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THE SOUND ARCHITECT
Question: What do digitally controlled oscillators, time/space distortions, paralysis, and children have in common?
Answer: Arc Minute, the latest musical project of Fresno native Ryan Tallman.
Tallman, a philosophy major at Fresno State and former leader of local metal heroes Milk For The Morning Cake, will bring his experimental electronic music to the Tokyo Garden stage this week when he joins Rademacher and friends at the monthly post-Art Hop show.
Over glasses of red wine on a recent sunny afternoon, community journalist Jefferson Beavers asked Tallman about his cryptic MySpace descriptors, his sonic influences, the intersection of music with visual art, and the benefits of the one-man electronic band.
On MySpace, Arc Minute is described as ambient/electro/experimental. Why have you chosen those labels? And for people who might be unfamiliar with what those categories mean, how would you best describe your music?
The primary reason is because MySpace doesn't let you put anything else. It doesn't have a category for just electronic music. I'm attempting to make music with electronic devices. That would be the most accurate way to describe it.
What I'm trying to do is exploit sounds. Whether or not you're playing guitar or playing drums or playing a laptop, it's all sound waves. There's an inherent fallacy, I think, in saying that music is not valid unless it's played on something, when in all actuality you can show it however you want.
My least favorite label is electronica [with an A on the end]. Electronica is stylized. It's no longer descriptive. It suggests a product. That's not what I'm making.
If you had to name the musical acts that most influence the sounds that you're making, who would they be and why?
First, My Bloody Valentine. They're my stock answer, because they encompass everything I've ever wanted to do. I love their sonic texture. The sonic texture is almost indivisible from the actual song. That's what I want to be working with, when the texture informs the song and the song informs the texture. [They do things] where it's more about the way certain frequencies clash into one another, breaking it all down into frequencies and sound waves.
I'd also say Brian Eno, for the breadth of his work. He can shift musical personalities, try them on without necessarily committing himself to one genre. When he started with his ambient stuff, I became most engaged. [His music] is as interesting as the listener makes it. It can be as boring as you want it to be. But if you engage it, it will be rewarding. At least, that's what I take away from it.
How do you make your music? What are the instruments and/or gadgets that you primarily use, and why?
I think it's kind of a disease in electronic music that no one talks about the music but they talk about the gear. Unlike rock, electronic music is defined by its limitless nature. There hasn't been a way in which a conversation can be even designed to talk about it without talking about the gear.
It seems like a cop-out to me, to talk about what you use. Then, it's just a product. You can use a certain product or a drum machine or a box, make a new product with that product. Then, there is a disconnect with creativity by inserting that consumerism element.
So yeah, I'd say that I use sound-making devices, just like a guitar [would be]. I guess that's part of the whole mystery of electronic music. It's hidden away. That's why people can't really talk about it, because there's nothing really visible to talk about, especially with digital stuff, where it's literally ones and zeros, not analog circuitry.
I saw your show at Tokyo Garden a few weeks ago, with Cars Flowers, Police Dog, and the Batteries. You seemed to be moving around the stage a lot checking on wires and controls while your compositions were playing. What were you doing, exactly, while on stage? How does it compare to what a typical band member does in a guitar/bass/drums kind of band?
What I'm trying to do on stage is very microscopic. The changes that might be made in a sonic palette may be very, very minor, but it changes the overall architecture of it. That's what I'm trying to do. As opposed to handing it out, hand-delivering something, I'm inviting someone in by making it almost overly repetitive so you have to pay attention.
Literally though, I've got a lot of [sound] sequences running, and many of them are not always planned. I make small adjustments that are worthwhile to the moment. The whole DJ movement kind of grosses me out insofar as the DJ is some kind of creative force, because I don't think that's fully true. Then you start up with a hierarchy. I'm somewhere between a DJ and a traditional performer, I think. Somehow it's not sufficient for me to be one or the other.
But I've engineered it so I still have to do things. Where I can gauge things and sounds. I can gauge the audience. It's kind of whatever I'm feeling at the moment. As far as turning things on, the sounds have to come from somewhere. But I've actually programmed it originally at some point, so it's mine.
What's your goal in performing electronic music live? What kind of experience do you want an audience member to come away with?
It was a conscious decision for me to not be in a band. What I resent about most forms of music is that it literally screams at you to listen to it. You walk into a bar and it's so loud and overpowering. The figures are on stage. They've got the right clothes, the haircuts, whatever. And you have no other choice but to listen to them.
I'm trying to give people a choice of how to hear things. You can listen, engage, and it will go as far as you want to take it. It could be just another part of the atmosphere or the scenery. Then the music becomes like Eno, being just as interesting as it is boring.
So what's the role of your onstage "front-woman," the mannequin also known as Chloe?
She's simultaneously exploiting and articulating the absolute pointlessness of the front-person. [Laughs.] I don't really want people to know that. That's subversion. Or maybe it's not. I don't know. She provides moral support? Maybe.
You've also performed your music live for art installations around the area, and will be playing at the Brianna Johnson Smeds art opening Thursday night at Fig Tree Gallery before your evening show at Tokyo Garden. How do you decide what collaborations to pursue? How do you see your music intersecting with visual art?
I can't say enough good things about Brianna and Laura [Goldstone]. They're close friends. They have excellent ideas.
What I want to do [with the collaborations] is either create or tap into a subtext of a particular piece, much the same way a composer does with a score of a film. It would be suggestive and would give access to a particular scene. Dealing with visual art, it provides a context for the sounds that is almost imperative for stark electronic music. The music needs a context. So it has provided great opportunities for me. Otherwise, I have to create a context on my own.
These collaboration projects can move freely between [artistic] worlds. Or at least, I'm allowing them to. Some electronic artists that I know of will stick to the DJ scene or whatever. But I wanted to be as free creatively and physically as possible. Plus, by not being in a band, I don't have a whole lot [of gear] to lug around any more.
What's the lure, for you, with playing electronic music by yourself instead of playing another form of rock music in a traditional band? How do you see your music fitting into the wide variety of offerings of the current Fresno music scene?
I don't always want to play by myself. It's just a necessity right now. I guess that is the lure, I can do exactly what I want to. I can change the band name whenever I want and maybe I will. I've always kind of done [electronic music] like this, but I've never focused on it. I don't know what rock music has to offer anybody in the future but I got kind of burned out playing it.
It's imperative that we have people playing electronic music anywhere. There are some really good rock bands around, but I don't necessarily want to see a rock band. There's only so far you can take it, I guess. That's inherent in the culture of rock music. No matter how far you think you're on the fringes, they're still playing guitar like so-and-so does.
What's interesting to me about electronic music is there aren't rules yet. That also leads to ugly things as well. Like with subgenres like "happy hardcore," "heroin house," or things like that. With some of them, there are such small differences, like the difference between trance and hard trance being measured in beats per minute or whatever. But there are no rules. Eventually there will be, but right now it's this uncharted territory. That's why it's strange and exciting.
What I'm doing is not totally off the wall. It's just sound waves. Basically, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm just doing it.