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Indian E-music – The right mix of Indian Vibes… » 2017 » January » 26

System 80 is a control-for-control 808 clone in Eurorack

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 26 Jan 2017 11:14 pm

Wait… I don’t think I’ve ever basically said everything I needed to say in a story right in the headline before, but… yeah.

This is a control-for-control 808 clone in Eurorack.

And for anyone disappointed that Roland didn’t do a TR-08 Boutique Series at NAMM, here’s one that is probably exactly as analog fans would want it. You get the layout of the original 808, if a bit miniaturized and squashed, but control-for-control an image of the original. You get independent outs for each part. You get CV I/O for connecting to other modules. It’s Eurorack. It’s 60HP. It looks like there’s even onboard MIDI.

There’s no other info, but I betcha that mailing list will fill up fast.

Hi, System 80 makers – it’s your friendly CDM here, you know, the folks who used to awkwardly have “digital” in their name but now have just an even more awkward acronym that no one can say. Do let us know what you’re up to. Love ya bye!


Updated! It’s all going to be open source hardware!

While we remain committed to it, the open source hardware front has been a bit sleepy lately. This could change that.

Timo Rozendal tips us off that engineer Jeff Lee is responsible for this beauty. And even better, hardware and firmware alike will be open source. Check them out here:


There’s also an Instagram to follow:


More of Jeff’s work – on a “hybrid analog polysynth”:


The post System 80 is a control-for-control 808 clone in Eurorack appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Copyright Office to Extend Comment Dates on Examination of DMCA Section 512 Safe Harbor for User-Generated Content

Delivered... David Oxenford | Scene | Thu 26 Jan 2017 6:17 pm

The Copyright Office is scheduled to publish in the Federal Register tomorrow an extension of time for parties who wish to comment on the Request for Additional Comments in its study of Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the “safe harbor” for those Internet Service Providers who host websites or run networks on which user-generated content is posted. The extension will allow comments through February 21, 2107. The submission of empirical studies that the Copyright Office thought would be beneficial to its review can now be made through March 22, 2017. A preview of the Federal Register notice is here.

We wrote about the Copyright Office’s request for additional comments here. That article also contains links to several other articles on related issues, including the requirement that all services that rely on the safe harbor file in the Copyright Office’s new electronic registration system information about their designated agents who are to be served with take-down notices by copyright holders who believe that their works are being infringed. Those updated registrations are due by the end of the year. We wrote about that new electronic filing system here.

Robin Fox talks epic AV performances and rare synthesizer archives

Delivered... Anahit Mantarlian | Artists,Scene | Thu 26 Jan 2017 5:05 pm

There’s barely a performance medium that Robin Fox hasn’t touched, not a form with which he hasn’t moved us. From laser AV spectacles to exhibitions to work with contemporary dance (including the wonderful Chunky Move), this Australian artist is the kind of multi-faceted mind we adore. And so we sent Anahit Mantarlian for a marathon interview, so we can all geek out accordingly. -Ed.

Audiovisual experimentalist Robin Fox has been busy. In 2016, the Australian composer and laser charmer toured Europe, presented his latest show RGB to Atonal Festival, performed at the inaugural MUTEK.JP Tokyo, and opened an organization (alongside Byron Scullin) meant to “open a wormhole into the history of electronic music” via rare synthesizers, MESS (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio).

And at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, he has premiered an installation of macro proportions. “Sky Light” took over Melbourne’s night sky with a reverie of laser beams shining from the city’s highest towers (see pic at bottom), connecting dots to turn the capital into a huge audiovisual installation. To add to the thrill-inducing experience, Fox composed new music on the Buchla synthesizer especially conceived for the hyper-spatial occasion).

Over the summer during Atonal festival, we chatted casually with Robin about his future projects, key moments in his artistic process, and some beautiful influential books and concepts. The voice recorder did stay on, and that’s very fortunate, because now we’re sharing with you a piece that professes fascination for electronic music with every turn of phrase.

Robin Fox at Atonal.

Robin Fox at Atonal.

Anahit: Did you come here straight from the airport?

Robin: Yeah, I played last night in Turin – the same show you saw with Atom, “Double Vision”, was last night – so I haven’t had much sleep.

I remember when I saw the show at CTM Festival 2015, I was very amused by the lyrics. “Mr Fox will make you see in RGB” was a lovely moment in the show. How did that rhyme come up?

