Thursday, September 1, 2022

DJ Interviews: The Amazing Dr. Tentacles

 Here's my interview with none other tham....The Amazing Dr. Tentacles

How'd you get started in music?
A long time ago, in a land far, far away, meaning a closet somewhere, a lonely, quiet nerd who never found bands who were as dedicated as him discovered you could make music with machines instead of 
having to rely on other dumb humans. It started with cutting and pasting sounds in now-obsolete audio programs, doing lots of boring math just to make glitchy patterns by hand. He had some minor successes. A release on an obscure compilation in Japan, some mildly proliferated electronica, several compilation appearances back in the era when Zebox was a thing and you could download and play music without an ad getting shoved in your face. For free, no less! Sacrilege!
After self-releasing a CDR so badly produced that half the tracks didn't work, he started collecting sounds from everywhere. Cheap pawn shop kid instruments, orchestrals, the sounds of pots and pans banging together.  Soon enough, trackers would make his life easier but, as anyone who does any job long enough, he became bored with this method and began to work towards a DAW-free setup. As the music changed, he changed with it, into something dreadful. He would not know what horror he had wrought. The noises he made, once happy and pleasant, became more eerie and discomforting. As for those noises being music, well, the verdict's still out on that.

Who are your inspirations or influences?
One might be surprised that The Doctor doesn't listen to as much electronic music as one would think. The Amazing Doctor Tentacles also get influences by artists in way that don't necessarily correlate in typical musical theory or the audible influences you would hear in other music. For instance, Tom Waits. You probably don't hear that influence audibly in the music, but when making Rain Dogs, he said "I'm not happy with a sound unless I've caught and killed it, boiled and skinned it." That speaks to me. I love wrangling sounds and squeezing voltage into submission. That's synthesis in a nutshell. The idea of "skinning" sounds also just seems dastardly. I'm also a fan of GWAR, not because I've been musically influenced by them but I like the idea of a band who is 100% serious about what they do and yet still have a lot of fun doing it. 
I'd say audibly you can hear a lot of Aphex Twin in my sound. Richard D James Album was one of my first electronic albums and it opened my eyes to the potential of electronically generated music.Being someone who grew up thinking "electronic music" consisted of only dancefloor music, it completely changed my thoughts on music. I also love music with heavy contrast, as that album has. Akira Yamaoka, who many know for the Silent Hill soundtracks, does this a lot with having these large ambient pieces with very large cacophonic nightmares scuttering in the back. Squarepusher does this on a tighter, more technical level as well. Dissonance speaks to me. Contrast speaks to me. I've also been quite fond of the Residents for some time. For the longest period, I always wanted my tracks to sound the same live as when I wrote them at home. But then you listen to the Residents, look up a song by them and find a bunch of versions where no other piece sounds the same. Begs the question: if it's my music, can't I do what the hell I want with it?

What advice would you offer aspiring performers?
Stop trying so hard to sound like other people. While influence is good, chasing genres eventually leads to a dead-end. Most genres only stay in fashion for so long and honestly, you don't want music to only appeal to a specific subset of listeners. Uniqueness has its own risks to be sure but in the end I think people find you more real when you walk your own path. To quote Robert Frost, "I took the path less traveled by and that has made all the difference." I chased genres and the groups of people who listened to those genres and found myself becoming obsolete quite quickly. Even worse, all scenes die inevitably. We don't think of the mortality of the internet and the data all over, but people forget that even huge websites will disappear. Even data in a worldwide stream is finite. You have to generate your own data, your own scene, your own style. If people don't like it? Screw them. You don't have to be for everyone either. 

That brings me to a point from when I temporarily was an Uber driver. I was driving around a manager for a band at a music festival and we talked shop briefly. He told me that he wished music had never become a job. That's really the thing, isn't it? When it's not a passion anymore, when it's a job, you're not doing music for yourself anymore. You're doing it for money. Or worse, you're only doing it for other people.

