Aerosol Constellations: Dark and Cheerful Drone Noise? Sure!

2 teddy bear scarecrows against a mountain background
Aerosol Constellations in their native landscape, sort of. Courtesy of the artist

The really interesting thing about Jeremy Van Wycks’ partnership with Bill Batt (in Aerosol Constellations) is that, though they’ve been working together musically for years, they have just released their first “double-sided, full-lengthish LP” (yep, vinyl) and tour. It’s the dark side of drone, with a deep well of analog-electronica history.

“A lot of the sounds are pre-processed, but principally I use the lap-steel guitar, bass, harmonica vocals, various bells and small pieces of metal and junk that we use to sample and loop, and a sampler and an array of pedals, mainly reverb and distortion.. . . .”

In Vancouver there’s definitely a trend towards analog-electronic gear. . . There’s waves that come and go. To me it’s related to the late 80’s and early 90’s stuff like (Jean-Michel Jarre) and old Aphex Twin, a lot of those sounds being picked apart and reconstructed. And if you think of what happened to Throbbing Gristle and Coil (Industrial/noise artists who ‘learned how to use their gear finally”), it was an evolution that was very abstract at first. Then they started to get drum machines, becoming techno artists and jumping into the acidhouse scene.”

Pay attention: there’s a music history test at the end.

Jeremy and Bill are both drummers in separate, rockier, bands (Shearing Pinx and Stamina Mantis, respectively), but don’t hold that against them. We share a shamelessly fan-boy moment over The Beatnigs, who passed through the MacEwan Hall Ballroom several hundred years ago, combining industrial, rap, and electronica in a mix that was pretty hard to place at the time.

“It’s funny, like that first comment you made that you didn’t expect me to be so cheery (after listening to their ‘dark side of drone’ disc, Dark Side of the Sun); this whole tour’s been like that.”

Despite the ‘gloomy’ tone they’re accused of in the drone community, “we’re pretty humble, cheerful guys who want to cook you dinner. We like throwing a stick in the spokes of the cliches (about this genre). People have an expectation of a certain attitude, and there’s a lot of people doing this music who take it very seriously, and think it’s this intense thing. I’m glad there’s people taking it that seriously, but I’ve always liked f***king with that.. . . . I’m not a fan either of people who never want to back themselves up: ‘Oh, I was just goofing around.’”

We agree that the essence MAY be to take your music seriously, but not take yourself too seriously, and I point to Rush as an older example just such an attitude: their music rarely sounds or feels frivolous, but they are notorious for the performance-based humour that occurs onstage. And to Jeremy, that demonstrates that his music isn’t just a joke:

You get into music, and depending on where you come from your first dose of philosophy or politics can come from music, and then maybe you think that’s your vehicle, and you can change the world. And, you can affect people’s thinking, and impact a lot of people through music. But by all means, if I wanted to really affect change I’d be writing books, or teaching schoolkids.

“Really what brought me to (being a musician) is trying to make music I couldn’t find. There were these sounds I had in my head, and the most honest music I’ve thought you could make is something you can’t find out there.. . . . I heard gamelan music, and I thought ‘Omigowd that’s so phenomenal!’ but I’m not going to go and study gamelan music for 20 years to learn how to play it. But we will incorporate those certain feelings and tones so it’ll come out.”

As a ‘Live Music Examiner’, I’m not one to do album reviews, but Aerosol Constellations’ recording style is to capture their music realtime, so the album is ‘live’, and it’s awesome.

“We’ve picked up guitars and drums (to incorporate), but it’s very much the same scope (as their earlier work): these long pieces that ebb and flow, and we still use the samplers and the looping techniques.. . . . It’s like with visual art: I’m a fan of a kind of minimalism; there’s repetition, but it’s always subtly changing. If you look at something it appears symmetrical, but when you really look at it in detail, it’s not exactly the same on each side. (In Aerosol Constellations) we’ll have these loops going, but there’s constantly these other layers shifting and brooding underneath.. . . One of my favourite compliments to get is that people just lost themselves (in the music).. . . . We don’t want to make you think about something, we want to be a vehicle for you to think about what you have on your mind.”

Aerosol Constellations at Weeds Cafe’s “Bug Incision”, Saturday June 1, 8:00 p.m., 1903-20th Ave., NW.

Test in the back.

Posted by Paul Verhaegh

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.