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Spotlight: Instant Takemitsu

Instant Takemitsu is a trio comprising two instrumentalists and a visuals artist. Electric lapsteel-dulcimer player and sampler extraordinaire J.A. Deane is a pioneer of modern music. In his work with Butch Morris, Jon Hassell, and others he has been a sonic adventurer for three decades. To Instant Takemitsu he brings his stylings on an electric version of the Chinese Gu Qin. Guitarist Tim Motzer has carved a prominent place in the Philadelphia music scene with ensembles and solo, ranging from straight-up funk to atmospheric dance accompaniment. The two instrumentalists have developed a unique synergy with visual projectionist Dejha Ti, one that I was privileged to witness at Roulette in Brooklyn, NY last March.

In our longest feature yet, Guitar Moderne is proud to present the story of these three distinctive artists and the project that unites them, complete with extensive gear descriptions, insights into music making, and thoughts on the artistic life.

J.A. Deane

 What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?

My father played drums and bass; he taught me the rudiments of drumming and encouraged me to play trombone and piano. Later, when doing studio work, I performed on trombone/electronics, flutes, keyboards, synthesizers and percussion. I tried to teach myself acoustic guitar as a kid but for whatever reason, the instrument just didn’t resonate with me.

Some thirty years later, when I began to realize that I had taken the trombone as far as I was going to take it, I started playing lap-steel guitar with a unique country band called The Bubbadinos  (under the alias Bubba D).

Playing a fretless brass instrument for so long developed my ear, so hearing the notes on the lap-steel guitar was not an issue, but I had no technique on the instrument at all. For a few years, I decided to keep it that way—not as easy as one might think.

One thing I found interesting about the first wave of Punk Rock was the lack of technical proficiency. This combination of limited technique and intense energy gave the first era of Punk visceral immediacy. I wanted to experience this, so I made a conscious effort to maintain a primitive relationship with the lap-steel guitar. During the five years the Bubbadinos were together I refrained from practicing it, never had a consistent open tuning, and every time I played, it was balls to the wall, with the idea that as long as I kept that bar moving I was bound to be close to something that was going to work. A very exhilarating learning experience to be sure.

About that same time I became really interested in the ancient Chinese Guqin, and in the study of The Math of Harmonics .

Original guqin.

That research then led me, to designing, practicing and slowly becoming proficient, on the instrument I now call home: the lapsteel-dulcimer.

This electric instrument is technically a 3-string fretless board zither, played flat lap style with the highest string closest to the player (like a Guqin or a mountain dulcimer). It is strung with the 3 lowest strings of an electric guitar: a .048 tuned up to G, a .044 tuned to A, and a .034 tuned to DGAD is a folded fifth tuning, which gives you open intervals of a major second (G-A), a fourth (A-D), and a fifth (G-D).

The action is set lower than a lap-steel, which lets you play with metal and glass finger slides rather than a bar. You can also play it with fingers, allowing fretting, bends, slides, and hammer-ons. It responds very well to a bow on the outer strings and to all manner of prepared guitar techniques. Because the instrument is fretless and is inlaid with the 13 harmonic node markers (from the Guqin), it can be played in either direction, nut to bridge, bridge to nut or a combination of both, a very interesting grid of intervals.

Nut to bridge  in red,  bridge to nut  in green

My instrument has both bridge and nut pickups: The bridge pickup is driving the electronics of a Line 6 modeling guitar, mounted in the body of the instrument. It folds in half for plane travel—a little “pimp my ride,” I know. The tonal options of the electronics, combined with the multiple potential playing techniques provide an amazing palette of sonics. It’s big fun to play; I now get why there are so many fucking guitar players on the planet—and now there is yet another.

What led you to create experimental (non-mainstream) music?

First, we need to choose another word, because “experimental” (based on untested ideas or techniques), is not what I do, nor do I believe that the word even qualifies as an artistic category. I think that “adventurous” (willing to take risks or try out new methods, ideas, or experiences), is a much better choice.

