Santa Monica producers Daedelus and Sahy Uhns sit down to discuss the fine art of creating beautiful compositions and nerding out on custom gear. In 2011, Daedelus has toured his mind blowing new live show, ARCHIMEDES, in support of his release, Bespoke, on Ninja Tune this year. Sahy Uhns dropped a stunning new album on Proximal Records October 18th complete with a 5″x5″ hardcover photo book .
Daedelus: To begin. Charlie, I’d consider you to have a distinct voice, that is to say your LP is full of perspective – the kind typically hard fought for after a long time, but you are comparably young. How would you explain this if you’d believe me?
Sahy Uhns: If my voice is distinct, I think it’s maybe because I’ve been making music in one way or another for much of my life. I got my first guitar in 5th grade from my parents and soon after got another guitar from my uncle who is a country western guitarist. When I was 13 my sister got a home stereo system but she wasn’t using the turntable, so I took it and started messing around with scratching records. I broke it within 15 minutes but I think that only made me more interested in figuring it out.
Once I started messing around with electronics and creating music, that was all that I wanted to do. As far as perspective, I’ve always been interested in things that I don’t understand and so I’ve tried to expose myself to as much music that freaks me out as possible. I think when you force yourself to listen to things you don’t understand or you don’t like, you’re just furthering your aesthetic. If you can determine why you think something is good (or not) that’s when you really learn the most about yourself.
I was also really into electro-acoustic music starting around 8th grade, and Alvin Lucier’s album Music On A Long Thin Wire was really influential for me. It was the first time I was exposed to a group of pieces that were all based around one simple idea. I thought the sound was beautiful but also loved it visually and conceptually. There were other albums I gravitated towards growing up because they felt like a real, conceptual body of work from start to finish. Albums like The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and The Chronic. There was a singular focused vision and an attention to craft with those records that really had an impact on the way I write music. The concept and the methodical approach fueled the creativity and that is apparent in the product, whether you’re aware of what the concept was or not.
Sahy Uhns: I know from past conversations with you that when you were at USC you took an electronic music class multiple times that you loved which involved working with analog synths and tape. While you still interact in a very physical way with your music while performing, you’re still using a device through which you communicate with the sound. As an artist, are you still interested in the exploration process that one has with imperfect/nonlinear analog sound sources or has the ease-of-use of modern electronics become more inspiring? In other words, do you still like to tinker with things to find the strange sounds they can make or is your music-making process more organized when contained within the computer?
Daedelus: This must be the main force that pushes Electronic music progressing, that quest for compelling sounds, wherever they might be found. And early on when I was learning about plug-ins and VSTs it became quickly obvious who was creating their soundscapes and then others who were mousing around and clicking go and the auto-shuffler or granularizer would do the heavy-lifting. Nothing particularly wrong with that approach, as a good song is a good song no matter how it was made or unmade, but I’ve just been making the choice in more physical methods and often those aren’t so in the computer/box. But that doesn’t mean I’ve escaped the computer beast! It is in fact my friend and I try to feed it good things all the time.
Daedelus: You mentioned live performance, and it is truly where most are exposed to sound as truly intended by the composer, no skipping tracks or 1:00 minute previews (unless that’s what the performer is doing). When you began what were your expectations for presenting your music and how has that possibly changed now that you are well underway?
Sahy Uhns: When I first started performing electronic music with a laptop, a big focus of mine was keeping things un-quantized. It was kind of a weird purist thing that I was doing because I was insecure about not being a “real” live musician. I still keep my stuff pretty loose but I do it now more because i like to be able to control exactly when things happen and it keeps it exciting for me. My main focus now is to try to recreate what I do in the studio in real time.
Four years ago I saw Simian Mobile Disco at the Echoplex and I was blown away. It was so exciting to watch them controlling all of these sounds being generated in real time. Other elements that I’m focused on bringing into my live set more are my generative patches that I make in Reaktor. I’m a big Reaktor nerd. Taking live generative systems that I’m controlling and responding to and combining them with realtime synthesis both analog and digital is my ultimate goal. So far I’ve been able to do it for special performances, but I would like that to be part of my regular setup.
Sahy Uhns: You are seen as the poster child for the monome because you are so skilled with it. One thing that I’ve always greatly admired about you is that you practice with the monome as any other instrumentalist practices. You have dedicated the time to make what seems like a simple device so compelling. What aspects of the instrument are you still discovering? How do you see yourself elaborating on your live set and aesthetic?
Daedelus: You are kind for those words. The Monome is a worthy opponent (better stated as a patient friend) and as such deserves practice. The device has something futuristic to those light up buttons and so many of them, but really it shares a lot with any keyed instrument, such as a piano. Purposeful pressing that makes actions, really simple.
Button mashing has it’s place in video games, but instruments require other approaches (and maybe an occasional freakout). But it’s not important, I don’t think people want to see the work going in the performance. I’m of the mind that effortless artful is more powerfully a reflection on the sounds, and when possible a performance is enhancing that music. Performance (or it’s lack) is our cross to bare (burden? Justice?) as electronic musicians, and perhaps one that we’ll have a hand in bettering its lot as we continue.
Daedelus: As you gaze into your (liquid) crystal (display) ball, and reach towards the future; an album is quite an accomplishment in this current glut of castaway singles and YouTube famous. What is meaningful? What is the mark you’d like to make? What is even possible in these tumultuous times?
Sahy Uhns: I guess for this first record I just wanted to make a mark on myself more than anything. The record was a great outlet for a lot of anxiety and sadness but I didn’t just want to bitch and moan with electronic music. The main thing I wanted to do was to learn about the process of “finishing” and also to reflect on my process in art and life and what I can change. I named the record An Intolerant Disdain of Underlings because I think that is the kind of flippant attitude that has been the source of many of my growing pains and humbling experiences. I wanted to put it right out there so I don’t forget to change it.
WATCH Sahy Uhns & Daedelus ‘An Intolerant Disdain Of Underlings’ Live