Darwin Grosse: Okay. Today I have the great opportunity to speak to somebody who was actually introduced to me by one of the listeners. His name's Jon Sonnenberg and he has got quite a story to tell. Whether you are interested in someone who has a "pod" studio with tons of crazy gear, or if you're interested in talking to someone who's in the I Dream Of Wires a video, or if you're interested in somebody who makes bizarro instrumentation - they're all embodied in this one person. Additionally, though, he does some fabulous music. And so with that, I am going to introduce Jon Sonnenberg.
Hey John, how's it going? Thank you so much for taking the time to have this discussion here on the day after Christmas. That's when we're recording and it's kind of early in the morning, but it's nice. We're both kind of early risers, so we get to start the day with this great conversation. I really appreciate it, man.
Jon Sonnenberg: Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for having me on this show. It means a lot.
Darwin: Well, thanks a lot. Well, why don't we start off by having you talk a little bit about some of the projects that you do. I mean, with even a basic amount of review, it's pretty stunning to see all the different things that you have accomplished in your musical journey. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what you consider [to be] your work?
Jon: It's funny that I look back and sometimes I look at this volume of work that I've done, whether it's recording or instruments that I've built, and I think that I've accomplished so little compared to Mozart or Jesus Christ or somebody like that was able to accomplish so many things by the time they were 30. And so sometimes I look back and I think I haven't done anything at all, and I still have a lot to get done. I always have projects around the studio that are unfinished - bins and bins of different projects and things that I have thought about or am working on. But ultimately it all comes back to music that I want to make and what I want to accomplish. You know, what devices I wanna make or what equipment I need to buy to accomplish that, and goal that's been ringing in my head or the ideas in my mind.
Darwin: Right. That's actually really interesting. Now, one of the things I'm curious about in that discussion is the development of instruments. One of the things that I actually found really fascinating was some of the things you've done that crossed the mechanical/electronic border, right? You have a thing with the magnetic but other worldly little arm that's hanging down that kind of runs between nodes and stuff like that. But you have physical triggering systems, all kinds of stuff. Talk a little bit about those things because I think that they represent a cutting edge of the future, it's this kind of mechanical-to-electronic interface that is really a big part of what can make electronic stuff instrument-like, right?
Jon: There's two aspects of that really: there's the process of sound through acoustic sources. I'm the opposite of electromechanical instruments. You know, when you have a custom electro-instruments and then you're working backwards, you're sending electronics through acoustic resonators. For instance, if you have violin sample and you send it actually through maybe a talk box into the body of a violin and then mic that to get the resonances and the sound of the wood into the recording. You know, there's that aspect of these instruments that I do a lot with. My reverbs. I don't really use plate reverbs anymore or anything like that. I'm using bird cages because they sound amazing. And you know, I still have a lot of effects processors and four different spring reverbs that I like to use, but nothing sounds as good as some of these other techniques that I've just kind of adopted and used in my studio.
And then there's the aspect of what I call sample-proof instruments. And that's kinda my main agenda right now I would say is I started thinking a lot about why people are still willing to pay $5,000 for a Mellotron or $2,000 for Rhodes. And don't get me wrong, I have eight electric pianos, I'm really interested in the electromechanical devices as well as synthesis and analog and digital techniques and things like that, right? But, people - despite how many terabytes of sample data we can use or modeling or whatever you want to bring to the table, people are still willing to pay a lot for the originals. And it really comes down to three things. It comes down to aesthetics, it comes down to the feel of the instruments because a harpsichord doesn't feel like a piano [which] doesn't feel like a Hammond organ, even though they're all keyboard instruments. And it comes down to the sound, and a lot of electro and acoustical instruments have these nuances and these things that happen that you just can't easily recreate. And it even leads to... this Hammond, even though it's a same model, doesn't sound exactly like this other Hammond.
Darwin: Right. I was going to say that definitely was my experience with Rhodes pianos is the variety. I mean, not only from model to model, but even within models; you know, sometimes it'll be how well they were maintained or how much time they spent in a storage locker in Louisiana. But, all of those kind of environmental things can have a very significant impact on the sound of something like something electromechanical like a Rhodes.
