It’s not unusual to feel somewhat underwhelmed after a first casual listen to BATTERY. In fact, that’s kind of the point. Though it scans at first as a two-piece, ramshackle, synth-and-drums outfit, BATTERY is actually the work of one man: Los Angeles-based drummer/coder/composer Jacob Richards. Richards is something of a career musician—his resume includes stints in no fewer than 10 bands, including percussion for New Zealand-by-way-of-LA twee-pop band Shunkan and studies with luminaries like Rakalam Bob Moses. With BATTERY, Richards employs Nintendo-esque synth textures and lockstep drum patterns to create songs that are deceptively simple in sound but incredibly complex in composition.
He accomplishes this through a programming language called ChucK. ChucK allows Richards to create sequences of notes that he activates by hitting one of his drums. In his programs, he has additional code that allows those sequences to be accessed by the drums in different ways. For example: on his latest album, bloom, Richards rigged his drum triggers to change the song’s note sequence any time he hits the tom. This allows him to spin the song off in countless different ways with a simple flick of his wrist. It’s like he’s splitting himself up into several different pieces and then jamming with them in real time.
And while the final song sounds impressively streamlined, what’s happening behind the scenes is almost brain-breaking in its intricacy: Richards writes the melodic sequences, figures out how they relate to one another, determines which drum accesses which sequence, and then arranges the sequences while he’s drumming to create the final composition. Richards is exploring new means of composing and “actualizing” music, bridging the gap between the banality of pre-recorded electronics and the braininess of improvised free jazz. His goal is to explore new methods of experimental composition, making them more inspiring for the artist and more accessible to the audience.
We talked with him about the theories undergirding his work, and the way he implements them in his music.