Interview With Dysonant!

The NY based Modular Synthesist sits down to discuss his newest and EP and Star Trek.

INTERVIEWS

13 Min read

Interview With Dysonant!

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Dysonant is a newer acquaintance, whom I have the New York Modular Society to thank for it. Not to mention, I have the pleasure of interviewing him on nearly the year anniversary since he co-founded the group and only a few weeks after his bold release of a single song called, “House of Mogh.”

With a lot going on in his world, I’m honored to have a chance to chat about the record, NY and, obviously, Star Trek.  


Who is Dysonant and what was the initial spark that started the fire in your belly for music? What made you say, well, this is it. I'm in.  

Growing up my family was musical. My brothers and I would often gather around our mother playing at her Hammond Organ and sing old jazz standards. After school, when the house was mostly empty, I would creep into the living room and fire up the organ. I would start slowly playing each key from the highest to lowest note while simultaneously pulling out the harmonic drawbars until it was just this giant rich bass. I envisioned a UFO landing.  In hindsight, I know this was a fascination with sound and timbre. I was doing sound design without knowing it. I don’t really see this as the moment I was all in, but I definitely see it as the root of my love for sound art.  

What part of NY are you from, where originally and what keeps you here? 

Brooklyn, I lived on the L.E.S. for 10 years, but Brooklyn is home. When I think about living elsewhere, I try to envision what the music scene might be like and how I can be a part of it. I am sure I’d be able to find my niche in another city, but I am not sure it would be as diverse and exciting as NY. (***Editor's Note - Amen)

What is your native instrument? How'd you get your start? 

The modular synth is really where it is at.  I grew up playing tuba, dabbled with guitar, bass, keyboards, sang for a handful of post-punk bands and spent years using various DAWs.  About six years ago I acquired my first modular synth and have not looked back.  The connection to something physical that is capable of such depth and expressivity feels natural.  The ability to reconfigure the instrument into something new is massively appealing. To me, the modular synth is much more like a piano or guitar than soft-synths. You have to practice and learn how to use it.  You can’t save what you do by clicking a button.  The music is there, when you are making it and when you unpatch it is gone, but the experience from playing it remains.

 This one I like to ask but if you don't wish to answer don't feel obliged - I want the exclusive! So what is your real name?! 

Hah, Jason Lazzara, no middle name.

Dysonant

I Have To Wonder Whether He Spends More Time Stating He Has 'No Middle Name', Than If He Did Have One?


Present gear rundown - what's set up right now only! Go! 

Damn! I have too many modules to go through here.  I’ll supply some links that people can peruse to see my various set ups. 

Exocomp: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/280031 

My main performance rig is a 12u eurorack modular synth designed to be an all in one system that I can play live sets lasting 30-60 minutes. I do a lot of percussion with it but only have one drum module, the BIA, which I use primarily for kicks.  All other percussion I design from building blocks.  I would also do that for the kick, but space is a premium in the performance case. 

Orange Case: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/631877 

This system is a smaller travel case, also designed to be fully stand alone. I tend to think of it as more experimental, but that is arbitrary.  I can do just about anything with it. 

Orange Pill: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/538049 

This case sits on top of the Orange Case when I am home.  It is primarily for studio use. 

Finally a list of other favorites that are set up and in use right now are: 

Dreadbox Abyss - for polyphonic duties 

Moog Grandmother - when I feel the need for keys 

Hikari Monos - noise, bleeps and bloops 

0-Coast & 0-Ctrl - I think of this as a modern Buchla Easel

Bastl Soft-pop - distortion and more bloops 

Lorre-Mill Double Knot - very weird dual oscillator semi-modular synth with a shift register.  Great for FM percussion and all sort of sound design weirdness.

When did the transition, or as anyone who plays knows it to truly be  an obsession regarding synthesizers, begin for you? Any particular reason? 

My first “studio” was a crappy realistic two channel mixer from the 70s, an Aiwa Karaoke boom box with a mic input, a guitar and a bunch of toys.  I would lay down a rhythm by banging on a wood chair, swap tapes in the dual deck Aiwa, and overdub toy laser guns sounds. I’d continue that process until it felt “complete”. Definitely yielded some interesting results, but not an ideal workflow or setup. However, it was extremely fun.

After that my synth acquisition was never something I would call a habit, until one day I found myself staring at my computer going through upwards of 100 Ableton projects in various states of incompleteness. The endless options and drudgery of auditioning patches to find the “right sound” put me on the path to where I am now.  I was tired of using samples and modifying other peoples patches. I wanted to do all my own sound design. I tried with soft synths, but the few bits of hardware I had were infinitely more satisfying to work with.  Once I got past the idea of not being able to save anything other than by recording it, I felt a huge weight lifted. It allowed me to focus on music rather than production.  Sort of allowed me to return to the fun of my first studio set up. That is when it crossed over into an obsession.