Jon: Sure. And you know, they're adjustable too. You can go inside and you can change where that tine hits the pickup and you can offset a little for a harder road sound or you can make it more of a bell-like sound. But I take that even further, like my Kawai 608 piano for instance. I'm constantly doing things with that. Like, a guitarist will finger a string and play a harmonic. So I have a bar that goes all the way across the strings and although it makes the instrument an octave higher, it's basically a harmonic piano. And one of the nice things about it is that particular electric piano has one string per per note. So it's not like a CP-70 or -60, where you have two strings per note. Or like a real piano where you may have three strings per note. It's easier to manipulate. Although my CP-60, I have this harpsichord bar from the 70's that makes it into a Thumbtack piano. But with a little lever I can just remove it and go back to the CP-60 sound. So even the stuff that I have that, I would say, is unique-sounding I always look for ways to make it even more unique-sounding.
Darwin: Yeah. Well before synthesizers were widely available, some of the mods that people would do to these electromechanical devices... My favorite was always the whammy bar that would be installed on a Clavanet to give - people who are just really miss the guitarist stick - give them a whammy bar. That always gave them an opportunity to do that. I just thought that was interesting. But even things like the old stories about the the tin pan alley piano players: they really only ever played anything on the black keys, so they had knee levers that would allow them to do key shifts, right? And, these kind of modifications, I think a lot of people abandoned that because conceptually modifying something now is considered the world of software, not hardware.
Jon: Right. And I think that's kind of a tragedy because I think that there's a lot of unexplored territories in just simple acoustics and electromagnetic instruments. So one of the devices that I made recently that's still in process, but I presented it at Knobcon this last year is my instrument. It's simply called Sample-proof Instrument Number One. And it takes the idea of sample-proofing an instrument, which doesn't have anything to do with high frequency enoding that screws up your sampler when you try to sample it. It's all about an instrument that's so arbitrary in nature that every time you turn it on, it sounds different. And every note that you play sounds different. And the way I accomplish this is the idea behind this instrument is, if you're not familiar with the Hammond organ or the tone wheel organ, of course it's like a guitar string vibrates across and the electromagnetic pickup back and forth, while the Hammond wheel is more like a gear.
It spins and as the teeth go pass by, it creates that wave shape. Well, this instrument uses a container full of BB's and as the BB's spin around, that creates the wave form. It's a one octave instrument and each note has a separate container that's spinning at a different frequency. I'm using gears and a microprocessor to control the speed of the motors and things. So all of these things are spinning around at different rates in the 12-note scale that we have, but every time you turn it on, these BB's will cluster in slightly different orders. Furthermore, you know, it's in development. Like I said, I have a lot of projects that I have made great efforts. I mean, this particular one I've been developing for about four or five years, so it's not something that I just thought of and threw together.
You know, a motor in a container. This thing has a hand-carved, hand-shaved aluminum keyboard. I look at it, I'll get into my background in a second, but I work at a contract manufacturing place that makes thousands of circuit boards, thousands of electronic assemblies, daily, weekly. And sometimes I just want to come home and do the equivalent of sitting on a rocking chair with only a piece of wood, making something really unique and something that I'm proud of and something that can't easily be reproduced. So, not only is this sound sample-proof in my opinion, but I would never make a second one. There's instruments that I've made in the past that I've shown people and they're like, "How much, how much for one of these?", and I just... There's no way, I've already made one. I already made the one I wanted. So, in some ways I don't mean to be elitist or anything. It's not that I think other people don't deserve this type of work or this type of instrument. It's just that it's so time consuming and every process is a whole different thought process. And I like doing things the hard way. Like I said, if I need to file a piece of aluminum for two months, then I'm doing that. So ultimately the hand craftsmanship part of this - it is also part of the instruments that I make that I think are important.
Darwin: Yeah. It sounds like it's equally part of the instrument creation. It's not just the ideation of how the sound is going to be made, but it's literally the process you go through and making it. That is part of the part of the instrument design, right?
Jon: Sure. You know, and it also goes back to...
