|Photo by: Kyle Rutherford|
Scientists by day, but self-proclaimed mad scientists by night, Whirl creates highly intricate electronic music while prompting ideas of the future of science and humanity.
The love child of Tin Armor's Matt Umland and ACRN alumnus Ty "Death Beef" Owen, the Columbus duo uses a barrage of synthesizers and sequencers to create a sound that could be the theme song for outer space. Both having played Lobsterfest in the past with other projects, the duo is excited to bring its own particular blend of electronic music to The Union Thursday night.
ACRN spoke with Ty Owen about what goes into creating their unique sound, as well as filling us in on the potential fate of planet Earth as we know it.
ACRN: You guys are a fairly new group. How did you start making this kind of music together?
Ty Owen: I’ve been messing around, making pretty horrible sounds for a while now. Basically, I played through high school in hardcore/post-hardcore bands, doing that kind of stuff. I was always the dude in those bands that tried to push it in the weirder direction.
After those bands broke up, I started doing my own stuff with circuit bend instruments and things like that, and burned through all of my hardcore contacts by doing this tour where I went out and played belligerently harsh music to metal crowds. We played with, like, Goatwhore at Peabody’s [in Cleveland].
I moved to Columbus and I really like Tin Armor a lot, and I really like working with musicians that are kind of outside the idea of what I am doing, because I think they bring an interesting prospective to it.
So, Matt and I both work at COSI together and we both have a lot of similar thoughts on the future of technology and the ideas of transhumanism [the use of technology to enhance human intellectual, physical and psychological capacities, as well as eliminating aging] and things like that. Those conversations manifested themselves into us being, like, “We really need to hang out and jam.”
Whirl was kind of a result of us spending hours and hours locked in my studio here, just banging stuff out, seeing what worked, seeing what didn’t, listening back to tapes. Whirl is kind of the process of those conversations and being locked in the studio, working on music.
ACRN: You guys have sort of an impromptu style, right?
TO: Yeah, but there is definitely structure to it. We work with analog digital sequencers, specifically the Doepfer MAQ 16. [Doepfer MAQ] 16/3 is probably the clutch of my setup, and what it is, is a 16-step digital sequencer, so it can it can control all your synths as well as your MIDI snyths.
We work off of ideas built off those sequencers, but as far as where things go to [and] where they end up, it’s totally different every time we play them. We have developed our own weird little musical language as far as where we think things should go and try to plan out a little bit of where we are going to start. Sometimes it will be a sound, sometimes it will be something we have programmed into the sequencer, but the majority is freeform. It’s not as total freeform or as chaotic as harsh noise or pure wall noise. But I think we’re kind of freeform electronic is where I like to plug us into where it makes more sense.
Noise to me is total chaos, and I think we’re a little bit of a step back from that. There is a melody in it, and Matt is a really technical player on traditional keyboards, and with him moving more into synthesizers his technique really comes out.
ACRN: What is it like when you two actually practice?
TO: We don’t have traditional kinds of practices as far as, like, sit and play this song and play this song and play this song. Usually what will happen is I’ll come up with something on the Doepfer. That is kind of like a time-intensive process of sitting and working with that. I’ll usually sit at home and jam stuff on keyboards and just play, using enough volumes to churn thoughts out of my brain, which kind of works best for me.
So I’ll program some things into the Doepfer or have some kind of sound sample idea. Matt will come over, we’ll set up, I’ll play him the bass sequences or bass sounds that I have and we’ll kind of figure out where we want to go from there.
We record everything that we do so we have hours and hours of tapes. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, but we definitely listen to everything we do afterwards. Critical listening is as important in our practice as actually playing.
Half the time that we spend jamming, we have to spend that same amount of time looking back over the tapes or that kind of defeats the purpose. I don’t really do a lot of post-editing when we record. Most of it is straight out of the mixer, straight into the tapes. So what you are hearing on our records is exactly we’re capable of doing live. I really appreciate bands that do that, but I really think for this project, what went want to present is exactly what you’ll hear on the record.
ACRN: What is your preferred equipment to use?
TO: Snyths all day! Any synthesizers, preferably with lots of knobs that can give me as many controls over the perimeters as possible. We use digital analog hybrids, straight digital synths, straight analog snynths.
I also love working with samplers. There are things that you can do with samplers that you just can’t really do with synthesizers. I work inside a computer, manipulating samplers to get them ready to use on a sampler live. Matt builds a lot of his gear as well, so whatever can throw together to get the sounds that we want. But synths, mainly. Whirl is essentially purely synth worship.
ACRN: Being an ACRN alumnus, what are some of your favorite Lobsterfest memories?
