Johnny DeBlase – Guided Motion (2014)

You might not think that the sound of bass improvisations fed through programs created by an audio programming language and endlessly layered and mutated would draw comparisons to Buddhist meditation. Yet, there isn’t a better way to describe this pair of long, dense drones by Many Arms and Zevious bassist Johnny DeBlase. Like ancient, Tibetan ceremonial hymns, Guided Motion — due out August 22, 2014 via New Atlantis Records — is holistic, therapeutic and hypnotic.

We can all attach to certain sonorities from unlikely sources for their soothing quality that aren’t necessarily tonal or even musical. Studies tell us that goes back even before birth, to the gurgling sound heard in the mother’s womb. The low hum of a generator or an HVAC is a sound I’ve always found calming, reassuring. The tranquilizing effect it has on my auditory senses is like the rush of warm water coursing around your body in a hot tub.

DeBlase combines his acumen on both standup and electric basses with his skills with Csound (a C-based programming language for audio) and Pure Data (a visual programming language used for creating interactive computer music and multimedia works) to achieve that soothing feeling, informed by studies with Buddhist philosophy and chants.

You don’t need to get the religion to ‘get religion’ on these two, twenty-plus minute pieces. Merzbow gets much of the same results using a laptop, but there’s something in DeBlase’s slowly evolving dark ambient performances that set it a bit apart from the works of the eminent Japanese noise artist. It feels more organic.

Track “I” gets that natural resonance largely by being based on acoustic bass improvs, stretched out by Csound and put into a Pure Data automated mixing board. The stream above presents the end result but the core bass improvisations can be heard below.

“II” is sometimes static-y and buzzy by comparison, and perhaps that’s partly due from being sourced from electric bass improvs. DeBlase devised a program that cuisinarted the recording, dicing it up, shifting pitches and rearranging segments, ultimately layering and looping the whole thing. In his own words, he sought “to create a feeling of submersion…trying to imagine the feeling of being held underwater in a cavern, where you’re fighting to come to the surface. The closer you get, the more clear the sound becomes.” The denser moments come and recede in waves, contributing to the aquatic sensation.

Embracing technology in the making of music doesn’t guarantee good results, of course, but it always helps when time-honored principles and philosophies are also applied. And, of course, an open, creative mind. Johnny DeBlase held true to all of these things when crafting Guided Motion.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.