Atom [Uwe Schmidt] has an amazing sense of humor – throughout his whole career, actually – the earlier techno works that he did always show that and, of course, Señor Coconut.

That’s the one where he’s doing the Kraftwerk covers.

Indeed. In his work, he always has those – as he calls them – moments of tension, where he likes to break what’s happening, and leave people with the sense that they have experienced something strange. In that piece, “Double Vision”, there were a couple of moments where we made the piece remotely, because he lives in Santiago, and I live in Melbourne, so it was a really long distance collaboration, happening a lot over the internet. Then we had a short period of time in Krakow before the premiere, where we finally were physically in the same place.

He wrote this beautiful pop song, “RGB”, for the middle of the piece. He also proposed a moment where everything stops, and there are just images of boxers, who don’t connect [their] punches, and it’s really slow and totally changes the whole pace. I remember when he suggested these things I thought he was kind of crazy, but I think he has a brilliant instinct for humor – and for the way it can work really beautifully without being cheap. He’s an amazing collaborator.

One of my favorite satirical commentaries of his, and a really obsessive track about pop culture, is “Stop Imperialist Pop” – it’s on this Atom line of humor.

That’s right. But I’m a total hypocrite, because I love that song and I also love Lady Gaga.

That makes two of us. But I don’t find it to be actually hateful towards pop.

I’m not really sure about that. (laughs)

Now back to Double Vision, there was also an animation, as far as I remember – adapted to the lyrics. How did that come about?

When we started working together, I was just working on a new solo project, which was an extension of my old laser work. I had been using a single green laser, and I started working with red – blue – green lasers, because I wanted to split the visual spectrum up like that.

So I was working with audiovisual materials, and he was working with video – there was some real connection in the way we were working. I was interested in this very direct, electrical, synesthetic relationship between the sound and the image. And he was, as well, particularly in the way he performs video and sound simultaneously live, so there is a physical connection that he forges between sound and image. When we came together to write that piece, we both brought a lot of information from the solo work that we do in our other projects. So I guess he wrote the song about RGB because it resonated with him — because of the way RGB is represented in all computer formats, in pixel form.


How did you decide on switching from green laser work to something involving the RGB color standard?

The work that I’ve done with green lasers is about sound and geometry, because there was no color. And I wanted to start to work with an expanded sense of color. That totally changed the way I work. I used to make sounds, and then visualize them with the green laser. Now, I almost draw pictures of electrical signal, and then listen to them. So I draw pictures of electricity with the lasers and then translate that into sound – it’s almost like hieroglyphics, or pictograms.

The solo show I’m doing here at Atonal is the solo show that I was working on when I started working with Atom. So it’s basically a red laser, a green, and a blue one, all controlled separately, and all of the sound that you hear is also the electrical signal that you see. So it’s what I like to call a mechanical synesthesia.

The concept of synesthesia is central to your work. Is it an intention you bear in mind before proceeding with production, like a vector? And I’ve read that this interest was initially related to your experience with an oscilloscope?

That’s right. The way I started looking at sound first was with an oscilloscope. So you plug in the left and right of the audio signal into the x- and y- axes, and then look at the sound.

Also, when I studied music at university I used to write compositions on paper – and I was quite frustrated with that, and so I started to examine why. I wrote a short thesis about graphic notation and drawing sound, even with notation – so even when I was interested in more traditional music and I was studying that form, what interested me about it was, how can you draw it? How can you express something in a non-linguistic, gestural form?

For me, something like music notation is a linguistic paradigm. It’s very much a language – and a lot of composers of the 20th century that I looked into then were interested in shifting traditional notation into a more graphic form. So I was into that even before I got a computer.

And you studied sound, as well.

Not always. I also studied Law and Literature first. But music was always around in my household. My mother was a composer as well, she wrote computer music in the 1980s, so she used to make music on the big mainframe computers, and my stepfather ran the Computer Music Department at La Trobe University, where I studied composition.

I was interested in sense perception, and also had this childhood experience of synesthesia through my mother, so it was always there – and then there was a chance encounter with the oscilloscope, so it was a combination of those things.

It was something that was already in my mind, but then it became real in that moment, and synesthesia became something that was no longer a romantic, mystical idea – it became a very tangible and real connection, between sound and vision – that could be experienced without having this cross model association as a neurological condition – you could experience it simply by putting sound into a oscilloscope and looking at it. That’s how it all began.

Somehow that’s why the brain recognizes it as something like an archetype that you knew forever.