TO: Oh my God, my favorite Lobsterfest memory, and anyone that was there will tell you. Andrew WK was the pinnacle of fucking insanity. That was monstrous. I just remember being with Brian Ostrander and Michael Frank on the stage, staring at all the people, feeling a real sense of accomplishment of something we accomplished. I think that was a fantastic set.
Seeing Earwig at The Union after that show was really, really good. Last year was pretty good. Seeing Tin Armor was great. Personally, I think Legends of Wrestling, one of my projects, was one of the most fun things I ever did at Lobsterfest or in Athens period, so that was a cool highlight for me. Honestly, working with ACRN to pull off events like that is as memorable as playing itself. Hearing The Kyle Sowashes play on the giant stage was pretty great one year.
ACRN: What excites you most about playing Lobsterfest?
TO: Just coming back and visiting Athens. I think Lobsterfest is a really great festival because it is super diverse. One thing I really love about Lobsterfest is that it is run totally by students, totally planned and organized outside of the scope of university influence or oversight. It really is a true DIY event. And watching what the hard work of kids that are in a position that I was in a few years ago and what they are able to pull off is just amazing. It is showing the spirit of the true music community in Athens and what we can pull off.
ACRN: Are you guys going to be trying anything new for the show?
TO: We’re always trying new stuff and new equipment. We’re going to try to play louder than we have ever played before.
We’re always trying to play louder, but the dynamics are always absolutely important, being able to go from super quiet to super loud. So we’re not trying to deafen you without purpose. When we get to that volume, all we want you to do is just be able to think about that sound. To throw out every other thought in your brain, other than what we have asked you to think about before we start in.
Our new record that we are working on right now is about APOPHIS, which is a giant asteroid scheduled to make a pass by the earth in 2029. It’s actually going to be the closest asteroid to come to Earth in modern times, which is interesting. But what is more interesting is that there is a very good chance, much better odds than anyone winning the lottery, that after it passes and makes its second pass coming back towards Earth in 2036, it will crash down into the surface of the Earth. Imagine this: an asteroid as big as the Rose Bowl, crashing into the Earth. It’s going to create a huge wave of destruction that will wipe out entire continents. Entire destruction of the earth.
What’s amazing is that we are in a point in human history that we can push it and move it out of the way using really simple technology. By using this shared knowledge of humanity, we have the chance to stop an asteroid from wiping out all that is civilization, and yet, no one is doing anything about it. NASA has no plans, the European Space Agency has no plans. If it manages to wipe out humanity, and if there is anybody else out in the universe, we’ll become a giant intergalactic joke, a species of people that have the capability of stopping their own destruction and choose not to. So, Apophis: Greek god of chaos and destruction.
ACRN: What should those going to the show expect?
TO: Except to have a good time. Enjoy the new renovated look of The Union. To see my favorite electronic performer in Athens, Blithe Field, [will] be absolutely amazing. I’m excited to see Lazer Babez. It’s a really great name and I’m expecting girls in tube-top bikinis with futuristic space rifles. Blithe Field will probably have the Difficult Dogs crew there to do stand-up comedy before him. If not, we’ll tell some jokes for him on his behalf on stage. He’s working on his stand-up comedy gig, so really get excited for Blithe Field Improv Alive, coming out right after his European tour. And Brothertiger is on the bill. It’s really amazing. Interspecies siblings, expect to see that on stage. I heard his brother's coming, an actual tiger. So on top of beer money and money for ACRN, you should bring steaks--raw steaks--and attach them to parts of your body over clothing so that you may feed his brother tiger.
So all of these [sic] things you can expect to see, and more. Monster trucks are Sunday at Lobsterfest, and if you bring your ticket stubs from the show, you get in free to the monster truck rally immediately following the Lobsterfest festivities. So all of those things I expect to see and more.
ACRN: What do you think about playing with Lazer Babez, Blithe Field and Brothertiger?
TO: I’m so excited to play with them. I think it’s a really cool bill. It’s great that Athens has the ability to put on such interesting and diverse approaches to electronic music. And any time that I get to see Blithe Field is a personal treat for me. That guy is absolutely fantastic.
ACRN: Anything else to add?
TO: Yes. I want everyone reading or listening or however this is transcribed and preserved into the digital world to concern the idea that modern science is advocating the idea that by 2045 [there’s a project called Russia 2045], we’ll have the first human-to-brain interface where we can download our brains into computers. Our last record, Trapped, that you can pick up on whirlmusic.bandcamp.com, is about the idea of downloading your brain into a computer and putting yourself in a robot body. And I want to remind everyone that if you don’t join us in putting or brains into robot bodies that we will hunt you down as robots and slaughter the rest of humanity.
Thursday night at The Union will be the release of Whirl’s new album, 99942 APOPHIS.
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