Electronic music has come to a point, and even some of the Behringer remodels that come out, it's so inexpensive to have a fairly great studio today. The stuff that I'm interested in making is definitely stuff that just isn't available. It's just conceptual and nobody makes anything like it.
Darwin: So, one of the things I like doing in my podcast is talking to people about their background. And I'm curious about yours because frankly, you have this really interesting intersection of a lot of stuff you have the ability to make, not only to make your own instrumentation, but as you kind of mentioned here, to actually in a very fine way, make kind of impeccable looking instruments. Anybody who wants to take a quick review of some of your YouTube stuff will get a chance to see some amazing instrumentation that you've put together. But beyond that, you also through a couple of different band or artists name things. We'll get into this later. And you've done a number of different releases of some very accomplished music. So you clearly have a strong musical background as well. So I'm curious what your background is and how you got to be the artist and builder and thinker and inventor that you are, because it's an amazing collection of talents that you bring to the table. So how did you get there? What's your background and how did you get to be the person that you are today?
Jon: So, musically, I grew up in a somewhat musical family, although, many people will say that my dad can't jam because, because when he gets together with other musicians, he's always the person that kind of has to lead everything and everybody follows him. But I grew up in a family where my mom played piano and my dad played fiddle. He was more into bluegrass and things like that that I didn't appreciate for a long time. But my mom would play. My mom still talks about when I was six years old, she was trying to play a Mozart piece and I would go over and play it better than she was playing. It was one of those things; I've always played, even though I took classical lessons for 12, 13 years, It was one of those things that I always played better by ear than for me to sight read a piece of music.
It's just not going to happen. I have to study it. I have to study, measure by measure and go through [it]. But, it's also one of those things that once I've played a Schubert or Chopin piece or something like that and studied it, I never forget it. I still can play things that I played 20 years ago - just like the music would be in front of me. So I grew up in this musical setting, but I also really started collecting records and started with 45's. You know, I think my first records were probably like Hall and Oates and AC/DC and things like that, but soon after the eighties really fell into play. And all of these interesting sounds of synthesizers were in the mainstream: Human League, Howard Jones, Thompson Twins, just to name a few. The pop music of the 80s, really. Talking Heads...
Jon: I mean, if you listen to some of these bands, they were really experimenting with some sounds. And the palette of sounds sonically was really interesting. And I think a lot of that's died or maybe we just think this is what a synthesizer should sound like. And so we just get into this idea that analog synths are always subtractive. All the East Coast, West Coast mythology that we get caught up in. And what an analog synth should sound like, what a Buchla sense should sound like. To me, it's all kind of nonsense to be honest, because there are many, many other methods to synthesize sound than just subtractive or FM or running a low pass gate or, I mean... Different manufacturers over the years have come up with different strategies: phase modulation, vowel/consonant synthesis, a lot of things like that.
So through the 80's, I bought my first synthesizer, I had a couple Casio's before this, but I bought my first Juno 60 when I was in the sixth grade and it was 1984 I'd say. So I think the [Juno] 106 just came out, maybe it was '85. No, it would have been '84 because I had it when I went to the NAMM show for the first time. So I had an uncle that owned a music store in Helena, Montana, and I lived in Orange County. It was a world's difference. But my uncle would compete in the Montana state fiddle championship and do these things, and also owned this music music store. And he'd come down to Los Angeles, come down to Orange County and go to the NAMM show.
One year, he took me and I was in junior high and, granted, by this time I already had a small collection of keyboard magazines and most of the cool looking synthesizers had been cut out. So I had the Kurzweil 250 on the wall. I had the Synclavier on the wall. I knew what all of these things were, even in junior high. And when I went to the NAMM show, I didn't know who was who. I don't know if Stevie Wonder walked by me - I had no idea. This is 1984, but I do know that I saw really cool, interesting instruments. I know that I saw that Synclavier, and I know that I saw stuff at the Roland booth and I know that I was told to stop playing those congos when I walked by cause I was just a kid, you know, "He's not going to buy anything." And it's a trade show, so a lot of people just assumed I didn't know what I was talking about or doing.