As for the question, I really believe that if you are going to follow the life path of an artist, you have to do two things. You have to define your musical world—and then you have to live in it. Regardless of fashion, trends, the spotlight, obscurity, big money, no money, whatever, you have to be true to the integrity of your vision, wherever it may take you—and that is challenging.

Whose music inspires you? Past and Present.

I grew up listening to jazz. My  interest quickly expanded to a wide range of music. Narrowed down to the top five music sources of inspiration, the list would have to be: Miles Davis, Gil Evans, John Coltrane, Joni Mitchell, and James Brown. Then there were the guitar voices I was most drawn to early on (as a teenager/twenty-something): Kenny Burrell, George Harrison, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, and Pete Cosey.

Between 1980 and 2000 I spent a significant amount of time on stage and/or in the studio in structured and open improvisational contexts, playing various instruments and/or electronics and live sampling, with a number of ensembles. This is the short list of long time musical collaborators who definitely inspired and influenced my string playing concepts. During that period I stole shit from all these cats: Neil Kaku (electric bass), Terry Rolleri (electric guitar), Bob Hoffnar (feedback bass), Bill Horvitz (electric guitar flat lap style),

Zeena Parkins (acoustic & electric harp), Brandon Ross (acoustic & electric guitar), Jason Kao Hwang (acoustic & electric violin), Martin Schutz (acoustic & electric cello), Stefan Dill (acoustic & electric guitar), and Janet Feder (prepared guitar).

As for the present, I continue to be inspired by Butch Morris’ life work with “Conduction.” In my humble opinion, he has made a profound contribution to the world of music.

How did you get better at your current style?

One thing that I learned along time ago, that really holds true for any style of music you might choose to play, is this:

“Nothing is better for your playing than getting beat up (in a duo), by a good drummer, at least once a week…nothing!”

What are you trying convey with your music?

What I am trying to convey (transport or carry to a place), is the listener. I think that music more than any other art form has the potential to open the doors of personal experience for the listener, to induce an out of body experience. What I strive for with the music I create is to provide an opportunity to close the eyes and go on a lucid dream-state journey that will be different for every listener—audience participation, if you will.

Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?

When I do sampling and live sampling, it’s all about the laptop and my current rig is a Macbook running LiSa (Steim) and Live 8 (Ableton) together. I use the original Motu 828 Firewire audio interface, Korg nanoPad and nanoKey, and Evolution 33e USB controllers, and an Alesis Air-FX effects unit.

But, when I play my lapsteel-dulcimer I prefer my electronics old school stomp box style. My current rig is (from guitar to amp): a Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh Fuzz, into a (vintage) DOD FX-17 Wah Volume, a Fulltone OCD Overdrive, a Boss DD-20 Delay/Looper—all on the floor.

 

The mono output from the floor chain (DD-20) goes into a custom 3.5-watt class A tube amp head (based on a Fender Champ circuit). The head has three outputs: the speaker output drives a custom ported one 12″ cab, the line out is ultra clean for hitting a DI, and the instrument output goes into a Vox AC4TV 10″ combo.

In some situations other amp options are used, but in general I prefer (low watt) class A tube amps for this part of the chain,

The stereo out (headphones) from the DD-20 goes into channels three and four of a Mackie 402 VLZ3 mixer. My Roland SP-404SX Sampler goes into the left/right tape inputs of the mixer (I often plug an Eleuke electric soprano ukulele, strung like a baritone DGAD, into the mic input of the SP-404SX to run it through that units effects).

The main left/right outputs of the mixer are plugged back into inputs one and two of the mixer, which provides the option of playing the mixer as a two-voice feedback instrument (no input mixer). The headphone output from the mixer (with an independent volume) goes in stereo, into an Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man (with Hazarai) Delay/Looper and then into an Eventide Pitch Factor Harmonizer (really more of a sonic Swiss army knife).

The final output from the end of the table chain (Pitch Factor) goes into two powered speakers (15″). In some situations other (mono) amp options are used, but in general I prefer solid state for this part of the chain.

All of these pieces of hardware have been chosen for exactly the same reasons:  

1 – Sound

2 – Flexibility (bang for the buck)

3 – Size, weight and build (travel-ability)

Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?

