with Shaun Sandor of Promute
Shaun Sandor makes music under the moniker Promute & until very recently ran the experimental label Blondena. He’s been a supporter of Silber for years & his 5 in 5 release with his daughter Zlata was a runaway hit in the series.
QRD – You recently announced a hiatus for your label Blondena. What’s behind it & how long will it be?
Shaun – I stopped all label work when I started thinking about how much time I spend with the kids, on my other interests, & how much time I don’t get to work on the label as a business. I really started feeling anxiety over not being able to properly or fairly promote somebody else’s work. I really feel like there have been some strong releases that I put out & just wasn’t able to keep up with the promotions & I felt it really wasn’t helping those artists in particular. I have always had this thought that Blondena would exist to help promote artists, but it really felt like I wasn’t helping anymore. That was the big reason.
One smaller reason is that I have less & less time to devote to any creative projects & I have been neglecting some of those. I am interested in building instruments, but to do that well takes time. Then I would have to practice playing those instruments & that takes time. I also want to get back to mixed media arts & papermaking & all that takes time. Without having the worries of what I have to do as a label, I think I can focus on those other things now.
QRD – You started Blondena with pretty much experience as a musician & having interned at a couple labels. How did your experience shape your approach to your own label?
Shaun – Well, for one thing I learned that having a label can be as big of an operation as any business, really. There are plenty of jobs to cover & when you have very little help, you have to have some knowledge of how to go about getting things done. I started using Blondena Music as my own personal way to release music & it did grow a bit from there, but I never relied on it as a source of income or to get a career launched for a musician. I did keep it small because I did not want to deal with some of the headaches that go along with bigger labels.
QRD – I know you for your noise music & was surprised to find out that you not only own a guitar, but actually know how to play it. What was your path of transition from guitarist to noise musician?
Shaun – I have been playing guitar since I was 11. I took lessons for a few years in the beginning; but I used to buy used pedals, sometimes broken ones, & experiment with them at home. When I started playing in bands, it was easy to go through the motions. Everybody was playing metal music at the time, so I did that too. I played in a bunch of different bands -- country, christian bands, thrash metal, etc. -- but nothing really ever felt so satisfying as experimenting & improvising. I started improvising with a few other good friends in my hometown & we would play parties & just play for hours improvising. That was very rewarding.
For a stretch of about 5 or 6 years I couldn’t play consistently because of my military obligation; but when I started seeing a ton of experimental music, it made me realize that there were a lot of tools at one’s disposal to experiment with. This is when I really started working with other instruments & electronic stuff. I have been doing that since about 1997 & my guitar was never really a factor in all of this. When my daughter was born I was playing my guitar a whole lot at home with her, so I started really thinking about developing music & experimenting with guitar again. Since my interest in sound is predominantly instrument design & acoustics, it seemed only natural to me to start working with prepared guitar as opposed to using a lot of effects on a signal. Plus I did not have a loop pedal or anything, so I just worked with the guitar as my main instrument since then. I now work with prepared bass, snare, cymbals, & homemade stuff. I find it very satisfying & interesting, so hopefully anyone who listens to my work does too.
QRD – You make a lot of your own instruments, both acoustic & electronic ones. How did you get into that & how are the two activities similar & different?
Shaun – In college I was studying psychoacoustics & acoustics & it just seemed natural to also study propagation of sound waves through conventional instruments. That got me fascinated by instrument design, but mostly of conventional instruments. I had known some theater folks through a girl I was dating at the time & we went to see the Plasticene Theater Company & Eric Leonardson had one of his homemade instruments & was performing live along with the theater troupe. So I took one of his four week workshops & learned some great things from him. By far the most important item I learned was to experiment!
There were many electrical engineering courses that I took as well in college, geared mainly for audio applications. I had already been familiar with electronic components & the insides of amps & guitars from when I was a teenager, but after learning some math & other details, my confidence had been built to a level where I was ready to just start building my own stuff.
