Monday, October 31, 2011

Interview Series #8: Chris Gilroy

Chris Gilroy, or simply Gilroy, loves twisting knobs, taking things apart, and testing sounds. He's a music-making mad scientist with an ear for the technical and an eye for innovation, and he's never afraid to try something new.

According to Chris, he's "a city boy who's heart is in the mountains. As an audio engineer, electronic musician, hacker, tinkerer, and builder, he finds inspiration in all corners of the world and just wants to explore more of what sound has to offer. He moved to NYC to see a bit more of what the world offers, which naturally scared and stimulated him. Now he can't stop moving." Oh, he also loves his bike and stout beers. And he was born on a Tuesday.

As founder of the In/Out Festival, Chris maintains a three-day, NYC electronic arts fest where musicians and artists are "huddled together to learn and share the secrets of computers." Perhaps not so coincidentally, I met Chris at the CMJ Festival several years back, and I've always been intrigued by his passions.
Quick Look:
August 13, 1985
Living in: Brooklyn, New York
Originally from:
South Kingstown, Rhode Island
Website: &

No-Alternative: What made you decide to study sound recording technology while attending  UMass Lowell? How did you know that this was the thing you wanted to pursue?

Chris Gilroy: When I was in junior high, I had my first studio experience with a shitty hardcore band. We sucked but the whole idea behind recording was crazy to me. Since I was playing drums, I spent the rest of the time in the control room watching. In high school I got my first hard disc recorder and got really into experimental music and noise. I would spent all night in the basement making weird sound scapes while playing in an instrumental band. We would record all the time and release a ton of music for free. 

My parents were not too keen on me applying for performance related degrees and I wasn't sold on trying to be a musician my whole life so the next best thing was studio work. I wanted to be in sound, literally inside of it. I wanted to craft, manipulate, preserve, destroy, and capture it any way possible. Lowell was only because Northeastern didn't want me, which ended up being the best thing ever. The UMass Lowell Sound Recording Technology degree was amazing and taught me so much.

What type of music are you most interested in recording, engineering, or creating? And what is it about digital music and technology that speaks to you?

I love recording and working with any artists who are up for trying things out. I find it such a fun challenge to help different people realize what is in their head. I recently did a little project with a singer/songwriter and she didn't want any effects on the music, just raw sound. So we were moving all around her apartment recording in different areas with different mic'ing set ups to find new sounds.

As far as technology, I used to be a straight analog guy! Tubes and tape! I still am but I find that a healthy blend between analog and digital can yield some truly fascinating and inspiring results. There is a lot of new stuff out there that is inspiring, like what people are doing with Max/MSP and other programming languages. You can really get some cool stuff happening!

What bands/artists/recording engineers --- local or otherwise --- are you currently excited about?

I have been all about the Avett Brothers record, I And Love And You. It was produced by Rick Rubin, which is a totally different path for the band who is used to super DIY recording spaces. They have this pure vibe to them that is so exciting. On this record though, they had a big budget and used it. However, you can still hear the squeaks of the piano bench, or weird background sounds that is not common in a lot of big records. It has so much life in it below the beautiful harmonies and heart breaking performances. It's a spectacular record. Also, Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree has a great ear for surround techniques and combining the lo-fi with the hi-fi.

You've been involved in many projects as both engineer and musician. What have been your most memorable collaborations?

In college I started a group called Details, which was a downtown jazz group focused on me with live electronics and the fantastic drummer, Andy Fordyce. We always had a rotating cast of musicians sit in with us, which led to some really interesting performances. The whole project was a great way to experiment with audio and try to have conversations with sound.

Let's discuss your artist page on Cargo Collective, where you currently have six projects on display. Can you offer us a brief tour of the ideas, EPs, and sample packs you've showcased, and explain the overall themes or intentions?

Well, for better or worse the first little thing is an EP, Failed Houdini, of some downtempo electronic pieces that have been kicking around my hard drives for a few years. The album art was done by the lovely Danielle Brown.

Tendril is an idea I have for an open source control interface. Right now I am trying to design something that will have a few thin strips, similar to long blades of grass, that when bent send a control signal to a computer to process. They will ideally be back lit with a decoupled LED so the computer can send different signals, like the rate of an LFO, or gate, or brightness based on amount of change, etc. Super early stages of this.

The project called Ragnarok is a modular synth I'm building that will be housed in an old arcade box. All but one module I have built from PCBs from around the internet. Basically, it will be a noise machine of doom meets a signal processor for my own music and for mixing.

Finally, A, B, and C Names for Girls are a sonic study on different forms of acoustic sound sources cut up and released under a Creative Commons license for public use. I really got into the artist Eskmo and his use of foley sounds as percussion/melodies and started experimenting with them myself. These are part of a ongoing series: Girl Names will be all acoustic sounds and soon Boy Names will be electronic sounds.