But, I was also the, the kid that would beg my dad to take me to a music store, and we'd go to a music store and I'd talk the salesmen's ear off about synthesis and synthesizers to where - when we're driving home, my dad would just be like, "Yeah, that salesman didn't know what he was talking about..."
And it also got to the point where when people started buying synthesizers... It sounds weird today because I have so much equipment and I've collected so much, and to say that I grew up without a whole lot of extra spending money, it's almost laughable with the amount of equipment that I have. But it was also the 80's and people were getting rid of stuff for really cheap and all I could afford were the SH-101 and the Juno 60 at the time when what I really wanted was like the ESQ-1 (the Ensoniq) or the Emulator - things like this. But my dad would always say to me: "Understand and be able to do more with the equipment that you have than the manufacturers ever intended." And so, like on the Juno 60, not a lot of people understand that there's patches and banks beyond 60's and 70's.
There's an 80's and 90's bank. You can easily just put a light-sensitive resistor right across the VCF input and have light sensitive control over the filter. There's a lot that you can do with it. My favorite thing about the Juno 60, still to this day, is the external patch shift input, which was really borrowed from the Sequential Circuits 700-series programmer idea where you can step through the patches with the clock. It's brilliant because with a synchronized clock pulse from a drum machine or something, you can change the patch every time you send it to clock pulse. So it's not just for use with a pedal when you're playing live and you want to switch from one sound to the next (which is I think what it was intended for). But you can actually have a sequence of notes with, with a totally different envelope, sequence of chords with a totally different envelope per stage of the sequence.
And there's a lot of things like that. So by the time I was in high school, anybody who did buy an ESQ-1, or DX-7, -5, -21, whatever the numbers were at the time, and then even through the Korg M-1 and the T series, then the Roland D series, a lot of that stuff I never bought, but I was so into programming at that time that people would loan me equipment for months at a time. And I would just have it in my studio. I'd have twice as much gear as what I owned because people would just drop off their synthesizers because I would be able to use it and record with it and learn it. But I was also giving them new patches that they didn't have to program.
So there was a lot of that going on. And also right after high school, by the time I graduated high school, I had a Jupiter 8, I had a Juno 60, I had a Yamaha CS-20 and it was all cheap or given to me or just incredible deals that I won't really talk about here. But there's also a lot of things that, like, I remember seeing a [TR-]909 for $125 and I couldn't afford it. It wasn't something that I had that kind of money to buy, or a TR-808 for $400 that was sitting in a corner of a music store and I was jealous. Just, I knew what it was. I thought it was cool. I would have loved to have bought it at the time, but I just didn't have the cash. You know?
And I think musicians are usually notoriously broke in a lot of ways and it surprises me how many people have jumped on the Eurorack bandwagon because it's not necessarily the cheapest route to some of these ideas, especially when there's so much MIDI rack, 1U rack-mount stuff that's really powerful that can do a lot. It's just not as sexy. It's just not as easily editable.
Darwin: Well, I think too that there is, to a certain extent, some of the thing that makes Eurorack really interesting is that you can sort of, even at a relatively low music budget, you have the ability to piece together your own adventure with it, right? Like month-at-a-time. You can afford to just squeeze enough out of your budget to maybe get a module; for one of the big modules you may have to save up for a couple of months. But it's consumable in that way.
It's interesting to hear you talk about collecting things in the 80's when people were bailing. I think nowadays people are like, "Why would anyone have sold a Jupiter 8 for a couple hundred bucks?" I think it's hard for people to remember that this was back when the DX-7 came out, it was so ubiquitous. If you wanted to think of yourself having a recording career, you had to have the sound of the DX-7. And so that was $1,300 and so if you had to sell a couple of your old analog dinosaurs to come up with 1300 bucks, you'd do it, you know? And and it really gave people like you the opportunity to get access to these amazing, amazing instruments.
Jon: Right. And also I've never sold anything. Well, I guess that's not necessarily true. I've sold some duplicates over the years of things that I've had, but by the time I was in high school and out of high school, I already knew a lot about electronic music. And I started really looking into the history, started collecting a lot of books. Took some classes at the local college where they had an ARP 2600. I remembered the lab had four Roland D-50's and then they had an ARP 2600 in the corner. And that's the thing that I gravitated towards because most of my studio at the time I thought in "CV and Gate", that's what I had. And when I did borrow a MIDI device, I wasn't really mixing it up to anything. I didn't really have any reason for that.
