I recently got the chance to talk to Silber Records founder Brian John Mitchell about One, the beautiful experimental piece he released on CD in December under the name Small Life Form (my review of the album can be found here).
Hi Brian! How are things going over there at Silber?
Things are going pretty well. Busy trying to get everything more noticed as always.
Well, I suppose I'll start out with something I brought up in my review of the album. It would seem that a 7-track single CD is somewhat problematic format for a work where all 7 pieces are designed to be played at once. Did you consider any other release formats?
I don't really know of any format that is particularly viable for playing seven tracks simultaneously while looped. If I were to release separate items, people would need seven players, so it's problematic no matter how I do it, but with a computer you can load in all the audio for simultaneous play.
I personally took the time to rip the entire CD to .wav files and mix them in my home studio in order to properly listen to the piece. Do you have any additional/easier suggestions for playback or any ideas on how to enhance the listening experience?
Well, I rarely update my computer, so I didn't realize that in the current version of Windows Media Player you can't open files in separate windows & play them simultaneously with the tracks looped. The version that you can do that with is 6.4.09.1128, I hear you can do the same thing with QuickTime. Of course it sounds better if you have decent speakers on your computer.
It seems that One would be an interesting piece to present during an experimental electronic music concert at a venue where it is possible play each track through a separate set of speakers and experiment with speaker placement and acoustics. Have you considered a live "performance" of the piece, or is that something that is unlikely?
It would be nice to try to do something with a more permanent installation than a regular performance piece because it would be easier to get away with a certain lack of visual presence. & I would like to experiment with how the tracks interact coming from different speakers because I don't have a set-up where I can do that. However, I think a live performance would be more likely. The problem is not really replicating the sound as much as figuring out a place where people would be interested in it, because if it's just me on stage with a couple of effects & a trombone playing drawn out notes, people would get bored pretty quickly. I could either add a few players or add some lights, but I still think it would be difficult to please a traditional club audience. Jon DeRosa of Aarktica had this idea where I would go to concert recital halls & hire a few local musicians to each city I play in & mic them all & control effects & capture loops while they play a single chord type structure. The problem with that is it's really hard to break in to that kind of market. Eventually I'm sure I'll do something live, but I feel like it's a good idea to wait until I'm able to have the right situation to play in. If I could get on as an opener for Supersilent I would figure out a way to do it in a week.
One displays at least some background in the techniques of music electronique and music concrete. Could you give us a little more insight into your background in experimental music?
I've been interested in some of the classical avant garde since I was 18. I started out interested in John Cage & George Crumb & then got into Gyorgy Ligeti & Steve Reich. At the same time I was a fan of a lot of experimental rock music like Swans & Cindytalk & some Japanese noise stuff & some industrial music. So when I got into being a musician I was more interested in delay & loops & reverb than distortion. In the end all of these things are about approaching music as sound rather than something based on melody.
Could you elaborate a bit on some of the live and/or post processing techniques used on the album?
The only post-processing done on the record was some EQ-ing & some fades put on the tracks. My set up was something like microphone, tube pre-amp, Line 6 Delay Modeler, Lexicon LXP 5, Digital 8 track for mixing, EQ, & panning & sometimes I would send an effect chain back out of that into an Alesis Nanoverb & ElectroHarmonix BassBalls pedal. I don't really see the sound as having any specific tricks from an effects standpoint, it's more about just letting the sound take care of itself & not trying to control it.
Was the idea of using 7 pieces played at once something you've had in mind for a while, or was it inspired by other artists who have released CDs using similar ideas (for instance, The Flaming Lips' Zaireeka album)?
It was really inspired by my experience trying to make & mix down Small Life Form from 8 track down to stereo. When I was mixing down an old recording I'd worked on, I realized that I was losing a lot of stuff that I liked because the piece was just too dense & when I would EQ an individual track it would stand up fine on its own. So I thought I could make something with it specifically in mind to be able to work as individual parts or as a single unit. & I thought if I made it so the pieces didn't all fit together precisely & were played as loops the thing could go on forever never repeating itself & just be played as long as someone wanted, because I know I sometimes will want to listen to just a loop for a couple hours because it becomes soothing.
The piece, when all 7 tracks are played at once, has very strong rhythmic and melodic elements as well as well balanced bass and treble elements that really become an exceptionally well molded wall of sound. In fact, it seems each piece has something of a different role in balancing the makeup of the piece as a whole. Was this sonic sculpting of sorts and the well-balanced interplay of elements something that was planned, something that simply came out of the mix, or a blend of the two?
It's all pretty intentional. When I would be recording one part, I would have another one playing in the background so I could make sure they fit together. It all started with "organ" which is pretty much just a chord held down on a small organ & then I tried to have everything fit in with that to compliment it without repeating myself.
This album was 5 years in the making. Was the actual recording spread out over 5 years, or was it recorded at once and simply something you've been envisioning and brainstorming for 5 years leading up to the recording sessions?
In 1998 I started doing some pieces as Small Life Form using Sound Recorder to build loops & it really isn't meant to do what I was doing with it & couldn't give me enough control over my sounds. Around 2000 I started trying to record it on my 8 track instead & I abandoned it because I still couldn't get out the sounds I wanted really, because everything I did ended up sounding like these big walls of sound & you couldn't tell one piece from the next. One of these pieces contained "organ," "golden," & "cymbal" which I eventually pulled out individually from that larger piece. It wasn't until spring of 2003 after touring with Kobi that I could really see how to make Small Life Form be what I wanted it to be.
Will One be a standalone release, or do you have plans to continue releasing material in the future under Small Life Form? If you are planning future Small Life Form releases, what sonic shape and direction are they likely to take?
There will be more Small Life Form, though it will take a while for me to do it, because I don't want to catch myself recording the same record but 10% better or worse. I would like to do something without any recorded loops or effects, just using actual performers to get the sound, but I don't really have the ability to properly convey my ideas to other musicians yet, so that may take a few years to figure out. I also am thinking about doing something that is a remix type disc in a way. I'd make a hundred loops & send them out to some people to use to create songs from. What I want to do for the next SLF record changes every time I really think about it seriously.
The use of a vera pulsar observed through a radio telescope is obviously the least conventional as well as, arguably, the most interesting sound source found on the CD. Where did the inspiration come from to make that a part of the One recording? Do you have a background or interest in astronomy? Was it intentionally used as something of an extraterrestrial found sound of sorts, or was it merely a tool you came across that allowed you to convey a sound or certain element you wanted to express in the piece?
I can't remember how I came across it, but I found this website that had all these mp3s of different stars & planets. The Vera Pulsar one really caught my attention so I saved it onto my computer. I adjusted the pitch of it somewhat to fit into the recording for One & added a couple of effects to it & put it on the record. I think it actually has some floor tom on that track as well following the beat of the star. It wasn't important that it was a star, it was important that I liked the way it sounded.
You've also been quoted as saying that your work and that of other artists on your label is heavily influenced by 80s post-punk music. How do you feel those influences have manifested themselves in this work?
A lot of the post-punk music like Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division, & Swans have this sound to them that really has nothing to do with the music, but more to do with atmosphere. You can almost recognize which one of those bands it is by the way the silence between the tracks sounds. It just feel like everything is very highly controlled & I like to think that I used the same amount of control on One.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you for your interest.
Thanks very much for doing the interview. Best wishes to you and everyone over at Silber!
Silber Records: website
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