Daedalus, a.k.a. Alfred Darlington, is an electronic musician in Cali who doesn’t ask for much. Get on board and kick his jams, or sit down with your music history book and puzzle it out. Either way, he’ll make his records and be happy – whether it’s crafting with Busdriver, playing with his “secret weapon” or imagining Acen and Thurston Moore realize the score of the original “Willy Wonka” (with an interlude by Charles Mingus, naturally). Staff Writer Jack Hanlon talked to him about, well, a little bit of everything.
SSv: First of all, on kind of an influences level, with the mixture of your definite sense of rhythm that suggests a fondness of funk and your sense for more strange electronic constructs that sound more like a Stockhausen and Subotnick kind of thing, where do you find your music comes from?
Daedalus: In the world of electronic music there are a lot of routes people take to come to compositional ends, songs. I like the different ideas between synthesis and sampling, some people are more sequencers or trackers. Sometimes the technology leads the way in the compositional process, sometimes people are taking very traditional routes and finding ways that are pushing and pulling material into the electronic realm. I like all the aspects I guess. I try to mime each and every one even though at the end of the day I think I would be more into the sampling camp.
Plenty of people will take your Dr. Dre or Danger Mouse and stuff and sample lots of material, cut and paste it together, and they have people totally replay their kind of original compositions, so it leaves the realms of sampling which I think is interesting but a bit of a shame because sampling does have the unique possibility of both being a political act and a musical act. Which is something I like to think about, you know with the copyright laws being everything that they are.
In terms of when I’m getting to sampling, I like to not say no to anything off the bat; there are plenty of people who sample and like to focus on the golden era of funk and ’70s or they like to think about psychedelic music of the late ’60s. They focus on those periods to maybe mime the authenticity of it, and I’m coming from a perspective there should be no limit basically, but some people sample things precisely for those reasons: they will sample something because it’s something that was good and they want to mime that cliché aspect. I think it happens quite a bit nowadays in the world of mash up music.
SSv: But like [T.S.] Eliot said, “Good poets borrow, great poets steal.”
Daedalus: That’s absolutely the case. What becomes interesting is that music is made for a wide audience. Not like fine art or literature where you are thinking of a small audience that has prior knowledge. Without that prior knowledge of where the music came from, okay say someone samples Pet Sounds, which a lot of people put as being the ultimate composition…
SSv: Certainly a transcendent record…
Daedalus: Exactly. And people are sampling it for precisely those reasons. Then there are plenty of audiences that don’t know what sampling is. Which is kind of the beauty of the form. The wilderness is still wild. Constantly encroaching on the rock world.
SSv: Computers cutting and pasting seems to be becoming the newest kind of instrument. If you think of the instrument as something you have to express musical vision then it really is the latest instrument. I heard something about a magical box along these lines that you have called the “Secret weapon?”
Daedalus: It’s real! When you say ‘magical,’ people think unicorns and faeries. It was created by a friend of mine, and I’m very much in his debt for it. It’s called a Monome and I like to use it live and sometimes in the studio and other rare occasions. I’m always happy to spread the gospel about it because this guy who created it, Brian Crabtree, it was his patent project for a long time. He’s worked with other software coders and other musicians and for some reason I was the lucky one to be prototype testing it for a number of years.
Only recently has it come to market, which is awesome and lots more people can realize that I’m not finagling them or doing something on a real instrument which is an important step in the growth of an instrument when people realize it isn’t playing itself, like some kind of wind-up monkey or something. [Laughs]
Basically the software I’m using is called MLR (created in Max-MSP, but ultimately a standalone app, like Ableton Live). The machine can run all sorts of different types of software and do wonderfully unique things. I’m most comfortable with it because it lets me take small bits and pieces of my songs, or sample, and maps them across this machine and play them like instruments. You can play individual moments in a sample or smaller loops of a sample or the entire sample as being building blocks towards song creations.
It’s super fun in a live situation because I’m given this wonderful option to either recreate a song or try to deconstruct it at any moment. Most of the time people don’t know my back catalog particularly so it’s almost entirely like playing in a sandbox, which is fantastic. Also the instrument is made sustainably which is nice because I can only guess that there is enough design hardware that is going to go rot in some landfill which would be unloaded today or the next day.
SSv: Even the music business in general, as someone who does reviews and interviews, the amount of packaging material that I get sent and forget about all the crappy jewel cases…
Daedalus: A lot of people bemoan the loss of an artifact in the music business now that CDs are being uploaded. Hopefully the world will breath a huge sigh now that cyanide isn’t going to be used in their CDs and all this poison.
