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My Recent History

I started being serious about following my dream to make electronic music, and to be my own engineer, five years ago. For the 10 years prior to that, I had been playing guitar along with a wide range of different types of programmed synthesizer and sample based music, emulating as best as I could, what I heard. I found that the languages machines forced programmers to think in had caused them to discover a new musical vocabulary. The various forms of electronically generated music, particularly in the last 22 years, have introduced many new principles of rhythm, melody, and harmony. I would learn what someone had programmed but their thought process eluded me. Programmers, particularly ones fluent on machines from the early 80s and/or tracker programs from the 90s, clearly had a theoretical foundation in their employ but it was not the theory I knew from pop/rock, jazz or classical. The hands relationship to the instrument accounts for so much of why musicians do what they do, and I had come to feel that in pop/rock my mind was often being overpowered by my hand, which I had a strong desire to correct. I was obsessed with music where machine intelligence and human intelligence seemed to be bouncing off one another, each expanding with the incorporation of what it received from the other.

In 2007 I started to learn how to program all the instruments we associate with Acid House music and some other hardware. For about 7 months I didn’t record anything. Then I started recording, playing 10 or so synced machines through a small mixer into a CD burner. This was all experimental Acid House, my skills at making rock music playing no part in it whatsoever. I had lost interest in traditional songwriting and I was excited about finding new methods for creating music. I’d surround myself with machines, program one and then another and enjoy what was a fascinating process from beginning to end. I was so excited by the method of using numbers much in the same way I’d used my muscles all my life. Skills that had previously been applied by my subconscious were gradually becoming conscious, by virtue of having numerical theoretical means of thinking about rhythm, melody and sound.

Then I began a musical relationship with two friends, wherein I could do basically the same thing I had been doing in my living room, only with other people. This continues to be a band which is perfectly congruent with my nature.

Right after we started playing together I started using a computer. Initially it was just something to record what I was doing with hardware but it eventually became one of my main instruments. I gradually built up a studio ideally set up for the specific ways I work and think (this is a continual work in progress). The music I did at this stage was a more adventurous kind of instrumental Acid House than what I’d been doing onto CD, and by the time I recorded my second song on a computer, I was aware that Progressive Synth Pop was an accurate description of what I was doing. Acid was nevertheless the central musical style involved.

After a year or so on the computer, I occasionally began using my voice again. Prior to this, incorporating guitar and singing had posed a problem because I wanted to make music based on the rules, as I perceived them - inherent in the various kinds of electronic music I loved - and did not want to blend this with what I previously did with songwriting and guitar wherein many rules of pop/ rock music would then naturally be employed. If I’d attempted to blend the two at that time my electronics would have served as support to my songs, voice, and guitar. This idea was repugnant to me. Because I was so much more developed as a rock musician, rocks characteristics and rules would have dominated, thereby slowing down the rate at which I was discovering new things. To be clear, when I say rules, I mean the underlying principles and abstract phenomena which define a particular style, marking its boundaries and limits, within which exists an area proven to be worthy of human creative investigation.

I continued to write songs, but only when I had to out of necessity, because something had to be expressed that way. I no longer looked at songwriting as a craft to prolifically hone, as I had for so long. In these recent years, it is just something that happens sometimes, a natural thing, like breathing. At first, recording pre-written songs felt like a restriction, but I eventually found myself having acquired enough new work methods of my own and enough skill and speed at programming that when I recorded a pre-written song I had as much fun as when I made instrumentals. This is the point at which the tracks on Letur-Lefr were recorded. I was still steering clear of most rock music characteristics, but R&B and Hip Hop were blending well with the various types of music I was combining. R&B seemed to me a path through which to integrate my songwriting with my programming, being that I could do it in such a way that the song served as support for the things I was doing instrumentally - and not the other way around - which was very important to me.

As this phase passed, I began developing a concept for a new approach to playing guitar, which required regular practice. For the preceding couple of years, practice consisted of playing along with this or that Rave or Synth Pop record or whatever. I didn’t see a point in developing my playing musculature-wise because there was no call for that kind of playing in my music. I originally was practicing in a disciplined manner because I wanted to play a specific way on my wife’s second record. But I found an approach to the instrument, which was brand new for me, in which I saw a lot of room to grow. My main melodic electronic instrument being the MC-202, I had gone through a long period where my knowledge of guitar informed much of my 202 programming. But I had now reached a point where I thought as much like a 202ist as I did a guitarist, and my guitar playing was now being informed by my knowledge of the 202. I was using the muscles I was developing in a way completely divorced from the way I used them as a rock musician, partially because I switched to a different type of guitar (a Yamaha SG), but mainly because my musical ideas stemmed from my understanding of an instrument on which the choice of notes is not limited by the position of one’s hand. So at this point guitar became fully integrated into my music. The combination of having a new approach to the instrument, combined with all the ways I was now well versed at processing sound, resulted in my having the same excitement about guitar that I had long had for my synths, sequencers and drum machines. This, and other factors, resulted in my being able to pick and choose specific musical principles from rock/pop to apply to my music, just as I had been applying specific aspects of every other type of music I love. I no longer had to be concerned with avoiding clichés because I just didn’t think that way anymore. I had developed new habits which were taking me all kinds of new places, and the old habits were now foreign to me. Also the computer had now become an instrument for me, so Drum n’ Bass (as well as a number of other styles I’d been reaching for) had now become fully integrated into my music. At this point, I also had begun to grasp the characteristics of engineering styles of the past, allowing me to combine aspects of old and modern styles of production just as I’d been combining different styles of music.

A few months into this period, I began the recording of PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone. For years I had just approached everything one song at a time, but my experience in production now allowed me to comfortably work within a record concept while remaining completely absorbed in the process. By this time, I had found the balance that I’d been searching for, wherein the presence of a vocal and the structure of a written song actually provided me with additional freedoms as a musician.

Aspects of PBX are the realization of combinations of styles of music I saw in my head many years ago, as potentials, but which I had no idea how to execute. I’m so happy that I’ve had the opportunity to focus exclusively on music for music’s sake, and also so thankful that I got to spend all those years active in the music business whilst keeping my head in music all the time. I was free to spend most of my time playing along with records, writing, and dreaming. I have so much gratitude for everyone who made that possible.

In summary, Acid served as a good starting point for me, very gradually leading me to be able to combine whatever styles of music I want, as a one man band.

- John