March 18, 2010
Colfax, aka Daniel Berkman, is another Bay-area artist we got the chance to interview. Remember RTFM Records, the collective that Daniel Durrett, Divasonic, and Artemis are all a part of? Colfax is also a part of the group.
1. I have to admit that on paper, your music doesn’t really sound like something I’d personally be into. But while listening to some of your songs through a really good pair of headphones, I started to lose myself in the mix. What did you do to me?
Well, I think as the listener, you met me half way. Colfax is a bit understated on the surface. I like music that reveals something of the artists psyche, something slightly dangerous but utterly gorgeous. I hope when one hears Colfax they feel that sense of intimacy.
2. You’re listed as a multi-instrumentalist now, but what instrument first made you want to be a musician and what about it grabbed you?
I was totally captivated by the drums and got my first set at 10. I used to record myself playing drum solos on a Magnavox tape deck and played those tracks for my classmates for show and tell.
I started multi-tracking then as well. I would overdub using two tape decks and play all the parts and sing. This was when I started incorporating piano, synths, guitars and anything else I could get my hands on. It was almost out of necessity that I take up other instruments.
3. Who are some of your musical influences?
Where to start and where to end? In terms of influences that inspired Colfax, the most obvious would be Boards Of Canada and Freescha. I think they touched me deeply. We are of the same era, me having grown up in L.A. during the 70’s and 80’s. There seems to be such a sense of nostalgia linked to that period, an innocence.
A few more key influences would be Brian Eno, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Squarepusher, Ulrich Schnaus, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Robert Fripp, Bill Frisell — the list goes on and on. It’s too varied to put into context, really.
4. You use a lot of old reel-to-reel tape in your mixes. What is it that you really like about it?
Well, some would argue that analog tape is more true to a recording than the digital medium. There’s quite a debate about that, like that tape is warmer, etc. I’m more interested in tape as a dying medium. It’s certainly not the industry standard anymore but it has something that digital media doesn’t have (yet). Tape is sentimental.
In the 90’s I discovered my dad had an old reel to reel tape recorder which he used in the 60’s to record rehearsals and musical ideas. He had a couple dozen reel to reel tapes sitting in his closet. I was overcome with curiosity! What’s on those tapes? What compelled me most was the mystery behind the tape hiss, the anonymous voices and especially the noises, tones, crackles, warbles, flutter and pitch variation, mostly the stuff in between songs.
Debussy said, “Music is the space between the notes”; “Tape” is a study of the sounds between the intended focus points of any recording, and in this case, old dilapidated home recordings. Most of samples on “Tape” are snapshots from another era but from a personal perspective, no references to pop culture, except of course for the track “Celica”.
5. It might seem like an oxymoron, but you make electronic music on vintage equipment. What can you get out of an analog synthesizer that you just can’t find in a more modern piece of equipment?
Authenticity. There is something so visceral and emotional about playing the early synthesizers. It just so happens that the Jupiter 8 and the Prophet VS are classic analog synths that have unparalleled musicality and personality.
It’s also a challenge to take an old instrument and do something new with it, which is where a lot of music is going these days.
6. Your bio says that you play some of the same equipment that your father used in studio sessions in the ’80s. Did he play on records we would be familiar with?
My father, John Berkman, did mostly keyboard sessions for television and film in the 70’s and 80’s and doubled as a conductor. He’s worked with John Williams, Frank Zappa, Jerry Goldsmith, Barry Manilow, Caterina Valenti, Liza Minelli, Stephen Sondheim and countless others.
His Broadway history is extensive, too. He worked on the original shows for Follies, Pippin, Cabaret, She Loves Me, Minnie’s Boys and the Los Angeles version of Cats, among others. I’m so very proud of him. He’s still a gigging maniac!
7. You play a 21-stringed African lute/harp called a Kora. How were you introduced to the Kora and what makes it work so well with your style of electronic music?
When I first started playing Kora in 1996 I plugged it in as I would a guitar. I was transforming the sound using guitar effects and looping everything on the Oberheim Echoplex. The results can be heard on my debut Kora release “Heartstrings” and the thanatos inspired follow up, “Feverdreams” (1998). Every bass, percussion and ambient sound was produced by the Kora. That was when I started creating works based on self imposed limitations.
My next and most recent Kora album, “Calabashmoon” (2005) was a departure from the first two in that I used the computer, software, samples and other instruments to fill out the texture. This was more the style of approach I used for “Tape”, although the central tools and central theme was the Jupiter, Prophet and, of course, tape.
8. We recently interviewed Artemis, who is also a member of the electronic artist collective at RTFM Records. What is the purpose of the artist collective and why do you think it’s working so well?
RTFM Records seems to function as a sort of collective of creative minds, each functioning like “orbits”, Artemis being the sort of center of “gravity” (pun intended, of course). We all started as friends, naturally. Artemis, myself and David Earl (SFLogicNinja) were the original members of Artemis in the late 90’s before things got rearranged a bit. I took a hiatus and David, Keith Crusher and Artemis released the miraculous “Undone”.
This was the ultimate inception of RTFM Records. We’d have monthly meetings and more and more artists would come. Cliff Tune came on board after “Gravity” was released so we had a tight drummer to fill out our sound and so we could tour Europe. Amazing artists like Divasonic, Daniel Durrett, Hands Upon Black Earth, Celeste Lear and others came into orbit. What we have now is a very supportive group of musicians, composers, friends and collaborators. I think the fact that we’re all friends makes for a solid foundation.
9. What has your collaboration with Artemis been like?
Artemis and I have been collaborators for a long time. We are like kindred spirits. We speak a common language, plus we actually create great work when we’re not trying to out silly one another. When the going gets tough we can always rely on being the silliest people in the room.
10. We know you play live with Artemis, but do you ever perform any of your songs live? Or are the recorded pieces of art unto themselves?
The recorded pieces are definitely art unto themselves, hence the challenge of interpreting them live.
My method of live performance has always been looping and mostly improvisatory. So, the challenge is to create new arrangements live and let the elements of chance and hazard govern the results. As much as I love using Ableton Live and as convenient as it is to have backing tracks, I just can’t bring myself to rely on them solely to create music live. When you’re looping you are putting yourself out there and taking a real chance. People like to see artists taking chances.
11. Where should people go for more information about your music and to keep track of your latest projects.
Visit www.rtfmrecords.com or www.reverbnation.com/colfax. You can also check out my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/colfaxsound.
Posted by A. Sogal at 6:12 am