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Scientific American Gets (Un)commercial

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SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN Pondering nature.
Scientific American
w/FCS North, Plastiq Phantom, Syzygy
Sat Dec 11, CHAC Lower Level, 9 pm, $7, 21+.

Strong for the Future. Sounds like government propaganda or a corporate boilerplate--or an ad slogan. But it's actually the title of the new album by Scientific American (Seattle producer/DJ Andy Rohrmann), who funds his creative activities by providing musical content for advertisements. Think of it as fraternizing with the enemy in order to foster vibrant new music that has won the endorsement of one of the most adventurous underground-electronic labels, Mush Records.

Before Rohrmann started crafting soundtracks for Volkswagen, Discover, and Citroën TV spots, he played jazz trumpet in high school and drums with indie rockers Hush Harbor, which included John Atkins (764-HERO, Magic Magicians) and folded in 1995 after issuing one self-titled EP.

After Hush Harbor's dissolution, Rohrmann finished college and got involved with Truth and Soul Inc., a local DJ collective specializing in vintage funk and soul. In 1998, Rohrmann launched Scientific American and held down a regular slot at the Alibi Room's IDM-centric Geek Night with Darrin Wiener (AKA Plastiq Phantom).

Scientific American nourished Rohrmann's desire for more creative control in his musical endeavors. "I've always liked hiphop [especially Mantronix] and decided I could mess more with samples. My influence with this kind of stuff [was] downtempo, hearing Mo' Wax artists like DJ Krush and DJ Shadow. That made me realize I could do this. I didn't have to have MCs or a real band."

Rohrmann's initial recording efforts were auspicious. In 2000, he dropped the double-disc classic Saints of Infinity/Simulated D.I.Y. on Slabco. Saints is a blissed-out, bleary journey through astral jazz, languid funk, and Orb-like spacey ambience. Simulated D.I.Y. possesses a cosmic depth and expansiveness that rivals the Ninja Tune label's best output.

"It's almost a joke how I made the first album," Rohrmann recounts with a chuckle. "I didn't even have two turntables for the first six or seven songs on there. I had the turntable plugged into my stereo and the stereo directly plugged into my computer that I got for college graduation directly into the little headphone jack. I think there was this 6-track program called Deck. Everything had to be copied and pasted by hand. There was no time-stretching or sequencing. Then software got better and better, so now it's really easy to sample stuff in, chop it up, and make it all work together. But a lot of my music does come from my own playing."

In between assignments from huge companies, Rohrmann toiled on his second full-length, Strong for the Future. He's moved away from the primitive, vinyl-sampling approach of Saints to a more streamlined, 21st-century M.O. "The studio's shrunk to the size of a PowerBook and a MIDI keyboard," Rohrmann says.

Much of Future evokes the machinations of revered IDM imprints like Skam and Morr Music: distorted, melancholy melodies wafting over hyper, intricate rhythms. On "Million Lines (Slow Fade)," the "dance" element of IDM becomes improbable, epitomizing Rohrmann's move away from funkiness to more abstract beat-making and micro processing. Other tracks stress sentimental tunes and chopped and stewed vocals; see the Atkins-sung "Drift in Place," which sounds like Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips remixed by Oval.

"[Future] was intentionally done as a mellower thing," Rohrmann says. "The album has a more atmospheric sense than the other stuff that didn't make the cut."

Rohrmann's near future includes a split 12-inch with Plastiq Phantom on mass mvmnt (which he helps run with FCS North) and "I'd love to work with foreign MCs whose lines change languages with every other word. I want the words to be music instead of a means of communication."

And there'll be more ad work. "To date, I haven't been asked to advertise anything I morally disagree with or that disgusts me," Rohrmann admits. "No cigarette ads or Hummer ads." What if McDonald's hired you? "I would try to soak 'em for as much money as I possibly could and then give some of it away to vegan causes or PETA. If I did a Hummer ad, I'd give some of the money to Greenpeace. Then you can be more subversive, because you're taking their money and giving it to their enemy."

segal@thestranger.com

 

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