How did it come to pass that you would create your own material as a solo act?  

Well, the music in my head, of course. I need an outlet for my own specific ideas.  While I love collaborating with people, the idea of subjecting anyone to my swarming brain would be cruel.   Satiating the desire to exercise mind demons saves musical partners from potential possession. 

What would you list as one of the main reasons for starting NYMS in the first place and continuing to push forward the effort?  

I did not really start NYMS, but helped it become a thing.  Ben the Glorious Bastard and Saddle Up the Robots invited me to join.  We quickly realized we had a common desire to be a part of something. Unlike other cities, New York didn’t really have a community. It felt natural to start to try and bring folks, with this shared interest, together.  I had been co-hosting an experimental music open-mic called Strange Stage for a few years and offered to organize and host the first NYMS show. The turn out was better than expected and the community began to grow.  We continue to let the community define its own direction and simply guide it.  We do it because we love it and the people that are a part of NYMS. 

In the year of NYMS existence where is the furthest the endeavor has brought you geographically that you’d never imagined visiting? 

Queens? Well, we are the New York Modular Society, so it was not exactly born on the premise of being outside of NY. We do, however, welcome people from all over the world and do not consider NYMS provincial. That said, I did attend the Tokyo Festival of Modular last November and represented NYMS in casual conversations. As the world re-opens, I think the most likely scenario is that groups of us will attend various global synth events. Really hoping to go to Superbooth in 2021.

Any year two NYMS plans that are not super duper top-secret that I may be so bold as to pose now? 

The only reason anything is ever kept secret is because details are not defined.  That said, we hope to begin playing live venues again some day.  Also, we are starting to work with others to set up some DIY workshops.

Besides synth-driven music or instrumental tunes, what do you find yourself head-bobbing to most often? I find answers to this question most interesting because some have a background of thrash metal, some emo, yet we all found this common ground. What was last in your headphones excluding the above? 

Black Sabbath, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Godflesh, Talk Talk, The Smiths, Pink Floyd, T. Rex, Coil, King Tubby, Fugazi, Steve Reich, Funkadelic and so much more have inspired me and been listened to recently. 

What led the charge in your thought process to go about a bold action such as releasing a full fledged EP which is one track in length?  

It is a slightly modified version of a live set I streamed for Palacio Palace in July.  It was written as a single piece intended to be listened in its entirety. While I really want people to enjoy my music, I am not writing it to fit into some algorithm and hit the top of the charts.  It is art, meant to provoke a feeling and be an experience.

We're all a fair amount of nerd in our own respects. I feel we’re yet to know each other long enough for you to know where I’m fairest of them all, but I'm a Star Wars guy, through and through. However! I was raised on Captain Kirk and more aptly, Next Generation episodes of Star Trek. So, I'm sure you know what I mean; I’m pretty sure I lost everyone else a moment ago. Let’s recap -  

Dysonant's new EP titled, "House of Mogh," is a reference to ‘Worf’ - A Klingon who is actually helping the Federation by serving aboard the Starship Enterprise. Aside from the obscurity of the reference and very particular fans it may draw in, why was "House of Mogh" the title you ended up going with? Was it more a nod to ‘Worf’, to Klingons, to Star Trek as a whole?  

TNG occupies a warm spot in my heart. While a bit dated, it challenged a lot of social conventions, and transported me to future far away places where hope and idealism were a mainstay. Worf specifically intrigued me, he was not only an alien amongst humans, but an outcast from his own species. His family, once important and proud, was dishonored and stripped of all status for betraying the Klingon Empire. Despite these circumstances, Worf tried to be the best person possible. He was always in external and internal conflict. I feel as though he embodies the human condition of conflict, yet he keeps it all together. In short, it is a nod to Worf, but not separate from Klingons or Star Trek.

I can hear the "outer space" influence throughout. It’s delivery may change but it is omnipresent through the 15:30 EP run time.There's also a lot more complex imagery at work here than what’s experienced at surface level. For example, immediately following the first resonant drop. Was this your attempt to emulate something Klingon, or is this simply Dysonant ? Possibly some combo of the two

I’d say it is more Dysonant (me) than attempting to evoke a Klingon idea or attribute. I draw from the characteristics of Worf as an analogy for how weird and alien daily life can be. Using abstractions to help bring meaning to reality.  So in the end I guess it is a combo of the two.

 

At 6:15 the song begins to twist and turn, doing a 180, but I can’t say with confidence it ever returns to where it was in that moment. This appears to be a continuous motif. There’s never any sort of rush to arrive anywhere. It gets there when it gets there and I find that admirable. Also, allowing the song to stretch its legs and wander a bit. Is my interpretation at all close to your intention and if not, care to please set me straight? I’d love to know your thinking on that one.  

Yes, it is not far off.  We humans create loops to comfort ourselves, time and nature do not work in that manner. Everything is always changing, meandering, being pushed and pulled by one force or another. I wanted this to be a forward only journey, it might have echos of the past, like memories, but it never returns, like reality.

