Interview with Daniel Vahnke of the Vampire Rodents - conducted by Kevin A. Congdon & Jason J. Tar via e-mail June 1996

Kevin: Could you give a brief description of what Sample-Based Composition is or what it involves?

Daniel: Sample-Based Composition (SBC) is a new version of writing/recording music without the limitations of traditional musical training or the active participation of live musicians to produce the raw sound sources needed to produce a sample file. SBC isn't much different from the process of making a mosaic, an animated filmstrip or the avant-toon tape splicing of Tod Dockstader in the 60's. Instead of using razors and tape, for the last decade (or longer, if you were wealthy back then), the sampler has made the same process much cleaner, safer, and much more efficient. Some samplers, like most of the Rolands and Akais, are more useful than others for composition purposes. Prospective buyers should always thoroughly investigate an instrument's capabilities and limitations before investing. Many samplers were never designed for complex compositions requiring extensive sample files. In order to design the really good stuff, there are no computer shortcuts. SBC is more analogous to setting type on an old printing press. Tiring and tedious sometimes, yes, but what can be done with the final result is well worth it. At least most of the time.

Jason: Why do you bring in so many guest vocalists on your work? What first prompted you to start using guest vocalists?

Daniel: I have to give Chase credit for the vocal casting, given my lack of personal contacts in the business. My interest and curiosity especially in view of increasing the experimentation of the voices were piqued. It seemed a great idea to give completed tracks to obviously talented lyricists & singers. It gave the music's end result an entirely different shape from what I would probably come up with. My lyrics & vocals are sometimes limited considering the musical scope, so it's always a big help when I make new contacts and great talents like Athan Maroulis and Maria Azevedo.

Kevin: Are there many other singers or musician which you would like to, or are planning to, collaborate with?

Daniel: For the Rodents, at the moment, vocal-based songs are yet to be planned. A sixth V.R. album is on the shelf. I plan to release it as an instrumental-only 75 min. CD late this year or early in '97 depending upon financial circumstances (or when, like the others, 'Gravity's Rim' inevitably collides with the indie-distribution atmosphere and disappears.) So, in other words, vocal plans for what will actually be the seventh V.R. album (and most likely the last for some time) won't be made till Dec.-Jan.

I'm currently working on a separate project with Athan Maroulis called Alchemia. I don't see that out till Nov. or so. Mainly because Spahn Ranch is recording their new album now (it's killer) and a tour is surely in the works. I'm always open to working with anyone who is really curious SBC and it's possibilities, but, to be honest, I'm afraid such interest is in short supply, as usual. My P.O. box is always open to 'audition tapes' if anyone's interested. Many 'Rodentia' personnel obtained their membership status merely by sending me DATs of improvised or written figures and fragments of sounds for me to sample from and store and to mix in with the rest of the sample library (e.g.: Koci, Benghiat, Escalante, Laoshu, Geist, and for the most part, Akastia as well).

Jason: I read a post from Fifth Colvmn that you would be touring in the Summer or Fall. Is this true? If this is true, what lead to the decision to actually do a tour? What about Andrea refusing to tour, will you find someone to fill in for her?

Daniel: Well It would be nice, but as always, it depends upon funding and interest. San Diego, LA, and SF shows would be a given, but a full scale tour would require more support. I still don't want to tour a bunch of metal bars full of little boys in short pants, so alternate venues (school auditoriums, churches, universities, etc.) is a priority, but I feel comfortable now with touring as a trio: Me & My DAT, a cellist, and a guitarist. More than three would be a crowd except for hi-profile with guest vox shows. Now, all I need are those two musicians. Andrea CAN'T tour. She's not an American citizen, and like Victor, has a well-paying faculty job and stable life that could only be disrupted from the attentions of the "depressed teenager media", as she calls it. Again, if any cellist or guitarist is interested, I'd love to see some tapes in the mail box! My last cellist backed out after last month, so it's back to the drawing board.

Kevin: Since you have many side projects out, will you continue to release material under the Vampire Rodents name?