I think archetype is a good description actually. I think that when I first experienced this mechanical synesthesia with an oscilloscope, there was something really powerful in that moment. It was just like a second and it all came together. It was like a jolt in my brain, and I knew there’s something in that connection, that I wanted to work with – which I did, for 15 years or so.


Did you come across this more by trial and error, or did you have like a neuro-insight about how the brain converts the same signal by sight and hearing?

It’s actually a combination of both things. I was always interested in sense perception, because I was interested in writing music. I was interested in the way you perceive information as a human being. There’s a great book James J. Gibson, written in the 60s, called “The Senses Considered as a Perceptual System”. That book was talking about sense perception as a complete ecology, as a whole way of being in the world, rather than that very western scientific method of isolating the hearing and the sight and the touch and separating them out and working out how they work independently of one another.

So it’s like the way we work on genetics at the moment, splitting it all up and figuring out exactly what each piece does. I’m sure in the end it’ll work out that it’s something to do with the whole thing that we missed by zooming in on the picture.

What type of synesthesia was your mother experiencing?

It was sound and color and number, so there were three things. Every sound had a number and a color. And every color had a number and a sound. So it goes in a loop. You know, synesthesia is romanticized in the arts as a kind of creative gift, but when I got interested in it, later in life, and I talked to my mother about it more seriously, it was almost more like a mild form of autism – in the sense that she said ‘you can’t switch it off.’ And sometimes you don’t want to make that association, so she described it actually more as a barrage. But it had helped in her career as a singer, for example, because she made perfect pitch associations so she could sing in perfect pitch whenever she wanted very easily.

Was she also making music?


Is it released somewhere? There’s a growing interest now in the work of female electronic musicians and composers.

Yes, it’s an interest I’ve had for a long time, via my mother as well. She passed away a few years now, but she did leave a legacy of a few pieces. She didn’t make a lot of pieces, but the ones that she left behind are quite beautiful. I have to find them all, and I should make them publicly available. I helped her put together a CD before she died of all the pieces that she wanted to have remembered. And there is one composition that’s for electronics and brass ensemble and a choir, because she used to sing and write beautiful choral music, this piece called “Maze Songs”, which I don’t think has ever been performed properly – maybe before I die I’ll make that happen.

Now I definitely want to hear that record – I’ll ask you for a track of your choice; it would be great if we could share it.

Sure. My favorite one is called “Death of an Insect”. It is based on a poem of the same name. It’s a short poem about a bird killing a beetle. It’s a brief poem, but it’s quite dark.

She turned her voice into a bird through electronic manipulation and it’s quite dramatic. Do you know Trevor Wishart? He wrote an amazing book called “On Sonic Art”. He had this practice in the 60s and 70s, of merging sound fields that shouldn’t sit together. An obvious example is crossfading together the sound of the city and the sound of a jungle, so you get this sense of an intermingled space.

How do you define your working relationship with technology? How did you come into electronic music?

When I was a child, all the newest things would arrive in the house, for testing [via his father’s university position]. So I had access to samplers when I was very young.

I would just get obsessed with things. There was a sampler that had a car crash sound, and I used to play that car crash sound for hours. There was also a cat sample, so there was a car crash and a cat meowing, so I remember alternating those sounds musically. Then, I was a drummer in my teens. I still love to drum – I think I was never as happy as while playing the drums. It’s like meditation: you lose sense of time even if you should be kicking time – which is also probably why I was never a good drummer. You lose sense of space; it’s really beautiful.

Now I work a lot with analog synthesizers. I think it’s a very similar meditation. The journey of making electronic music with these analog machines, where you start with nothing and gradually you build a sound, and you hear something that you’ve never heard before.

How do you work with it now? Do you, for example, work on redesigning every possible setting in Ableton and stuff like that, or what software do you use?

Believe it or not, I don’t use Ableton except every now and then – and I think it’s incredible. When I decided to work with computer music, I decided to learn one thing, and that was Max/MSP, and it’s more about building things from scratch. So I thought, if I learn this particular thing, I can do anything. Now, with Max for Live you can integrate this creativity into Ableton.

In terms of work, for me, it was always building things from scratch, in the end — finding the simplest possible way to do things. And the way that I work with the RGB show is so simple that it’s almost stupid. It’s just like taking the voltage that makes an image, plugging it into a mixer and then turning it up. And that creates this incredible connection between the sound and the image. But it’s also the most simple and direct way you can do that.

