Benjamin Dauer is a musician, composer and designer based in Washington, D.C. With many ongoing projects and finished works, some highlights of Benjamin's include a recent release named Circular Drift with Scottish artist Dominic Dixon under the pair's Offsets project and a debut solo work named Burning of Wine - both of which are available from the Distance Recordings netlabel. Most recently, Benjamin released Dreams, an EP created with poet Michelle Seaman as The Dwindlers on Feedback Loop.
Hi Benjamin, with your solo release, the Offsets collaboration and an EP from The Dwindlers, you've certainly made 2010 a busy year for releases. Is it typical for you to be this productive?
Hi Adam, thanks for inviting me to speak with you. I do try to stay productive with my compositions, but I don't necessarily release this much music in the form of EPs/LPs - the type of output has varied over the years. For example, while I lived in Chicago I was performing 2 or 3 nights a week with various bands ranging from hip hop to folk to jazz to funk/rock but only releasing an album every year. After moving to North Carolina I began focusing on composing scores for modern dance companies, performing as part of an improvisational modern dance collective, and later performing w/a trio called Last Night in Glasgow. During that time, a period of almost 4 years, I did not release any albums. I did, however, self-release a great deal of those scores earlier this year - paired up with some incredible remixes by friends from all over the world. Total, there is nearly 2 hours worth of free music you can grab them from my personal website under the Remixes section. Overall, I would say this year has been particularly special.
You're obviously happy collaborating with other artists, let's talk about your most recent release with Michelle Seaman, how did The Dwindlers form and what would you say are the main influences in the band?
I do very much enjoy collaboration. Michelle and I met 8 years ago in Chicago and quickly realized we wanted to work together. We formed an art band quintet known as Lounge Car which featured a classically trained violinist/pianist, myself on bass, a drummer, a female singer and Michelle doing poetry. We only had a few gigs but a highlight was a performance at the art nouveau venue called Maxim’s: The Nancy Goldberg International Center in Chicago, a replica of the famous restaurant/lounge Maxim’s de Paris. Over the following years the band slowly dwindled down to just Michelle and I so we felt the name “The Dwindlers” was very fitting. Off the top of my head I would have to say some of our main influences would be Elbow, PJ Harvey, Miles Davis, Morphine, Tom Waits, Low, Sylvia Plath, Maxine Kumin, Anne Sexton, and Henry David Thoreau.
You're a graphic and web designer, can you tell us a little about your work and some of the projects you've previously worked on?
Sure. Well, I didn’t start out as a designer. I went to school to get a degree in music - but quickly realized that would most likely only allow me to teach music, which I had no interest in. I wanted to play music. So, I floundered around for a year taking a lot of philosophy and science classes before settling on the small business/entrepreneurship degree. This allowed me to land a job w/the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs running their retail operations. It was through this job that I really came to appreciate product design, interior design, advertising and marketing design - the whole gamut of the graphic/visual language. This was also during the very early days of the Internet so, naturally, I began cutting me teeth in these various fields doing pro bono work (for friends, family, bands I was in) and paid freelance work. Building up these client relationships ultimately allowed for my relocation to North Carolina, where I worked full-time as a freelance designer while starting my foray into dance score composition. Sorry, that was kind of a long way around to the answer - I would have to say that one of the projects I have most enjoyed working on recently would be a mini-site for the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University for their show ‘The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl’. I’ve done several projects for the Nasher but this one in particular was great because of the subject matter/format of the show. By day I work as graphic and interactive designer with the National Science Foundation so many of the projects I get to work on are very unique and rewarding.
Do you find much crossover between your work and your music?
Absolutely. Many of the semantics surrounding design/music are similar as well - color, tone, texture, balance, harmony - to name but a few. In design I consider things like what particular font(s) to use for conveying a certain mood, just as in music I would consider which instrument(s) to use for the same purpose. In design I consider the weight of specific elements on the page as they relate to each other and in music I consider the relationship between various sonic elements in the composition. In design I consider the pacing - how quickly or slowly you visually move through the document/website - and in music I do the same with things like tempo changes and dynamics. You get the idea. There is definite crossover.
Burning of Wine met with positive feedback from fans and critics alike. Was the album recorded in a studio or at home?