You know, the sequencers that I use and still use to this day, I love the MSQ-700, even though those are MIDI devices, I typically use the DCB connection to the Juno 60 or the DCB connection to the Jupiter and just sync them up with DIN sync. Even when I do sequence in MIDI, I typically use CV-to-MIDI converters.
Now I'm also a player, so I do play a lot of rack-mount devices. You know, I have an EMU, the 4XT Ultra sampler. I have a pretty large library of stuff for that that I'll call up a preset and play on a weighted 88 keyboard. But for the most part, I don't really use MIDI whole lot. I just use the keyboard that's built into whatever instrument. And if I'm sequencing, it's almost always in triggers and gates. And if I'm triggering a sample, it's almost always through a CV/Gate-to-MIDI interface. I have a the Roland OP-8m, which was a pretty early CV-to-MIDI interface. And so, I'll use things like that before I sequence something in a computer. I use my computer a lot, but I use it for Pro Tools. And
Darwin: As an enhanced tape recorder basically?
Darwin: Well, it's interesting to me because the sequencers, like the MSQ-700 and items like that... You say you're a player, but these things are almost the antithesis of player devices, where you're oftentimes entering step lengths in clock ticks and in some of the older cases you're even entering numbers in octal and stuff. I mean, these sequencers, while they were amazing at the time, also were, I would say, player adverse because it was a very intellectualized way of entering music, and players oftentimes have a very emotional way of playing. And I'm just wondering how you kind of meshed the two ways of thinking about music making?
Jon: That's an interesting question. I don't know that I have a really good answer for it because there's a time when I was doing entire songs using nothing but an MC-202 and, SH-101 sequencers. I still love just a hundred note sequencer in the SH-101, or the 40- or whatever note sequencer in the Sequential Circuits Pro One. I use a lot of just really rudimentary step sequencers like that and then clock them with syncopated clocks together, other rhythms. I still do things like that. I mean I used things like Fruity Loops and Digital Performer and Ableton, and I've used some programs over the years. But I just always go back to simple sequencers on analog equipment. To me it just makes more sense for some reason.
Darwin: Sure. Now, one of the things that I actually really enjoyed when I was doing a bit of research on you is on your SoundCloud page. You have examples of your music, but you also have these commentaries where you actually verbally walk through the process of making a song. And it was interesting to me because, despite the fact that you talk about using these rudimentary step sequencers and stuff, there's a lot about your development of songs that kind of is a throwback to more traditional songwriting. Things like finding a set of chord changes that speak to you and then letting that marinate in your head while you you develop what, internally, becomes the voice for a piece or whatever. And I found that a really fascinating thing because I think a lot of times people are almost suspicious of trying to explain how they make they make music and you seem to be very willing to share the process. I thought that was quite amazing,
Jon: You know, for a long time I felt like there should be some mystery about it and there should be some secrecy about the art. Right? However, I think that we've come so far to where there's so much public knowledge of different things out there that you give a hundred people a Minimoog and nobody is going to do the same thing with it. Nobody's going to make the same music with it. Nobody is going to make the same sounds. They might make the same type of sounds. They might remember a Keith Emerson lick or something and play something like that along with it or play the Doctor Who theme or something. But, most everybody is going to do something different with it. And that goes for a guitar, too. Think about how many singer songwriters there are out there.
And, granted, a lot of them sound the same and maybe are in the same style, but there are some really unique, talented people that are just using their voice and guitar. And so, I don't worry so much about people copying a style. I don't think anybody cares that much. I think they're more interested in the process in a lot of ways than they are in the music, to be honest. When you do a video of your music and then you do a video of a synthesizer, and I've known a lot of artists who will do stuff like this as an experiment, go figure that the synthesizer video gets like 20 times the amount of views. Then you're done. The thing that you're pouring your heart and soul into.
