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Exploring the Hazy Landscapes of Tycho's Vivid Electronica 

Wednesday, Dec 7 2011

Scott Hansen may not actually have synesthesia — the condition where one's sensory perceptions are connected, so that they see music or hear colors — but you'd be forgiven for assuming he does. Making music as Tycho, and designing visually as ISO50, Hansen possesses an uncanny ability to evoke sensations outside of his work's medium.

His music is immensely visual: Dive, Tycho's latest release (and Hansen's first since his 2004 debut, Sunrise Projector, was repackaged and re-released as Past Is Prologue in 2006), features 10 songs that construct an immersive environment — a warm bath of swirling melodies, digital delay, and propulsive, almost motorik rhythms. The album draws you into its own landscape, starting with the first track, "A Walk": Slow and ponderous tones float idly over a beat-less surface, creating a hazy atmosphere reminiscent of a coastal rain forest. These notes are gradually met by a laid-back rhythm that expands to include an ambling bassline and ethereal slivers of feminine voice. Halfway through, the song breaks, and we're transported at 80 miles per hour along a coastline at ground level. Moving rapidly, the musical images fade into a blur, as though Hansen is driving a Greyhound bus through a tone poem. And actually, that's what all of Dive feels like — one continuous visual journey viewed out of a passenger window. Tracks like "Adrift" and "Dive" create entire highway networks from washed-out synthesizer pads, reverb-soaked guitars, and wandering monophonic motifs.

The cover art for Dive reveals the other side of the work. Designed by Hansen, it's a trippy landscape worthy of a Yes album, with a large sun-like orb floating impossibly over and within a sparse desert. Warm orange tones fill an aquamarine expanse to create a bizarre image that, while it doesn't correspond with any one song on the album, seems to encapsulate the mellow, psychedelic mood of the music perfectly. This visual style has come to characterize ISO50. Originally an alias for Hansen's freelance design work, it's now also a prolific multimedia blog that focuses on the kind of hazy imagery featured on the Dive cover.

Hansen has always thought of visual and musical expression as part of the same process. He got his start with music and design back in 1995, when he enrolled at USF to pursue a degree in computer science. It was there that he was first introduced to electronic dance music through the city's exploding drum 'n' bass scene. Quickly obsessed, he began making mixtapes — and designing covers for them — to share his passion with his friends. This fixation, plus the acquisition of a drum machine and a copy of Adobe Photoshop, would plant the seeds of his future.

Today, the consequences of Hansen's formative years are apparent in his San Francisco apartment. Tucked away on a quiet corner near Dolores Park, his residence is a two-story affair that — he claims — he doesn't live in anymore. The dining room is dominated by messy drawing boards and an imposing, professional large-format printer. Stacks of tour posters for Dive are neatly piled on top of his kitchen counter. Cardboard boxes form a kind of protective layer between the room and the walls. But the coup de grace is really in the basement: He's converted the entire underground space into a fully appointed music studio that serves a dual purpose as a kind of personal museum for rare vintage synthesizers. A glance around reveals machines with names like Oberheim, Korg, Roland, and Moog neatly stacked like books in a library.

It might be hard to imagine, then, that it was only recently — with his signing to Ghostly International in 2007 and the decision to put out Dive in 2011 — that Hansen began to get serious about music. Prior to that, he viewed his music much the same way as his design work: "a pastime, a hobby, something I look forward to as an enjoyable release." But in 2009, Hansen quit his job at Adobe, toned down his design pursuits, and began a new life as a professional musician.

Nowadays, the place where Hansen's two creative halves fully converge is the live stage. An ongoing obsession, the Tycho live performance has expanded to incorporate a band and an ever-improving light show. "I've always wanted the visual element of the show to be kind of — not just about the music, but to anchor it visually," he says. And with the help of a barrage of found footage, dismantled designs, and various other computer-generated effects, Hansen is moving ever closer to sensory convergence.

About The Author

Derek Opperman

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