A popular bumper sticker cautions that drum machines have no soul. We believe the exact opposite. Electronic music making equipment expands opportunities for musical expression and human connection and offers those opportunities to more people. New technology allows people to make unheard-before sounds. And, those sounds reflect the interests, experiences, influences, and limitations of their makers, no matter how they are made.
All sounds are defined by their pitch, timbre, duration, and volume. When it comes to musical sounds, instruments fall within certain parameters for each attribute. A guitar is a guitar and Bill Frisell sounds like Bill Frisell (with a lot of help from effects pedals and loopers, by the way). Similarly, drum machines, synthesizers and their players have sound palettes they are known for (and by which they are limited). Countless electronic artists have imbued their music with passion, sorrow, joy, and regret. The clockwork precision of a drum machine can render time irrelevant. Just as the electric guitar opened up new expressive possibilities for guitar players, so too do midi keyboards, iPad apps, and effects processors for both seasoned musicians and novice noise makers.
Jay and I have been improvising and recording music together for nearly a decade. We have both developed a pretty good idea of the types of sounds and decisions the other person may make. Though our instruments can acts as spaceships to a multitude of sonic universes, the sounds that come from our synthesizers and drum machines are our expressions.
Philip Glasshole began as an excuse for Jay to fiddle with new toys and for me to hone skills on my old one. Running a combination of software apps and mini synths, Jay Bruns concocts rhythms, shapes textures, and experiments with harmony and glitch. Many of the programs he uses were developed with user intuition in mind. They facilitate his musical curiosity. I typically craft drones and pluck out melodies on a virtual analog synthesizer Jay gave me. He facilitated my musical curiosity. We share an enthusiasm for testing new technology – filtering our experiences through new lenses – with those deservedly-maligned Glassholes. We try to temper any potential obnoxiousness by incorporating lessons learned from our other namesake: drone, pulse, ostinato, simple figures, repetition, and a belief that music is a continuous work in progress.
Our performances often move from the ambiance of the atmosphere to the pulse of the dance hall. We find transcendence in repetition and use it as a foundation from which we can experiment with timbre, tone, and rhythm. Our set at Free Sessions on May 6 will be its own performance and will sound like us. Despite the potential precision of our electronic instruments, there will be odd squelches, inexact execution, and other oddities that will be the result of the way we play that day. We fully expect to bare our souls.
That is what we ask of everyone else who plays in the free sessions: Bare your souls. After our set, we will spend a little time explaining what we know about how our instruments work and will have an assortment of electronic noise makers for people to try. Of course everyone is invited to bring their instruments as well. With the themes of synthesis and soul-baring in mind, we may ask that people find new approaches to the way they play. Run that horn through effects. Scratch those guitar strings. Tap the sides of the drum. You may just find a new way to connect with your music, your listener, and yourself.