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Gem Found: Dave Fischoff

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Monday, Nov 23, 2009
Pandora's Kevin Seal takes over this week's column, and reveals a gem in sonic collage artist Dave Fischoff.

Dave Fischoff is a sonic successor to the painter Georges Seurat. He thinks in colors, paints in pixels and eyelash brushes, and connects millions of dots to create his gestalt. Fischoff’s 2006 masterpiece on Secretly Canadian Records, The Crawl, is his A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (or, for that matter, his take on Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George”):  an epic landscape of skin, populated with a set of characters who are all reflections of the same hive-mind consciousness.


In Fischoff’s parallel reality, acid rain turns to gasoline, Cinderella becomes Ray Charles, Chicago snowstorms are merely tiny ripples in the ocean, and marriage is either a case of sour grapes or a brilliant vineyard waiting to bloom. In this evolutionary crawl, Adam and Eve are just another middle-class Ward and June, and all of the past negatives evolve into future hopes and dreams.


Fischoff has recently re-christened himself in Brooklyn as a DJ named Spoolwork, but in his past life, he worked at the Chicago Public Library, crate-digging thousands of LPs to find the micro-samples that would populate his pointillistic masterpiece. He built The Crawl entirely within Reason (a step-sequencing software tool), but you would never guess that within the first ten listens. Like all finely detailed paintings, this one requires multiple views. And like all great albums, the cover art is central and inexorably linked to the sound, courtesy of Emme Stone.
  
What was the first song you fell in love with, and what is your current relationship to the piece?
The first song I remember really falling in love with was Grandmaster Flash’s “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”. It was on a K-Tel compilation called Breakdance that I bought at Montgomery Ward when I was about 8 years old. I think what I loved most about it was the way it sounded—the way it kept changing from one little snippet of music to the next. Of course, as an 8-year-old, I didn’t have the frame of reference to think of it as groundbreaking in any way; I just loved the song. But as an adult musician, I like to think that some element of that song… its cut-and-paste, collage-like approach to making music, got ingrained in me as a natural way to create a song. And that’s an approach that I’ve used over and over in my music—taking little snippets of things, phrases or even just single notes, and building them up to create something new.


Who is your favorite “unsung” artist or songwriter, someone who you feel never gets their due? Talk a little bit about him/her.
One of my favorite albums that hardly anyone’s ever heard is a record called Landscrapes by a band called the Velmas. The Velmas were an indie pop band from Indiana and then later Chicago who were active in the early to mid-‘90s. I saw them play a bunch of times when I was living in Bloomington, Indiana. Some of their shows were undeniably great and other times they were just terrible. But the record they put out, Landscrapes, captures them at their best—literate pop songs with hooks galore. If Tobin Sprout from the old Guided By Voices hooked up with Alex Chilton at his Big Star peak and they formed a band with a violin player, it might sound something like this.


Is there an artist, genre, author, filmmaker, etc. who/which has had a significant impact/influence on you, but that influence can’t be directly heard in your music?
Probably the biggest influence on my music that wouldn’t be obvious from listening to my albums is hip-hop. It’s become a lot more overt with the remix work I’ve been doing recently as Spoolwork, but hip-hop has always been an influence, even going back to my first album. The approach of making music from little pieces of other music and non-traditional sounds has always been something I’ve been interested in and, like I said before, I think that approach can be traced back to that first Grandmaster Flash song I fell in love with as a kid.


Do you view songwriting as a calling, a gig, a hobby, other…?
These days, I’m much more active with film scoring and remixing than with proper songwriting (that is, combining words with music), but the songwriting I’ve done in the past continues to have an impact on the music I’m making now. Just this past week I was scoring a scene for a documentary I’m working on and I was consciously building the music around the subject’s voice in the scene, almost as if he were singing. And the content of his words, what he was saying, and also the way he was saying it, directly influenced the music I wrote as accompaniment. So I guess I view songwriting as a major influence—the experiences I’ve had of combining my own words with music in the past definitely still play a role in the kind of work I’m doing now.


Name one contemporary song that encourages you about the future of songwriting/pop music.
I think a song like Santigold’s “L.E.S. Artistes” is a good example of a tune that points toward a solid future for pop music. There’s something immediately familiar about it, since it references rock and dance pop from the past, but she takes those initial references and puts them together into something new. Her general aesthetic—mixing up genres and referencing different types of music, often within a single song—is where I think more pop music is headed, and I think that’s a good thing. Both musicians and listeners have so much information, musical and otherwise, at their fingertips, and creative people who can digest a wide range of music and turn it into something new will be giving us a lot of interesting stuff to listen to in the coming years.


Visit davefischoff.com to catch an earful of The Crawl, and check out Fischoff’s more recent remix and scoring work at his MySpace pages: myspace.com/spoolwork and myspace.com/fischoffmusic. His homepage is fischoffmusic.com.


Kevin Seal is the host of Pandora’s Pandora Presents series, and keyboardist/vocalist for stunning pop subversives, Griddle.


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