If ever you see a dark and ominous blaze in the sky above a maker or hackerspace in Oakland or San Francisco, you can bet that it is an omen that there is a certain man there, toiling to bring some electric eldritch monstrosity of sound to life. Electromancy is the name of this alchemist of material manipulation, a man who has trained machines to play the songs of the dark lord’s servants Dark Throne, as well as his own original hymn to the abyss.
Electromancy became a conductor of machines after an unfortunate ailment robbed him of the ability to play instruments himself. No longer able to utilize the guitar himself, he built himself an entity that could. Now his brigade of robotic balladeers play according to his whims and his pleasure, and what pleases him most are the sounds of black metal.
For music made by machines, it’s incredible how filthy and primordial Electromancy’s music sounds. As if it was the product of a human hand. It is not a hand that causes these infernal sounds to manifest though, it is a will. A twisted, relentless spirit of perseverance that projects itself through limbs of metal and polymer. Electromancy is the ghost in the musical machine- the black metal music box.
Robot Black Metal is Electromancy’s first EP and collects all of his previous compositions together into a single album. I’ve never heard black metal this consistently brutal and obtuse before, which is why I reached out to him for an interview. Part in the hopes of learning his dark secrets and part in order to spread the word of his cybernetic chaos and kineticism.
You can now buy and stream Electromancy’s Robot Black Metal via Bandcamp below, and scroll past the player to check out our interview with the enigmatic engineer himself:
The interview was conducted via email on June 9, 2021. The original text has been edited slightly for the sake of clarity.
How did you first become interested in black metal?
I often time describe metal to people as an acquired taste, kind of like sushi. The first time people experience it it’s so foreign, the texture is so strange, they’re not quite sure what they’re looking at or how to pick it up. But something about it keeps them coming back, and before they know it metal, or sushi, is their favorite. This was definitely my experience with metal, and if metal is sushi then black metal is the sea urchin, ie the strangest and harshest. When I first discovered it I was repulsed, but throughout my high school and college years I slowly fell in love with it so much that here I am making it many years later.
When did the idea of automating your band first occur to you and what was the inspiration?
I’ve always been interested in the intersection of music and technology, however, I love the raw sound you get from acoustic music actuation and most music technology is just different, fancy ways of making computers generate tones. And most music generated by computers just sounds dead to me, and not in a good way, in a boring way.
At the end of 2019 I started having really intense health issues that I wouldn’t find out until later were due to Lyme disease. I lost a lot of the use of my hands and couldn’t physically play music anymore. I was crushed. And then I came across the work of Mortiz Simon Geist, an EDM producer who records all of their sounds with robotics. I was blown away, and in that saw my calling. It was a way I could continue playing music despite my health issues, and to do so in a way that really captured my musical interests, desires, and inspirations. I took a crushing moment and turned it into the most exciting and concrete direction my music has ever taken.
Where/how did you acquire your robotics know-how?
Part of me wants to say I learned it studying electrical engineer and physics in university, and while I’m sure that gave me some sort of foundation, saying that doesn’t totally feel true. I mostly just did a lot of hard math in school, and while math is part of engineering, it’s like trying to become a running by just studying anatomy. I wouldn’t have been able to build any of this shit straight out of college.
Where I really learned my electronics and robotics nonsense is through hanging out at various anarchist hackerspaces here in the Bay Area, especially Noisebridge. Building shit, breaking shit, asking people questions, having various passerby‘s in the space getting their hands and minds into the problems; only by trying stuff out in a supportive community who’s crazy enough to encourage me was I able to build enough knowledge to make the things you see in the band today.
Do you have any plans on expanding the band? Adding new instruments, techniques, etc…
Definitely. This first EP and upcoming first album is only the beginning, seeing what I can do with just the basic foundations. I want to keep adding more robots, inventing more instruments, trying totally new ways of playing them, and pushing them more and more to their limits. I love the exploration process, and I only want to dive further into it.
Do you think what you are doing would translate well to a live setting? If so, who would you like to be on the bill for your next show?
Definitely! I could see myself during a tour all over with the robots as well as a number of albums and collaborations with people all over. Robots and mannequins and LED light shows and brutal music. I promise, it’s like no other show you have ever seen. It will be very surrealist, everything will be moving but nothing will be moving. Chaos and mechanical precision meet. And I think it would be so fun to have Portal, Ghoul, or Ihsahn on the bill as well. It will be a wild show for so many reasons.
How would you define primitive black metal and how does your robot orchestra fit that definition?
