Junto Profile: Joe McMahon, aka Equinox Deschanel

From West Virginia, now SF Bay Area: welcome imperfection, false dichotomies

This Junto Profile is part of a new series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.

What’s your name? Joe McMahon, but since there are three of us by that name who are musicians, I use Equinox Deschanel for my musical endeavors. I’ve also performed with a number of groups in collaboration with Mike Metlay: as a part of Team Metlay back in the 1990s and at two of the Different Skies festivals while he was running those at Arcosanti, Arizona, in the early 2000s. (I’m not counting the Chicago cover band in high school.)

Where are you located? I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area right now, but I’m originally from a small town in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. I moved from there to the Washington, D.C., suburbs, where I worked for NASA for 25 years, and from there out to San Francisco, then Palo Alto, Redwood City, and finally San Jose.

My family was musical — we all sang, my mother played the piano, and my grandfather was a fiddle player. I taught myself piano and learned trumpet in school. My electronic musical life has mostly been an online one; before high-speed internet, I visited Pittsburgh and Tallahassee to collaborate with friends, and occasionally jammed with people in the D.C. area. In S.F.,  I’ve played in a performance of Cardew’s Treatise (sight reading it during the performance — not sure I’d recommend this!) and played in the 2010 Droneshift performance in San Francisco on drainpipe didgeridoo (I do not take myself seriously). 

What is your musical activity? The best way I’ve been able to describe my music is as exploring the fractal edge of planning and coincidence; I like to set up a framework that has a vague direction, but let happenstance and “what happens if I turn this control all the way” take me to interesting places. 

My influences are wildly varied: jazz, musique concrète, ambient music, generative music, “classical” electronic music, prog rock, Spike Jones, Laurie Anderson, Frank Zappa — anything that looks at things a little bit sideways. Or a lot. I like making things that make me happy to listen to, that you can sink into and enjoy, that make you smile, or make you laugh, or make you say, “oh, that was nice.”

I’ve been working seriously at recording and performing music since the mid-1990s, though I played other instruments, sang, and taught myself all my terrible piano habits before my teens. My middle school band teacher led me down the path to jazz and improvisation, and an elective class in college let me learn that I did indeed have a knack for synthesizers and editing (tape splicing FTW!).

I credit my fellow musicians at the 2010 Different Skies festival with encouraging me to actually start releasing my music instead of sitting on it and waiting for it to be exactly right, and the Earth Mantra netlabel for giving me wider exposure.

I’ve most recently been pressed for time, so I’ve been doing generative pieces, in particular learning how to turn Brian Eno’s Scape application into a serious performance instrument. I’m also learning how to use the iOS application AUM to build multi-instrument performances on the iPad, including embedded virtual modular from MiRack, and how to use Ableton Live effectively. I’m concentrating mostly on tools that let me use just one piece of equipment at a time, either the iPad or my laptop. And I’m still planning on getting my trumpet back out again.

Formative moments: 

  • 1962, 5 years old: Telstar, by the Tornadoes.
  • Quincy Jones, Killer Joe on the radio at 10 or so.
  • Timesteps and the main theme from A Clockwork Orange. That phasing bass!…the main theme was the first piece I ever worked out by ear. My parents got really tired of me fumbling my way through a dirge for hours at a time.
  • 90 minutes of playing with an ARP 2600 when I was 15. 
  • Stumbling across Stereo Electronic Music #1, by Bülent Arel, about that same time.
  • Improvising live with no score and no plan and a room full of people for a full half hour, and having it all work, at the Team Metlay recording sessions in 1992.
  • 1/1, Brian Eno, which I didn’t actually hear until 1995!

What is one good musical habit? Learn to accept imperfection. The Junto has in particular reinforced this: there just isn’t time to agonize about every single nuance of performance and conception when you’ve only got a few days to do it in, embracing what comes and making it work. Do it, record it (or not!), release it. It takes many, many snowflakes to make a glacier. Giving yourself this luxury of acceptance is very freeing.

