Focused Systems Approach #1: [Buchla/Euro] >Margins Of Error
From 1983-2015, and resurrected in 2020 Illusion of Safety has been the ongoing project of Daniel Burke working alone and with many collaborators. Like many projects of a certain age it frustrates attempts at pat summation. It began after Burke drew from Throbbing Gristle’s farewell concerts the impetus to make sound his vehicle for confrontation, self-discovery, connection, and transcendence. Releasing over 30 full length records, tapes, and CD’s on labels such as Complacency, Odd-Size, Staalplaat, Tesco, Silent, Soleilmoon, Korm Plastics, Experimedia, Waystyx, Drone, and No Part Of It. Performing over 300 live concerts throughout Europe and the U.S. The work has been called ambient, post-industrial, noise, electro-acoustic, sound collage, improvisation, and power electronics, but they have been unwilling to limit their work to any given style or method. The sonic character and affective substance of the music will often shift abruptly within each recording and live performance. Here is the long form bio remaining alive thanks to the excellent Internet Archive Way Back Machine.
Would you please give a resumé of your musical activities?
I had some formal musical training in grade school a few years of saxophone and violin but never stuck with it. Did have a strong musical draw though as well as an avid interest in Art and all things provocative and challenging. Have come to realize one of the most formative experiences for me was screening 2001 A Space Odyssey when I was 10. I believe that influenced my appreciation for Science fiction, altered states of consciousness, and music as potential art. I was into Rock music primarily through my early twenties and over time branched to love many genres. I began experimenting with sound in 1981 with Mitch Enderle (DEAD TECH) following, and inspired by seeing, the very impressive final two performances by Throbbing Gristle. The original formation of IOS began in 1983 when I also began working with members of Dot Dot Dot (CHEER-ACCIDENT precursor) and eventually involving numerous Chicago area musicians. Working through 2015 as IOS in both ensemble and solo context there was something like 30 full length releases, hundreds of live action, a few tours of U.S. and Europe over the years and perhaps the denouement was my collaboration with Shen Wei Dance Arts in 2011 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC for his work Still Moving. The soundtrack features some of my earliest use of the eurorack modular. Shen Wei found my work through a post of an IOS performance I did on Susanna Bolle’s Rare Frequency radio broadcast, with no knowledge of my history, and contacted me through my youtube page. So there is always some hope of random opportunity through work posted online. Thymme Jones (CHEER-ACCIDENT) and I ran Complacency Productions from 1984, with many of our own releases as well as work by Jim O’Rourke & Eddie Prevost, Organum, Hands To, Eric Lunde, The Oblivion Ensemble, Chris Block, and Dead Tech. I was in a rock project called Ten Thick Bed playing Bass and Guitar with Jef Bek (DOT DOT DOT) in the late ’80’s. 1993-95 was a productive time, I completing 4 IOS releases and some other side projects: a CD called Groovy, a Disco/Jazz/Space/Groove sample based work which came out on Extreme Records in 1995. An Industrial/Techno/Sex-House CD on Complacency called Fixated “The Seven Inches of The Apocalypse”. I had a sample based Hardcore/Industrial/Techno/Thrash based project (yes, I do love 3-4 word compound descriptors) called Lilycrusher. We played a bit around Chicago and made some cool videos with Optique Vid-Tek that I will be posting along with the rest of the archive later this year. At the time I was way into acid house, techno and beats in general. We did a few chill-out areas for Drop Bass raves. A shame that hardly any rhythm worked its way into IOS output. Around that time my television broke and I decided to not fix it also abandoning newspapers & news, took up yoga, juicing, meditation and therapy. Those were some productive therapeutic days. Over the years since I’ve had collaborations with Jon Mueller, Randy Greif, Darin Gray, Z’EV, Cheer-Accident, Jim O’Rourke, Thomas Dimuzio, Kevin Drumm, Jeff Jerman, Eric Lunde, Bill Horist, Al Margolis, Olivia Block, and Travis Bird and others. There was a few live shows in Seattle and recordings completed in 2008 with the interesting improv trio Tertium Quid I formed with Bill Horist (guitar) & Dave Abramson (drums). I played guitar in a rock project called Twighlight Furniture around 2010, with the very talented Lorna Donley (R.I.P) formerly of the proto-punk Chicago band Da. I worked with CHEER-ACCIDENT playing laptop and other things for a year or so in 2010. We did some touring together in the U.S. and Europe, and much recording together which is yet to appear. I also made a slew of videos for some of their music YOUTUBESOUNDOFERROR. From 2013-2016 I had a radio show “The Voice of Reason” on WNUR at Northwestern University. Presenting a sub feature ranging from 30 minutes to some well over 2 hours called “Patchworks” (84 of which are archived here) featuring synthesizer music exclusively, incorporating many historical official releases as well as the output of many citizens of the Muffwiggler forum, snippets of demos, interviews, dialog, and anything synthesizer related I could find. It was fun using the on air studio and mixer, my laptop, and sometime live modular as a tool to blend audio sources of music and all things synthesis related. In regards to synthesis specific output the 2012 Illusion of Safety Bandcamp release “Beach Torso” features quite a bit of my early modular explorations among the other usual working methods I had employed as IOS. As does the 2012 release on nostalgia de la boue label: “The Inevitability Of Transformation”, An excellent live recording by Vincent Naples from his Dreambait series. I am now using the alias Soundoferror for my experimental electronic and synthesizer music without the baggage and connotations that exist with Illusion Of Safety. In 2014 the game of life web label published “Modern Magic”, my first release of purely modular synth music as Soundoferror.