From age 19 through 24 I played in a funk band five sets a night, six nights a week. During the same period I was working as a studio musician, playing on pop recordings and jingle sessions. Those experiences hardly exist in today’s world, but they taught me to feel comfortable in either situation—to this day, I love recording and playing live equally. There is nothing like playing off the immediate energy coming from a live audience, and there is nothing like the sonic worlds you can enter in the multi-track environment of the studio. They are both unique and wonderful!

How have you built up an audience for your music?

Perseverance—straight up, perseverance.

With whom would you like to collaborate and why?

At this point in time I am really excited about my collaboration with Tim Motzer and Dejha Ti, as Instant Takemitsu. From time to time you get this chemistry where the shit is just right. For however long you get to go for that ride, it’s a gift.

What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?

Funny you should ask—it’s Instant Takemitsu!

At this point we have three live performances, one live webcast, and two in studio performances documented in audio-visual format. We are looking into various options for releasing these six concerts to the public. Just as Guitar Moderne is part of the change in how music magazines are being presented, all artists are faced with how music, and in our case, a multi-media project can be delivered to the public. Which brings us back to collaboration.

We (Instant Takemitsu) are eager to enter into collaborations with forward thinking festivals, music venues and visual art presenters looking to program a more immersive multi-media concert or installation experience. We are just as excited about the possibility of collaborating with record labels ready to take the inevitable next step—releasing multi-media projects. At present people (anywhere on the planet) can listen and view the entire eighty-four minute concert at 1ksessions.

SourceURL:file:///Users/michaelross/Desktop/Guitar%20Moderne/Instant%20(Dino%20and%20Tim)/instant%20takemitsu.doc

Tim Motzer (acoustic-electric guitar, electronics)

What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?

Around 1978, I was playing progressive rock in the Dayton, Ohio-based band Ebbenflo, which was inspired by English bands. We had Taurus bass pedals, Moogs, a Roland 808 drum machine, and an attic studio fitted with TEAC and Fostex 4 track 1/4″ machines to record original music. The bassist and drummer were brothers and sounded like Chris Squire and Bill Bruford. It was a magical time of learning about recording, writing songs, arranging, playing live, and all that goes with that life style.

 What led you to create experimental (non-mainstream) music?

As I was growing up, I listened to two great FM radio stations (WEBN, WOXR) playing album sides by progressive bands. I might hear a side of Pink Floyd, King Crimson, PFM, Beaver & Krause, Tangerine Dream, etc. I was listening to rock, psychedelic, and electronic music, and lots of jazz including Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis Miles Davis (especially his electric period: Dark Magus, Agartha, Pangea, On The Corner, Live Evil), and Herbie Hancock etc.

All those records captured my imagination—living in Ohio I needed the stimuli. I ended up as music director for my college radio station and its record library was a massive education in itself.

When I began playing I noticed I wanted to create music rather than play someone else’s music. As my appetite grew for a broadened sonic palette, I added effects like Roland Space Echo, Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress, and the Crybaby Wah.

Whose music inspires you? Past and Present.

In addition to those above and the Beatles,  Jimi Hendrix made a massive impression on me. I used to record all his albums onto a portable cassette player that I’d take to bed with me every night. When I was about 11, I would fall asleep to the Electric Ladyland, or the soundtracks Jimi Hendrix, or Band of Gypsys.

I always loved Joe Zawinul as well, especially how he used analogue synths for texture, orchestration, and melody. He created an amazing vibe, especially on early Weather Report records.  I’ve always loved ECM music in general and Terje Rypdal’s guitar style and compositions amazed me and still do. I’ll mention a few other landmark musicians/guitarists because to me there are so many: Brian Eno, John McLaughlin, Radiohead, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, David Torn, Steve Hackett, Steve Hillage. I actually have a list of favorite guitarists up on my 1krecordings site.

I still listen to an incredible amount of music daily and have a giant vinyl collection. I love world music; I listen to a lot of Fela Kuti and all the music of Nigeria and Mali (especially guitarists), Balinese, Indian, Turkish and Middle Eastern folk musics. There is also funk—James Brown, Shuggie Otis, Sly and the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, early War, Isaac Hayes—and blues masters Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker.

