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Sam Harmon, aka glacial23, is a electronic music producer, instrument builder, noise explorer, record label head honcho, etc. from that sprawling settlement on the southern reaches of Lake Erie, Cleveland. I have not delved much into the people and sounds coming from this city, but I have been continually impressed by the quality of the events and forward-thinking folks that are up there. Whether it is the spiritual melodicism of Forest Management, the open format deconstructionism of TEXTBEAK, my favorite record store Experimedia (run by the amazing sound artist Jeremy Bible), or the 500 other amazing folks and venues up there (That radio station up at Oberlin seems to just churn out amazing events). Like his contemporaries, Harmon has pushed his own singular music vision and has explored the beats, sounds, and musical ideas that interest him most by splicing together elements of noise, house, techno into his productions. However, he is more than just a musician. He also runs a label called Glacial Communications releasing his own and other artists work digitally and in limited run special format releases that would interest any collector of hand made physical releases.

Acetic

I have been following the work of glacial23, ever since his amazing release Acetic in March of last year (Which is available for free for a limited time right now on his Glacial Communications Bandcamp). On that release, he deployed a menagerie of drum machines, synths, and other hardware to explore the sounds of acid. Yet, these experiments weren’t necessarily your run of the mill “acid trax”. His tracks on Acetic took you down the dark, claustrophobic hallways of our existence with the sort of menacing sounds you would envision accompanying a film rendition of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.” The type of sounds that bring to life the sonic environment of the labyrinths that we all navigate in our complex, bureaucratic societies where we are at the whim of authorities and rules we vaguely know and never consented to. I feel this is perfectly captured in “The End Track” where you seem to be penned in on all sides by the methodical machinations of the drum machine and synth, as it chugs on and on creating a whole world before your ears.

Prior to listen to this release, I had only really connected elements of the acid sound with the club tracks of the 1990s acid house. On Acetic, glacial23 still retained some of the dance floor sensibility, but also brought in his penchant for damaged/deconstructed techno/experimental music. I guess thats what drew me to his sound, as he finds much creative fodder by playing sets of formulaic “genre” rules up against one another. Though not as abrasive in his embracing of deconstruction as say Pete Swanson’s recent work, glacial23 brings in just amount of the “damaged” sound and the dance sensibility to bring us to a new place with these sort of acid sounds. This is directly evident in his track “Sense” from the 9/09 EP where he utilizes these sort of crystalline sounds that  jut up against and fight for attention with the infectious acid melody he plays over the top of the track:

His two most recent releases, a compilation of noise-influence techno “Four on the Noise Floor” and “Chute”, explore similar territory and showcase the work of contemporaries up in Cleveland that orbit in similar musical territory. Such work highlights not only Harmon’s approach, but the vibrant creators he is surrounded by in Cleveland.

glacial23 was nice enough to answer some questions for me in advance of his performance at Frequency Friday this Friday, May 3 at Wild Goose Creative. He will be performing alongside Yanktronics, Jazz improv group Brett Burleson/Ryan Jewell/Aaron Quinn, and Sam Hoar. Should be a burner. Event details can be found by clicking HERE.

Interview:

Local Autonomy: What does music and sound more broadly mean to the way you live and experience life?

glacial23: It’s pretty important. I’ve probably been fascinated by sound as long as I can remember, and interested in finding ways to reproduce what I hear, whether exactly through sampling, or in some kind of approximative way through synthesis.

set upLA: How did you get into making music and building your own instruments? Did one come before the other?

g: In school I played trumpet and euphonium from 5th-9th grade. By the time I got to college in 1993 I had a definite interest in electronic music, and had a friend in my freshman dorm who had a “real” synthesizer (a DX7) and drum machine he let me borrow for a little while. By the summer of 1995 I had started acquiring my first couple of pieces of gear- a Yamaha DX27, Realistic MG-1 (the so-called “Radio Shack Moog”, which I still own), and a Roland TR505 drum machine.

Building instruments happened a little later and followed a convoluted path- I tried building a little mixer in high school, but really had no idea what I was doing at the time and it didn’t work. After I had taken a real circuits class I decided I’d try my hand at putting some kits together. The first was a little bass drum synth called the ADV-Bass in 1998. By some miracle it worked correctly on the first try, so I got cocky and bought a couple more – a snare drum synth and a MIDI-CV converter. The snare synth never worked very well, and the MIDI-CV converter didn’t work at all (I finally fixed that a couple of years ago!). Frustrated by these second attempts, I put DIY gear on the backburner except for some very small projects (modding a morse code practice oscillator into a light theremin, for example)

At some point in the 2000s I received a Theremin kit as a gift which I eventually got working, and then in late 2006 I first read about this wondrous-looking microcontroller board called the Arduino(via this article: http://todbot.com/blog/spookyarduino/). By 2008 I knew enough of this electronics stuff to give introductory talks on it at the Notacon and Penguicon conferences. At Notacon that year, I met Pete Edwards (a well-known circuit bender and synth-DIY guy) who provided encouragement and chided me to up my game when he saw the terrible soldering iron I was using at the time.

