Meet the Caltech PhD Student Making Music on the Side
It's not that Raymond Weitekamp isn't making sense, it's just that the things he's talking about right now - polymers and the various wavelengths of the light spectrum and such - are impenetrable topics to someone with only a base level understanding of chemistry.
Wearing safety goggles and describing huge pieces of scientific machinery, Weitekamp is giving a tour of the labs at Pasadena's California Institute of Technology. The sunlit lab has the sterile, slightly acidic smell of a doctor's office, and some of the machines in this long room are bigger than a Fiat. A few other white coat clad scientists quietly go about their work.
A PhD student in CalTech's chemistry program, Weitekamp spends 12 hours a day, seven days a week on campus, studying under Nobel Prize winning professor Robert Grubbs, among others. His desk is a messy pile of precariously stacked books, papers and science projects. His focus is on "developing self-assembled nanostructured materials with resonant optical properties, called photonic crystals," and his research has been published in academic journals.
Next week, the 25 year old will release his debut album, Marrow, under the name ingMob. While the Altadena native is a disciple of avant-garde computer programming musicianship, Marrow is a digital/analog fusion that sounds less like scientific experimentation and more like emotional catharsis.
Wearing a plaid American Eagle button down and carrying an overloaded backpack, Weitekamp strikes you as one of those humble geniuses whose brains are primed to comprehend math and science. Thoughtful and well spoken, we find a sunny spot to sit on the campus cafe's patio.
This endeavor is not his first foray into music. Weitekamp played Low End Theory (under the DJ name Altitude Sickness) in 2008, and is a friend of Low End pillar Daedelus, whose technically progressive soundscapes and theatrical performance style have greatly influenced Weitekamp.
As a teenager, Weitekamp was an athlete who excelled at running and fencing. Sports were his primary focus until his femur was shattered when the car he was driving was T-boned by a driver talking on their cell phone. Lucky to have made it out of the accident alive, Weitekamp had a titanium rod inserted in his left thigh and refocused his energy on music and science. " I wasn't passionate about music at all," he says, "until after the accident.
As an undergrad at Princeton, he learned the ropes of computer programming in The Princeton Laptop Orchestra, which is both a class and a performance ensemble. It was here he learned to push the limits of human computer interaction, how to use the laptop as an instrument and how to use controllers in physical ways. He also had a four year residency hosting a music program on Princeton-based radio station WPRB.
At the same time, he booked shows for a campus venue that hosted acts including GZA, Nosaj Thing, the Dirty Projectors and Daedelus, who got Weitekamp interested in monomes, a simple multi-button interface device that executes various programs on the computer it is connected to. Naturally, Weitekamp built his own (after Daedelus tipped him off to a kit he could buy) and he has since used it for all types of musical production.
However, the music of ingMOB isn't all digital. In fact, Weitekamp made portions of the album with just his voice and a guitar. "This project," he says, "is probably the least scientific of any music I've done." Marrow sounds like Merriweather Post Pavilion-era Animal Collective: woozy, elastic, deconstructed, experimental. The emotional fallout of his car accident is one of the album's primary themes.
"I want this project to be more about the music, emotion and vibe vs. 'Whoa, did you see how he was hitting his laptop?'"
Now in the fourth year of his PhD program, Weitekamp is leaning towards a career in academic research. Although he shopped the album around to labels, the goal is more about self expression than commercial success. "It's not," he says, returning his monome into his backpack, "something I'm going to drop my studies to do."
ingMob performs an all ages record release party for Marrow at the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock on February 21. More info here.
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