Turn It Loose: Joe McMahon, originally of West Virginia

What are your online locations? Musically, you can find me doing my show on RadioSpiral (spiral.radio) on Monday evenings 6-8PM Pacific time, when I’ll be on the RadioSpiral Discord (radiospiral.chat) and in Second Life; during the rest of the week, I’ll be on the Disquiet Junto Slack, and various TTRPG Discords, particularly The Good Friends of Jackson Elias. I sometimes drop in on Lines (llllllll.co), but I’m not a frequent poster there.

My blog is at pemungkah.com — my old handle that I still use a lot of places because it’s one of my favorite gamelan pieces (which I did indeed do a cover of  at one point).

I’m on Mastodon at @[email protected], though I’m still ramping up on that. I seldom use my Instagram, but will probably port that over to Equinox Deschanel at some later date.

My Bandcamp is at pemungkah.bandcamp.com/; it really should be at equinox-deschanel, but I hadn’t decided on using that until after I set up Bandcamp.

My Soundcloud, with all my Junto tracks, is at soundcloud.com/equinox-deschanel.

What was a particularly meaningful Junto project? There are several — the trio projects from 0429 to 0432 were particularly fun, and so inspiring that I did several tracks in each of those! I was particularly fond of Off Angle, from Junto 0431.

I was incredibly happy with how well the vibe track came out; I felt almost like I was playing live with the rest of the trio.

The solo  track that I think was the most successful was from Junto 0456, Line Up: ”Interpret a painting by Agnes Martin as if it were a graphic score.” I think this is my very best interpretation of a Junto prompt. I got to use a virtual ARP 2600 and Buchla Music Easel (two of my very favorite synthesizers) on the track, and I’m exceptionally proud of the performance I got out of Ableton Live and some very restrained control tweaking. 

What would you say to someone who has trouble understanding how jazz, which can be perceived as improvisatory, can relate to electronic music, which can be perceived as structured?

I think it’s really a false dichotomy – at some timescale, there’s always a choice being made about what the next note is; traditional jazz just turns the dial way up (as I so love to do) to “we have a framework that we’ve agreed upon, but most of the time we’re not going to plan what any of us is going to play until we perform the piece”.

There’s still a lot of structure: this is the “head” – the melody we’ll play as a starting point – and these are the chord changes we’ll use, and these are the cues we’ll use to decide who’s soloing and for how long. It’s just that it’s a different structure.

A tracker piece, for instance, turns the intuition dial way down: every note has to be precisely specified as this note, this long, on this instrument. But that decision of “what note is next?” has to be made before the next set of parameters can be typed: heavy planning, very little coincidence – but there still needs to be an instinctual decision as to what the next thing is, even if it’s going to be set in stone. Or electrons.

But many genres of electronic music absolutely do improvisation, as much as jazz does; they just do it with fewer simultaneous instinctive choices happening. Berlin-school pieces often have a synth solo or guitar solo happening over a repeating background, much like a jazz solo over a set of chord changes. Many, many modular artists set up a framework via an initial patch and then explore where they can go from there. 

For me, this maps right into the same headspace as jazz; it’s just that the kind of improvisation is different. Tweaking knobs, switching cables, and fading things up and down are still instinctual choices in the moment, taking that leap of faith that you know your instrument and have goals in mind, and that you will find them by exploring.

Many of the pieces I’ve done for the Junto have, at their heart, been deeply influenced by jazz, but not necessarily in terms of harmony; but instead in terms of making those instinctual choices during the performance in pursuit of the final piece. 

Sometimes they’ve been improvisations on an extremely stretched time-scale, where I take a set of “notes”, like a series of industrial fan samples, foghorns, or tweaks to a patch, and improvise how and when I play them over a longer period of time. Sometimes they’re “I can hear what would work with this; let me get my hands on the keyboard and find it.” Sometimes it’s “I’ve got these loops, and I know how they sound; I’ll wait and listen and hit the button when it’s time for this one.”

It’s all still jazz, you just have to squint to see it!

Junto Profile: Klaus-Dieter Hilf, aka RabMusicLab

From Heidelberg, Germany: Mathematics, Munich, MIDI

This Junto Profile is part of a new series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.

What’s Your Name? My name in real life is Klaus-Dieter Hilf. And because I love rabbits and make music on my computer with technical equipment, I chose RabMusicLab as my musical avatar.

