INTERVIEW: SHUTTLE358: COGNITION AUDIOWORKS

INTERVIEW WITH DAN ABRAMS
by Andrew Duke


Pasadena, California-based Dan Abrams records as Shuttle358 on 12k. A design student at the Art Centre College of Design majoring in product design, Abrams is also involved with 12k not only through his audio, but also in a visual aspect. He was responsible, most notably, for the packaging of the .aiff and 0/r releases on 12k.

How did you hook up with Taylor Deupree and 12k?

"I had just been doing music as a hobby and I had been a fan of Taylor-mostly his ambient stuff, I didn't really follow his techno projects-and I saw that he had started 12k. He had a page on his website that said where to send demo tapes if you were interested. So I dropped him an email and said, 'I've got some material; some things I think you might like, would you like to hear it?' And he said, 'You can send it to me, just make sure it doesn't suck.' I sent him a tape of some of my best work at the time, ambient mostly, and a week later, he got back to me and said, 'It doesn't suck.' (laughs) A year from then on I would just send him material occasionally and he would pick what he liked as I worked on focusing my sound."

Tell me about your program at the Art Centre College Of Design.

"My first love and career path is in industrial design. We have a lot of corporate-sponsored projects from companies such as Reebok, Honda, Peugeot, Acer; it's really demanding, kind of insane. It's like the torture/beat-yourself-up school, we all live in this crazy alienation. It's quite strange, but I think it lends itself well to doing music in my spare time. All the tracks on optimal were all written between 3 and 6AM because I absolutely cannot write music during the day. I would come home and instead of getting four hours of sleep, I would go with one hour of sleep and then crank out another track. My favorite moments of inspiration are under that kind of pressure; I cannot write music for a living, it just doesn't work."

The packaging you did for the .aiff compilation on 12k was quite remarkable. How did that come together?

"I believe the budget was the same for that as the standard CDs, but Taylor wanted to do something special because it was a representation of the label, the music, and his own visions of the future. Originally he wanted to put the CDs in actual floppy disk housings because the logo for 12k is a floppy disk. I didn't like that [idea] because I'm not very fond of literal design and we were having problems finding old floppy disks and a method of manufacturing. So I came up with the idea of how can we abstract it a little bit. I thought, if we made it translucent, you wouldn't necessarily make the connection right away that it [the packaging] was a floppy disk , but the idea is that initially you focused on the disc art, or the booklet--which also turned out to be clear on acetate. The mylar we used was laser cut into [the shape of] these packages and, since it was translucent, we came up with a folding package with tabs that would fit. It was received very well and I think it was really appropriate for this style of highly synthetic, artificial music that's inside. We're now exploring more standardized packaging for 12k, but still trying to keep it original and custom. The budget, though, is very tight. We don't have the luxury of being able to hire famous design firms that some large labels have."

You used a cardboard paper sleeve for the 0/r release, but again it was quite unique.

"Taylor originally wanted to do this, and I thought, why don't we die-cut the logo into it and have a window where we can have the accent colors of the booklet showing through and that way we'd take the load off of having printing on the outside of the package and you could still have the color and the design on the inside. We're also looking into sealed packaging, where you would tear a release open, almost like a Fed-Ex package, just to push it a little bit more, but always to represent the experimental, cutting edge synthetic nature of the label 12k and the artists' music that is released on it."

Through the design and the music, you and Taylor and 12k are focusing on the clean and minimal aesthetic instead of the bombastic "bigger equals better" adage.

"Taylor and I and the people we associate with are all into minimalism. With the packaging we want it to be enjoyed on a variety of levels, plus there's a practical side because it is a small label. Working with very minimal designs all the time is a great way of reducing costs without affecting the design and having it not be appropriate. It fits really well with our goals, and ultimately it's the music that matters."

You're 21 and have been doing music since you were 13. What drew you to the type of ambient music you're now recording?

"I've been using computers every day of my life since I was six years old, doing a lot of computer programming as a kid and I was online at a very young age. When I was about 13 there was tracker music, mods, demo groups, things like that that I did. I did traditional music in school, but I was always fascinated with electronics and music. Now that I'm working in design, I'm bringing more of that into my music-focusing on sound design as opposed to pure melodies and structures."

What was involved in putting together optimal.lp?

"I'm not into programming now like I used to be, so I didn't get into Soft Synth and C Sound and programming things that some others are using. I do some programming in Generator; other than that, it's just using my modules and my synths, but coming at it from a design attitude. This is what I think Taylor does and what he likes and I think that's what he likes about my music. Design is really what's appropriate and bigger and more complicated is not always better. The pinnacle for sound design that I keep in mind is not the most sophisticated and complicated sounds-it's how they work together. When I write tracks, maybe I'll do a lot of extensive programming on my computer or maybe I'll keep it straightforward with my own collection of sounds; it's just how they fit together for my own aesthetic vision of the track."

optimal.lp was put together over a long period of time. What was your final goal for the album?

"My down-to-earth inspiration is really thinking in terms of sound ecosystems and how sounds interact with each other. I would accomplish this in a variety of ways; I would use ring mods to run other sounds through to bounce off each other, and it's different each time. I like to set up themes so that the sounds evolve through the tracks. I want them layered to an extent, but I don't want them overly complicated. I want to add depth to it, but I don't like having the sound just come in and leave and really serve no purpose, so all of the tracks revolve around central samples and themes that I've come up with. Ambient music to me is not something that you can directly listen to. You can't be in your car and put in an ambient CD and say [to your passenger], 'hey, check this part out here!' It just doesn't work that way for me. The whole time I'm writing tracks with this idea of background music in mind. It's really subtle, but it's there."

optimal.lp is out now on 12k. Expect a sophomore album from Shuttle 358 before summer 2000. Hear the interview with Shuttle 358 in RealAudio on Andrew Duke's In The Mix show 595.