What have you been working on lately, and do you have any upcoming releases or performances?
I took a long break from music work but am back to recording, composing, and working on new video. Starting Piano lessons in May of ’19 has really peaked my interest in making music again and more importantly helping me move toward more musicality in my audio experiments and sound work. Since The final IOS performance & release of Surrender on No Part Of It in 2015 I have begun the process of digitizing all IOS cassettes and obscure items to post on bandcamp or whatever label might express interest in a physical release and also transferring the original IOS video work to be posted later this year. The mail collaboration I did with Z”EV (R.I.P.) from 2008-2010 is finally being released on Vinyl. Arvo of No Part of It has gathered the support of a few labels in order to release it before the years end and will be available from No Part of It (US), Cipher Productions (AUS), Korm Plastics (NL), Drone Records (GER) and others. I have been working with video again and have finished a video album “Visions of Error”, a visual companion to the “Margins of Error” Modulisme release. I have begun reworking the final IOS release that was slated for Cold Spring and never appeared. Processing tracks through the modular and preening it back from its excessive double album length. Its been interesting to go back to this material with fresh ears. I wish I had had the discipline in the past to learn musical language and master an instrument. I started with classical sight reading lessons for piano last year and am grateful for the first 6 months because although it takes me a long time to translate I can do it eventually and can play one of my favorite piano works “Promenade Sentimentale” from the excellent film “Diva”. I’ve moved on to jazz improvising lessons with an amazing local teacher here named Ray Koehler. Not that I am interested in playing jazz per-se but it was a good choice as what he’s taught me translates to music construction and theory that is translating itself into more interesting music coming out of both the keyboards and the modular synths. I have started a website for my new more musical endeavors that is not specifically of an electronic/synthesis nature called FINITE MATERIAL CONTEXT which will also present some of the many past collaborations that were never published. As Soundoferror I have just completed the second installment of this Focused Systems Approach concept. This one is Focused Systems Approach #2: [Aalto] >Sleep Shapes. Using the really cool Aalto software by Madrona Labs, a very Buchlaesque interface, really well designed and a lot of fun. Its great to be able to set up iterations of a patch as presets and switch between them as a live compositional tool. These tracks were all live takes minimally processed with added delay and crossfades at a few select locations for transitional continuity only.
How were you first acquainted to Modular Synthesis?
When did that happen?
Not sure when I heard Switched On Bach but that perked me up. I was young and certainly not listening to or pre-disposed to enjoy classical music but that I loved from the start….Also Morton Subtonick’s, Silver Apples appeared to me, that was new music, something like I’d never heard…. so then its 1974/75, Im a teenager, doing acid a bit and Im hearing the synth sounds on Todd Rundgren’s “A Wizard A True Star” and “Todd” records and also Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The moon”, 3 albums which I love still and that include intriguing, beautiful, dark, and audacious synthesizer sounds. Todd’s Utopia project with quite a bit of interesting modular synth work there, saw them live at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago in 1975. Gong and their Angels Egg record was mind blowing. Tim Blake was amazing, had a great solo record too. Steve Hillage live in 1977 opening for ELO, had 3 very large modulars onstage, incredible! At the same time early local FM radio hearing that first Cosmic Jokers record then Cluster, Klaus Schultz, Gong, & Tangerine Dream sealed the deal. I must say that overall, the synthesizer work of Hillage and his partner Miquette is still the finest sounding (non-abstract) synth music I have ever heard, pristine, super fluid, and gorgeous. The Hillage solo records post Gong should be heard by all synth (and guitar) enthusiasts, highly underrated. His live work in the late 70’s was exemplary and super tight as can be seen with plenty of examples on youtube. Next and of course the most relevant influence to my musical output was my introduction to Throbbing Gristle in 1979. We were there for the “final” 2 concerts when the Mission was Terminated in 1981 and off we went. Chris Carter was a pioneer.