SSv: Wouldn’t we all like it to go back to vinyl to a degree?
Daedalus: You know what? The model of the future and what I’ve been seeing and the one that works really well is limited, really well focused, artistic objects. Not even necessarily vinyl, or t-shirts, but world of art and posters sculptors that somehow contain the music or contain the download for the music. Once you’ve hit the limited masses you can hit the general people who aren’t really caring.
SSv: In terms of instruments did you play anything else before you were delving into the electronic world?
Daedalus: You were right that I have recorded some funk music and other kinds of music before the electronic thing came around. During my schooling experience, I played the bass clarinet, awkwardly. [Laughs] Eventually sometime in middle school I picked up the double bass and I kept going on that for a long time and I studied that in college. I come from a music background playing classical musical and jazz mainly, the occasional rock group and surf group or ska band.
Everyone needs a bass player so I got a chance to run around like that for a while. The electronic thing was something that was a buzz in me for a long time, I’m happy that I’ve made the jump even though I miss playing with groups, but sometimes the electronic situation can form up to be something bigger. In reality, it’s easier to be one.
SSv: In terms of groups vs. “being one,” you’ve done some really great collaborations, obviously Busdriver, M.F. Doom, Mike Ladd, etc. Is there anyone you are looking to go back to work with again? I know you were just touring with Busdriver, you guys work out some new material?
Daedalus: Absolutely. We are working on some things. It’s interesting because I’m working on a record and he is working on a record and it’s kind of difficult in some ways to work on material together. For example just recently I’ve worked on a track for him, I felt really good about it, supposed to be for his record. I played it offhand for my record label and they were like, “Oh we love this, we want to keep this!” I have the kind of relationship with my label where they are kind of having an active role in my A&R and it was kind of depressing because I could work with Bus on this and if the label takes it then I can’t work with him because he’s busy working on his record. There are a few things spoiling our commitments but definitely I’ll be working with him coming up.
As fun as it is to be in the electronic thing solo, to be in the studio it’s kind of an insane state of schizophrenia when you are in there. You were right to kind of talk about the electronic especially the cut and paste world being infinite. It’s kind of a dangerous precedent, like I think Brian Eno talked about having it be new synthesizers, and this was in the 80′s, newfangled synthesizers that can do anything and when you are faced with such a unlimited options the brain is paralyzed.
The same thing is true when you are alone in the studio, you can be just sitting there staring at the blank screen with an empty palate and think anything can happen. I can write the best song ever, I could write the worst song ever. I could be critically complained about. So when you have someone else in the room it really does give a nice little set of parameters down so you can get things done faster.
SSv: In your work you, at times, eschew a sense of formal composition and it definitely has shape like any good electronic music hopefully has, but when you throw out the form of verse/chorus/verse, or ABA, I can see how the infinite nature of the whole thing is expanded even more – and more problematically.
Daedalus: It can get nuts. Especially in electronic music that’s through composed, you don’t really have formal sections and it’s fun to mess with that but everything is a trope, a cliché so it’s fun to mess with it but man, when you are doing through composed kind of music and you are just trying to get back to some kind of melody, it’s like, “How the hell do I do that?!” At what point do you have to turn on the lights and do some kind of “Deus Ex Machina.” It can be tough.
SSv: Is there anyone you haven’t worked with but would be really interested in? I don’t want to jinx anything you have going on in the future…
Daedalus: No, it’s okay; it’s a very valid question. I’m really interested to work with female emcees, talked to Jean Grey and Medusa, who I would like to work with but it’s hard to find time and it’s tough to find out how to fit it into their world of stuff. I also don’t dig this paradigm of “Man and Music.” I think there are lots of women listeners and you want to find a voice that communicates to people so I’m looking forward to that someday, but it’s hard. I have some things in the works for the future record that might break it a little bit, a tiny bit.
SSv: Do you have some stuff written that lends itself more to a female emcee?
Daedalus: I don’t want to necessarily make any assumptions especially for the world of emcees. Hip Hop is a construct that is difficult sometimes to compose for since you can’t do crazy things and expect to just come along. I presented a whole beats CD to Doom when I worked with him [on the track "Impending Doom" from "Exquisite Corpse"], and he picked the weirdest one on there. I try to compose how I would and I’m just crossing my fingers and either get the idea or they will jump on and more often than not, at least in my history, it doesn’t necessarily work but that is part of fun. They don’t bite at it, you have to take their hand and lead them to it or you just wait for the next opportunity. It’s funny when different worlds collide.