I really enjoy the banging together of genres in music. In the past few years I have begun to listen more to Olivier Messiaen, studying, composing, and improvising with his modes of limited transposition.  I am forever searching and listening to new and the old, but somehow find myself listening a lot to music around 1968-1975 era—such an incredible and important time for music—a golden era!

SourceURL:file:///Users/michaelross/Desktop/Guitar%20Moderne/Instant%20(Dino%20and%20Tim)/instant%20takemitsu.doc

How did you get better at your current style?

I think my style started to evolve when I began working with poet Ursula Rucker. We’ve been touring together for over 12 years now. I was playing acoustic-electric guitar and didn’t want to just play folk guitar backdrops to her poetry.

I began using loopers, guitar synths (Roland GR33), echo, EBows, drones, volume pedals, overdrives, etc. Also I began working at UArts Dance improvising music for dancers.  Doing that daily, as well as constantly playing in a variety of improvising bands, my style began evolving.

Some of my own bands, like Global illage, Base3, Goldbug, and Instant Takemitsu, reflect an expanding guitar style, where I am texturally and harmonically trying to paint with the guitar utilizing looping and layering. I have been using clips on my strings to create gamelan or thumb piano sounds, similar to John Cage’s piano preparations. I use bows, slides, and any other material to change the sound of the guitar. The acoustic guitar works well as a drum too; by beating lightly on various areas of the guitar body I can easily loop a drumbeat.

The Digitech Whammy pedal allows me to go two octaves up or down and allows me to have more of an orchestral range. I am interested in extending or expanding the vocabulary of the guitar, as it helps me create a new music. It’s more like the instrument is becoming more of a tool or controller as opposed to just being purely a guitar.

What are you trying covey with your music?

I would say most of the music I do is about a journey or an adventure in sound. I hope to convey moods and deep emotional things, but a lot of the time it’s just an honest intention to bring something amazing forward and out—the music flows through you somehow. There is a search going on; sometimes, when I play deeply, I feel like I am in a dream state, spell, or trance that I hope the listener can feel as well.  I am in a state of deep listening and a get feeling or impulse when something needs to change or happen.

It depends on the project too. With Nucultures it’s trying to write a great pop song that does justice to the lyric and intention of the song.  But I’d say basically there is a thread in there to bring something deeper to the music

Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?

I have an old candy apple red 1988 Fender 57 Reissue Strat, a recent Dan Electro Baritone, and a Godin Multiac Steel SA (to trigger my Roland GR33). My main guitar has been a Takamine EF34 acoustic-electric that I run through all kinds of pedals into an amp or a PA system. My pedal board flow is currently: the Takamine though an Eventide Pitchfactor, Guyatone AutoWah, Ernie Ball Volume, Digitech Whammy, Guyatone Overdrive, Zvex FuzzFactory, Guyatone Delay, Alesis AirFX, Line 6 DL4, Eventide Space into a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe or Fender Vibrochamp. Sometimes I augment this amp rig with the addition of a bass amp as well. My setup tends to change depending on the project, but generally this is the core.

Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?

I enjoy both, but they are totally different. I love playing in the moment with a band or solo to an audience, getting that instant feedback and vibe that happens. I don’t worry about anything except playing. When recording I am more concerned with the engineering and making sure it  sounds great. If it’s improv, it’s just getting a great take. In the case of Instant Takemitsu, it’s all about the performance, whether in the studio or live.

I try to document every time we play; I am taking Dino’s left and right outputs, and my mono (although that’s will be stereo in the future) output into my mobile recording chain which is a Beheringer Xenux 1204 into a Presonus Firestudio mobile interface into Mac Book Pro using Ableton Live. I love Ableton Live; it has become the software I tend to use now. I use a few plug ins by Audio Damage, Nomad Factory, mda, Izotope, Koen Tange,  Mdsp@Smartelectronix, and Destroy FX.

How have you built up an audience for your music?

