Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Articulate. Noise.

Q: "What's your relationship with sound?"
A: "Complicated"

That says a mouthful. I've been interested in "noise" since I started recording and have mixed in what I call "sound sculptures" in almost every project of mine from ambient to beat driven tracks to full on harsh ... well, noise.  I started this blog to exorcise what is it about sound that drives me and explore further. Whether it's recording, performing, or simply going nuts in the studio for an hour and then turning everything off and going about my day sound and noise is always just around the corner. 

For those who are not familiar with Power Electronics, Noise, Dark Ambient or whatever related label or genre it evokes NY artist Pharmakon breaks it down in this excellent interview:

Her latest full length album is available on Sacred Bones Records:

For my part I'm still chipping away at my current sound/Noise project:

And occasionally I revisit sounds I made over twenty years ago*:

Or just sit down and record what instrument is up and running in the studio at the moment: 

"Noise" music, like music itself doesn't know genres or boundaries. It can be emotional, visceral, cerebral, or simply beautiful. There are no limits and the best of it refuses to be one thing at a time. It is complicated but for some equally rewarding. 

Bang and scrape on. 

* Being me I can never resist making something as unmarketable as possible. The last track on this Power Electronics or "noise" ep is a soft, quiet, piano based melodic composition. If you make it through the first three you end up there. I'll leave it to the listener to decide if that's a good thing or not.

Monday, September 26, 2016

“I have always been outside, and I’ve chosen to remain there" - Don Buchla

Don Buchla, Musical Instrument and Control interface inventor, engineer, and unique visionary passed away this month at the age of 79. 

Don Buchla performing in San Francisco
Photo by Yotsuba&!

The NY Times obituary captures a bit of the flavor of his life and legacy and can be found here: 

I spoke with the man once and had the opportunity to see both he and his instruments and controllers perform in concert. He was drole, irreverent, quiet, and if you paid attention, funny. He eschewed the term "synthesizer" instead preferring to call his inventions "instruments" and even as he went away from traditional keyboard structures and western scale playing he always focused on the whole of an instrument as a vehicle to allow the player to make music. Indeed his most famous instrument was a portable collection of electronic mayhem he called the "Music Easel" which encouraged the user to mix colors of sound and paint something new. 

He wasn't a product of Hippie culture but he certainly contributed and drove it (literally and figuratively, he was behind the scenes in the Merry Pranksters and was on the famous van). He always lived and invented on the outside of what was expected both as a designer and in his business with financial gain being low on his list of priorities. During the beginning years of the analog synth revival he continued to focus on digital instruments that didn't make sound themselves but instead allowed users to play any instrument in a completely new and unique way.  His Marimba Lumina took midi controllers to a new level and created a percussion interface that could play crescendos and drones as well as hits and notes:

Not content to even touch an instrument Buchla invented the Lightening Controller which used space and area itself to create notes and dynamics:

Many people consider his return to designing and manufacturing boutique synthesizer modules as the culmination of his career and indeed his 200e system built upon and pushed his previous sound and interface designs further. I usually refer to modular synthesis as a "Masters Class" in synthesizer playing and if that's true then using a Buchla Modular is the doctorate program. Despite being perhaps the most complex and unusual instruments of their kind, Buchla steadfastly never wrote a manual for anything but the basics of how to turn on his modules instead insisting (and allowing) the user to make their own progress, mistakes, and discover new ways to "play" music in the process. 

My 200e System including DIY bits and bobs...

In his last few years Don Buchla experienced some health issues and sold most of his company and designs to the current Bucha Electronic Music Instruments (BEMI) company. Things did not flow smoothly and despite the initial praise and applauding of his vision one of the first products released was a more or less reproduction of the Music Easel from the 1960s. Despite the demand and interest in this instrument BEMI was plagued with production and quality control issues often taking thousands of dollars per unit in deposits from individual users and failing to deliver a working instrument for months or in some cases years. Don was never interested in repeating the past, only moving forward into the future and eventually something behind the scenes changed and he was fired from the very company that bears his name and sells his designs. A lawsuit he brought against BEMI was settled only a few months before his passing and the future of production and distribution at BEMI, while often promoted as being fine, is in an ongoing questionable state. 

Don Buchla didn't invite chaos but he also didn't impose order unless it was exactly what the user wanted. He opened notes, sound, and dynamics up for anyone curious (perhaps dedicated) enough to seek it out. His inventions - like the man himself some might say - were cranky, odd, occasionally misfired, and uniquely brilliant. Despite any earthly complications his legacy as a pioneer in art, sound, and space is not only secure but still waiting and encouraging us to explore what he left behind. 

Bleep and Bongo on.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hello, Hello Psychaleppo!

A few months ago I had the chance to DJ an International Music show at a local radio station. While looking for interesting acts to showcase I came across what has become one of my favorite new electronic acts called Hello Psychaleppo.  They can be found on Soundcloud, YouTube, and the Mideast Tune Music Site but info on the "band" is scarce. Fortunately the music isn't and it's brilliant.