Thanks so much. I have been very pleased with the feedback I have received. Being my first release under my own name I was a bit nervous. I am grateful for everyone who has downloaded/written about the release and hope people enjoy the music for a while to come. I wrote and recorded the album entirely in my home recording studio over the course of about a month or so. Many of the songs were inspired by my surroundings - I live in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC w/a view overlooking Rock Creek Park and the National Cathedral on the horizon. In no small part the album was influenced by the natural beauty I am fortunate to see every day.
Please tell us a little about your home studio setup and name a few key pieces of gear used in everyday songwriting.
Well, 9 times out of 10 it all begins with one of my basses - MTD 635, Ken Smith BSRP 6, Sadowsky 5 string jazz, GWB35 5 string fretless, or Ken Smith 4 string jazz. I run Ableton Live as my DAW on a MacBook Pro. I tried my hand with Pro Tools back in the day but didn’t gel with the forced linear approach to composition. Live’s, what I call ‘split personality’, affords me the best of both worlds - the jam/improvise clip view as well as the full bore sequential/linear session view. I have two soundcards right now - an Apogee Duet and a MOTU Ultralite. I track all vocals and bass parts through the Duet, which sounds incredible - they have some magic mojo going on in this box. I use the Ultralite’s multiple ins/outs for running audio through a number of effects pedals (blueSky reverberator, El Capistan dTape echo, Line6 DL4, ElectroHarmonix Cathedral reverb, Boss ME50, to name a few). I also often use the Ultralite in standalone mode for hacking my way through chord charts, practicing along to music, or sketching out an idea. Not having to run my computer, or bothering my neighbors by running my amp/cabinet, for such mundane tasks is great. A Rode NT1A is my primary vocal tracking mic and of course I have the obligatory SM57 and SM58 mics for general purpose recording. I use an old Axiom 25 keyboard for banging out piano lines. I have been doing a good bit of improvisation lately using a Monome 128. Audio from the computer is routed via a Mackie Big Knob to my Event Tuned Reference 8 studio monitors. Everything is tracked/stored on my Drobo S RAID system which is setup to have dual redundancy.
Your bio mentions that you've been playing music since the age of ten and that your main instrument is bass guitar. Which other instruments do you play?
I know enough guitar and piano to be dangerous but probably wouldn't call myself a guitarist or pianist. I am deeply considering taking private lessons to learn the piano - it is such an evocative instrument. I started out playing French Horn in 5th grade and switched to trumpet in 7th. To this day, every time I put on a Chet Baker album I want to dig out my old trumpet and give it another go. Funny story about how I made the jump from trumpet to bass - when preparing to move from junior high to high school I auditioned for the jazz band and choked. Around the same time I was getting heavily into death metal and no one hears about death metal trumpet players. A bunch of friends and I were out for coffee and after about 4 too many pots we decided to start a death metal band. Everyone named off the instruments they wanted to play and the last one available was bass - so I volunteered. By the time I sold my trumpet and bought my first bass and amp from the local pawn shop, the caffeine buzz from the days before wore off and reality set in - there wasn’t going to be a death metal band. There I was with my bass so I decided to go ahead and learn how to play the thing. I am glad I never looked back.
Do you have any plans to play live?
I played a few gigs last year with Feynman and would love to play some more. I am going to be playing as part of a variety show mid January which might lead to some other interesting opportunities. Michelle and I have been discussing the idea of taking some of our Dwindlers stuff to the stage but that would require some tweaking to the material. A lot of that music was written/recorded in the studio so it would take some work preparing a set that would be easily executed live. This definitely appeals to me though - I did a little performing of this type while a member of an improvisational modern dance collective. I would run Plogue Bidule on my laptop for various sound design patches while playing my bass too. It would be great to extend some of these capabilities for live/improvisational performance using the Monome.
Finally, have you any upcoming releases or projects which you can discuss with us?
As you can imagine, I am definitely keeping busy. I have a few tracks coming out on compilations for the Distance Recordings, Feedback Loop and Relaxed Machinery labels as well as a holiday compilation for Free Floating Ambient. In addition, I am writing music for releases on the Luxus-Arctica and Relaxed Machinery labels. As far as collaborations are concerned, I am working with Dominic towards our next Offsets album and will begin working early next year with Devin Underwood (Specta Ciera) on an album. Michelle and I are wrapping up a benefit project for some of the world's most endangered pollinators - bees and bats in particular - and then we'll be focusing our efforts on a project that explores nature, emotions, beauty and movement. I also hope to fire up Feynman again.
Recording Notes interview by Adam Williams for Futuresequence