Where Are You Located? I lived all my life in southern Germany. I grew up mainly in Munich, studied Mathematics in Augsburg, worked one year in Munich, and then did my Ph.D. at Heidelberg University. In the mid-’90s I moved to Stuttgart to start working in the automotive industry. To some extent Stuttgart was a cool place for me, because it had small music clubs where very varied indie bands performed. I was an enthusiastic music fan at that time, reading specialized music magazines, listening to my favourite radio station, buying CDs from bands my friends rated as obscure, and attending every concert that seemed to be worth it.

Over the years the enthusiasm cooled down, but I am still enjoying live concerts off the beaten track. In 2012 I moved to Edingen-Neckarhausen, a small town near Heidelberg, to live there with my wife.

Klaus-Dieter Hilf: “a very rewarding experience to see how a track evolves”

What Is Your Musical Activity? As a teenager I had piano lessons for several years, and fortunately enough they also touched contemporary music. Looking back I regret having stopped having lessons in my last year before A-levels. When I started to study I bought a Yamaha DX7. But my interest in using it vanished — it wasn’t so much fun playing on my own.

The following 30 years I played on this synthesizer from time to time, mainly doing simple improvisations. But there were also times when I did not touch it for months or years in a row.

One fateful morning in January 2018 I leafed through the music magazines in the station’s bookshop and discovered a computer magazine on music. It included a Cubase LE download code, and this incited me to just try out making music on a computer. Within a short time I was totally fascinated by the possibilities to create whole tracks only with a computer while the good old DX7 served me as a MIDI keyboard. I started to dive into this world, learning from scripts and online tutorials, upgrading software, and buying virtual instruments. During the first Corona lockdown in spring 2020, and the subsequently reduced working hours, I had a lot of time and made much progress in using Cubase. Nonetheless I am still learning…

Making music now turned into my main leisure activity. I really enjoy creating music just for my own pleasure — mostly on weekends. I still use Cubase, virtual instruments and samples, and only a MIDI keyboard and MIDI controllers as hardware. I am not limited to certain genres — and I like to venture into new territories like drone music, often incited to do so by the great Disquiet Junto project suggestions. I grew more self-confident, losing the anxiety to be “not good enough,” to “not know the rules of the genre,” or to not be a “real” artist.

What Is One Good Musical Habit? One good habit is to start creating a track without a clear vision where to go. For me it is a very rewarding experience to see how a track evolves from accidental finds of sounds or presets of instruments and effects, or sudden inspirations and associations. It is important not to stop the flow by thoughts like “but I wanted to create a synth-pop track,” but just let go of all self-imposed limits. Time begins to fly and creativity works its wonders.

Sometimes the result is a completely different piece of art with hardly any resemblance to the vague idea at the start, and afterwards I can’t really explain how the track came into being.

Such experiences are deeply satisfying to me and make me happy. For me this is the essence of making music.

What Are Your Online Locations? My online activities are very reduced. I upload my music on Soundcloud, and use its “SoundCloud for Artists” service to publish some of the tracks on other streaming platforms. I enjoy the Disquiet Junto discussions on llllllll.co about the individual contributions, learning a lot from them, and hoping to give inspiration to others with my explanations. Apart from that I “advertise” new tracks on Twitter and Mastodon. On the whole I try not to spend too much time browsing all the music-relevant information there — although it is often very rewarding, like the discovery of the Asynchronous Drone Orchestra.

What Was a Particularly Meaningful Junto Project? For this interview I was listening through some of my contributions of the last two years and found many which have a certain importance for me. Of course I have to mention my contribution to the Disquiet Junto Project 0476. It was my first participation, from two years ago. This was rather difficult for me since I had started to publish tracks on SoundCloud only two months earlier, and only my wife and some close friends were listening — and now I was about to present a track to a group of music enthusiasts much more experienced than me… But it was rewarding, and I enjoy this community ever since.

