From Aural Innovations #32 (November 2005)
A few years ago an eccentric looking CD called Keep On Psychedelic Mind came across my desk for review. It seemed rather unassuming at the time. The cover showed some guy wandering around with a vacuum cleaner, of all things (later I was to learn it was a tribute to Zoot Horn Rollo of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band!). One spin of the disk, though, and I was hooked on the pulsing synthesized psychedelic tunes and otherworldly molten electronic soundscapes of Psychatrone Rhonedakk. Picking up where late 60's experimental bands like The Silver Apples and Tonto's Expanding Head Band left off, Psychatrone's early works are eerily reminiscent of those early, halcyon days of electronic music. In fact, his first "official release", the aforementioned Keep On Psychedelic Mind was intended as an ode to his favourite obscure psychedelic/experimental bands. I observed at the time though that, "Psychotrone Rhonedakk, while exploring the past, looks instead into the future of psychedelic music, and creates one of the most far out and refreshing listens of recent years," and, "Whether he cares to admit it or not, he's put his own unique stamp on some far out, trippy and exciting music and deserves a place amongst those he reveres."
I was not to be proven wrong, as the second Psychatrone release, Baron Von Rhonedakk and the Crystal Sun ably confirmed. On this album, Psychatrone had really come into his own, creating a unique sound (even on the versions of the several tunes he covered), which proved to be yet another wonderful excursion into weirdness that had me eager to hear more.
Psychatrone Rhonedakk - "Disturbs the Air" (Black Plastic Sound 2005, BPS-08)
Psychatrone continues his own unique trip on his third CD, this time with a bit more of a darker edge. Kicking things off with the murky and exotic sounding fuzzed guitar and rhythmic percussion of Violet Ray Theme, Rhonedakk continues exploring the less electronic side to his music, a welcome addition indeed, to his palette of sounds. He also once again displays his penchant for finding obscure and wonderful songs to cover, turning Gandalf's 1968 slice of psychedelic sunshine pop, Can You Travel in the Dark Alone? into an eerie yet thoroughly compelling meditation, complete with deep, spacey monk-like chants and swirling wind chimes. Ground Station Zero, in complete contrast, is an icy soundscape of unearthly electronics that pulse and shiver while a breathy whistling melodic line winds its way though it, like the lonely winds brushing across the frozen terrain of Pluto. Rhonedakk's cover of They Moved the Moon retains the moodiness of Warren Zevon's original but forgoes the crunchy 80's percussion in favour of a spacier approach. Which, of course, fits in very nicely with the overall feel of the album. Procession East, as the title would suggest, has an exotic, Asian feel to it, a stabbing, percussive melody built around a marching bell-like rhythm. The centerpiece of the album, Disturbed Air Molecules, is another of Psyhatrone's fiercely spacey soundscapes, this one certainly one of his finest, with throbbing electronic pulses, fragments of Middle Eastern sound melodies, and washes of warm and vibrant synth forming a meandering river of sound that draws you along in its powerful currents. Attic Toy Space takes the deep space chants and tinkling chimes of Can You Travel..., pushing them more towards atonal sonic experimentalism, with added twittering flute sounds and distant ghostly shrieks. It melts very nicely into the keening wail, windy space electronics and distorted vocals that make up Psychatrone's cover of The Turtles acoustic and, well, anthemic song Earth Anthem, ending the album on a very spiritual note.
In fact, a contemplative spiritualism seems to pervade the entire album, from the artwork, to the choices of cover tunes, to Psychatrone's own unique renderings, making Disturbs the Air one of his most focussed efforts. But this is also a continuation of his fascination with all things trippy, strange and psychedelic; yet another chapter in the ongoing journey of Psychatrone Rhonedakk to which we, the listeners, are warmly invited to join.
With the release of Disturbs the Air, I thought it was time to get down and have a serious chat with this intriguing fellow via e-mail.
Aural Innovations (AI): So how did you get started on this strange musical journey you find yourself on?
