Photo: Courtesy Gregory Taylor
The world is full of musicians who can humble us with their ability to play for really long periods of time,” says mixologist and producer Gregory Taylor, explaining his fascination with Indian ragas and Indonesian tonal systems — just two of the many musical forms that propel his creative flow. “One of the great gifts of experimental music of the 1960s, and John Cage in particular, was the idea that what makes a piece of music meaningful is the contemplation of it. And in the last decade or so, the arrival of wholesale access to non-Western music also gave us the great gift of discovery that this wasn't our idea.”
A veteran of the indie “cassette culture” craze in the '80s, and a tireless musical traveler (with a weekly radio show on Madison's WORT-FM that has aired since 1986), Taylor knows a thing or two about the regenerative power of sound. His mastery of Cycling '74's Max/MSP opened the door for his contribution to another one of that company's products: Radial, a loop-based performance suite (since discontinued) developed by John Eichenseer. Taylor has used the program to stunning effect on a recent spate of releases: The Desert Fathers: Coptic Icons (pfMentum, 2007), recorded live with trumpeter Jeff Kaiser; PGT's Temporary Habitations (Loochtone, 2008), featuring mandolinist Terry Pender and programmer Brad Garton; and Taylor's solo outings, Amalgam: Aluminum/Hydrogen (Palace of Lights, 2007) and Two Maps of Danaraja (Stasisfield, 2008).
“I've found that the simplest thing you can do to sound different from everybody else is to make your own loops,” Taylor explains. “Radial matches my sensibility because it's something that I can play with from zero as soon as I walk onstage. I tend to start with nothing when I play live — on The Desert Fathers, there might have been some filtered shortwave broadcasts or some water in a bathtub or something — and I do that because a lot of my work is informed by Indonesian tradition. With electronic instruments, it's easier to manage timbre if you work with just intonational variants of Indonesian tunings.”
In his solo outings, Taylor explores the subtle timbral variations of the Indonesian gamelan ensemble with an even more drawn-out ambient approach; ringing sonic textures gradually morph and “breathe” to reveal new elements or to build on a haunting theme. In his collaborations, Taylor often delves into Radial's ability to cut up and rearrange samples in real time, adding a glitchlike rhythmic quality to his soundscapes.
“We're essentially designing big structures that we steer by using a single control,” Taylor notes. “Instead of thinking about doing music that's about change, you do it about the rate of change. Instead of controlling a filter all the time, for example, the filter slewing is essentially under some other piece of control, and I'm controlling something else that controls that as a side effect.”
As with any experimental music that's improvised almost entirely live, the end result does involve some risk. But when it comes to working in a group, the approach has its rewards. “There's not a performance tradition for using laptops,” Taylor says. “I was afraid when I started working with other people that I wouldn't be able to adapt to that. And at a certain point, you realize that working in a community gives you the opportunity to fail. But the upside is that I've found myself in situations where I can play with people who are my friends. How does it get better than that?”
Home base: Madison, Wisconsin
Primary software: Cycling '74 Max/MSP and Radial (on an Apple MacBook Pro), Audio Ease Altiverb
Audio interface: Apogee Duet
The Desert Fathers: Coptic Icons
Album Amalgam: Aluminum/Hydrogen
Two Maps of Danaraja