Time Travel







Vanishing Point Magazine

Under the Milky Waves with Richard Bone
By Erin Hakins
(12/95 - 01/96)

       Recently, a British music magazine ran an article which pitted Karheinz Stockhausen against some of the brightest (and youngest) techno stars of today like Richard James, Daniel Pemberton and Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner). The German composer's comments (taken from a BBC Radio 3 interview), were, for the most part, blanket condemnations of the work by these modern day experimentalists.The kids in turn retaliated by pointing out how totally five minutes ago his thinking is and how badly he undermines the current techno scene, Though interesting upon cursory glance, the ugly tete-a-tete only reinforced the stereo-type that most "technocrats" are a bunch of humourless blockheads. Bah!
     Rhode Island keyboard wizard Richard Bone -- whose age and outlook put him somewhere between these two generations -- is the antidote to all this verbal tomfoolery.
     "I'll let you in on a dirty little secret," he says in a confessional tone. "Everyday, before I go into the studio, I watch
that show. It gets me started, because I figure after an hour of 'Live with Regis & Kathie Lee' -- if they can do it, anyone can. It motivates me into thinking, 'I can be a success!'"
     For someone who religiously starts the day with toast, coffee and inane banter, Bone -- who recently released the lush and inviting
Ambiento , on his own Quirkworks label, has more to show for his work in the past year than anything prime motivational man Anthony Robbins possibly could. Richard may kid around, but the fact that he's turned his muse into a full-time career (and independently so), points to strong evidence that he's already successful. You gotta love his chutzpah though!
     The obvious question for a man whose love affair with electropop, both as a fan and artist and spans back to pre-MIDI days is whether it's ironic for him to be seeing gear he had over a decade ago all of a sudden becoming trendy with groups like Stereolab?
     "Well, my first synthesizer was the Roland SH 1," he says. "But Roland has now gone back and sampled a lot of these old keyboards and come up with these cartridges, so you can now get these sounds at the punch of a button. I've just installed one of those patches into one of my modules and a lot of it sounds like what I was doing 20 years earlier. It's like I've come full circle. So it's like, 'Now what?'"
     "What I'm trying to find next is a Theremin. It was this really primitive electronic device. Apparently, it makes this real (effects spooky B-Movie high-pitch whistle noise), sound and as you moved your hand over it, it changes the frequency of the thing. There's a movie playing in some art houses about it right now, which I think is just called
The Theremin . I'd love to see the film and learn more about it."
     "I remember, we used to have an old Moog", he continues. "I don't remember what the model number was, but it came with these two humungeous patch-bay panels, with this little keyboard. I couldn't even touch this thing. I swear, once a night, it would invariably fall over."
     Did it ever get damaged?
     "Please, if you looked at it the wrong way, it went out of tune. But fortunately, what we were doing wasn't too tonal."
     Born into a good Catholic family in Atlanta, GA, Bone had every intention on becoming an architect, but upon his arrival at college, increasingly found himself being sidetracked by the theater department on campus.
     "I left college and went to New York to study theater at the New York Academy of Theater, only to discover I really blew as an actor," he says, pausing to let his interviewer pick herself up off the floor from laughing too hard. "Once you hear someone with a Southern accent doing Hamlet's 'To be or not to be', it's pretty much over. So I just stumbled into music. It was the only thing I felt I had the imagination for and felt at home."
     Influenced by the sounds of true experimentalists, including an album called
Decomposing by Toronto's very own Nash The Slash (back before he joined Southern Ontario's ersatz prog rock outfit FM -- taste department eds.), his deep and wide affinity for electronics pioneer Brian Eno can be heard in both his ambient work and his poppier recordings as well. Listening to his 1995 Quirkworks recording X Considers Y , especially on the bubblegummy "Lipstick On Your Collar," it's easy to see what a sucker for a good chorus Richard still is.
     Making a living as a musician in New York wasn't the easiest thing to do. But more that the financial restraints, Bone was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the rat race and city's maddening atmosphere. So when his parents offered to let him live on a boat down Florida, it was too good a deal to pass up. He packed his bags and headed south immediately.
     In the five years spent adrift from urban decay, he got down to work writing songs. lots of songs. Eventually he decided to press his own 45 and send it out to a few stores, just to see what would happen. Little did he realize that single would wind up getting him a record contract with the British-based indie label Survival (now defunct) which was being distributed by Chrysalis UK. Bone says despite some crazy marketing ploys on the part of Survival, who weren't entirely sure how to package this electropop American, the deal bore fruit -- two albums and some 12" singles, which he still looks back fondly at today.
     "The thing I was most proud of was that the reviewers never caught onto the fact that the records were done on cassette, an old four-track Porta Studio. It was one of first ones TEAC put out. After I recorded the four tracks, I opened up the back of the player and took out separate leads from each of the four tracks, took out the jacks and took it into the studio and mixed it on their console." 