SSv: Your interest in that is reflected well in your music – when you have the children samples and old movie music or spoken word…
Daedalus: Everything is sourceable and if it mimes some sort of territory or some Proust kind of thing into effect [gathering the essential from the superficially insignificant] then it can work.
SSv: In terms of someone who does live instrument recording in the studio but also largely pulls from source material, when you are making a record are you focused on a certain collection of stuff or is the whole library available?
Daedalus: The whole library is available. I try to never say no, but I’m not one of those people who like a full length record especially if you are doing 50 minutes of music and it doesn’t all relate to each other it’s just a collection of singles drawn together simply because they are all on the same disc. It’s really not interesting for the listener today to sit down and listen to the whole work as you intended if there isn’t some back-story or connecting thread. It’s ludicrous, especially in the mp3 world.
Thematically I always like my records to be super-cohesive, to a fault sometimes. I put too much in and expect too much of the listener, but you aren’t composing for everyone, it’s for the one or two people and you are hoping everyone else to hop on board at least for a bit.
SSv: Do you find it difficult since you come from a background that is more of the composer/serious music realm and you definitely have moments of humor if not self-awareness that perhaps some of the more serious or minimalist folk maybe would have?
Daedalus: It is a battleground. You draw your line and fight your wars. If you aren’t having fun then you are kind of missing the point I guess. Maybe that comes from the kind of jazz background where you improvise in the studio as much as possible and have fun and make things interesting and vital and I think that vital is the real thing.
I know a lot of “serious” composers, or minimalist composers where they are so intent on drawing meaning and emphasis out of these small brush strokes–notes and tiny melodies, we could go down the non-aleatoric compositional method and it just sounds dead on paper. A lot of it comes from their process or the way they are recording it when you are dealing with the finite sweep of a high EQ, you are missing the point in a way. People want something that has some life still in it before you beat it down with your bass strings. It’s a push and pull.
SSv: Do you prefer the live venue? You were saying that the full length is on its way out so would you prefer just releasing singles one song at a time? Do you prefer not even having a recording, just going for live?
Daedalus: I really view them as being different experiences and people value them differently. Definitely I want to be concocting and creating the full length for people who are serious about music. I do feel privileged to have people write about getting things out of something. You might intend something one way and people get vastly different experience out of it, which is wonderful. You make a song of hardship and sorrow, and someone else, it’s their couples song. It’s their record. The live record is for that moment. I’ve released a live record and I plan to do more, I do think those are kind of compromised situations unless you can hear the audience or see it all, it’s kind of like missing an instrument from that performance.
Either way it’s always a compromise you make, and it’s fun to try and release each–to present each kind of facet. The live experience does help revitalize all aspects because then you are in front of people without a parachute; you are trying to make something new out of a situation or trying to have a party or whatever it is. It definitely has returned a lot of joy to my life of music.
SSv: When you were talking about people not necessarily sitting down and listening to a full length, I agree, but one hears so much stuff now that if you aren’t initially drawn to it you skip over it and may never find your way back, which is lamentable. The records that I connected with most were the ones where I had to sit through and I had songs that were my favorite, but you have to struggle with them.
Daedalus: Oh my god, so much!
SSv: In terms of your music, you have an off the beaten track thing going. It draws listeners who are more willing to kind of take the road with you, rather than jump around.
Daedalus: You are making songs and records for people, for anyone who will pay half a minute, and I think what’s fun about the scattered shot aspect of music that isn’t super genre-d is that you can draw them in someplace where they weren’t initially interested in going. Then maybe you can get them. It’s an interesting aspect of hype and fame. For better or for worse, for all the problems of having hype around you or having some of these blogging internet publications – saying this or that, factual or correct, blowing wind up peoples behinds – it does get people to give you some regard, some moment of their time to see what is going on.
It’s fascinating because somebody else saying something makes all the difference between a listener and a non-listener. Just like you said, when it’s something out of your comfort zone it’s hard to hook people in. I remember when I first listened to the Pixies I didn’t like it at all. They did weird starts and stops and stuff. I was young enough in music to not see their genius. I hadn’t listened to like Husker Du and stuff and I was young at it. I think it was because I was interested in this girl and she liked it that I listened to it more and now it’s my all time favorite band. It’s a group that made all these weird records that make no sense. I only hope that in some small regard that people can spend that kind of time listening, but you know the limitations.