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Interview with Travelogue.
This week I interviewed Jon Sonnenberg from the band Travelogue. Jon has been in a number of electronic-based bands over the years (see below) and he has a very unique approach to the genre. His theatrics on stage have involved, at various times, silver space suits, a marionette, and pre-recorded tap dancing, amongst other things. In addition to being a musician, Jon is an engineer, creating countless bizarre, homemade instruments and integrating them into his performance. But Travelogue is not just a quirky art band. Mr. Sonnenberg knows how to write catchy, soulful songs that resonate with listeners of all kinds. Enjoy the interview, and don't forget to visit Travelogue at the links below. Also, be sure to watch the music video on the Travelogue MySpace page. It features a few of Jon's interesting instrument creations.
Brax: I think the name Travelogue perfectly fits your musical style. What's the story behind the name, and what are your favorite places to travel?
Travelogue: The name Travelogue really came from the idea of traveling to another time, rather than another place. My music is influenced by many different eras of music, with a big emphasis on the new wave movement. The British spelling was influenced by the early Human League album of the same name.
I do like to travel though. I like to go hiking and see nature - not necessarily camping so much, but getting out for a day and seeing different parts of the country.
Brax: What music project are you currently working on?
Travelogue: Last year, I recorded an acoustic album under my name Jon Sonnenberg, as well as a split album with Red Orchestra's Israel Slick (AKA Exhoskeleton).
I am currently working on another Travelogue release. It will be the third official album, not counting the EP's and singles that have been released.
I am also in the middle of recording an album called "The Fireworks Sessions." It uses fireworks samples that I recorded a couple years ago from our backyard for all the drum sounds. There is some synth on it, but mostly bass guitar and strings - very early death rock sounding (Joy Division, Xymox, Siouxie, Cure, etc.).
Furthermore, I am finishing two songs for the EEP society 7" that will be released probably sometime in the next few months.
Brax: You've released music as Travelogue, House of Wires, Pivot Clowj, and even as a solo artist. What sets these musical entities apart, and will we ever see new releases from any of your previous projects?
Travelogue: Holiday Records just released some unheard House of Wires songs a few months ago as a low-quality MP3 only release. Three of them to be exact. There is still more in the archives that has never been released. Perhaps I will release all of them as a high quality CD sometime.
There are many Pivot Clowj songs that have never been released. For the most part, there is a reason for this. Robert and I had spent about six years working on Pivot Clowj material and there was a lot of experimenting with sound and such. Not all of it was good. Also, some of the songs were good, but the mixes were poor. With my current setup, I have gone through some of the old reel-to-reel master recordings and transferred them into the computer for remixing. There is really an overwhelming amount of unfinished songs though, and I have no idea when I will have time to work on them again.
Brax: If you could live on any planet other than Earth, which would you choose, and why?
Travelogue: Planet? Mars, because there have been so many great Sci-Fi stories about it. It is kind of romantic to see if any of them are true.
Brax: You are known for creating your own musical instruments. What are some of the most interesting creations you've come up with?
Travelogue: I love creating instruments as well as music. I would say that they are both equal obsessions. I am currently working on four instruments with about five more in my head. Some of these are based on other peoples ideas. Some are based on my own. I find the experimental musical instrument world very fascinating. I read publications like old issues of Computer Music Journal (from MIT) or Bart Hopkins' Experimental Musical Instruments. I prefer melody and harmony to dissonance, but I like to incorporate a fair amount of noise and uncertainty into my music.
I would say that my favorite instrument that I have built to date is my copy of Hans Reichel's Daxophone. I am always thinking of ways to make it more "playable," by adding ridges to produce scales and such. It is such a modifiable instrument. You can really put any material in it (I have tried glass and metal as well as fiberglass and wood) and you get different sounds out of the different shapes as well. The only complaint that I have is that I simply don't have enough time in the day to make all the pieces that I would like to experiment with for it.
One thing that I have always been driven by is the "unknown." I am often more excited about the idea of the instrument or what it might sound like than the finished instrument or the sound. For instance, one of the things that I am currently working on an electric koto that will also double as a tunable reverb (depending on the notes that the strings are tuned to). The reverb will happen when all 32 strings are vibrating sympathetically to an input source. The vibration is electrically picked up and can be fed back into the input for infinite sustain or LFO modulation, etc. It is a cross between mechanical, electrical, and acoustical design.
Electrical and electronic instruments, especially samplers and digital synthesizers, are pretty easy to replicate the sound with computer programs, etc. What is hard to do is recreate things that have motors, gears, acoustic resonance, etc. This is why Mellotrons and Optigans still sell for a decent amount. It is also one of the reasons why acoustic instruments will never be replaced by computers. The other is because on most acoustic instruments, the interface with the musician is nearly impossible to replicate- you could have a bowing motion connected to a computer, but to replicate the angle, speed, pressure of the bow would be such a complex algorithm, and the relation to the other hand controlling the pitch of the string is too difficult to replicate. Too much detail and versatility.
Brax: Please explain the space time continuum in ten words or less.
Travelogue: The idea is that they are related and inseparable.
I think that they just coexist, like X, Y, and Z in a three dimensional space.
Brax: iPod, CD, Vinyl, or other? Why?
Travelogue: Vinyl. I think that it still sounds the best, especially on a good Hi-Fi system, though a little static and noise never hurt anyone. I do not like HDTV! When the signal is not strong, it completely goes away from your TV screen. Analog TV's at least stayed on the screen and you could see and hear the picture through the fuzz. CD's are like that too.
Brax: Tell me about your best live show ever.
Travelogue: I like performing when there is a connection with the audience. The best show I ever played would probably be our Travelogue set at Autobahn 3 (in '04) which was the first time Mandi, my wife, ever performed with me. Another really great show was when House of Wires performed at a fashion show at Biola University. or when Pivot Clowj performed at the Fang Club in Hollywood- the latter was one show that I brought some homemade instruments to and there were no technical problems and the sound levels seemed really good. I like shows that technically go over well, our performance is good, and the audience is interested. Unfortunately, sometimes one of these things is not in sync.
Brax: You've worked with a marionette in your live shows in the past. How would you feel about performing with robots?
Travelogue: That is a great idea. Unfortunately, "Captured by Robots" and JBOT already has cornered the market on bands with robots.
Brax: Any advice for others trying to "make it" in music?
Travelogue: If you are passionate about music, don't ever give it up. Don't worry about making it as much as creating something that you really believe in and believe is worth listening to.
Brax: Anything else you'd like to add?
Travelogue: Not at this time.
Tell them Brax sent you!
Thanks to Travelogue.
Check back next Wednesday for my exciting interview with the Steelwells.
Jon Sonnenberg is my hero.