You started New York City's In/Out Festival, which is dedicated to open source programming and controller design. Why did you create this now yearly event? What makes your festival different from others like it?

As I mentioned before, I really was inspired by this little device called monome. A friend of mine was planning on organizing an NYC meet-up for people using this device, but as we started the event, we realized so many people are doing so many inspiring and awesome things. So why not bring them all together?

I think we stand out as a festival because we focus not just on designers and developers, but on people using different technologies to make art. For a community that has grown because of the internet, we are bringing people together in real life --- online friends and now real life friends. It's funny overhearing conversations at the festival, there's a lot of: "on blah blah forum, I am blahblahboogie666," followed by, "Oh man, I know you! I'm AwesomeTriFold!"

Which programs, shows, and workshops in past In/Out Festivals have been your favorites? And what can we expect to see at this year's Fest, taking place at The Knitting Factory on November 11-13?

tehn played the first year, and everyone in the room rushed forward and sat on the ground right in front to watch him play. There was so much energy in the room for such a low key, ambient set. And Felted Signal Processing has done a few workshops about how to build your own felt midi controllers, which I think is amazing!!

This year we are super excited! Not only are we at The Knitting Factory for two days, but we are also holding workshops and lectures at 285 Kent/Babycastles! We are waiting to hear back from everyone, but already Smomid, Comandante Zero, Christopher Willits, and Daedelus have confirmed. Workshops are still being sorted, but look for something on Max4Live (probably hosted by Willits) and a panel about controllerism, from design to use, with Brian Crabtree, Alfred Darlington (Daedelus) and more.

What is your opinion on the way music is shared, distributed, purchased, created, and digested these days? Do you have any qualms/pet peeves, or are you completely open to all of the recent changes in the music industry?

This is a conversation best left to be had over a few beers! Overall I am super excited about the industry as of late. A ton of independent people are doing some truly great things and are getting the word out about it. I love Soundcloud and other sites like it --- I think it is a great way to share and be involved with artists on a direct level. The RIAA shot themselves in the foot when they started suing customers for downloading music and not paying for it. They spent so much time worrying about what they weren't making that they didn't try to adapt and make the system work. I truly hope they end their existence soon...
I know you worked at MtyMxm, the Mexico-based all-ages music festival that followed SxSW --- can you talk about this experience, and how it might have been different from doing sound at US-based festivals?

Ah was a crazy experience. Without getting into any detail, a lot went wrong and a lot went so amazingly well. Everyone who was there had an amazing time. I was the front of house engineer for the entire three day event, with a great talented friend of mine, Katie Davidson, doing everything backstage. We worked 15 or more hours days then drank till we passed out and then did it again.

What I can say is: know the local language and culture! When they say the power generator will be there soon a day before the event starts, they really mean two days from then! We got there the morning of the festival and found that almost none of the gear was there and no power generator, hours before the first bands should start playing. The system was calibrated much lower than normal...the whole thing was out of whack and no one knew until the last day. Bands were walking offstage because the monitor system was less then 250 watts, while the main system is well over 20,000 watts. It was crazy. Know the system inside and out, and know the language!

Do you feel like you're part of a "community" --- through creating and attending festivals, through being an audio engineer, through living in Brooklyn, or through any other means?

An online community, yes. But what I do and how I do it, I am all over the place. I'm friends with tons of great people involved in the indie show scene in Brooklyn, as well as electronic musicians in the city, to the hip-hop cats in the Bronx. Online I am very active in the open source community, modular synth community, and pro audio DIY. It's great because I have so much inspiration coming from all sides; I love it!

You're involved in activism, anarchy, DIY culture, biking, and healthy living. What advice or words of wisdom might you offer folks who are interested in such lifestyles?

Go for it! Don't let anyone make you feel stupid about it. There are so many amazing things going on in the world, and if you're in NYC it is all super condensed, you just need to go after it. Almost everyone you meet will be awesome and welcoming. To pass on some words of wisdom from The Pete; Don't forget the 5 Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Progress!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Can Saint Mark's Bookshop survive?

New York City has always been recognized as the setting (and instigator) of many important subcultures, social movements, and artistic revolutions. CBGB's was home to American punk; Washington Square Park fostered the Bohemians and Beats; the Lower East Side generated graffiti, hardcore, and underground hip-hop. The unifying factor of all movements, otherwise separated by time or topic, is not only the city itself, but all that it stands for. My great-grandparents, for example, came to America via Ellis Island, watching Ms. Liberty grow larger and larger as they approached a new home where they could have a better life. 

New York has thus always represented independence, whether it be for those who immigrate here from other countries or for those who escape their suburban/rural lives in hopes of finding more like-minded people with whom to make something happen. And it's that idea of independence that really drives New Yorkers to create, compete, push forward, learn, speak, and change the world one little step at a time. Here, it seems like almost anything is possible, and nobody will judge you for expressing who you are (or at least, no one will spend an extra five seconds staring at you when there's something else to look at just a stone's throw away).