When did you buy your first system?
I had a tour of Serge on Haight street, must have been 1982 I think. Had a demo on a massive serge system, why I didn’t buy one I dont know… Finally shortly after that bought my first synth, a Crumar DS-2 around that time, like a moog, and a sad sad choice as I was pre-disposed to west coast and sound design, not playing a keyboard. I had the opportunity (probably in 2000) to buy from Jim O’Rourke’s collection of modulars before he moved from Chicago to Japan and surprisingly didn’t do it. Finally after much research on the MuffWiggler forum I made the plunge in 2011 for my first modular of Euro and primarily Doepfer modules. I was going to use it for processing tabletop guitar, having seen AMM twice in Chicago, Keith Rowe’s modus operandi was a huge inspiration to me, and I often used guitar as a sound board, but quickly abandoned that as the other myriad options for tonal exploration became available in the small system I built. I have paid for my lack of focus and in many ways.
What was the effect of that discovery on your compositional process?
On your existence?
Got me away from the computer thankfully, an amazing resource/tool but which had taken over a bit too much as the main instrument in live context. Although the mixer itself, objects, prepared guitar, field recordings, and electro-acoustic methods were consistently present and integral to the performance. The modular quickly became the most fun I’d had manipulating sounds in many years. The tactile quality, the sounds possible all contribute to a very satisfying experience. Its a rabbit hole of unknown depths and has been over the last 8 years my most used method of play when it comes to making sounds and building musical structure. On the other hand, at the same time, that experience of being in the moment, of just wanting to “play”, took me further away from wanting to do any composing or recording, or even bothering to hit the record button at all. And overall that has been a very good thing personally, further practice at being present and totally in the moment.
Quite often modularists are in need for more, their hunger for new modules is never satisfied? How do you explain that?
Consumer culture & chronic dissatisfaction: We all want more. I love that quote from The Grateful Dead “Too much of everything is just enough” -side note, just for the record, except for the album “Anthem of The Sun” (good record!) I am not a Dead fan. On the other hand it’s natural that we all like to experience new things and there are so many options for exploration and enjoyment, & why not… it gets hard to resist. Especially with Euro the proliferation of designs is staggering although the Buchla format options are growing nicely the last few years too. Someone once said to me “Its just a different flavor”.
Instrument building may actually be quite compositional (as you’re defining your sonic palette, each new module enriching your vocabulary). Would you say that that their choice and the way you build your systems can be an integral part of your compositional process? Or is this the other way round and you go after a new module because you want to be able to sound-design some of your ideas?
It’s all about choice. The module/tool/workflow will play an essential part to the end result one is able to generate. In my case I started with a system to process prepared guitar. Then moved on to tonality and sequencing but always kept my output in the realm of sound design/noise/experimental. I rarely start with an idea, music for me has been a series of spontaneous actions with a certain tool at hand leading to surprising outcomes that were then explored deeper. The module selection has played a part in that process. The amount of options available can be detrimental, and ability to focus has been a personal challenge, too many options and too many ideas are not conducive to finishing things. I learned the value of boundaries late in life. More often than not it is the potential of the module to do interesting things that draws me too it and then to explore it as play to see what occurs in the moment has been my experience. I also tend to leave a modular patched without much alteration for weeks or months at a time before re-patching as a way to explore the system deeper as a specific instrument that even with minor tweaking can produce drastically different results. The sound coming from a synthesizer with a minimal amount of play can easily be its own reward.
Would you please describe the system you used to create the music for us?
It was the first iteration of a small system of Buchla clone modules built by master craftsman Adam Scramstad (Muffwiggler: Djangosfire) including the 292c, 266, 281, & 259r (the main primary source for all these recordings).
