The sound of Oklahoma City musician Askanse defies easy categorization. It’s electronic music, but computers are just a tool producer Ben Hill uses to find, make, layer and manipulate every sound he can imagine.
“I get a lot of ideas just throughout the day biking around or when a lot of times when I'm taking showers for some reason that's a zone in which I have a lot of musical thoughts,” Hill says. “I just hear ideas or sounds or even whole song structures in my head and I try to realize that.”
Hill self-produces under a label he calls Casita Records, a reference to the travel trailer on his grandmother’s property where he began layering the sounds he heard around him.
“I would just take a tape player out into the woods and leave it there for a long time and come back later and listen to the whole thing, which is 45 minutes of forest noise, and then just pick out my favorite parts,” Hill says.
For Hill, music is just like any art form. It takes hours to develop the skills to make something sound effortless.
“Nothing survives the process,” Hill says. “It’s usually like I have an idea, I make it, then I think of ways I can take that idea further.”
When he finishes a track, he packs up his gear and goes to whatever living room, record store or small music club will give him and his collaborators space on their floor to perform. The Casita Records webpage describes the music as electronic, down-tempo and experimental, but that doesn't capture it entirely. When Askew, the live iteration of Askanse performs, it feels like jazz at some points and new age at others.
During his performances, Hill continually makes eye contact with people in the crowd, making sure they are connecting with what he is creating in front of them.
“I can see people are engaged with me and what I'm doing,” Hill says. “You just kind of know that like, ‘I should make this part longer’ or ‘I should suddenly change it up now because it’s part of this journey we’re on.’"
When performing live, Hill says everything is intuitive.
“If it's going well, then it's totally bliss,” Hill says.
"It's something you're just totally in that moment. Like a meditation or a dream.”
Ben Hill has developed his own style since he began producing, and he tries to create music other musicians will find compelling.
“I'm really trying to be aware of everything that's been done in that genre and think about ways in which it can be done interesting or different,” Hill says. “That’s hard, to make a song that isn’t boring, that doesn’t do exactly what I think it’s going to do.”
Hill spends 40 to 50 hours per week working on music. He records himself playing instruments and old records, and then digitizes the sounds and manipulates them in computer programs like Ableton. Music is the 25-year-old’s true passion but he doesn’t have any delusions about the difficulty of making a living from it.
“It would be sweet but I don't bank on it happening and I don't feel entitled to it happening,” Hill says. “I think that would just make me bitter.”
When he’s not producing music, Hill works as a pedicab driver, transporting tourists around in his bike-drawn carriage. Despite the odds, and his degree with honors in economics, he plans to continue making music.
“You make it as long as you feel compelled to make it and inspired,” Hill says. “Even if you're an accountant you're still making music because you like to do it.”
Ben Hill has a collaboration with fellow musicians Sardashhh and Laine Bergeron called Harpa. They’re going on a tour to California and the Pacific Northwest in January.
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