New York City, New York (TFC) – diNMachine makes amoebic dance-rock that references the twitchy funk of the no-wave movement, the transcendent and glitchy textures from every era of electronic music and the compositional qualities of classical, with flourishes pulled from music from across the globe. Its soundscapes, evocative and conceptual, touch upon landmark movements and moments in literature, cinema, philosophy and history.
With diNMachine, award-winning and critically acclaimed composer and sound artist Michael J. Schumacher – “mijosc” – realizes a long-deferred goal: fusing the thrall of rock with the soundscapes and structures that engage his mind as a composer.
mijosc is diNMachine’s primary creative force: conceptualist, composer and arranger. Nisi Jacobs is his partner and a key element within the band: bass player, percussionist and video artist. Drummer Hari Ganglberger’s command of a diverse array of genres makes him an essential component to the artistic dialogue. Guitarist Alejandro Flórez, from Bogota, combines mastery of Jazz, rock and “free” idioms with a sensibility formed by the folk traditions of Columbia. Michael Evans (percussionist) and Brian Lawlor (bass and keys), recently joined the band and round out this group of intrepid sonic explorers.
diNMachine also has an ongoing collaboration with rapper Black Saturn, whose words are heard on Jabbr Wawky and who recently performed with the band at Le Poisson Rouge in New York.
Together they craft unique art that isn’t formulaic, that plays with structure, pop references, instrumentation and listeners’ expectations; that’s cinematic, but doesn’t lock you into a straightforward narrative. As Inside World Music says, “the electronic trip-hop concoctions of New York’s diNMachine are industrial, innovative, instrumental, and ingenious.”
John: Tell us about yourself and your band?
Schumacher: I spend my time writing and playing music, walking my dogs, watering the plants and cooking for my kid, who’s in high school. I’ve lived in Sunset Park Brooklyn since 2000. I like the neighborhood, it’s 10 years from its first Starbucks. It’s the highest (natural) point in Brooklyn and looks to the west, hence the name.
I teach classes in media arts at NYU Polytechnic. My other interests (besides music) are history, anthropology, art, politics, biology (and other sciences), philosophy, psychology, fin-de-siecle literature, architecture, film, technology, science fiction, AI and car racing (of course!). I enjoy biking around Brooklyn.
The band developed out of a project Nisi Jacobs and I started about five years ago, called DRAW, multi-media installations, multi-channel sound and video. We did a piece that used 24 speakers and 12 projectors. When Nisi started playing bass we started a band called ELSE, a piano pop band. This developed into diNMachine after I’d spent a few months in Berlin, when I composed the songs on the CD, which were way different from the ELSE material.
The core of the band is me, Nisi and Hari on drums, but I work with a lot of musicians in the studio, people like Jerome Harris and Oz Noy. I base most of the tunes on some kind of synth riff, which I improvise, to which I’ll add drums, then bass, then whatever else comes to mind.
I see the band developing to encompass aspects of my sound artwork such as performing in surround sound. We’re working with Sofy Yuditskaya on live video. We’ve started to mix the sets up a bit, widening the soundscape and instrumentation. We did a show with Indian musicians recently. Some of our new tracks have vocals as well.
John: What is your earliest memory of music?
Schumacher: My family used to spend summers in Europe because my mother had relatives there. One summer we were in Alsace, and there was a band that played every night at an outdoor restaurant. I remember the trumpet player, I can still see him in my mind’s eye, and this was more than 40 years ago. I’d sit on a low wall that bordered the street, about 100 feet from the musicians and would listen for 15-20 minutes every evening, as the light faded. The sound bounced around the square, it was very spatial.
John: Tell us a bit about your installations and other art?
Schumacher: I began working with multi-channel sound in the late 80s, making orchestras of speakers. I collected speakers and amps and put them around my apartment. I worked with synthesizers, and recordings of instruments as well as field recordings. I’d create pieces through chance operations, generated algorithmically by computer, which controlled the synthesizers and began foregrounding the spatial aspects of sound, activating listeners’ perception of space and their bodies’ relation to it. Sound is by its nature “surround” and we listen with the back of our heads, so to speak. In the concert hall everything is oriented towards the front and we lose a big part of the experience.
