eR DoN is a control freak. He's got a squadron of collaborators, but he's a microsampler, reducing their live recordings down to hundreds of musical shards that he uses to create his own digital-meets-analog mosaics. After years of recording, sampling, and restarts, he's finally releasing his debut album, Subroutines, this month on Fourthcity.
Raised in the Seattle area, eR DoN (Robert Nelson) met future collaborators Adam and Tyler Swan (from Foscil/Truckasauras) in high school, before moving to Portland with Marius Libman (better known as electro artist Copy) for art school. Leaving his high-school bands behind, he picked up an interest in electronic music production. After art school, he moved to Chicago where, without his musical accomplices, he laid the foundation for Subroutines, which took on its final shape upon his return to Seattle.
"When I came back, I had a built-in crew of people to work with," says Nelson. "I had this body of work to reinterpret. I don't think even I knew when we started how it was going to work out."
Over a half dozen people's contributions (and over a dozen instruments) ended up as part of eR DoN's palette. Collaborators would improvise along to his tracks, and he'd record those sessions to analog tape, whittle them down to the best moments, then sample the results before molding them further in the studio.
"It's hard to remember what was played at the recording sessions, it's all so mashed up," says Nelson of the translation from session to album. "The roles varied from 'Here's one note, or one scale,' while the biggest loops are maybe two measures. There are these routines that you play, and there are these subroutines that build up those ideas. There are those glimpses that pop up when people are improvising—they're like moments of clarity. I try to keep that energy."
The resulting album finds eR DoN's original guitar and synths replaced by these sampled instruments. Subroutines weds the warmth and looseness of live jazz with the precision and experimentation of electronic music. Nelson has kept that marriage strong since the album's completion with his focus on live performance, both as eR DoN and with his side project, the improv jazz duo Pontius Pilots, in which he triggers samples to accompany his partner Victor Noriega's piano.
"It's been a labor of love for sure, and now that the word's out, hopefully it can be for money," he jokes of the new album, momentarily breaking from his stoic demeanor. "No one wants to make music in a vacuum, you want people to hear it. To succeed in your studio is one thing, but to do the same in front of a room full of people is another."
eR DoN's CD-release party is Fri Aug 15, Lo-Fi, 9 pm–2 am, $7, 21+. With Pontius Pilots, Linda and Ron's Dad, ndCv, and Introcut.