Having worked with artists such as The Psychedelic Furs, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Cyndi Lauper, Knox Chandler is veering into a more experimental direction with his current project, Sound Ribbons / Tone Poems. With the Sound Ribbons / Tone Poems performances, Chandler creates highly original soundscapes and melodies by performing improvised guitar through heavy processing and looping. As there is no pre-recorded audio or sequencing, it’s all completely spontaneous, with the guitar and audio manipulation feeding off of and shaping each other. In the following email interview, Knox describes his approach and the tools used for the project.
How long have you been doing the Sound Ribbons / Tone Poems project? What were the initial inspirations for it?
I’ve been working on Sound Ribbons/ Tone Poems for the past two years. I moved to Berlin two and a half years ago to start a project with Budgie. We got interrupted by life stuff so I set out to design a solo project. However, I’ve been dabbling with similar ideas going back to the early seventies; experimenting with my dad’s reel to reel Tandberg, playing my shortwave radio through a wah-wah and later experimenting with looping inside cassette tapes. I was doing solo performances using a repeater, H3000 and a tc 2290 but decided to change my approach when I moved to Berlin. I began dabbling in Max MSP (i still do) but I needed to quickly work across several platforms so I that’s why I went the direction I did.
The inspiration came a lot from the technology that is available today. When Budgie and I took a pause I got very involved with Ableton. From that came class compliant iPads, apps and third party plug ins. My musical inspiration is endless. I do have to say that Hendrix has been at the top of my early inspiration list. Not so much of his songs and playing but more of what he experimented with sounds and tape manipulation. I studied contemporary classical and improvisational music in college and there I was exposed to a lot inspirational music that brought me to this project.
Could you describe the process behind it, in terms of creative approach and the equipment/software that you use?
Sound Ribbons are timeless soundscapes that can stand alone and/or wrap an object. Tone Poems are melodies that are deconstructed and improvised with, but not in a standard “song like” format; they are very simple, leaving Sound Ribbons to juxtapose with a less than obvious soundscape. Sound Ribbons/ Tone Poems are realtime performances without any pre existing audio. This opens up to the process of improvising with the effects. I shape my idea/ composition by manipulating electronics.
A piece may often start with creating an environment out of the processing I’m using. I use Ableton Live/ Max Live as a mixer/ rack mount. Within the page I have one channel that is designated for guitar etc. and that strip has at least 6 sends. The other channel is for my iPads and that also has numerous sends. In the sends I’m using loopers as well as other third party plugins; Soundhack, Sugarbytes, Waves, Camel Audio, Lexicon, Max, Sound Toys to name a few.
On my iPad I use Yellofier, Grainhoc, IDensity, Samplr, Turnado, Donut etc..
My iPad is hooked up to a RME Babyface running class compliant mode. This is plugged into my RME UCX. It is then routed so the output of the guitar track is the input of the iPad and both are fed to the main output. Sometimes I’ll use some stomp boxes pre computer. Again, the whole concept is no pre existing audio. Everything is on the fly. I also use an iPad running Lemur wi-fi to control parameters on certain plug-ins.
Are there any ways that the tools dictate the process, perhaps taking the final compositions/sounds in directions you may not have imagined otherwise?
All the time. When I’m creating an environment using so many different effects the combination always surprises me. I have a sound in my head and I know how I can get it. I start the process, then the sound takes on its own life and the beauty of technology takes over. This is when it really works for me. Why it’s taken so long to create this (two years)? It’s because of the endless recording and listening to the pieces. Learning the language of the different software can be time consuming especially when combining several apps and plugins.
Since the performances are improvisational in nature, how do you prepare? Do you have ‘starting points’ prepared in advance?
I really don’t prepare much. I make sure I have an Ableton song page up for my live setup that is functioning and the iPad Apps are running. Musically it’s all contingent on the room I’m playing and how I’m feeling. Yes I have tone poems in my head but the set is always improvised. This the beauty of it. For me, being too prepared takes away from the magic that can happen. I need to get lost in it and hope the audience does too.
I checked out the ‘Knox and Budgie’ music on your site. Do you consider this part of Sound Ribbons / Tone Poems? How extensively do you collaborate with Budgie?
I do consider it part of Sound Ribbons/ Tone Poems but with a different aesthetic. Budgie has a very earthy sound. Almost tribal. He also creates melodies with his drums that influence what I’m doing, yet I’m still wrapping us with sound and improvising with tone poems. Sometimes the poems are coming from his drum melodies.
Budgie and get together as often as we can. I see him a lot and there is quite a bit of conversing about the music. When we get into the studio together to play it is effortless. We have a strong musical connection. We always have from the start; from Siouxsie and the Banshees (21 years ago) to all the projects leading up to today. We have a deep connection and a wonderful time collaborating.
Have you worked with other musicians on Sound Ribbons / Tone Poems performances?
Yes I have. Eric Mingus and I are starting up a duo project. He was just in Berlin and we did some recording. He’s an amazing artist! Brian Jackson is another fantastic artist that I’ve brought SR/TP to. Miss Kenichi and I are presently writing together in which SR/TP plays a huge role. I’ve also brought the project to some dance guys, Portable and Tyler Pope. Then there is “bug.” A band with Mark Plati, Doug Yowell and Budgie. We are just starting to gig.
The whole idea is that SR/TP can work in any genre or it can stand alone. So far it really works.
I know you’ve posted tracks on Soundcloud, but do you think you’ll do any album release with this? Or do you see it as mainly a live project?
There will definitely be a cd release hopefully of all the projects I’m working on. Whether I do it myself or go with a company is yet to be decided. I am presently recording all the time and researching how to get the project/projects out there; recordings and live performances. The thought of a label that “gets it” sounds appetizing to me.
Having worked with quite a few different artists, are there any that you feel had a strong influence/impact on your own creative work?
They all do. I’ve had the luxury of working with a great amount of very different artists. All of them I’ve come away with something. One person who really had an impact on me is Tricky. I did a session with him in ’96 maybe ’97 where he exposed me to a whole other, quite creative way of using a sampler. I got to the studio on time and start to get set up. We were waiting for the amps to arrive when Tricky came in. He was excited and wanted to start. So I plugged in direct and just started playing this fucked up riff through a reverse gate and one of my tc 2290 presets. He said that’s it! He had recorded it and I was done. Not even ten minutes of work. He was paying me for the day. He wanted me to stick around so I sat there and watched the man, and his magic with a sampler, create a wonderful environment from scratch. I was there for about 12 hours watching and listening. The next day I bought my first sampler and began a whole new direction in my sound.
What’s in the immediate future for you? Do you have any other projects coming up?
I’m doing a handful of solo shows and beginning to look for a label and touring situation. The same goes for “Knox and Budgie”, “bug.” and Eric Mingus.
All of this is new! Really, the past two years I have been isolating in Berlin and creating Sound Ribbons/Tone Poems. Now I’m confident and ready to get it out there.
For more info Knox, be sure to visit knoxchandler.com