Pselodux | 0f.digital (At Home With...)
Rob Curulli is a mad scientist who makes insane electro-chiptune-prog-rock under the names Pselodux and now 0f.digital. He popped past Cuddlevania Studios to perform a live set based on his recent performance in Hobart during the Dark Mofo festival. We had a deeply satisfying session of nerdery about composition processes, gear and sound palettes, and growing up as video-game loving 80s kid.
[live performance finishes]
Simon Fazio: Sick! (various noises of affirmation) I’m so glad we’re going we’re going weird today…
So was that Pselodux or…
That’s this new project that i’ve got going on called 0F.digital or “Of digital” or “15 digital”… whatever you want to call it, it’s 0F in hex, so, 15 is probably appropriate…
Fuck, we got weird really early there…
Alright, so maybe tell me a little bit about what’s going on in that set; what have you got going on technically over there?
So, I’ve got a couple of Game Boy Advances, the micro version, sync’d together using Nanoloop… Nanoloop started as chip software for the original gameboy; it was one of the first to be develop and the guy is still actually producing carts 20 years later. Recently in the last 10 years he put out a Game Boy Advance version which is the one I’m using here. It’s like a step sequencer; you can do a lot of really kinda analog style sequences with it. It’s got some really cool live features so you can manipulate the pattern live and have all these per-step parameters. It’s kind of like the Elektron series of devices.
A lot more economical as well, I’m guessing.
For sure, it’s about $70 a cart as opposed to, say, $2000. I’ve also got a Patchblock; a little device you can buy again for around $70 and you can program your own patches in there using kind of a modular environment, kinda similar to PD and Max. It’s a bit more stripped down, maybe a bit more like Reaktor. That’s just running some delay effects and granular synthesis stuff. And also just a Behringer reverb; good old RV-600 I think it is.
So most of the sound generation is coming from the two Gameboys?
I’ve seen you perform with a few different setups over the years, for instance, last time I saw you with a laptop and a guitar. How did you arrive at the particular setup you’re using today?
Yeah, I’m not sure really. I started with the Pselodux project which is kind of a real proggy thing and has the live guitar element… It got to a point where I was not necessarily getting bored with it but it was getting to easy to just stand there and play guitar to pre-recorded tracks. I wanted a bit more chaos in the performances and weird stuff that goes on. So, I decided to get a bunch of hardware and try it out, and various adventures with analog synths led me to smaller devices and chip-stuff. I saw Nanoloop was really cool on the iPhone and I thought “Yeah, I might just grab a cart and see how I go with it”. From there, I just started making really cool stuff, like, straight away, and I thought “Hey, I might just grab a few more carts and sync them all up”.
You’re an 80s kid right? We’re of similar vintages… So you would have grown up with the same sort of games I probably grew up playing… and we’re seeing a lot of that video game music aesthetic infiltrate parts of popular and alternative music, things like Grimes… At what point did you find yourself becoming aware of video game music? Do you remember any sort of early experiences?
Do you remember when you used to be able to rent a Mega Drive from the video store? We used to do that all the time and leave Sonic The Hedgehog running overnight so you could finish it before school in the morning… I guess the earliest game music that I got exposed to was Sonic, and Mario and Doom as well; those three I think… Mostly Sonic and Doom were really influential on my musical development I think. Even the non-chip stuff, just some of the FM synth stuff they do in the Sonic soundtrack is just mind-blowing.
It’s weird how some electronic musicians of a different era covet particular synthesisers because their heroes used them… and I guess a lot of the things that remind me of your stuff are those game soundtracks… I think one that I really liked was the Quake soundtrack…
Trent Reznor, right?
..and you’re heavily preferring those types of digital sounds these days, right?
Why do you think you’re gravitating towards those more digital sounds? You’re not really an “analog” guy I guess; is that more of a choice that you’ve made to sound differently or are you just tired of this sounds that come out of analog synths?
I was into analog synths for a while, and some of the stuff you can do with them is really cool. I had the Microbrute and the Monotron just connected up together and all these CV pathways going all over the place. I think at some point I was thinking that I’d love to have a box where you can save like a pattern into it and be able to recall the exact sounds the next day, or a week later, and not have to take a photo of a patch just so you can remember how to re-patch. Obviously there’s some really cool shit you can do with that…
Yeah, it’s not easily recallable… but I guess that’s kind of the appeal of that as well?
