Young Star

Automaton for the people

SENSES WORKING OVERTIME - Luis Katigbak - The Philippine Star

First things are often appointed a certain significance — it bodes well for 2014, then, that the first new album I listened to in its entirety this year was the self-titled first full-length release from electronic artist Modulogeek, also known as Joon Guillen. After releasing two EPs, a single, and various remixes under Number Line Records, Joon uploaded his 11-track offering last Jan. 2.

From elements as diverse as a Dr. Seuss book, a Starcraft 2 gamecast (Joon is an avid gamer), and the sound of “a Fisher-Price knockoff toy,” as well as contributions from colleagues, Joon has made an album that is playful, engaging, sometimes danceable, occasionally nostalgic, and at times deeply, wordlessly touching. He knows well the swell and throb of good pop music, and he uses this knowledge to shape the carefully-crafted and chosen snippets and sounds.

We talked with him about monomes, collaborations, Phil Collins, and more.

YOUNG STAR: You started out as a more or less “traditional” musician. Why and how did you make the shift to being an electronic artist, and to being Modulogeek?

MODULOGEEK (a.k.a. JOON GUILLEN):  When I moved out of Manila (to Hong Kong, in 2007), I effectively lost my link to the music scene; no more friends to play with, or for. I wasn’t willing to fully give up music so I opted for something that could be solitary, and at the same time, foreign to me. Electronic music seemed like a natural fit. I never meant to be a proper act. I uploaded all my experiments on Soundcloud, and eventually my Manila friends heard the tunes, liked and shared them! Then it just spread, electronic-word-of-mouth-like.

You’ve released singles and EPs before. What is it about this time, and this particular group of songs, that warrants an album — your very first full-length release?

Nothing, really — it’s just an EP that runs too long, haha! I suppose it is that the songs collectively represent the phase during which I kinda start to get comfortable with this electronic music thing. Perhaps also some changes in musical approach, ascribing to things like a more disciplined sound, and a more efficient sound design.

Track 3, Take the Money and Run, first appeared on the Monome Community Remix Project. Tell us a little bit about the monome, and the community.

The monome is, put simply, a box of buttons with light feedback that connects to your computer. It’s a blank slate, able to do what you tell it to via software. It’s primarily used for music creation and performance, but it has also been used for video, science, education, and other purposes.

The monome community is a very supportive, enthusiastic bunch of like-minded individuals who share knowledge on a lot of things, from music theory to programming to existential ponderings. I have virtually hung out with these folks and made some friends in the process (in true introverted fashion). I can safely say that I would not know half of what I know now without this community.

The collaborations are quite lovely — Automaton Welcome featuring Yibo Hu, and Germ, featuring Slow Hello. What is it you look for in a collaborator, in general? And why these collaborators, in particular?

Thank you! For these collaborations, it was the quality of Yibo and Selena’s (Salang, of Slow Hello) voices that I thought would fit the respective songs very well — a no-brainer, really!

In general, it’s not only how suitable the collaboration I think would be, but also the enthusiasm of the person I will be working with. It’s that attitude that I love, because I get to feed off that feeling, and learn something from it, however indirectly, in the process. This is most apparent with my collaborations with Apol Sta. Maria, who made the album art. He’s now a regular member of the live Modulogeek act  — as visual artist — and we’ve done several gigs so far. His visual contributions actually helped in completing the songs in this album.

This is the third time you’ve used an Outerhope song  (Boy Who Could Fly, for the track The Boy Who Flew; previously, Modulogeek had remixed Lost in Numbers and The Man with the Pipes.) What is it about their music that appeals to your urge to transform and remix? In general, what compels you to use a specific song?

I’m a self-proclaimed No. 1 Outerhope fan! I love the way these guys harmonize, and how they apply these harmonies for very emotional, atmospheric songs. Naturally, it’s their voices that are so sample-able, but their instrumentations are fantastic, too.

Usually it’s just avid admiration for an artist that compels me to remix their songs. Song choice is almost always of secondary importance.

On a related note, what is your process for discovering songs and sounds to sample, from 1950s science fiction radio shows to recordings of laughing children?

The process is entirely arbitrary! It’s either, I like a sound bite I just heard so much that I would sample it, or, I have this music but it needs some sound bites of this kind, so and so...

One of my favorite tracks on the album is One More..., which uses the Phil Collins “One More Night” EP as a source. Tell us about your relationship with 80s music and the music of Phil Collins.

I grew up in a typical Filipino compound where all residents are relatives. I was neighbors with older cousins, who were all music buffs and played music all day. One had Gene Loves Jezebel and Ultravox on, one U2 and Depeche Mode — but also The Beatles — and one collected Madonna and Michael Jackson records. I got immersed with all of their music.

It was also the latter cousin who introduced me to Phil Collins, who ended up being one of my favorite musicians! His album “..But Seriously” is still one of my faves.

Who and what else has inspired you?

The songs in the album were also inspired by M83, The Postal Service, Jon Hopkins, The Books, Tom Juno (Discography), the Minecraft soundtrack by C418, Iain (M.) Banks, and my baby daughter Inara and nephew Evan.

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Get the Modulogeek album at http://modulogeek.bandcamp.com.

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