By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Akira Rabelais has made a musicimage DVD called Eisoptrophobia. The word means ”fear of mirrors,“ but for him it‘s not some ordinary fear; it’s a dread of limitation. ”I exist in a much larger space than what I am physically,“ says Rabelais (a.k.a. Vincent Carte). ”But if I were to look into the mirror, I would suddenly pull back into my body.“ Rabelais hears the music he made, smells his coffee, sees the room he‘s in (television always on), feels the footsteps of the FBI agents on his roof, considers the implications of everything, and rearranges it all into new combinations of sounds, words and images that will infinitely spawn their own progeny. Electronically.
”I’m not making pieces that you‘d put on and just focus on them,“ he says, his speech quick, gentle. ”That horrifies me in a way.“ Why, he figures, would anyone fixate on music, however fine? It’s like being trapped in a mirror.
Rabelais‘ vision has broadened. His previous CD, the excellent Elongated Pentagonal Pyramid, was audio-only; Eisoptrophobia is very sitesight-specific. In real-time video segments snipped from a day’s activities, a languid sylph gazes out a window, peels fruit, bathes, as Rabelais‘ music complements with glitchy drones, koto-like distorted arpeggios or shimmering distortions of Satie piano pieces. There are remixes, too, played along with abstract visual bands of vibrating, contrasting color -- direct representations of the musical frequencies. And against a blank screen, ultralow tones rippling with vari-speed waves move around your room, rattling the window now, the lamp a minute later. The music often sounds like it’s fluttering inside your head.
Rabelais does it all on his little laptop, largely through programs he designed himself. But he‘s different from other dude-with-a-box sound twisters in a number of ways.
One difference is his unusually comprehensive and variable programs, one of which, Argeiphontes Lyre, he has offered as a free Internet download at www.akirara belais.comsoftwaresoftware.html (see John Payne’s sidebar): ”It‘s my way of giving back. I have some debts that can never be repaid.“ In his tidy North Hollywood penthouse, Rabelais demonstrates EvisceratorReanimator, looping a Coltrane fragment through numerous filters -- his computer contains half a million sound files to choose from -- for new rhythmic and textural effects that Trane himself might have dug. He tries, see, to bring purpose into the aleatory nature of the process: ”For me, randomness is like . . . a sea gull flies in and makes you a cup of anchovy-flavored coffee. I try to build more of that into the software so that things can happen that we may not expect. The program may ignore functions, or it may mutate them. I try to give it more inspiration.“
The sounds themselves are untypical, too -- dense, nuanced. Rabelais spends hundreds of hours tailoring them. Their quality becomes especially clear on a good system like the one in the Knitting Factory’s AlterKnit Lounge, where he performed a few months ago. It wasn‘t a visual spectacle; the musician moused and tapped his computer, improvising variations on predetermined sequences and files, his foot sometimes squeezing against the stand as if on the wah-wah pedal of a guitar (his main instrument before he partially disabled his left arm by practicing too much). But the aural effect of the notes, especially the sculpted piano samples, is intense. The experience has life.
And that’s another difference. Rabelais says he worms into the ”genetic structure“ of sound: ”Organic is what I go for. I don‘t like sanitized, too-clean sound; it doesn’t seem real to me. Maybe that‘s part of the ’Rabelais‘ thing -- there’s got to be a little shit and piss somewhere.“
There‘s a lot going on with this guy. He was raised on a racehorse ranch: ”I’ve always had my own sense of rhythm -- it might come from living in south Texas. Wide-open spaces. Howling at the coyotes, yelling at the dogs.“ He spent years as a blues and pop guitarist in Austin, supporting himself by working in a bookstore, which made him crazy for literature and poetry. He got the Akira nickname (after a Japanese cartoon character) at Bennington, a private liberal-arts college in Vermont, where he studied Chinese philosophy with Chi Chung Huang, composition with the great avant-garde jazzman Bill Dixon and electronic music with Joel Chadabe. He‘d used Carla Scaletti’s Kyma composition program; she told Rabelais about CalArts after finishing a residency there. So he came out and studied electronic music and software design with Tom Erbe and Morton Subotnick, taking a degree in composition with new media in 1997.
SoCal seemed pretty lo-cal to Rabelais at first. ”It had that wrapped-in-plastic kind of feeling.“ But he got it after a while: ”Driving around at 11 o‘clock at night in Hollywood, listening to that first Portishead album really loud, I was just, ’It makes sense now!‘“ Recent years have found him doing ”freelance digital-cowboy kinds of stuff“ for Hollywood Records, Universal, Mattel and such while he works on his art.
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