Would you describe synesthesia as a leitmotif you seek in your musical work?

It’s interesting because the synesthetic work that I do has been the most visible. So it’s what I do in public the most. But I’m constantly making music, so I also make a lot of music for contemporary dance, and I was actually adding it up recently. I think in the last five or six years I made ten contemporary dance soundtracks which I need to release.

I think sound is at the heart of what I love. I get frustrated sometimes about this misunderstanding that I am some kind of lighting designer. I’ve actually done some lighting designs and it’s not for me. Too much paperwork! For me, sound is at the basis of everything. I spend a lot of time in the studio, working on sound and music and generating sound, also a lot of field recordings – the last Editions Mego release was “A Small Prometheus” which was mainly the soundtrack to a dance work by Stephanie Lake with a focus on recordings of heat, and intensity.

How did you record heat?

There are a lot of ways to record heat. Some are obvious, and I like to start with an obvious premise because it’s that kernel that often leads to more interesting development. So I started with just the striking of a match and recordings of fire – which is not particularly radical, but it was quite beautiful to do it and to analyze those sounds and try to work with them compositionally.

The next experiment was to fill up a bath with water and put some bricks at the bottom to hold down a fire blanket, and then put hydrophones in the water, and shotgun microphones on top of the surface. Then I got some hot coals from a barbecue, and plunged the hot coals into the water. You get what you would expect [at first], which is a hiss, like when you put water over a hot pan. That’s an amazing attack anyway, but then as the hot rocks settled into the water – the recording is about 2 minutes long – suddenly it starts to sound like you’re at the beach, the sound of the sea and birds, even. It sounds really natural and organic, and strange. And from there it changes into these almost electronic tones, moving through the water. So that’s another way of recording heat or at least heat dissipating through another physical system.

Also, when I was on tour once, during that process, every hotel I stayed in I recorded the electric kettle. I did this because each one has a slightly different ramp time. They actually sound quite similar, but they take a different amount o time to come to the boil. It’s always this low, filtered white noise to begin with, and then it grows into a bubbling sound, then there’s the click – and it turns off. So each one has that form, but each takes a different path. So I recorded twenty of these kettles. The idea was that maybe I could transform them into some multi channel, massive kettle.

Like the hundred metronomes of Ligeti.

Exactly. And the rhythmic event would happen at the end, when they all click out in various timings. So those recordings formed the basis of a track from A Small Prometheus.

These days I’m working a lot with analog synthesizers. I just started an organization called MESS with my colleague Byron Scullin– that’s Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio. It’s a not for profit organization, a studio that’s set up for access, not for profit. Basically people become members, and gain access to an incredible collection of antique (and new) electronic musical instruments, things that individuals could never really afford, but we managed to find collectors and musicians willing to contribute their collections for public use.

We opened in April and it’s going really well. The online address is www.mess.foundation.

Ed.: Holy crap – dat collection. Swoon away!

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith at MESS.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith at MESS.

Sounds like an amazing library / museum.

I don’t like the word museum though, partly because there’s a problem with museums and electronic musical instruments particularly, because when an electronic musical instrument goes to a museum, the policy is that it never gets switched on.

That’s sad.

Yeah, it’s the death of it. Old synthesizers are like old cars, if you don’t start them, and play with them, they actually stop working. So the idea that they go into a museum and can’t be turned on just in case it breaks them makes no sense. What’s the point of looking at a synthesizer?

So MESS is definitely not a museum, in the sense that it is a collection of musical instruments that all function and work and are accessible to be played. They’re constantly being repaired; some are older than I am, and they need care! But it’s been a very rewarding experience to set that up. It’s taken a lot of the last couple of years of my life, actually.

Did you have a lot of artists in residency already?

We just had a short artist residency with Puce Mary. She came to the studio and made some really fantastic stuff. She came over just as I started this tour, so I only got to spend a day with her. We have other residencies planned; we’re definitely hosting people from all over the place. Chris Clark from WARP records is there quite regularly, because he lives some of his time in Melbourne. We also are lucky enough to have Keith Fullerton Whitman who lives in Melbourne now as well, so Melbourne is becoming like a place for great electronic sound making.

Last but not least, I wanted to ask about the evolution from the more apocalyptic music you were doing before, to the more technology-oriented, abstract or sensory. Is it a change of philosophy?

