Wolfgang Tillmans explains how "Device Control" ended up on 'Endless'


Wolfgang Tillmans is a German photographer by trade, but he's been dabbling with electronic music for 30 years. He released his first EP,  2016/1986, in 2016 and was asked by Frank Ocean if his new song "Device Control" from a forthcoming follow up EP by the same name, could be sampled.

In an Instagram post, Tillmans dropped some knowledge on how the collaboration came to pass.

A bit more info: Enormously proud and happy that Frank Ocean did include my (yet unreleased) track ‘Device Control’ as intro and as a full length ending of his ‘Endless’ album!
We were in touch about the intro, but I wouldn’t believe it until it happened. Three weeks ago I showed him a few songs, which I had written and produced for myself earlier in the year, and he replied 'Device Control is brilliant. Love. Can I sample it for the intro of my album?’ I agreed to it, and to my excited surprise this morning he didn't just sample it. He released my complete original track as the end of this amazing album. So now it's out - and in full length.. Below are the complete production credits. Thank you everyone involved!

The song is on the forthcoming Wolfgang Tillmans ‘Device Control EP’ (Digital release date tomorrow) featuring also two addictive remixes by Berlin’s Daniel Wang & J.E.E.P. and one by US legends Salem, all of ‘Make It Up As You Go Along’ (The original is out now on vinyl and digital and Spotify - 'Wolfgang Tillmans') and a new vocal piece of mine in two versions called ‘Angered Son’. We will release the new EP digitally in the very next few days. Vinyl release will be Sept 16 as originally planned. Fragile003 on Fragile. Distributed worldwide by WordandSound.

Wolfgang Tillmans - 'Device Control'
Vocals, lyrics, melody by Wolfgang Tillmans
Keyboards, harmonies, arrangement and drum programming by Tim Knapp at Trixx Studios, Berlin
Intro: all instruments and production by Kyle Combs, New York
Live drums by Rosie Slater recorded at Studio G, Brooklyn
Additonal arrangement by Kyle Combs, Jay Pluck and Wolfgang Tillmans
iPhone voice recording at Keithstrasse, Berlin and book binding machinery recording at Grafica Maiaduoro, Porto by Wolfgang Tillmans
Mixed by Alexis Berthelot at Studio G, Brooklyn
Mastered by Klaus Knapp at Trixx Studios, Berlin
Written and produced by Wolfgang Tillmans, 2016

i-D Magazine got in touch with Willmans for some more information immediately following Frank's big comeback weekend:

What can you tell us about the last 48 hours? How hectic/thrilling has it been? What emotions have you gone through?

You describe it correctly. The "last 48 hours… hectic — thrilling." Even though in the last four weeks I had some idea of what was going on, I was really also not having any reliable idea of timing and extent of my involvement in this release weekend extravaganza.

In the recent Pitchfork interview, you said "we immediately got on, and I felt he was a unique artist, and that all the backs and forths were somehow OK. He seemed so well-considered and sharp, yet open to what would happen on the day." In the 20 months since shooting Frank for Fantastic Man, did you think that difficult shoot could have spawned such a creative coming together?

I must say for all the difficulty beforehand and after the shoot, whenever we actually met I realised that he was knowing exactly who he came to, was well researched on my work in a way that few sitters ever are. So I actually did feel Frank is genuinely interested in other artists. Usually not working in this high-octane world of mega-stardom I just took the antics coming with it, with a pinch of salt, but at the heart of it I felt this is a person at the height of his powers and when you're in that position you want to connect to others in that position.

What can you tell us about taking Frank clubbing in Berlin?

I just don't get nervous around people like him, especially as he is actually calm in person. So when he said he would be coming back to Berlin that night I just thought well let's see if he really does. Then I got a picture of him and a friend on a plane. So I realised he really is coming. The best thing about a good club is that you are 'together alone'. You can be as much together as you want and as much alone as you want. In the end everyone gravitates to be an atom in this atomised togetherness.

Had their been much contact since this meeting?

Well then there was this mysterious and rather annoying refusal to release the pictures for Fantastic Man. I still don't know what it was. But it all came with high powered management notes and lawyers letters. It was quite upsetting. Then we had the occasional SMS contact and things went back to normal. Maybe he just didn't feel ready to have a major magazine article out at that time, but he could have told us beforehand! Fantastic Man is a labour of love and not some corporate entity to fuck around with.

I remember seeing a few exhibition images surface online that showed a few of the shots that were intended for the issue. Frank's green hair caused more than a ripple of intrigue. What can you tell us about the shoot itself? And more on the image Frank selected for the cover?

One time he cancelled the shoot because the hair colourist wasn't able to do her job in time. Even though it seemed rather extravagant to say the least, the final result is so good that I think it was worth it. In my own work I think a long time about the fold and curvature in a piece of paper, so in a way I can relate to this. It was a certain dedication to the project to then drive twelve hours through the night from London to meet in Berlin. My studio is not a photo studio in traditional terms. I only photograph someone there once or twice a year. It's usually a space where I work on my ideas, prints and installations of prints. So when I actually do a shoot there I take it as an opportunity to 'dress it' which is fun. At the end of the sitting we did some final pictures in the shower and as it was January and a sunny day the light coming through the window was super warm. That's when the album cover image happened.

Despite being frustrated that the shots never made it the issue, how does it feel seeing it grace the cover of this year's hotly anticipated album?   

What is funny is that we are talking about a virtual cover, which is the format of a square because some, now ancient, medium for music was round and it's packaging was square. I'm totally new to the art of the digital release and all this is fascinating, how the design was still in question hours before the actual release happened. My song making up seven minutes of the Endless album is definitely the more unusual thing to happen, but I love the cover of Blond. I never had a AA+ record cover. But all the craze of the last days kept me from working on the layout of my catalog for my Tate Modern exhibition coming up soon. So this will have to stop soon.

Have you listened to Blond yet? What do you think? Which tracks are particular favourites of yours?

I'm often a late adopter. When everyone is talking about it I am rarely listening. For example I didn't listen to Anohni's new album, Hopelessness, when it first came out but now I love it so much. Nikes and it's video is incredible. It is so abstract, even so wrong, it's great.

When he contacted you a few weeks ago about the image, could you tell us a bit about how you shared your music with him. Had you discussed your musical past and present previously? Why did you specifically share two spoken word songs, Angered Son and Naive Me, alongside Device Control?

I wanted to give him an overview of what I was up to musically. The pop song Warm Star I still feel the most ambiguous about because it is so catchy, but I wanted to send it anyway. Angered Son, which is on the now out Device Control EP, is a vocal piece sung in the round style about the Orlando killer. Naive Me was written the day after Brexit happened. A line in it goes "25 years ago, I couldn't have thought this would happen" Device Control is the most accomplished track I've done so i wanted him to hear that for sure.

Of course Tillmans also took a series of photographs of Frank during the lead-up to Endless and Blonde's launch. You can see those shots here.