Found sound and scattered beat alchemist Ahnnu, aka Leland Jackson, has seen a slow, organic transformation into something that is, for lack of a better description, a trip. Originally known by the moniker Annu (the "h" was added when various fans and radio DJs couldn't pronounce his name right), the Richmond, VA native re-emerged properly in 2011, his former syrupy, early Brainfeeder-indebted tunes reinvented into a hearty binge exercise of tropical, psychedelic noise. Despite his extensive output, it wasn't until his move to Los Angeles and the formidable one-two punch of 2012's Couch and pro habitat that the producer gained traction outside of a small, in-the-know following.
What made those releases so earwormy, especially in the case of pro habitat, was their design-- unfolding as they go, deconstructing how a folk sample can rub up against a mangled breakbeat, or how clips from Juice can be slotted alongside static and the more out-there phases of Steve Reich, all going down sweetly like a glass of chocolate milk. Jackson doesn't "produce" in the way that his L.A. peers do-- he makes blends, layering samples, loops, and other oddities overtop each other. The results can be charming or foreboding, often a mixture of both, but the tunesmith's secret weapon is his live set, which takes his studio methods and lifts them into a chaotic junglegym of sound, sometimes devolving into footwork-- he produces juke-indebted power plays under the alias cakedog-- and at other times dovetailing into new age, shrieking noise, and crushed boogie.
Because of his work ethic, Ahnnu's sound is constantly under renovation. His two tapes for this fall, the astoundingly beautiful World Music (Leaving Records) and Battered Sphinx (NNA Tapes) couldn't be more different in terms of mood and source material. World Music is tight, and often astounding beautiful, while Battered Sphinx is a hard trudge through the abstract. This past June, Jackson and I spoke while balancing ourselves on rickety stools in the Ridgewood, Queens apartment where he was staying at the time, and we've kept in touch over the summer. More than anything, dude just wants to chill and listen to music, explanations and expectations be damned.
Ad Hoc: How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t heard it before? it’s kind of at this weird crossroads between noise and acoustic, very tropicalia influenced but also very rooted in hip-hop. How do all those different elements combine?
Ahnnu: People ask me to describe my music sometimes, and I don’t really know how to describe it either, but I try to just put everything together. You know, how sometimes when you play music on iTunes and you’re just cleaning the house or something and you put it on shuffle and your entire library-- even though one song may be different than the next, it might be like a completely different genre or whatever. It still completes this mood, I guess, and I try to just look at it like that. It’s just kind of an accumulation of everything I’ve been listening to-- juke hip hop, all that. I’m just trying to remember that in the end I want to enjoy making music, and that I want to put my two cents, my ten cents, my 12 cents in. Hopefully, I can get as close as I can to being honest and being like, this is new to me.
Ad Hoc: What would you say was your biggest influence on World Music?
Ahnnu: I’ve been trying to work with this idea of getting away from drums. That concept was interesting to me and I want to challenge myself with that. I think World Music is maybe an attempt at that and just the curiosity was a big motivation. Just dissecting my process, my creative process, ‘cause I’ve been working with Fruity Loops for a long time. The thing is, after you work the same way for so many years you want to trick yourself. I think World Music was kind of the next step creatively.
Ad Hoc: Moving away from World Music, How did Battered Sphinx come about?
Ahnnu: NNA initially contacted me through e-mail and approached me with the idea of releasing a project with them. I've been a fan and listener of NNA's catalog and taste for a while now, so their consideration for even contacting me was a great feeling. I'm definitely humbled to be involved with a group of artists and thinkers as progressive and thoughtful as NNA.
Ad Hoc: What's the fundamental difference between the vibe of World Music and Battered Sphinx?
Ahnnu: I think a lot of these differences I would leave to the listener to dissect. Both releases were made with a conscious decision to depart in a way from the expectation of a traditional beat release, in that I wanted to incorporate more variety of tastes. World Music especially was conceived with this idea; my motivation was to make the listening experience as flexible as possible and in constant change. I did keep the length of tracks relatively short similar to beat tapes, maybe even shorter. Again, this was done to draw emphasis on the persistence of movement in World Music. In contrast, I wanted to keep Batthered Sphinx as minimal as possible without completely reducing my love for rhythm and groove. A lot of Battered Sphinx was less conceptual, more about the mechanics of each track. I wanted to practice more techniques of deduction during the production of Battered Sphinx, which was really fun. I actually was going back and forth between producing footwork, which called for a completely different frame of mind-- definitely bridged a lot of production ideas for me. In retrospect, that may have affected my choice in withholding from too much percussion in many of the tracks, especially on Battered Sphinx.