The term only recently came across my radar, so I’m not sure I have a great definition of it or really understand where my band fits in relation to it. Though I’m guessing you think there’s some level of fit considering you’re asking me this. I’ll have to check into it more!
Do you think what your current band has helped you develop any transferable skills, that could, hypothetically, be used to revive the Battle Bots series on Comedy Central?
Hahaha hell yeah. I don’t know if I could quite compete with the engineering prowess of some of those hacker masters on the original series, but I could definitely build a crowd favorite bot that was live shredding & blasting heavy-metal the whole fight.
How would you describe the band dynamics? The word cold comes to mind…
My bandmates are a stoic bunch, to say the least. And they never help with any of the promotion, networking, web and admin stuff. But they also never complain no matter what are the hours I want to record, and they nail the take every time. To some they may feel cold and distant, but I feel like they’ve got a lot of life for the lifeless.
What are the limitations (if any) of working with an all robot band?
There’s plenty of limitations working with an all robot band, and also there’s plenty of limitations that normal bands have that a robot band just doesn’t.
As I joked about above, everything save the actual playing of the music comes down on me. I’ve got to do all of the admin, photography, I’ve got to build the damn things, and when they break I have to fix them. I opted for a simple and sturdy engineering approach and really built to embrace limitations. There are certain types of musical compositions they just can’t really play without heavy modification, for example, shredding up and down the neck of the guitar.
But there are also a ton of limitations that they surpass. My robotics can play at breakneck speed and can handle polyrhythms with no more difficulty than any other composition. In multiple tracks, I have different strings on the guitar playing in time different time signatures, different parts of the drums doing the same. The other day I was goofing around with a cover of Mushuggah’s “Bleed,” A song notorious for its insane polyrhythmic difficulty, and my robotics were playing a rough cut of it in under half an hour. And when the whole rig is well greased and calibrated, they play a perfect take every time.
I noticed that you did an interpretation of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase with two guitars. How was this accomplished? Would you consider this a success, and how might you refine its concept and execution to produce a more refined aesthetic result?
This was an early quarantine project of mine. I want to play around with some of the things that were harder for physical musicians to play but super easy for the robots. This piece has two different instruments, typically pianos but in this case robot guitars, playing the same simple melody but one of them is playing it slightly faster until they go in and out of phase over and over again and end up playing the same thing. I said the two phrases on two different robot guitars and just let them go.
I didn’t have any goals while doing this other than to have a lot of fun, and considering I had a lot of fun and the results worked and were pretty cool, I guess you could say that is a success! I could absolutely reach a more refined result by incorporating some recording tools I have since learned, and actually having a professional mix and master it. We will see if I ever do it though. This was never supposed to be a pride and gem of my musical collection, just something fun I did once, and I’m generally more interested in exploring new things than trying to do old stuff better. I will just let the new stuff be better.
What other sound exhibitions have you attempted or thought about trying?
I have done some fun sound work for several immersive theater productions here in the Bay Area. All underground events, nothing famous or high profile, and even a production or two of my own writing. I love the way sound can really influence the perception of space and people’s emotions in a place.
Why is it that you think there are so few disabled musicians performing in metal and elsewhere? Who are some of the people who have broken through who you either enjoy, or find inspiring?
Because being disabled is extremely fucking hard and time-consuming, and breaking into the music world even a little bit is extremely challenging even for able-bodied people. Managing my health issues feels like my full-time job, and running my company feels like my part-time job, and then on top of that, I do music. If I wasn’t a hyperactive energizer bunny of a person who didn’t also have specific skills to work around my disability and be lucky enough to have created a work situation that doesn’t require me to work full-time, I can’t imagine I would be here interviewing you at all.
And concerning shows, I’m both excited and totally terrified, I’ve always wanted to perform live and I think I will do a great job, and I’m definitely scared of how my body can handle it. Many musicians already know how grueling the work is to put on a live show is or to go on a tour; most days making it through a day-to-day life is that level of effort, adding a show on top of that… I’m positive I’ll figure out how to make it work for myself, but to me, it’s just no surprise that very few others in my position put themselves through it.
So so so much respect for the other disabled and chronically ill musicians out there. I see you and I respect you so deeply.
Any final thoughts for our readers?
Thank you so much to everyone for being interested in my band and music. It feels surreal every day to have actually managed to bring this crazy project to life I’ll be really proud of the music I’m making. This is just the beginning, and I’m so grateful for every one of you who follows along on the adventure.