I have been touring the world since 1999 with Les Nubians, Ursula Rucker, and others, selling CDs along the way, meeting lots of people, developing a mailing list, making lots of records, collaborating with lots of amazing musicians worldwide, running my 1k label, improvising with dancers, creating dance scores, doing movie soundtracks, sending my music to journalists, and doing on-going webcasts from my studio—the 1k sessions.

I also use social networks to let people know about releases and concerts. Mostly it’s been about continuing to work hard at music and getting out there, as much as possible—the audience has built from there.

With whom would you like to collaborate and why?

I have been blessed with the opportunity to collaborate with many remarkable musicians. It’s a rare thing when one shares a special language and chemistry; I pay attention when that happens.

The collaboration with J.A. “Dino” Deane is one of those special collaborations where the music is using us if you will. It’s coming through like we are receiver antennae! Live, with Dejha Ti creating visuals, it creates a totally profound experience for the players and the audience.

Thru the 1k Sessions webcast, I am able to continue on-going collaborations with invited musicians. It’s been a blast, and a sharing of ideas that lead to new music, new friends, and possible futures. I have many projects going at the moment, with upcoming releases on 1k. I am very excited about the upcoming Global illage album, The Complete Portland Sessions; and the new Goldbug album with Eric Slick, Barry Meehan, and Theo Travis. Lot’s of stuff on the flame!

More and more musicians are adding video to their tools of artistic expression. For budding videographers, here is Instant Takemitsu’s visual artist Dejha Ti’s story, including some serious tech talk. GM

Dejha Ti    (visuals, projections, stretch projection surfaces, multimedia artist) 

I

I come from a musical background. I play drums, piano, guitar, and incorporate the musical aesthetic into my visual art. I listen like a musician in a band and respond the same way while I am creating visuals—color, texture, motion, line, light, etc.

I in my design studio I design for music, apps, projection mapping, and interactive development. I am also a video director, cinematographer, and producer. I do the live webcasting for the 1k Sessions.

Within Instant Takemitsu I project my art onto a unique wrap of projection surfaces I set up around Dino and Tim. I improvise with visual’s using Modul8 and a modded Kinect, system networked with an OSC touch controller. Tim and Dino are more or less unaware of what the projections are while playing but they vibe on the color, motion, and intensities of the light. It is up to me to score visuals to their in-the-moment musical compositions.

II  

My grandmother was a painter, not by occupation but by interest; she loaded me with oils, paints, charcoal pencils and subsequently bought me my first guitar: an acoustic ’60s student Epiphone. Being an only child, I passed time with a sketchbook in the hand and Walkman in the ears.

By age 11I was experimenting with electronics as a form of creating art. I received a black and white toy camera tethered to a household VCR VHS. Filmmaking wasn’t complete for me without a score. I strapped headphones onto the camera mic and choreographed playback of selected tunes. Other electronic milestones were disposable underwater cameras, Tyco Talk Boy audio recorders. Through cheap karaoke machines with double deck cassette recorders I stumbled upon overdubbing.

I get into the zone and create; I don’t and never had an allegiance to any one medium.

Becoming Experimental

I had traditional art training, a critical launchpad for experimental undertakings, but a tipping point for abandoning traditional practices came in my final years of high school. My photography teacher lent me a Cannon DSLR with a macro lens. With that lens one square foot of terrain is infinity. I found an exploded Advil gel capsule; the image was dissonant and I found it beautiful—a primer for art school.

At university, my advisors and mentors expanded my attention to video and experimental artists like Nam Jun Paik and John Cage. Also Ivan Sutherland who demoed his Sketchpad software—the first window-drawing program, and later went on to pioneer the 3D computer graphics technology utilized by the likes of Pixar.

These encounters dominoed into an unexpected universe. My sensibilities were blown wide open by E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), a 1967 initiative for joining artists and engineers, largely backed by Cage and pioneered by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Kluver. The technical wizardry and problem solving of science and engineering makes a dashing pair with the vision and sensibilities of an artist. For me, this inspires not only collaboration with engineer types, such as programmers, but also big picture multidisciplinary collaboration. Watching the video documentation from E.A.T., the  struggle Cage and the engineers experience before a performance signaled the “you’re doing it right” feeling I have during performance, video production set, or installation. It’s very challenging to execute multi-facet projects, so many variables and the risk your message will be drowned out in complications.

