First of, just want to thank you for participating in this edition of Infidel Interviews. Could you start off by giving a little information about yourself to the audience? Whatever you feel comfortable with, but name, age, what instruments you can play, and where you live would be pretty standard?
Thanks Matt, really appreciate the interest in my music!
My name is Joey Wisgirda, I’m 47, I live in Davis CA. I play trumpet, some keyboards, a wee bit of percussion, ( in addition to and in conjunction with producing ) but the instrument I use the most is a Morrison Digital Trumpet ( http://www.digitaltrumpet.com.au/ ), a special wind controller for trumpet players. It senses the velocity of my breath stream and lets me use my right hand technique to perform virtual instruments and control various aspects of the software I use ( Ableton, Logic, NI Komplete, Max For Live, Serum, Omnisphere, Twisted Tools, Glitchmachines, Reason, Alchemy, and a whole mess of other stuff ). I also utilize a Leap motion controller ( it’s a little IR 3D motion sensor, kind of like a Kinect ) and a piece of Leap software called Tekh-Tonic.
In my studio I’ve got a set of Motu HD1912 converters, a Bag End monitoring system ( 2 MM8s, SE18, and an Elf-1 ), and a Gamble EX-56 console for the front end. The Gamble went out on tour with Rush and Tom Petty before I bought it for a live sound company I owned and it ended up in my studio. There’s nothing like those old Grateful Dead boards.
When it comes to influence and inspiration, and creativity, there is often a fine line. It's been said that all the sounds have been created, and all the notes played. Do you find it important and/or difficult to come up with "original" sounds? Or do you focus more on what sounds good over trying to find a so-called "original" sound?
I find it really important to to spend time discovering new sounds. It’s kind of the reason we are all in this, yeah? It’s not hard for me to come up with new sounds at all, I’ve been blessed with a decent library of software, and am also a bit of a nutter, so a lot of my sound sources tend to be unconventional. The digital trumpet and the Leap give me a high degree of control and flexibility to control many parameters ( MIDI CCs ) at once on the soft synths, and together they make a really powerful sound design combination when paired up with NIs Razor or Xfer’s Serum, for example. There are so many toys to play with nowadays and so much you can do, and a lot of it is built into the functionality level of the DAWs, like Ableton’s Slice-to-new-MIdi, or it’s Pitch-To-Midi interpolations. I use a lot of instrument samples too, and a lot of extreme processing on those samples. The fact that most companies will let you demo their stuff will let the discerning user get a idea pretty quickly whether or not things are working for you.
I do try and temper my sonic creativity with a little bit of sensitivity towards the audience ( especially in my old age ). If I am trying to create a piece that is inspired by a particular style, I at least try and study the signature sounds of that style. I try and give my designed sounds a sense of connectedness to the signature ones …… Nowadays though, I love letting a single sound be the source of inspiration for a piece!
I feel like the nature of electronic music has also opened up new ways of arranging, and has given birth to many really tasteful and innovative progressions as well.
As for your origins in music. You mentioned in your Soundcloud profile that you had origins in classical music, amongst other more traditional styles. What sort of music and art influenced you growing up and helped encourage you to peruse to artistic path into electronic music? Are there any bands that you would say struck you with the chord that inspired you to peruse your current path of musical aspirations? Do you find there is a dichotomy or a synergy between your classical and electronic backgrounds?
I grew up listening to classical music and a lot of classic and progressive rock : Genesis, Rush, Grateful Dead, Yes, Zeppelin, Bowie, Floyd, Allmans, etc. During high school I played in an all-state Wind Ensemble that gathered weekly at the New England Conservatory of Music. I also played in a rep orchestra there as well. Later on in college I would play in community orchestras and freelance on piccolo trumpet, mostly church services. I had been exposed to a lot of 20th century music ( and had a chance to perform it ), but I didn’t really get it until I went to college and ate acid for the first time. Then all of the the post-romantics stuff started making sense to me, as well as Zappa’s music, and jazz as well.
When I got to grad school at UCDavis ( Physics ) in the early 90s I started playing in jazz, funk, and salsa bands as well as the college orchestra. Sacramento in the 90s was a really good scene for instrumental music, lotsa good bands, and the groups I played in ( West Coast Rhythm Section, 11:11 ) got to open for Galactic, Charlie Hunter, Zigaboo Modiste ( Meters ), Garage Mahal, Ozomatli, John Scofield, Karl Denson ( he actually came and sat in ) and Deep Banana Blackout ( Ditto ), and other funk and jazz heroes. I also performed with reggae superstar Alton Ellis in his band, alongside Fully Fullwood ( bassist for Peter Tosh ), “Chinna” Smith on guitar, and Carlton “Santa “ Davis on drums ( essentially the Wrecking Crew of reggae music ) at the 2004 Sierra Nevada World Music Festival.It’s during this time that I met John Tchicai ( John T. played alto sax with John Coltrane on “Ascension” and also cut albums with Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler - check out him out - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Tchicai ) when he was living in Davis, and I got to study improv with him for 2 years. John was an amazing teacher, he had this incredible ability to take anyone and help them become comfortable with their own music through the use of minimalistic techniques. He showed us that anyone could be a composer, even people who thought themselves nonmusical.
