Not An Anti-Human

15 January 2015 | 4:06 pm | Anthony Carew

"I just wanted to make a record by myself, using the studio as an instrument."

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When Dan Deacon was in college in upstate New York, the “middle-class” Long Island native began studying political science and theatre. “I was hating both of them,” recounts the 33-year-old electronic composer. “It was like figuring out the two ways people lie to everyone.” In his spare time, Deacon was constantly writing music and, when he briefly considered dropping out (in part to escape the burden of debt), he decided to transfer to the music conservatory. Not out of any thoughts of careerism, nor thinking this move would ever pay back the burgeoning cost of higher education. “I figured if I was going to be in debt for my whole life, I might as well study music, so I’d at least have a few years where I had no other obligations than spending all day writing music.”

“I figured if I was going to be in debt for my whole life, I might as well study music"

Deacon had begun making music in the eighth grade, using a primitive version of MidiSoft. Exploring these rudimentary tools, Deacon taught himself not just the workings of computer composition, but chords and harmony too. He had a high-school rock band at the time, but found his compositions were ill-suited to that setting. “[My bandmates] were like, ‘This isn’t music for humans, it can’t be played, this is music for computers.’ At first I found that frustrating, but soon it became liberating. I saw the computer as both my instrument and the performer. So I started writing more dense and chaotic music, trying to make things so complex it’d make the computer crash. You couldn’t have dynamics, so the only way to make the music louder or quieter was to add or remove an instrument. I think that mindset has stuck through in a lot of my music.”

Immediately after Deacon graduated, he went on his first-ever tour – “I think I made like $80 profit, for four shows, after paying for food and gas. And I fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe that I’d made $80!” – and he hasn’t stopped since. Fresh off a tour from China, Deacon comes to Australia ahead of the release of his new LP, Glass Riffer, which follows up 2012’s ambitious song-cycle, America.

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“The last couple of records [America and 2009’s Bromst] have involved 20 people plus, recording with big ensembles, larger orchestral pieces, with me just serving as a ‘main producer’, not even being an engineer,” Deacon explains. “When I was touring America with a live band, I was writing all this material in the back of the bus on computer, just sitting there on the long drives writing music, and I wondered: ‘Why did I ever stop doing this? I love doing this!’ It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing for humans or working with humans, but I just wanted to make a record by myself, using the studio as an instrument. I’ve been so focused on live instruments I wanted to go back to making a record that was just me on my computer.”