For Rick Valentin, being a musician is about being authentic. Authenticity to him is making art for oneself and “just doing what you want to do.” With his solo project, Thoughts Detecting Machines, and his new album, Work the Circuits, he’s doing just that.
The new album is an electronic work with punk-rock influences from his previous Champaign-based group, Poster Children. While the songs themselves are an expert merge of technology and music that only someone with years of experience in the music scene and a BA in Computer Science could produce, the entire physical album is a testament to how technology can be used to create art.
“What happened with Thoughts Detecting Machines is I wound up finding ways of use technology to create individual artwork,” Valentin said, referring not only to songs in the album but also the cover art.
Making the album’s artwork, like writing its songs, demanded a great deal of work. “It’s not like I’m just pushing a button and then it all goes automatically,” Valentin said. “It’s a juggling act.” Valentin created the cover art by programming a pen plotting device to take audio files converted into Bézier curves and draw them into the slightly different designs seen on each individual cover.
Electronic music sometimes gets the reputation of lacking a musical ability to produce. But like Valentin learned from his transition from punk to electronic, it requires intense dedication and ability.
“I have to get a certain loop at the right time, I have to sample a certain thing at the right time,” Valentin said. And creating music with technology comes with it’s own difficulties and frustrations. “It’s kind of like a house of cards, it can all come tumbling down.”
But it was the same negative reputation that electronic music has to endure that pushed Valentin to create the album.
Valentin admits that in the past, “the idea of being just a person with a laptop grated against me and my punk-rock ideals.” But when he started looking at technology as a way to create music and let go of his hang ups concerning the equipment, Valentin was able to focus on the creative aspect of making music using both instruments and technology.
Part of this focus on technology came from seeing the way his students at Illinois State University interacted with technology. Valentin knows about music technology, but having to interact with his students has made him stay up to date and on his toes.
Working alone, while different from anything Valentin has ever done, has helped make this album as close as to what Valentin envisioned. Nonetheless, working alone came with freedom and difficulties.
“It’s not the normal way I made music before,” Valentin said, discussing how he no longer had someone to bounce things off of. Yet, at the same time, the inspiration for the music was not completely his own. “In a way the machines are providing that collaboration.”
By working alone, Valentin was able to create exactly what he wanted and thus created an authentic piece of art. Technology may have filled the spaces that bandmates once occupied but the human aspect of the album, from the cover to the songs, is what really makes Work the Circuits pleasant to experience.
Valentin said he wants listeners to know that, “there is technology involved, but when you look at it, I hope people get the idea that this is unique, something different; that there is technology but that there is a human hand and a human behind the process also.”
Thoughts Detecting Machines will play at Mike N Molly’s in downtown Champaign this Friday night. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and costs $7 at the door.