Shoulders rocking back and forth to the tightly clipped swing of stuttered hi hats and shimmering arpeggiations, Bastian Void knows he has his work cut out for him. For a bill crowded with some of the Northeast’s finest purveyors of immersive soundscapes, more suited to close-eyed meditation than ferocious shaking and shuffling, the devotees of the second night of Boston Hassle’s POOL concert series were finding the name more than a little ironic as the sweltering heat creeping into Industry Lab’s second floor gallery space had us frantically peeling off layers as a steady drone piled on all around.
Bathed in the the dizzying modular light displays being conjured by Chris Konopka, Bastian Void danced easy, plucking twittering oceans of sound from the monolith of wire and wood that he had laid in front of him, occasionally leaning into his Korg MonoPoly to embellish the steadily rising wall of sound with powerful melodies that seemed to gust out over the crowd in a soothing breeze; the sweat seemed to float off our brows with each watery pulse as we drifted through his personal ambient oasis. Gradually, the bubbling analog pulse faded out, leaving us POOL-partiers scrambling for the sweet relief of an open window, coming up for air after our all-too-quick dip beneath the waves.
When I sat down with the man behind the modular, Worcester-native Joseph Bastardo, the same calming effect set in almost immediately. Over a few cups of green tea and more than a little advice on meditation (sample: “ditch the ritual and do whatever you want”), the frantic pothole-dodging scramble downhill dissolved into the background as we dug into his past, process, and performance philosophy.
While these days he spends his time meticulously crafting softened synthesized landscapes for your mind to play in, Joe proudly professes an early love for local anthemic punks Piebald alongside “Fugazi, Hot Water Music, bands on No Idea Records and Dischord.” Still, stranger worlds steadily began to drift into the margins. “Aphex Twin was always around, but I think I might have been avoidant at the time,” Joe recalls, “I must’ve been 11 or 12 when Come to Daddy was on MTV. So that scared the crap out of me, but it was super intriguing at the same time and stuck with me.”
As he moved on to high school and college, certain “big albums – Loveless, Kid A – started incorporating electronics into music I’d been listening to, focusing on texture”, he became an obsessive album collector, digging deep into Discogs.com: “I was just making connections, seeing that this one guy might have all of these projects under different names, or was on a label with these other artists doing a similar thing.” But ultimately Joe credits his full-on leap into the weird to continued run-ins with cinematic surrealist David Lynch. “Somewhere along the line, it must’ve been Lost Highway, or Mulholland Drive, one of those David Lynch movies where it really started to set in, this concept of works of art that leave you with more questions than answers. You’re sitting there, at the end, puzzling it over in your mind. And you’ve got this piece of art that sticks with you, that you can dig into.”
“And that Badalamenti?” he says, noting Lynch’s famed composer on those soundtracks, “Just gorgeous.”
In creating his own music, Joe’s working method seems to mirror the sort of “puzzling over” questioning that he found inspirational in those films. He notes that, “most of the time I’ll start with random jams and sketches; they might sit on a hard drive for six months or a year before I start using them for a track.” “It helps to distance yourself from the music a little bit,” he says, invoking the kind of laid-back observational focus that his songs as Bastian Void stir up so effectively. At that point, the process turns into a collage of sorts, as he snips, chops, and layers elements into a cohesive whole, a process of constantly rediscovering and reevaluating old ideas and spinning them into something new that he compares to “reaching through time.” “It’s amazing taking one track that you recorded, this one little bit that you might’ve recorded in 2012, and this other bit that you did last week, and realizing that all of a sudden you’ve got a merger!”
Lately, however, his focus has shifted more towards the area of live music creation through the process of generative composition, which he sees as a natural evolution in response to improvements in his live rig that have allowed him greater control in setting up musical systems. This greater control allows the systems to swirl out on their own. In explaining this development, one particular recording event came to mind: “”Space Heater”, which is on a split with Sam GasCan, was recorded on a really quiet, snowy afternoon. I had the idea of setting up this generative, raga-esque meditation zone, and I would sit there in my living room, playing for as long as I wanted. I got a good 20 minute chunk of that down and it felt really pure, like it could be released as it was.” The track itself exerts a centering, almost gravitational pull on the listener: thick drones hold you firmly in place as mounds of fluffy, arpeggiated melody pile up, walling you safely inside the most comforting of surroundings.