Daniel: Aside from the completed instrumental sixth album and the seventh album (w/ vox), which should be ready by mid-'97, I don't have any plans for the rodents. I will, however, re-release the first two V.R. CDs on my own VRP label late this year at a low price and including a half-hour of unreleased tracks. VR 6 may also follow on VRP if FCR decides to pass on it. Eventually, I'll re-release all seven V.R. CDs in a $40 box set just to make sure the rest of the market's V.R. inventory becomes impossible to sell. Ha Ha. It's always the fan that's getting screwed in this business (along with the Rodents and the countless others) and there will be a time when all these, uh.. 'imbalances' will be addressed and corrected. But, that's all I can say at the moment. The clock is still ticking

Jason: Any progress on the research aspect of the band (like the 28-note octaves) or any grants on continuing the research? (Also, who or what entity is sponsoring such research?)

Daniel: Oh-yes, progress is always being made, but there is a degree of 'thematic stagnation' going on in the burrow after following vocal-based song structures for so long now. The quarter-tone research can't happen till the equipment becomes available, but I see that degree of research (along with my future work in ultra and infra sonic compounds) some years away when I have the 'luxury' to spend 16 hour days in the lab.

As for finding a sponsor for SBC, that's a bit like finding a fairy godmother these days. With the 'dumbing-down' of America reaching it's critical mass phase, investment in anything linked with the phrase 'avant-garde' is impossible without leaving the country. IRCAM, are you listening?

Kevin: When was Daniel Vahnke first incorporated into the band? and why? Is Daniel now the main person behind the Rodents or is it still largely a collaborative effort?

Daniel: Well, sorry guys, but I am the 'band', basically. Just wanted to avoid that 'idiot savant' or 'wunderkin' kind of labeling from the start. Victor contributed greatly to the first two V.R. albums, but I used my alter ego/evil twin alias of Anton Rathausen simply to confuse and manipulate as well as to give my different vocal 'characters' an individual identity (I'm on medication now). Collaboration outside of the vocal guests just hasn't happened that often, even though I've invited it for years. I don't know what the clinical term for 'fear of composition' is, but MOST musicians suffer from it and in many cases it becomes more severe according to their level of 'professionalism'. Which is why I've always said SBC is feared more than anyone can know right now. It is an entirely different language that is "user-friendly" ONLY to the novice and the amateur and THAT is why it is the mortal enemy of the status quo I like to call "The Musician-Candlemakers Guild". But, the entrenchment of rap and techno into the mainstream put the first nails in their coffin. Hopefully SBC demonstrations in front of juries in the near future will finally put them in their proper place.

Jason: On the 'Gravity's Rim' insert, it states Daniel does the vocals. Why the switch from Anton? (Honestly, they sound very similar to Anton's, so I was wondering if the insert is misprinted?)

Daniel: Yes, you caught me. Now let's see how many people will believe it. I have about as much credibility as a record label saying "The check's in the mail, dude".

Kevin: What lead to the new release being on Fifth Colvmn instead of Re-Constriction? And why are there 25 tracks listed, but only 24 are actually on the CD? Does it have anything to do with the fact that the name of the missing song is called "Smartass"?

Daniel: Well, historically, it would have been pointless, since Cargo couldn't do much with the two CDs I gave them and seemed absolutely clueless as to how to respond when the press unanimously raved on the band. So, no response and no press quotes in the ads was their strategy. Since Cargo is primarily an American Rock Music label, this was expected, so I don't want to act like the innocent here. I knew what I was getting into. I've worked for cartels and organizations in this country before. No difference. Of course, this has nothing at all to do with Chase. Re-Constriction is not a financially-autonomous label, so the buck starts and stops somewhere else. Chase is an excellent PR man and my friend for life, but HE DOESN'T SIGN THE CHECKS. I'm really sick of people dissing Chase for matters that are out of his control (like money and distribution). Basically, he's just an under-appreciated and underpaid employee of Cargo, Inc., and I'm amazed that some major label hasn't snapped him up yet.

That said, the moral reason for jumping Cargo was for the simple fact that my 'Clockseed' advance was cut in half simply because I was foolish enough not to send it C.O.D. As a result, the half-check shows up three months later. Welcome to show biz, kids! To be honest, though, this happens with nearly all labels (although Cleopatra has proven to be a welcome exception). I can't say I really care. The labels serve their purpose they're capable of. The only important thing to me is that my recordings are released in a historically linear fashion. One or two thousand dollar advances are not worth delays (whether they appear or not). If I work for a department store or a record label, I just assume most American business institutions are just varied forms of organized crime (with excellent CPAs, of course). Eventually, I expect most of the V.R. albums to sell quite well, but that is easily 5 or 6 years away. Most of my potential audience hasn't grown pubic hair yet. If labels continue to treat me like a tax write-off, I should have most of the SBC catalog available cheaply through my VRP label. That's why I encourage everyone to do everything DIY through direct Internet & postal sales. The days of the 'rock' label and all it's baggage will soon be over. Most bands are signed to be some fat old fuck's boat payment, anyway. So, good riddance, I say. Besides, there's less room for good ole American graft in the future's Internet sales system. Too many eyes double-checking the people who can't count. It would be nice if people were tested for math and writing sills before the tattoo count. I hope to have my label up and running again within a year.