One of the projects of which I have special memories is my track for the Disquiet Junto Project 0506 from September 2021. The assignment was to erase half of an existing track. I chose a rather hectic and fast composition and reduced the arrangement to play only three of the original five synths at a time. Additionally I slowed it down with the same ratio. I was totally surprised what can be achieved by just following such simple rules on an already existing track (with small adaptations). The result is very dear to me, because it strongly resonated with my state of mind at that time. My mother just died the year before, so it has a special meaning to me ever since, and what I wrote back then is still true for me: It feels melancholic, it embodies loss, yet it is full of beauty and consolation.

Does your background in math particularly inform your music-making? This is a difficult question. Would I compose other music if I had studied English literature, would my improvisations lead to other results? I think my mathematical vein comes into play when I “construct” tracks like in this week’s Disquiet Junto project 0581 contribution. First I design a process incorporating certain techniques. Then I consequently apply this approach to build musical elements.

Another outcome of my studies may be my interest in algorithmic approaches to creating music — by using generative MIDI sequencers or programming Sonic Pi code for the algorithmical creation of MIDI notes. I would love to spend much more time on this and dig deeper into this topic!

My friend Guido Kramann has realised many fascinating projects in the field of algorithmic composition. His results tempt me very much to venture more into that direction, but with limited time I simply get more satisfaction creating a track for a Disquiet Junto project instead of — for example — learning more about the programming language of Sonic Pi …

Junto Profile: Jason Richardson, aka Bassling

From Leeton, New South Wales, Australia: drafting, redrafting, and collaborating

This Junto Profile is part of a new series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.

What’s Your Name? Jason Richardson, releasing music as Bassling since 2003 or so.

I arrived at that name after misreading “hassling” and thinking it summed up my musical interests.

Where Are You Located? Leeton, New South Wales, Australia, since 2009. It’s a small town in an agricultural region, so my suburb has this quiet hum from the nearby rice co-operative most of the year.

In summer you can sometimes hear the air-cannons firing to scare birds from fruit trees and in winter you get the drone of frost fans.

Then there’s a diversity of bird calls that provide some balance.

My favourite is the Pied Butcherbird, which is has this minor key lilt that I’ve heard compared to Miles Davis.

It usually comes through my neighbourhood around the start of autumn and spring.

What Is Your Musical Activity? Started playing bass guitar at age 15, which led to bands and then I discovered the recording studio inside my computer.

At the time it was an Amiga 500 and I’ve tried lots of things, but Ableton Live has been my main instrument since 2002.

My musical activities change regularly and sometimes there’s a theme in an environmental focus, which began when I met Alan Lamb at the 2004 Unsound event.

His large-scale installations resonate with elements from the landscape and the introduction to contact microphones helped me find ways to make instruments from everyday objects.

In hindsight that opened my ears to the environment and I also became interested in field recordings, which led to creating work for galleries and then curating exhibitions.

Lately I’ve been playing with synthesisers and drum machines, but most days I make music by picking up a guitar or hitting the drums.

Over the Rainbow: Australia-based Jason Richardson

What Is One Good Musical Habit? Aside from undertaking the Disquiet Junto whenever possible?

Drafting and redrafting are good habits for any creative endeavour and it’s worth considering them broadly within a musical context.

For example, I’m often surprised how a remix can be more successful than the original recording.

Sometimes it’s a good habit to challenge yourself to get better use from a recording, even if you’re not redrafting the whole song.

What Are Your Online Locations? I’ve been losing interest in social media but keep a few blogs for publishing an archive that I can easily search through and share.

There’s Bassling.com for musical material, including the videos that end up at youtube.com/bassling but also memes.

My ShowcaseJase blogspot has passing interests, more personal stuff and a portfolio to catch projects for posterity.

Recently my partner and I established an incorporated group for our community projects, which is called Red Earth Ecology and we’re involved in the local Burning Man community through that too.

Then there are photos of landscapes here and photos of wildlife here and I also try to write short prose everyday (but learned my haiku are actually senryu.)

And sometimes I put out an album at Bandcamp.

What Was a Particularly Meaningful Junto Project? There are many meaningful Juntos and I’ve written about some of them already, so I’ll circle back to my good musical habit.

