Exclusive Interview with L. Ron Butterfly!
By Tim Sheepy
Sometimes I describe L. Ron Butterfly as “tongue-in-cheek new age,” but more specifically, my aim is to produce multi-dimensional music that can serve either as background noise or as a focus of intense concentration, even meditation, at the listener’s discretion. LRB is strongly influenced by the German electronic groups of the 1970s as well as other early, experimental electronic sounds.
Now for the Interview
Heathen Parade: Geetins, L. Ron. How did you come to choose this name?
L. Ron Butterfly: There’s this episode of The Simpsons where Bart replaces the organist’s sheet music with “In a Gadda da Vida” and the preacher reads the name as “I. Ron Butterfly.” So I took that and gave it a sci-fi twist because I’ve always been fascinated by mass psychology, brainwashing, cult leaders and stuff like that, particularly the way music relates to those subjects.
HP: Like subliminal messages? Backward masking, that kind of thing?
LRB: Heh, sometimes I describe this project as “tongue-in-cheek new age,” so I’m playing more with people’s moods and mindstates than I am transmitting or implanting suggestions or satanic messages. Not that such things don’t interest me, but my aim is to produce multi-dimensional music that can serve either as background noise or as a focus of intense concentration at the listener’s discretion.
HP: Music for meditation?
LB: Well, I don’t foresee my stuff being played in yoga studios, but my creative process is certainly a kind of meditation, though I’m not sure if it’s meditation in the Western sense (of deep thought and intense concentration on a subject) or the Eastern sense (of clearing the mind of thought altogether). Maybe a different sort altogether, since both of those approaches seem to involve an inward retreat from the sensory world. Since I’m focusing on sound, it’s a very sensory practice by definition. If I travel inward, it’s to the space between my ears.
HP: “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,” so to speak?
LRB: I like the relax part, but as a composer, I can hardly just float downstream, can I? Somebody has to steer the ship. The closest I get to “floating downstream” is in a piece like “Organic Astrology,” (http://soundcloud.com/l-ron-butterfly/organic-astrology) which is hardly melodic. It’s more of a recording of an algorithm: I set up a network of devices, give them a push this way and a twist that way, and record what happens. I do a lot of experiments this way: hours and hours, applying my successes and occasionally capturing an accident that sounds appealing enough to be worth framing as a piece of music.
HP: What kind of tools do you use?
LRB: I’ve owned a bunch of different synthesizers, grooveboxes and such, but these days I use software synths almost exclusively. It’s amazing to have the equivalent of a modular synth and a huge studio all on my laptop. Propellerheads Reason is the software that allows me to experiment the way I like to. With combinators and routing paths, the only limit seems to be my imagination.
HP: Do you like dance music?
LRB: I like to dance, but I find the overwhelming majority of EDM to be pretty unimaginative when it comes to rhythm. I dance when music moves me, not when some DJ counts to four and says “go!” So I’m more likely to dance to live funk or even rock. Trance and techno tend to make me paranoid – I can’t ignore the fact that that 4-on-the floor disco kickdrum is a march rhythm.
HP: Then where do rhythmic tracks like “Astro-Tang” (soundcloud.com/l-ron-butterfly/mars-needs-bitches-feat-l-1) fit in?
LRB: Well, that piece has a deceptively simple rhythm. It’s actually pretty sophisticated, and develops a lot over the three minutes, so there’s something to listen to even if you’re not dancing. The whole point of manipulating rhythm, to me, is to alter the listener’s perception of time. We experience time as a linear, one-directional dimension because of the limits of our individual senses and consciousnesses. Rhythm helps us experience time in cycles and this gets us closer to experiencing its circularity; sometimes you can catch a glimpse of something intersecting with our timeline tangentially, an insight into the interconnected cosmic whole. Dancing can be part of this process – sometimes it’s the only way people concentrate on listening.
HP: Do you have any musical influences?
LRB: Sure, I’m a lifelong record collector and music freak. I love “outside” jazz, psychedelic rock, soul and funk, among other styles. As far as electronic music goes, my favorites are still largely German artists from the 1970s like Can, Popol Vuh, Klaus Schulze… and the list goes on. I like music from the early days of electronic instruments, the more experimental the better. So Edgar Varese, Louis and Bebe Barron’s Forbidden Planet soundtrack, Raymond Scott, Bruce Haack, and many of their contemporaries are relevant points of reference, too.