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Just outside Atlanta in Roswell, Georgia, resides Richard Devine, 22-year-old experimental sound composer and electronic-music producer. Devine's home sits on a blandly pleasant suburban street in what could be the homogenous heart of America -- which seems appropriate. As Devine helps spearhead intelligent dance music's (idm) path away from its rave-oriented origins, the genre's "weirdness" now lies increasingly on the inside. Instead of glow sticks and baggy pants, Devine's appeal lies in his unique production style, an engagingly abstract approach that revolves around unnatural, machine-generated sounds arranged in an intricate fashion. The result is music that comes closest to sounding like funk for robots. It's a tidy ball of churning grooves that is best displayed on his 1998 self-titled twelve-inch EP, released on Miami's Schematic Records. The record won him worldwide recognition as one of America's up-and-coming idm producers; it also helped solidify Schematic's reputation as an American hotbed for the idm "sound."
Sitting in his bedroom studio, Devine plays a new piece he's been working on, a remix of seminal British experimentalist Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy." Devine was asked to complete the remix for the pioneering British record label Warp Records, and their forthcoming tenth anniversary compilation. The simplest aspect of the music, of which very little is simple, is a flowing rhythm pattern that revolves around Devine's trademark shuddering beats. Although the tune has an endearing catchiness, almost in spite of itself, there is not a single measure that repeats itself exactly; every section is different, evolving as it progresses through thousands of mechanical, fragmented blips.
"It's a track that I am really not that much into," admits Devine about the untampered version of "Come to Daddy," "but I thought it would be interesting to take basically the entire track, mathematically divide it into thousands of pieces, and then rearrange it into something totally new. It was quite fun, but also a painstaking process. I had to use more than 1250 different sounds from the computer.
"I have always liked music that is different, that pushes the envelope of what we understand to be music, and forges ahead into new directions," Devine continues. "I started making music like this when I was fifteen. If you really want to be good at it, you have to do it for a while, that's 50 percent of it. The other 50 percent is talent."
Devine's interest in sound sculpture was first piqued when he was seven years old and his mother signed him up for classical piano lessons. He studied for ten years, during which time he developed a deep understanding of the composition of complex music, an appreciation he also credits for his love of similar themes in electronica.
"Classical music is the foundation of what I do today," he says, but tastefully arranged strings were only one influence during his formative years. As a teenager "half the skaters I hung out with listened to punk and the other half, hip-hop: Eric B. & Rakim, Del the Funky Homosapien, De La Soul. I liked elements of both. From there I searched for a mergence of the rough sound of punk music and the electronic element of hip-hop. When I discovered industrial music it really blew me away.... I bought Meat Beat Manifesto's Mindstream Remixes CD with an Aphex Twin remix on it. That remix changed my life. That was the beginning. [Aphex Twin's] music was so technologically advanced that it took me to different places. I couldn't associate normal emotions with it. It sounded alien and futuristic. I felt like I wasn't listening to music made by a human person; it sounded as if it was based around a machine."
Despite his newfound enthusiasm, it took time for Devine to find an outlet to release the music he was making. The few record labels that were issuing intelligent dance music were overseas. "No one in the U.S. was doing idm," he notes. "I wanted a domestic label I could grow with. Over in England, Black Dog Productions and Autechre were creating the same kind of music I was doing. I just didn't have the means to put it out."
In early 1997 Devine finally found kindred spirits in the form of Miami's Josh Kay and Romulo Del Castillo (who record together as Phoenecia) and their label, Schematic. Since then Devine has been issuing a barrage of music on that label, as well as taking care of Schematic's mastering and production in his own bedroom studio. He's also done some work for Chocolate Industries, another Miami idm-oriented label. Next up is Devine's first full-length album (due out this winter), to be released on Warp in England and on Schematic in the United States.
These days Devine is out of town almost every weekend playing live sets, often with Phoenecia, in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and Puerto Rico. All this traveling aside, Devine is most at home with his gear in his suburban bedroom.
"I've had loads of machines built just for me," Devine says, gesturing to a veritable wall of analog keyboards with odd-looking knobs and panels stacked in the corner of the room. "The reason a lot of the electronic music you hear sounds the same is because people are using the same equipment. Every piece of equipment has certain limitations. If there are any limitations on my music, I want them to be in my mind."