By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
io Drones Alone
Is there a lonelier endeavor than creating ambient music in Orange County—besides umbrella merchant? In the seven months I've lived here, I've encountered but a few souls making challenging, beatless music that's more suited for soundtracking deep-space travel and inner-space meditation than for rocking/dancing/snorting/cavorting.
But this situation doesn't bother Jonas Laster, who records in Costa Mesa under the name io. He's just released a CD and DVD titled At Land in a handmade wooden box. The painstaking craftsmanship lavished on the packaging manifests itself even more so in Laster's sound and visuals. (He performed the piece live at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art in July.)
The CD contains 45 minutes of warm, languidly lapping guitar drones, placid pulsations, solar-flare dilations, aquatic burbles, wispy vocalizations and looped chants from the Buddha Machine device created by FM3, which seem to emanate from the ocean's bottom. The sound is simultaneously vast and intimate, making you feel as if the universe has become your womb. But don't think io produces wishy-washy New Age air-freshener; At Land possesses a subtle intensity and a concentrated burrowing quality that launch it more toward the unsettling radiance of György Ligeti and Main's works than that of the Windham Hill roster. The DVD starts with multicolored, ectoplasmic orbs and obelisks that glint, float and migrate across the screen with frictionless ease, like sea creatures in a lava lamp. It then morphs into a series of overlapping images of sky/water/mountains/meteor showers. The visuals gradually become more realistically nature-oriented—and more riveting.
In his youth, Laster went through typical hard-rock/punk/post-punk phases before he exponentially expanded his horizons when he started working at a record store. He went on to play guitar in four rock bands, all the while recording solo material.
"I was always working with tape, whether recording songs or atmospheres, creating feedback loops with my effects pedals, or simply recording sounds outside with a portable recorder," he says. "This sort of thing eventually landed me a gig as a sound designer, which is how I make my living."
Laster states that his creativity arises through "the rock vs. atmosphere dynamic. io definitely leans more toward the atmosphere side of the coin, but I still think it has some very rock-type things in it as well—some of the timbres, for example. Other things I do may be more rock but still will be presented in an atmospheric context."
What drew Laster to compose atmospheric drone music, something appreciated by very few people? "[Drones] are so damn immersive and are very conducive to imagination and visualization. Now, something like Slayer, who I totally love, are great in their reptilian brain sort of way, but I just find that with atmospheric music or drone music, I tend to use much more of my brain. As for [my own music], it's just a matter of having the ability to create something that I love to experience. It's like the lab rat that constantly pushes on a lever because it sends a jolt of current to the pleasure centers of its brain."
io's work has excellent meditational qualities—and it may trigger the desire to ingest psychedelics and escape reality. "I would consider [it] 'head music.' I liken listening to my music to listening to a movie with the picture turned off. So, if a person really likes having lyrics or a snappy drumbeat to guide them, then my music will probably hold little value to them. However, if a person likes to spend a lot of time inside their own heads, daydreaming, imagining, meditating, then I think that person has a better chance of finding value in what I do."
Besides his OCCCA performance, io rarely plays out, preferring to make each outing a unique event rather than a standard concert. "I'd prefer to have new video and audio each time I played," Laster says. "If I did repeat something like At Land, then I'd like to find a cool, unique space to do it in. As a result, I don't really plan on playing tons of live shows, but when I do, I want it to be really immersive and cool." Perfect adjectives for the man's music.
Free Blood: Give Till It Spurts
John Pugh used to drum and vocalize in post-punk dance ensemble !!!—who balance flagrant party-rocking raunch with the sort of abrasive textures that make The Wire readers all hot and bothered. With Free Blood, Pugh transfers his previous outfit's good-time vibes to a trio formation with singer Madeline Davy and !!! member Dan Gorman. The Brooklyn-based band favor chanted vocals, smacking beats that leave bruises on erogenous zones and the sort of promiscuous inspiration assimilation that keeps you guessing where they're coming from. (Check out their influences at www.myspace.com/freeblood: Pharoah Sanders and Hall & Oates? Chrome and Timbaland? Roxy Music and Norman Whitfield? Works for me.) Free Blood are connected enough to enlist British electro-house smoothies Hot Chip to remix their "Quick and Painful" into some tweaked-out freakiness that should drive clubbers crazy. Pugh told London's loudandquiet.com zine, "[W]e're looking for the kind of people who, no matter how much you poke them with a stick, are gonna wanna stay there and dance." Prepare to be poked—and stoked.