The contortion between cohesion and everything collapsing in on itself (repeatedly) is one of this tracks most hooky attributes. Would you agree, disagree and what was your actual intent if I’ve misconstrued? 

I like your alliterative description. It was definitely intentional. Repetition of sound creates what most people identify as music. It is why people like a lot of music, it feels comfortable and uses techniques that are familiar to everyone. I did not want the listener to ever feel like they could expect when an event would happen.  Yet, I did not want them to feel completely lost.  I tried to balance the feeling of being totally out of control but still having to function.  Sort of like if your life were to fall apart from something extreme, you're still expected to conduct yourself under normal social rules.  People experience this sort of feeling all the time but rarely get to express it. The whole world is going through this right now. Everyone hides their conflict and pain behind a smile and soldiers on. I am not saying that is wrong, but rather trying to create a moment where it is ok to not be ok.

So you’re writing a new song. I’d like to ask you to take me through your process as that transpires. How do you begin, what happens in the middle and how do you know it has reached its end? 


I start with a mood or feeling that I am already experiencing. Before I write anything I try to immerse myself in the nuance of that feeling. Meaning, it is usually more complicated than, “I feel sad” or “I feel happy”. Why am I happy? What is the cause and the result of that happiness?  Is the happiness fleeting and momentary, or sustained? Then I’ll sit down and start doing some sound design. I start with whatever the mood dictates, it could be percussion, bass, pad, lead, ambience, texture, there is no formula. When I feel pretty good about the result, I’ll start to build elements around the initial sound until I have filled the audio spectrum.

Then I’ll build a loose arrangement and leave room for improvisation.  After playing with this for a while I’ll chuck out half, rewrite and refine sounds.  I get used to performing the track.  Once I am fairly confident with the performance I will record.  All of my tracks are now played live instead of being programmed and edited to hell inside a DAW.  I always make mistakes, and I often leave those mistakes in as a part of the music.  Trying to make the most perfect sounding track can often rob it of feeling.  

House of Mogh was recorded in a single continuous take.  There were no effects, mixing or DAW editing done post recording.  It was gently mastered on a stereo track recorded directly from the modular synth.  That is pretty much how I do everything now.

Something I always hear among modular artists work, which I love, don't misconstrue, is the "glitchy"/ "broken" percussive vibe. It seems to, as someone who doesn't play fully modular, a mix between showing capacities of your setup along with, b, finding sounds and style so antithetical to the norm they become your own. Am I close or confusing wholly a large part of your life’s work? 

I think a good deal of the people attracted to modular synths are looking for ways to explore new sounds.  While sounds like the 808/909 will always be something I love, I strive to create new and different sounds.  An 808 hat sounds great, no doubt about it, but it is instantly recognizable and familiar to people.  As someone who is trying to create music that pushes boundaries I try to make my sounds less familiar and more alien. Also, not just the sounds, but modular systems often inspire more flexibility with rhythmic sture.  It is very easy to have unsynchronized beats, polymetric beats, polyrhythmic beats, beats with morphing tempos and total chaos. So, I think maybe the broken/glitchiness is just something not yet heard or unexpected, when the frame of reference from popular music is so on the grid.

Are you a DIY Modular Synthesist, or pre-built and why? 

I have built a few modules, it is fun and rewarding. However, it is a time suck. I usually prefer to use the time I would spend building a module, learning a new modular technique. I am primarily a pre-built module kind of person. Also, while DIY is cheaper, it will take you about 5 DIY modules to break even(that’s a really rough estimate).  The initial expense of all the tools you need to DIY properly will set you back. (***Editor's Note 2 - You have Dyonant's Social Media Handles readily available throughout the article to take this debate out of MY comments section hahaha)

Sometimes I can have an unfortunate tendency of trampling over things guests may have wanted to be sure to mention; These days I prefer to open the floor as the last question, so you may speak your mind, since after all, it is your interview. 

I’d only like to thank you and the people that have taken the time to read this and listen to my work.  I sincerely appreciate it and hope it’s been stimulating.

Dysonant

I think one clear take away...

... after reading the artist in his own words here is that for him, it's clearly all about humility. Creating to create, enjoying the process and making art for art's sake. I don't disagree with, pfft, hardly anything, if anything, which Dysonant said as I read his words back. It's what makes you realize there is no bullshit here. He's just a guy. My favorite type of musician, though; a Guy. How novel, right? How often do we see that level of non-celebrity culture in 2020? It's always refreshing to see, and even more a pleasure to interview people of that same sentiment as myself. His live performances are something to be sure to catch and the schedule is found again on the NYMS website. House of Mogh has been linked to here, so please sure to give it a listen. And after listening, go over to his Bandcamp and buy the damn thing because you're a decent human being! It will be appreciated! ... And never forget to NOT stop rockin' and rollin'..!!!!

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