Of course, the NYC I'm talking about is not Wall Street, nor is it Park Ave. Naturally, people move here not only for creative freedom, opportunities and inspiration, but to make money and lead a wealthy lifestyle. So perhaps the NYC I speak of is particular to people who prize art and culture. In any event, an innovative and independent NYC is fading away and falling apart, especially lower Manhattan. Small businesses here are in is anyone who treasures them. While chain stores and restaurants do exist throughout the boroughs (and Times Square is one giant advertisement), NYC is also known for its independently owned stores, restaurants, and bars that you simply cannot find anywhere else. I mean, who goes to NYC to shop at Kmart and eat at Applebee's? Hopefully no one.

Now that rents are so high, small business owners can no longer afford to operate (so long CBGB's, etc.), which not only totally sucks for the people who put their heart and soul into them, but also for patrons who have made such places a part of their identity. Many shops, clubs, bars, cafes, and venues are NYC landmarks --- they define us and shape us and they are crucial to the neighborhoods in which they exist. So while having a Chase bank on every other block is...uhhh...helpful, what it's really doing is destroying what makes NYC unique, thus rendering it impossible for a new generation to discover and embrace independent businesses. All of this makes me very sad and angry. Why doesn't New York value, and attempt to save, its very own culture?

The plight that concerns me most right now is that of St. Mark's Bookshop. I cannot tell you how much this store means to me, and how much the continued demise of Saint Marks Place hurts! Recently, over 43,000 people (including me) signed a petition to get the store's landlords, of Cooper Union, to lower the monthly rent, but this appeal was just turned down.

Michael Moore visited the store this month and "spoke about how St. Mark’s is actually the price we are being asked to pay for Wall Street’s greed, and in recent weeks, members of Occupy Wall Street have made stops at the store to help rally against the landlords. Bookshop owners, Bob Contant and Terry McCoy, say that it remains to be seen if the recent surge in customer support will be enough to keep the bookshop’s doors open." >> Read more in this article.

Not only did we lose the massive chain Borders, but now cultural landmarks are next in line. Unlike Borders, these stores are irreplaceable; they foster community, expression, and independence. St. Mark's Books is both independently owned and carries many titles from indie publishers. Let's look at the facts:
St. Mark's Bookshop was established in 1977 on New York City's Lower East Side, a community of students, academics, artists, and other discerning readers. Our specialties include Cultural Theory, Graphic Design, Poetry & Small Press Publishing, Film Studies, and Foreign & Domestic Periodicals and Journals.
Located at 31 Third Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets, we are convenient to the 6 Train at Astor Place and the N/R Trains at Broadway and 8th Street. Our neighborhood is home to New York University, The Cooper Union, and such cultural institutions as P.S. 122 and St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, which offer theatre, dance performances and poetry readings. There are also many vintage clothing stores, designer boutiques, import shops, antique stores, and new & used record stores in the area, as well as dozens of cafes, restaurants and bars.
My plea to you is this: if you are in New York, buy a book there. If you know anyone in New York, ask them to buy one for you, or themselves. You can also buy a gift certificate for someone. I know Amazon is quick and easy, but try St. Mark's Bookshop first. Please...we all know where this is going. And don't neglect other indie bookstores like Bluestockings, McNally Jackson, the Strand, Book Book, etc. The alternative is not pretty...sitting inside all day alone and looking at things on screens. O what fun. 


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Ballerina Project

Before my love of all things alternative, I bore an enormous passion for dance, especially ballet. But you already know how that story goes...little girl loves ballet, little girl isn't a good enough ballerina (like most!), therefore girl stops doing ballet. No matter, I'll always adore ballet (and dance around the house to Clint Mansell's Requiem score). Another thing I adore is New York City, ever since I started riding the train down to the village in high school. So when you combine the grime, grit, and beauty of NYC with the ballerina's  phenomenal form, you have created photographs that make me beyond thrilled. The Ballerina Project is like a series of images ripped from my mind. As the "about" page says:
Like a dream becoming reality the Ballerina Project is a series of photographs created by photographer Dane Shitagi. Crafted over the span of ten years, the Ballerina Project is not “dance photography” but an etching of a ballerina's heart and emotions.

Every aspect of the Ballerina Project is carefully crafted and cultivated. The project has  been photographed entirely on traditional photographic film and not with modern digital cameras. The majority of ballerinas who have posed for the project are professional dancers and the minority are advanced ballet students in renown dance schools. The crafts of dance and photography are truly upheld on both ends of the creation of the Ballerina Project.

Here are just a few of my favorites....

and all of these prints remind me of one very relevant image (the original shot of the ballerina was actually taken by Dane Shitagi):