You sorta fit into the Brainfeeder/Flying Lotus crowd, except you come from more of a jazz background? Is that right?
Well I don’t think it’s necessarily dissimilar from the backgrounds of a lot of different Brainfeeder artists. You take some of the people like Austin Peralta type of studio artist coming out of Brainfeeder and he’s purely jazz…I think the way I differ from the other cases, I’m just a little older, coming from a time period where L.A. wasn’t really known for electronic music and I’m not sure that it is now either, but at the time, especially two years prior, people didn’t think of L.A. as being a cultural capital for ambiguous or genre defying types of sounds. They thought of it lots in terms of indie-rock or the industry, occasionally a few noise groups that make it into the mix. I’m kind of coming of that period, that time of confusion for Los Angeles and now, it seems to have established themselves a little bit more.
Just outta curiosity, have you ever heard of Bastard Noise?
Bastard Noise? Yeah!
How long have you been making beats (let’s keep it simple)?
I’ve been active since 2001, I had a little hand at throwing shows and being involved in music before, prior to that, but not to any success…
What pulled you in? What’s the difference between beat making vs. your other backgrounds?
Sure…sure…I mean I come from…a jazz – and also a little background in classical music and ensemble playing in general. My background’s in double bass and bass clarinet and those instruments are very much ensemble; not lead instruments – not that I’m always drawn to that – but very much inclined to being in larger groups and they’re these wonderful things to play with others, but it is particularly difficult if you have a perspective to try and experiment. A. using other people’s music, using the classical, the great American Songbook – they talk about it in jazz, or the 5 classical names that come up in…y’know, your Mozart and Beethoven; it’s kind of hard to find your own voice – at least I have a hard time. And in addition to that, playing with others sometimes…ensembles just kind of come and go, and I was always really fluctuating with the whims of other players: lead guitarists or y’know, lead singers – that wasn’t really my bag I guess…
Electronics really provides the…like infinite palate, the infinite canvas to paint whatever picture you want to paint, it’s pretty incredible…
The bass clarinet is one of the most criminally slept-on instruments in a classical ensemble – ever!
You know it’s funny…it’s a relatively modern instrument – even just 150 years – and nobody composed for it for a long time so, I agree with you 100%, it’s a magical instrument. It looks kind of funny to play and it can squawk around a little bit, but it can be so beautiful when you play it right.
Can you give some detail on your procedure…do you sample and chop shit? How much sequence layering are you doing? Is there live playing? School us on the technique…
A whole mix of things. I like throwing in the kind of…different techniques with recording every record…kind of trying to get some different ideas. A lot of the early recordings were very much like 50/50 between samples and live instruments. Trying to kind of make some sounds old; like I use ages processes, effects pedals and what-not, to try to take samples and make them sound kind of, modern. More recently, I’ve been doing things that are a little more committed to one or the other, I do recordings that are all live playing, but then treating like samples in terms of manipulation or the opposite; take samples off records and then put it through my Monome (this instrument/controller for my live shows) and manipulate it that way to give it more of a “live” feel.
It’s fun…I mean, live playing is such a joy, it is hard to find players to play on-stage with and it’s hard to get away from a laptop platform when I have only so many arms to play, so…it is a fun tool to have.
I’m glad you mentioned the Monome…we posted a video of you playing a few Monomes in an arcade…can you elaborate on using the Monome and how you came across it?
Computer music is a difficult beast because laptops are pretty boring, they’re banal – I guess objects of “work” more than instruments of art and so we live in this time where you need computers because people expect it. The A.D.D. ears that we all listen through just want music to be florid…to bounce around in unreal highs and lows, so it makes any live instrument a challenge because people hear a guitar solo for more than 5 minutes, they’re losing their mind, much less orchestra of sounds – they want it all and they want it now. In my early, early recordings, I…love samples, I love embracing all these different sound sources, but when it came to playing it was always, borrow a few friends, get them to play stuff live – at some great expense, event with a bunch of bodies in the room, there was a limited amount of sounds.
