Vox Mod is Scot Porter, a Seattle-bred DJ, drummer, and producer who makes instrumental electronica with an astral bombast. His recent six-track release, ABSTRACT, sees his bombastral development crystallize. The Korg-based sequences and arpeggiations layered over lock-picked beats and tectonic shavings inspire repeat listens.
The Vox Mod fingerprint is forensic: Synth-inlaid tracks with sympathetic nervous systems are deposited on polar caps as wave-file test-tube monoliths, which he slices through driving an icebreaker. Porter also drums and plays percussion with Lazer Kitty, Alicia Amiri, Sports, and White China Gold. For this interview, we met and rode the Seattle Great Wheel. Porter had a picnic basket with him, and when we started moving, he broke out battery-powered mini-speakers, a circuit-bent Casio keyboard, Rainier cherries, red wine, Brie, and a pocket-sized Korg Kaossilator dynamic phrase synthesizer. As we rotated and spoke, he proceeded to perform a beat-veined version of Debussy's "Clair De Lune." When we crested, the Korg flickered in the setting sun and caught my eye. I reached to touch it, Porter played, and for a moment, the small piece of electronics wasn't electronic at all. The Korg and I held each other, and I fed it some Brie.
Describe Vox Mod in two words.
Does electronica get a bad rap? It's prone to conjure images of "dude standing there with a laptop. Zzzzzzz." Am I off in my thinking about that? How do you inject activity into your recorded music?
As far as names go, I like "electronica" because it implies a wide range of sounds, while "techno" and "dubstep" are at the forefront of media, and people pigeonhole that shit. Laptops don't bother me; it's all about how you use them. I do appreciate when a laptop producer can get down and do some live programming. Anything to mix it up. But of course I'd say that, because I was raised a drummer; it's in my nature to thrash about and let the electricity of the music flow through me. Motion and energy are crucial to experiences.
How did Vox Mod begin?
Vox Mod was truly born when I started paying attention to sounds that made my face melt, but in a beautiful way. Orbital was the catalyst, and I was in my teens when I finally had the drive to get a drum machine. It's amazing that Orbital is playing at Decibel this year!
What was your first drum machine? What is the difference between your first drum machine and the first person you ever kissed? What was similar?
My first drum machine was the Korg ER-1—a nice little plastic chassis, analog-modeling POS. The difference between my first drum machine and the first person I ever kissed was that the machine was from Japan and the girl was from England [laughs]. The similarity was that they were both charming.
What's the strangest thing you've ever thought about while performing? Do you ever think about being a mouse in its hole high in the Himalayas that blinks its eyes three times? In one blink, you become a ball turret gunner on a B-17 bomber flying a combat mission over Nazi Germany in 1944. The second blink you're Raiden Tameemon, the greatest sumo wrestler who ever lived. And the third blink, you're a fern growing on a redwood in Humboldt County, California, and your life span is three days, but the days pass like ice ages. You think this, right?
Exactly. Actually, the strangest thing I've thought about while performing is "Why don't Seattleites dance?" [Laughs] No, I don't care about that. I mostly focus on what I'm doing while performing, so thoughts are usually about how I'm feeling, how the sound is in the space, and making sure I don't mess up. When everything is dialed in, I can reach moments of what feels like overwhelming waking dreams. In the last few years, I've realized that I may have synesthesia, so that has an interesting involuntary effect on what my mind is processing. I feel euphoric and get a sensation like I'm traveling in a wormhole through the cosmos and across worlds, ipso facto. Far-out stuff.
Talk about your song "Speed Of." How did those sounds come about?
"Speed Of" and all Vox Mod songs involve two sequencers: a Korg ESX and a Korg EMX, sometimes a Korg KP3 for special processing. Both sequencers, which are used simultaneously, have banks of sounds that are pretty open format for tweaking, freaking, and programming beats in 16 steps, but the ESX can sample. I toggle between patterns to create song structure. An arpeggiated sample is replayed creating loose melodic rhythms, bending electronic logic. Said sample is side-chained with digital distortion and heavily resequenced to make progressive dynamics. And most importantly, it is rife with deep, spacey sounds. Each song has a different approach to match the feel, but the elements have similar structural qualities. All the music is made on the machines and then recorded stereo into the laptop. The process gets messed up when I forget to disable my wireless, when I botch my timing, or when I know the feel is off. Impact is meaningful. I don't care for cringing. And as a musician, the only real reward of recording is being able to listen to your music without playing it—there you're getting a moment to step outside yourself and analyze.
Do you have any guilty pleasures? Like putting on turtlenecks and eating Cream of Wheat for no reason? While listening to Lisa Loeb?
I'd say it's my love for listening and singing along to Fleetwood Mac while drinking a smoothie and driving down a sunny road. Cream of Wheat sounds nasty.
Describe the Frank Correa shoot? What's happening there? Did he whip you?
I like the way Frank sees things. During the shoot, however, I realized my body doesn't do well holding some poses. He works with the feel of a photographic moment and strikes when it has situated itself. I like that he takes a photo and then moves on to the next shot. There aren't multiple takes of a single pose. We didn't have a lot of ideas other than just using what was around my house. There were times I thought a neighbor would walk by and get an eyeful of something unexpected [laughs].
What other drummer/DJ type acts inspire you? What do you consider yourself?
I'm inspired by David King and Josh Freese, Chemical Brothers, and Flying Lotus, but it depends on what I'm feeling. I would consider myself a drummer, but for the electronics, I'm more of a composer, performer, or beat maker.
How has Vox Mod developed since its inception?
I try to get as much as I can out of the process, the journey. Making these sounds and beats on these machines is pure joy and gives me drive to find new ideas. Traveling without moving. But the setup I have now has been around only for a couple years. Vox Mod used to be known as Voicechanger, and that alias had many reconstructions and developments with exploring sounds, recording, composing, and performing. Vox Mod is a more controlled chaos but feels more true to what I seek creatively.
Where do you see it going? What do you want to do with your sound? Will you ever play drums live with Vox Mod?
I envision incorporating more voices in my sound. More of an ethereal feel. It's pretty difficult to switch between programming and drumming. Recently, I got a tabletop electronic drum kit that I'm thinking I may incorporate.
And more mouse-hole visions of sumo wrestlers and B-17 bombers? Thanks for the Brie and cherries, by the way.
You're welcome. I need to work on my mouse-hole sumo visions.