The one thing that nobody can avoid is getting old, and the difference between people is how they decide to do it. I am a strong believer in the fact that people change, as they move through life. So I definitely don’t have the same sonic energy to put out as I had when I was making those earlier records.

Was it more a rage impulse?

Not really, we (Anthony Pateras and I) used to have an incredibly good time making music, there was a real sense of joy. Even when we were making stuff that would be considered noise, maybe even bordering on harsh noise (laughs) we never really went there. To us, it was very ecstatic, in a way – it was a statement of life, not of the negation of life.

A lot of the stuff that I make now is different because that energy has shifted. I just finished a half-hour composition for a piece that I’m doing in Melbourne, where I have 16 lasers mounted on a skyscraper in the Melbourne CBD, and I shoot them into the city, like a constellation. I made a piece of music using a Buchla synthesizer, which you can download and listen to while you walk around the city as an active experience. That’s a meditative piece, and actually melancholic. That surprised me, because I wasn’t trying to make something melancholic, but with the Buchla you always start with an idea and end up somewhere completely different. You know, I’m also making some music now that might be considered quite popular, or tend towards that style as well – which I haven’t released yet.

Popular, in which way?

Music you can dance to, for example. If you come from where I came from, which is the avant-garde, noise community, sometimes putting a beat with something is like selling out, or doing something too easy. There is this idea that everything has to be difficult. I don’t believe that, I don’t believe that everything has to be complicated, anymore. And I think that’s one of the energies that I lost, the energy of radicalizing something for its own sake. And this is why I think it’s about youth actually, because I feel that when I was younger, that radical energy was just there, it was coming out, it wasn’t like a choice, or a thing we were trying to do, we were just doing that, and it made sense, and it felt right. If I was to try do that again now, I don’t think it would feel right, I think it would feel strange, and I think it would feel foreign to me now.

It’s like over years you get to different means of expressing that raw energy. I was listening to noise and black metal when I came across your work. And well, that is a very problematic music to enact in your everyday life, but I think what gets you most hooked is the ecstatic feeling to it.

Yes, that’s adrenaline. I realized something about noise when I read this quote that sound is the fastest sense. When you hear something, it’ is quicker than your vision – and the reason is that sound goes directly to your reptilian brain, so that’s why when you hear a loud noise you get that fright. And what happens to me when I listen to noise, or experience it and particularly when I used to perform it is you’re in a constant state of that adrenalized feeling. That’s a great feeling – and again, doesn’t have to be negative. Adrenaline is often seen as negative but it doesn’t have to be so, it’s quite exhilarating.







The post Robin Fox talks epic AV performances and rare synthesizer archives appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Aybee On Why Cookie-Cutter Techno Has Got To Go

Delivered... By Oli Warwick. Cover photo by Marie Staggat. | Scene | Thu 26 Jan 2017 11:17 am

Armon Bazile has carved out a unique identity in the world of electronic music. His music as Aybee seeks to shake off the rigidity of homogenized house and techno, and the influence of jazz looms large over his works, especially his Miles Davis-inspired collaborative album with Afrikan Sciences, Sketches Of Space. With improvisation guiding both his live and studio work and that of his associates, Bazile bares influence from pioneers like Sun Ra. His latest LP, The Odyssey, contemplates his life and draws on familiar signifiers, but it also reaches into new territory. We sat him down with esteemed Chicago-based music writer and curator John Corbett to explore the deeper meaning behind Sun Ra’s work and examine the roles that improvisation and experimentation serve in times of political and social upheaval. Corbett is well placed to discuss such issues, as he’s the acclaimed author of books such as Travelling The Spaceways: Sun Ra, The Astro Black And Other Solar Myths and A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation.

Aybee: I think [the current political climate] enhances the importance of what we do. I’ve always said musicians operate on a plane above religion and politics and we’re able to connect people that have political differences. As a musician I travel to different countries and play music to different people, and although we may not even share a common tongue, the notes and chords that bring us together are a higher language. Especially when there’s this type of divergent energy in the world where people are getting clannish and tribalistic, it’s very important for us to lead the way and show how we are connected and how we stay connected.

John Corbett: I think there’s a definite relationship between making sound in the world and being aware of the world that you live in. Even for somebody like Sun Ra, who in some ways theorized being removed from the world, being here and being tied into terrestrial politics was a very important part of his early writings. As he moved along in his own thinking he got further from that, but those early writings were particularly interesting to me because they represented him literally on the ground out in the park handing out pamphlets. He was, in his own very special way, fighting for African American rights in the world and fighting for a kind of global identity rather than some kind of recognition in the United States. The way I think about improvisation, for instance, is that one is not just making things about being in the world, but one is in the world while making things. The time frame of it is condensed, so I think of improvising as a microcosm of political or social activity. It all boils down to something that you’re doing with other people or alone as a model social entity.

