04/30/2014 11:45 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Future Was Then


My relationship with music based in electronics began much like other people that grew up in the 80's. Synthesizers had become ubiquitous. They were available at the corner store. They were no longer exclusively the tools of academics locked in linoleum-floored laboratories at Princeton, or producers of hit singles with coke-mirrors on their mixing desks. The approximated sounds of crystal tear drops or Japanese wood blocks were at our fingertips and could be found under millions of christmas trees. It was both a novelty and a gateway.

Most kids found the novelty wore off quickly. After playing chopsticks with car alarm presets a few times, they would toss it aside and go back to playing Contra. Others, myself included, wanted -- and needed -- more. Once I got into early adolescence, I discovered the waves of bands, led by UK-based Stereolab, who were exploring the more primitive and alchemical nature of electronic music instruments. Thus began my obsession with the thing that still excites me about the stuff. Playing with voltage. That is, taking electricity out of the wall, and bypassing the labyrinthine jungle of digital sound, turning it straight into sound.

Even if you are not an obsessive record collector or sound engineer, you have probably heard the term 'analog' as it relates to music. There is nothing more "analog" to me than my Moog Rogue Synthesizer that I bought at a second-hand shop many years ago. You plug it in and it plays straight voltage. It can make dogs flee in terror. You can play Gary Numan riffs on it. You can summon the sound of boiling chrome. It is cool. It does not have a digital tear drop setting.

My constant search for music that haunts me has me constantly orbiting near and far from the moon of electronic music. For the past decade I have gradually searched farther and farther back until I have settled somewhere in the 1920's. 78 RPM records still had "Electrically Recorded" printed on them as if that was a selling-point. Synthesizers where way off in the distance.

One night, back when I had just discovered my favorite singer of haunted Mississippi Delta blues Charley Patton, Cole from the Black Lips did acid and ended up on the floor of my bedroom. From my turntable, Patton spat death and summoned phantoms from rust. I had a sudden inclination, and plugged in my Moog Rogue, just barely filling in the spaces in the stark music with weird, spectral, filtered sound. The effect was chilling enough to make Cole vomit. It might have been the acid, but I'd like to think a strange thing happens when you take anachronistic ideas and transpose them. Like an art deco cave, for example. I've lost my train of thought at this point but I encourage you to explore the simplest tools you can find to express yourself. You don't need a YouTube video to teach you how to carve a ghost out of voltage. What would Charley Patton have done with a Moog? Erik Satie? Marcel Duchamp? I need to go lie down.