     Around this time, Bone found himself again working in the big city and landed a job doing music for the early '80s arty video program
Nightflight , which introduced him to a couple of director-types who would end up shooting videos for his songs. These were the halcyon days of video, when the medium was still the vanguard of futuristic coolness -- and Dale Bozio was no doubt still reaching for the fuchsia hair dye.
     His next album set for UK release was a psychedelic, Dukes of Stratosphere-ish record called
Grey Hideaway which took four years to make and about four minutes for Survival to reject. The label's outright refusal to give him room to grow as an artist, left him cold and the aftershocks forced him to stop writing altogether. For the next four years Richard says he went into a musical exile.
     Looking back at 1995, the year that saw four of his own CDs unveiled, including his aforementioned solo records, as well as his eclectic, esoteric voice project
Vox Orbita (also released on Quirkworks), it's hard to imagine him not being musically productive even for a second. On top of his own release, Bone recently joined forces with Violet Arcana from Portland, Oregon, on a highly recommended disc of infectious take-it-to-the-limit techno, Media Works Sampler 01 -- subtitled "Ambient Candy and Synthetics for Film, Soundtracks, CD-Rom Productions and Multimedia."
     Bone also began work on another 'Richard Bone' album entitled
Color Altura and, with the help of a manager in California, is in the process of securing film soundtrack work for 1996 and beyond. What then was the catalyst to all this great music? What stopped him from skulking about in bedsit land for the rest of his life?
     "I just can't not do it anymore," he says. "I just miss it so much, I just have to do it. The melodies just start backing up in my head. If I don't do something, they're just going to ooze out of my ear and start running down my shoulder. You just gotta start doing something or you'll explode."
     Unlike some, if not most musicians in the world of electronic music, Bone is not in the habit of keeping his own library of found sounds. Actually he doesn't hang onto anything for very long. Once a sample has been used, he always makes a point of erasing all the information from the track. "Why I do that," he explains, "is because I don't want to second guess myself. I don't want to go back and remix anything. Once I get it to the stage where I'm happy with it, then everything's erased... no way to look back."
     On both the
Vox Orbita project and Ambiento , Bone has gone out of his way to blend sampled snippets into his bubbling mud bath of melodic electronica, with an end result that's fresh and compelling -- never overwrought or annoyingly self-indulgent. Richard's approach to unearthing samples is pretty straight forward, refering to film and the like -- but figuring out what to do with them, however, is a whole different kettle of fish.
     "I either collect them, or sometimes -- I shouldn't admit this -- but I'll just turn on VCR on and have the picture off and just randomly start taping things. Then I'll transfer them to a hard drive -- toss it up in the air, pick one, and see where it lands. The other thing I've been doing lately, is going to the public library and finding bizarre old cassettes and taking bits and pieces just totally out of context and putting them together."
Vox Orbita is a curious project. Comprised of Bone, and three vocalists: Mary Z, Mary Kings and Meb Boden, they head-butt the brow of what a conventional band is supposed to be, probably because, well, they're not a conventional band.
     "What I did with
Vox Orbita , was I'd work for a week -- maybe 10 days on the musical end of it. None of the girls were ever in the same room together. As a matter of fact, two haven't even met each other (laughs), never. I recorded all three of them for other projects right here in my home. So some of the samples are taken from other works of theirs, just like a phrase.
     "What I'd do after I'd gotten the music to where I wanted, I'd call each of them up and say, 'Here's what I want you to say, call me back and sing this into my answering machine,' then I'd sample them off the machines and process it to get the sound we ended up with. Only on two tracks was anyone physically in the studio."
     He says that none of the singers had the foggiest idea what they were taking part in, until the disc turned up at their door, then, "It was like, 'Oh my god!'" So, was the surrealness of the recording process something like Bono singing that faux duet with Old blue Eyes?
     "I'd say it was more like that Plasmatics track where they all recorded it in separate rooms without hearing each other," Bone chuckles. "You know what's really funny? Wendy O'Williams now lives in Connecticut and works in a donut house as a waitress. A friend of mine was telling me all the college kids go down there to get coffee from her. It's really a funny image, her serving coffee just a few miles away from Kathie Lee Gifford."
     Aha! It always gets back to Kathie Lee, but even America's sweetheart isn't immune to a little Quirkworks gossip, even if Richard Bone is her number one fan.
     I was talking to a friend last night who lives near them [the Giffords] and was doing some contracting. He said it's such an act she puts on. The house is so immaculate. Those precious kids that she talks about all the time are not even allowed in half of the house because of all the fine teakwood floors. They have a couple of rooms in the back where they must stay, with the help. When the workmen came in, they had to wear these big socks to walk through the house in. Apparently she's a real bitch on wheels. I just love hearing her demythologized."