No one is ever sure how to pronounce Sahy Uhns. And according to Carl Madison Burgin, the man behind the moniker, that’s sort of the whole point.
“I’m severely dyslexic,” Burgin confesses, over a Soyrizo Mexican omelette at a coffee shop near his home in Van Nuys. So one of his goals in choosing the name — which, by the way, is pronounced “science” — was “imposing dyslexia on everyone else.”
“It’s definitely not a great marketing tool,” the 26-year-old electronic producer adds with a laugh. “Most of the time the name is spelled wrong. But I just think it’s funny, because that’s how I am all the time.”
Confusing or not, it’s a fitting name. The music Burgin makes as Sahy Uhns imposes a kind of aural dyslexia on its listeners. On his sophomore album, Courtship Dances, released in November, tracks flit between moods and tempos with disorienting frequency. Dance tracks become ambient meditations; pretty revelries turn dark and foreboding. Even the album's less ADD moments, like the springy tech-house of "Prologue: Tolerance Training (Part Two)," feel like two or three different songs stitched together.
Not everyone gets Sahy Uhns’ mercurial style, but that’s sort of the whole point, too. “When people are like, ‘Why is your stuff so spazzy?’ — that’s one criticism that I don’t really mind so much.”
An L.A. native, Burgin — Charlie, to his friends — began playing guitar and drums around age 10, but discovered DJing and turntablism soon thereafter. “I stole my sister’s belt-drive piece of shit and tried to scratch on it and broke it in like 15 minutes,” he remembers. “That was the beginning.”
By the time he enrolled in the music program at CalArts, he was heavily enough into electronic music that a trombone-playing roommate once told him, “You don’t even make music. You’re just, like, a scientist.” Burgin took the would-be insult and ran with it, and Sahy Uhns was born.
With composer and sound designer Jeff Elmassian, he launched his own label, Proximal Records, in 2010. The initial intent was just to release his own music, but the label soon became home to fellow square pegs in the L.A. beat community and beyond — from his childhood friend, experimental techno producer Lawrence Grey, to relative newcomers like NOTE, a garrulous rapper from San Diego for whom Burgin has produced some beats.
Proximal, like nearly every L.A. indie electronic label, is distributed through Alpha Pup, the label and distribution house run by Low End Theory mastermind Daddy Kev. But apart from that, Burgin doesn’t really feel like he’s part of any scene.
“I really love all of that shit,” he says of the artists who orbit closer to Low End’s axis, “but I’m just kind of a hermit.”
He enjoys living out in the hinterlands of Van Nuys, in part because it gives him first crack at pawn-shop gear and thrift-store vinyl that, in Highland Park, would be snapped up in minutes for twice the price.
“I’m a firm believer in shitty equipment,” he says proudly. One of his favorite production tricks is to record a synth pattern or drum track on a damaged cassette recorder, letting the recorder’s warped playback stretch and wobble the original track — often created using his own software — in unexpected ways.
“They’re all broken in their own special way,” he says, almost gleefully, of his “arsenal” of broke-down recorders and mixers. He could just as easily be describing the beautifully warped tracks on Courtship Dances.
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Sahy Uhns is playing an album release party on Saturday, Feb. 7 in Echo Park, with other Proximal artists. RSVP here for location and other details.