Synaesthesia color-codes drone music

Symphonic light/sound experiment stirs up the senses

There's something undeniably powerful about the sound of multiple guitars playing at once. More than simply stacking amps upon amps for a louder assault, lining up a row of guitars strumming out chords in unison is like a wave of calibrated tonal bliss. Sure, Springsteen leads his E Street Band through anthem after anthem of blue-collar wails. But other musicians have taken the idea to much deeper levels by ditching choruses and verses to make room for more and more guitars. Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham have assembled guitar symphonies featuring anywhere from three to 200 guitarists riffing on unorthodox pieces, pushing minimalism into maximum overdrive.

Atlanta natives Mason Brown and Ian Cone have followed in the footsteps of such luminaries with Synaesthesia, an audio-visual performance featuring a 16-guitar ensemble dubbed the Color-Tone Drone Band. The guitarists will play their parts conducted by a pre-programmed series of lights that correspond with color-coded frets on each guitar. Light, color, and sound blur into one sensory-jamming experience. Brown took a few minutes to talk about the project and his hopes as to how it may evolve.

Synaesthesia seems like a rare event for Atlanta — not since Rhys Chatham performed at Eyedrum in 2006 has the city seen a performance of this nature. How long have you been working on the idea?

Ian Cone Suffer Bomb Damage first hatched the idea and brought it up with me a little over six months ago. I just sort of ran with it, and we've been working on it ever since, culminating in this first performance.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome during that time?

There's quite a bit of logistics — technology-wise — with the lights and everything, figuring out how to program those, and write the piece for it as well. Also figuring out what other elements we can add to the show laughs. Most recently, we decided to build a geodesic dome that lights up from the inside that we'll have in the room, too. Basically, discussing different ideas and what we could do with the concept, and figuring out the room, too.

Is everything you've planned out going to make it into the first performance?

Just about everything will. ... Some things won't be as big as we'd like: the dome, for instance. We're hoping this is the first of many, and we're hoping to make them bigger and bigger each time, adding more things to each one.

Will you also be expanding the spaces for future performances?

Yes, a bigger space and we'll have more people involved. ... Maybe more instruments than just guitar and weird art, objects, and structures, too.

You seem to be most involved with the guitar, playing almost constantly as Brainworlds or with other projects (Maserati, Hollow Stars, Lyonnais). Why restrict Synaesthesia to just the one kind of instrument?

It was really done just to keep it simple. At first, it was just about playing guitar and finding a way to manage the guitar and, of course, I'm most familiar with the guitar.

Did other noise or dissonance-based orchestras come into play when planning the series?

Definitely, in the concept Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham, and Boredoms were all an inspiration for the idea, but we wanted to do a different spin on it. In terms of the composition, it's somewhat been influenced by Chatham in particular, but I wanted it to be more "classical" sounding.

How will the "conductor" work?

The lights are conducting everyone, and those are preprogrammed and synced up to the piece I've written. Ian and I will both be playing with everyone else, and the lights will be the conductor.

Apart from you and Ian, how did you choose the other 14 players?

We mainly asked friends around town who were able to do it. Some people are from Athens, but most are from Atlanta. I'd rather leave it as a surprise as to who will be performing laughs.

I get the impression that there will be little to no rehearsing before the first show.

There will be a little bit of rehearsal, maybe the day before and day of the show, but the intention is to have anyone be able to pick up a guitar and play. That's another thing we hope to do in the future — find ways to make it so anyone can walk up and play, including audience members.

Why construct it so that anyone can join in?

We thought it'd be a cool thing to involve the audience more. For this first one, I'm using competent guitar players, so I'm not worried about the performance. Hopefully, once we get more and more people, it won't matter if one person is way off or something.

Have you studied color theory or lighting?

In my own mind ... I have always related notes with colors, it's just the way I've thought about music, so this seemed like the natural thing to do. I didn't know a lot about color theory but have since studied up on it quite a bit. I also got some recommendations from Farbod Kokabi from Lyonnais, Geographic North Records about books to read on the subject.

I want to get deeper than we have but it's hard to come up with 12 different, unique colors. There's about nine or so that everyone can recognize, but once you get past that it's hard to distinguish between lights in weird settings. We were kind of limited in that sense.

You've mentioned that you want to grow Synaesthesia with the players and visual components. Do you have anything in mind already or is that under wraps?

I've got a few concepts in my head that we just haven't figured out how to do yet. Things like bizarre structures, more people, and more instruments. We want to use bigger rooms and hope to do it at the Goat Farm at some point.