Also in the summer of 2008, Bob Drake (aka Fluxmonkey, who has been doing this kind of stuff far longer than I have) did a summer workshop on building simple electronic music devices (you can find notes from those at http://fluxplayshop.blogspot.com and http://fluxmonkey.com/electronoize/). Some of the output from that workshop led to Ryan Kuehn offering to put out what became “DIY Volume I” on his label (Everyone Else Has A Record Label, So Why Can’t I?). I decided that the premise of that album should be a release where every instrument used would be either built, modified or repaired by me in order to be used (the “repaired” clause allowed for use of the MG-1 and my 4-track cassette recorder for multitracking), so I had to build the equipment I needed to make the sounds I wanted.

LA: When did you start Glacial Communications? Were you releasing music before this?

g: The label officially started around 2002. Before that I had put out a few things with The Button, a band/collective that had emerged out the radio show I did on WRUW from 1997-2010. Our first CDR came out in 1998- that group was more of the Negativland/ECC sample-heavy collage variety, so I decided to start my own little imprint for my solo synth-oriented material.

My earliest unreleased (or barely released- some were on mp3.com for a while but are now not online) date from late 1995/early 1996. At some point I’ll probably reissue some of them.

doodling

LA: Being an engineer and a musician, What does it mean to you to be able to make music on instruments you have built yourself?

g: Initially, some of the reason was cost- I wanted synths capable of certain things, but the commercial version was prohibitively expensive, and after trying software synths for a while(I really did!) those interfaces weren’t what I was looking for. DIY just seemed like the right way to go. It also provided me with a reason to use some of the hardware end of the Computer Engineering degree I have.

Nowadays, my day job doesn’t allow me to write code or things like that as much I’d like, so some of that creative urge to build has to come out in other ways such as building synths or working on projects at the hackerspace.

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LA: I was drawn to your work, because it trudges across the terrain of noise, experimental, and more traditional dance forms (like acid) and shows how they are all connected. What has prompted you to explore the interconnections between these music forms people often try to separate?

g: That’s been a weird journey. Some of that has come from being influenced by the intersection of the “industrial dance” scene and the techno scene of the early 90s, and by my own research into the history of what came before those (i.e. learning about the industrial scene of the 1970s, or the history of techno & house in the 1980s)

I started off making sort of off-kilter techno & industrial, as that was what I wanted to make and was sort of dictated by the gear I could afford at the time.

Since I was friends with a lot of people in the Cleveland experimental/noise scene, I decided I’d give “the noise thing” a try for a little while and put the more straight-ahead dance stuff on the backburner- so I’d be doing things like playing a x0xb0x (TB-303 clone) and modular synth together in an odd way- sort of acid house without beats. In November of 2010 I went to see Oneohtrix Point Never and Laurel Halo at a house show here, and was utterly blown away by Laurel Halo’s performance, which was straight-ahead techno, and the crowd seemed to at least be digging it a little bit. I had a show of my own a week or so later on a noise night at the now-gone Bela Dubby and whatever I had been planning wasn’t working in my head, so I decided to try adding the drums back in. It got kind of a mixed response at the time, but it did lead to my getting suggested to open for a huge show at the Grog Shop a few months later.

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LA: You, like myself, have been an Ohioan for some time and have picked through many of the same bins in record stores I now go through, gone to the same venues, etc.. I am incredibly inspired by our state. Does the landscape, architecture, and terrain of Cleveland and Ohio more broadly influence your work? How?

g:  I’ve been a lifelong Ohioan- the first half or so in greater Columbus, and then I came to Cleveland for college and liked it here enough to stay.

There are definitely some Cleveland landmarks I consider influential- some of the interesting terrain you pass by when taking the RTA trains, the Sidaway Avenue suspension footbridge (it’s been closed since the 60s, but you can still see it as you’re driving down Kinsman), the area underneath the Detroit-Superior bridge where the Ingenuity Festival was held for a couple of years, and certainly some of the terrain just on either side of the Cuyahoga River- the so-called “Industrial Flats”. There is something about the look of decayed infrastructure- not necessarily the “ruin porn” you see in stories about Detroit, but more of a mild unkemptness with just a little rust on the girders.

 

Glacial Communications & glacial23 on the Web:

Glacial Communications Facebook

Glacial Communications Bandcamp

Glacial Communications Website

glacial23 Soundcloud

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Post 90--Tactil Vision

I was talking to the person behind tactil vision, Stevey7, last night at a show. We were having the type of conversation that him and I usually have. One that explores the oddities of being a human being enmeshed in a society, in vast complex systems, that one got enrolled in upon birth.  I have really grown to love these random conversations I have with him.  They have given me a viewpoint into his perspective on life. Not surprisingly, him and I both seem to be observers of the world and are quite interested in paying attention to the vast amounts of data that seem to flow by everyday and how technology has changed the world we live in. These conversations have greatly enhanced my appreciation of his art and his approach to sound and visual media. I can tell his art really allows him to work out his place in these system just as much as my sociology work and this media project help me find my place.

