Drawing inspiration from a career in mechanical engineering, Author & Punisher (or Tristan Shone to his family) constructs custom built instruments seemingly rooted in the field of robotics engineering; requiring physical interaction to bring a uniquely organic element to the process of creating such an industrial sound, with the experimentalism captured perfectly on his third album, ‘Drone Machines’, released in 2010
He is a mechanical engineer, sculptor, sound artist and the creator of the Drone and Dub Machines industrial sound controllers. When he is not masterminding the creation of fabricating machines and composing sound for performance, he is a mechanical engineer at the National Centre for Microscopy and Imaging Research at the University of California, San Diego.
Ahead of the release of his new album, ‘Ursus Americanus’, Beard Rock caught up with Tristan to discuss Author & Punisher and his influences.
BR: First off, who is Author & Punisher, and how did the name and project come about?
TS: Author & Punisher is me, Tristan Shone. The name came from a t-shirt I have that lists all these names for Jesus, and Author & Finisher is one of them. My roommate in college thought Punisher would be more appropriate. I am an atheist, all the way, so this is a nice way for me to poke fun. As a one man band the name works for me. Author & Punisher was not always based around custom machines, so really it started as a guitar/laptop one piece.
BR: You’ve previously stated that you played in a metal band prior to essentially creating Author & Punisher; do you prefer the organic nature of being in a band, or do you feel that what you are currently creating is more organic?
TS: I do not miss being in a band. Bands are a headache and they are not very efficient. I do see the benefit that collaborations bring to music, but for me, I like the ability to be spontaneous and explore the ideas I have that no one else needs to approve of. I do feel it’s organic, even though it looks robotic or whatever. I am basically able to control everything in a song at one time; if I am not moving, you are not hearing anything (at least on the newer Author & Punisher machine-based material). This allows me to follow a feeling or lose control on some riff urge, kind of that giddy childish state where you contort your body and blabber some subconscious nonsense, but with music. I am allowing myself to lose control, but document the result in sound.
BR: Who are your influences, in both Author & Punisher, and as Tristan Shone the person?
TS: Musically, I like Nile, Melvins, Godflesh, Neurosis, Meshuggah, Drum and Bass/Dubstep, newer stuff like Downliners Sekt, Deadbeat, Flying Lotus, Pole, James Blake, Rhythm & Sound etc. I also love filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman, Nicolas Refn, Lars von Trier, Bela Tarr.
BR: I have heard your sound compared to that of a less chaotic Merzbow, how do you feel about this comparison? Do you feel that you have any contemporaries creating music/art in the vein of Author & Punisher?
TS: I like Merzbow, so that’s a nice comparison, but I don’t really feel like I make noise music. I am making songs that maybe drone here and there, but are riff based even if they are drawn out and slow. For sure, I mean there are tons of good experimental doom and drone bands, electronic and more standard. I don’t, however, find that many that are using custom controllers or even just purely synthesizers, for doom. The nice thing about the computer that I like is the ability to vary your sound palette beyond guitars and drums. Most of my inspiration is drawn from listening to all sorts of new DJs and musicians putting out experimental dance music with all sorts of sounds and textures I have never heard.
BR: Would you consider what you do as more performance art or music, and based on that what kind of venue to you prefer?
TS: I think it’s both. I am interacting with sculptures or interfaces that are designed by me for me, so it is a control room, one man music man type performance. Early on in each set of machine’s lives, when I am still learning how they work together, it may lean more towards the art side since there is an element of discovery and the sound is more improvisational and drone based. As time goes on, the sets become more refined and resemble songs in a set.
I am thankful that I can play in a range of areas; museums, clubs, festivals, basements, etc. It’s depressing playing dive bars all the time, but it’s nice every once in a while. The same goes for galleries and museums. I think it really comes down to what type of alcohol I will drink....wine out of plastic cup, or a large beer!
BR: Outside of music what is your biggest influence?
TS: I would say film first and foremost, and then the technology that I deal with everyday. I love the moods and overall feeling created by film. I find devastating films to be beautiful and peaceful in a way, because you are helpless and all of the sudden the stress is relieved and you have to give into the forces out of your control. Certain filmmakers, some of whom I mentioned earlier, create this beauty, and I draw a lot of inspiration from this ‘mood’.
BR: Websites such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud allow bands and labels quick and direct communication with their immediate and prospective fan base; in addition to providing instant access to music through a small fee, ‘pay what you want’ or providing a free direct download link. Do you believe that the cost implications of producing vinyl and even cd are still a viable option for bands in the current climate?
TS: I don’t ever buy cd or vinyl, so I am all for digital, but there sure does seem to be a demand for vinyl and physical art. There are so many ways to view and express music as a commodity and I think it is vital for bands to harness this to stay alive.
BR: Kim Gordon and Robert Smith (amongst other artists) were both highly critical of the model of ‘pay what they want’ employed by Radiohead – implying that it set a precedent for all bands regardless of size of fan base, ambition, etc. What are your thoughts on this model – and do you think it is a positive move forward; allowing artists to assert more control over their output and merchandise? Would you view it to be community orientated?
TS: I think it’s cool that Radiohead did it, because they are rich and it is a nice thank you to the fans that always pay. I don’t think they are saying we should all do that. I am pretty new to this, but I certainly think that bands should start moving away from major labels, because they do less and less for bands. You can hire an intern to sell your t-shirts and mp3s online and save all the money you would give to the label. I don’t see it as being backed into a corner; I see it as an opportunity for us to take control of our profits through sites that take less of a cut. We now decide the price.
I spend thousands of dollars and years of my time building my instruments and recording, so it’s very important that I am on top of selling my mp3s and merchandise online. You can’t afford to be ignorant about the business side of it.
BR: When you are not creating music as Author & punisher, who are you currently listening to?
TS: I listen to the XFM Mary Ann Hobbs guest DJ mixes all the time. I am listening to YOB, Shlomo, Flying Lotus, Rhythm & Sound, Nicolas Jaar, Black Cobra, Holy Other...currently!
BR: Do you have any future plans to bring your performance to the UK?
TS: For sure, I am just waiting for some funds. My instruments cost me a lot of money to take on the plane!
BR: The world is fucked, what are we going to do to change it?
TS: The world is fucked period. I have very little hope for life, animals, nature, our planet. It’s very depressing.
BR: If the world was going to end tomorrow, what you say to your listeners to soften the blow?
TS: I’m an atheist, so I will just hole up with my wife and dog and try to stay warm.
‘Ursus Americanus’ is released on 24th April 2012, on Seventh Rule.
Posted: Fri 13 April 2012