Interview with Tadoma – the Field Notes EPPosted: April 19, 2010
Hailing from Philadelphia, Tadoma‘s Joe Patitucci has been quietly brewing his beautifully detuned instrumental tinctures for some time. His new EP Field Notes is out on Secret Station records, so I decided to ask him about this amazing new release, his musical process, and his thoughts on music these days.
Red Raleigh by Tadoma
V: It seems like you are part of a really lively scene of musicians in Philly, care to wax philosophically about that?
T: I’ve been in bands and going to shows in this town for years. I guess, over time you develop best friends around personalities and common interests. There’s a tongue in cheek nickname for this place… Psychedelphia. There’s definitely a good amount of people into some spaced out stuff and for the most part those seem to be the people that are my best friends. We’re all involved in music in some way be it playing in bands, djing, blogging, engineering or just culture hunting. When it comes down to it, we just love music, love feeling inspired and love sharing.
V: I’ve noticed a more than passing interest in 70s-era Canadiana in yourself and others (there is no doubt Boards of Canada were into the NFB). Here in Canada people our age definitely have a fond sense of nostalgia for that period, but what about it is so fascinating to you?
T: One thing I think Canadians might not realize is that here in the States, we got a good amount of Canadian programs on our public stations. So I grew up in the early 80s hearing the same monophonic synth lines you did, just maybe a couple years later. We also had our own shows too that had a similar feel. Something really beautiful was going on at that time that’s stayed with me until this day. Two years ago, I stumbled upon this YouTube clip with the intro and outro screens from this show, “Thinkabout” produced by the Agency for Instructional Technology (out of Virginia). The main melody in that theme had been stuck in my head for decades but I never knew what it was from. I remember sitting down a few years ago and playing it on my SK1 thinking it must have actually been my idea. Then I came across the YouTube clip and it totally changed my life. It was like I flashed back to being in my crib in a room where my dad just left the TV tuned to PBS. It was a totally insane verging on past-life experience. So, yeah, I’d say I’ve been really influenced by that feel just because it was such an ubiquitous part of my life when i was first learning to be a human.
V: What interests you so much about found sounds, field recordings etc? How do you like to use samples?
T: Well, there are a couple answers to this. One is that I don’t like singing but I feel like sometimes music needs a narrative beyond melody. The other answer is that field recordings and found sounds are something I enjoy making/collecting and they inspire me to make music when I listen to them. I can hear a place, visualize it and then come up with a melody that plays off the wind or some other sound artifact within the recording. For me, it’s a much more natural way to make music than to start from, “I’ve got something to say, now let’s put music to it.”
V: What do you think about when you work on tunes, what’s the overarching feeling or imagery you’re after?
T: Honestly, it’s a little different every time. I feel like a lot of times I don’t find out what I’m feeling until after I’ve already started recording something. Then I use that feeling I’ve discovered to inform where I go from there. On Field Notes, I guess the feelings I discovered were the senses of being alone in very specific places. Then each one of those places blurs into a new place and new experience with time. The transitions from track to track just kind of happen the way experiences transition from moment to moment… seamlessly.
V: A lot of the songs on the new EP are names of places. Tell me a little about that.
T: Well, for about 5 years I was really obsessive about bringing my minidisk player everywhere I went and recording every little sound (to the annoyance of anyone I traveled with, I’m sure). Some of the names of the tracks come from the places the sounds were recorded or an object I though essential to those places. Other tracks are the names of imaginary places I found in the process of recording. It’s all a part of the process of learning and completing the digestion of experiences.
V: Do you often rock out when you are making tracks, and then when they’re done and you sit back to listen you realize they are super mellow and blissed out?
T: Haha. This question is amazing. I’m usually pretty mesmerized by the feeling of space or place that I get when I’m working on music. I like to turn off the internet and all clocks and phones, drink tea and stay up all night working. It’s a great feeling. I feel like the music is pretty in touch with my personality, which is for the most part, relaxed but full of lots of little ideas. One surprise I had was when I was doing a final listen of the EP before sending it to get pressed. I was laying on the floor on a yoga mat, Plaza came on and all of the sudden it hit me. Holy shit, this is the loneliest piece of music ever. Total epic Koyannisqatsiesque loneliness. I kinda love it.
V: Who are some of the bands you are into or would love to play with lately?
T: Been listening a lot to Junk Culture‘s EP, West Coast. The title track reminds me of lo-fi Seefeel or something. Totally hypnotic post-techno amazingness. Most addictive thing I’ve found in a long time. For about two years, I’ve also had a sort of obsession with an album called Lemurian by this guy called Lone out of the UK. He does this slowed down warped out funk hip-hop weirdness. Pretty amazing producer. He could take a Cameo track and make it sound like a sylvan acid trip. My other favorite is a friend of mine who goes by Ray and the Prisms. He has an EP called Timelapse in Colour that I fully expect to explode when it comes out. Sounds like if Delia Derbyshire joined Cornelius or something. The music of a post-ironic analog visionary.
In terms of bands I’d love to play with, one of them I’m playing with next week. I’m pretty psyched to play with Dosh because his style of live performance definitely inspired me. It’s nice to see that one person can pull off a live performance of multi-instrumental music without having to rely on backing tracks. He does it all straight-up with just looping pedals. I utilize a computer for my own live looping, but I really try to be honest about it by actually playing everything live so people can see how a piece can be built up and fold into a new track. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen bands playing music using Ableton Live basically as an iPod. That’s a no-no in my book. If you’re going to play live, do what you can with what you have. No iPods, please, unless you’re Dan Deacon. He’s not trying to fool anyone, just have a great time. Another band I hope to play with is Off the International Radar. You guys are seriously one of my favorite bands to see live and put on a really transformative show. I feel great after every time I see you guys. Fingers crossed we can get you down in the states. Oh, one more… Javelin. They’re just unfuckwithable good.
