Tools Crew Live: Mogi Grumbles
➥ MP3 for "Library Jam 1"
➥ 720p video, 480p video or 240p video
Tools Crew Live is an ongoing video series where we invite artists to perform with gear borrowed from the Ann Arbor District Library's Music Tools collection: aadl.org/musictools.
Mogi Grumbles, the nom de plume of Alex Taam, sounds like a villain in a Superman comic. But the name's origin story isn't quite so heroic.
"It was a nickname given to me around the time I first started publishing my music," Taam said. "From how I understand it, it was a rap lyric originally from my friend Ian. He came up with the name in the song, but then it got dubbed to me because I was such an 'curmudgeon.' ... The name stuck, my label liked it, so there it is."
Those 2009 releases on Moodgadget -- Revolutions Per Minute and the split Worst Friends vs. Mogi Grumbles -- launched Taam's music career, which has expanded into videogame soundtrack work, rescores of classic movies, and studio recording and mastering for other artists.
The two Mogi Grumbles songs Taam composed for the third installment of the Ann Arbor District Library's Tools Crew Live series are called "Library Jam 1" and "Library Jam 2," but they could have easily been called "Retro-Futuristic Sci-Fi Soundtracks 1 & 2." Taam squeezed all the warmth out of the various keyboards he employed, making for a cozy couple of tunes that could easily accompany a voyage into deep space or a daring escape from a postapocalyptic landscape.
These videos were recorded on February 28, 2017, and a few weeks later, Taam answered questions about how he approached this session and the gear he used.
➥ MP3 for "Library Jam 2"
➥ 720p video, 480p video or 240p video
Q: Your music is often inspired by visual elements, be it video games or movies -- i.e., your I Heard You Were Dead album is a rescoring of John Carpenter's Escape From New York. How do visuals inspire you when creating music?
A: I'm not an extremely visually creative person myself, so I find great inspiration from visual art, movies, art books, etc. Thematically, my rescore albums all have somewhat of a theme running through them, with the next score's reimagining being a hodgepodge of mid-'80s to mid-'90s anime, specifically Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Then the follow-up to that being Blade Runner. Escape From New York, Tron, and the other movies I mentioned are soaking with visual style, and for whatever reason, I like to translate that into what I think that sounds like.
Q: How is writing a video game soundtrack like the one you did for the music-puzzle game "Fract OSC" different from writing songs like you did for the library? Are you responding to the action on screen like how a movie composer works?
A: The process wasn't that different. There were basic stems generated in the game to work from, so thankfully there was already a great starting point to embellish. "Fract OSC" is unlike most games that need cues timed. The game itself was generating one of the melodies/chords/bass, then we just timed music stems to trigger along with the actions the player did as they progressed.
Q: You wrote "Library Jam 1" and "2" using VST plug-ins in Ableton that mimic the gear you used in the videos. How does having the actual gear change the way the song sounds or your performance? Is there any reason for a musician to use the physical gear when VST emulators are available for almost everything?
A: I cut my teeth on early soft synths when they first started coming out. These days they sound almost identical to the real article so it's no longer an issue of sound quality. But the way I work, and the way most musicians like to work is with tactile instruments. You pluck a string, you get a noise. You turn a knob and press a key, it plays, and interesting things happen. To me, it's a much quicker and more satisfying way of making music. Plus, you get to run it through outboard compressors, preamps, pedals, etc.
Q: Why did you pick this gear for your library songs? And what are some of the things you discovered while using the instruments?
A: I personally own or have owned all of these sans the Akai drum machine, so there wasn't much discovery going on. But I can speak to all of their qualities briefly.
The Moog Taurus is just a great cheap-and-cheerful way to get legitimate Moog bass. A staple of electronic music since there was electronic music being made.
The Reface is a godsend. Yamaha reinvented the way somebody can program a DX synth. It's a much friendlier user interface compared to the original. Brian Eno called the original an "antediluvian object" if that gives you any indication.
The Blofeld is somewhat of a secret weapon in the right hands. I personally like to think of it as a reimagining of the infamous, impossibly expensive PPG Wave synth. It is hands down one of the best synths out there for the money these days.
Also from Waldorf, the Streichfett, it sounds lovely. Just instant '70s sci-fi futurism strings in a box. Endless fun.
Q: You sequenced all the sounds via Ableton Live and a MIDI router. Then you used the Ableton Push controller to trigger the loops. What is it about Ableton that appeals to so many producers? What alternative ways could you have performed these songs without Ableton, perhaps using other gear in the library?
A: Ableton simply provided the best means to an end for writing and performing loop-based music. The way it goes from writing to performance is literally seamless. It's invaluable for any gigging musician. The alternative from hardware is to get an external sequencer -- i.e., a vintage MIDI sequencer or a more modern MPC (music production controller) or some such thing. Then you have to manually program in the measures, notes. Live just does all of that from the word go and makes the whole thing so much more easy to edit and perform.
Q: You had a specific idea about lighting for the two videos. Tell us what inspired the lighting for each song.
A: Specifically, Broadcast's "Papercuts" music video for the first. It's a blend of mid-century modern, psychedelia, late-'90s futurism -- it's all over the place. I really love that idea musically, a sort of timelessness -- or at least I'm a fan of all genres that, at some point, were looking forward. I wear my influences on my sleeve, but those sleeves would have to be huge.
The second came from Gary Numan's live concert. They had these imposing light bands behind the stage and it just looked killer. Visually, it's just attention grabbing, hence why it's been copied so many times.
Q: Any new Mogi music releases on the horizon?
A: The Akira album has been about 80% done for awhile. The Blade Runner album is still in very early stages -- only a few sketches, really. And fingers crossed for another game score from the makers of "Fract OSC."
Music Tools on “Library Jam 1” and "Library Jam 2":
➥ Moog Taurus synthesizer
➥ Yamaha Reface DX synthesizer
➥ Waldorf Blofeld synthesizer
➥ Waldorf Streichfett synthesizer
➥ Akai XR20 drum machine
Other Tools used to create the videos:
➥ IKAN FLY-X3 PLUS Smartphone Gimbal Stabilizer
➥ Chauvet DJ COLORband H9 USB lights
➥ Go-Pro Camera Hero 4
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.
For more on Mogi Grumbles, or to hire him for music-studio engineering, mastering, or soundtracking, visit him at Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Twitter, and Facebook.