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Posts Tagged ‘Drone’

Chances are, somewhere along the way you’ve gotten cynical. I don’t know where you’ve come from, and I don’t know where you’re going, but I’ll bet you’ve found yourself staring straight at the concrete slab of ennui. There’s nothing new to hear, no new depths of extremity to be sounded. There’s no more ‘more’, anymore; no more ‘other’ or ‘also’ or ‘what?’ You start walking enough miles in this mucky thicket of heavy metal, or even its motherland – ‘extreme music’ – and many tributaries, and the dull sting of your own soured imaginings is bound to raise its grizzled countenance.

This earth has life, though. New things will stir; bold sapling shoots of equal parts frailty and reckless invention are pushing even now through the cakey topsoil, audacious and recombinant.

Cover art for 2012 album ‘Ursus Americanus’

Enough with the bullshit: Author & Punisher is the mantle adopted by San Diego’s Tristan Shone. Shone has designed and created all the instruments – all the machines – you hear in his one-man outpouring of precise mechanical destruction. Watch a few videos of him recreating these widescreen dystopias in the live setting, and you wouldn’t be alone in picturing Shone as a bleak 21st century version of Dick Van Dyke’s one-man band carryings-on from Mary Poppins.

Spinal Tapdance sent the following questions to Tristan Shone’s techno-bunker; SkyNet obliged to let through the following responses.

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Spinal Tapdance: Which came first for you, an interest in building machines or making music? Did you start out wanting to make music only to discover that you were limited by the equipment available to you, or did you start out tinkering with machines and then realize some of them could be turned toward songwriting?

Tristan Shone: I have always made gadgets (since like 2nd grade) and started piano around the same time.  I started writing songs on piano in high school, and shortly after picked up guitar and bass.  It wasn’t until I had really learned to design and fabricate real machines and robots that I even began thinking of combining the two, which was maybe 10 years ago.  The moment of clarity came in art grad school after working in high tech cubicle cleanroom hell (not all boiling hell) for 5 years when really had the chance to reflect on my connection with my own music.  I spent a lot of time with my bass, guitar, laptop and a huge soundsystem.  I was playing along with sequences and although I enjoy that and still do that now form time to time, there wasn’t enough of my own live, instantaneous, live input; the spastic, “create a clusterfuck in that exact moment” involved with the sequenced setup. I then got rid of my guitar and made a machine that I had to move to make sound…and then another…and then another.  They all had a specific purpose and design aesthetic.  That was it.

ST:  Much of Author & Punisher’s music obviously has more in common with some of the heavier styles of electronic and experimental music (dub, drum and bass, dark ambient, industrial, and so forth) than it does with metal. Do you think of A&P as having a closer affinity to one style or the other?

TS:  My base will always be the 80s/90s doom of Neurosis, Melvins, Godflesh, as I broke my teeth on that stuff and never got it out of my system, but since like ‘98 or so I have been focused mainly on all sorts of dark electronic, as you mentioned.  It’s much harder for me to find a good, innovative metal band these days, but then again, there are so many goddamn doom bands with crosses on their heads, it’s hard to pick through. 🙂

ST: Your previous full-length album Drone Machines was an all-out assault for nearly its entire length; Ursus Americanus has a bit more ebb and flow, with songs like “Mercy Dub” and “Below and Above You” providing a less oppressive (though still menacing) atmosphere.  Was that an intentional songwriting choice, or is it a result of using different hardware for each album?  More generally, I suppose, does your songwriting process dictate the types of machines you build, or do your new constructions open up new possibilities?

TS: Good question.  Each album is dictated by the machines: Drone Machines are very heavy and slow to move, so the sound is a bit more drrrroooonnneeee and heavy, whereas the new album Ursus Americanus was played on the Dub Machines, which were designed to be lighter, enable a quicker dynamic, and give me to wider spectrum.  I wanted Ursus to really be an album representing exactly what I would play live with little to no overdubs.  I love how raw and simple Ursus sounds to me; it is not clogged, and that really works out well in a live atmosphere, because with too many sequences and things that I can’t really control, the live performance loses punch.  The reason I bring this up, is that Drone Machines has some songs that I love, like “Doppler” and “Burrow Below,” that were written before I started making machines and have a lot of layering, giving them a unique sound, yet a conflicting live setup for me.  Half of the DM album is exactly like the Ursus album, all live, no sequence…When I tour the vinyl release of Drone Machines next year, I may bring my bass and do those two songs, because I miss their heaviness.