How do you set yourselves apart from other bands or singers?
Doctor Tentacles must wear protective gear to protect himself from the hostile environment of Earth. You will often find that I make my own gear, masks and such and am often having to modify them as they can fall apart and deteriorate. I have made some of my own instruments as well, or am in the process of perfecting them for live performances. I have also collaborated with a indie developer as I have been told frequently that my music should be in soundtracks, one way or another. So there's a multimedia aspect to my music as well, though not so much as GWAR, to where its a huge mythology, but more just other ways to experience my music besides Spotify. Because, as I am sure is obvious, their pay is crap. I also tend to use social media as more of a sketchbook. Being able to drop pieces of things gives me time to let them marinate. I'll write a riff and let it set a few years before I do something with it, before I find what makes it complete. Spoiler alert: songs grow from tiny pieces. I've had one or two diddies I scribbled out on Tiktok that have grown up into bangers at some point or another. I think a visual element to my performances is important, as no one wants to watch music that looks like someone doing their taxes, nor do you want a bunch of people bumping into your onstage if you're plugging up a modular. I have 100 some odd synths I released in a series called 100 Days of Synths and then I had 100 Days of Grooves on my groovebox though inevitably my candle burned quick on that one. Having a baby slows down music unless you just decide to be a shit dad. I'm not a shit dad, thankfully for the kid.

I also don't use a DAW to compose my music. I like being able to manipulate my music in real time and now there's gear that can do what use to take me an hour in just a few minutes. I can thank Elektron for that. I also love twisting knobs and feeling music in my hands as I grew up a guitarist before I swam in the ocean of electronica. Nicolas Collins, a musician who also wrote Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking once said that the ear and the finger are not obsolete. I didn't realize how that felt until I moved from a computer to solid equipment. I don't think anyone is less of a musician for using a DAW, not even close. Joel Haver said it best that anything that makes art easier to make for people is a good thing! It's just I did computer music for so long that I myself got burned out on it. So knobs it is.

Any new gigs or albums in the future?

I may have another Halloween gig coming. Hopefully I can stream it live this time or get some recordings as these shows tend to be nice and big. I work alongside a liquid light show artist named MeatSandal (instagram @meatsandal) who has provided many visuals for my shows using some interesting techniques. This is the time of year where bookings slow down where I am at, but with Tiktok and being able to go live, I may begin to just bring that to fans directly.

The "albums" thing: I only release singles in general. Why? Simple. I used to release these large albums, sometimes several in a year, bloated with all sorts of works I had written. The problem with that is, recently, I went back to listen to my old music, all of it out of print (or never in print as it was digitally made) or out of circulation for ideas, as, like I said, it's my music and I can do what I want with it. I found that a lot of my albums had a ton of filler. I got more discerning near the end of the aughts but it doesn't erase what you once thought was an acceptable release. The reason I do singles now is actually a quote from Tim Schafer, a game developer you may have heard of. He said something along the lines once that big games were easy because these days you can hire someone or use a software to make trees, hire a dozen people to do quests, hire someone to do art, and so on. You play a big game like that and there's a chance you may never see the tree that's off or the art that's formatted weird or the quests that are broken because the game is so big, most people only see a fraction of it. However, small games are tough, because you have to get everything right because if you don't, it will get noticed. I feel that way about music. 

Writing singles, smaller pieces, keeps me honest because I know it has to be good when it drops. I tend to work on every detail rather than juggling a bunch of songs at once. I can obsess over artefacts and how a synth lines up with another in a mix because if I don't, someone will certainly let me know. Also, with how people consume music now, it seems like a waste to make a huge release when most people on Spotify or Apple Music or (insert music orifice here) probably don't queue up an album. They're shuffling, listening to a track or playlist at a time. I'm not making an album with cohesion and themes and maybe even a story if no one is going to sit and absorb it the way I expect. I release roughly a single a month these days, so about an album a year? I'm also very proud of the collaborations I've been able to finish this year: Chiptunes 4 Autism, Pappelallae, Sergio Di Martino, 8rix and eventually, a track with The Find next year and hopefully more stuff with Olive Dares the Darkness. I've also been jamming with a band, though that is in primordial stages at the moment and that project is its own monster. I'm looking forward to when we have something substantial to share.

That said, I am developing a way to have my Bandcamp singles "evolve" over time. I find myself revisiting tracks often and I'd love to have "evergreen" tracks that I am constantly updating while still allowing people to access older mixes. It's also a great way to learn new gear by writing something you know for it. I also may have something nice for Bandcamp subscribers soon, which I will announce once I figure it is worth your time. Dr Tentacles is also considering merch as well. Thankfully with my background, I can make it myself and hopefully not have to charge a kidney for it.

The big thing I am excited about is the soundtrack for the game I am collaborating on. It's a big jump from what you normally hear from me, so it may catch fans off guard, but it may bring in new ones as well. It will be a whole new way to consume creepy bangers. But alas, games take time regardless of what gaming executives may tell you, so it's hard to say when that will drop, but it will be alongside the game.

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