Interview with R.S. Pearson :
“Hi Robert, first how did you get into music? and what makes you experiment on electronic music?
I was interested in music from my earliest age that I can remember. One of my first memories is having a Beatles drum set, and my mother would play my sister’s Beatle records when my sister was away at school. I would be playing the drums and when the Beatles sang the word “honey” my mother would think it cute to give me a spoonful of honey. My dad had a ukelele and my sister was very into music into her teen years, so my early years (I was born in 1963) were filled with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Monkees and similar bands. I actually started buying my own records when I was around 6. Yes had released Roundabout in 1971 and I bought that as a single. There was something different about it. To me, it just sounded very positive and energetic in a different way than the other rock singles I was buying at that time. My best friend at the time, who became a professional musician also, bought me a copy of The Yes Album for my birthday, which had come out before Roundabout. So I had this strangely positive “progressive rock” album. My family had very close friends who were French, and they had a daughter my age, who like the father became a professional gallery artist. We were boyfriend and girlfriend at around 3 years old, and they thought it cute us talking about getting married and so on. So, I must have picked up the aspect of painting, of a larger sense of art besides music, from them.
I remember seeing the group Edward Bear on American Bandstand having a discussion with Dick Clark about their synthesizer around 1972. I received Yessongs by Yes at Christmas of 1973 and I found out more about the synthesizer because it had these photos of Rick Wakeman’s keyboard setup. I was very impressed by this. My dad was very into science-fiction and the future so synthesizers went along with a space ambience I had at home from very early years. I was so into space that in first grade my teacher took me out of class and down the hall to tell an older grade’s teacher all I knew about the planets. I think I recited the exact order from the Sun they were all in, more or less. Electronic music just went with sci-fi, but to me, it was more our own imagination about space than just films, and I know I didn’t read any sci fi books at that point.
From which artists or ideas did you drew your inspiration?
I did have the albums by Yes but also some by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. I was a big Keith Emerson fan. I was also aware of Switched-On Bach and got the first Synergy album from my sister around when it came out, which was 1975. By 15 I was buying the various Prog albums like early Genesis and Van der Graaf, and Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and Vangelis. Vangelis’ more experimental work is a lasting favorite, and if you look at all of Vangelis’ styles, he really runs the gamut, which is what I try to do.
How did you connect with the underground scene and was it an interesting experience?
I started hanging out with older people in my mid-teen years. I was visiting my sister in upstate NY at her college and on the bus on the way back one of my albums fell out of the sleeve. This drew the attention of a person about three years older than me, who liked the band and was a poet. We traded tapes back and forth through the mail from around my ages of 14 to 16. I had built a PAIA kit with a neighbor kid that I had purchased when I was 12 and we finished it at 13, so I had some early things with it that I sent to him, as well as piano pieces I would write out on paper. Soon, I just started sending improvisations. He would send me his improvisations on piano and also his poetry, which was his primary art. I put a strange ad in the Long Island, NY rock newspaper and it drew out two interesting people, one of whom became a trained scientist and also created experimental music.
I came to Seattle at first for a year in 1980 and then in 1982. I met the early Seattle punks in 1980 and hung out with them a little but being from NY I was very different and was more into art than punk rock. I got to know well the early Seattle Industrial crowd here in 1983 and it was they who introduced me to the international underground scene. I wrote to and traded tapes with Al Margolis, Carl Howard, and many others.
Have you released many tracks or albums in that 80s cassettes period? and in which quantities of cassettes for example?
I did formally release about five cassettes, two were released by Al Margolis, After The Crayon Rains, which is like a Toccata for synthesizer, and the other on his label is a pseudo-Industrial band that I was in. It was just jamming with two guys that were more or less rock musicians, so it’s not worth mentioning. Most people have embarrassing things from their early days. I released a spoken word recording that I found the title from taking a stack of free colored religious flyers because that was pretty much before computers were widely used at home and not everyone could do graphic arts. So the part I cut out to put over the cassette case said “O Understanding” which was like a triple entendre. I made about 15 of those and I think it got two reviews. Then, I released a small run cassette of some instrumentals which I heard from a friend got a good review somewhere. Probably less than twenty were made of that one.
My biggest achievement in the 1980’s was a 12 Volume “Collecting Works” series of cassettes which I only made about five copies of at that time. It was in a Seattle experimental music lending library. I would make run offs of tapes for people but I was going to college for a degree in English composition and I have also been a writer since my teen years. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a full time composer-author, it was just that I didn’t have my act together in the 80s for the kind of professional success some people were trying to pull me into. I had two labels from Germany express interest in putting out vinyl but I wasn’t able to take my professional life seriously because I thought I was going to be famous any day, like some young people do!