I’d invite people over to listen. We’d drink and listen for long periods of time. I realized there weren’t any places to present this kind of thing, so when I moved to a studio in downtown Manhattan I started to invite other composers to present or make work for the sound system and this became a gallery for sound art, one of the first in the world.
I have an interest in transforming people’s everyday awareness of sound. To that end I’ve created installations for people’s homes as well as a DVD of computer-generated pieces that people can play on their computer over a stereo system or through up to 8 speakers (the computer distributes the sound automatically). You start the program, choose a piece, and it plays continuously for as long as the program runs. Since it’s not based on loops, the piece will sound different all the time.
I continue to do this kind of work; I’ll be creating an installation in Riga, Latvia this summer.
John: Who has influenced you most as an artist?
Schumacher: If I had to pick one person it would be John Cage.
John: Can music change the world?
Schumacher: Music can and should be an important part of a world that values people, both their individuality and their capacity to relate to others. I believe music can be a part of a progressive program to educate and empower people.
John: How does listening to your own music make you feel?
Schumacher: Usually quite good, though, of course, sometimes I ask myself “what was I thinking?” Generally though, I can usually hear that I was at least trying to do something interesting, if not always succeeding.
John: On to politics, do you see reform as having any purpose other than to hold back fascism, i.e. the worst case scenarios? Can capitalism be reformed to a point of consciousness or do we need a new system?
Schumacher: In 5,000 words or less? As a follower of McLuhan, I think that the internet and other communications media have profoundly changed the way people think and that the effects of this have been and will continue to be to quite dramatically change our political and economic systems. Democracy is already, in my opinion, an almost useless term, inadequate to describe our political process, except in micro environments, small cities or towns (and countries), or in isolated, more or less democratic “actions”. That said, I think Obama has been a step in the right direction, in that he has at least tried to shift the conversation towards progressive ideas. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this trend will continue in the next election.
Personally, I’m not overly concerned with the rights and wrongs of capitalism. It’s a system like any other, and though it causes a lot of harm, it also has raised the standard of living and made for a relatively free intellectual environment, at least in the West. I’m more interested in where and in what form opposition to the international, corporate “military-industrial” complex is going to come from, since organized labor has pretty much given up the ghost. I really don’t think that demanding more “moral” corporate behaviour is going to have a truly lasting impact on how business does business (though it certainly can impact a particular situation, at least in the short term). You need to fight power with power and the only thing the people have going for them in that regard is their numbers, which is why unity of purpose counts so much. The question is can this be achieved when we seem to be breaking up into ever smaller “tribes” with specific agendas. Catchwords like “the 99%” are empty unless they’re backed up by sustained political action, compromise to achieve larger goals. Sometimes it seems like, in this country at least, we’re talking more about the “.00000000320933%”.
John: Who are some of the philosophical thinkers or political activists who have inspired you? My favorite philosophers include Pythagoras, Lao Tzu, Thoreau, Nietzsche and Foucault.
Schumacher: Politics-wise, I’m very interested in the Russian and other anarchists of the 19th century, people like Bakunin and Stirner, as well as anarchists of the twentieth century, including Emma Goldman and Erich Mühsam, Abbie Hoffman, the SDS, Black Panthers, even the Red Army Faction.
I’m inspired by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, one of whom, Sid Harris, I had the honor of knowing.
I’m inspired by the early labor movement leaders, people like John Mitchell and John Lewis. Also, the people, often women, who worked against abuse of child laborers, like Agnes Nestor, Clara Lemlich and Mother Jones.
Even though I admire people who understand the need for violence to enact political change, I’m also very inspired by people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
John: What would you say to radicals and revolutionaries and future artists as to how to help build a better future?
Schumacher: To artists (musicians): Think small, stay autonomous, develop networks through the technology available. Understand the difference between entertaining people and engaging them.
To revolutionaries: Go international, as difficult as that might be. Organize across boundaries. Become very good at what you do, a professional, understand how to organize disparate groups into unified structures that wield real power.
John: Any shout outs or plugs you’d like to make?
Schumacher: If you’re in NYC check out Nublu, lots of great music and supportive of the bands. The Stone continues to present great music off the beaten path; Bill Laswell just performed there every day for a week, along with a bunch of great people. And check out The Use’s new CD “What’s the Use” and Genes and Machines “Heart-shaped Ass”.
[Author’s Note: This interview was conducted in 2014.]