Axel Willner has created an expansive musical aesthetic under his moniker The Field. The framework for his ambient techno utilises modern looping and sampling technology to create a style that is distinctively his own. Since his debut album in 2007, he has taken the repetitive nature of looping to craft songs that are hypnotic, atmospheric and sometimes transcendent. Over his four albums, Willner has excelled at demonstrating how a simple loop or sample can be sculpted into sounds which arouse emotion and memory.

On his new album, The Follower, Willner admits reaching a creative block regarding where to embark on his new material. His discovery of a modular synthesizer opened up a new potential in how he composes. Modular synths are often complex to navigate, yet offer infinite possibilities to their users due to their vast configuration system. The impact of the instrument led to allowed Willner to further The Field's approach. The new album features some of his more explicitly, muscular techno on the likes of the title song, while songs like the closing 'Reflecting Lights' and 'Soft Streams', show how the synthesizer added to his trademark entrancing work.

Andrew Darley spoke with Willner about the potency of the first take and the emotional intuition that shapes his songs. He explains that in his period of creative doubt, he trusted the equipment would lead him into a new sound.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In some ways, The Follower is an album of two parts - a few songs adopt the classic style of The Field while on others you have incorporated modular synths for the first time. Where did they enable you to go on this record?

The starting point was the song 'The Follower'. It was not called that at the time but it was the first baby-steps of making the album. So I did two tracks and then I got quite stuck. I always find it inspiring to use new gear so I was introduced to the modular and I became super inspired by it - I lost my mind with it. It made me make everything else on the album.

Where does a song start for you? Do you start with an emotion that you want to capture musically?

As The Field has become my profession, I always block out time to focus on making something new. It's not that I sit in the studio and try to make new things. I really have to have a feeling. It's very emotionally-based, without that I couldn't just go in and press record to see what happens.

Using modular synths it must've been impossible to replicate sounds. Did it get frustrating at times?

It sure did but that's the beauty of it too. It's in the now. I prefer the first-take because you cannot recreate what you did when you had that original thought or feeling. Even if you fuck it up, it's better to keep the fuck-up in rather than trying to re-do it. That's the beauty of the modular machine because it works exactly like that.

That makes complete sense: You can't repeat the feeling so you can't repeat the sound. What I also find fascinating is how you sample very minor details from other songs and loop it in a way to maximum effect. Is the idea to invite other artist's work into your world or is it to create something entirely of its own?

All the samples I use, I have a connection to - either emotionally or I like the production. It's about using a track that I have a feeling for. I think a symbiosis happens in between. When you sample in the way I do, you don't just get the sound, you get the whole production and atmosphere that was happening while they were recording it. It's not about sampling tics, it's capturing a whole atmosphere. I'm getting less and less sample-focused. I try to use as little sounds as possible but use them to the biggest extent that I can.

A number of the songs on this album reach the 10-minute mark. What interests you about working on a big scale like that?

I think it's because that's how I consume music myself. I really like songs that are really long and require time to reach the destination. It rubbed off on my work as gradually with every album, my songs have become longer and longer.

Do you think longer compositions can create an experience that shorter songs cannot?

I do. It's pretty hard, at least for me, when I make music I could never make something in three minutes even though that's the standard. I like when it takes time - it needs patience. Everything else is so fast now so it's nice that it takes it slow.

There's a lot of momentum in your songs, especially considering some of them are made in one take. Would you say that you have good intuition with composition?

I guess so. As you say it's done in one take with maybe some overdubbing and arranging. I can't really go back to a track and pick it up the day after. It has to be done when I start and it has to take the time it takes until it's finished. That's how I work - it could be one hour or it could be half a day.

Electronic artists seem to be moving away from the album format in favour of releasing EPs or stand-alone songs. Do you still believe in the album as a format of presenting music?

Again that's how I consume music myself. I'm very late with the digital age and Spotify - I only got it the other day. I love the format of the album and being able to sit and let it play through and then flip it to the other side. It doesn't work all the time because it's rare that an album is good from beginning to end but that's how I grew up listening to music. Now everyone is just picking the raisins out of the cake all the time. I'm too old and old-school for that.

I think it's hard to form any relationship with an artist if you only want their best songs.

That appears to be the climate right now. No-one pays attention anymore to things that might require time.

As a whole, would you say there's an aspect that ties these new songs together?

For me, the album is divided in two: the upbeat beginning and the mind-travel at the end. The album chronologically tracks how they were made too, from playing live in clubs to the more studio-based songs. The first tracks are a bit more banging and the later ones are more chilled out. I think the fourth song is somewhere between those two states that links it all together.

Do you see this record as being different to your previous ones?

I think it's somewhat a continuation of what I was doing on Cupid's Head. It's me alone with machines, which also goes back to From Here We Go Sublime where it all started. With every record, the framework is the same but the change is in the details. On this album, I played around with rhythms but that's more in the background, not in the foreground. I have tiny ways of changing things, that are not so much in your face. If you listen to it, the differences are there.

Where do you feel you are in your career?

I don't know. I have no idea actually. I've been riding the wave as much as I can. I think I'm going to keep on doing that as long as I can. I think I have a little more self-esteem and believe more in myself and what I do. I'm getting more skin on my nose and a bit older too.

For you, what is the most satisfying part of creating a song?

On this record, it was when I got the new gear and lost myself in it. I was starting to doubt myself and feeling like I couldn't do this really. Getting the new equipment was such an upswing. Just playing around, I made stuff I wasn't prepared for. It's been a while since I lost myself while making something that I didn't really know what it would be.

Are you mindful of not repeating yourself?

I try not to even though I make very repetitive music! It has to have a continuation. It depends on who you ask. If you take someone who just listens to radio, everything I'm sure would sound exactly the same. If you're into it, people would hear that it's quite different. I don't aim for it - it happens with the gear that I try with each record and I follow them. We work together.


The Follower is out now on Kompakt.