Basically, in 2003, I met Jason Crabtree and some friends of his were developing this kind of music controller that worked with samples…it’s possible to work with a range of sounds in a quick time and to really perform them, which is – that’s the key, to actually be able to play it like an instrument, but playing a lot of sounds and a lot of stylistic ideas. That was the magic for me that kind of got me captivated and it’s open-source in terms that people design software for it, it’s like, there’s no protocol that’s limited from being messed with, it’s all there for people to put their own ingenuity into it. I’ve definitely benefitted a great deal from very, very kind people doing lots of programming for me and other people I brought in it to kind of get the instrument to feel more instrumental; to get it to feel more like a piano or a drum-kit with an infinite amount of sounds, so…it’s interesting, we live in an era where people want all these things and controllers are sort of stepping up to fill the gap at the same time, audiences do necessarily regard it as being a performance, it’s still DJing to a lot of people. And not to say that DJing isn’t performative, but there’s still this line in the sand that’s: either you DJ to serve a purpose or you’re a live player to inspire and we’re getting to this period where there’s all this blending and mixing, nobody can really know, heads or tails, which way it’s going to go. That confusion is exactly where the Monome…resonates with people really fast, even though it’s a very blank object with flashing lights, I think to the average layperson, it is a compelling object of concern…I love that, I like that people respond to it very fast.
You mentioned that you had some very generous people programming for you…I assume you’re not using Ableton then?
Yeah, no…Ableton is a fine program, but it doesn’t…definitely now, it isn’t interesting to me. At least in the sense of, it’s really cool to see what people do with it, but I’m using a program called MAX/MSP, which is a fair programming language for music…but people do it for video too and that works out pretty good.
Why did you find that a program like Ableton couldn’t do for you, using Monomes?
Right. Definitely, people change the interface of the Monome so it works with Ableton in a variety of ways – not unlike an APC40. For me (and nothing against Ableton), it’s nothing but a platform; you can take the cheapest Casio synthesizer and make the best music…but for me there’s an Ableton sound, there’s a very distinct about Ableton which has a certain sound when you play on it and it’s not just the recording or the sound engine itself, which does have a bit of a vibe, but it’s also the effects that people tend to use with it. The kind of, expectation of “beat repeat” and “re-trigger” and sort of EQing tricks or even Gating tricks that crop up again and again in people’s performances and I don’t think it’s lack of imagination on people’s part, it’s just part of the language of Ableton, it’s part of what people hear and expect to see. And that’s fine, but it wasn’t expressing what I wanted to express, the kind of performance gesture I wanted to kind of do, it’s just a little different. That kind of distinct Ableton sound is a “thing.” You can have all the amps ever made…at your finger-tips and you know, play the licks that Hendrix or Clapton or whoever else played, but you’re not going to get the actual sound because they’re an approximation, it’s a simulacra, it’s a layer of detail that’s there, but it’s not the hand that played it. I think that’s important.
It’s kind of a superficial way to explore something that has already been explored I think…
Sure, sure…and that’s not a bad thing necessarily either, it’s just like, you can play your favorite record rather than just listening to your favorite record. And there’s something to that which is very empowering, but it’s not the same, it’s just…different.
Let’s just, for arguments sake, say this: sampling is wrong; it’s more than just the people who played the music, it’s the engineers, the time, the technology and sampling bastardizes the lexicon of talent on any given recording…what do you say to that statement?
I think that’s absolutely true that we are bastardizing – bastard in the purest sense of the word; removing it from the parents, basically – and that’s a good thing. To hold this stuff sacred or whatever the phrase is…to hold it apart from being viewed is to remove it from being talked about at all. It does still exist in the world, every time it gets listened to, it’s different than it originally was – that’s the power of music that it doesn’t have a exact space it has to be listened to…it’s not a museum piece, it’s still alive and being talked about and so if we’re not utilizing this material; putting it forward for more people to hear…people said the same thing about radio when it came along; that it was going to bastardize the living recording musician because some how the fixed piece wasn’t being made for the human audience; it was going to lose the magic it had when it played live. But of course, radio is a technological acceptance and people accept the fact that it’s…going to be compressed and sound a certain way. People have very short memories when it comes to this stuff and if we’re not utilizing it, it’s not getting it’s proper due.
Obviously you didn’t get into music to make money…
I mean it would be funny if anybody did that…I love the fact that there’s still this idea that there’s people that make a lot of money at this and certainly there’s money that’s being made, but if you look at the major media conglomerates, this is just drops in a bucket, they’re making so much more of a Youtube clip that goes viral than hit records. They’re making more money off of somebody’s Facebook status…music needs to be featured in commercials, it needs to be featured in movies, it needs to be part of the sensory experience…but really…it’s almost laughable how [little] the average composer makes. I’m feeling like I’m dealing with a much bigger kind of cash…I’m going to get immortality, on some level, even the silly thing of being once played on a radio and knowing that it’s going out into the universe and it’s going to be bouncing around the stars for millennia, if not millions and billions of years. It’s a pretty heavy thing that I have a slight chance to be a part of.
I have a new record called Bespoke out on the mighty Ninjatune label. The first single features a Toronto native Milosh…and I’ll be touring all over, doing some festivals.