Psychatrone Rhonedakk (PR): When I look back it seems like I've been around for a long while, although it doesn't feel it. I guess the early messing around was in 1986, just making soundscapes and trash for my own amusement (some of which shows-up in the first two CD-R releases). Before that I sent out some cassettes in the late 1980's-early 1990's and someone suggested I press the stuff up a little more than casually.
So the "Best of..." was a CD-R I had done before stand-alone CD-R machines were affordable and the first whole run was defective! Then I did a really hand-made, sort-of ugly cover for it, which was a bit of a personal joke on my part and it got more notice (for how much it was hated) than the music! But KFJC (California), for some strange reason (God bless their weird souls), started to play the heck out of it!
So I thought, "It's just for me anyway. I'll just do this stuff for me, and maybe someone will like it." Besides the first and foremost reason I ever did any music releases at all (the initial cassettes) was to get local musicians here to get "jealous" and finally release some of their own music...be that because they thought that my music "sucked" and they could out-do me, or because I'd just have something out and they didn't. It didn't matter to me. I just knew lots of musicians that said they would not release their music until it was "perfect", believe it or not! So I'd seen a lot of good bands that never had any recorded "memory" of their even existing! What a shame!
AI: Your first official album was Keep On Psychedelic Mind, but you did do recordings before that?
PR: Before Keep On... I recorded many experiments and tunes. I'd spend hours and days doing tape cut-ups (like William Burroughs), and just hooking effects to different sound generators just for my own amusement. Ha, it was a sad and lonely life I led!
AI: The Sub-Underground Tapes were in fact a release of some of those early recordings. Can you tell me about how that came about? What made you decide to release it on vinyl? And why did you call them "The Sub-Underground Tapes"?
PR: The Sub-Underground Tapes is named that because an editor kept telling me that my music couldn't be reviewed because it was "Sub-Underground"! At first it stopped me dead in my tracks. I was saddened. Then I thought, "Well, up theirs, they just gave me my own genre! I'll go on in spite of their hurtful comments."
So, I laughed it off, and did what I was doing just for me in my little "Sub-Underground"! Well, as far as vinyl, that was just a dream I'd always had ever since I made my first music. I had always meant the music to be on an LP (or LP set). So I found Peter King (of New Zealand) who cuts LP's one at a time and went DIY again!
AI: Your first album, Keep On... was intended as something of a tribute to the artists who have influenced you. What are some of the more obscure artists that have influenced you?
PR: I've already mentioned the TALL DWARFS and Terry Riley in my liner notes. They were the ones who freed my mind and introduced me to tape loops, and that got me to realize that I COULD do it myself...all alone.
The Plastic People of Prague were very inspirational. This band survived a government that wanted to crush them, and they even helped topple that government too! If they could do it then I could. Forget the outside world and just be what you want to be!
Magical Power Mako's music was a great eye opener for me. His "Hapmonium" series of releases were unbelievable snips and collections of interesting and undefinable sound and music. He's a real dreamer.
Then Brian Eno 's minimalism was a big deal to me early on. I'd love to be as imaginative as he is.
OMIT from New Zealand makes me jealous.
Then there's Trembling Strain who are a dark, mystic sounding band that has about five releases. They are like an evil version of early, instrumental Ghost with throbbing, spectral soundscapes and moaning vocals. Trembling Strain just keep occasionally putting out CD's to what seems like almost no audience, and yet they are such a fine and freaky outfit that they've been an inspiration to me to keep on going, not to mention an influence on pieces like "Attic Toy Space".
AI: You were involved with one of the TALL DWARFS recordings, weren't you?
PR: Yes, they asked for tape-loop experiments to use on their next album (a while back in a CD's liner notes) and I went totally nuts. I sent them tape after tape of loops and weird stuff that I'd done, because they meant so much to me...I felt I just "had" to be on their CD! I was lucky they didn't go running the other direction because of the amount of sounds I sent to them. But my mad little plan worked; I was so happy too. The song is "Pull The Thread and Unravel Me" on the Tall dwarfs' STUMPY. They took what I thought was the least likely experiment I'd sent them and made a fine song 'round it. What a great couple of musicians and characters they are!