As for track #25, "Smartass" was a song that had to be chopped due to last minute time restrictions given by the plant. Of course, the artwork was already printed. Quite common situation, really. I'm used to long waiting periods for pressing dates, but Fifth Colvmn amazes me with how fast they can get stuff pressed and shipped. Ether Bunny and 'Gravity's Rim' both took a week each. So, next time I'll get the artwork done after the mastering.

Jason: How do you construct the lyrics to a song? To me, it is very fascinating and very intelligent, while often being very humorous as well.

Daniel: Thank you. When I write lyrics, I only write between the instrumental 'gaps', so to speak. I try to avoid repetition and the obvious, of course. But, most importantly, I try to keep the comedy quotient fairly high without resorting to propaganda (although I've heard of odd comparisons to Seuss, Vonnegut, & Nostradamus). I don't want to preach to the converted or the perverted. As I've often said, I'm only interested in reaching those few thousand (?) people out there wanting to take up SBC for themselves. V.R. was designed to be an influential tool, period. Nearly every V.R. and E.B. song is an etude or problem-soving in arrangement exercise to those few willing to learn from them. Many V.R. pieces are quite static and 'sewn' for that purpose only. But, it's the few, the proud, the workaholic that I'm really after. As for the comedy element, I believe you can focus someone's mind on a subject longer with laughter, not anger, as the catalyst or stumulant.

Kevin: The logo that appears on each Vampire Rodents release, what is its significance and name?

Daniel: Name? I don't know. A Vahnk? Ha Ha. No, it's just my name. I don't know about it's histroy. The 'uncle' who gave it to me died when I was six. It's simply an I.D. marker I use for reasons impossible to explain. Consider it a Rodent 'brand' or trademark, or something like that.

Jason: Besides Dilate, Recliner, Ether Bunny, and possibly Pillow, are there any other projects that any of the Rodents have appeared on?

Daniel: Dilate is Victor Wulf's ambient project on Cleopatra and Tracer is more experimental project he's also working on. The second Dilate release will be a double-CD out in the fall. Ether Bunny is my favored child right now and begin the second album in a month or two. I'm looking for any E.B. contacts I can make in the animated and comedy film biz, as well. Recliner was simply a name Chase used for the VR/Babyland songs on the compilation CDs. Pillow is a non-existent proposal to work with 16 Volt from Chase. I wouldn't hold your breath on that one. I will require an advance IN ADVANCE this time, of course.

As for other projects currently in the works, my twin 'adult-contemporary new-age sythpop' projects - Alchemia & Obsidian - are both completed musically ( and 90% of Obsidian vocals). I'll be wrapping up another project called Taint late this year as well. A bit more techno-oriented Rodent mutation, that. Only three songs done so far, though. I'll be needing a dozen vocalists for that one, so any volunteers? No label or release info on these three projects, yet. Ask me again in a couple of months.

Kevin: Are 'War Music' and 'Premonition' still available? And if so, how? It'd be nice to add information on acquiring them on the site since I've received several requests.

Daniel: You can get them from Chase at Re-Con. (619-483-9292 / 4901-906 Morena Blvd. / San Diego, CA 92117-3432) or from me (Box 56576 / Phoenix, AZ 85079) for $12 each. Please make the payment out to me regardless of from whom you order.I will re-release both in expanded versions when I start VRP again. 'War Music' is still out on Dossier, but it's a $25 import at Tower and wouldn't suggest buying it anyway, since Dossier hasn't paid me a cent since 1990. Distributors in America still owe me thousands from unpaid 'Premonition' shipments. Which is why, in the future, I will only sell to stores and distributors C.O.D. or pre-pay only. Let them fuck someone else over next time. A rodent never forgets a debt. It's so easy for people to forget that pay-up is always cheaper and less painful than pay-back.

