In the Studio: Naux

Indubitably, Naux (a.k.a. Trevor Bloom) is a virtual ghost, but in the context of the midwestern US beat scene, the Mare Nullius founder is impossible to miss. Over the past few years, he has quietly assembled various audio projects that frequently feature  cascading riffs with dizzying drum patterns to sedating effect. 2016 was a relatively relaxed year for Naux as he released continued installments of his Nausea beat series. Curious about the progress of his new music and toting a series of questions about his gear and production methods, we recently made the journey to Naux’s home studio, nestled alongside Fayetteville’s Scull Creek. As we basked in the smokey light pillars flooding his red shag rug, Naux not only let us in on a new solo album and his collaborative Sequoia Stills project, but also about everything from his early days as a library stowaway to his ongoing search for the best potato salad.MN: When did you first start producing music?

Naux: It was Fall 2012. I went to a Flaming Lips show at my University with a head full of smoke and eyes like donuts. Seeing the drama unfold thematically along with the music awaked a drive for sound. I witnessed the entire production from a state of questioning if I was remembering it or experiencing it, a mental space reserved for mediums and manic-depressives. I found myself on the other end of the rabbit hole obsessed with sampling and synths, more specifically, signal flow as a concept. If I wasn’t in the practice room with a dismantled piano I was in the university media library studying musty musique concrete records. The world opened up to me when I realized I could recontextualize it through recording sound and heavy processing.

What kind of set-up were you using?

I had a phone, a borrowed Korg, a cassette deck and a clump of breakout cables. I was in love with the tangled wires, though this was before I cared — and then learned not to care — about attenuation. I would record in one take through various apps on the phone into Audacity, no different than when I would make ringtones on Motorolas nearly a decade before. I relented learning a DAW for a long time but finally acquired Ableton Live in summer of 2013. I still have the Korg from back then. And of course the spaghetti of cables now patching the Mother-32.Are you formally trained in music?

I have dropped piano lessons more times than I started. I played the saxophones in marching band in college though.​

What prompted the initial compulsion to start making music electronically?

I was always fascinated with music technology when I was younger. The Game Boy Camera had a sequencer where I familiarized myself with the idea of software music before I knew what it was. Around the same time there was a software called Sonic Foundry ACiD which came with a computer my family had gotten. My brother showed me how to use P2P networks and I would download bootleg electronic tracks as the main method of getting a hold of entertainment. The culture of sharing was imbued early on. This was back in the early 2000s. Had I not discovered Dance Dance Revolution and internet forums my interest in electronic music may have been a passing fancy. Combined with late night Adult Swim programming, my encounter with the beat scene was inevitable.You produce everything on Ableton Live. How many of your sounds are synthetic as opposed to things you’re recording off an instrument?

With the amount of processing that goes into the samples, very little is left to sound ‘natural’. But much of the audio material not from a record is me playing with whatever objects are immediately at-hand while sequencing. Pens, adapters, lighters, tuning fork, a shaker… whatever allows me to create the textures I’m after are not off-limits.

What kinds of sounds are you recording? Are they field recordings, or recordings of actual instruments and synths?

Foley, radio buzz, vinyl, the Moog, I try to record them so they have a familiar texture across the board applied in unfamiliar ways. On warmer days I explore around Fayetteville and gather sounds to later process, but lately those trips are to decompress and I forget to record… so sometimes I come back empty handed. I’ve moved away from recording synths to processing found sounds as it is more in line with my vision of repurposed noise. Often I use low quality samples captured with my phone. I’ve learned recently the equipment doesn’t matter as long as you have an ear for the feel.How does your songwriting process go?

It’s different depending on the source of the inspiration. Really it’s about working fast and developing shortcuts along the way. Each session I try to confuse myself by losing my self-awareness in a convoluted routing and then surf my record collection for one note or sound that invokes a salient memory and feeling, and then habit overtakes me. Ultimately I aim for the sound to be shaped subconsciously.How much are you effecting your recorded sounds once they’re in the box?

I have eight or so audio channels but dozens of control signals affecting the sound in various ways. The layering of reactive processing result in emergent effects triggered by conditional signals. It’s more efficient to prototype ideas quickly and ask questions later. If it doesn’t spark in 20 minutes, move on.When you’re doing this sort of composition, how do you know when a song is done?

After looping a concept thousands of times you grow sick of it until you forget it. Rediscovery then follows the path of the snake biting its own tail. The more you hear a repeated passage, the more interesting muting becomes. When listening to a beat that is rhythmic by nature of what isn’t there, the innate beauty of patterned sound is realized around the silence.

Heavy. You’ve been using the same set-up for the past five-plus years, do you feel like your production techniques have evolved?

Often I would start each project from scratch overloaded with inefficient processing, now I think of reoccurring rhythmic elements like the kick and snare as more functional than aesthetic choices and gently massage the sample to shimmer. I use simpler compositional techniques and fewer channels now than before but my minimal approach to arrangement and sound design has led me to deep waters. What’s your favorite piece of gear?

SP-404SX. It instantly places the audio in a very distinct place in time where music could have been made 40 or four years ago and you could be none the wiser. It’s like a camera with Photoshop built in. The inherent flaws of the device tie together all of the disparate elements found in my tracks. The volume knob is grainy and there’s is a noise floor around -60Db acting as a gel for any artifacts.

Do you use that to play live as well? Is having a tactile experience important when you’re performing?

Very much so. It allows for a layer of effects that aren’t effected by latency and that humanizes the heady math happening under the hood. It also grounds me and makes me feel like I’m playing a video game.

Is there any gear that you’d like to acquire?

Cymbals. I’m not a drummer by any means but you can’t beat the sound of cymbals. And more Eurorack modules.Are you working on a new record?

Yeah, though not intentionally. I still find the greatest satisfaction burying myself in programming and eventually a tune coming together so I don’t pressure the ideas to be related in the way someone might who is focused on a record. That naive consideration informs much of the processes that guide my output. There are releases slated for this year though. The most challenging aspect at this point is finding how and when to release new material.

Stylistically, is the new stuff similar to what you’ve done in the past?

It is a more accurate depiction of what I can conceive which is exciting, though it is probably a private victory. Currently I’m focusing on the immediate experience of sound and the spaces musics are encountered and how it is perceived. I’ve been really into Muzak lately which has shaped the structure of my work. I’m looking for new avenues to explore what I’ve come to know as thoughtform landscaping. That’s what soundtracking virtual spaces is at the core. Digital music decorating the time spent musing on the multimodality of electronic mass media. Holding this awareness while trying to engage in the conversation of the network you’re designing as much as you’re conjuring can be daunting. The only way I keep from getting overwhelmed is having multiple facets of creation with different conditions with which you can hone your creative intuition. Sequoia Stills is one of my more recent answers to the overflow.What is Sequoia Stills?

Sequoia Stills is an archival multimedia project whose main purpose is to ‘future-proof’ select experiences in a process meant to mimic and highlight scenes of nostalgia. I’m repurposing home movies, sonifying old weather data and burrowing in blankets with a microphone to recall the hypnagogic memories of 1996. Ask me about it if you want to participate.

Any other projects in the pipes?

Quite a few. I have a anthology of short stories I have been writing for a few months that began as a pet project but has now taken on a life of its own.

Do you like pineapples on pizza?

I can say definitely that pineapples are a superior topping for all pies. Incredible with potato salad too. In fact let’s go to Penguin Ed’s right now. They have dope potato salad.