Dan Deacon is sweeping the world, whether it’s appearing at seemingly every music festival in the world or scoring Francis Ford Coppola films, playing surrounded by audience members on rock club floors and at Carnegie Hall. Since the release of 2007′s Spiderman of the Rings and 2009′s Bromst, the experimental electronic musician’s nearly decade-long career has been on a long upswing – and so has his tour schedule.
Inspired by his frequent touring, America was born. Deacon’s latest album, which came out in August, captures the dualism and the contradictions of the nation he calls home.
“The music is influenced by the geography of cross-country trips and the lyrics come from the frustrations of being American in today’s world – or today’s United States, for that matter,” he says on the phone with BeatRoute. “You see the beautiful landscapes: the mountains, the plains, the coasts… then you also see the massive amounts of corporate influence that plagues the culture: the billboards, the gas stations, the rest stops, the lack of actual food… seeing the decay of the cities.”
But there’s a silver lining to that decay, Deacon adds. “But then that decay is something I really love about the cities… most arts communities exist within the ruins of some former industrialized state… you wouldn’t have New York in the ’70s if New York wasn’t going bankrupt in the ’70s.”
“We almost require this… civilization in decline for our work to come to fruition, to have an environment for it to come to be, otherwise we’re just creating entertainment for the rich elite,” Deacon continues, putting things into a larger, if tangentially related, context. “I don’t think we would have the Dadaist movement if it wasn’t for the World Wars… [it] put Europe in chaos and drove everyone completely insane… [but] from that insanity grew these radical concepts of art and sound and music. I don’t think we would have [Futurist sound artist Luigi] Russolo or the noise-making machines or… early turn-of-the-century noise music if wasn’t for that.”
“That’s how artists deal with the chaos of their environment… the same way that grass will grow between the cracks of a broken pavement, ideas come about… it requires that broken pavement, or something to break that pavement.”
The mass proliferation of smartphones probably counts as that sort of chaos, what with people staring into them everywhere they go, walking into poles and traffic and bears (see this U.S. news clip for example), completely inattentive, even during concerts. But Deacon, famous for his live act, wants to harness that technology to refocus his audience around his music.
As work on America wound down last September, Deacon started work with a team of friends, including head programmer Keith Lee and head artist Alan Resnick, to create an app that would do just that.
The app itself, now available for iOS and Android devices, is simple conceptually – a light show synchronized with music at Deacon’s concerts, with bonus musical instrument functions. But Deacon’s ambitions for the app reach beyond audience participation. “I’m really excited to compose with it,” he says. “I think we’re just scratching the surface of the implications of what this technology means.”
“To me as a composer, I start thinking, ‘How does this play into my work? How can I utilize this? What is the significance? What is the dialogue that I have between [these devices] and myself?’”
“Now that we’ve done two weeks of shows with it, I can begin to understand how to write music and performances specifically for those environments… what I’m most excited about is next year or the time to come, when there’s a piece made explicitly with the app in mind, because that’s when I think it will really come into its own.”
Dan Deacon plays the Biltmore Cabaret on October 26.
By Chris Yee
Photo: Josh Sisk