A: Improvisation is everything for me: it’s breathing; it’s the essence of humanity. There’s a big discussion here in Berlin with the younger techno kids about how certain sounds have become so dominant, so predictable—an industrialized cookie-cutter formula—that it just rips all the humanity out of the music. What people adore about early electronic music is that people were reflecting their own personalities onto the machines. What you’re saying is that we’re all affected by our environment, and how you translate that with your instrument is your personal statement. For me, studying nature and trying to be in tune with my surroundings when I create music is very important.

JC: I love listening to what you do because you don’t follow that cookie-cutter. There’s a sense of looking for new sounds and exploring them and putting them together in different ways that aren’t particularly regimented. I’ve been writing a little bit lately about early electronic music—particularly in Germany—and I might see it just a little bit differently, but I think it’s related to the way that you’re talking about it. Look at the early years of Kraftwerk, for instance: you see them coming from a communal hippie context originally and then rigorously rejecting that. They didn’t strip personality away, but they stripped away the pre-existing assertion that music should be emotional and have personality as the most important element. I don’t think that’s the way the most interesting music is made now, because back then it was a reaction against the dominant form and now it is the dominant form in electronic music, and what’s much more interesting is where there’s personality. Diminishing personality at that moment was an extremely radical move, and it allowed us to do something completely different as listeners. Now, who cares? It’s not so interesting any more.

A: It’s like a lot of people are going for shock value, but if you know it’s coming it doesn’t shock you. Everything now is about being louder or harder. I really had to learn a lot when I moved to Berlin. I came into a field where everything was more regimented and people were like, “Why did you take the snare here and put it there?” Even my hip-hop friends would listen to some of my slower tempo music and say, “Well that’s not hip-hop because you’re using this type of kick drum.” Isn’t it about the artist and what I’m trying to say? Everything has become such a formula that we’ve lost the identity in it.

J: Considering the persistence of pulse, I noticed you’re more open to dropping the pulse for periods of time and having sections with a stretching or changing of time in these ways that I am unaccustomed to hearing from that world. For me that’s a very important part of fostering improvisation, because I feel like the beat can end up being an overly dominant force, especially if you’re playing with other people, but even when you’re playing solo. I wondered what you thought about that?

A: The drum is a part of the language; it’s a word in the sentence. The way I hear the instruments, they all have their individual purpose and meaning and they do things individually. They also do things collectively. Listening to Sun Ra, you have all of these complex harmonies and all of these things that he was doing, and people would say, “That’s just a big mess.” But as your ear listens a bit more acutely you go, “Oh!” I feel like when you’re dealing with harmonies and melodies and polyrhythms and you’re trying to layer a lot of instruments to make some complex statements, you’ve either gotta go for it or you don’t, and I feel that here people just do what the marketplace rewards. And if the marketplace says, “This is what people want—keep doing it,” that’s one type of artist. But then there’s another type of artist that tries to express themselves and grab as many tools as possible to get their point across. For me the principle thing that I got from Sun Ra was his reckless pursuit of what he was doing harmonically and rhythmically. No boundaries; no handcuffs. For me, in my label and with everybody else that I’ve tried to associate myself with sonically, that’s the house on top of the hill that we’re trying to get to. We’re chasing something and we don’t quite know what it is, but we know it when we hear it. I know that I can’t get there by restricting myself to a monochromatic outlook on sound. That’s the ethos of the label. Miles going electric and the whole ‘70s jazz fusion era—that’s a big influence on myself and a lot of my other guys. Sun Ra was there way before a lot of them even began to take that leap, but what those guys were doing was utterly fascinating. When I started doing music, I wanted to pick up where they left off and keep running with it.