The way that both of these are similar is how I develop an idea. I know what kind of sounds I would like to achieve to start with, so I know how to develop the instrument from there. The difference would be that I have to hand craft a wood or metal instrument, whereas the electronic stuff is more of a layout issue for knobs or jacks. I am partial to the electro-acoustic world right now.
QRD – Are you more satisfied when you complete a recording or building an instrument?
Shaun – Completing a recording is more satisfying. An instrument is only a piece of that & doesn’t mean too much if I don’t have music to share with anybody. Plus I love playing music more than I love building anything. Once I start constructing an instrument, I know that playing it is my reward.
QRD – You’ve spent the past couple of years as a stay at home dad, but it seems like the past few months you’ve really increased your musical output. Has anything changed?
Shaun – Nothing really has changed, just really trying to make sure I keep working & keep sharing some of what I do. I appreciate the scene here in Houston & really everyone has been great to work with & nice to me. Also very receptive audiences. I couldn’t ask for more really. I have enjoyed being an audience member here too at the noise & avant-garde shows. Good pool of performers to check out, so I do my best to take advantage of it. I suppose that has been inspiring me to work more as well.
QRD – Do you think noise today (& your music in particular) is closer to what punk or jazz is supposed to be about (but obviously neither are today)?
Shaun – That may be a good comparison. Sometimes I think that nobody wants to hear this stuff & then I go to a show, or play a show, & there are plenty of people there who are really appreciating the music or sounds. Jazz strikes me as a genre where ideas can be shared & you can learn from tenured players & experiment more with sound. I don’t believe punk music really fits that mold & is quite conventional in structure anyway (the I-IV-V stuff). I would hope the noise music today would be more like jazz in that sense.
QRD – You’ve been a key member to a few different regional noise scenes over the years. What’s your secret to being part of these communities that are often somewhat elitist?
Shaun – Hopefully it is because people like me enough or are willing to tolerate me to help make things happen?! Really, I don’t know that there is a secret for how any of this happens. Timing may be key, I suppose. Having the appearance of being organized & trying to be as reliable as I can probably helps. I feel that I have been fortunate in being able to work with some good people to make some cool things happen. Being open to ideas & willing to try things helps too. My hope is that people like my work enough to keep up with me.
QRD – The record with Zlata got a lot of attention. Does it irk you a little that it was better received than some of your more serious work? Will you do more family recordings?
Shaun – Absolutely not irked by this. I am extremely happy about it, & grateful to even have the opportunity to make music with her & have Silber release it. I did not do it for me to promote my work. I did it to work with my daughter & in the future hopefully it will mean something to her too. Because we knew the recording had a home, we had some motivation to get it finished. I would definitely work with my family on creative projects again.
QRD – What’s the last record that you found yourself listening to over & over?
Shaun – The CDs that get the most rotation at my house right now are: Free Zone Appleby 2007 with Evan Parker, Ned Rothenberg, & Paolo Angeli, & also Dropp Ensemble’s Safety from either/OAR.
QRD – How has working as an engineer effected how you listen to music?
Shaun – As far as conventional music is concerned, I tend to have a problem with the snare drum sound & mix, or the kick drum sound & mix. If it is a problem when I first listen to something where I don’t like a snare sound, I usually skip the track. Conversely, I tend to really like some guitar & bass sounds & will keep those songs on my “reference list” for future recording purposes. Other than that, my stereo EQ is set flat (no accentuated bass or treble) & I prefer it that way.
For experimental improvisational music, I am not as judgmental I suppose. I can like something or not, but I don’t judge from a sound engineer perspective. However, when I am playing in an ensemble it affects me more. If I feel that a particular frequency range is lacking, I may move my playing to that frequency range. It depends on what is happening of course, but I do notice it clearly when I am listening to the other players.
QRD – Anything else?
Shaun – Thank you for including me in this issue of QRD & thanks to everyone who reads it!
Other QRD interviews with Shaun Sandor:
Label owner interview with Shaun Sandor of Blondena (March 2013)
Musician dad interview with Shaun Sandor of Promute & Bicameral Mind (June 2009)