everything but the kitchen synth / an interview with morton subotnick

MORT

“i used to live across the way from 8th street records in new york city in 1967,” morton subtonick is telling the audience at the premiere for i dream of wires in berlin. he’s seated next to alec empire and the film’s director, robert fantinatto; they’ve both got the same look on their faces, a mixture of bemusement and fascination. “before i’d even gotten my own copy of silver apples of the moon, i decide to go into the record shop and buy it for myself, and i walk in there feeling as tall as a giant. i ask the guy at the counter, ‘have you got silver apples of the moon by morton subotnick? i’d like to buy it.’” subotnick pauses for a moment, setting up for the punchline, delivered with perfect self-deprecation: “‘yeah, we had it,’ he says, ‘but we’re sold out. people have been buying it up — i don’t know why though, it’s a piece of shit.’”

subotnick has, as they say, done it all. the record in question, silver apples of the moon, was the first longform electronic piece pressed on vinyl, and the first electronic album commissioned by a label, nonesuch records, in 1967. he created the album on a buchla modular synthesizer, the first piece of analog sound equipment small enough to fit on a desk, one that subotnick had a hand in designing. he’s a composer, a sound engineer, a multi-instrumentalist, a performer, a professor of music theory, and a founding member of the san francisco tape music center. he was the first ever music director at the actors workshop in new york. he helped established the california institute of the arts in 1969. his work has been immortalized in the library of congress. he’s lived, it seems, a hundred lives. he’s done “everything but the kitchen sink” — or in this case, the kitchen synth.

subotnick makes a lengthy appearance in the modular synthesizer documentary i dream of wires, alongside pioneers like ramon sender and herb deutsch, as well as contemporaries like carl craig, drumcell, and james holden. the film was five years in the making, and as fantinatto explains in his opening remarks, once subotnick was on board, they knew they had something special. “when i was a kid, i was at the library in my hometown, leafing through the record collection when i saw the sleeve for mort’s sidewinder,” fantinatto recalls, smiling, “there’s a small photo of him working on a modular synthesizer. i thought to myself, ‘man, what is that?’ and that’s where it all started. i was obsessed.”

evidently, that is where it starts for most lovers of modular and electronic music. subotnick has inspired an entire next generation of musicians, composers and producers. the day before his appearance at the wires premiere, where he would be participating in a live Q&A followed by a live performance, i sat down with mr. subotnick to talk modular, dreams, and being “the first.”

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mutek montreal 2015 / in review

mutek

there’s something to be said about coming home. countless words have been written about it: it’s “where the heart is.” “there’s no place like” it. nothing has emphasized the truth of these statements quite like returning to montreal for mutek, the annual digital arts and creativity festival that takes place around the quartier des spectacles/place des arts at the end of may. this year, the lineup boasted an incredible roster of local and international talent. not only was it deeply special to witness some of my close friends taking the stage this year, it was even more moving to find myself surrounded by all my favourite people in the world, dancing to the best music, all with the same smiles on their faces. coming home doesn’t get any better than that.  Continue reading

music monday / vancouver sleep clinic

vancouver-sleep-clinic

after what has been a pretty insane easter weekend, i thought about not posting today. it’s monday. it’s the day of…you know…jesus and whatever, so i figured i could give myself a break. but, seeing as i skipped out on music monday last week, here’s a little easter egg for you guys, in the form of this track from vancouver sleep clinic.

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music monday / elysée

i’d been holding on to this particular track for a while. sometimes this mysterious, selfish part of me decides that certain truly beautiful pieces of music should be kept for myself. sometimes i think maybe if i share it around too much, the goodness of it will evaporate – stolen by the ears and hearts and souls of others. it’s ridiculous, of course. that’s not how music works. in fact…i’ll tell you a little secret about music. it’s meant to be shared. like cookies. or…you know…chlamydia, but not in a gross way.

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artists to watch 2014

damn, there is some serious music on the horizon for 2014. the new year is shaping up to be a good one, and with so many artists coming out of the woodwork, it’s always a bit of a task to keep up. so, for those of you that are looking to expand your musical libraries, aka not listen to the same james blake track on loop for a month (cough cough) i’ve put together a list of artist i’ll be listening to this year. there’s a wee something for everyone in here, and i would love for you to share which artists will be on your rotation in 2014.

cold specks

i know you didn’t think i could write an artists to watch list without including a folk songstress. and oh have i got THE folk artist for you. cold specks calls both london and toronto home, and although she’s not new to the scene, i have high hopes for her for 2014. i mean, would you listen to that voice? she’s like the love child of macy gray and amy winehouse mixed with the civil wars backing production. she has an incredible tour lined up for the coming year, and i really hope we get to see more of her. her latest effort, blank maps, is also a favourite.

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