Yeah, totally. Maybe I’ll come back to that stuff when I feel more comfortable with completely improvising a whole set on the spot, and I’m kind of getting to that point with this Gameboy setup as well, but it’s good to have something to fall back on; have some presets in there that you’ve made, and you know how they’re going to sound, and you know how you’re going to use them. I think that’s the main appeal of digital stuff to me. The amount of really gritty, grimy kinds of sounds you can get from digital are really different than what you get with analog. I really have kind of a… not fetish, but more of a soft spot for those lo-fi sounds. I guess that came with growing up with a lot of Amiga music, like a lot of Demoscene stuff uses a lot of harsh 8-bit samples… Y’know, 22khz, 11khz, 8khz. Really lo-fi, and the artefacts that you get with that are really unique to digital.
This is probably the first podcast I’m going to have to make a glossary for…
…but it’s cool, I love it. So, you’ve put out quite a few albums on your Bandcamp. A lot of your collections of songs have pretty different styles; some will be chip-tune, some will be proggy, some will be… things I can’t even describe; genre less kinds of things. So when you start approaching an album, are you someone who puts together a collection of songs and just finish a batch, or do you start with a mindset where you’re going to make ten songs with particular limitations or parameters?
It differs quite a lot. Some of my albums that I’ve put out have been compilations of whatever I’ve been working on in the previous year… I think my better stuff is when I’ve had a concept at the beginning; most of the time it’s a genre concept, or a vague stylistic feel if it doesn’t have a consistent genre all the way through. I think it’s only really lately that I’ve concentrated on making things in a specific genre, which is why I’ve split up the Pselodux and 0f.digital projects. Pselodux used to be whatever electronic music I’d make, but now that’s just the Prog and a bit of sorta-Industrial stuff every now and then, and 0f is all the super-repetitive minimalist electronic stuff.
It’s always intrigued me; the idea of naming different projects but it’s the same person but different project. I guess some people appreciate the compartmentalising; it’s just the nature of electronic music.
The main reason I split it up is I really wanted to try to work on brand as a thing with my music, which is something I’ve never really thought about before. It’s like when I say Pselodux it means I’m going to play prog, and when i say 0f it means I’m going to play chip-tune… because I’ve had people say “Oh, what kind of music are you going to play tonight?”; that’s kind of good in a way but I feel like it’s good to have consistency as well.
Sure. So, you’ve got a new Pselodux album in the works, which is more of a prog album, and you are going to put that out on a label I saw? What stage is that project at?
Rob: It’s only about a third complete, so I don’t really know which direction it’s gonna go in, but there’s a track that’s I’ve written that’s about 90% complete. I guess have to add some live guitars and then maybe a bit of vocals or something. Again, I don’t know if I’m going to have a vocal presence on the album or I’m gonna get other people to sing, or try to sing myself, or have a vocoder vocals in there… I think it’ll be out by the end of the year. I’m just going back to my real super prog influence and channel Yes and Genesis, but also newer metal influences. Some of those kinda really wanky “gent” bands like Periphery and Tesseract.
I have no idea who Periphery are, but I can tell by the name…
(laughs) It’s a fine line that you tread between something that sounds cool and something that’s really self-indulgent… and I really want to sorta blur that line, I guess…
At the same time, you’re not shy in admitting… like, in an earlier episode I talked whether there’s such a thing as a guilty pleasure and Limp Bizkit being someone’s guilty pleasure… and you’re a massive Genesis fan.
(laughs) Oh, totally!
But you have no shame! You just go “Yeah, I don’t care, I love Genesis”.
Yeah, I don’t care! I don’t think there’s such thing as guilty pleasures; if you like something, you should be proud of it.
So, this section was inspired a lot by this album that Tangerine Dream put out in the 80s called “Underwater Sunlight”, which is this absolutely ridiculous synth-prog album… just totally bombastic. Not a lot of people liked it, I think. It’s got all these super-reverby synths. It sounds like Pselodux before I even knew what that album sounds like… kind of pre-inspiration.
