Owen Lake and the Tragic Loves at Prentis Hall

Originally posted on February 7, 2009

Melancholic lyrics and close-knit vocal harmonies make nice with electronics in Owen Lake’s rare brand of electro-country, as heard in a private performance at Prentis Hall Saturday night.  Performing on his new invention, called the Manta, Owen Lake was joined by the newly added Tragic Loves, with Penny Hunt on vocals and keyboards, and Tommy Byrd on vocals and guitar (all three use aliases).  The timbral blend heard in Owen Lake’s songs was often mesmerizing, and combine with this the flashing images being projected onto the band, it’s no wonder the trio had their audience hypnotized for most of the set.  Curious to know more about his electronic invention and choice of genre, kleineKultur contacted Owen Lake (aka Jeff Snyder) for an interview:

So, for those of us who are electronically challenged, what is the Manta?
“The Manta is a controller for your computer, so that you can get tactile data from your fingers into audio or video software, or whatever else you want to use it to control.  It has 48 sensors arranged in a hexagonal array, all of which continually send data to your computer about how much surface area you’re covering with your fingers.  I made it because I was dissatisfied with the difficulty of really getting my hands on the numbers I was sending to my computer from more traditional knob/slider/button based controllers. Each sensor also has an LED light that provides feedback when it’s touched, or can show other information from the computer if you’d like.  It also has two sliders and four assignable function buttons.  It’s a powerful way to get physical gestures into your computer for live audio or video control.”

How exactly did you use the Manta during the performance?
“I was using the manta to allow me to play the electronic drum and bass synth parts simultaneously.  It was a pretty simple setup, with the different drumbeats and fills used in each song set up as loops that were accessible from particular sensors, and the bass notes used in each song also matched to certain sensors.  My right hand was controlling the bassline, and changing notes and octaves whenever necessary, and my left hand was triggering and selecting the drum loops.  I set up the top 16 sensors to give me a visual indication of the beat, so that we could play to a click and not get out of time with the computer whenever there was a rest in the drumbeat.  A quick glance at the top row of hexagons on the manta would give an instant indication of which 8th-note the computer was on in a two-bar phrase. I had to keep things relatively easy for myself, since I was doing most of the lead vocals at the same time.”

What inspired you to create an electro-country alter-ego?
“I love classic country music, especially the hardcore honky-tonk artists of the sixties and early seventies.  I imagine Owen Lake as an alternate universe 1960’s honky-tonk artist, from a world where electronic instruments became available earlier and became a traditional part of the American country music instrumental arsenal. It’s not that far-fetched – the most identifiable country music instrument in our universe is the pedal steel guitar, which is one of the most complex machines ever applied to the task of making music. I’m also very attracted to the emotional strength of close vocal harmonies, and I wanted to find a way to incorporate them into the types of electronic textures I usually explore.  I’m looking to book some more gigs, make some videos, and spread the electro-country gospel in the future. (of the future??)”

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