Venetian Snares Where I Play
Published Mar 28, 2016The music made by Aaron Funk is weird to the extreme, and often profoundly terrifying. Traditionally embraced more by European audiences than those in North America, he has incorporated everything from classical, reggae and acid to the "Meow Mix" jingle into his aggressively original sound since his youthful days in the early '90s, when he was experimenting with boom box re-sampling and a looping pedal. The inimitable brand of breakcore he produces under the name Venetian Snares is constantly evolving, usually driven by his hyperactive creative curiosity, but occasionally out of necessity.
In the process of recording "10th Circle of Winnipeg" from his 2014 album My Love Is a Bulldozer, he discovered a null zone in the middle of his studio, a sort of haunting, pan-dimensional rift wherein certain frequencies seemed to be missing. He doesn't like to think about it because it freaks him out. He tried smudging and anything else he could think of to get rid of the bad juju in that spot, but moving his entire studio 90 degrees to the right seemed to effectively sidestep the issue.
His studio is in his home, a detached house in Winnipeg, MB that he could never afford if it were in Vancouver or Toronto. His coterie of cats are no longer allowed in the studio space due to all the perilous three-amp power supplies laying around — they would yank out cables and change his mixes. (Apparently, cats are terrible at mixing.)
On the walls, there's a poster from Otto Von Schirach's 2001 album 8000 B.C., and a few exquisite corpse drawings Funk made with John Frusciante and Chris McDonald when they recorded an EP as Speed Dealer Moms, but the aesthetics of the space were never a priority. It has no official name, although he jokes about naming it Hit Maker Central and bringing Crash Test Dummies, Loverboy and local legends Harlequin to record.
Having survived the "10th Circle of Winnipeg" manifestation, Funk started crafting Traditional Synthesizer Music in mid-July 2014, and finished by December, with a bit of touring in between. It felt like an exciting adventure, exploring what he could do within a self-contained music station that he would rearrange for each track, performing several versions live off the floor.
For his Last Step project, Funk had been heavily relying on Roland 808 and 909 drum machines, but he got bored. They're fun to play, but the 808 had become ubiquitous. With the aid of Hexinverter DIY kit, he put together his own modular eurorack-style drum synthesizer, and incorporated it into his already sizeable rack.
With a MOTU MIDI Timepiece, Mobius sequencer, a couple of 303s and DIY filters to be tweaked on the fly, he used a Roland SH-101 and Arturia MicroBrute to send control voltage to create melodies and bass lines, while a Machinedrum acted as his master sequencer, using it to trigger other sequencers in different ways. Behind all this, his computer was an 8-core i7 running the now-unsupported Windows XP, employing the reliable tracker-based digital audio workstation Renoise as the master clock. Renoise allowed him to send out things like 20 BPM changes during a single bar, thus fostering unfathomable grooves that his hardware would then struggle to keep up with. It's in that struggle — combined with his off-the-cuff tweaks — where the unerring uniqueness of his compositions on Traditional Synthesizer Music resides.
Using a similar studio setup, Funk is currently working on stuff that's even more aggressive-sounding than usual. This represents his attempt to leave behind all the clichés of music, and for an artist that typically makes music so far removed from anyone else's, that's saying something. While he has been listening to Brian Eno's collaborations with Harold Budd, namely The Pearl and Ambient 2 (The Plateaux of Mirror), Funk's making music on the extreme of that textural-experimental spectrum. With no melodies or bass lines to hang onto, it's overwhelming music that you can't whistle afterwards yet can't forget the feeling of, invigorating non-music that he expects will alienate lots of people.
Funk doesn't frequently play out in Canada as Venetian Snares, and never as Last Step for fear that the vintage gear required would not survive. Yet, in recent years, he has been performing ridiculous acid sets with a drum machine and 303 under pseudonyms like Star Wars Morrissey and DJ 1997 Rave Flyer, and he is planning on touring his new noise project, taking some modular cases on the road and blitzing the fuck out of wherever he goes. God help us all.