For many, the machines we use to create music are more than just a means to an end. Not just a way of translating ideas from synapse to speaker, machines can become an inspiration in their own right. They can become an integral part of an artist’s identity and this is is definitely the case for this week’s interviewee. Hailing from Chicago, TB Arthur has come to prominence with his brand of machine led music on his own label and also with releases on Steve Mizek’s Argot, which is where I first picked up on him. His sound is vigorously individualistic but also deeply rooted in the classic pieces of gear that are enshrined dance music history and have such an affinity with his home town. For the next installment of Creative Technology? I caught up with TB Arthur to find out how he relates to his machines, the oral tradition of learning to use gear, and to pick away at what makes this thing called acid so compelling 30 odd years after its conception.
What is your relationship to your studio, and the equipment you use? Just from your name I can tell that this is pretty important to your identity.
Hahaha! Yes, I do use a lot of 'psychedelic relics' insofar as equipment from back in the day, it's how I learned to produce and those machines are in my musical vocabulary. When I was in Japan I also got an invitation to visit Roland, which of course was an honor for me. I still mix to analog tape believe it or not. It just adds that extra magic, and the tracks are performed live, aside from Roland classics like the System 100m, a TOFT ATB analog mixing desk is also part of the live recording process. You can never have enough FX sends :)
Describe how you felt when you first encountered music machines? Was it love at first sight or an uphill struggle?
It was a struggle totally, I mean it's amazing you can look at a YouTube video now to learn how to program a TB 303. Back in the 90s that was a trial and error process or you had a friend who knew what was up and showed you how the hell to do it right. Almost like an oral storytelling tradition, legends were passed on verbally.
Is acid, as a genre, entirely focused on the power, excitement and creativity contained within a certain set of machines and the effects of those machines on people’s bodies - or can it go beyond and express more than that? Does it even need to?
I'm probably the worst person to ask about acid because back in the day people thought my tracks were too weird or didn't sound like they should insofar as what defined the genre then. But it has always been important to me that each producer should have their own style and fingerprints, to develop their own voice. However it looks like in the end, that is the pursuit - the weird or the wonderful, and hopefully a combination of both. With dance music though, it has to move a community of people on the dancefloor though, that's a given, there needs to be pure physicality in the size and impact of the sounds on how people move and react, the groove is so key to whatever magic can be conjured sonically. And well, I love psychedelic music too, so that plays a part in what I do. In that these elements just all come out when I'm creating.
The real trick for me has been to not get in the way of my own creativity and to accept what I sound like, who I am, and develop from there.
Do you have a particular love/hate relationship with any specific piece of gear?
Yes, modern modular synths. Hahaha! So many choices of modules, so many possibilities and you have to find the sound that is right for you, as well as what exactly you want to build as an instrument. I love it though, and accept that pain. I use a modular live too, you can peep it in that Dommune video link I sent. Was fun to put together but... OMG!
Do you look for happy accidents, and using pieces of equipment in unintended ways, or are you using your gear in a precise manner to realise an idea?
For me making music is very exploratory and at the less fruitful of times a meditative process, where it's pure learning and discovery. But I believe those experiences add up, overtime you learn your instruments and that when inspiration really hit. You are ready to perform.
Visit TB Arthur on Bandcamp HERE.