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Dan Deacon

Baltimore’s Dan Deacon first made a name for himself through his raucous shows. Not only did the noisy electronicist play from within his audience, he’d also lead crowds in activities like “the gauntlet,” which entailed everyone in the house locking arms to create a heaving tunnel of dancing people. His performances are the stuff of legend, and soon enough, Deacon’s musical creations may be too. New album Bromst finds the artist combining technical innovation (like a computer-rigged player piano) and good old fashion composition to create a percussion-heavy maximalist brute of a record. And not to be outdone, Deacon the performer steps it up for his current tour with a 15-piece crew that borrows members from the opening acts. He also distributed sheet music in advance, so that fans can conceivably partake in the show, like tonight's appearance at the Troubadour. When Decider caught up with Deacon, he’d just come from a hypnosis therapy session led by a friend.

Decider: You’re always in the midst of one grand idea or another. Do your projects ever overwhelm you?


Dan Deacon: Constantly. I need to start honing in on projects that I want to devote my time to and not put my energies into the unattainable ones. I was forced to do that in college—I did my masters and undergraduate at the same time, taking, like, 32 credits a semester. So there wasn’t room for bullshit. I’ve since become really good at overwhelming myself.

D: Do you do anything specific to cope with it?

DD: Aside from hypnosis therapy? [Laughs.] I throw ideas out into the open when I really should just be writing them down in a journal. I definitely need to not talk about theoretical albums in interviews with Pitchfork until the album exists in some way.


D: You’re referring to Bromst’s unreleased sister album, Bronst?

DD: Yeah. Bronst could come out today, but I think that’d be a stupid move. I decided not to rush it. I felt like I was trying to flex my musical cock, like, “Yeah, you see that album? I put out another one three months later. Whuuut!” That would just be me trying to prove something, and that’s not why I make music. I want to give it time to ruminate.


D: The MIDI-rigged player piano is such an integral feature of Bromst. Are you doing anything to approximate it on the road?

DD: Most of the player piano parts are realized by guitar and sine-wave generator. The most challenging parts are the mallets. The ensemble is mainly percussion and electronics with a couple of string parts, which is why touring with Teeth Mountain made so much sense. There are some really skilled musicians in that band and a lot of drummers.


D: Could any human being—say, Liberace if he was alive—actually perform the player piano’s parts?

DD: If you had 24 people, you could realize the part for any instrument, but the piece was written for a mechanical instrument. In the same way that a computer can’t play the way a human does, a human can’t play the way a computer does. And with the computer, you can have 150 sound occurrences at one instant. A human doesn’t have 150 fingers, and unless you prepared it a certain way, or used some sort of modified… No, no. The simple answer would be no way. But I’d love it if someone tried and proved me wrong.


D: So how exactly does one play a sine-wave generator?

DD: Well, the instrument, a sine-wave generator, has two main parts you can play. One is the macro tune, which multiplies the layers of waves times 10, times a hundred… I normally use the “times a thousand” range. Then you have the fine tune, which modifies the pitch, which I then run into a series of pedals and modulators.


D: How does a square wave differ?

DD: They’re different shapes and have different harmonic content, but there are an infinite number of wave shapes, and one theory is that all of it is built out of sine waves. Even our voices right now—if you were to break it down, me speaking would be countless sine waves on top of each other being formed by my throat, my mouth, my tongue, the air around the space, and the volume at which I force it out. That idea has always sort of fascinated me. It’s true of light and everything.


D: In an older interview, you broke down your unique sound rig, and most of the pieces were acquired on the cheap. Was that due to necessity or choice?

DD: Definitely necessity. I was broke when I started, but the setup has changed a little—well, in addition to all of the living people. I’m trying out some new equipment that my friend Carl built based upon several meetings we had.


D: Your greater M.O. seems distinctly populist. Do you adhere to a manifesto?

DD: The main thing I want to do is make people feel more connected and more active. It’s hard to articulate this without sounding like a complete hippie bullshit artist, but then, a lot of those hippie ideals are true—they’ve just been deliberately made to seem hokey by mass media. Say you buy a shirt. Who made this shirt? What is the source of the dye? Did it get here on a ship? Obviously, I’m not trying to say all of that with Bromst, but that’s a goal of a lot of artists these days: to make people realize that as the world becomes more global, every decision counts. The main way I can have some sort of impact is by bringing people together at my shows. I’ve had people come up to me and say, “I didn’t know this person until we were holding hands in the gauntlet and now we’re close friends.” That makes me feel like something’s working.


D: When all’s said and done, whom do you want your name to wind up next to in the musical halls?

DD: [Long pause.] Gallagher. No. Please do not use that. God, I’m ruining this interview. I don’t think I can answer that. I would just hope to be respected by my peers, and that the music lasts. When Spiderman Of The Rings came out, a lot of people thought it was a fluke, and I think shows that it wasn’t. But who knows? What’s important to me is that I’m happy with the music I make.


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