Californian producers Eddie Ruscha and Scott Gilmore's love of old synthesizers and analog drum machines spawned their new collaborative project Doctor Fluorescent.
An avatar for their musical explorations, Doctor Fluorescent uses his electronic gadgets and musical instruments to transmit his new ideas into the world, with the indespensible help of his two assistants Eddie and Scott.
Individually the pair have released music on reputable labels like Beats in Space, RVNG Intl, Emotional Response, DFA and Stones Throw, and this new album of experiment indie pop and wild modular experiments is no different, finding its place on Belgian label Crammed Discs.
Here they pick each other's brains about favourite bands, pathways into music and their mutual love of synthesis...
Scott: What was the first synthesizer you bought? And do you still use it in your music?
Eddie: The fist synth I got was a Roland SH101. My parents rented it for me. I could hardly figure it out but it was red and looked amazing. I was into DEVO and all that so I knew I needed a synth. Years later I got a blue one and it remains a favorite.
Scott: In what ways has your process of making music changed over the years?
Eddie: I think certain things stay the same. The exploration aspect. Time helps you open up to instruments and sounds you may not have liked in the past. Gated reverb snares come to mind or even smooth Pat Metheny style sounds. Those were things in the 90s that would have been taboo. Also making the jump to computer from tape was huge. I would always dream of some kind of editing situation where you could loop things when you wanted etc. and it basically came true.
Scott: When did you first start getting interested in electronic music? What groups were you listening to?
Eddie: DEVO and Talking Heads, Kraftwerk for sure but also The Residents were a huge influence as a kid. I loved that you couldn’t really tell what was synthesized or what was acoustic. The first Depeche Mode record was so unapologetically electronic. I remember disco like 'I Feel Love' and 'Funkytown' and also Pop Music by M blowing my mind as a kid. Even Stevie Wonder and David Bowie. Seems like electronic sounds were always around for me. I was definitely drawn to the otherworldly quality.
Scott: What is the best concert you’ve been to?
Eddie: Wow. Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense tour. I saw Fela Kuti in 1990. I also saw Sun Ra at a country bar in the valley. But the best? Maybe the Bad Brains.
Scott: Being an LA native and having been involved in the music scene for some time, in what ways has the underground music scene changed in LA?
Eddie: There’s a lot more people doing things here now but there’s also the internet which grants you immediate knowledge and access. Does that make people take things for granted? Back in the day you had a club like space land and everybody went and knew each other to some extent. At that time you needed that. That’s where you met friends and learned about music. From what I see online, I would say the underground here is strong as ever.
Scott: Did you ever consider another path, or were you always certain that you wanted to be involved in the arts?
Eddie: I always knew I would be in the arts. I always drew. I always listened to music. I think at one point when I was a kid I wanted to be a movie director. I wanted to make science fiction horror films. As I grew up music started to take over but I still always made art. I went to art school and took classes in art, music and experimental animation.
Scott: When did you decide to start developing a home studio and to begin producing your own records? Was there a specific catalyst for this decision?
Eddie: I got a 4 track in high school and I just went full in. I had a drum machine, a boss analog delay pedal and a bass. It kinda just kept growing over the years. I’ve always been partial to demo recordings of bands or home recorded sounds so it just felt normal.
Scott: Is there one synthesizer in your studio that always seems to make its way onto your records? If so, what is it about that one synth that you’re so attracted to?
Eddie: It kind of always changes. I guess the ones I would never get rid of are the ARP 2600 and the Yamaha CS60. I find in the end they have this very natural sound that is getting harder to replicate even with all the amazing new synths coming out. The Korg MS20 and the Roland SH101 are insanely handy so you need those nearby for sure.
Scott: What groups have you been listening to lately? What do you like about them?
Eddie: My friend Misha from Perks and Mini played me this amazing record by Deux Filles so I delved into that stuff a lot. They are these two cross dressing soundtrack composers who make these mysterious records on par with Woo. I like music that can almost be like a puzzle or mystery and this stuff is perfect. There’s so many incredible labels putting out great lost stuff like Seance Center, Stroom and Music From Memory so that’s enough to to keep anyone going for a long time.
Scott: Being that you also work as a visual artist, when you approach a new song, do you ever approach it from a visual perspective? Is there ever a specific visual image that you’re working towards trying to capture in sound?
Eddie: For me the visual aspect starts to form after or during making music but many times it may not ever form at all for me. I find a great thing about music is that it exists in its own realm. You can picture some guy smoking a joint and closing his eyes with headphones on listening to Pink Floyd. He’s probably picturing vistas with shifting landscapes and flying dragons. Maybe I don’t close my eyes enough?
Eddie: What are your earliest memories of music affecting you in a profound way?
Scott: I always loved music growing up. I would listen to it all the time, and I would play the guitar for hours as a kid. I have a lot of memories of being totally absorbed by music, but I wouldn’t call them profound experiences. It wasn’t until I started recording music more seriously that I actually experienced something directly in relation to music that I could call profound. It’s a rare feeling, and it lasts very briefly, but I’ve sometimes felt a sense of profound joy after finishing something that I’ve struggled over.
Eddie: When did you begin to take being a musician seriously and how did that happen?