When one sits down to take in the music and art of tactil vision, bentwithlight, or any of his other names he releases under, you are stepping into his universe, his thought process, his interrogation with sound. This is obviously true with any artist whose work you pay attention too, but with stevey7 that world you to step into has been carefully and meticulously set out for you. He has an attention to detail in his music and packaging that shows his deep engagement with the post-industrial world we live in.  As in most of his work, his recent tremors live mix features an array of his original productions that demonstrate his characteristic glitched, multi-layered sound that drives forward, sputters, and always keeps moving into the horizon like the machine-like society that we are all a part of.

TV2

One of my favorite parts of the trermors live mix is the last track “kemwar” where he allows some of the distorted, ghost-like voices that hang in the background of his tracks to come forward.  These voices speak like a choir of crisis, as the cacophony of voices lists the numerous population, political, climate, and economic problems we all face today. I really appreciate how the drum and synth play off of these vocal samples. Sometimes stevey7 allows the drums and keys to wash over the voices and obstruct them from audibility, but there are moments when the voices cry out from the track and overtake your sensory perception.  Just like in life, sometimes the crisis comes to a fever pitch and no amount of “noise” can prevent us from seeing it clearly.

TV5

This one mix is just the tip of the iceberg. The back catalogue of 5am Conductions (stevey7’s label for tactil vision, bentwithlight, and other side projects) is extensive and impressive. Like his music and artwork, the catalogue reveals the multiple layers and explorations of stevey7. I highly suggest you step into his world and walk around for a bit. It is replete with physical, sonic, and video media for you to experience the vision that Stevey has of the world around him. Make sure to check out his mixcloudbandcamp, Youtube Channel, and facebook to stay up to date with all the releases and art work. I hope you enjoy this really in-depth interview with him, as it is full of interesting ideas.

LA: What does music and sound more broadly mean to the way you live and experience life?

TV: Recently i have been trying to get into more of the subconscious; i was just watching a movie recently and noted the soundtrack is most effective when you don’t notice it. Of course, there is the power of the story/filmmaking itself, but the idea, anyway….So i guess i see music as a soundtrack and i suppose that goes well with the name “Tactil Vision”, (ha ha). Also, as a producer i have learned to not take popularity or unpopularity too personally- it really has to do with timing when we experience art regarding how we perceive it, i suppose. Like reading a book- you may have read it a thousand times but pick it up once more and notice something for the first time. When was young, i noticed a sort-of inner clock in my brain that either sped up or slowed down, so i first became naturally attuned to percussion. I actually used to clack my teeth together, (not long ago i found out i wasn’t the only one), maybe it was a nervous disorder, but it has to do with the pulse of “being”- like the heart, or the solar cycles. Music is very primal to me and as they say, the Universal Language.

TV Eres

LA: How did you get into making music?

TV: Well, i dabbled as a kid, the first thing i really was excited about was drums, but didn’t really pursue an instrument until i was really inspired by what i had been listening to and was in early adulthood. It actually started from cassette recordings of noise and whatever i sounds could dub and then overdub them as much as i could without the layers getting lost, through a Radio Shack mixer. I believe it was Einsteurzende Neubauten that really hooked me. A person could just bang on some metal or whatever and make music with it. It was liberating. Eventually, several pawn shop visits later, it was get an old keyboard here, buy a drum machine, hook up a cheap mic…

LA: I know your output has ranged between more instrumental works and ones with vocals, but can you think of a common set of music and and ideas that helped shape your music?

TV: Well, i didn’t come from a musical background, and as a kid you think the only relevant music is pop music- with Baby Boomer parents that grew up with American Bandstand and records and such…i think culture has really shaped my music, actually..looking back in a hundred or so years, i am sure i would probably be a fairly common example of the times; where technology, commerce, culture is all fusing at a rapid pace and that anything has an audience, you just need to connect. I actually had a crisis with my own duality for a time and i suppose that explains some of it. Now, i learned a bit more balance, but the opposites are always there- between doing and thinking, or speaking or listening. So things with vocals seemed more related to outward, the yang- and instrumental is more yin, where the left-brained (words) are gone, meter and whatnot is open and is more observant, i guess. But this duality is only at the surface- both interchange, where the further i go in one direction, the elements of the other are more apparent. So what shapes it is really letting go as much as possible of control, or for me, being centered- doing, but still being aware and receptive. Observing, but still interacting. Mostly, it a need for some kind of beauty, as in Nature, i guess. Like some mad painter working feverishly on the “perfect” still, never ceasing, because they are all flawed; “flaws being the essential requirement for beauty.”