JC: Sun Ra called the musicians he was working with “tone scientists.” I like that sense that it’s something you have to take very seriously. He had these two terms that he came back to again and again: “discipline” and “precision.” What I take from having spent a little bit of time with him and a lot of his associates is that if you have two different bands playing the craziest, wildest music you can imagine, there might be one that’s disciplined and precise and one that’s not, and your job as a listener is to be able to tell the difference. With his band, that meant that they had to dedicate themselves to living together and working together at any time. Sun Ra called rehearsals at three o’clock in the morning, and they’d all come downstairs half asleep because he had realized that there was something that they were doing wrong. That takes a kind of dedication that comes out when you listen to them play. You’re hearing something that is very different to people who don’t have that sense of discipline. I love something that has a sense of total abandon or recklessness as much as anyone else, but I think that message about discipline and precision within the music is very important right now. It expands to how you live your life, how you are towards other people and how you think about your position in society. This is a time when we need to be paying particular attention to those things and following those examples.

A: Especially when you break it down into tone and vibration. When you go out to perform to a crowd of people as a musician, most of the people who come understand the type of music you do. When you DJ, you put on a record and you see how people react to the bass tones, the mids, how you can accentuate it, and you learn things about people. You’re having this active conversation with them. Your heart tells you, “I’m gonna play this next because this goes with this,” and you put that on and you get an immediate reaction from people, so you become a social scientist in a way. I feel like I’ve been listening to a lot of things being taken away over the last 20 years, and I think they’re very important because they affect us not only harmonically but also emotionally. I don’t think there’s a disconnect between the way popular music is being rifled at people and how we’re treating each other right now. I think it’s on us as musicians, and not from an elitist standpoint, to say, “Hey, this is important.” We do need to discern that this is candy, this is a vegetable, this is a steak and this is why you need to eat that steak before you eat that candy.

JC: It might be vegetable music time.

A: We’ve got to get our diet correct!

JC: I love that! It’s funny you use that social scientist description. There was a great saxophonist who played with Sun Ra on a couple of occasions named Von Freeman who once told me that he was in the process of writing a book on the audience, because that was the one thing he’d been studying the most over all these years. He said, “I’m up there every night, so I get to see people, and the thing is that I still can’t figure them out. I’ll get up there and do something that’s absolute bullshit. I just played one note for 25 choruses, and they thought that was genius. And then I played the most beautiful, subtle, complex thing I’ve ever done and they’re all asleep or talking to one another.” He positioned himself as a social scientist, sitting there trying to figure them out.

A: It’s fascinating, especially when you go from city to city. You’ll play in Berlin on Friday and you might have a phenomenal set, and you go to Paris the next night with those same records in your bag and get the opposite reaction. You might learn some things, but you learn that you don’t really know anything in the end. What I try to do in that situation is play what I feel and hope that it connects with you, and if so, then we’ll go somewhere together. Sometimes you can be in an adversarial position where what you’re doing doesn’t connect, and I think, “OK, now it’s me versus you. We’re gonna battle it out until we come to some sonic consensus.”

JC: But that’s the thing when we talk about improvisation in DJing: a lot of people think about that in terms of self-expression. To me that’s not the improvised part of being a DJ because that’s there for most music, but it is in feeding off the audience, playing for or against or to or around the audience, and those are the same strategies that improvisers who are playing together are using too. That strategy you just mentioned of antagonism—that comes up from time to time, and it’s sometimes really necessary. If everybody just plays the same thing together, you just end up saying “ohm” for a while and it drifts off into nothing.

A: It’s push and pull. It’s completely different when I do a live set because I’m actually building things right there in front of everyone and I’m having the conversation with myself. If I’m collaborating with another artist, then it’s even better because you don’t have time to think. I have to just hear and react, layering and building as I go along, and it’s always interesting. This summer I had a lot of people come through my flat to jam. It’s been great because when we go back and listen to the recording, I can’t remember what I did. For me there’s no greater feeling than when you communicate with a human being on that level.

JC: There’s a great record by two British improvisers from the 1970s, Trevor Watts and John Stevens—the Spontaneous Music Ensemble—and the liner notes on the record say the paradox of playing improvised music is that you have to be all ears, only listening, and you also have to be dedicated to what you’re offering the other person at the same time.

A: It’s an exercise in submission, and it makes me a better producer. I learn something new every time. It’s more humbling every time, and it helps me leaps and bounds when I play by myself. I hate myself sometimes when I work on music, but improvisation helps me stay in the moment and not think too much about things, and for me that’s where the magic happens.

JC: There’s also a different line of improvising that Evan Parker called the “agree to disagree” line, which is the idea of listening to two things simultaneously that have very little to do with one another. Your brain is wired to figure out the connection between things. It’s sometimes really stimulating to have two things that never fuse. Many times when the Dutch improvisers Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink played, they seemed almost like they were in different rooms. They were great improvisers, and if you listen closely they’re really reflecting what the another is doing, but certainly not in any direct way. I like the idea that there are these various strategies that we’re talking about that have different joys and stimulate different parts of your brain.

