No one is taking sides per se (naw, I totally am), but there’s a definite disconnect between fans of electronically made music and actual instrumentation, or at least there has been … in my mind. It’s like the difference between observing a human play actual instruments as opposed to pushing their laptop’s space bar. OK, so it’s often much deeper than that and there’s a lot more to being a DJ, but still—there’s been a lot of us-vs.-them in the musical world (hell, I’m guilty of it, because, 10 out of 10 times, I prefer bands rocking out to DJs standing at a computer).
But then there's crossover stuff that sidesteps this thinking and cancels out naysayers before we've had the chance to say nay, and the fine folks behind it basically rewrite music history. At least, that's what Bay Area musician Matt Moldover, who goes by Moldover, has done. He may just be the accidental hero of this movement. Well, it's not exactly accidental, nor is it a movement, really. What I mean to say is, Moldover bridges so many gaps between rock, pop, punk, techno, industrial, EDM and so on. It could be his background as a musician and songwriter for full-on bands, or even just as a staunch proponent of DIY ethics, but Moldover brings a certain panache and a hefty dose of songwriting chops to his solo work.
Moldover is often referred to as the godfather of controllerism, a nebulous musical subset that mostly boils down the use of hardware to interface with and control computer-based music-making software like Ableton. "I try to use the simplest terms possible," Moldover says. "I tell people that I have this computer that plays all my sounds and effects, my voice, everything goes through it, but you need a way to control it, a physical interface, an instrument. … Most people have played video games, or the remote to your TV is a controller, so people are familiar with the idea."
Any number of companies have taken to building these things by this point, but back when Moldover was first looking for ways to perform sans band, options were limited. So he set about building his own shit by hacking and rebuilding custom controllers out of things like keyboards, synths, arcade cabinet hardware and so on. The results have been dumbfounding and complicated, but they've also been freeing, especially to a man who creates multi-layered genre-agnostic compositions completely on his own.
Think of him like a musical superhero whose powers lie in self-taught engineering weirdness limited only by his imagination. This is how some of his controllers came to be, like the Mojo (a wild amalgam of buttons, knobs and switches that more closely resembles gaming equipment than musical instrument), the Robocaster (a hi-tech guitar customized with controller elements that bring the concept of foot-operated effects pedals to one's hands) or the Jambox (a collaborative mishmash of controllers organized to facilitate experimentation with others) came to be. And these impressive machines are just scratching the surface when it comes to what Moldover's already built or will build in the future. It's brought some acclaim and admiration from heavy-hitters like DJ Shadow or the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart, both of whom have custom-made controllers courtesy of Moldover. Still, his own creation remains paramount, even as he teaches workshops and master classes in both production and performance.
"I put quality above everything else, so the music I want to make, I tend not to compromise," he says. "The instruments I make, I tend not to compromise."
You can learn more with his new album, Four Track, a crowdfunded effort that comes physically as what looks like an old audio cassette, but actually houses an incredible digital instrument Moldover has dubbed the Voice Crusher, a simple yet effective piece of equipment that can be played portably thanks to an onboard mic and speaker or connected into external audio gear. It is truly amazing (see more at kickstarter.com … just search for Moldover—it's way worth it) and a pretty fantastic example of his creativity. Oh, and did I mention he's playing in Santa Fe alongside fellow electronic musicains B1, Brian Botkiller and prettylittlepaw? Well, he is. Just don't blow it.
9 pm Thursday March 16. $5.
The Underground, 200 W San Francisco St.