You know, I got remarried a couple of years ago and I married into a family where now I have an nine and 10 year old kid. It's interesting to watch how adept they are with technology and how many YouTube videos they watch and how they just care about the iGeneration. I feel like I'm the opposite of the iGeneration. Like the iGeneration has little content, but they're constantly making videos. I have unlimited content and ideas and thoughts about things, but so little time to do any kind of promotion. So the times that I do put like, an eight minute clip or something, I want it to be meaningful. I want to talk about the process that I have in writing a song because I think that's more important sometimes in the song itself.
Darwin: Well, and that's the thing that actually is going to provide something, I guess the modern word for it that it's evergreen, right? It's something that's going to be valuable even generations from now because process is something that is a curiosity for everybody. I mean it's kind of at the heart of why I do this podcast because I actually am really curious about the background, but also the process that people go through in whatever form of Art they are developing, whether it's building instruments or it's writing music or it's doing visual art or whatever. I'm really curious by this combination of background, in how that background ends up informing the process that becomes a working environment. Now in your case, one of the things I would say is that, in addition to working with a lot of amazing hardware that you've collected, you do have a certain amount of your work that is dependent on custom instrumentation.
And it goes back to this idea of creating sample-proof instruments, things that are so idiosyncratic that sampling is kind of a joke. Right? But also there are things like, in the I Dream Of Wires video, they show you interacting with a modular you had bought off of somebody, a hand-built thing that had a very kind of unique and distorted sound and it was clear that that was something that spoke to you. In other cases, a controller-like item you used was very important to you in terms of how you would develop a melody because this swinging arm thing would react in certain ways and would draw a certain melodies out of you. Right?
I'm curious to what extent these kinds of things, you mentioned before that you actually kind of have an idea in your head and it draws these instruments out of you and the creating of the instrument can take some time. But what I'm wondering is how often do you find that you have a musical idea in your head and you have to make an instrument, and how often does it happen that you have an instrumental idea and then when you actually create an instance of it, it generates a new song or a new set of songs for you. Which way does it tend to go?
Jon: I think it usually starts in my head or me just playing an idea on a keyboard or something or humming a tune. For me, music - I'm probably gonna make a lot of enemies saying this on your podcast, but I'm okay. Somebody who makes a sequence or a little idea by scraping a chair across the floor - it's definitely musical, I'm not saying that that's not music. But there is a distinction between music and a song. And for me, a song, the definition of a song that I've always used is something that can be covered and recognized again on a different instrument. So if you can take a song and use another instrument and recreate that song or that melody, that's to me what makes a good song. And so the idea is always in my head whenever I'm writing or making music: the end goal is always a song, something that can be recognized and covered so to speak.
Darwin: Well that's actually interesting because... You say you might make a lot of enemies and I don't know that it's enemies that you'd make. It's just for a lot of people they'd be like, "I can't imagine doing that." Because there does seem to be this kind of a split, which is a lot of people who love to do music that is structured sound design work or something like that. And other people who are making songs that might have vocals, might not, might have specific instrumentation. But this idea that the definition, or the defining idea of whether it could be covered by an acoustic guitar, is actually really interesting way to think of it.
Jon: I think a lot of people lose that kind of definition because it gets so lost in the noodling. They got so lost and like, "Oh, this is a great sound. I should record it." And it doesn't really become anything beyond that great sound. And a lot of things that I develop, I think even in those recordings that I have of the process of my work, there are some songs where I start with a really interesting, provocative sound that I think is just pulling me in - and in the final mix it doesn't even appear in the song because I've steered the song away from that idea and I think, I think it's okay.
It's okay to explore and evolve a song like that. You know, I will say this, after Industrial music came out and the Goth/Industrial scene came out, I was certainly influenced by a lot of those bands too. All the 4 A.D. things, all the shoe-gazer bands, that first Tear Garden record. The the Center Bullet really changed my whole perspective on the way I was listening to and approaching music. But it's always been song-oriented. Even through all the Skinny Puppy records that I would listen to. I was always more interested in the songs and the textures behind the songs that were creating these songs rather than just the sounds themselves.