Have you contributed to many compilation of that time?
I was on one or two of Al Margolis’ compilations. I think that was about it.
Have you played live?
I did play a few shows, starting in 1983, but mostly it was playing live with other experimental or just interesting musicians, sometimes recording it, sometimes not. This was all done privately. In the 2000s, I joined a composer’s collective and played about ten concerts in local clubs or galleries.
How did you get this style? Or, what connection did you make between sequencing, imagination, mysticism?
My music has a few different forms it takes. The sequencing-related stuff is actually a type of algorithmic music, which was done solely because of me discovering the Casio 1000P in 1983. I sold my Roland Juno 6 to buy it and some drums. From an early age, Herb Alpert’s hits made a huge impression on me. There is something about his style on those popular songs that effects me very strongly, as well as a lot of other pop songs. So, I try to bring that feeling into experimental music. I often say that I want to do exotic music that no one has ever heard before but in a way that most people will like, like Debussy and Satie did.
I had an interest in visual art and also painted/collaged all my life so the Surrealists and Dadaists were a big influence. I use the sequencer which is partly chance-based on the Casio 1000P. You have to program all these numbers into it, up to 167, so it’s easier to just start with a visual pattern on the buttons and just kind of imagine what it might sound like. I like to play with the idea of structure, which I do both in music and literature. I’m known as one of the people that’s a contributor to computer generated writing. My work Rubber Blue Biodegradable Robot was distributed fairly widely on the Internet in the mid-1990s (beware of an imitation piece someone did with that title).
Quote from R.S. Pearson website :
” There is a very interesting type of sequencer that is built on intervals. For instance, you have the digits from 1-10….1-9 are intervals between steps, and 0’s are rests. You can have something like 167 steps which then repeat. The most important thing however is that this sequencer is triggered from the keyboard. I have been using this technique since 1983 and it has given me great results in composing music.
I create sequences like this
(we’ll call this the loop)
and for each note I play on the keyboard, when the sequence starts, it goes in a loop and assigns the 1 to the first key pressed down, the 2 to the second, and so on. If there are 9 different intervals all used in the loop, but only 3 keys held down the program will play the octaves of the notes, so that 123 would be abc, and 456 would be a’b’c’…and so on.
You have to isolate everything I’m talking about to get the full algorithm and why it’s so interesting:
1) the full interval pattern 1-9, and then 0 for rests, is looped — this creates a living pulsing sequencer.
2) the fact that this loop is triggered by an accomplished or just lucky person’s playing of the loop on the keyboard.
3) the fact that the interval loop will do interesting things if less than the number of original keys are held down that are in the loop (the loop becomes “intelligent”).
4) You do not have to create full 167 step sequences, and in fact, creating smaller ones create different contexts for new musical patterns. Small sequences can create different accompaniment structures that can change just like regular ones do (that is, I IV V type changes). Longer sequences tend to have complexities in them that can be fascinating to listen to because they develop different sub melodies. These sub melodies can actually change within a piece. For some reason, when different keys are held down different submelodies come out. One reason why this happens is that different notes are combined in what seems like different rhythms. The loops I create take on visual aspects or patterns.
For instance, I would create patterns like :
135 4321 111 123 123
135 4321 222 123 345
135 4321 333 1357999
This would be an example of one using no rests.
Here is one, in which the 0’s are rests :
Of course, such patterns can create totally unique rhythmic structures.”
As far as the mysticism, I was drawn heavily to mysticism and religious studies starting around 15. One idea is that people are mechanical, and spending time in spirituality can free one from the mechanical aspect. You can call this mechanicalness, “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” if you will. Instead of using sequencers to enforce mechanicalness, I am using them to create patterns that are presently non-existent in music. I also pray about my music, that God would work through it, since I am a believer. I’ve seen a lot of people around me stop doing music completely, stay addicted to drugs and alcohol, or just become bitter, and I believe there is a higher power that enables me to have the rich emotional life that allows me to keep creating.
Is music still important in your life, or your actual main activities are related to the same ideas, purposes?
Yes, I am still composing and working on music. I have been spending more time at the computer, sometimes taking works apart and re-arranging them, editing with software, and so on. I haven’t released that many things lately, mostly just music videos with new works. I have about 5 CD’s of old works from the 1980s that few people have heard, and about 15 CD’s of newer works from the 90’s on. About seven of these have been done in the last eight years or so. I want to get these out as soon as possible. I shifted the focus a bit more on the writing in 2005, because I had all these ambitions to write books but one day I found myself in a bookstore and had a kind of “Aha moment” that something was going to have to change if I was going to be a professional author. The goal of the last five years has been to get back more to music.”
On Wed, 4/5/17