LA: You spoke to me about feeling like you are at a cross-roads in terms of your music. Where do you think you have been with your music and where do you think you will go next?

TV: Well, at first, a person thinks that the work is going through change, when in fact, it is the worker. I guess that is what that is about. The internet has it’s advantages, with the ability to reach across time or space, but inversely, the need to engage and effect those closest to me is coming about. I guess it’s like that digital versus physical argument-most people need balance in their lives…like the saying, “Live locally, think globally”. Giving something that you have made with your own hands carries with it all the energies- conversing face to face, with the nuances involved. It has to do with experience and expression of the self. I have not consciously made the decision, but overall, the music i buy and experience fully more often than not, is live performances. I get to meet the person behind the art. I learn about them and not just some image they are projecting for a time. It means a great deal to meet in person those whose work i admire. Usually, that image i project dissolves into the reality that they are human, too and perhaps ordinary, yet doing extraordinary things. So for me, that reminds me people are more similar than different. That it’s okay to be “ordinary”, one person among many, simply trying to create something with the time they have…

TV3

LA: What sorts of equipment do you use to make your music? Do you feel as though you have built a relationship with these machines?

TV: A chuckle there, James…”relationship” is a good word! Never been too good at those, ha ha…but yes, they certainly are. Each piece has it’s own character and quirks…basically, i have used the same gear for the last 15 years or so. Some stuff, actually, abandoned children i guess. But if you know how to utilize them….a lot of stuff that records- basically everything that records. Everything is put together on the ASR10 sampler. It took me a long time to master that one. I still use MIDI, outboard keys, effects, and the same 1202. Basically, it is a lot of pre-production -finding/editing/making the sounds. When things get strung out, you go back to the basics and build up again. But for a time, your process gets down and you’re at the factory. Whatever goes down, if you weren’t all there that night, you can always resample and rework it into something else…so everything basically is a remix, as they say. You use limits to your advantage.

LA: I like your focus on physical items. Is there a reason you have been going back to mail order limited editions?

TV: For most of my time producing, i didn’t have a web presence, so the only way people heard what i was doing was if i gave them a CD, which usually were burnt in real time and had different tracks on them. I like putting things together, painting/assembling stuff.. it’s a way to sort of capitalize on the roughness of handmade releases as opposed to pre-packaged. It seems to work design-wise, since the art is abstract and usually there is left-field sense to the music ..the latest is cut-up art, which i put together for performance swag. The runs are only as large as the material available. In this case, i had some large paintings done on corrugated plastic cigarette and soda signs lifted from a carry-out. These work well since they are water-resistant and basically indestructible. The large paintings came out too busy, but cut into smaller CD-sized they worked. So if i can attach a CD to it somehow and paint it…I much rather prefer individual pieces, so even if they don’t care too much for the music at least they have something interesting to put with all their other collections! So every one has a character of it’s own- it has a sense of honesty, maybe: so the image fits with the process and attitude. Things are so transient now and the production is constant, so an item is sort of a snapshot in time.

TV4

LA: A lot of your thought pieces on your 5AM Conductions blog find you analyzing the musical and societal systems that you are trying to inhabit/navigate as one person. I myself, also find myself continually trying to navigate these systems as a writer. What difficulties do you see artists having in our age of post-industrial media saturation?

TV: It’s pretty scary you subjected yourself to that…mostly, it’s the demands or duality (again) of the individual and the whole. I am not trying to critique as much as work things out- where do i put up limits? Where should i be more flexible? I started out writing poetry, so things are in that context- where i am trying to resolve a conflict, or just see things as they are. It’s more of “this is my thought process”. Usually things work out and i realize where the errors in perception are and if i am just owning more than i should. As in my reply, you get older and more discerning. You realize every scream and holler isn’t for you. I can’t even watch the news anymore- everything has become entertainment. It seems the average person would rather die of anything than boredom. Whatever happened to that television commercial volume legislation? So, we’re forced on the internet- not only that, but to be hooked into it all the time. People don’t want to know what color underpants i am wearing, or if i am at the coffee shop…because everyone already knows i don’t wear underpants and home-brew anyway. They Googled it. I hope people really don’t do background checks as much as i hear, because people with shady histories are a lot more fun, anyway. So i’ll just let it all hang out on the interwebs, kind of play with it, like everyone else sometimes. I suppose it’s like that prophecy: “Shouted from the rooftops.” Everyone is going to know everything about everyone and when it’s all finished, wished they hadn’t. In short: Me? crazy- yes, dangerous? You got to be kidding. And we have already bought everything, sometimes, the same things over and over again- i am personally really perturbed about all the car commercials you see- like we need 9 billion cars on the planet, all humming 24 hours a day. So, don’t get me too far off an a tangent; it’s a program, like it always was, but now it’s like everyone buying a bottle for the village drunk and not expecting him to misbehave.

LA: When listening to your catalogue and reading your discussions of your work, I keep thinking about ideas of freedom and power. Do you think music and art has a freeing capacity or the ability to empower individuals and groups of people?

