We Have The Technology: Ah Moshi Moshi’s Sammy Altman and Aron Magner Photos by Dan Hamilton
A stout man scowling and a short man smirking sat side-by-side at their respective computers inside a dark crowded room on the Bowery, punching keys and occasionally exchanging glances, or a few brief words. But this was no chic Internet cafit was the exalted haven for underground rock, CBGB’s. On the short cramped stage, the digitally dependent Ah Moshi Moshi was performing an endless array of electronic beats with the aid of two computers pre-programmed full of loops, arpeggios, samples, drum beats well just about anything Sammy Altman and Aron Magner of the Disco Biscuits could think up.
Once the duo got rolling, the show was anything but two guys staring at their computer screens. Altman was a triple-threat triggering samples on the keyboard with his left hand, pounding the e-drums with his right arm, all the while a bass was slung about his neck. Magner bounced back and forth between a computer keyboard and two keyboards he uses with the Biscuits. Most of the night he stood up to enable him to sit longer in each sample. His counterpart, Altman, sat down at every opportunity, and the large pools of sweat that often accompany his vicious pounding of the drums were conspicuously absent.
The evening had all the signs of a late-night jam session in a friend’s basement with the occasional abrupt stops, jams that went nowhere, and a makeshift Moshi banner that consisted of merely a white sheet and spray paint. Even the crowd, full of the obligatory Biscuit kids, was a group of old-friends. Though it was the amateur nature of the band that made the show so endearing. Moshi was an eccentric experiment in the convergence of new and old technologies that broke new ground, if only, in its conception.
It is true that Ah Moshi Moshi leaned heavily upon the synthetic rendering of electronic beats. But all of those synthetic beats were pre-programmed into their computers manually using software called Reason. Once the drums, keyboards, bass, among other instruments, were inputted into the program, Altman and Magner manipulated those notes before they were blasted out of the speakers at CBGB’s. By mixing digitally enhanced music with live improvisation, the band was able to foster a sound as enigmatic as it is difficult to describe.
The show, billed as Unification, was more than two geeks sitting in front of their computers. The night began with the raucous reggae beats of New York based producer, Matt Owen of Unity Sound and the lyrical stylings of Ras Kush of Black Redemption Sounds of Praises. Photosynthetica projected a plethora of fast-paced technicolor images on a screen behind the stage all night long. Long Island DJ, Naked Slice closed the show.
After Altman set fire to the plastic packaging of my new tape recorder to help open it, Jambands.com spoke with Altman and Magner in the candle light of CBGB’s, that was so dark I couldn’t read the list of questions I’d prepared.
TH: How did the idea for the band come about?
SA: I guess we had both been on time-off from the Disco Biscuits, and fucking around with computer music and looping music, and all that kind of stuff. We thought that we could do more exploratory improvisational stuff; the two of us, doing that on stage and making that kind of stuff happen live. We got presented with a gig at the Knit [Knitting Factory], which is a haven for new exploratory stuff. It turned out to be really cool. We did a couple of more gigs, and it sort of changed every time.
AM: It’s definitely been an evolving band. Being that, it’s not a band that’s practicing all the time. We practice before the Moshi shows and stuff like that. We constantly find new ways to do, technically, what we’re doing. So the first gig just started out with me strictly on keyboards, and Sammy strictly staring at his computer. Everything was kind of on the fly. It was cool, but we knew that there was a lot better ways to control it. So as time went on, we got better at using the programs, we got better at working with each other. We played one of the shows with a female vocalist that kind of took the leads on top, and that was pretty cool. Then for this show we really honed in to the technical aspects of how powerful the computers are. Basically, [we] created our own samples by playing them in. Sampling them, then triggering them as samples, to kind of work it as a DJ would.
SA: So, it’s a combination of being DJs of our own stuff and improvising a lot. This Moshi incarnation I’m playing bass, as well. I’ll just get up and play bass, or I’ll be triggering bass lines that I’ve played. [Magner’ll] be triggering keyboard lines that he played, or he’ll be playing them, or I’ll be triggering keyboard lines. We’re doing everything in every way possible.
TH: What’s your setup like? What computers are you using?
SA: I’m using that Mac whatever it’s called an iMac. I’m using some e-drums too, and I’m playing bass.
TH: The samples you are using, is it your music, or did you get it from an outside source?
SA: It’s all stuff that I programmed. I mean there are some breaks in there that are from other people, but I pretty much cut em up and destroyed them. There’s no evidence of that anymore. Most of the stuff is just harps that I played in [the computer], and drum beats that I played in [the computer]. Not on acoustic drums but on electric drums.
TH: Aron, how is your setup different from the Disco Biscuits?
AM: I have two of the staple boards that I use with the Biscuits, but I have two designated boards that are running strictly sounds from the computer, [from] which I have pretty much an infinite ability to manipulate those sounds. So I have the ability to trigger samples, like Sammy was saying, of arpeggios that I had already played in [the computer], or some other basslines and then trigger that. The way that the Biscuits create music within the vibe of the electronic jams, we all want to do a million different things, or can hear a million different things at the same time. But it honestly makes sense to stick with a loop when you have three other people that you need to be having a musical conversation with. This way we get to play in [to the computer], already, previous to the show, everything that we’re going to want to hear. Then we have the ability to trigger it at any given point in time, and not have to worry about will it fit in with what everybody else is doing.
TH: How is the vibe different onstage during an Ah Moshi Moshi show?
SA: It’s way more relaxed. I’m mean playing live onstage in a completely live band, you always have to be doing or thinking something. I’m always playing drums. [Magner’s] always playing keys. When we play in Moshi Moshi, it really helps the music, if we let something go for a while. You watch DJs up there, they’ll spin and then they’ll let a beat go for 20 minutes. We’ll do the same thing.
AM: We found that, while we were rehearsing we were sitting down. We were rehearsing, for whatever, eight hours in a day. And we’d be sitting down staring at our computers and everything, realizing we were changing a lot more than the music needed to change. Rather than sitting in some loops, and triggering some effects on top. So we stood up, and paradoxically we realized that by standing up we sit in things longer than we do when we’re sitting.
TH: So, you guys are both going to stand up the whole time?
AM: Sammy’s too relaxed.
SA: I’ll stand up occasionally and scowl.
TH: Are there any plans for another Moshi show?
SA: When we’re presented with gigs, Moshi gigs, and we’re free in our nutsy schedule to do them. We like to.
AM: After this experience with Moshi, preparing for it at least, I definitely want to take this a little bit further. I think this is a really, really interesting side project. I think there is a lot of really cool music that comes out of it. We definitely stretch so many different idioms that we also have infinitely possibilities. So yeah, we’ll definitely be doing more shows.