It’s also during this time that I met Rick “Papa Z” Zamora. Rick is a jazz and blues guitar player from the East LA scene, he used to play with Curtis Mayfield and Janis Joplin. While John T was showing us how to compose jazz, Rick was showing us how to really feel and play the blues. You can hear him playing on “Papa Z” and “The Adventures of Swinging Dick” from “A Few Of My Friends Vol 1” ( Street Ritual ).
In 2002 my daughter was born ( Phoenix, she did the art for my last SR release ) and we moved to Fairfax CA where I occasionally sat in with Hamsa Lila and the Mutaytor.
I was also doing a bunch of live sound ( owned my own company and got to mix some really awesome stuff - ChirGilchiun ( the Tuvan Throat Singers ), Mike Stern Victor Wooten and Dennis Chambers, Jerry Garcia Band, West African Showboys, the Ali Akbar Khan School of Music, INXS, Particle, Midnite, Yard Dogs, and many others ……. )and it’s here where I got introduced to EDM doing sound for Raindance Presents and El Circo for artists like Lorin Ashton ( he was still DJ Lorin back therm ), Tipper, and DJ Brother. Seeing Oo-Ah was really influential too, it was before Glitch Mob and Of Porcelain, he was playing some of the first glitch-hop I ever heard. I could not believe my ears - here was straight-up noise, worthy of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and this dude was setting it to a BEAT, kids were GETTING OFF TO IT, and the THEY WERE NOT AFRAID OF THE SCARY NOISES HE WAS MAKING.
IN FACT THEY LOVED IT! I knew I had found my medium! After that I bought a laptop, the Morrison, and a new journey had begun! I began composing in this new medium. It took a bit to get used to composing with emphasis on rhythm and sound instead of melodies and changes, but the change was good for me. After I moved back to Davis to raise my daughter, I started teaching a class at the UCDavis experimental college, where I met Alex Gonzales ( Spoken Bird ) and Will Bauer ( Elevated Mind ). These cats introduced me to a listening club they had called Chillage People. Since I had Bag End bass at my place I coopted them, moved the listening party over to my house in Davis where I also ran a speakeasy in the backyard called the Luna Lounge. Luna was great, it was a place where chillagers could perform their pieces in from of a live audience, testing out their technique, and where we could party till 5 am. The listening party eventually attracted the attention of Peter Farr ( Urple Eeple ), Kevin Welch ( Isturite ), Devin Kroes, Benji Hannus ( Secret Recipe, he also runs Wormhole Wednesdays in Oakland ), and many other talented cats, and out of this Chillage Records was born!
In response to your question about symmetry between performing classical music and electronic composition, there are similarities. When I played trumpet I had to practice constantly in order to maintain my skills. There is an analogy to composing electronic music - it still takes practice, but it’s a different set of skills, recalling where things are and remembering shortcuts to be able to accomplish things quickly. It’s more of an organizational thing rather than a physical thing.
It does really feel nice to let go of the ego connected with constant physical practice. When one plays an instrument for so long it is almost impossible to not let your ego get caught up in it - it’s a daily commitment that most of the rest of the world doesn’t understand because they are doing other things. In this country, it is natural and expected to be really competitive when playing an instrument - there are very few jobs and to land one you can’t just be okay, you have to be GREAT. When I switched over to digital trumpet it really felt good to let go of the ego I had associated with performing on acoustic trumpet. I feel like it helped me become a better communicator and a better human being.
Have you had any particular moment(s) that you would like to share, that you would consider to be a crowning achievement in your musical career so far, or moments that you would say truly continue to inspire you to pursue your artistic path?
Some of my crowning moments were : all of the times I performed with John Tchicai’s band in Davis ( the Sound And Poetry Source ). Also playing with Mutaytor ( I arranged all of their horns for them for a little bit ) at the Fillmore in SF and in front of 15,000 people after the burn at B.M., that was also really cool. Opening up for Scofield and Charlie Hunter. Opening up for Zigaboo Modeliste and having half of Deep Banana Blackout come sit in for that show ( Steve Kimock also wanted to sit in but there wasn’t enough room for him on stage). Opening up for Dave Tipper in 2012. Opening up for DJ Lorin at the Hopmonk in Sebastopol. Participating in the Otter Camp jams at Burning Man in early 2000s where I got to perform alongside the heavyweights from Hamsa Lila ( Inx in particular ), Kang and the guys from from String Cheese, the guys from Particle, and many others …. but the biggest one was playing in Alton Ellis’ band, headlining the Village Stage at Sierra Nevada World Fest in 2004 in front of 3000 people in a band of reggae legends ….