Last year the prompt for disquiet0529 led me to sample from projects that were separated by 23 and it created an unlikely track, featuring a typewriter and field recording supported by guitar feedback and a rhythm section. It was one of those lessons about how a whole is more than its parts, although there were some good parts I think.

It was also meaningful for me recently when I was reflecting on incorporating aleatory techniques within creative practices and realised the result was something I probably wouldn’t have arrived at on my own.

So, yeah, thanks for collaborating!

I may be entirely mistaken about this, but I’ve come to imagine that where you live is fairly remote, and that online communities have provided camaraderie and collaboration you might not have had otherwise. Is this the case? It’s true that Leeton only has one set of traffic lights and my creative projects are sometimes multinational.

About a decade ago I found Disquiet on Twitter and it took me many weeks to publish a response to the projects, which is funny now I’ve done so many of them.

The Junto soon introduced me to Naviar Records’ haiku prompts, which led to exhibitions in London and also nearby in Narrandera.

Online collaborations have developed with those communities and also in real life.

Last year I met someone in a neighbouring town who was also producing electronic music and developed a live show to take on tour.

Before that it’d been a long time since I’d had a chance to play my music outside of my home.

I really appreciate your prompts for keeping me active and trying new things.

Junto Profile: Aethyr

From Sheffield, England: eschewing perfection, tweaking genres

This Junto Profile is part of a new series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.

What’s your name? I prefer to just go by Aethyr, rather than my legal name. I’ve released music solo under a variety of names in the past (Care of Machine, Anechoic Frame, Schrödinger’s Dog, probably others I’m forgetting) but use Aethyr for everything now. Within the last few years I’ve tried to unify all my creative work under the same name, and used that for social media and other points of contact as well; much as I hate to say it, I suppose this is “building a brand.”

I feel more comfortable using this alias, not out of any intention to be deceptive, but because it enables me to be more truly myself. Using my legal name feels more like something that’s a bureaucratic obligation rather than something that really identifies me.

I’ve only worked with others on music on a few occasions, and mostly that’s been in the form of remixing or otherwise reworking something they’ve made. This is not out of selfishness or egotism but just lack of opportunity; I would not be opposed to being in a musical group, but the chance has never arisen, so the great majority of my work has been solo.

Where are you located? I live in Sheffield in the UK, and have been here for nearly 25 years now. I originally moved here for university (which didn’t pan out) and didn’t expect to stay here for too long, but evidently plans changed. It’s where I’ve done all my “serious” music making, and I’m fond of the city; I’ve made a lot of connections here. It wasn’t a factor in my initial decision to move here, but Sheffield has some important musical heritage that has certainly been an influence on my own work; among other things, synthpop acts like the Human League and Heaven 17 are from here, along with industrial groups such as Cabaret Voltaire and Clock DVA. The “bleep techno” genre arguably originated in Sheffield, and Warp Records had their HQ here for many years. Of course, some of these were around before I lived here, but I feel connected to that history.

I was born in Greater London and lived there for some years, until we moved to Leeds for my father’s work. It was there that I made my first forays into making music; I first started trying to learn guitar (which I’m still no good at), and I used some rather primitive music software on our home computer, an Atari ST. Later, as a teenager, I found great enjoyment in using the Music series of games for the PlayStation — also known as MTV Music Generator — and I suppose those are my first real tracks. I recently discovered that there is still a small but thriving community using this software, which I’m hoping to explore further.

Aethyr‘s online avatar

What is your musical activity? As mentioned in the last question, I’ve been working on music in some capacity since my teens. I’ve never had any formal musical education, so everything I’ve done has been self-taught; at times I wonder if this means I can sometimes approach things from an angle that someone who knows the “right” way wouldn’t think of, but at others I think it just means I make more mistakes.

