physical or mental process of interacting with your instruments or tools, it makes the process fun and could inspire you to actual sit down and get something started. But those are just tools, if the use of those tools is not directed by the creative process, it’s just technical exercises.
HA: What do you do at the end of your creative cycle? (e.g., do you immediately move onto the next thing, take a break, etc).
RM: I normally have a few things in process at any given time, so this is hard to say. Once I feel that I’ve finished a project or album, I listen to it a lot and try to remove myself from the the idea that I’m listening to music that I’ve made and just focus on the idea that I’m listening to music.
Taking breaks rarely lines up directly with finishing projects for me. If I’m in a creative space, I’ll just keep going after finishing a project.
HA: Do you find a connection between your music and belief/spirituality in any way?
RM: I use music a lot in my spirituality practice from creating music for trance work and meditation, to using the act of creating music as a way to express my will and desires. Music has been one of the main ways that I’ve expressed and explored my spiritual self for most of my life now. I feel that creating art is a very similar, if not the same act as casting magic or communing with a higher power.
HA: If you could give advice to one artist on the creative process, what would it be?
RM: The number one piece of advice that I could give to an artist that is trying to connect to the creative process is to find a way to separate that from from the idea of “making it” in anyway. I’ve known way too many people who have quit making music or not given it a priority in their lives because they haven’t achieved “X, Y or Z” amount or measure of notoriety or fame or “likes.” Sure, these are important things, but we live in a culture that values success and profit over personal happiness and fulfillment. But, if you are wired to make art, I think you should just make art. If that becomes something more than just you expressing something that needs to come out, then that’s great. But don’t let the idea that your music isn’t “going anywhere” or “making money” decide whether or not you continue to express yourself and have fun.