Monotrope on Collaborating with Greg Ginn, Merzbow and More

Instrumental rock/metal outfit Monotrope are no strangers to working with others. In fact, they consider the band to be their ultimate collaboration. Today, Decibel brings you not just a song premiere of “Monoliths” from Monotrope’s forthcoming debut, Unifying Receiver (out November 10 on New Atlantis Records), but the stories behind some of the band members’, who have played in a host of other groups, most interesting collaborations.


Raven Chacon
Shortly after I moved to New Mexico from Austin, I met Raven Chacon, an experimental composer / musician. Raven is one of the most creative / boundary pushing artists I have ever collaborated with. He has this rare ability to organize musicians to show up en masse at a certain time. We played Zorn’s Cobra Game, a 24 hour show with pancake breakfast served, a fundraiser for the Peace and Justice Center completely in the dark with musicians planted in the audience with timed cues the to begin playing, straight-up noise jams in a field at the foothills of the Sandia Mountains or a thirty minute, one-note concert with 30 other bassists.  Raven has a label Sicksicksick Distro, some of those performances are documented were released there. Give Raven your attention.
Rhys Chatham, Glenn Branca
I have had the opportunity to perform in both Rhys Chatham + Glenn Branca’s  multi-guitar orchestras. While they were similar in terms of setups, both were completely different experiences musically as well as from a personality stand point. While all the notes to be played are on page, practices for various sections were in separate spaces and gradually assembled over 2-3 days, so you literally had no idea how the parts worked as a piece until the first practice as a whole on the day of the performance.  Both were super transcendent and informative experiences. During the Branca practices, 100 musicians simultaneously performed the coda of the final movement with a massive crescendo / accelerando, modulating to a complete halted sustain. You could physically feel and hear the music leave our position and bounce off the back wall of the Kasser Theater at Montclair St. University, return and envelop us like a warm, swarm of bees. It was so beautiful that I cried. Sidenote, Edward from and I met at Rhys Chatham’s  – A Crimson Grail for 100 guitars and 8 basses performance in Liverpool, UK.
Greg Ginn
Greg is obviously notorious for a number of reasons. Hyrrokkin shared a bill with him and he was really into it. This was a year or two before he started up Black Flag again this last time. He went out of his way to add us to some other dates. He was encouraging, supportive, and really eager to help us out. Things culminated in a really wild, long set with Greg on guitar, me on bass, and Brett from Hyrrokkin drumming- we were playing loud improvised music in a skate park in Indiana. It was insane and surreal.
When we finished the first Hyrrokkin LP (Pristine Origin), I invited a bunch of people- KK Null, James Plotkin, Jenks Miller, Lassen Marhaug, Charles Hayward (This Heat), etc- to make new music using our record as source material. I sent the record to Masami Akita, Merzbow, who had borrowed my amplifier at a festival in Washington DC years ago- and he said he’d rather collaborate on a new EP than remix the music. He sent us two pieces, about sixteen minutes of music, and I mapped them out to a timeline, looking for cues and events to compose around. I took a few pitch clusters that I thought worked well, structured them into matrices, and then used a random number generator to sequence structures. One piece turned into this lumbering 12-tone sequence on guitar and bass, leaving it wide open for drums and Masami’s contributions- so it feels really dense despite the overall movement of the piece being intentionally slow. We would practice to the recordings Masami sent us, and I would cue changes to a stopwatch. We brought more friends in to contribute- first Jerry Busher, who played double-drums with Brendan Canty in Fugazi, and played in another great band with Brendan Canty on guitar called All Scars, on Dischord. Jerry added drums and percussion. He suggested we bring Chuck Bettis (All Scars) in to add vocals and additional electronics, and I invited Andrea Parkins to add processed accordion. It turned out sounding great. The record is called Faltered Pursuit and will finally be coming out sometime next year as an LP on Sleeping Giant Glossolalia and a tape on Astral Spirits. To complete the cycle, Rob Mazurek (Chicago Underground Trio) recomposed it all into a remix for the B-Side.