Jason: Has there ever been any video work done to accompany any of the pieces? Either live performance or MTV-styled videos?

Daniel: No. It may or may not happen. Definitely not a priority. Whatever V.R. gigs we can scrape together will be filmed. So maybe something in '97, but I'm more interested in cartoons. I'd rather work with an animator who utilizes SBC techniques in that medium. The SBC principles are applicable to everything from genome mapping to astronomy. It is simply embracing a shotgun/chaos approach to research and experimentation in order to achieve greater and more detailed progress in one's work. But, that's another lecture.

Kevin: Is all the music recorded by the different artists and then sent to one main Rodent to piece together, or is this more of a "democracy" whereas all musicians get together and work on the finished product as a whole?

Daniel: There can be no democracy in SBC outside of the individual, really. At least not in the way it is defined in orchestras, rock bands, etc. Of course, the idea is excellent if it could be done. However, I have yet to see three or more composers working together become more creative or productive than a single centered composer (ie: Xenakis, etc.) But maybe it's just my historical perspective. I think my problem is that I want to work with scientists, not artists. I don't understand the meaning of art in a world as profoundly moronic and dangerous as ours. I think that the concept of a sampling " unit" is a great concept. Perhaps a trio composing of (1) Primary sampler, recorder of sound source DATs, and sample file librarian, (2) Secondary sampler, sample editor & copier, Loop & Ostinati writer, sequence editor, and a (3) Composer, arranger, sample & sequence editor. But that kind of discipline and organization is hard to achieve at present. I build my sample library solely from CDs and DATs from all kinds of sources. My attempts at training other at SBC have been pretty depressing, generally. I haven't given up, though. I still offer SBC tutoring/seminar courses to any trio of perspective composers. No different than giving piano lessons, really. A Montreal package was set up to go once, but the distance costs are too prohibitive right now. With most 'students', it's just a work ethic thing and a fear of notation problem for most. Nothing that can't be learned in a few days. But, it IS the slacker 90's. I don't want slackers for an audience anyway - I want hackers, actually.

Jason: Are there any other bands today who adhere to the SBC ideals or are you the only ones to your knowledge?

Daniel: I'm sure I'm not the only one. It's just common sense. SBC, in some form, is so wide-spread and pervasive now, that it's inconceivable that others aren't doing it. The classical music world is even embracing (slowly) the sampler as a tool of composition (and hopefully - performer). That's why my long-planned SBC Symphony #1 will be released with an SBC Cello Sonata by mid-'98. Again, IRCAM, IRCAM, I need the money, honey.

Kevin: Anything you'd like to add?

Daniel: The future of modern music depends on DIY ideals and laissez-faire methods run through the security of the Internet and a soon to be booming private secured mail franchises system (could be 5-7 years from now). The main reason I insist upon having a big mouth about everything (I am truly a rat that bites the hand that doesn't feed me) is to give honest and first hand information on what not to do in the industry. There is no industry. It is dying on the vine along with the rest of the U.S. retail economy. So I want to warn others that the future is in self-sufficiency, period. Create, make, package, and sell your work BY YOURSELF. If 3-5 of you can coallesce into a company or label, almost anything is possible. Labels in the future will hopefully be master computer programs capable of giving only honest & accurate data on sales and distribution patterns, etc. ACCEPTABLE LEVELS OF HUMAN ERROR are the primary cause for much of the vanishing merchandise in the indie-distribution network. But, let me go on briefly to another related rant.

Rock is dead and everything associated with it - producers, attorney moles, touring strings of monkey taverns, eight-song albums every two years, interviews about nothing at all, jamming, tattoos and leather, pain and aggression, whining whining whining, videos, the fat one's tax write-off, corrupt and incompetent distribution systems, greaseball bar mangers with gold chains & a Camaro, the production of movies soley to sell soundtracks, anorexia and bulimia, 250-word vocabulary for lyrics, beer commercials, and anything else that reeks of male hormone poisoning. Rock rhymes with cock for a good reason. It is the 20th-century institution for keeping the male-dominant status quo alive and well no matter how alternative or PC the lyrical and PR content is. The ape will always come out ahead in the rock world, make no mistake. The mosh pit would be very inviting at a Hitler Youth rally in '37, you can be sure. So, the point is, don't kid yourself about why anything is done the way it is in this industry. You're here to entertain the Suit's kids and that's IT. That's going to change, isn't it, boys and girls?

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