Ad Hoc: How many of those tracks are straight loops and how many of them are blends of all these different things?
Ahnnu: It’s both. It’s kind of just loops and then I’ll resample myself a lot—it’s like loops and then a loop again and again and then I’ve blurred it into another loop. It’s a lot of layering, but I try to get away from too much chaos as far as composition.
Ad Hoc: What was a big seminal recording for you?
Ahnnu: Probably something like Coma the Flax. I kind of felt embarrassed after putting it up online, but it just felt like I had to do that. In my headphones, while I was making it, I liked making it, and I thought that it would just lay around in my hard drive and not go anywhere. Then I thought that would be like a crime, you know what I mean? I wanted to take that risk and be like, is it okay? I guess it was just kind of a leap for me, but people seemed to like it, so that’s cool. I’m surprised.
Ad Hoc: Have you ever wondered about how much more avant-garde and heady your stuff is compared to normal “beat music”?
Ahnnu: Yeah, sometimes I do. I think some people expect a certain sound, and when people invite me to play and I'm going through the show, I wonder if they’re like, “Oh, I should have never contacted that dude, he’s fucking up!” But nah, people seem to like enjoy it, at least the people that talk to me. I’m just trying to have fun, and I figure there’s no rules, so I just try to leave room for me to have fun and try to be honest at the same time about what I’m playing. For example, when I was in a band--it was weird going to shows and playing the same songs over and over again. It kind of took the taste away from it. I remember how that felt, so I kind of try to leave room for fun somewhere.
Ad Hoc: On the same note, is that how Cakedog came about?
Ahnnu: Totally. Cakedog was just having fun, making what I want to hear. Footwork’s just another influence that I’m into right now. I’m just documenting it for myself.
Ad Hoc: What drew you towards footwork?
Ahnnu: I’m still just hugely mesmerized by it. I’ve always liked the way a lot of the juke producers, at least the ones that I listen to, they have a minimalism and there’s still soul. It’s very open: sometimes, I’ll hear beats that are a little more dark and others are a little more focal, but the rhythm is always relentless everywhere. It’s hardcore, but it’s cool.
Ad Hoc: What future plans do you have as far as collaborations, LPs?
Ahnnu: Right now I’m working on a couple collab projects. A lot of it is really free-form. It’s more of just, “Hey, let’s get together and put sounds together and see what happens.” Knxwledge and I are working on a new project, Jared Fowler and I are communicating online on combining sounds, and I really wanna work with Chino [Diamond Hearted Black Boy].
Ad Hoc: What’s it like living hanging with Glen Boothe, aka Knxwledge?
Ahnnu: He’s awesome. Glen’s the dude-- he’s living the dream. I definitely look up to him as a person, as an artist. Especially because when I first moved to Los Angeles, I did not have any type of lead on a job or anything, and Glen meanwhile was just opening up emails, just like stacking. It was kind of like a reminder, especially during my first year there. You can come out to L.A. and really get it in if you have the will, and he’s definitely an inspiration. It was cool waking up and he’s working and it was just like, “Wow.” He’s definitely a producer I look up to.
Ad Hoc: Do you actually have releases planned ahead of time or are all the records put together when you're commissioned for one?
Ahnnu: It really depends on the project. I do always go back to older folders of music, to kind of excavate the tracks that had no home at the time when they were made. World Music includes tracks I made in late 2012, but also tracks I made weeks before I sent it out to Matthew. Battered Sphinx was composed and taken apart many times during production, but was mainly made after NNA approached me with the idea of release. In both cases, I was encouraged to take my time with the music, and in doing so, I was inspired to take creative freedoms. It was refreshing to stretch out again with the support of labels who respected and appreciated deep sound.
Ad Hoc: Do you wish there was more free-form experimentation within the beat scene?
Ahnnu: Depends. I just need more in the music I make. With beat music, that shit’s a huge influence on me when other people make it. When I make it myself, I have all these other influences coming into play that I can’t really ignore. I mean, free-form shit is kinda cool too. I fuck with it all. I just want to keep putting out material, get some more CDs and tapes out there, and hopefully some coffee mugs.
World Music is out September 3 on Leaving Records.