Mini MoogFest 2017: Sean Curtis Patrick


Sean Curtis Patrick gear, Mini Moog Fest 2017

Sean Curtis Patrick will work with the two setups shown here: one is a more playable unit and the other is more for texture.

Sean Curtis Patrick is a visual artist who also makes music, so it's not unreasonable to expect when he and fellow visual artisan Kendall Babl team up with Chuck Sipperley -- expert DJ and super-synther in Hydropark and Utica -- the trio will paint electronic aural sculptures in your mind, MAAAAAAAAAN.

We asked Patrick what the group's plans are for the festival, the gear he'll be using, and received recommendations for his favorite synth-leaning recordings.

Q: What's your plan for MoogFest?
A: I’ll be playing with Kendall Babl and Chuck Sipperley, and I will be using my modular synth system.

I have two separate rolling tables, which will both be independent of one another. One will be more “playable” with a series of small pressure-sensitive pads to trigger a group of notes. The other system will be more textural.

A modular system is a really interesting way to create and modify sounds. To sum it up, it’s a series of building blocks, decided by the performer, that one can connect in different ways to create both simple and complex sounds using patch cables. It’s the closest thing to being able to make “sound science.” It looks scientific, that’s for sure. I would say that’s what the uninitiated say more than anything else: “Looks like a science experiment!” They aren’t wrong, it kind of is!

For this show, I’ll mainly be listening to what the other two will be doing to supplement their melodies with textures and the occasional measure of melody or some counterpoint. We are going to be fairly improvisational, too. I’m really excited to see what the other performers get up to and am thrilled to be able to attend and perform! Thanks for having us!

Q: What's your gear setup?
A: I am generally more known as a visual artist before a musician, and making visual art has allowed me to work with many wonderful musicians. I have made a lot of music videos and have done a fair share of art and design for albums. One particular person I have worked with for quite a long time now is my friend Alessandro Cortini. He is an incredible solo musician, lovely human being, fellow cat owner, and has been in the band Nine Inch Nails for the last decade or so. He asked me to work on a record of his that was going to come out on Make Noise Records, a component of Make Noise, a modular synth company.

I became pals with the Make Noise folks over the course of making that record and came to a great agreement with them that’s stands to this day: I make them art and I get paid in gear. I owe this new instrumental exploration totally to Kelly Kebel and Tony Rolando, and also to Make Noise pals Peter Speer and Walker Farrell. I can’t thank them enough -- 19 out of my 30 modules are Make Noise. I think they are the best modular synth company out there and I contend that Tony Rolando is my generation's Don Buchla, one of the pioneers of synthesis. I’d love to see how his brain works.

Anyway, my one larger black case is made my Make Noise and is called the Shared System, which is a full plug-and-play thing you can buy from them. The other case is a beautifully made black poplar case I commissioned from some guitar makers in Italy. It looks like the back of an acoustic guitar, with varnished bookmatched wood. They did a wonderful job and are total sweethearts. That case is filled with a number of manufacturers modules that complement the other system quite well.

I designed the tables that the synths sit on. The caster sets are Ray and Charles Eames-designed from the 1960s. I cut two plywood boards to size and installed cable management and power into the bottom. I wish I could go back in time to that kid (me) in a college dorm, programming computers to make rubbish-sounding drum machines and show them the setup he’d have one day. I feel very, very lucky to work with such lovely and talented people and the fact that I am able to use any of this still blows me away.

Q: Name some synth-related records that you'd recommend to newbies.
A: Some albums and some artists:
➥ Isso Tomita, Snowflakes Are Dancing: The record that hooked me on synths. I had to record this record on to a cassette at the university library. I still have it.
➥ Morton Subotnik, Silver Apples of the Moon: The record that allowed me to look at music through a different lens; music doesn’t have to be 3-minute jangly pop music. It can be serious, artful, and a bit challenging.
Boards of Canada, anything: The best driving music ever-ever.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, anything: Wonderfully melodic chanty/Buchla Music Easel arpeggios. If people ever discounted electronic music having soul, play them her music.
Burial, anything: A musician more than any other that has shown me you can make an amazing record with just a laptop and some dodgy Christina Agulera samples slowed down.
➥ Alessandro Cortini, Avanti: My pal Alessandro did it again. This record made me cry. I also did the art and tour visuals for it, all based on 8mm family films from his grandfather. My favorite album of the year, even if I hadn’t had anything to do with it.
➥ Supersilent, Supersilent 7: Improv jazz and synths? Tell me more. Play loud or, better yet, watch the accompanying concert DVD in a dark room. Max volume.
➥ Suzanne Ciani, Buchla Concerts 1975: One incredible mind, one amazing machine, two selected concerts recorded onto tape in New York lofts in 1975. If you were wondering what just one of these boxes could do, listen here.
➥ Various artists, Electronic Music Winners: Best known as the record that inspired Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead to write the track “Idioteque” but a lot of other amazing moments on this record.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Mini MoogFest is Saturday, Nov. 18, 12-4 pm in the multipurpose room and Secret Lab of the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch, 343 S. 5th Ave. Facebook event page. Read our introduction to MoogFest here. Check out interviews with Mini MoogFest performers Mike Dykehouse, Alex Taam, and North Coast Modular Collective.