A Soundscape Processor/Generator filter by (Lassence/Vedicscapes), Dual Quad LFO (Lassence/Vedicscapes), 297 Phase Shifter (the only actual Buchla module I had), Wave Processor Model 45 (Vedicscapes, serge design), Modcan 54B dual sequencer (bananafied), and some utilities like quad Joystick, ear drill module modules, mixers, and some fabulous Jason Butcher designs like the CVTG and 256ish…and the Euroblade adapter, integral to these tracks with both the Mungo D0 & Chronoblob delays, and a mixer for feedback.
Can you outline how you patched and performed your Modulisme session?
Mainly the Euroblade adapter w/Chronoblob and Mungo D0 delays are the biggest part of the sound of these recordings processing the 259 with the Lassence/Vedicscapes filter. From November – February 2012 I played this setup into an Ableton Live session building up about 8 hours of recordings. Then over time editing and re-composing these live takes into the tracks heard here. Perhaps the end result is something like 40% heard as played with no manipulation, the other 60% edited and constructed, but with no added elements or external treatments, all source material is from the system described. How it was patched exactly is never documented. There are still a few hours of interesting unused raw material from these sessions. The companion video album Visions of Error was a series of live grabs I made with the iPhone while I was laying down these tracks then processed with the Synthetic software Studio Artist 5 software.
What would be the system you are dreaming of?
I’d love to spend some quality time with a Synthi 100 next to an ARP 2500. For Live work specific: a set up Interfacing a DJ controller with my laptop & Serato, integrating my music library for source selection, running in sync with and processed by both Abelton Live and the euro modular system with sampling capability for mangling & decomposition, playing with samples of other music. The IOS CD Distraction which was released by Laurent Perrier on Odd Size in 1995 is a good example of my love of music deconstruction, playing with and subverting musical forms through sampling and remains one of my favorite IOS releases, plus he agreed to do it as a digipack 🙂 I am looking forward to returning to this technique and doing more musical sampling again, incorporating piano and keyboard and the recent language of music I have begun to learn. I have always flirted with musicality to varying degrees of success and it remains one of my goals to stretch the boundaries and bridge the gap between noise and music.
Are you feeling close to some other contemporary Modularists?
I have done many shows and a few collaborative CDs with my friend Thomas Dimuzio, he is a talented mastering engineer as well as having in depth knowledge of musical tools and software, his use of the Buchla system (and his previous weapon of choice the Kurzweil sampler) is exemplary. We are usually on the same page and I love him like a brother. Keith Fullerton Whitman & Richard Devine live, consistently make my jaw drop. The excellent work of Chicago synthesist Jason Soliday, is bracing and always fascinating. I am indebted for his teaching me about modular basics, introducing me to Ciat-Lonbarde tools and the Muffwiggler forum which has been an amazing source of so much interesting work and knowledge that I am grateful for. The choices that can be heard on my Patchworks radio show archives indicate where my synthesis interest rests.
Which pioneers in Modularism influenced you and why?
Morton Subotnick, new sounds unlike any I had heard before and Wendy Carlos, for the qualities of the instrument used to make this classical Bach music come alive for me. Chris Carter, sure made me think about music/sound in a different way and what was further possible with this technology. Brian Eno, Tim Blake, Steve Hillage, & Todd Rundgren, and while these all may not exactly be pioneers, have had a big influence on my love and appreciation of what synthesis can be in music. Kraftwerk really grabbed me with Computerworld, saw them live in Chicago brought their studio with, very cool. I’ve got to add John Foxx, the unparalleled Metamatic record was like yet another world opening up.
Any advice you could share for those willing to start or develop their “Modulisme”?
Become a member of the Muffwiggler forum, a great community of very helpful folk with many years of unbiased information on literally all things related to synthesis (and then some). The site is a great resource and populated by very friendly helpful people, unlike some forums. Then do some research to try to narrow down what you want to accomplish (if its possible to know such a thing), or what kind of system that would suit you and whats available to do that. Start small and slowly when obtaining and dig deep with each choice. Some even simple modules can be deep or have some hidden function or subtle nuance that deserves to be explored. Buy used if possible so you can keep the cost low and experiment. Re: Euro specific I can say that the Mungo D0 delay is unreal (they are fiddly with the zoom, with plenty of controversy there but believe me, worth the trouble). It can get into those Jimi Hendrixish moments of eyeballs rolling into the back of your head while your shuddering off into another state of consciousness. Thats where I like to hang out.