Food Pyramid's Chris Farstad: My side project 555 is a kind of new age punk rock
It'd probably be best advised to not pop the new solo cassette from Food Pyramid's Chris Farstad into your deck while driving around town any time soon. While not exactly the banger of the summer, Chris' new project, simply called 555 involves a more enveloping sound that bubbles, throbs and repeats the most ambient impulses on his new cassette on Moon Glyph, Solar Express. It catapults the conscious into a relaxed state of being that is more suited for night swimming than for bumpin' the jams around the lakes.
The manifesto on 555's Bandcamp page attempts to best describe Farstad's efforts as "Exploring the tension between new age escapism and kinetic momentum, wielding psychic armor of pure laughter to disarm power and usher in new stories." Assuming anyone can figure out what that means. Sonically Solar Express hints at this idea without really giving anything away. 555 represents cycles of daily life but provides an open space for the mind to wander. One can't help having feelings of nostalgia for old new age tapes that used to clutter the organic section of grocery stores. The fact this music now populates your average hipster's backpack causes the realization that in fact it has come around in a new form.
Trading emails with Chris from his current home in Jersey City, Gimme Noise was able to get him to guide us through the 555 philosophy and thinking behind the music on Solar Express.
Gimme Noise: There's mention of the music of 555 has to do with transition. So where are you living now? What took you out of Minneapolis to where you are at these days? How is it different?
Chris Farstad: I live with family in Jersey City, New Jersey, currently. I'm in transition as well, sharing time between New Orleans and Jersey City. I wouldn't want to function as a spokesperson for the state of things in any particular place. I wouldn't trust myself to know enough to say anything useful to people in general. I left to peruse opportunities and obligations I had, though. These cities are very different for very different reasons.
For Solar Express, It is transition. I made it with looping software in an iPad dock that sequences audio with midi and a separate drum machine that's run through effects. The tracks are modular: if I were to "play" a track from live, I could potentially take all the cycles of patterns from that one track and interpose it on top of a completely different drum sound, or a beat from another wholly separate track.
Each song on Solar Express was more or less executed live in one take and then overdubbed on top of, so it's linear in that way, but this was only for the purpose of creating a record. Each "track" is its own archive, and playing becomes more about investigating that archive, interpreting it, or erasing it entirely, foregrounding a percussive element but doing it in a way that is an open-sourced structure, if that makes sense. Sound, once created, exists as a data cycle forever, fossilized. The execution of audio sequences creates the track. It's kind of like it's re-engineered, dinosaur-DNA-style.
It can be shortened to two minutes or lengthened to fifteen, played with or without percussion, etc. The software I use treats tracks as literal cycles, that are sequenced together, faded in and out. It's all transitions, all the time, and the disposability of each separate sequence of a track gives the ability to stabilize it or reformat part (or all) of it at any time... which effectively makes even the track, its sequences, its own collection of "transitions," themselves in transition, haha! I also try to treat a separate drum machine as if it were on its own, physically, a drum -- effecting it out, delaying it from polyrhythm to disco or whatever, by ear, live.
Listening to Solar Express I get the feeling of a large space. Sorta like falling into an abyss. Kinda like that film actually, The Abyss. Did you ever see that one?
I have seen it, yeah. When I was a kid. It's pretty cool. I think I remember it having some really awesomely-bad CGI that takes it into next-level territory. Anyway, you probably get that feeling because there's a bunch of reverb and stuff going on creating "artificial sonic space," which is in itself kind of a cool concept... I wasn't really going for any particular zone, though. Or, like, one zone. It's got zones on zones. It's multi-zoned. It's got commercial zones. Like, SimCity 2000 style. Buy my album! Haha.
This music could be kinda like a soundtrack for a film like that, Though probably wouldn't be as suspenseful. Do you ever think of your music as something visual or is it strictly an auditory sensation?
It's all vibrations, maaaan.
What is the significance of the name "555"?
If you look up what a 555-timer is, it's basically like your most basic oscillator component, but it's sort of a shout-out to time with friends spent trying to learn how to build electronic things. I do not remember being successful, but to be fair it can be attributed to total lack of trying. I'm just not really a mechanically-minded person. 555 is more about ideas of intuition, spiritual attainment, the edge of chaos, a kind of new age punk rock or something. But there's also a little bit of the whole "fake movie phone-number," Hollywood Babylon thing going on too? The whole 555 concept tries to function on the level of a metaphor as a resistance, embodying a philosophy of making oneself more powerful in relationship to power, maybe first through awareness, but then maybe through a shield, or a network, or just the right information. I'd like to think that the music could be interpreted as kind of healing ritual/act/impulse against the "modern environmental/terroristic security situation" vibe that exists today. Not quite like Todd Haynes' movie Safe, if you've seen that, but kind of. As a name, 555: it's just easy to remember and translates well.
