The roots of my Tectonics project may be found in my early fascination with all things futuristic and electronic. I read science-fiction from my youngest days and planned to become a scientist. Growing up in the 50’s in the United States, one was constantly bombarded with the amoral propoganda of “scientific progress”. My father designed microphones and loudspeakers so they were a presence in my daily life.
Music was always there as well: early studies as a classical pianist that I felt nearly killed me and later, the classical clarinet. I would also amplify my clarinet through home-built fuzzboxes and would play Jeff Beck solos with this setup in early bands.
At 17 in 1968, as part of a National Science Foundation grant, I worked in a residency at Carnegie-Mellon Uni-versity designing switching systems for a project called “Spelltalk” that used phonemes recorded as the images of soundfiles on film that would be “read” by an optoelectronic device and translate them into speech-like sounds.
I spent a good deal of my time in the lab playing with a 7-head Ampex tape deck and designing and building fuzzboxes and ring-modulators for my newly purchased electric guitar. My nights from midnight to 4am were spent working as a DJ for the school station, WRCT. Their well-stocked library allowed me to expand my musical horizons beyond Jimi Hendrix and country blues to the music of Xenakis, gamelan, Stockhausen, India, John Coltrane, the Ba-Benjelle Pygmies, Ornette Coleman, Ligeti, Korea, Harry Partch, Albert Ayler, and so much more.
With the Vietnam War raging and most science coming under the auspices of the Defense Department, I knew that music would be my calling. Later, in university at Cornell studying anthropology, I audited Robert Moog’s class on synthesis and played in various psychedelic bands and free jazz groups.
At Bard College and in graduate studies at the University of Buffalo, I worked with EML and Moog synthesizers and the Music IV programming language and began developing projects that would incorporate analog sequencers and synthesized percussion mixed with improvised guitars and reeds using extended techniques and processed with modulators, filters, and tape delay.
This approach extended into instrument building and design including the slabs, pantars, violinoids, as well as fretless guitars plus doubleneck and 8-string guitarbasses with extended range. Conceptually, the music drew upon chaos theory and fractal geometry, algorithmic approaches, and acoustic phenomena – all falling under the rubric “Ir/Rational Music.”
By the time of my arrival in New York City in 1979 and my immersion in the Mudd Club / Tier 3 / Dancete-ria scene, I had one ear in a world of formalism and the other in a strange amalgam of No-Wave / punk-rock and late-night danceclub sounds. With the easy accessibility of the Atari ST computer in 1986 and the software M, I formed my Virtual Stance project to create harsh soundscapes and polyrhythmic synthesized grooves, very techno.
Virtual Stance performances of that period incorporated live real-time computer manipulation of samples and sequences as well as MIDI-controlled processing of my guitars and reeds and was documented on the LP Virtual Stance (Ear-rational 1988). The second Virtual Stance record, Looppool (Ear-rational 1988) developed the idea further of mutated dance rhythms, alien ambience, and free-blowing. In 1989, I incorporated the Buchla Thunder into the system which allowed massive real-time control literally under my fingertips.
By 1994, the project underwent a change of name to Tectonics but more importantly, I had switched to an Apple computing platform with more power in a smaller box. The eponymous first Tectonics CD was released in 1994 on the Atonal label and featured Rollins Band bassist Melvin Gibbs plus vocalists Dorit Chrysler and KJ Grant with aggressive electro rhythms as well as high-speed 21st century dub.
The project continued to evolve and a second release, Field & Stream (Atonal & Knitting Factory 1996) embraced the rhythms and techniques of jungle though using source material far-removed from the typical breakbeats. The live concerts were performed on the 8-string guitarbass, various electronically-processed horns, and a Powerbook running M and Cubase (later LiSa and Max / MSP.) The third Tectonics CD, Errata (first released by the Knitting Factory in 1998) delved deeply into chaos and glitches, saturated timbres and hyper-pixillated rhythms. The Tectonics program has been performed in Berlin, Tokyo, Paris, Beijing, Brussels, Lyon, Zurich, Kyoto, Ljubljana, Bern, Vienna, and Manaus, in the Brazilian Amazon.