ST: Your vocals also take a much less prominent role in Ursus Americanus than they did on previous albums.  Was that a conscious decision, turning your voice even more into a supporting texture rather than a rhythmic or storytelling vehicle (as on “Lonely” and “Set Flames,” for example)?

TS: Yes, I just didn’t want to be forced to write lyrics for song structure-sake and I guess I didn’t have much to say on this album other than “Lonely”, ha.  I feel much more meaning in the mood of my music and effect of the sound.  That being said, I probably use my voice more on this album.  I like to think of it like a good dub or hip hop track where maybe there is one line and then a string track and you think: “yeah it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m going to eat fried clams,” bam. No lyrics necessary.

ST: Godflesh seems like an almost unavoidable comparison, but were there any other acts in particular that originally piqued your interest in this type of metal/heavy electronics fusion?  The absolutely massive climax of album centerpiece “Set Flames,” for example, reminds me a bit of Neurosis, albeit fed through some horrific digital wood-chipper.

TS: Exactly.  I mean, I liked those aforementioned bands a lot, along with His Hero is Gone, Jesu, Nile, Meshuggah, but I it was always alongside a lot of drum and bass, dub, dubstep, electro, some industrial.  One that sticks out was Ed Rush and Optical, they had some great dark simple tracks. I really like some gabber stuff, but I really missed the boat on that as I was listening to US metal and hardcore.  I really wanted my high school band, which was a blast and I will always remember, to play super heavy slow stuff, like the last track off of every Godflesh album that lasted 20 minutes, but it was actually really hard to find people to play with that were into that. I kind of gave into it from like ’96 to ’03, until I broke up with the last band and knew that was it, A&P from then on.  I’ll just walk around a lot of the time and come up with all sorts of different heavy riffs…the shower is a good place for that.

ST: The aesthetic appeal of Author & Punisher seems pretty clearly tied to the fusion of the human/organic and the mechanical.  What is it about that fusion that appeals to you?  Is it about surpassing the limitations of the organic? Is it a fetishization of machines and industry?  Is there anything about it that’s cautionary or anxious about the impact of technology on humanity?

TS: I am trying to be as natural as possible with my designs, meaning that I like to avoid relational aesthetics as a practice.  I like quality materials that and I like machines that are made with extreme prejudice and precision and attention to detail so that they function flawlessly.  This can be a shaft spinning smoothly on a bearing so that there is no slop, or a handle that feel cold in your hand, so you know it’s steel or brass, etc. etc.  If this is fetishistic, then I guess that can be said, but for me, as an engineer and musician, it is good engineering practice applied to the world of electronic music where things are fabricated out of total shit plastic.  I have said this before, but if I had more time I would release A&P vacuum cleaners and blenders because they are also total pieces of shit and can be designed out of better stuff.  In terms of human machine, that is also just simple HCI design (Human Computer Interaction), where you try to improve that relationship so it works better.

ST: I mean, let’s be honest: isn’t this whole machine-music thing just your attempt to be shown mercy by our new robotic overlords following the inevitable technopocalpyse?

TS: I’m afraid my robots are too simple to be even shown the slightest bit of mercy…the robot oppressors will be bacteria-powered, virus-driven, super-efficient bio-machines that will just urinate and destroy all.

ST: Is there any particular machine you’ve invented of which you’re the most proud, or maybe one that was the most difficult to get just right?

TS:I have a special relationship with all of the machines, but probably like the Rails the best: rock solid.  The Throttles is a pain the ass and needs some work internally to fix the motors and linkages, which will need to happen soon before the Spring DM tour!