After using those PlayStation titles, I moved on to eJay (which was largely the same thing but for computers), then used ACID for many years, with much of my music being based around arrangements of samples, until I branched out into more fully-fledged DAWs. In the last 12 months or so I’ve started using Bitwig Studio as my main software. In terms of the kind of music I make, I don’t like to confine myself to any particular genre, though I hope each piece has a little of my own style to it. I’ve tried making many different kinds of tracks, though I’ve had probably the most success with more experimental and ambient works, and least enjoyed my attempts at anything adhering too strictly to genre conventions, particularly when I’ve tried to make commercial/mainstream EDM (largely to see if I could). I’ve recently been trying to prove (to myself, if no one else) that it’s possible to make good metal music using a DAW, and have had some success in that regard. I’m also very excited about the possibilities of AI in terms of music creation, and have already made numerous experiments using those kinds of tools — but there’s still much to learn.

What is one good musical habit? I think the best piece of advice I can give is “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Which is to say, it’s better to have a piece of music “good enough” and finished rather than endlessly chasing perfection. The Junto has been helpful to me in this regard, because the limited time for each project naturally imposes a restriction on how much each track can be polished. Indeed, I often challenge myself to complete Junto projects as rapidly as possible.

Also, if you can, I think it’s smart to keep everything you make, no matter how rough or sketchy it might be — you never know when it might come in useful. Of course, this can be easier said than done, with storage media always prone to failure, but I wish I’d been more careful about preserving my early work.

What are your online locations? I use Twitter (@Aethyrulf) but that’s about the only social media I’m active on. For my music, I use Soundcloud (soundcloud.com/aethyrulf) regularly, and I have a Bandcamp (aethyrulf.bandcamp.com) with far too many completed records that I’m too anxious to set to go live. I maintain a presence on a few art sites, as I’m also a 3D artist and occasional photographer, and besides that I regularly find myself as a viewer on Twitch and YouTube.

What Was a Particularly Meaningful Junto Project? One that sticks in my memory was the 20th project, “Nodebeat,” perhaps because it took an inordinate amount of work — the prompt required the use of a smartphone app, and at the time I didn’t own such a device, so I had to use the web version and figure out a way to extract the audio from that. I had to jump through a lot more hoops to get that track working, which at the time felt like more trouble than it was worth (and would be too lengthy to describe here), but in retrospect it’s probably among my favourite pieces now.

Pleasingly, quite recently, I was able to make a companion piece/follow-up to that track, in project 0562. I feel like the two complement each other very nicely, even if they came a decade apart.

You mention the idea of making metal with a DAW. Given your interest in exploring numerous genres, what are your thoughts on the way specific technologies, tools, or instruments lend themselves to specific genres? This is actually something I like to play around with. I find there can often be an interesting result if I use an instrument, effect, or what have you, that doesn’t “fit” or “belong” with the genre of the piece. Sometimes, of course, it sounds absolutely terrible and I have to abandon that idea, but there’s a certain satisfaction in deliberately using the “wrong” things and still having the track come out well. In the same vein, I enjoy mixing otherwise conventional elements of very disparate genres, which has been the subject of at least a couple of Junto projects.

Although a certain sound or instrument or whatever might lend itself to a particular genre, nothing says that it can’t be turned to a completely different one. The measure of success, to my mind at least, is whether the end result sounds good, not what went into creating it.

I remember reading something from John Cage that there is nothing actually different about a “musical” sound versus a “non-musical” sound; sounds are just sounds. I like to bear this in mind when making music, because it means any sound at all might be useful in any given piece. In a way it’s intimidating, because you have the choice from anything in the world, but at the same time it’s also liberating for the same reason.

I’m also interested in software recreations of particularly unusual and/or rare instruments; I’d collect physical ones too if money (and space!) were no object. This is not being obscure for its own sake, but I’ve found a lot of these kinds of instruments have unique characteristics that can’t be found elsewhere.

Junto Profile: Kei Terauchi Sideboard

From San Francisco, California (and Japan): embracing contradictions, reading to compose

This Junto Profile is part of a new series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.

What’s Your Name? Kei Terauchi Sideboard

Where Are You Located? I currently live in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco, California. I was born in Chiba, Japan, and grew up in Tokyo and Saitama, playing the piano, in the 1980s. I suppose I was gifted but I wasn’t a very good student. I refused to learn to read music for years and really did not like practicing. My family moved to Edina, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, in 1991 for my father’s work. There my piano lessons felt less confined, but I still played the classical canon of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, etc. I studied French literature and music at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. My senior thesis for French was on the retelling of Tristan and Isolde in literature and — you know it — Wagner, and my music project/presentation was talking about and performing pieces from the Second Viennese School, Berg’s Sonata Op. 1 (which is honestly more Romantic than Second Viennese), and Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces Op. 19.