V: You have put together your own studio. Are you a perfectionist, a DIY punker get-er-done kinda guy, what’s your approach?
T: I’m somewhere in there. In terms of workspace and ergonomics, I’m more of a perfectionist. I have everything set up so I can stand in one spot and have access to everything I need to make music. In terms of sound I guess I’m a little more DIY. I’m not as concerned with everything sounding clean as I am about it sounding honest. Maybe some day honest will be clean, but for now, honest is having things a little bit messed up.
V: Nowadays being able to create and produce music is readily in the hands of anyone who wants to. What are your thoughts on the state of creating and disseminating music right now?
T: On creating, I’d say use what you have, put it out there and go for it. Don’t get caught up in gear, just do. I’ve seen some write ups of my stuff where people talk about the warm synths I use. That “warm synth” is a $20 SK1 toy sampling keyboard. I probably won’t be buying any warm synths anytime soon because by the time I can afford one, they probably won’t be cool anymore. So yeah, make music from whatever, be it splicing VHS tapes together with bubblegum or however you’re feeling it. Then send it to me because that sounds like an awesome idea.
On disseminating, people need to stop creating things that aren’t needed. I’m not saying bad music. I’m saying packaging. We live in a time where a physical product isn’t necessary unless that physical product is a true work of art beyond the music. A physical item, vinyl or CD (please no more CDs!) shouldn’t be pressed until it’s proven that there’s a demand. Most of the time the physical product is just packaging, which is useless because all the packaging I need is a little phone I carry around in my pocket. It’s easy for people to distribute their own music via their website virtually free these days. I think that’s what’s happening. We’re going to start having labels that don’t spend any money on a physical product until digital sales can pay for the pressing of an object. It’s the only smart thing to do rather than having bands and labels take on debt for something that may or may not sell. There’s no excuse for that other than to re-affirm one’s ego with a pile of products which all seems cool until those products are warped in a basement 10 years later. I’ve heard the stories, and for every success (even small scale) there are at least 50 failures. The failure isn’t necessarily that the music is bad but that the packaging is unnecessary. Did I mention you should buy my CD at www.secretstationrecords.com? It’s also available on digital download, but there are only like 20 CDs left, so you should all buy them (along with some other Secret Station albums) with the pledge that you’ll never buy a CD again.
V: In your description of Ray and the Prisms you call him a “post-ironic analog visionary”. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of irony in our culture and music, and even of an “end of irony”. It seems to me that lately (at least in T.O.) that people are enthusiastically embracing genres of all kinds, genuinely into the music and not because it’s necessarily something that’s popular. I feel like this is the coming of age for the first generation of the internet, where the idea of popular culture has less importance, or is at least different than in the past . The result is perhaps a new enthusiasm for genres that may even have become stale before. What do you think of all that?
T: Irony has progressed a lot in the last 10-15 years from David Cross’ satirical sketches on Mr. Show to “so bad it’s good” one-off art project bands. Irony still goes strong with Youtube sites like everythingisterrible.com and stuff like that but at the same time there’s always something a new generation will find of value in what’s discarded by people that came before them and we’re getting to a point where there’s a generation that’s been removed historically enough from some of the things we took for granted that it allows them to appreciate them on their own terms. It’s a cycle that happens all the time, the only difference is that this time I think the culture of irony was embracing what was thought to be bad as a joke simultaneously as younger kids are reinventing it.
Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon arranged for NES by Brad Smith
Also, in terms of fashion, there’s a whole age group that was wearing kind of outrageous clothes as a kind of inside joke, but those kids became famous for being in cool bands and what not and now the ones that were in highschool listening to those bands dress like that because that’s what they know as cool. It’s the age of post-irony because people are being influenced by music that was produced as ironic and the music is standing on its own rather than juxtaposing itself to something that nostalgic and borderline cheezy. People are into Plastic Little and stuff like that because in a way it has elements of that self-conscious “so bad it’s good” vibe. That’s what they’re going for. They’re defining themselves by doing something they know is intentionally borderline silly, but it comes with a mutual understanding of common ground with the audience beyond the music. But then you have Ariel Pink on the other side, who is making some of the most beautiful smooth rock songs I’ve ever heard. Is it ironic? It’s hard to tell. Maybe there’s a little humor in there but when it comes down to it, he’s writing some really fucking good songs.
V: Ariel Pink is a good point. It seems like the thin edge of the wedge where irony ends and embracing the idea begins. It’s sometimes hard to tell, but I don’t think he’s being ironic, I feel he genuinely loves making that music. More inspired by it than making fun of it (or having fun with it). Very akin to the some of the music Ween was making almost 20 years ago, for example. Tongue in cheek sometimes but still taking itself seriously.
T: He also has a real respect for the legacy of showsmanship that had been missing from music for a while.
Round and Round by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
V: What’s up next for Tadoma?
T: Right now, I have some shows scheduled for Philadelphia and the Midwestern US. When I get back from that I’m going to work on wrapping up my next release, Cosmic Trails before doing some East coast dates in the Summer. The grand plan is to have two more releases out by the end of 2010 and play out as much as I can fit it in. There are also some plans in the works for creating a economically/ecologically sustainable record label too, but that’s totally secret. 🙂