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Interview with Kevin O'Connor of Tinty Music, Seattle, WA 10/19/96

Jester: When did you first start composing music?

Kevin: The first time was probably a few months after I graduated from University of Washington. I hadn't been able to find a job and had way too much free time on my hands. So I bought one of those cheap little Casio sampling keyboards and I started playing around with it.

Jester: Why did you choose to compose in this particular genre of music?

Kevin: Part of it was the technology ad partly a reflection of my own musical preferences. I had moved to Japan because that was where I had managed to found a job and I bought my first synthesizer, a Yamaha, with my winter bonus. I started out writing a type of pop music that sounded like it could be used to a television detective movie. All of the tracks were very short, generally three minutes or less. Most of that was because I was teaching myself everything, having had nor formal musical training at all. A lot of the reason why I got into music was because it was something to do and I really didn't know a lot of people in Japan. It was also a very good way to unwind after work.

Jester: Why did you leave Japan and go back to school?

Kevin: Basically I burned out. I went to Japan in 1987 and worked for this small printing company for about two years. Then I started working for a research division of a large security firm as an in house translator. When I started at that company I was one of three translators. Within six months, the other two translators were gone and for the next two and a half years they never replaced them. As time went on my workload increased and by 1992 it got really bad. I started to worry about my general health and well being so I moved back to Washington.

From the time I got back it really took me about three years to recover from that experience. When I got back I was doing freelance translation for the US branch of the same firm. Then about a year ago the work started to dry up. So I started looking for a job but there were no open positions that required the skills that I had.

Jester: What was your Bachelor's degree in?

Kevin: Japanese. It was something I could do without doing any real work.

Jester: What are you going to school for now?

Kevin: I am studying audio production at the art institute.

Jester: When did Tinty Music finally emerge from tinkering with pop music to the ambience noise experimentation that is is today.

Kevin: I really can't say for sure. Really once I started writing music I never really stopped. I think the biggest difference was when I got a computer to aid in the sequencing about six years ago. Once I had that I had a great deal more flexibility in what I was doing. Although I really haven't sequenced anything in over a year now because I bought a Korg O1W back in 1992 when I moved back here.

Jester: Was you first release the CD, or did you have any tape released before that?

Kevin: There is actually a cassette that I released a year before the CD that I don't really consider a part of the Tinty Music catalog. It was sort of a collection of instrumental material rather than the pop music I had been doing previously. In 1994 I started working on the CD which was a big nightmare.

I had gotten this studio time at this non-profit studio here in town. Selected artists could acquire three hours worth for studio time if they qualified. I had to wait for two months from the time I submitted the application until I found out whither I would get the studio time. Once I got the time it took about two months in the studio because it was all pro bono and I got bumped regularly for paying clients.

I knew it was going to be a disaster when when the first night it took two hours to figure out why my computer wasn't receiving MIDI signals from my keyboards. It turned out to be because their cables were bad. The recordings that I did there didn't really sound like there were supposed to. The hiss was so bad on the tapes that I really couldn't use them. So I ended up using what I already had on DAT on the CD.

The CD finally ended up coming out in November of 1994. The design ended up being really disappointing. The J-card ended up fine with the exception of the blue film ended up being purple. Later on I redid the graphics on my own computer and they turned out much better.

Jester: Would you consider the experience positive of negative overall?

Kevin: I would love to do another CD. Given a choice I would rather do a CD than a cassette release. However no matter what I do I seem to alienate the portion of my audience who can only listen to my material on the opposite format.

Jester: What did you end up paying in total for the cost of the CD?

Kevin: $2,500 which was actually rather cheap. That included 1000 copies, the film and the artwork.

Jester: How many of the CD's do you have left?

Kevin: About 800-900 of them.

Jester: So going to the hand made cassette format is more cost effective?

Kevin: Definitely because it reduces inventory. However when I initially get ready to release a new tape I do make up a lot of copies just in case. Although I would probably only have 10-15 extra tapes lying around instead of several hundred. Myself I prefer listening to CD but I do listen to tapes in my car because I don't have a CD player there. The ultimate problem with cassettes is that they degrade slightly with every play.

Jester: What kind of fan response have you received from your work? Do you have regular people who pick up every release?

Kevin: The earlier releases have definitely sold better than some of the more recent releases. It might have something to do with the fact that I release a new tape every two months. However generally the people who have been buying the more recent releases are the same people who purchased all of my earlier material. Yet it is still very unpredictable.

Jester: Are most of your sales made online? or locally?

Kevin: I really haven't taken much to local shops. I do have a few releases at Ohm and Anomalous but not a lot. I really don't like the aspect of shopping my music to shops. I have so much stuff that it is hard to get enthusiasm from people when I try and shop it. So for the most part I stick to mail order. Most of the people who have contacted me about purchasing stuff have been online. Most of the sales are in the US but a significant amount are sold to Japan as well. I've also done a lot of tape trades with MSBR in Japan. The package I am sending out now contains my entire catalog because a friend of his apparently really like my music.

Jester: Do you have an formal method for musical composition when you write new material?