…composition-wise, and sound-wise, this track sounds like a lot of those influences you were pulling from before, but also filtered through your own particular chippy kind of…
…yeah, like the Amiga stuff…
You were saying you were going to add some extra stuff… are you going to retain these sounds?
This is almost final; I’ll probably add guitar and a couple more synth lines here and there, but it’s pretty much as it’s supposed to sound.
[Simon goes to stop the track]
Maybe we’ll include like, that much…
[Track changes dramatically in tempo]
[Track explodes with palm-muted guitar]
Oh yeah! Fuck yeah! Oh yeah! I was crazy I was going to fade it out…
[Extreme synth guitar-esque solo wails]
Are you playing this?
This is entirely programmed; even the guitars a sampled guitars cut up. I did this sample pack a few years ago called ‘Death Metal Guitar’ which I’m using in this, so it’s a sample pack for Renoise; it’s just like a multi-sampled guitar pack. It sounds a bit fake…
My musical vocabulary when it comes to shredding is pretty limited, but this kinda reminds me a little bit of John McLaughlin/Mahvishnu Orchestra guitar stuff.
I think the whole pace of this section is really influenced by that prog-fusion stuff. Not quite as technically proficient in terms of composition, but like, I tried.
[Simon eventually fades track out]
Maybe we’ll talk about composition; did you study? What was your grounding before getting into this?
No, I pretty much taught myself after having a year of guitar lessons when I was six. A lot of my compositions are improvised. I think my dad taught me a lot about playing power chords when I was learning metal. I copy a lot of stuff from other people’s songs and I change it up enough to be original. A lot of it is improvising and being inspired by a certain synth patch or guitar sound or something like that… recording a little bit of something, like a loop, and then figuring out… like, a lot of this is programmed on the spot, using a tracker interface; it’s all by keyboard. It’s almost more like programming than actually composing properly because it all flows down the screen and you have commands and stuff like that. I find for the real-proggy stuff it’s really cool to get into a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing where nothing repeats; you can just keep writing and writing and writing and your patterns… no two patterns are the same. Playing with the Gameboys, for examples, is very pattern based and very repetitive. This you have more freedom to go crazy with structures.
It’s interesting thinking about how you compose, because some things you do are heavily based on the idea repetition, and then things like this… there was no repeating in that. How do even go about composing a track like that? What’s the first seed or starting point for this track?
In that first section, where it goes to the bridge to the second section was the first thing I wrote, would have been about seven years ago; I recorded it with a guitar and a loop pedal. I had this grand idea to start a post metal band, and had this riff that was in 15/8 and wanted people to come over and jam on it. It sat on my hard drive for years, and then back in March when I wrote that track I was like “where’s a starting point?”. I programmed that into Renoise, and just from there I got a sense of the key that it should be in, and that sounded like a bridge between two sections, and I was like “yeah, let’s write something before it and after it”. That’s the kind of way it goes; I start off with a central idea and write either side of it, and it just kind of explodes from there… and all of the sudden I have a fifteen minute track. (laughs)
So, say if you had unlimited budget; what would your dream aesthetic be? Are you someone who’d want to compose a weird symphonic thing? Because I guess a lot of music that you make is dictated by the limitations you have, either budgetary or mechanically, I guess with your Gameboys, for instance… Are you someone who finds that’s a limiting thing, or do you find it creatively quite inspiring to have only a couple of things?
With the Gameboy stuff, I find those limitations really inspiring, because you can figure out really weird ways to push the software. Some of the stuff I’ve been doing lately on the Gameboys, I haven’t really heard anyone doing stuff like that. A lot of people go for real chippy sounds, and I’m trying to get away from that. If you listen to it and you can’t quite tell that it’s chiptune or not the I’ve done my job. With some of this more grand composition stuff… if I had no limits of budget or whatever, I’d try to assemble a band; even like a rock band, but they’d be all prog-musicians that can play metal.
…I don’t think anyone [would be interested]… Unless I joined a band or something. I always feel a bit weird taking my compositions to a band because I’m not really good at teaching people… but, if I could just say “here’s a 15 minute track, learn it” and have the band come together at rehearsal and we all play it… that’d be awesome.
Maybe one day you’ll have the retrospective where you have like, “Pselodux and the M.S.O.”…
Simon: “…and John McLaughlin.”
Cover image by https://www.facebook.com/laserhighway/