AI: What other musician's projects and side projects have you been involved in?
PR: I also did production on my friend's CDs. He goes by the name Kid Icarus, and I have contributed some occasional sounds to his albums too. It was a lot of fun to try and help a local musician get a good sound using just our little Cro-Magnon recording devices.
I am also proud to have written the liner notes to the latest Magical Power Mako! It's his 30th Anniversary release, on Novel-Sounds from Japan. It's got the most elaborate packaging: a golden mesh bag, t-shirt, tote-bag, and gold-foil origami too! Whew! It's called "Cosmo Grosso"...and, of course, it's not available easily in the US. Great album though! He's something else I tell ya!
I also have a track on the last ROTKOP magazine (ever), called FOK ROTKOP. The tiny 'zine (3 inches square) has a 3" CD in it and I have the last song on it, a cover of "Everybody's Gotta Live" (by LOVE). It's funny, the 'zine seems to all be NOISE experiments and then, I guess like a eulogy to the 'zine's demise, my little organ-based cover ends the thing. The only place I've seen it for sale is www.carbonrecords.com. I guess it's a true collectable, ha!
AI: On Keep On..., you did a couple of tracks with guitarist Brian Turner...can you tell me a bit about that collaboration?
PR: Those Brian Turner tracks were recorded when Brian came back to Pennsylvania to visit family. Years before Brian was a fellow "dreamer of music" here. We would just set-up a few amps and jam, some of that was recorded. Brian is a great experimenter in sound even though he talks it down. He can just spontaneously come up with great raw riffs and weird tunings. I wish I could do more with him. He had a short-lived local band that covered CAN, etc!
AI: And of course, you collaborated on a few tracks on your second album, Baron Von Rhonedakk and the Crystal Sun, with none other than Cotton Casino, (formerly) of Acid Mothers Temple. How did that collaboration come about? What was it like working with her?
PR: I'd been a big AMT fan (obviously) and, while corresponding with Kawabata, I sent him a copy of my first CD. Well, next thing I knew it Cotton e-mails me and says she "loves my sound"! So, I have to admit that she was a personal hero of sorts to me...I had the feeling we were of kindred spirit...and so I was amazed when she suggested we do a session together through the mail!!
I love what came of those sessions, but poor Cotton's life was in an uproar during it all, and things were cut-short. It should have been an entire album with Cotton and me...but in the middle of us recording she found Bill (her new love) and quit the Acid Mothers too. Her new life was a bit frantic, and we released what was there from our sessions. She's a sweetheart, and she and Bill ended up being alluded to as the "John & Yoko" of AMT, unfairly I might add. In the end what came out strangely reflected the situation exactly, even though the last tracks were meant to include Cotton too and were recorded long before things got weird. The CD's songs reflect hope, loss, and new beginnings...so fate must have guided it all along?
AI: What about the title of that album, Baron Von Rhonedakk and the Crystal Sun? It seems to be a take on or tribute to the Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Frieberg album Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun. Was this intended? If so, is there something in particular about that album that inspired you?
PR: Ha! Yeah, that's a play on the title of that album. A bit like how the Acid Mothers play on LP tiltes...or I'd hoped so!
Well, first off the CD was going to be called "A Nice Pair" after the Floyd LP set. But when it became apparent that Cotton would only be on part of that release, I started to search for a new idea...
So there was an Acid Mothers' song called Soliel de Cristal et Lune D'argent (Crystal Sun and Silver Moon in English) and the CD it came from was a favorite at that time and so was Baron Von Tollbooth... so in the end I thought of how "happy" and "bright" Cotton was and we'd done Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun. So why not have her be my "Crystal Sun" and I became the dark "Baron"? My cover is a play on the AMT side project "Father Moo" by the way. Kawabata said it was the "Daemon Father Moo" picture!