Visuals + Sound

I’m aware of the VJ (visual jockey) culture but I feel it’s often disconnected from the rich history of visual art, and insensitive to nuances of music and soundscapes.

Filmmaking, narrative, and the visual language of directors such as Akira Kurwaswa, Stanley Kubrick, and Sergio Leone inspire me. I approach projections with design and film sensibilities. In Instant Takemitsu, layering and textural techniques are used to create live compositions in both the music and visuals.

Moving picture opens a special delivery format for music. In an interview, Bernard Hermann explains that visuals provide license for composers and musicians to push the boundaries of music without alienating the audience. Take Hermann’s work in Psycho: imagine if the listener’s first interaction was with the music itself—it would be hard to digest. Marrying it with the moving picture allows an entry point; it can make adventurous music palatable to the mainstream.

Gear

One of the challenges of Instant Takemitsu is to embody a portable multimedia ensemble without the luxury of a crew. In my current set-up, I use Modul8 software on a modded quad core i7 Macbook Pro laptop. I installed 16GB of RAM,  removed the optical bay and replaced it with an OWC 115GB SSD (solid state drive) to serve up fast operations; and replaced the native drive bay with 750GB hard drive. My system runs off the SSD and data is accessed from the HD. Modul8 is 64 bit software and can leverage advanced hardware, whereas programs such as VDMX and Isadora are 32bit and cannot.

I utilize the Microsoft Kinect to capture real-time depth of field data, which is ingested into a Cinder application designed with my chief developer Chris Alfano. Cinder is an open source programming language rooted in C++. We utilize the XCode environment to build and publish the standalone application. Many open source packages are needed to hack the Kinect and take advantage of its skeletal tracking and gesture recognition including NITE and OpeNNi. The Kinect Cinder app we built allows for variable parameters that affect the visual output. These parameters are controlled via TouchOSC connected to a second Macbook Pro via an ad hoc Wifi network. The Kinect laptop goes DVI out into a AJA SDI converter, then into a BlackMagic Ultra Studio 3D box, then into the Modul8 laptop via Thunderbolt.

During soundcheck I dial in frequencies to Modul8’s sound analysis module to ingest live input from Tim and Dino’s stereo mix. The clip library is generated from my original source footage shot on a Canon Mark III 5D, an exceptional shallow depth of field DSLR High Definition camera. I use a range of lenses to capture textural, macro and scenic content: 70-200 a long lens with a fast shutter; 16-35, a wide angle with no fish eye distortion; and 24-105, a versatile lens great for outdoors or a lit set, as the shutter is 4.0.

I use the TVLogic Monitor as an alternative to the viewport on camera LCD to check focus and color.

I utilize HD GoPro kits for shots you want from viewpoints that aren’t possible. I mount them on the end of the guitar or lap steel heads in live performance scenarios, and to vehicles or kinetic structures to utilize in the clip library bin.

 

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7 thoughts on “Spotlight: Instant Takemitsu

  1. Any tips on using external midi to control FX?

    I’m guessing it would be called internal-midi since it would be clocked amp; controlled via Ableton..

    I got a Dr X-2100 unit the other day for a steal; I always like to know my units inside-out (that’s how I’m guessing you guys got all those magical sounds—from knowing your gear inside-out)

    thank-you!

  2. Pingback: 1k Sessions | guitar moderne

  3. Superb performance. Like whirling Sufi mystics. Tantric. Hypnotic. Oceanic. My eyes have not seen or ears heard anything like it.

    • I wish I could wrap my mind around how you juggle the pedals and FX. I see you use Ableton, you guys ROCK!! It’s good to see other musicians vibin’ off the energies of a simple string resonating … but you guys took it to a Whole-New-Level!!

      best blessings & greatest wishes
      ps. I just LOVE the font you guys use on your page (specially this comment section) — if you ever get time lemme know what it is!

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