An experimental minimalist from the Texas hill country, Charles Ditto self-released In Human Terms on his own label in 1987. He calls it “nootropic deconstructed pop minimalism,” and it slots nicely with the spacey ambient worlds of Michele Mercure, Pauline Anna Strom, and Savant. Picture round shapes floating through a light fog and you’re in the right astral territory.
With selected catalog having been reissued via a host of labels, Ditto’s work has increasingly found a new audience; most recently via a limited edition vinyl release of In Human Terms. We caught up with Ditto at home, about an hour southwest of Austin, TX, to discuss the work – some 30+ years after its initial release.
Aquarium Drunkard: At the time of the gestation and recording of the album, did you think of yourself as part of the small scene of homemade electronic music, or were you operating in more of a vacuum?
Charles Ditto: Definitely in more of a vacuum at first. Then I found a small ‘space music’ network. Several musical acts, poets, dancers, and a couple of cool clubs that gave us a night a week.
AD: What were your musical aims during this period? Was there a conscious nod to the ambient music in, say, the mold of Brian Eno / Erik Satie (i.e. ‘furniture music’)?
Charles Ditto: I was listening to a lot of Eno’s ambient stuff, and Satie’s music has always intrigued me—there are many nods in there—but, honestly, I was just having fun. I wasn’t sure, at the beginning, what would happen or if anything would be released. I didn’t play the music for most of my friends.
AD: This idea of records receiving a second life via reissue has become more prominent of late. Prior to this, had you spent much time revisiting this particular work since its original release?
Charles Ditto: Only rarely. Occasionally, a guest might request it. Until two years ago, I had been giving the LPs away for free. I thought it was a dead project. I’m very grateful to Telephone Explosion, Passat Continu, Nino Tomorrow, and Cudighi Records for their efforts in reissuing my music and helping promote interest in original music that isn’t commercial.
AD: Three decades removed, are you able to view In Human Terms a bit outside of yourself? If so, what are some of things that strike you most?
Charles Ditto: No. I’m still right there in it. I see no escape. Even so, what I like about it compared with my other records is it’s singularity of space—like an uninterrupted thought. It’s very focused. It just happened that way. I had a very peaceful environment.
AD: I first heard the record context free, based solely on its content and artwork. I assumed it was via a European musician. I’m curious, how does Texas work itself into your work, consciously or otherwise?
Charles Ditto: Interesting question! With regard to this record, it’s the wide open space and the pervasive sense of contentment.
AD: Lastly, what are some records (old or new) that have really struck you, and stuck with you, since In Human Terms original release?
Charles Ditto: I continue to love the music of Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt on the classical side, but, mostly these days, I’m drawn to traditional and indigenous music from all over the world, really. The more authentic and primitive the better. I am, though, planning to refurbish my MIDI studio and see if something fun and interesting happens – now that there may be interest.