Another really important moment was when I met John Fishman ( the drummer from Phish ), and he encouraged me to check out Sun Ra’s music. That was a real game changer.
Another crucial moment was when I first heard Brian Eno. And Cluster. If you were to ask me which electronic musicians I hold in highest regard, it would be those three : Eno, Morpheus, and Rhodelius. Oh, and my good friend Crystal Fun Awareness. If you want to hear some wild electronic music, check out Crystal’s soundcloud. Audio researcholigists PAR EXCELLENCE!
What would you say are your favorite themes and topics to write about? What draws you to those themes?
What do I like to write about? Politics mostly. It usually gets me in trouble with my friends because I won’t compromise and don’t know where to stop! :) I’m really bad on Facebook, I have actually had friends of mine tell me they are worried about me and that I need to stop, I’m scaring their kids ….
When it comes to non-musical media, what do you find yourself most inspired by, and what about it draws you to it as a source of inspiration?
I love visual art and abstracting analogies between different forms ( visual and musical ) …. my own Grand Unified Theory of the arts …. I really delight when I discover that cats using different mediums are using the same abstracted set of tools ( like minimalism, or cut-and-paste/music concrete, etc. ) to create their art.
I also love the art of storytelling, and all of the different media by which it can be accomplished. I love seeing a story realized in different forms, because each form has it’s own strengths that allow different aspects of the story to be told : prose, poetry, plays, movies, graphic novels ( my proud-of-it guilty secret fave ). There are reasons that the movie sucks and the book is better, or vice-versa.
I am also an avid hard-science fiction freak. Playing live shows, recording new tracks, attempting to go live the life that gives you the experiences that inspires it all... it can be difficult to balance the time. Do you have any particular methods that you use to keep yourself focused or balanced in your direction?
In terms of balancing live shows with production, that has been tricky. In this genre, it really is all about the tunes - they have to be really strong, strong foundation. The tunes have to work for the kids on the dance floor. They aren’t impressed by instrumental showmanship like jazz and rock audiences, and if the tunes aren’t working, it’s no bueno.
It’s really not easy. I see this a lot when instrumentalists make forays into EDM. They are still so focussed on their instruments and the connected egos, their throbbing phalluses if you will. Almost all of these hybrid groups I have seen ( even some commercially successful ones like STS9, Lotus, and Eoto ) really don’t get it : the players can’t let go of what makes them players and let the machines do the work.
The point is missed, and the result is a busy jam band with electronic sounds tacked on, rather than something flowing and organic, all because the players can’t let their egos go. There ARE groups that get it it like Massive Attack and Ozric Tentacles, and certain really special producers like Flying Lotus, Yaniv Schulman, and Kieran Hebden ( Four Tet ), and last but not least, DJ Lorin ( Bassnectar ) …. but I feel like these are very few and far between ….
Would you say that your choice to pursue music has changed your life since you started? Would you say that creativity has evolved you spiritually, emotionally, or logically? What would you say would be you short term, and long term, goals for your musical career?
When I switched over from jazz, I really found that I had to empty my cup in terms of the way I worked. There was a tremendous loss of ego involved, which I felt weird at the time, but was ultimately important for my growth as a human being.
Switching to the Morrison really helped this. It allowed me the ability to perform live without feeding back ( no microphone ), and it also gave me a palette of sounds other than trumpet to perfume live with, as well as to set the levels so they match the tune I am playing along with. Ableton has given me the ability to break my songs up into sections that can be performed in a non-linear way, opening up my tunes for improv by myself and friends ( one day I wish to have band - but once again, I want to do it right …. ). I don’t have to constantly practice to stay good join the MDT or bust a nut when trying to pop out high notes ( sometimes I would blow so hard I would see red and pass out on stage with the acoustic trumpet ). But once again - the main focus is on writing good tunes first. Without that foundation, not all of the shredder skills in the world will NOT help you.
I’m really glad I stuck with music. I may not get rich or famous but I find it the most fulfilling thing I can do with my life. I’m content to be on the edge, and to continue my experiments with dixieland, latin jazz, letting the influences of Zappa and Raymond Scott shine through melodies …. I feel like I’m here to expose the kids to those things if they have not heard them before ….
