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Mashed Buddha: Subdue Your Mind
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
2006-10-02
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Drum 'n' Bass. Hard step. Jungle. Ambient Techno. The house music of many houses. There are many styles of electronica, a/k/a electronic music. They all have one thing in common - they are mostly the musical vision of one or two people who are armed with keyboards, beat machines and other source material like samples of records and even the occasional "live" instrument. With advances in technology a musical artist has autonomy to be the corollary to the singer songwriter: the composer performer. Mashed Buddha, the nom de guerre (the battle name) of John Corda, is one such artist. Mashed Buddha

On his new CD Subdue Your Mind, he brings to the electronica genre what it is often lacking: form, musicality, variety and substance. In other words, music. Electronica in all its offshoots often sounds like the way the music was created, like machines. Whether they are powered by air through mouthpieces, by fingers on strings or hands pounding with sticks, musical instruments are inert tools ready to be shaped and animated by human beings.

The great musician and composer Frank Zappa once said, "A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians." Not content to find the perfect band, Corda decided to go it alone and create his musical without unsuspecting musicians. While firmly in the mode of high intensity electronic music, he draws on a listening and playing experience that includes jazz, rock, jazz fusion, reggae and funk.

[Kirby] How would you describe your music?

[John Corda] The short answer is drum 'n' bass and keyboards. I also like to think of it as electronica that doesn't take itself too seriously. Mostly it's a blend of wild musical ideas that constantly run through my head. I tame them with soothing words.

The opening cut, "Buddha Digs," is a crash and burn jungle number. Jungle to this writer is mainly old fashioned soul music drumming played by a drum machine and sped up incredibly. This cut uses the jungle beat, but instead of a machine, it is played by Corda by hand on a keyboard that triggers the drums. The excitement and expressiveness of the human touch gives the music some soul. A dissonant chordal piano riff opens the cut and comes in once or twice more in the song. This is sparse, tasteful playing but it creates a sense of forward motion. The various riffs and sounds - chime-like melodies, grinding bass, and maddening percussion - build up and break down, enter and exit and overlap in a way that creates a logical composition. Like the music of Frank Zappa and Edgar Varese, Mashed Buddha uses sounds for musical ends, much like that of a symphony orchestra.

The next song on the CD, "Martyr," is an example of taming the wild with soothing words. Over a driving bass line that would rock a club at any time, any place over the last twenty years, and a mid tempo funk rock drum beat that makes you move, Corda sings in a sinister, low breathy voice that is the quintessence of cool: "You come to me with your apple/ and try to break up my Zen/ I'll away your innocence and make you born again/ I don't want to be a martyr/ I have no thing to defend / you will not go any farther / If it's not a means to an end / I think that this thing is backwards that I have to pretend and I know that you want me/ in spite of all that I've said / I don't want to be a martyr . . ."

The warm '70s sound of old school synthesizers adds to the odd sense of timelessness of this song, as does the disco-era feel and swing (not to be confused with the rave era feel of fast paced sputter of a machine going haywire before it explodes). The middle section of the song does what most music of this type fails to do - break up the groove with something that prevents boredom and repetition. In other words, there is a tasty bridge of a shifting bass line and catchy pop synthesizer from the cookbook of disco master Giorgio Moroder.

[Kirby] When did you start playing music?

[John Corda] I started playing piano at around age eight and took lessons starting at age nine.

[Kirby] What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

[John Corda] My parents had public radio on a lot, so I was exposed to all kinds of classical music, ranging from Mozart to bizarre 20st century stuff that I couldn't get my head around as a child. But it certainly had a lasting impression. I also listened to plenty of early jazz. When I was 12, I discovered Led Zeppelin and became absolutely obsessed with '70s rock bands and then, by the time I was in high school, '70s fusion bands like Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra.

This interest in prog rock and fusion lead to Corda moving beyond, while incorporating, the lessons learned from studying traditional music. The rock and jazz fusion bands of that era inspired experimentation and inventiveness, and molded the musical mind and spirit of this young musician. "As I learned more and more about how the puzzle pieces of music fit together, I would often experiment and make things up on the piano," he told me. "When I started getting electronic keyboards, I used the built-in sequencers to record parts and add beats. I did that with every keyboard I've owned until I got into computer-based recording in my 20s. My first project involving other humans outside of school was a great garage band called Intruder. And by great I mean terribly bad."