Kevin: These days I pretty much do a lot of live editing. It amounts to taking one of the samples from the keyboard, playing it, sustaining it, and editing the sound in real time while playing with the effects. I started trying that after hearing the Robert Fripp soundscape CD.

Jester: I noticed that a lot of more more recent material is a great deal nosier rather than long drawn out ambient pieces. Does that have anything to do with your current music construction technique?

Kevin: Yes, it does play a large part in it. Since about the middle of last year I have also been listening to a lot of noise. I hear stuff that I think sounds interesting and I try and emulate or alter it. As I hear more noise bands then I realize there is a great deal more variety that I would have ever originally thought. In a way it has opened me up to things that I might have not ordinarily listened too. Initially I didn't think I would ever enjoy what is described as harsh noise but depending on who it is and how it is done, I really actually enjoy it now.

Jester: Have you ever tried to sample environmental sounds and try and write material from those sources?

Kevin: I haven't really ever done that. Mainly because I don't have the right type of equipment to do it. Right now all I have is a MIDI-verb and a few effects pedals that aren't mine but are on loan. I think if I had more processing equipment or a real sampler I would probably try and do that. 99% of the sounds I get come from altering preset keyboard sounds. Although I have done a track that was ambient traffic noise recorded on a micro cassette and slowed down. On that same recording I think I used the Casio sampler for the vinyl scratching noises at the beginning.

Jester: How much have you played live before today? Do you enjoy it?

Kevin: I have played twice before. So far I have enjoyed one performance and didn't really like another. The first performance was a really frustrating experience. Partly because it was the first time and also because I went on last. That was at the Nocturne Concrete CD release party that was at the Art Bar which obviously is a bar.

There were five bands on the bill and I was last so I think I went on about 12:30 am. For that performance I got Mike Kandinsky with me on stage just so that I would not have to play alone. We had gotten together a few times to practice and worked out what we might do in a live setting. It didn't help that I became really nervous before it was my turn to play.

It started out great and then in the middle I started to get bored because the music got confining. The audience was also very frustrating because they were talking over the music. There was this one guy in the audience that kept counting down for no reason whatsoever. It did go rather well for the first time but I didn't enjoy it that much. At that time the only reason why I wanted to perform live again was to redeem myself.

Then I played my second performance at Anomalous Records at the end of August that it was a totally different outcome. That time I performed alone and it was a very pleasant experience. Once I started the performance it was just really a lot of fun. I didn't have to worry about what the audience was doing because they were there specifically to listen to the music. I also got paid which was nice, so I am really looking forward to the performance tonight.

Jester: Is everything you do live totally improvised?

Kevin: Yes. Everything is totally spontaneous because I really don't consider myself a musician in any commonly defined way. So once I record a piece of music it becomes static and I never really work with it again. So to play something that I already recorded really would not be that much fun for me. If I was to play some of my more ambient material most of the song would be on a sequencer and it would not be much of a performance. Although I really don't see anything wrong with using a sequencer live, but if that is your entire performance than you might as well not play.

Jester: Do you ever record your live material and release it at a later date?

Kevin: I have recorded all of my shows but I haven't released any of the material yet. However, the last performance I did was recorded on cassette because I was having problems with my DAT and it has a little too much tape hiss. I guess I could still release it but I would feel compelled to put some type of disclaimer on the J-card.

For this performance my DAT player has been fixed and I am going to try to record it properly. I am also going to try something new this time as well with something I discovered last night. A friend gave me this turn table that the found at a yard sale for $2. It is a very odd turntable because on the back there is no ground so when I plug it into my stereo is distorts and overdrives the amps. If I actually wanted to play a record to listen to I have to run it through my portable Mackey and run it through an equalizer.

I started playing around with that turn table, the MIDI verb, some toys and an old 45 that I had, and created some really interesting sounds. So I might actually try doing something with the turntable tonight. If it works I think it will sounds really interesting as long as it doesn't pick up to much sound from the amps and start feeding back all over the place.

Jester: What kind of set time do you have for tonight's performance?

Kevin: They asked me how long I would typically play and I told them about thirty minutes. I don't know if they would ask me to stop if I went over but I think thirty minutes should be rather reasonable for me.

Jester: Where do you see your music going in the future?

Kevin: I have no idea. A lot of it would depend on what I am listening to or whither or not I have access to better equipment. I have noticed that my musical tastes tend to take these dramatic shifts from time to time so it is really hard to say.

Jester: Has some of your new training for your audio degree changed the way your music is being written?

Kevin: I don't know that it really has yet. Probably because I haven't had that much time to work on music since I went back to school. However now that I am in the second half of the program I am recording more material for my classes. So I am actually getting to use the studio at school and record on a three inch multi-track. I don't think it really has made much of a difference yet but it has given me several ideas about what equipment I could use or ideas that I could try in the future.

Jester: How do you come up with some of the unique packaging on your hand made cassette releases?

Kevin: Some of my stuff comes from trying to emulate other artists packaging like Aube. I like using some of the layer aesthetics that Aube uses and I've tried to come up with other similar ideas for packaging. Originally the artwork stemmed from me wanting to have more control over the total design of my product. It gave me a chance to do something with visuals which I have always considered enjoyable.

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