I Dream of Wires

Nobody’s ever been able to accuse me of possessing excess business savvy. But it seems extra perverse, even for me, that hot on the heels of being graced with some actual ‘jazz’ cred, my first two releases of 2015 should be solo electronics. Ornery solo electronics. Of ostensibly incompatible genres from each other, no less. But to the hypothetical ideal listener who cares deeply about the long arc of my work (cough), I’m convinced this makes perfect sense. It certainly does to lil’ ol’ narcissistic me. Stunp and the Technological Music series, while ok sure perhaps the ravings of a dilettante, are also an integral part of the story, and I see them as two sides of the same warped coin. If you’re still actually reading, I suppose I could try to explain.

You may be aware aware that I play ‘jazz’ on the oboe. You may even have noted that, for well over a decade, I played ‘punk rock’ (or some dim bastard descendant thereof) on the accordion. Yes, there is a pattern here; honest, it’s as much about the creative potential of self-limitation and a sociological interest in genre subversion as it is smart-aleck tricksterism. And it goes way back. See, I began my formal musical training, at age 6, playing the organ. Not the piano, but the full-on, boss-nova-beats-and-all, Mighty Wurlitzer organ.

Puberty intersected fortuitously with the availability of local college radio. It was the early 80s: New Wave and synthpop provided the default setting – I was not, after all, qualified to run with the heshers at the back of the bus. Hardcore titillated, igniting my skepticism and social critique; straightedge, for all its flaws, gave me permission to go on the offensive about keeping my act together when it mattered most. But when I actually got to the shows, there were too many skinheads of too many bewildering stripes, and I couldn’t hang with the thuggery. Industrial swooped in just in time: here was a framing wherein I could be ‘other’ on my own terms, as aggressive as necessary without trying to pretend I was macho. You cannot fathom just how dark and weird I might actually be – I could, after all, be a vampire, or a cyborg, or both – and thus you might best consider leaving me the heck alone.

It also helped that I could try to make this music without having to learn the guitar. And to fully engage, I needed only show up at the club – ‘clubbing,’ per se, was optional. I didn’t have to smoke the clove cigarettes; if e, or x, or whatever, was available then and there I was oblivious. It was ecstasy enough for me to dance, sneer, stomp, sweat. Oh, and did I dance. My ass off. I was a veritable goth dervish, I tell you – flailing against all that was Wrong With Society. Take that, The Man. All my dehydration, pulled muscles and smudged eyeshadow are on your hands.

And so it was that my soundtrack for adolescent self-identification was dominated by Skinny Puppy, Neubauten, Test Dept., Ministry and the Wax Trax empire… Some of these sounds have aged way better than others. Latter-day discoveries have alerted me to the sorts of antecedents I could have been obsessed with had I only known (Ike Yard, Suicide, Dome, Factrix, early Human League…).

By the 90s, for whatever reason, I’d associated “growing up” with turning my back on such childish pleasures, swearing off mechanization, MIDI, and Halloweeny posturing. So techno happened while I was otherwise occupied (discovering AmRep, No Wave, free jazz…), and what seemed to me the vapid hedonism and ethical silence of rave culture never sat quite right.

So why now? I suppose there’s something about middle age that unfinished business has a way of bubbling back up. (With 20/20 hindsight, there have been hints all along: I’d point especially to Cube of Force, Bleaks, and – beatlessly – mchtnchts.) With parenthood came many more evenings at home, where it’s still possible to keep cranking out work mired in a hermetic world of knobs and headphones. Stunp has also served as a truly enjoyable framework for bonding with 530Techno label boss Symbio, who just so happens to also be my brother-in-law.

At this late date, I’m so hopelessly out of fashion, and so far removed from any real-time practice of raging till dawn, that attempting ‘dance music’ has been a refreshingly liberating creative exercise. I have nothing to either prove or lose. I’ve been thinking of it as akin to figure drawing – honing a craft, re-investigating fundamentals, in an entirely separate context. It’s also been incredibly humbling. I know plenty of fellow avant-snobs with little respect for EDM…and that’s cool, you certainly don’t need to like it. But since I actually do, I defy you to exquisitely compress a kick drum. I know I sure haven’t nailed it yet.

The real sick fun, of course, is that I’ve been toying with subverting the form simultaneously with learning its strictures. Old story, new chapter; yet more and different angles. What is the torsion modulus of a genre, exactly? Just how far can you twist a thing and have it still be that thing?