I went to SUNY Stony Brook and got an MA in Music Theory/History with a focus in music and technology. My master’s thesis was on Der Lindberghflug by Weill and Hindemith. I guess music in academia in my time was very Germanic! To support myself financially I worked as a bartender in NYC and got sucked into the restaurant world. This derailed me from the trajectory of waiting for a tenured professor to pass to finally land a faculty job in a university music department. I worked in some very nice restaurants in NYC, Kyoto, Japan, Minneapolis, Napa Valley, and SF, for 17 years, until I fell into the start-up philanthropy work I’m currently in.

What Is Your Musical Activity? Since I left academia I always played the piano and jokingly called it my party trick. Honestly I wasn’t very inspired for a number of years. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the racial uprisings — the murder of George Floyd and anti-Asian hate crimes in particular — made me rethink about the limitation of playing the classical repertoire, dead white men’s music, on the piano. At this time I had also started an MA program in Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and as I learned to think more critically about the world I decided to push the realm of critical thinking into creativity. This is how I started to make my own music based on my own experience for the first time. I start with conceptualization, then make that into music. The “style” of my music varies quite a bit because I borrow various musical techniques to make what I’ve conceptualized, but I think I have my own recognizable sound. My master’s thesis is about my compositional process accompanied by a dozen pieces I had written during my first and second years in the program. Some Junto projects I have participated in overlap with these.

Kei Terauchi Sideboard reflects on both sides of the Pacific

What Is One Good Musical Habit? 1. Go to performances, see other musicians play music, hear what they do and how they do it. 2. Reading works by authors who figured out how to tell their story their own way helped my music making. Some writers I admire are Alexander Chee, Ocean Vuong, Joan Didion, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, James Baldwin, and Natalia Ginzburg.

What Are Your Online Locations? Bandcamp (needs major update): keiterauchisideboard.bandcamp.com.
SoundCloud: soundcloud.com/user-637835668.
Website (also needs major update — this is where I’ll drop my MA thesis on music): keiterauchi.com.

What Was a Particularly Meaningful Junto Project? 0551: The Bends (“Get less strict about something you’re strict about”) helped me get over my fear of composing on/for the piano!

0544: Feedback Loop was also really nice in that it encouraged participants to interact with each other through close listening and commenting.

When you make music now, would you say you find yourself “unlearning” your earlier classical knowledge, or building upon it? I don’t think I can unlearn my earlier musical knowledge. For one, that would mean erasing the muscle memory from years of piano playing. I avoided using the piano for my composition for a while but there is something physical about piano playing that I need in my life. So I began to write on the piano last summer in a way that makes sense to me. I also think unlearning tonal harmony, the language of classical Western music, is really difficult because it’s everywhere in our culture.

I think of my earlier musical knowledge like language or food you grew up with. Even if it wasn’t your choice, even if you grew up with it because of oppressive circumstances, and even if you hated it at some point in your life, cultural items like language, food, and music, you can come to accept it’s folded in your DNA. You have language or food or music to connect with others around you. So even if a musical tradition was shoved down your throat, when you strip it down to just sound, I think you can let that be, and embrace it, embrace the contradiction within yourself. I think it’s that visceral, at least for me, and that’s how I look at my musical background.

The writers I mentioned earlier showed me that you can have complexity and not have to explain everything in your work. For example, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s book Dictée is a really powerful work of art that shows that the process of creating is how, when and where we express. And she gives zero f’s if you understand what she’s talking about or not. Her writing is engrossed in the act of writing itself and I want my music making to be like that, using my own experience and sounds in my memory, the good ones and the bad ones, because they are both mine. That’s an homage to Ocean Vuong; in his On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous there’s this line, “The thing is, I don’t want my sadness to be othered from me just as I don’t want my happiness to be othered. They’re both mine. I made them, dammit.” Making music lets me hold my contradictions, lets me be me.