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Benjamin Nelson Interview

(photo: Tom Worster)

Though Benjamin Nelson has been active in the local noise scene for six years or so, it’s only in the last year that he’s turned his attention to the near static realm of drone music. Since then, he’s played a handful of extraordinary live sets using a modular synthesizer to create glacially intense drones.

On Thursday, July 9, he’ll perform a duo set on Rare Frequency with Brendan Murray, a relative veteran of Boston’s experimental music scene. Read my interview with Brendan here.

Could you tell me a little bit about your background and how you ended up making the kind of music that you do?

I grew up listening to a lot of my Dad’s records and I think that is what got things started. Lots of Snakefinger, Eno, The Residents, Philip Glass, Tomita…. I think a combo like that as a little kid had a pretty profound effect on me. I started playing music around age 11, learning classical cello. My interest in that fell out pretty quickly though and at 13 I bought a 4-track and a sampler, and started making pieces with things I would record of a world band radio. In high school I was really lucky because we actually had an electronic music class, so I had access to a lot of great equipment early on— Moogs, ARPs, etc. We were also played a lot of minimal and electro-acoustic classics like Varese, Stockhausen, Feldman. I think I am extremely fortunate to have been taught about ideas like reduced listening and chance composition so early on. At that point I put down classical music altogether and have been playing piles of junk since.

I moved to Boston 6 years ago for school and went to Northeastern University and studied electronic music there. Now I am unemployable and despite a deep rooted dislike of institutionalized learning feel compelled to go to grad school for music/sound.

You performed for quite a while with Fire in the Head. How did you end up shifting from doing power noise to drones? Do you still do any noise performances?

I started doing live electronics for Mike because he needed someone to back him up on tour. We both were really into hardcore music so it was a good fit. While it was a collaboration to an extent, FITH is/was Mike’s project and vision, I just helped him execute it. I did more straight forward harsh noise then, too, but I also did work in other styles at the same time. I played in the band Tides for a bit doing more textural/ambient keyboard work while also having to write sonatas and electro-acoustic pieces for school. Harsh noise sort of fell by the wayside. It is still an influence for me but playing it just sort of lost its fun for some reason. Right now playing something almost completely static for 30 minutes feels more cathartic than 30 seconds of fast paced cut-ups.

(photo: Susanna Bolle)

Could you briefly describe your set-up? How long have you been working with your current conglomeration of equipment?

I am willing to use anything and everything studio-wise. Computer, broken electronics, tape recorders, acoustic instruments, pedals…, but right now my main focus is my modular. It is also what I have been using for live sets recently.

When did you start working with modular synthesizers?

Actually, only about a year ago. I have always been a hardware person and that is why before I mostly played pedals. I need real physical connections and knobs in front of me, so switching to a modular synth was like finally finding the instrument I was meant to play after years of messing around.

Are there any musicians or musical works that have particularly influenced you?

Too many. But Maryanne Amacher and Phill Niblock are probably two of the biggest influences on the music I am making right now. Seeing Mother Mallard perform was really important for me too. It was the first time I was able to experience the effect live minimal electronic music has.

Do you have any upcoming projects, collaborations, or recordings?

There will be a split LP out soon with Brandon Terzakis. We have also been playing together lately as an organ/guitar duo, and we will be playing our first show at the end of this month [June 27 at Weirdo Records, ed]. There are always lots of recordings in progress, but I work very slowly and have a crippling obsession with details noticeable only to me. Other projects are also in the works including an online store that I have been building up for a while now.

Thanks for the interest!


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Benny is one of the most exciting musicians in Boston right now. I thought his harsher work was great (the attention to detail is staggering), but his recent work with the synth makes me really look forward to hearing where he goes next. Good news that an LP is in the works! I’m first in line for that one.

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