It seemed a nice fit, and this was to be the CD representing "Light", while I knew "Disturbs The Air" was the dark half of this CD duo. It was all just plans at that time, but I had a good idea of what both albums would be in the finish. All of my music seems to only look at the light from some dark location anyway it seems. Don't you think so?
AI: Speaking of Set the Controls…, on every album, you always pick a few interesting songs to cover. What attracts you to a particular song that makes you want to cover it?
PR: The covers are songs that haunted me at the time of the album's recording, really. What's funny is that after doing those cover versions, the songs usually play less in my mind...like an exorcism was performed.
AI: I'm going to change the topic here a little bit. I know you've been a strong advocate of home and DIY recording. What's your advice to musicians who are thinking about doing this?
PR: Yeah, DIY music is some of the best. I love to hear music by people who just dream it, record it, and release it! My advice is don't over-think your release. Meaning don't keep polishing your sounds until they're "flat", or also don't keep saying, "it's not good enough" after over analyzing your recordings. Make your music for yourself first, do what you'd love to do. Then put your album together and just make your mind up to do it.
Also mail your own promos out and forget spending on a PR man. Hand-packed promos seem to catch attention after all those PR-ed CD packs are in the trash. Don't give up, it takes months to see that first review. In the end, most of all, make-up your mind that you are doing it all for yourself and sharing your music with anyone interested. Because then you will be true to your vision and you'll never be disappointed either!
AI: What about your gear? What synths and other instruments do you use?
This will probably be very disappointing.
I have five keyboards, a KORG switchboard-type antique, a KORG DELTA (1970's?), a MOOG (Realistic MG-1), a cheap-o Yamaha home keyboard, and one deluxe KAWAI. I have a no-name acoustic guitar, and a no-name electric....cheap $125 jobs. My hand drums are very non-pro, and my effects are guitar kick pedals. So, in effect I record on what most consider trash!
So is that embarrassing or what? I use a good Shure Mic and my 4-Track cassette for recording. Yes, I live in the Stone Age!
AI: Not a disappointing answer at all! I think some of those so-called "junk sounds" are just wonderful. I'm curious though, is there a particular synthesizer (either one that you have or one you wish you had) that you favour the sound of? What do you like about it?
PR: Each of my synths seems to be best at one particular thing....
The KORG switchboard is a great solo device, the KORG DELTA does great organ sounds and has polyphony, the cheap YAMAHA has 600 great sounding instruments and is a God-send for weird instrument sounds, and the KAWAI is just an all 'round incredible beast.
I sure wish I could have a Mellotron or Theramin...sigh....
Oh yeah the MOOG is my newest buy and seems more of a sound-making device than a tuneful synth, but that's very cool! "Ground Zero Station" is all that one keyboard.
AI: Do you ever get the chance to perform live?
PR: No. I could never reproduce my sound live, especially since I use no sequencers. I found one fellow musician here in Scranton, PA that might have been a good live co-conspirator but the plans fell through every time we tried to even meet to practise. Now I'm just trying to get him to put out his own CD.
AI: In the liner notes on "Keep On…" you mention something about "Zen over-dubbing." What's that all about?
PR: Now that could be looked at as a bit of a joke, but for me it's a reference to a new way I was looking at how I record.
In my early recordings I was over-dubbing myself to claustrophobic proportions, meaning I was making the mixes very "dense" and I kept re-playing the parts 'til they were sterile. But in 1999, or about there I found the book "Zen Guitar" by Philip Toshio Sudo and read it. At first I just wanted a nice, easy introduction to what Zen was all about, because a former friend of mine had adopted Zen and was always trying to make it some mystical thing. But the thing with this "friend" was he adapted the Zen ideas into reasons friends of his should accept him being more and more greedy and using, and I knew that couldn't be what it was all about.
