If you abandon your car and climb into the smog shrouding the Cypress Park intersection of the 5 and 110 freeways, you’ll discover a little-known arterial called the Arroyo Seco Parkway Walkway. There’s a stairwell reeking of urine and a homeless encampment, but otherwise it’s the semi-private secret of those few locals who walk in L.A. — a bizarre civic crossroads where there’s nothing stopping you from stepping onto the freeway and snuffing out your existence in a Sig Alert of glory.
This is where Brian Simon, better known as the avant-garde electronic composer Anenon, chose to meditate during the recording of Petrol, his poetic love-hate letter to L.A.
“It’s this weird, unknown place where thousands of people pass by but never pay it any attention,” says Simon, the bespectacled producer who was raised in Beachwood Canyon but until recently lived in Boyle Heights. “I’d go up there and meditate on car sounds. It was thrilling but calming, too.”
He’s speaking at the moment from Mexico City, where he recently decamped with his girlfriend to take a sabbatical from the hometown he’s never really left. “The experience made me think about the dichotomy of walking versus driving in L.A.,” Simon continues. “Living here puts you in your own emotional bubble, where you might not interact with people for days at a time. You get lost in your own head.”
The chaos and clutter of the city manifests in the alternately frenetic and serene pace of Petrol. Simon juxtaposes found sounds that capture the tidal crush of traffic with anxiety-riddled synthesizers and plaintive saxophones.
It’s a uniquely modern record that obliterates genre, settling at a nexus between improvised jazz, minimalist dance music and ambient. It’s as meticulously planned as a freeway grid and as infinitely sprawling as the tract suburbs outside the city limits. Its title came from a four-way intersection near Simon’s old apartment, where a gas station occupied every corner.
“The older that I get, the more I feel the weight of everything,” says Simon, who just turned 32. “I’m really attracted to this place where beauty and sadness mix and become this unspoken thing. I’m trying to build my own language.”
Such conceptual ambition is nothing new for Simon, who studied music history at UCLA and built his own Non Projects label into one of the city’s most respected electronic imprints over the last five years. His musical vernacular reflects a decade of tireless experimentation since he first picked up the sax at 22.
You can see his ideas at play in Monument, the yearlong performance series Simon is co-curating at MOCA, which pairs musicians with objects from the muse-um’s permanent collection. For his own piece, Simon divined inspiration from MOCA’s Black Mountain Gallery, including works by Cy Twombly and John Cage. His acoustic performance found him navigating the packed museum grounds, leading a guitarist, drummer and violinist like a free-jazz pied piper.
With Petrol, released March 4 on Friends of Friends, he’s achieved something masterful and permanent, built from several improvisational jam sessions, and whittled down into something taut and simmering — as intimate and unknowable as the neon cityscape seen from the freeway.
“Driving in L.A., you get these epic vistas, but you lose them really quickly and you’re stuck in your own little bubble again. That’s what this album is trying to capture,” Simon says. “There are so many visions and perspectives, micro-pockets and climates. So many intersect, but so many don’t. This is the city as choose-your-own-adventure.”
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.