TV: Oh, certainly- without getting political, although politics is everywhere, i am most interested in the individual’s personal freedom- not just in the context of their society, but the inner psychic life-breaking down barriers in themselves first before “wanting to change the world”. One person changes, the whole world can change. It may sound idealistic, but i am convinced of the inter-connectivity..much of the world’s problems, individual’s problems, after all, can be distilled down and attributed to lack of love. Now, me, i am not some old hippie, but i do have a strong sense of self-preservation. Primary mission: survival. Not just the basic needs being or not being met, but the way it is set up that an organism has to evolve or die. This does not mean just physical death, but powerlessness. To evolve, to an extent, one has to face adversity. So we do not demonize adversity, necessarily- but we do see that when people fear change, when they cut themselves off from opportunity and each other, decay ensues. So, in my past of being quite isolated, i realize the fact that man is a social creature- even that one’s personality may not be self-created, but a product of experience and those he/she experienced. This opens up a new way of seeing things, that, especially in the West, individualism has sort of run amuck, that instincts have become distorted and things are swinging back to more social-centered programs. Like the self-centered program insisted in a way that if we build a modern and successful society, the individual would prosper; now, it seems, for me the focus on individual progress can also build a society from the bottom-up. And we see this with break downs in institutions and paradigm shifts from sex to drug use and so on. If the United States, as a prototype for the rest of the world, was founded on the philosophy of self-governing- that change cannot be legislated from the top down, then individuals need to develop themselves; which is only personal responsibility. But individuals cannot develop themselves when their basic needs are not being met. We cannot say “it is progress” if we have 30 different brands of soda to choose from, but not altogether sure what’s in the water. I do not call myself an “environmentalist”, because that suggests i am separate from my environment. I just love Nature. It is simply self-preservation.

This is my 100th post on Local Autonomy. I have been covering dance/electronic/experimental music in our city for almost a year. I could get all sentimental and wishy-washy–emotional is the operative term for the repertoire of such actions. Alas, I will save those feelings for closer to the one year anniversary in November.  Instead, I will funnel all of my feelings into featuring the thoughts and work of Columbus-based noise/experimental artist Mike Shiflet.

Shiflet has been making music in and around Columbus for over 12 years, and ran a record label called GMBY that released over 100 albums. I think his music and his live performances are some of the most powerful I have encountered in our city. Yet, Shiflet’s music defies easy characterization. I loosely describe his work to people as noise and experimental. He describes it to people unfamiliar with noise/experimental music as ambient punk or mangled new age (he talks about that a little more below). Yet, I really wonder what good such characterizations of his music are? In my discussions with Shiflet, he too questioned their utility when describing his work.  Who really cares what you call the music right? All that matters is that at the core of Shiflet’s music is a curiosity to explore what it means to be human in the 21st century. I feel we need more music like Shiflet’s that is willing to take risks, test your preconceptions of what music is, and help you explore the possibilities of different forms of music. I know every time I listen to his albums the world seems to slow down for a bit, I can breath a bit easier, and I can get lost in the waves of distortion and simple melodies. That seems to be pretty important today when it is pretty hard to slow down. My hope is that you too can take some time out of your day to read his thoughts, listen to his two recent albums “Merciless” & “Sufferers” released on Type Records (One of my favorite labels now), and check out his other work on his bandcamp (I suggest llanos–Its pretty great). Enjoy.

Merciless:

Sufferers:

Local Autonomy (LA):You have been creating what is loosely termed “noise” music for some time now. What attracted you to this form of music?
Mike Shiflet (MS): I had a discussion with friend and tourmate Jason Zeh earlier this summer about what we ultimately coined the positive dissatisfaction at the root of our interest in noise. The only way to find experimental music is to seek it out and the people who do that are doing so because they aren’t fulfilled by what they are hearing elsewhere. This definitely applies to myself and I have a feeling it is pretty much universal. I wasn’t bored or unhappy with the music I was finding elsewhere – in fact, I hold the indie rock of the 1990’s in the highest regard – but I couldn’t help myself from seeking out forms of expression that were more free and more unique. That dissatisfaction is a deeply embedded character trait that I still see in myself and most of my peers. I think it’s why you see so many of us exploring various niche genres, delving deep into arcane ethic music and so forth.


(Mike Shiflet & Jeff Central at the Gallery/Performance Space It Looks Like It’s Open On East Tulane)

LA: What inspired you to start making music and getting involved with the local noise scene in Columbus?
MS: I arrived here at just the right time in the summer of 2000 when the Madlab theater downtown started hosting shows on a regular basis. To the best of my knowledge it was the first time in the city that these types of shows were happening on a regular basis in a steady environment. The scene was much smaller then, but Madlab brought all of the unique experimental music personalities out of the woodwork. Meeting, listening to, and performing with people like David Reed, Larry Marotta, Mark Gunderson and Rocco DiPietro (to name just a few) so early on in my time here definitely helped shape me as an artist and a person. Having that go-to venue made it much easier for us to come together creatively. It also laid the foundation and prepared me for when the scene grew exponentially in places like BLD and Skylab a few years later and we started bringing more and more touring acts through town.