A: It tickles the mind. I did a jam session with my friend Luca a few months ago, and I put him on one synth, I jumped on another synth and then my buddy Eric [Afrikan Sciences] was on the Octatrack and some other things. We got going, and Luca kinda locked in with me, so we just let Eric do his thing. We had two synths in this groove side by side, and then I said, “Let’s switch synths,” and then Eric started getting into what we were doing, and then I locked in with Eric for five minutes. It was these different conversations that were going on. It sounds like a coherent body of music, but it was really these different conversations, and regarding what you just said, there were certain points where you could hear where people were going in their own little directions but still staying connected. It’s fascinating because it’s counterintuitive to how we think. I guess you can go to school and be taught how to think, but you can’t go to school to be taught how to feel.

The things that motivate me to do music are emotions. What’s going on in my world: a conversation? A kitten running up the street? How does that make me feel? How do I translate that in into music? I think I’m a more effective communicator if I just disconnect. If I think too much about what I want to say or how I want to say it, the right emotions will never connect. But improvisation puts me in a state that enables the potential for magic to happen. It’s not guaranteed to happen, but when it happens it’s a feeling you can’t describe.

We have it as music listeners. I’ll never forget going to hear Idris Muhammad and Ahmad Jamal at SF Jazz in San Francisco. This concert was just—I didn’t want to do music afterwards. It was an out-of-body experience, and you realize that you can’t really have that experience unless you go out of the body, and that’s something I learned from Sun Ra. A lot of people didn’t get him, and although he’s popular now, I still don’t think people get what he was saying spiritually. I think some folks think it’s a gimmick, but it’s not. If you really listen to what he was saying and how it relates to what he was attempting to do musically, there’s something deeper in there that I wish people would dig into more.

JC: Well, he was very serious about what he was doing. I think his otherworldly persona was a platform for talking about really serious things in a way that transcended the normal, quotidian everydayness. He could talk about being together in the world, but he could talk about it in terms of extra terrestrial issues. His early writings are thinking about the fact that the Bible had been translated multiple times before it got to the King James version, so it doesn’t look or sound much like the original. He and others asserted that coded messages had been embedded in the Bible, and that the only way you could find them was to perform experimental surgery on biblical verse. Likewise, he said that you have to go back into music by performing surgery on it. The experimentation wasn’t there just to be weird. He was into all of those things because they tell you something. You had to cut stuff up so you could get deeper into it, and I think the way he sometimes is understood is very superficial, like “I like Sun Ra because…”

A: “…he wears costumes.”

J: I asked him about costumes the first time I interviewed him in 1986, and he said, “The costumes are music. It’s all music. It’s all about vibrations. It’s how people in the room feel and how they understand.” He took it very seriously. It was part of the thing. It wasn’t just because it was funny. He liked funny things, and he had a very dry sense of humor, but it was all for a purpose. Even if you look at Space Is The Place, which is a really funny movie, there’s a monologue at the beginning of it that’s one of the deepest things you could get to in terms of questions of race. At the end of it he says, “The first thing we’re gonna do on this new black planet that we’re making is abolish time.” He has this whole thing about time, and then he makes jokes through the movie about the fact that Sun Ra was known for being late. You have to spend some time with it, and really deal with it, to understand what’s going on. A superficial read of it doesn’t really give you much.

A: You said something that struck a chord with me a few seconds ago, and that was that experimentation is not just for experimentation’s sake. You’re looking for something, and that’s what myself and the guys talk about a lot. We’re not doing things just for the sake of doing them, which has its own role, but we’re looking for something. When I’m making music, I’m looking for something, and sometimes I find it, and sometimes I don’t. I’m using the rhythm and the tone to try to express myself emotionally without words. That’s the quest. We’re not just doing it just to be weird or to be different. We’re looking for something and the conventional tools are just not going to get us there. For me, no matter what I learn, there’s still much more to learn. I don’t understand people who don’t experiment. Being here in Europe where classical music is so big, and they play other people’s music all the time, I’m like, “Wow man, you never just go in the house and grab your violin and go apeshit? Plug it into this? Or do that?” For me, having that blank canvas and some crayons and just saying, “Go”—that’s living.

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