ST: Do you think of your studio albums and live performances in mostly the same terms?  That is, do you think the experience of hearing Author & Punisher in the live context is a significantly different experience from listening to the album?

TS: I think of them as the same, but the listener can’t possibly, because live you are watching the sound be made by the movement or hit, meanwhile getting knocked in the gut by a wall of sound. Listening to the album you have to imagine this and you may not get the same effect, however the albums are a somewhat “perfected” version of the live songs, so that can be a more balanced experience.

ST: Are there any current plans for touring the Ursus Americanus material?  Do you think it’s any more or less difficult for you to tour than for a band with a more traditional instrumental set up?

TS: Touring is increasing exponentially right now with a few shows on the East Coast and fests coming up.  Stay tuned.  It’s pretty easy for me to tour actually, since I don’t need speakers since a lot of clubs have good sound.  I do bring my sound system for the odd bar that has tweeters blown or douchebag sound guy :).

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Many thanks to Tristan for answering our questions, and to Kim Kelly of Catharsis PR for wrangling and mediation.  Author & Punisher recently released a professionally-done (and quite unsettling) video for Ursus Americanus‘s “Terrorbird”:

For more information on Author & Punisher (and Tristan’s other exploits), head to the man’s website.  You can purchase Ursus Americanus from Seventh Rule Recordings here, or stream and/or purchase it and previous A&P albums at Tristan’s Bandcamp page.

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So, everybody loves mixtapes, right?  I will assume that your silence indicates agreement.  Anybody who’s spent any time agonizing over just the right track to follow this other one, or trying to match tempos between songs, or create a mix that serves as a meditation on the theme of ‘the pterodactyl’ surely knows that making a just-so mix is nothing to sneeze at (Just-So Mix ain’t nuttin’ to fuck wit’, etc.).  Or, maybe you just fell asleep watching High Fidelity one time, and so you’ve still got a pretty good idea about how sackless losers the world over get themselves exercised over the most ridiculous things.

All this got me to thinking, though: What if, instead of making a mix of songs, one instead tried to put together a mix of albums?  Sure, it wouldn’t be a physical product any longer, but o! just think of the mood-setting (not to mention time-wasting) possibilities!

So, don’t call it a mixtape.  Instead, think of this as Spinal Tapdance’s inaugural entry into a feature that I hope to make a somewhat regular occurrence: the Listening Arc!  Note that this is a much different beast than the Listening Ark, into which one piles ones Beatles and Mountain Goats albums, two by two.

The idea behind the Listening Arc is essentially the same as that behind a traditional mixtape: To arrange different musics side by side in a fashion that nevertheless makes sense, whether sonically, aesthetically, lyrically, emotionally, or whatever else you like.  Another way is to think of it as the musical equivalent of Six Degrees of Francis Bacon (it’s a joke, asshole).  That is, given a starting record and an ending record that may be vastly dissimilar, how do we arrange a movement from one to the other than never seems abrupt or without rationale?

I thus present Spinal Tapdance’s Listening Arc #1, in which, if you so choose to listen along (assuming you have or can, ahem, acquire, the albums involved), I shall attempt to get you from a lush, naturalistic album of shoegaze-y black metal preciousness to a cold, burnt-out hulk of a sullenly industrial soundtrack to an amnesiac’s wandering throughout an urban wasteland in five albums.  Neat, huh?
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1. Alcest, Écailles De Lune (2010)


Our dude Neige is perhaps one of the busier Frenchmen since Napoleon, having been involved in a myriad of frankly awesome black metal acts, from Peste Noire to Lantlôs to Amesoeurs.  Alcest is perhaps his highest profile project, and on this, his second full-length, he continues down the path of somewhat post-rockish, definitely shoegaze-inspired metal that’s notionally descended from black metal, but has dropped essentially all the aesthetic and lyrical concerns which first animated the lurching zombie corpus of said genre.  Importantly for this listening arc, though the album is intensely melodic, it’s not ever so much about the melodies as it is about the melodicism.  People who can’t stand this kind of stuff use that point to suggest the lack of riffs, or balls, or some such nonsense, but this album is entirely about mood.  And that mood, it ought to be said, is warm and lush and awesome.

