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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dan Deacon on Big Ideas, Being Intrigued By Weirdos, and What He's Doing with Francis Ford Coppola

Posted By on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 11:05 AM


Dan Deacon can drop some knowledge.

The enterprising electronica composer -- who drops his clusterfucking soundscapes at this week's Noise Pop Festival -- recently gave a reporter a very coherent verbal essay on the state of the music biz and the nature of pop music. An academic's experimentalist, having graduated from the Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase with a degree in composition, Deacon has a historical perspective on the music industry that may help explain the complexities of his boundless sound and inspired live shows.

Perhaps it was just because he's currently reading New Yorker music critic Alex Ross' musicological treatise The Rest is Noise that Deacon seemed particularly up for a conversation about lofty ideas like the rarely overlapping arcs of pop and experimental music (ahem: "Mahler said you can never have cutting-edge music in the pop realm. Philip Glass came the closest to that."). But what says the most about Deacon, and, in a way, his music, is that he's the type of musician to pick up such a book, and then apply it to make sense of matters such as Arcade Fire's recent Grammy coup, or his own place in the lineage of sonic conceptualists.

Deacon first struck a nerve on the underground electronic scene in 2007 with the release of the exploratory Spiderman of the Rings, and again -- and with delirious critical fervor -- in 2009, with the more cohesive Bromst. Both are surprisingly accessible triumphs in what some critics call an "elastic" sound, like watching a math professor change the visual representation of a formula by plugging different numbers into a laptop.

Deacon does indeed do most if not all of his writing on his laptop, but a couple of recent projects have brought the Baltimore-based innovator into realms both familiar and entirely new. Just this past month, Deacon arranged his music for Canada's Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and his Bay Area trip will serve a dual purpose -- over the weekend he will head up to Napa to work on the score to the latest film by Francis Ford Coppola, father to The Godfather. The film is called Twixt Now and Sunrise, due later this year. Deacon says the project is still in the conceptual framing stages, and he suspects the music may resemble his earlier work from his first two albums, Meetle Mice and Silly Hat vs Egale Hat. Or, he hedges, something completely different.

Deacon seems altogether smitten with thoughts of continuing his recent run of orchestral composition. He's hungry for more after successful collaborations with Waterloo and other orchestras such as Chicago's Gamelan Ensemble. "If anyone reading this has an orchestra, I'd love to get together," he says.  But be warned ensembles of San Francisco: Deacon is by now very accustomed to not fitting into any neat categorizations of style or genre, notions Deacon surmises are "obsolete."

"I feel like I work in this world where some people consider me an experimental DJ and I don't see it that way," says Deacon, who says he's viewed as the weirdo knob-twister at rock venues and a pop-music guy at artier venues. "It's not experimental in tonality or how it's created," he says of his music.

Deacon feels a kinship with a few select contemporaries, such as fellow Baltimore DJ Dog Dick, but says there's a stronger link with his elders -- specifically Talking Heads and They Might Be Giants, whom he says "worked with a sound within a sound." Which is indeed a good way to describe Deacon's ethos.

"The weirdos intrigue me," he says, like a union rep.

Deacon's live shows make cults look normal. Local fans may recall Deacon's 2009 Treasure Island set, in which the bandleader directed the crowd to partake in such physical call and response exercises as forming a massive dance circle, having everyone slowly rise from the ground in a "get a little bit louder now"-esque resurrection of humanity, or group interpretive dance.

For his two S.F. dates, Deacon will be in solo mode, which he says allows more freedom to interact with the crowd -- unless they're drunk, because "you can't tell drunk people to do anything".

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