Joe’s work as Bastian Void tends towards this style of ambient; to put it in his words: “sequences, arpeggiations and spacey pads with only a little bit of weird stuff thrown in to keep it intriguing for me.” Live explorations, especially with harsh noise group Gay Shapes, caused him to pick up a new moniker, Homeowner. “After touring with Gay Shapes, I got more interested in recording something with no “keyboard notes”, no nice arpeggiations or anything like that, inspired by more musique concrete stuff, taking noises around the house and spinning it around on tape, focused more on the bleeps and the bloops.” Indeed, the first Homeowner tape, Mimeotures, is a playfully haunting crunch of sonic abstractions, with sounds taking on animated personalities that violently leap out at you with almost cartoonish abandon; a far cry from the explorations of space to be found in the Bastian Void material. Joe’s latest, deCordova, is, in his words, an attempt to reconcile those two forces. “Splitting up the the peaceful stuff and the noisy stuff started to stress me out – I started thinking that I just need to make whatever I want to make.” “Rhododendrons”, a minimalist jaunt through landscapes rich in bouncing, bubbling sonic artifact, dissolves this dissonance, weaving together bright pads and frightening left turns into noise into a cohesive, rewarding journey.
In explaining his live rig, pauses were taken no fewer than three times to preemptively apologize for getting too technical; but the excitement that takes over when Joe explains his setup is absolutely infectious. Moving away from his old stalwart Roland SH-101 (“It’s a perfect instrument to learn synthesizers on: it’s got your filter, envelope generator, wave-shaping, pulse-width. More complex synths just build out from that”) Joe’s most recent acquisition is the Korg MonoPoly, which was on prominent display at the POOL concert. Putting it in the lightest of terms, he explains that the magic behind this vintage machine is in its ability to play four distinct notes at once, opening up a host of possibilities: “If you keep it in mono mode, there are different ways that you can get the oscillators to sync with each other, and cross-modulate, so you can get these wild, ripping timbres,” he explains.
Mixed in with the modular synth, this technique allows him to craft a denser forest of intricate, multi-layered drones and swirling blips, while also allowing for improvisation: “I’ll have one bass sequence going on the modular that’s triggering stuff within that system, and it’s clocking the MonoPoly as well. And the MonoPoly’s being fed back into the modular, and filtered a little bit. So if I get bored noodling in one place, I can turn that part into a drone and switch off.” “It’s a combination of pre-determined sequences and a little bit of give and take with the modular and the MonoPoly. You’ve got to plan to roll with the unexpected,” he says, highlighting the inherent quirks in playing an analog electronic instrument whose tuning can be affected, like guitars or other conventional instruments, by the temperature of a performance space, “So there’s always an element of improv. Which is what I’m used to, from playing in noise improv bands.”
Joe plans on playing several more shows around the area this summer, those still being in development, but he’s excited to return to creating more recorded music. “I can’t wait til’ the end of the summer so I can get out of live mode, working on one patch and you can’t hit save, so you’re toiling on one thing and getting it perfect,” he explains, noting that the patch he played at the Industry Lab show had been set up two months beforehand. For a next release, he’s been working on “themed releases” under new, secret monikers, the first of which he recorded and released from sessions at Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington with his friend Max on a jewel of synthesizer technology: a Buchla 200 synthesizer from the 1970s. A particular reverence falls into his voice as he gushes over it: “Those machines are a work of art, producing these ridiculous unpredictable results from incredibly precise but random voltage generation – playing it feels like the machine is talking to you, there’s a real dialogue back and forth.” The only catch? “The thing is that you’re not supposed to take those recordings out of Evergreen; if you make it on the Buchla, it’s supposed to stay there,” he says, so for secrecy’s sake they kept it to a small release of 50 tapes (I’m still dying to get my hands on one).
Any other secret/sneaky projects? “There was another one…but I guess I shouldn’t give it all away yet.”
Joe Bastardo runs a tape label/recording studio, Moss Archive, which can be found at http://mossarchive.blogspot.com/