2. Eluvium, Copia (2007)


When it comes to my favorite Eluvium album, it’s typically down to this one or the previous one, Talk Amongst The Trees.  That latter album, however, isn’t quite right to transition between Alcest and the next album in our arc, so Copia gets the nod this time.  This is essentially an indie drone album, but flirts with classical music’s minimalists, with great heaping spoonfuls of pathos.  This ought to appeal to fans of Stars of the Lid, Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and any number of other like-minded musicians and composers.  It follows Alcest’s record wonderfully, though, because Copia is all about heart-expanding, chest-bursting warmth.  Yes, this is drone, but achingly beautiful, forward-moving, and occasionally crushingly suspended drone.  And just like Alcest, it’s never so much about specific melodies, but rather about the meditative beauty that is sustained and occasionally punctuated with dramatic chord and key changes.  An album for daydreaming, if ever there was one.

3. Tim Hecker, Harmony In Ultraviolet (2006)


The ambient/drone/noise washes of Tim Hecker’s best album are a transitional match from Eluvium not because of their tone or mood, but rather because of their structure.  The two men seem to conceive of their albums in whole arcs, where pieces are proportioned and arranged in very particular ways, to lead the listener from one place to another (just like this listening arc itself).  Where Eluvium is all about the warm, full-throated clean drone, however, Tim Hecker is all about creating light and contrast with different strands of static.  This album may well be a noise album for people who don’t like noise, because despite the fact that the music’s constituent elements are primarily harsh and atonal, they are arranged in dramatic and, to be honest, perfectly lovely ways.

4. Sleep Research Facility, Deep Frieze (2007)


While Tim Hecker’s static washes combined to produce an array of color and texture, Sleep Research Facility’s genius album Deep Frieze is all shades of white and grey and howling, arctic winds.  Nominally a dark ambient/drone album, few records are as evocative of their subject matter as this; each song is titled after a different set of geographical coordinates in Antarctica (e.g., “82ºS 62ºE”).  This is a dark, cold, spooky record, but it is also full of haunting beauty and, in spite of all its noise and bluster (which never aims to overpower the listener, for the record), suggests silence and vast distance more than anything else.  The best thing to do when listening to this album is to read H.P. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness.  Maybe keep the light on, though.

5. Blut Aus Nord, Thematic Emanation of Archetypal Multiplicity EP (2005)


And now, an utterly disconsolate endpoint.  Take a look at that cover art.  That is exactly what the album sounds like.  A monochrome landscape of urban blight, bloated and sodden with a rain that can neither cleanse nor kill that which sickens it.  The beauty and warmth which had lingered, though in gradually decreasing quantity, through Eluvium, Tim Hecker, and Sleep Research Facility, are now completely absent.  This brief little mini-album is a soul-sucking black hole of slow, twisted, not-quite-metal industrial plodding, shot through with swaths of dark ambient creaking and croaking and half-glimpsed faces fleeing through jagged alleyways where the wind blows and the sky is darker than the night which never ends and you cannot wake up and you will not leave.

All of which is to say, it’s pretty fucking great.  It’s also not a particularly cheerful way to conclude this listening arc, but I think you’ll find, if you’ve played each of these albums through in order, that you got from Alcest’s Eden-esque naturalism to Blut Aus Nord’s light-draining pit of nihilism without ever being jarred too noticeably.  If you ever felt like you heard the gears cranking, though, or saw the oily, sinewy outline of the strings being pulled, let me know where I’ve erred.  Listening is always more of a collective act than we generally think it to be.  Or, at least it should be.
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This concludes my first stab at a Listening Arc.  If you’ve got suggestions for a theme for a future arc, please do let me know, as I’d like to make this a regular feature at Spinal Tapdance.  You could also think of it as a challenge, trying to find two records so disparate in sound, theme, age, or whatever, that connecting them seems nigh on impossible.  I may end up failing, but hopefully in interesting ways.

Cheers!
– DHOK / ST

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