Darwin: Interesting. Well, John, I can't believe it, but our time is already up and I feel like we just got started with our discussion, but before I go, I just have one more question I'd like to ask you. Another thing I ran across was checking out your website, which is Art of Travelogue. By the way, I, for people who want to learn more about you, I think that's artoftravelogue.blogspot.com. In there you talk about having done some musical creations for games and it seems to me like developing music for games is almost the antithesis of a song, because if you make things that are too easily recognizable or whatever, they can kind of get to be an irritant in the middle of playing a game. How do you balance this kind of desire to create songs with the need or the desire to create music for video games?
Jon: It's definitely a different approach. I've done music for films, I've done music for video games. Most of those opportunities have all been presented from fans. It's not that I'm lazy about going out and self-promoting, it's that I have so many ideas that I want to focus on that I rarely have time to even blink. And so when somebody comes and approaches me and says, "Hey, I'd really love it if you could do this video game that I'm developing, the soundtrack to the video game that I'm developing...", and pretty soon one turns into three video games and you have, 23 to 40 songs on each one. It's definitely a different type of challenge because a lot of those songs were a minute or two long and then they loop. So it's definitely more of an idea of how can I make something interesting that's more than just a background drone that people can appreciate as a song, but it's not ignored.
So yeah, there's a balance there. And I think just coming up with even the ideas behind some of those two things that I will mention, there was a song on one of those, I'm not into microtonal music, but there was a melody on one of those tracks on one of the video games where I needed to do this descending scale. And the amount of notes in the sequence and the amount of spaces and the 12-note scale didn't match up. So I ended up doing quarter tones within there to make it,
Darwin: ...to fit in the timing.
Jon: Right. So I do things like that, I think about puzzles like that where I'm working on things like that to that level. And as far as making instruments to answer your previous question, like a sound in my head, I really love autoharps and I really love wind chimes. And for years I was trying to figure out how I could make an autoharp chime. And what I ended up doing is just cutting seven octaves: four octaves of solid chimes and two and a half of hollow times. And then I can arrange them in any chord structure that I want. And when I finally recorded with those, it still wasn't the image that I had in my mind. I ended up adding a couple autoharp tracks, a Suzuki Omnichord track and then some arpeggios off of a Fizmo in the higher end to get the sound that I had envisioned in my mind. So sometimes I spend months thinking or developing something, cutting pieces of metal out, for this vision in my head and ultimately it comes down to using other gear that I already had - or a combination of that.
Darwin: Sure, sure. Amazing. I think for a lot of us that it's even difficult to imagining the idea of committing months to the creation - because you're having to build the instrumentation as you're working. But it's a fascinating view of the way you make your work. So I really do appreciate you sharing that with us. Well, with that, unfortunately our time is up. I want to thank you again so much for taking the time to have the discussion. For people who want to learn more about your work, where do you like them to start?
Jon: Definitely artoftravelog.com, which goes to that blogspot page. My Bandcamp and SoundCloud page has plenty of example tracks of my work over the years. And like you mentioned earlier, I think a lot of people have a hard time finding me because I do have some stuff under John Sonnenberg, some recordings and some releases, but I also have stuff under Pivot Clowj, an old, kind of industrial band that I was a part of, or House of Wires, which was another band that I was a part of, or Travelogue. So almost all of these things, if you do a search, you'll find plenty of stuff on this - especially in conjunction with my name. Unfortunately with the internet and its growth, a lot of things like "House of Wires" or a "Travelogue"... You know, you look at a band like "The Drums" and you wonder how anybody ever finds anything.
Darwin: Yeah. I actually used to interact with the band called The Samples. You can't even imagine a worse name for online searching at this point. Right?
Jon: Yeah. And a lot of people are getting around that by putting V's for U's and things like that. But then it just leads to a bunch of kids that can't spell anything!
Darwin: Although your Pivot Clowj thing is... that's an appropriately easy to search for thing, assuming that you get the typing rights.
Jon: That's true. C-L-O-W-J really has no equivalent word in any language. So that was kind of a score for us.
Darwin: Indeed. Well, John, thank you so much. And with that, I'm going to let you have the rest of your day.
Jon: Hey, and by the way, happy birthday.
Darwin: Oh, thank you! I appreciate it, man.
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