LA: You often describe your music to those who aren’t familiar with it as Ambient Punk. Why is that?
MS: Well, I tend to use that term when talking with people who aren’t familiar with experimental music whatsoever. There are plenty of other descriptors I would use with people in the know. I started using it after NPR published a feature on me a while back and the link was circulated around my workplace. I had several co-workers with zero points of reference approaching me about my work and I found that punk ambient combined two fairly universal terms that almost everyone understood. I don’t find it entirely accurate – mangled new age might be more appropriate – but it is strong enough to leave an impression on the uninitiated and hopefully pique their curiosity.

LA: This seems to connect with your goal to keep simple melodies in your music. Why is this important to you?
MS: It’s a part of who I am and a part I want to share. After several years creating noise, I settled down and finally came to place where I felt that I was truly projecting instead of being reactionary with my work. Not long after that, I became comfortable enough to start incorporating the musical elements I had in my head. I’ve described that process as being the opposite of noise rock. Acts in that realm are distorting and manipulating accepted musical forms. Conversely, my goal is to coerce some kind of structure out of a swirling mass of chaos. Keeping the melodies simple has been more necessity than desire to this point. I need the sounds to be easy to mold and able to fit within the larger, noisier structures so I’ve taken it slowly as I gradually work in more complex music.

(Mike Shiflet & Sven Khans at It Looks Like It’s Open)

LA: We talked a bit about how you like to take a long-term historical approach to music making. Why is artistic longevity so important to you as an artist?
MS: This was a byproduct of a couple different things. I’ve been doing this almost half of life now and when I was younger I had several ‘next year’ years where I felt I was on the brink of achieving a certain level of success. I watched a lot of friends get flown overseas and perform at large festivals during the noise boom in the first half of the last decade and honestly felt jealous not to be there alongside them. At the same time every single year I was getting turned on to more and more artists from decades past whose work had eluded me, many of whom were still active. So rather than brood about the events of the day, I opted to look to artists like Elaine Radigue and Henri Chopin, who developed their work over decades, for inspiration. I now feel a bit foolish about the feelings I had at the time, but I’m glad they helped me attain this perspective.

LA:In your branch of the music universe, releases come out in cassettes, CDs, and digitally. How do you decide what music you create goes onto each format?
MS: I try to start each project without a format or destination in mind and let the material tell me where it should go as they take form. The things that end up on cassettes and CDRs are progress reports and sketches of sort. They are usually fully formed works, but might be lacking that certain something to earn a spot on a full length CD or LP. Which isn’t to say they are scraps – this decision is usually made after the recording, which can take months, is done. On the web I will usually post all matter of material: live works, skeletal tracks, improvisations; the things I definitely wouldn’t want to charge people to hear. And then I try to cherry pick the best material for the CDs and vinyl. The Llanos CD actually came about very quickly when I realized material that had been set aside for a few cassettes and a web release would actually work better in a cohesive album format. Of course it’s all guess work, but I want the best material on the formats that will reach the widest audiences.

LA: You have released two Albums on Type Records: Merciless (2012) & Sufferers (2011). You told me that you think they are an excellent model for record labels and for the music industry in general. Why?
MS: Type has fully embraced the duality of the music business. They treat the the records like artifacts and collector objects while simultaneously putting their entire catalog up on Soundcloud and making it available on their website. Everyone has authorized access to the music at their fingertips and the people who want high fidelity archival documents have access to those as well. It’s a great something-for-everyone approach.

Mike Shiflet Blog for Updates

Mike Shiflet Twitter

Ten-Speed Guillotine, Cassette Culture, Exotica Music, Noise Music.

Have you heard of any of these before? Good question. I would be lying if I said I did before two or three months ago. Luckily,  my conversations with Jeff Chenault and countless others have opened my eyes to another world of sound in Columbus that was on a parallel, if not the same, trajectory as dance music in the 90s. Each of these bands, music scenes, or approaches to music creation or distribution had a formative influence on Jeff or on Columbus electronic music more generally. Thus, I think it is essential to give Chenault the space to discuss his life, his art, and his thoughts, but first a few words on Jeff and what his experiences offer us in the dance music community.

Looking to Jeff’s experience reveals the dogged Do-It-Yourself ethos that is encoded on the DNA of columbus electronic music. Though I don’t want to over-emphasize the impact of one man, I think its safe to say that Jeff and his contemporaries like Andy Izold, Carl Howard, Trademark Gunderson, James Towning, Steve Wymer, and many more inspired many people in Columbus to follow their dreams to create art in the broadest sense of the term. For instance,  his work with Andy Izold in the experimental band Ten-Speed Guillotine helped introduce a new generation of Columbus music makers and listeners to think expansively about what music is. No doubt,  his pushing of the ethos of DIY Cassette Culture with his Exoteque Music Label also demystified making art and made it an accessible for a wide audience. I know Jeff’s stories and work today inspire me  to think broadly and never discount a sound. 