With an impulse towards repetition I feel electronic music best catalyzes the ephemeral nature of sound. In creating repetition with straight sonic impulses there is a sense of rhythm and wholeness without necessarily introducing melody or a straight beat. What are you looking for in a patch or piece of music that you know will eventually transpire repetitively for an overall song or final work?
I look for something that works, first, then I make that something that works something I like. Very rarely does anything stay the same for the entire duration of a track. If it did, and if I executed it, it would probably have to tap into the mantric kind of pulse used in religion to override the "logic" side of the brain and activate the unconscious.
What is some music that brought you to working with synthesizers and electronic instruments?
My friends in Food Pyramid are owed their due to turning me on to krautrock back in 2009. Before I really got into it, like before watching the BBC documentary, and then listening to everything, I basically thought electronic music started with Aphex Twin. I was way more into world music and gamelan and things like that back in 2009, and kind of just lumped electronic music into the whole LCD-Soundsystem, DFA, house music and Crystal Castles thing. I was way more into jazz and noise bands like Boredoms, Keiji Haino, Lightning Bolt, at the time. I was a drummer before, but repetition as krautrock reimagined it really wasn't on my radar yet. It was in doing music with Food Pyramid and talking about the music we were engaged with that I came to synthesizers and electronics.
It is basically a love of ambient music as a concept that drives me to make albums now. William Basinski, Brian Eno, Phil Niblock, Laurie Spiegel, Laraaji, people like that, I want to talk to them through music, y'know? On the level of music everyone speaks the same language. At the very least I came to feel synthesizers were the best way to be a participant in the ongoing discussion about what music is and can be, ambient or otherwise. I also kind of feel that "ambient" as a term that is more broad than useful. I like to play loud. It took me a long time to connect the dots enough to come through the backdoor to appreciate the similarities between people like Jon Hassell, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to bands like Black Dice, Harmonia, and Cluster. And then I discovered Iasos and every day I hear something new in it.
I would count a band like Blues Control as another interpretation in the same sort of trajectory, though. It's not even about the tools so much, live instruments or drum machines or whatever, it's all a focus on the prismatic, raw, physical nature of sound, maybe as a kind of splash-of-water-style catalyst of liberation. I feel like this focus is not dissimilar from the way Buddhist monks use bells and drums to focus the mind on its own process of hearing and thinking. I want music that is as funny as it is serious, as much weird stupid noise rhythm as transcendental prismatic open fields of crystal-inlaid linoleum. But the fields have also been heavily polished and made ready for a funeral procession on Rollerblades.
What do you do when you aren't making bedroom ambient electronic music? Do you feel your vocation feeds into your creative projects?
I would personally like to vote to jettison this term, "bedroom" anything. In a world where you can record a record virtually anywhere you have electricity, it unnecessarily diminishes a technological sea-change that allows anyone be punk as fuck and record their band on a mountain with a solar generator if they want to. Solar Express was actually recorded in my kitchen. As far as vocation, music is my vocation, if I had to to say I had one. I wouldn't bind it to one mode of working or particular music project or whatever, though. When I'm not making music I'm doing something else, probably. "Chillin'" Working. Sleeping. I've been watching a lot of Star Trek: DS9 lately.
Is Food Pyramid still existing on any sort of astral or terrestrial plain at the moment?
Yea, we started putting together another record, but we haven't played shows in too long because we're in different places geographically. We're always working on things. I've just been focused on 555 recently because I need to get it off the ground and I'm not 1000 percent sure what's going on with it yet. Food Pyramid will always be with me, though. It is as much a social, emotional and spiritual process as a music project for me. Food Pyramid is committed to synthesizing in the sense of experimenting with different combinations of energies or forces, and its process takes on a different character than 555. It's just a wholly different entity and creative vibe. It will always exist, though, because it can be activated at any time.
As far as being a representation of a cyclical piece of work that repeats with limited capacities the cassette tape works really well. Do you remember what the first cassette you bought was? Do you still own it?
It is a nice riff in its own way on things brought up earlier. The first cassette I ever bought was purchased for .50 at an outdoor flea market kind of on the way to Cable, WI. It was someone's dubbed compilation of the songs of Slim Whitman, a country singer and easily one of my all-time favorite artists. The original Man in Black. I do not still own it. I don't own that many records or tapes. Just things friends give me, whether its their band or a present or something. I do have a Iasos tape a label reissued, though. Exceptions to every rule, of course. I'm generally more inclined to be a fan of the digital age as far as minimalist lifestyles go.
555 will be making a rare appearance in the 7th Street Entry on September 24, opening for Ahleuchatistas and Self-Evident. 8pm 18+ Tickets available.
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