Scott: I’ve always wanted to be a good musician, and for most of my life I was always working toward that. There was a period of time in my 20s when I stopped taking music seriously, and I spent a few years pursuing other things. I had all of these doubts about myself and my music and I didn’t believe it was worthwhile to record anymore. I was lying to myself and trying to maintain this conviction that I didn’t want to be a musician. It wasn’t until a very close friend of mine was able to see that, and she helped me to realize that I was lying to myself. Then I started recording again and I made “Volume 01.”
Eddie: Is there a particular instrument that you really relate to or do you relate to them all in a similar way?
Scott: I relate to all the instruments I play in different ways, but I wouldn’t say I relate to one more than another. I get very different results depending on what instrument I use to start a song with. Even though I’ve been playing guitar longer than keyboards, I still approach the guitar with a sense of mystery. I like to make different shapes with my fingers and see how it sounds. I like to not know what key I’m playing in or what chord. I use a similar approach with the keyboard, in that I always try to put music theory out of my mind. On the keys I understand chord voicings more fluidly and it’s easier to visualize harmonies.
Eddie: Synthesizers are inherently suited for chance occurrences. How often do you work with chance in your music?
Scott: Very often. Though It’s not a synthesizer, most frequently I use the MPC1000 as a way to work with chance. I use the MPC to sequence the chord changes of a synth. It can work as a sort of looper that loops the midi messages sent from a keyboard. I’ll start a pattern on the MPC and randomly, without any consideration of what the song may end up being, I play a sequence of chords. Then I make another sequence, and another, etc… I can then cycle through the patterns and find a unique way to fit them all together. It’s a helpful way to get out my own head. That initial process gets things rolling and I can then riff off of what is happening and attempt to make sense of it.
Eddie: I know a few of your early releases were on reel to reel tape. The Tascam 388. What is the quality you find appealing working with tape? Is it sound or the limitations or something else?
Scott: With the computer it is so easy to get lost in endless possibilities, I’ll often end up with so many different versions of a song. In some ways it allows me to try out ideas and arrive at something that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Sometimes though I lose touch with the original idea of what the song really was and it can be hard to find my way back to it. With tape, trying out endless possibilities isn’t so easy. This forces me to commit to ideas in the moment. That limitation is definitely appealing. I think that it can help to finish things quickly and not draw out the process. The 388 also has a mixing board built in, so when I use it, that’s the EQ I have to work with, which I think helps the final sound to become cohesive. On the computer you can combine so many different sounds. There are virtually limitless variations of effects and ways to process the sound, so it can be challenging to bring it all together in the end.
Eddie: How do you feel that the computer has changed music?
Scott: I feel like the music I’m making now could be made without a computer. It’s possible, but it would be extremely difficult. Since I’m drawn to making songs with a lot of tracks, and I like layering sounds a lot, to make it without a computer would involve a lot of foresight. The process of trial and error is a lot more forgiving with a computer than with tape.
Eddie: You have quite a bit of knowledge of music theory, at least compared to me. How much training did you have compared to self-teaching?
Scott: I studied music theory in college, and I learned a lot about tonal music theory – mostly through the process of writing four part harmonies. I studied guitar for ten years and also classical piano for a few years in my mid-twenties. In relation to my practice of making music, I feel very much self-taught. I still feel lost in the woods, in regard to engineering, production, or song writing. When coming up with a part for a song, I consciously ignore music theory. I don’t like to write songs that follow some formula, which I think can be a trap if one buys into the dogma of a “proper” chord change. I think that the benefit of being self-taught in the arts is that it instills in the individual the necessity to invent their own way of doing things. However, having learned the skill of playing an instrument definitely helps me when it comes to being a one-man band in the studio. I can record the parts quickly without having to struggle too long to get the right take, which allows me to use most of my focus on the engineering and production aspects of the process.
Eddie: How often do you start a piece of music from a melody that comes into your head as opposed to sitting at an instrument and seeing what comes out?
Scott: Very rarely. Sometimes I’ll hear a melody or a song in a dream and I’ll try to mumble it out onto a voice memo when I wake up, but it’s rare that I’ve been able to fully actualize a song that came to me in that way. I most always work with the process of sitting with an instrument and seeing what happens. Eddie: You have a Serge synthesizer. Tell me about it and how you tend to use it in your music Scott: I’ve had the Serge for a few years now and I still feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it’s capable of doing. I usually use it for keyboard leads, bass lines, or as a way to process audio. I like to send tracks (guitar, keyboard, drums, etc.) out of the computer and run them through a filter modulated by a sequencer, or an ADSR.
Eddie: What would you tell a kid who says he likes playing music?
Scott: I would ask them what kind of music they like to play. There are so many different ways of being a musician. If they were into rock music or electronic music, and showed some interest in writing their own stuff, I would encourage them to get a 4 track tape machine and experiment with recording on it. But to some, being a musician is strictly performing it, for example in classical. When I was a kid my guitar teacher asked me what I wanted to learn and we learned everything by ear. I think the way I was taught guitar has made all aspects of music feel pretty approachable to me. So if a kid were interested in music that wasn’t classical, I would encourage them to learn by ear as much as possible.
Buy Doctor Fluorescent HERE.
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