Also it’s really helped me understand issues with myself and ego. The best musicians are also really highly developed human beings, because they have developed the skills to listen to and communicate with others. True masters can communicate their personality through their playing, and there is almost no distinction between that and just being themselves I hope one day I can come close …..
Short term goals? Ha! Get booked!!! Long term goals?? More collabs with players, and perhaps a band!
What are your thoughts on genres in general? Do you find them creatively helpful as a template to work with? Or do you find them restricting? Or possibly somewhere in between? Now that the internet has caused so much crossover in music, would you even say genre labels are relevant any more?
I think genres and the walls and structures and expectations that come with them kind of suck. They aren’t really good for people. House kids don’t like glitch, jungle kids don’t like trap, etc. One of the things I learned doing live sound is how to appreciate good music in any form. I had to do a lot of gigs for genres that I would not have sat down at home to listen to. I was not a big fan of punk rock until I got to do monitors for the Circle Jerks, and then realized they are one of the best bands in existence. That’s why I will always be working on the edge, fusing and experimenting, exposing the kids to new things, and trying to get listeners to blur their distinctions until it is all just good music. I think it’s good to study a style and see what makes it tick : distill it down to it’s essence, and figure out what the elements are - rhythms, signature sounds, arrangement form …. and then figure out where you can go with it, what other elements will make sense when they are combined, etc, add the colors in your palate. But to just keep working within the constraints of a genre - especially one without many degrees of freedom, like traditional Trap music, is castrating to oneself as an artist, and denies the world the possibility that something awesomely new can come from it it. ( That being said, I REALLY love how Trap has splintered into a lot of wonderful melodic new forms …… ). It’s lonely on the edge, and a little dangerous too, but there is nowhere else I would rather be. Fortune favors the bold.
Genres will still continue to be relevant - they will provide a road map connecting the points in evolution on the musical family tree, in order to help us understand our history and evolution as a species.
That being said, it’s been a really challenge and coming-to-god type situation to me when experimenting on realizing how far out I’m allowed to go without losing the audience. I still struggle with it every day.
Other than what you currently produce, what other sorts of genres, instruments, and sounds would you like to use in the future? Are there any people you would like to collaborate with in the future artistically, musically, or socially?
For future projects, I’d really like to do a Downtempo album ( collabing with local players ), a Latin Jazz / Glitch-Hop Album ( check out my tune Arturo, which I’m releasing this friday on Chillage Records, as to what that would sound like - also collabing with the fantastic salsa talent here in Sacramento), an improvised electronic music album ( a la Four Tet and Steve Reid or Prefuse 73 ). I’m currently playing with a device called Mogees that allows you to use any object as a musical instrument.
Do you have any other musical projects that you are involved with, or do you have any other musicians or artists that you collaborate with in some capacity? If you could collaborate with any musician or artist, dead or alive, who would it be? And what in particular draws you to want to collaborate with them?
Right now, I collab with Papa Z, Mark Oi ( guitarist for Clinton Fearon and another Tchicai alumni ), and have ideas in the future involving Keith Cline ( good buddy, also a vet of the Sac funk and Salsa scene ), Rick-Bob Montgomery ( sideman to David Grisman, plays acoustic guitar and Steel Pan ), and Wendell Fishman, a fantastic jazz and salsa keyboard player. Mostly instrument players, but I would also be down to work with producers.
MY dream collab would be with Jerry Garcia. At the risk of wearing my heart on my sleeve, I miss the fat man dearly. Eno as well.
Are there any particular instruments, programs, or effects that you would say are vital to you making music? If so, is there a reason in particular that draws you to said creative outlet?
As far as instruments, the Morrison and Ableton are at the core of my being. I could’t do it without Komplete, Reason, and Alchemy. I also have a fondness for BreakTweaker and Stutter Edit, but also I try not to overdo it. :)
Do you spend a lot of time crafting your own sounds? Or do you value song crafting and effects tweaking more? Or do you find it's a balance between the two? What's your relationships with presets?
I try to balance crafting sounds with composition. I think the music sounds better when the composition is inspired by the new sounds, rather than trying to tack sounds onto a previously existent composition ………. I think presets are great when you are first playing around with a new vst - they can show you what the vst can do, and many useful musical things can fall out! But eventually, you become bored and want to go deeper. Presets are a great way to get comfy with the sound of a program before you start reading the manual and find out what you can really do ( plus who doesn’t love instant gratification ?)
Thank you so much for participating in this episode of Infidel Interview. Any parting words for your fans, or my audience?
Parting words to fans : I love you!
Thank you for having an open mind, ( Or you would not be listening to me ), and for keeping it open! You will not be disappointed!
Check Big Joe Daddy out on Facebook : facebook.com/djbigjoedaddy