Dualities exist on many levels in Juan Carlos Mendizabal's music. Born in El Salvador, Mendizabal immigrated to the United States in the early 1980s as civil war ravaged his native country. Years later, he majored in music at San Francisco State University, studying both classical composition and electronic music. As a result, his music offers an intriguing mesh of contrasting styles.
Mendizabal's musical vision led him into a partnership with Kreed DuChat. They recorded together under various monikers and, along with bassist Rick Perko, eventually formed Trip Tech. The group's first release, Children of the Secret (on Mendizabal's Black Note Music label), is a daring electronic work that blurs stylistic boundaries. “This album is ambient-dub,” says DuChat. It well represents Mendizabal's and DuChat's collaborations, in which free-form improvisation meets classical structure.
“At some point the two approaches melded,” says Mendizabal. “I would find themes when we were improvising and then develop them. I would get an eight-bar section of, say, something Kreed played on his drum machine and then make variations based on that. It's all improvised and recomposed later.”
Children of the Secret began with two nights of improvisation in Mendizabal's living room. DuChat played a Roland MC-303 Groovebox; Perko played bass; and Mendizabal played a Korg Electribe A EA-1, Korg Electribe R ER-1, and Korg Kaoss Pad while mixing all audio parts live on a Behringer Eurorack mixer. “I also had a drone going through a CD player,” Mendizabal adds.
Mendizabal recorded audio and MIDI into his Mac IIci running MOTU's Digital Performer. “The computer was sending out MIDI Clock so that it would synchronize the two E-tribes and the MC-303,” says Mendizabal. “Sometimes the drones, the drums, and the synths would all go into the Kaoss Pad and be processed and recorded live. I like it when two or more things are combined in one processor because it creates something that's a mix of everything. None of the people who are playing can predict what they themselves are going to sound like.” [Laughs.]
The sessions yielded four hours' worth of “raw source material” that Mendizabal later reworked in Digital Performer using his collection of synths, samplers, and effects processors. Those include E-mu's Morpheus and Emax, BitHeadz's Retro and Unity DS-1, Cycling '74's Pluggo, and Passport's Alchemy.
Mendizabal would “take bits from here and there, erase things, and loop things. Sometimes there's a little melody or something that sticks out, and I'll use that as a theme and then use the other things as a counterpoint or contrast.” For example, one of Perko's bass lines inspired much of the album. “When I was mixing it, I put it an octave up and I sent it through a ring modulator. What used to be the bass line turned into the melody of the first large piece,” he says. “Then I started playing it in different ways and sending it through Retro to get different versions. It turned into the main theme.”
Trip Tech is currently working on a follow-up release. “It will be just as insane, but different from Children of the Secret,” says DuChat. “But we're still going to use this approach,” Mendizabal adds. “It's an approach that can go in all kinds of directions.”