Friday, October 10, 2008

Band of the Week

Escape Mechanism

"We're going to see some real changes.."
As the infamous guitar riff from King Missile's "Detachable Penis" echos and repeats in the background, the first album from Minnesota's Escape Mechanism in ten years begins. What follows is an intricately assembled sound collage that calls for change, not just a change in listening habits, but a genuine cultural change. The samples and audio that Jonathan Nelson selects paint a series of pictures about the state of society, but at the same time can make you move your feet. (Emphasis Added), which was released on Sept. 29th, is the ultimate journey into sound, and every time you listen you find something new.

The man behind Escape Mechanism is Jonathan Nelson who also hosts the national syndication radio show Some Assembly Required (which can be heard locally on 88.1 WLTL overnights). For the last ten years he has been an advocate for artists working with the creative reinterpretation of bits and pieces of previously recorded work. He has interviewed artists the likes of Christian Marclay, DJ Spooky, Steinski, DJ Food, Girl Talk, Mr. Dibbs, Steve Fisk, and more. Proving that he doesn't just experiment with sound, but he studies sound and those who have mastered it. He released his self-titled debut in 1998, which just like (Emphasis Added), was created by utilizing 100% recycled material, and each piece was placed in exactly the right spot.

Recently, Jonathan was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): This is your first studio album in ten years. Why did you feel the need to release something now?
Jonathan Nelson (JN): I've actually been trying to get this record finished for the past year or more, but I've got a pretty hectic schedule with my radio show and "real life" getting in the way. I think I was motivated to get it done before the radio program celebrates its tenth anniversary this January...

OA: From track one to track 16, this album is a call for change. Be it in our way of thinking, consuming, voting, or simply listening, do you feel listeners will be receptive to this message? It's amazing how fitting a line like "If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll get more of what you got" sounds today, in light of all that has happened in the last few weeks.
JN: The opening track is a call to action both politically and personally, for anyone who is on the fence, feeling like things could be better, but not knowing if they can find the courage to try something different. It's intended to be encouraging, in that way. There's always a new way of looking at things, if you use your imagination.

OA: I have always been interesting in sound collage, and a while back I asked Hank Hofler of Oh Astro about copyright issues and found out that he clears nothing with the source artists. Have you cleared any of the material on (Emphasis Added)? If not, why wouldn't you need to clear these samples with say Suzanne Vega, for example?
JN: You might say this album is an act of faith that our country's legal system would choose to defend the creative act, over the micro management of every single sound byte ever recorded. I choose to feel confident, as the concept of copyright was originally established in order to Promote creativity, not stifle it. Beyond that (and really, I could go on and on for pages, but it would be really, really boring), I just choose not to think about the legalities, and focus on being creative.

OA: As Some Assembly Required approaches its 10 year anniversary what are your thoughts on the last ten years, and what does the future hold for SAR?
JN: I'm really just very proud to have been able to keep the program going as long as it has, exposing a lot of people to a lot of really creative, off the radar type of stuff. If I can keep doing this for even just a little while longer, I'll feel like it was a grand success. I just hope to be able to continue to keep interviewing interesting collage artists and sharing their work, for at least as long as I'm interested in creating my own new sound collage.

OA: You spent some time here in Chicago at Columbia. What was experience like at Columbia and in Chicago in general?
JN: Well, I remember it all very romantically, actually, which probably goes hand in hand with being 21 and on your own in the big city. I originally enrolled at Columbia College to study photography but got sucked into Production for Radio courses, to pursue my interest in creating sound collage. I started working on the first record while employed at the Music Box Theater, on Southport, and a little restaurant just down the street from there. I have such fond memories in that neighborhood, actually. In reality, I was really just all alone, attending classes and trying to make ends meet, spending any free time I had in studio, stringing sounds together. A lot of things have changed, but I'm still in the studio way more often than not.

OA: What's next for Jonathan Nelson and Escape Mechanism?
JN: Well, I've got a solo art show in Louisiana in October. I've been working visually for about as long as I've been mixing. I've been working on a new studio album for a little while now, too, mostly just figuring out the details. I'd like to start working on that, in earnest, in 2009. It's a pretty new direction for Escape Mechanism, but still 100% recycled. I'm excited to start working on it, actually.

Bonus Questions:
OA: Coffee? If yes, where can you find the best cup in Minneapolis?
JN: I used to have a pretty serious addiction to caffeine, so I try to keep it to a minimum these days. My favorite coffee shop in Minneapolis is called Anodyne. It's a great neighborhood cafe, and it's right across the street from one of the Twin Cities few remaining indie record stores, Roadrunner Records, so you can't beat that.

OA: What was the last great book you have read?
JN: Charles Schultz' Biography was a really meaty read. I love getting into the minds of artists I admire, whether they're writing comic strips, making movies or creating sound collage...

OA: What program do you use to compile your pieces?
JN: I've been using a program called Deck, since about 1996. I've used more sophisticated applications like Pro Tools, but I keep going back to the more simple programs. My sound work is really visual, in a way - I'm just cutting sounds the way you would imagery from photographs, and pasting them together the way you would with any collage. Basic editing is really all I need, so I like to keep it simple... I've found that limiting yourself in specific, deliberate ways can sometimes lead to some interesting results, and I like to keep it low-tech, too.

For more information on Escape Mechanism and to order a copy of (Emphasis Added) please visit Jonathan's website.

No comments: