Woody Woodpecker, Conan the Barbarian and Spider-Man seem unlikely muses.
But Baltimore-based electronic composer Dan Deacon manages to reference all three. Honouring the webslinger, he named his latest album Spiderman Of The Rings.
“I’m interested in the all-encompassing idea that is Spider-Man,” he said. “(He’s) had a huge impact on me, in terms of morality and how to deal with difficult situations — by using spider-like abilities.”
While Deacon wasn’t directly involved in choosing Conan as the lead character in his Ultimate Reality performance (a presentation involving visuals, live drummers and Deacon’s compositions), he said Schwarzenegger’s hero looms large in his childhood memories. As for Woody, his inclusion was a mixture of chance and theoretical interest. A label was putting out a compilation where each song was about a celebrity, and Deacon chose the bird.
Starting with a 20-minute loop of the character’s laugh, Deacon, who’s studied experimental electronic music theory, condensed it into a shorter, more powerful song structure. The process aimed to make the idea more palpable for listeners, following Deacon’s artistic goal: to make avant-garde composition more fun.
“It’s rare that I sit down to make a piece with theory in my mind,” he said. “When I work on a piece … it’s a more fluid and less structured (process).”
While Deacon’s recent focus is on electronic music, he also composes for traditional brass or string instruments. When writing a song, the instruments used greatly influence the eventual sound. Since listeners often perceive human-played instruments as more soulful, he uses earthier, warmer tones in his electronic composition. However, humans have their drawbacks too.
“Working with brass or wind, you need to consider the limitations of the instrument and the performer — the range and ability of the player,” he said. “Writing for a computer, you can do pretty much anything — you’re only limited by the hard drive or processor speed.”
Rob McMahon is a freelance writer. A graduate of UBC’s Journalism program, he contributes to Metro and other publications. Top music memories include a road trip to Coachella and catching Lollapalooza ‘95.