‘It’s hard to find people with the same idea of what heavy is,” says Tristan Shone, the industrial drone-doom one-man band Author & Punisher.
Drawing on his background in mechanical engineering and day job designing precision optical equipment at his alma mater — University of California, San Diego — Shone fabricates one-of-a-kind kinetic MIDI controllers that rely on force and momentum to create crushing Ableton-based noisescapes.
“There are a lot of ideas to what heavy is,” Shone says at his machine shop in Little Italy.
A stream of commercial jets skirt close overhead before touching down at Lindbergh Field. Amtrak locomotives churn south toward downtown.
The deafening, complex roar of urban movement finds kindred company in Shone’s homespun sound machines, which he prototypes on an automated wood router at the warehouse before taking his designs to metal.
“You can be really smart about the way you’re heavy or really cliché when you’re heavy. It’s not a one-liner.”
For Shone, that means climbing inside a futuristic apparatus made up of DIY “drone machines” with names such as “Throttles” (a dual-pitch controller with force feedback and autopilot capabilities) and “Rotary Encoder” (a 300-pound metal disc that controls pitch based on the speed at which it is manually rotated) along with his more recently actualized “dub machines,” including “Rails” (a manual rhythm controller that looks like a robotic arm) and “Headgear” (a faceplate containing eight isolated microphones).
A surreal mash-up of man and machine, Author & Punisher becomes more of a performance piece in endurance than your run-of-the-mill guy-punches-buttons routine.
“The drone machines are digital but analog in nature, like a hand tool or old machine-shop tools. They make more droning, slow, heavy movements. The dub machines were kind of a reaction to that and were made when I was learning to use automated fabrication machines. I wanted to have more dynamics. I like some elements of dub — not the commercial, over-the-top dubstep — but I wanted more dynamic, fast-paced bass with more articulation.”
The result can be heard on his recent full-length, Ursus Americanus, released in April via Portland-based Seventh Rule Recordings. The album, along with the video for single “Terrorbird” (which climaxes with Pinback guitarist Rob Crow spewing blood), have attracted a lot of attention in international blogs lately.
Despite the album’s diabolical temper, Shone says his music comes from a “very positive place.”
“I’m not a troubled human being. I don’t have any desire for pain and suffering. Doom metal is combining a feeling of devastation with a moment of emotional inspiration. It’s very positive. Either way, you give yourself to this overwhelming sound.”
Finding that sound has been a long process for Shone, who grew up playing piano and later performed as a solo metal act on guitar and loop pedals.
“With [the drone/dub] machines, using my whole body makes more sense. There’s music happening when I’m moving. That’s why I don’t use loops. Something may be spinning and there’s still sound, but when you just let go, everything stops. For me, it feels more organic, even though the music sounds inorganic. There’s a little bit of a paradox there.”
Despite his penchant for electronics, Shone claims he isn’t your typical “tech guy.”
“Most of my machines are like 1930s technology — bearings, rods, gears. It’s just taken so long for people to consider the physicality of music. The thing about button-pushing is you can only see it from the user’s perspective. So, the question is: how can electronics companies make the performance aspect more visible?”
In the meantime, Shone continues to refine his craft while inventing new machines.
His most recent innovations — a series of five acoustic facemasks with names such as “Human Cud Bag,” “Blank Form,” and “Bass and Hiss” — made their debut at the La Jolla Athenaeum in March.
Looking like something out of a mechafetish bondage film, the masks were played by a roll call of San Diego noise artists, including Bobby Bray (the Locust, Innerds), Braden Diottie (Pinback, Tarantula Hawk), and Sam Lopez (Zsa Zsa Gabor).
Shone is currently recording his next EP (Women & Children), filming a video that showcases his masks, and planning for a three-week UK/Euro tour next March. ■