Michael Durek (The Use) interview by Chris Gilmore (FluiD)
The Use: http://theusemusic.bandcamp.com
1) Chris Gilmore: Hello Mike, can you introduce yourself, please?
Michael Durek: Sound lover, beat maker, harmony lover, multi-instrumentalist. I use synths, computers, theremin, guitars, and more to make music. Like a lot of people, I grew up with piano lessons, and stuck with it, but it was tumultuous. As a small child, in the wake of my mother’s death, my then insecure older brother (who is very loving and supportive now) would try to squash my musical aspirations by throwing me off the piano and pleading me to “stop trying to be like him!!”. Playing was really a love-hate thing, but I think it prepared me to have a more peaceful existence in the adult music world. You gotta answer the inner call and take the noise with a grain of salt, good or bad. In high school and college I was in groups like Hybrid Experience on guitar and Copesetic playing rock and folk-rock. Fast forward to when I started playing jazz upright bass with Joe Frame, and hurt my arms with tendonitis as I was preparing for auditions to go to college again for upright bass. Then left me noodling on computers, and playing theremin which doesn’t require contact, so it worked well with my tendonitis. My cousin Brian Bolanowski (who designed the CD artwork) gave me Autechre’s Amber and a copy of Fruity Loops, and that got me into electronic music heavily. The theremin brought me into Pas Musique, where leader Robert L. Pepper showed me the ropes and brought me touring around Europe a few times. He become like an older brother and mentor to me. Since then I’ve been having a blast with computers and synthesizers and all the possibilities there. I play with a lot of groups on theremin, collaborating with George Sand, Rachel Mason, Trinitron, Rutgers Symphony Orchestra, recently with Gandhar Bhalerao in Mumbai India, and with many others.
2) CG: You’re about to release your new CD, on Alrealon, what can we expect?
MD: Well, it’s an album that perfectly suits my own quirky tastes. LOL I like the element of surprise, so I tried create that where I could. Most music I like has that quality, you’re not quite sure what’s gonna happen. You think something’s gonna happen four times, and it only happens three. Or some crazy sound comes in that you didn’t expect and carries the melody. On a few of the tracks, I realized I was loosely mimicking a classical sonata form where the thematic material presented in the A section gets recapitulated at the end, re-harmonized in different ways or sometimes mangled. But mostly, I just visit my imagination and ask what the song wants to be, and then try to arrange my resources to bring it to fruition. Sometimes that’s very easy, and sometimes it’s crazy. I made like 5 different versions of “Ripe”, just trying to get the sounds right. Brian Bolanowksi was a big help with giving me feedback.
I went to great lengths to craft fresh sounds in Ableton, and thanks for my mixing engineer Billy Perez at iiwii studios, I had access to a lot of analog synths too. On this album, “What’s the Use?” I play the Moog Voyager and Slim Phatty with my Moog Etherwave theremin PLUS, using CV. So, you hear those fat analog synth sounds but they are played like a theremin, with a theremin. I haven’t really heard this anywhere before, and while I’m sure people are doing it, and the sounds that come out are really badass. So being able to access the Voyager and play it with a theremin was amazing. There are lots of beats and programming, and a lot of call and response between the percussive elements and the melodies. Everything is mixed down out of the box, and sometimes Billy ran some software sounds through a neve preamp to warm it up a little.
I’d say you’ll get the most if you listen in headphones or on a nice system with good bass. Erik Tarekith did a great job mastering it to rumble, and Billy Perez wanted to make this a really “stereo” album. It’s certainly more stimulating to listen to it in headphones. A lot of the width and movement is his work.
On this disc, I am happy to feature vocals on a couple co-written tracks from friends and collaborators of mine, Rachel Mason of Little Band of Sailors, Mark Weinberg aka Trinitron, and then of course Black Saturn will be featured on the remix album track.
3) CG: You recently did a west coast tour, how did that go?
MD: Man, tour itself was pretty amazing, but booking it was a little hard since it was the first time. We are booking a tour more in advance now and it’s going a lot smoother. Shows on tour for me have always been 50/50. You get some that are really well attended or where you feel like you really connect, and then some where it’s low turnout or the sound system might be off, but that’s part of the fun of it. I met some great people in California like the San Francisco Electronic Music Meetup group, and some folks at Outsound.