I only hope we can continue to think broadly, like Jeff and his contemporaries did, when we curate shows so we can push for a merging of different music scenes with our dance music scene. For instance, I think listeners and artists can gain a lot by going to events where noise/ambient/experimental artists are showcased alongside dance music artists. The Body Release & ele_mental days saw artists fluidly moving between noise, ambient, experimental circles and dance music shows. Today, the merging of experimental and dance artists has been pursued though Scott Niemet’s KVLT events and The Fuse Factory’s Frequency Friday shows (Read more about that here), but I think we need to continue to think about more ways we can bring these two communities together again under one roof in innovative and different spaces. Have you checked out the work of Walleye, Mike Shiflet, Joe Panzner, Ben Bennett, Ryan Jewell, Tone Elevator, OHIOAN, Forest Management, Glacial 23, and countless other Columbus/Ohio Noise/ambient/experimental artists? Go listen and tell me they don’t add amazing musical contributions to our scene.

Yet, why stop at just merging these two scene? No doubt, there has been a general openness to merging scenes in Columbus. The merging of dance and hardcore scenes has been done with Scott Niemet’s most recent KVLT show and My Best Friend’s Party has attempted to bring together jam and dance scenes under one room with the Bass Jam shows. I propose we keep going. What can we learn from Jazz? What about Blues? That same gritty D-I-Y ethos that drives us when no one is watching should drive us to continually innovate, as so many of the foundational members of our scene always have. We don’t need to be the best. We just need to keep learning, listening, and creating  and not get caught up in a rat race that is blind to values and those it is leaving behind.

Local Autonomy: What role did music play in your life growing up? How did you become a musician?

Jeff Chenault:  I grew up listening to music my entire life.  My dad’s first job after I was born was as a DJ in Chillicothe, Ohio so I was constantly exposed to music.  When I was 5 years old I got my first turntable/stereo.  My dad would always bring me records especially the radio station rejects they wouldn’t play because it didn’t fit their format.  So at a very early age I went from the Beatles to The Plastic Cow Goes Mooooog.  I was always fascinated by sound.  The whole punk thing and the spirit of DIY is what really pushed me to make my own music even though I don’t consider myself a musician.

LA: We had a really interesting conversation about how the time period you come up in influences your approach to music creation. How did it benefit you to have to think about how to make music in a time period when studio quality tools and YouTube tutorials were not so readily available as they are for today’s generation?

JC:  Well, back in the early eighties the only computer I had was a Commodore 64.  There was no internet at the time and to make any kind of sound you had to type in pages and pages of text.  Not very fun for sparking creativity in someone who wanted to make music with it.  Eventually I bought a used reel to reel, a Moog Satellite synthesizer and a Roland TR-606.  It all comes down to the tools that are available for you to use.  If I had “real” computer or an iPad when growing up I’m sure composing would have been a lot easier.  We had to approach sound from a purely physical standpoint. 

LA: It seems that your experiences growing up in Port Huron, Michigan really shaped your love of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) music. What is it about DIY music that you love so much?

JC:  Everything!  I blame Lon C Diehlfor my audio issues.  Lon was the manager of Full Moon Records and he would later go on to form Hunting Lodge with Richard Skott in 1982.  Port Huron was a very small town but Lon would order the latest electronic and experimental music that nobody ever heard of. I noticed that a lot of bands would release things themselves.  Bands like Throbbing Gristle, Nocturnal Emissions, SPK, Nurse with Wound, Maurizio Bianchi, etc. were all releasing things independently.  They did everything from recording the music to making the cover art and then self promotion.  This was very inspiring to me.      

LA: You were and still are a member of the cassette culture movement. I think the movement is so fascinating. Can you tell us a little about your experiences trading tapes in the 80s and early 90s and the impact it had on you as an artist?

JC: Back in the 1980’s and 90’s this was the way you could share your music with like-minded individuals.  Labels like Hal McGee’s Cause and Effect, Chris Phinney’s Harsh Reality Music and Carl Howard’s Audiofile Tapes were huge!

(L to R: Carl Howard, Jeff Chenault, & Hal McGee)

They had 100’s of tapes for sale or trade.  Hence I started the ITN/Exoteque Music label so I could share my music as well.  Some of the best music during this time period was made by people working out of their own homes.  For me it was awe-inspiring!  Check out Andrew Szava-Kovats incredible documentary called Grindstone Redux (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!).  It’s the story of the cassette culture and includes interviews with the recording artists and label owners.

Hal McGee at Fuse Factory Frequency Friday Show

LA: What lessons do you think can we take away from the DIY and Cassette Culture Movements to help build our Columbus electronic music scene more generally?