After this rock phase, Corda started a keyboard-based jazz trio with a saxophone and drums. "I played bass lines on the keyboard with my left hand. We were called Fluid Ounce, a name that I still love. We played jazz standards and kinetic original pieces that stood in stark contrast to the jazz. It was the first time my music was played by a band." He then dabbled in a jam band and other jazz gigs while in college, but he eventually went back to composition, this time with the aid of computerized recording and mixing. Looking for a way to combine his various musical tendencies, while maintaining creative freedom and the need to communicate with an audience, he discovered electronica, particularly jungle and drum and bass. "Drum 'n' bass music is extremely complicated rhythmically, yet has an audience, unlike so much odd meter fusion where complex rhythms also prevail. On the opposite end of the spectrum is pop music, which has an enormous audience but is completely uninspiring to me usually. Electronic music gave me artistic freedom while tapping into an audience that wants to listen."

His melding of complex rhythms and a pop sensibility is evident on the song "Spikes." A melodically descending keyboard riff opens the piece, creating a plaintive, melodramatic feeling. Then the ultra fast break beat of the manual keyboard drums - which have the same human soulfulness as heard on “Buddha Digs” - enters and counters this mood. Echoing sounds, electronic swirls and a soft, pulsing bass flushes out the song; what at first seems like random noises, are actually rhythmic and melodic motifs that relate to and build off each other and the opening riff. This is the essence of Mashed Buddha's music: something for the ravers and the x-fueled dancers, and something for the old heads and music nerds.

[Kirby] Unlike most jungle and drum 'n' bass, your pieces have a distinctive song structure, not just beats and effects. How do you write and put together your compositions?

[John Corda] It's different than writing for musicians, which is good and bad. It's good in that I'm completely unlimited, and so much of it is synth parts or loops that I layer. It's a different way to paint the canvas than writing for other players. The problem is it becomes a real challenge to perform these pieces live with traditional instrumentation. It's not impossible, however, and I plan on arranging some tunes for my live neo fusion band. As far as beats and effects go, if that's all there is, I get bored fast. So structure plays a part in that I need to hear a change occur or I'll go batshit crazy. I try to be as melodic as possible, and my goal for the next CD will be to bring as much keyboard soloing into the mix. I want to play and compose, not just compose.

This direction can be heard on the song "Vibin." Over a relentless groove featuring spastic drums and fiery sounds, electric piano and synth riffs and solos come in and out of the musical soup along with dark, dream-like vocal phrases. The first solo merges with the shifting harmonies of the bass and keyboards (where the solo ends and the composition begins is very murky - that's a good thing) which goes a bridge of sorts, which suddenly snaps the listener into second half of the song, which reprises the opening bass riff, but adds percussion breaks and more mad keyboards. In varying ways this is the modus operandi of Mashed Buddha's style. As always, everything plays off of the ass kickin’ synth drums played by the man. “These days I use a Trigger Finger for beats, which is basically a set of small drum pads for fingers,” he stated. “I rarely if at all use loops from collections.” One of the rare times he does use sampled drum loops is on the song “Edge.” Over phat sampled hip hop drum loops and a sinister, Dr. Dre style groove, the melodic call and response of the deep keyboard riffs and melodies writhe and undulate like bubbles in flowing lava.

Besides beats and sounds there are distinct parts and melodies that separate the songs. The song "Martyr" is one that this writer finds himself humming and thinking of randomly throughout the day. This also is an encouraging sign for the Mashed Buddha live show, which for most artists in this genre, Chemical Bros. included, is boring unless drugs and the possibility of sex are there to make up for the music's lack of creativity.

[Kirby] What is your live show like?

[John Corda] In the future the show will be an exciting rendition of the Mashed Buddha sound live and direct. I'll be playing a couple keyboards and triggering loops and my friend will perform on Kat electronic drums. There will be a lot of improvisation.

Once again my theory that great music exists in all genre and styles and that creativity knows no bounds has been borne out. Like a ghost in the machine, this artist has taken the stuff of life from living creative music and applied it to a musical form that is often lifeless. For more information on Mashed Buddha and John Corda or to obtain this CD of thinking people's jungle drum 'n' bass visit his web site:


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