4) CG: You’ve recently voiced your opinion about the new Kanye album, care to share your thoughts on it?
MD: I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand it totally blew me away to have such an icon mash together so many different styles in such an experimental and fresh way. I feel like Alrealon could have released that disc going by the production, - it wasn’t that dissimilar from what a lot of us are doing. And, I’m very grateful he released it! But, some of the metaphors in the lyrics made me smile, but some were kind of distracting to me. Like they sounded like some stream of consciousness stuff - not really crafted. I don’t think lyrics were the focus though, after talking with friends and reading interviews about them doing it “punk rock” style at the last minute. There’s value in that too, sure. But yeah I kept thinking, “Man, this production is sick but I would love to hear Dre or Eminem, or spoken word artist Black Saturn (Alrealon’s own) rap over this”. I still listen to the Chronic 2001 for inspiration.
5) CG: You’re always on the lookout for new music and new artists, who recently has caught your ear?
MD: Well, I like many different kinds of music and so many artists, that I won’t embark to list a lot, but Jon Hopkins’ Immunity has been really impressing me. His choice of sounds and harmonic ideas spoke to me right away. I was like “Yes. I agree with THAT”. Also I think Raekwon’s Shaolin vs. Wu Tang is a fantastic album. And, I love everyone on the Alrealon label.
6) CG: I read on Facebook, your thoughts on “process”, would you like to elaborate?
MD: Yeah, I try to divvy up my time between sound building, composing, and practicing. In Ableton, I create my own effect racks and instruments. I love that software. Then, I try to spend some time on beat-making and loop-making. But sometimes how it works is I’ll watch a tutorial on some new technique, or I’ll play around with things I recorded, or just end up with a sound and go with it.
To finish ideas that really struck me and turn them into tracks, I’d often just relax and then in my imagination go to a stereo and turn it on and hear these rad sounds in my head, and then I’d try to make that in the real world. Working this way is very intuitive and natural to me, though it makes me feel a little less secure since it gives me the sense of not being in control of the album. I think that as artists, the only decision we really make is to the decision to bring those ideas into the world, what it is exactly is kind of out of our hands to a large degree. We can only influence it indirectly by what we study, analyze and listen to.
Then later on I might replace some temp sounds, sometimes with analog synths in HD in the studio. My mixing engineer Billy Perez and I wanted the disc to sound warm and big, and this was the best solution we came up with. Some of the computer sounds to me sound just as good as the analog stuff, but there are certain things that stand out in the way you can manipulate those analog synths. It took me about 30 hours just to replace the sounds that weren’t feeling right, and prepare and label the stems for Billy while attempting to preserve audio quality.
For “Aunt Joanne’s Metaphysics”, I based that on a Bach piano piece, and made block chords out of the arpeggios and adjusted the timing so they’d groove a little. For “Ripe” you can hear water dripping into a bowl from an upside tomato plant we had. I recorded the kids in the beginning of “Where ya been” during a class I was subbing, which is how I used to save up money to go on tour. These kids were reading their creative writing stories and being hilarious so I just had to record it, this one kid was talking about a school from hell that lasts for eternity, that’s what’s on the disc. I don’t remember what school I was in or who the kids were, but I hope they’d be glad to be featured on an electronic music track.
7) CG: How do you think your use of Pure Data, will impact your music?
MD: I used Pd mainly as an LFO since I don’t own MaxforLive, and it worked great for that. I spent more time making instruments and effect racks with Ableton Live. A few that make repeat appearances will be available on my website.
8) CG: You performed on Theremin as part of a classical music concert, how was that?
MD: Very surreal! I got offered the chance to premiere a work by Lera Auerbach on theremin, over a 90 person Rutgers Symphony Orchestra. It was right before tour, so I asked for more money, and they gave it to me. It still seems kind of like a dream. It definitely got my theremin act together, and I nailed most of my parts but I blew a few entrances. On the theremin, it’s hard for most of us mortals to predict precisely how the note is going to sound when it comes out, so that prompted me to upgrade my theremin to the plus model. Even really great players that I look up to (Pamelia Kurstin, Kip Rosser) will sometimes slide around a hair when the note comes in. But now, before an entrance, I can hear the note before the audience does. It’s a godsend that Moog created that.