So as I read the book, I found that even though it's called "Zen Guitar" the discipline it teaches you is useful for lots of things(and it had nothing to do with using people for your own purposes). I was also wrong in thinking Zen was a religion. It's a discipline for keep your life on track,as far as I can see.
Anyway the "zen over-dubbing" idea I came-up with was that even though the parts of my recordings are just layer upon layer of myself, I'd only do the seperate dubs once or twice, with the goal being "first takes only". That way the spirit in the sounds wouldn't be ironed flat like I felt was happening on my early pieces. There was no more trying to make each layer absolutely perfect. So I hoped the human element would still be in the sounds. Also this would stop me from endlessly revising my past and keep me moving forward.
I'd really recommend that any musician or artist should read "Zen Guitar". It has some great mind sets for anyone, and they are useful in daily life too. One is to keep a "white belt" mind no matter how accomplished you are (even if you consider yourself a "black belt" player). In other words, to keep a "learning mind" all through your experiences. Plus it has some interesting ideas...like to consider your instruments as tools that deserve respect. So if you take your instrument out you should plan to do something with it right then. Then respectfully clean it and place it back in it's case or where-ever you keep it. It is also said in this book (I believe) that "if you make a mistake playing, then do it three more times". That way there are no mistakes.
So through my former friend's strange idea of Zen he, in essence, introduced me to basic Zen philosophy! Now I know that this occurrence is what is called finding the path (or pathway), and also that strange circumstance can sometimes guide you to stay on your path. So, in a way, I belong to the Dojo of Zen Guitar.
AI: On your latest CD, Disturbs the Air, you have a song called Violet Ray Theme, and in the liner notes you also mention "The Cult of the Violet Ray" on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (A Scranton Compilation on Prison Jazz Records). So what is the Violet Ray all about?
PR: Yes, I'm glad you asked!
First of all the "Violet Ray" is a quack doctoring device that was sold in the 1930's (I believe), at the beginning of the use of electricity in homes. It had a probe you plugged into your "new-fangled"(at the time) electric socket, and at its tip you jacked-in a glass device shaped to stimulate blood flow through different parts of your body by electric shocks! Each glass probe lit from the inside with a violet spark as you placed it on your skin. There were probes for your throat, face, hands,...even a comb for growing hair!
So, with the mind I have I couldn't stop myself from dreaming-up a "cult" that might worship such a mystical looking device! I'd seen a violet ray as a child and was amazed and I've wanted to own one ever since, and in the 1930's electricity was even more mysterious. People were amazed. "Could electricity be the cure all?", they thought. But is the "cult" a thing of the past...? Hmmmm? More later there!
Along the way Prison Jazz records asked for an exclusive track for a Scranton, PA music compilation they will someday soon put out. So I wrote a set of lyrics about "violet haze" taking pain away etc, sang a violet ray chant, and soon they had their exclusive cut! What you have on "Disturbs The Air" is the instrumental version of just the guitar theme of that "sister" track that'll be on "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere".
In the end Prison Jazz asked what the "Ray" was in the song too, and I told them to web-search the name. Never having done a "search" myself I decided to see what the web had to say. Little did I know, the violet ray is now super expensive on E-Bay because with new, modern-day attachments it's being used in bondage dens! So there very well may be a real cult! Ha! Amazing!
AI: So what does the future hold for Pyschatrone Rhonedakk?
PR: Psychatrone's future is put "on-hold" just for a bit right now. Because right after the recordings for "Disturbs..." ended,my wife and I had a child!
But along the way to this day I have been collecting some old, small ,stringed instruments....a tiny lap harp and Ukelin (a bowed instrument mixing a ukalele and violin) so far. So maybe after life settles down again there'll be an album with a more natural, organic, drone-psych sound? That and ever more vocals are my long range plans for now, anyway. But right now our boy of less than a year is the latest Rhonedakk family project! He's wonderful!
AI: Well, all the best to you and Mrs. Rhonedakk, and little Psychatrone as well! We'll all be looking forward to what comes next!
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