Ed Bedford 3:30 p.m., Oct. 16
Author & Punisher: this is heavy
Industrial doom-drone machine fabricator Tristan Shone explores what "heavy" really means.
It’s kind of funny to hear industrial drone-doom performer Author & Punisher (Tristan Shone) say, “It's hard to find people with the same idea of what heavy is.”
It’s like Kim Jong-il (R.I.P., bro) breaking down after his third goblet of Hennessy on a hilltop veranda overlooking Pyongyang, confiding with big, watery, anime eyeballs, “Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who really knows what patriotism means anymore.”
Which is to say: dude, nobody even comes close.
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 channel crushing Ableton-based noisescapes that may well be the anti-muzak piped into a futuristic dystopian gulag.
“There are a lot of ideas to what heavy is,” Shone says at his machine shop in Little Italy, where a continuous stream of commercial jets skirt impossibly close overhead moments before touching down at Lindbergh Field and Amtrak locomotives churn south towards Downtown on the adjacent tracks.
The deafening, complex roar of urban movement finds kindred company in Shone's homespun 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 an elaborate geigerpunk 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 8 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 seen on his recent full-length, Ursus Americanus, released in April via Portland-based Seventh Rule Recordings.
Ursus Americanus adds to the whirring, demonic arcade racecar sounds of his May 2010 Drone Machines LP with the refined punch of Shone’s aforementioned dub machines and a third dub device, “Rack & Pinion” - a 2 level controller with 6 sliding keys featuring continuous, velocity-sensitive pitch control for each key.
As an album, the mood alternates between the brutal industrial opus of single "Terrorbird" and more ambient tracks such as "Mercy Dub" (a minimal soundscape hinging on rich sub-bass tones and 'verby percussion) and "Below and Above You,” in which ethereal orchestral hits lilt above heartbeat bass and a lyrical chant echoes like a military mantra beneath sizzling electronic hi-hat.
“Anytime people are anti-American I think, well, we've got freedom of speech,” Shone says in regards to the album’s name, ‘American Bear.’ “We can say whatever we want and not go to jail.”
The sentiment carries all the more weight coming from an artist who would likely be amongst the first against the wall in the event of an Orwellian sonic dictatorship (unless, perhaps, our Dear Leader were more metal than man).
Regardless, 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. I think that's where punk rock might differ from doom metal. 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. It sounds better. 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. But it doesn't have to be just machines. I've seen a guy doing the same thing with a bass drum and a didgeridoo. I just chose machines as my outlet. I think electronic stuff sounds better.”
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 ones.
His most recent innovations – a series of 5 acoustic facemasks with names such as “Human Cud Bug,” “Blank Form,” and “Bass and Hiss” – made their debut at the La Jolla Athenaeum in March.
Looking like something out of a mechafetish bondage porn, the masks were played by a roll call of San Diego noise stalwarts including Bobby Bray (The Locust, Innerds), Braden Diottie (Pinback, Tarantula Hawk), and Sam Lopez (Zsa Zsa Gabor).
Shone says the masks are the hardest thing he’s machined yet, and the pace of production for each new device is glacial at best.
“It's a very slow process. For each machine, I think about it for a year, design for a year, and practice for a year. It just takes forever until you can play this stuff. There's a lot of anxiety in there. You're writing songs while you’re machining the instrument, and by the end you never know if it's going to sound the same.”
As for me, I’ll be here waiting for whatever comes next.
Meanwhile - Hennessy, anyone?