(UPDATE 8/30/16: ) The description on the YouTube page reads:

"Hailing from one of the most mystical and musically rich cities in the Levant, Hello Psychaleppo is deeply rooted in oriental music tradition. Hello Psychaleppo is the electronic music project of the young Syrian producer Samer Saem Eldahr (AKA Zimo). He made his mark, with his unique and experimental sound. 

He uses melodies of the Arab bedouin “Mawwals” and the ecstatic strains of tarab, and threads it through convoluted, industrial structures made from dubstep, drum & bass, electro and trip-hop. He creates a journey away from boundaries of style, engaging souls into letting go while experiencing a new dimension of sonic blends."

The full album Gool L'Ah is linked below from the band's soundcloud page below but just as a taste try this track:

Combining the best of Drums and Bass, Acid, and just good old fashioned Techno along with an expert use of vocal samples and synth leads Harem pulses and flows and just commands both listening and dancing. 

The Dj/Producer behind Psychaleppo also works with other artists and has posted some more recent remixes of acts such as MASA! which are a bit more mainstream. 

Indeed some of the material on the Ha! album is a bit less adventurous than Gool L'Ah but you can see the seeds of the more experimental tracks such as Every Time I Thought About it I'd Burst into Tears which, over it's almost five minutes goes from vocals to retro beats to all out rave to ambient and then tops it all with a little Jungle outro:

For those looking for more there is the You Tube page 
which includes some additional remixes, edited clips, and even a few live performances and music videos.  Here's one from London in 2015: 

I'm thrilled to see this talent is still experimenting and growing as well as performing. For the full effect of an intro I highly recommend  listening to Gool  L'Ah from start to finish (you know, like in the OLD days kids!) and branch out from there. 

!on رقص

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pound of Feathers...

Been working in the lab cooking up a new compilation of my Soundscape/Noise/Avant Industrial music. Plans so far include both new, unreleased, and forgotten material including Altruistic Suicide, Sweeping the Noise Floor and my "solo" stuff.

Here's a taste of a new track:

Dig and Bleep on!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2016 Return to ... Exile.

I still have my 1980s  Juno 106 with the original "sticker" I put on for live shows.

In real life sometimes things conspire to change your plans. Sometimes you move ahead despite this. I released my first recording (on cassette tape!) around 1991. I followed in up shortly with a full length album of synthesized sounds, drones, music, and songs. I threw myself into the features and abilities of my synthesizers and effects and completed songs came out based on what I did and what the instrument "gave back" to me. Even though these were machines I felt there was interaction. Modulation settings and envelope decays would continue after I took my hand off the keyboard. I could hit a note and then play another note and the second would interact with the first. For a musician used to piano or reeds this was a new world and I threw myself into it whole heartedly.

Despite playing synthesizers for over 25 years and having my collection and experience grow from one or two 1980s instruments to dozens of vintage and modern pieces including multiple modular synthesizers my approach and fascination to sound and sound sculpture has remained consistent. I try out a tone or note, tweak a few parameters or shift my hand over the keys into a new chord or rhythm, and listen. I build from there repeating the process over and over and eventually I have what I consider a "song".  Sometimes it's music in the more traditional sense, other times it's simply a minimal exploration of  the evolving nature of sound and it's interaction with me and itself. 

I wrote and recorded all my original albums in a third floor walk up one bed room apartment (the original "LegionUK Studios").  I think I originally had one synth (a Yamaha DX27) a peavy keyboard amp with reverb and a Tascam four track. Eventually I got a SCI Pro One and Roland Juno 106 by the time the first full length came out. I called the project "Music For Isolation Tanks" because I felt I was doing this in a vacuum apart from my other experiences. I played bass in a punk band at the time so this was also alien to any musical interaction I had. Halfway through I had to unexpectedly move apartments and I finished the album on the go, hence the title "Exile". It's a minimal exploration of parameters and basic abilities of analog synths chock full of knobs, sliders, and weird low frequencies. As i mentioned before not much has changed. 

I took my tweaks on the road playing rock clubs, coffee houses, and art galleries. Anywhere that pretty much seemed inappropriate to be making weird space noises and beats in the early and mid 1990s. Some of these are preserved and now available in lost vault recordings such as 

The Caffeine CD: 
Or the Studio Live set from 1993:

Most of my free time was spent making music, playing live, sometimes recording those live sets and then playing with other projects, instruments, and bands. I didn't release any full studio recordings of Music For Isolation Tanks music for almost twenty years. But that's only half the story. I continued to experiment, play, jam, and record on my own. Eventually I announced a new albums was "coming soon". About five years later I realized I had amassed enough tracks for exactly that.

Return to Exile is a collection of studio recordings (plus one live track) that I feel capture the original spirit of my curiosity with synthesized sound. It's a retrospective containing all new material. Some tracks go back to about the mid 2000s while the final track was 100% written and recorded in October 2015. It's available to stream in it's entirely for free. promo copies are available for any reviewers. (please email for details).

I'm proud of how these different songs flow. It turns out without even knowing I was putting things together like I always did. And, of course, the machines helped me.

As I used to put on all my old cassette tapes and hand copied Catalogs of mail order items:

"I hope you enjoy this as much as possible" - DT

Return On.