JC:  That if you have a passion for something, do it!  A lot of people who were doing things 30 years ago are still very active today!  Why?  Because they are passionate about something and they feel the need to create things and share them with people.  It’s as simple as that.  I’m hoping that today’s youth are just as passionate.   Getting people to come out and support electronic and experimental music is not as easy.  Fuse Factory hope to change this by bringing in not only artists from around the world, but by supporting local artists as well.  They are a think tank for creative ideas.

Mike Shiflet & Jeff Central From It Looks Like Its Open 5/22/12

LA: You have been intensively studying exotica music for the last thirty years. What is exotica music and why do you think it is important to preserve it and educate people about it?

JC:  Exotica music is a huge passion of mine.  In the original heyday of the 1950’s and 60’s, Exotica music was a form of easy listening that had the ability to transport the listener to an unknown South Seas island all from the comfort of home.  It was a form of audio opium that sometimes included strange percussion instruments, bird calls, and sound effects.   It was definitely music to escape by.  I have been collecting and researching this music so long that I thought what better way to preserve it than by releasing it!  So with the help of Dionysus Records we released The Beachcomber Trio “live” at the Kahiki” and “The Exotic Sounds of Jerry Sun.”

To help with the preservation effort I have also conducted seminars at the Tiki Oasis and Hukilau events.  Through education and preservation I hope to save this very cool tropical music from extinction.  My next seminar will be in Dayton at The Call of the Tropics Tiki Art Show in July.

LA: Ten-Speed Guillotine is cited by Body Release and the ele_mental crew as a key formative influence. I know such thinking is weird to do, but would you indulge me and gauge the impact you had on the late 80s early 90s period of dance music?

Ten-Speed Guillotine Poster

JC:  I don’t think it’s weird to be influenced by other bandsor individuals  that come before you.  I was influenced by lots of different people growing up.  I like the word inspiring better.  As far as having an impact I can’t say.  I do know that back when we were playing out live in the Columbus area, not too many bands were doing what we were doing.

Ten-Speed Guillotine poster

We had a unique sound that combined bizarre loops and samples, dark ambient, noise and electronic dance music. We were actually a combination of all our influences at the time.  Local people also influenced us.  Steve Wymer had his Spine project, Mark Gunderson had the Evolution Control Committee and James Towning was recording under the name Fact 22.  We all knew and respected each other and influenced each other as well.  Hell, Body Release influenced me!!   

LA: It was so shocking to me to learn that in 2005 many of your noise/experimental sound projects had run their course and you sold many of your instruments. Would you be so kind to describe what led you to grow tired or disenchanted with electronic exploration and what sparked you to get back into it within the past two years?

JC:  I think most artists get disenchanted or bored with their work at some point.  For me I just wasn’t having any fun anymore and my sound ideas had run their course with the equipment I had.  I still recorded a few side projects with Andy Izold but for the most part my output was next to nothing.  I’m one who really needs motivation to do something.

In 2011 when Dan Rockwell showed me the iPad and some of the music apps that he had I was completely hooked.   Not only was I hearing new sounds, it was a new way of thinking and a new way of playing.  Since then I’ve completely embraced the iOS musical world and haven’t looked back.

Performance at Brothers Drake–December 2011

LA: Much of your sound work relies on you doing free form improv with your longtime collaborators Dan Rockwell and Andy Izold in a group called Circuitry Room. Why do you enjoy improv and what constraints do vocals and beats put on a “no map” approach to music?

JC:  Working with sound improvisation leaves a huge palette to work with.  No restrictions and no rules are very liberating for a sound artist.  Vocals and beats tend to be restrictive.  Vocals mean words and words have meanings which can be misinterpreted by different people so we tend to keep them out.   Cut-ups and wordless vocals are interesting though and I love rhythmic waveforms but drum beats to me mean dance and we do not want to be a dance band.  I want something that’s totally different and I get that with freeform improvisation.

Wonderful Video Interview with Circuitry Room By Rich Bowers

LA: You and the other members of the Fuse Factory have been looking to merge noise/experimental music with artists in the dance music community in Columbus for your Frequency Friday shows at Wild Goose Creative. I have always thought there was such natural cross between the two groups of artist that became evident to me in events like Scott Niemet’s Kvlt events. Why do you think it’s important to have these two communities playing on the stage with one another?

JC:  It’s important because both the noise and dance communities are not only growing and evolving, they are connected as well.  The artists and performers are actually influencing each other and we think it’s a good idea to bring them together.  I think it will ultimately benefit both communities and will introduce people to new ways of expressing their creativity.

LA: I think this last question really gets to the core of your artistic motivation. What role does having fun play in keeping your artistic spark alive?

JC:  For me personally it’s everything!  I mean, if you’re not having fun then why bother.

Check out Jeff’s Bandcamp page HERE for more of his work.

(Thanks to Jeff for all the pictures)

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