Keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Leon Gruenbaum has been keeping busy over
the past few years. Gruenbaum performs and records with Vernon Reid & Masque,
as well as James Blood Ulmer.
In addition to his work as a sideman, he participates in Anxiety X (featuring
several New York artists including legendary graffiti artist Lonnie Heller). In
his new band, Genes and Machines, Gruenbaum sings, writes songs, and samchillianizes.
The Samchillian (short for The Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee)
is an unusual instrument, to say the least. As inventor describes, the device
is, a keyboard MIDI controller thats based on relativity. The key
presses are not fixed pitches as they are on a normal keyboard; but rather, changes
the pitch. While it may sound like theoretical nonsense in explanation,
The Samchillian itself (at least in the hands of its creator) sounds amazing!
You can check out The Samchillian at (you guessed it) samchillian.com. After watching
his demonstration on the website, anyone who enjoys outrageous sonic experimentation
will want one. ONE WAY caught up with Leon Gruenbaum to pick his brain on the
cutting edge of sound in his world.
do you embrace technology to express yourself artistically?
LG: In my
experience, Ive found that at the core of it, you want to be creative
as a musician. You dont want to let the technology dictate to you what
to do. There are times when you should take advantage of the kind of errors
that the technology allows. I think with so much music that we hear now, the
smarter people in the studio will hear something that wasnt what they
went in intending to do. If youre recording, I think its good to
have somebody else running the equipment if you can afford it because you can
sit back and, while theyre trying to get the sound youre looking
for, maybe theyll hit on a patch that wasnt what you were looking
for, but is actually a better, more creative choice. Sometimes you get so caught
up with the goal you were trying to achieve that you dont realize theres
a better solution there. This is a time when you can do everything yourself,
but there are times when it really helps to have somebody else taking care of
the technical things because it frees you up to see a higher level.
equipment are you using these days?
LG: I play
this special MIDI keyboard that I invented thats called the Samchillian.
About a decade ago I had this idea for a special MIDI keyboard where every key
that you pressed on it would be a pitch, like you have an F#, G#, or whatever.
But each note [key] would stand for a change in pitch. So, for example, if you
wanted to be in the F# pentatonic scale, youd select the key and the scale.
Then, every key that you press, like the letter D on the keyboard
for example is a +1 key [in terms of moving the pitch up one step]. So, I might
press the letter D and then youd hear it going up the scale
[sings ascending pentatonic scale]. Youre playing the same key, but youre
getting different pitches. Theres another key thats -2 and theyre
all different intervals. Im actually using a computer keyboard that straps
around my waist. You can see it [a demonstration] on the website [samchillian.com].
I have a Mac Powerbook G4 laptop and I run Reason and Live. I was making a big
decision on how to scale down my equipment and I went with Reason because it
has a good track record and a good basic library of sounds I would need with
Vernon: organs, pianos, electric pianos, and they also have a really cool distortion
plug-in that comes with it, basic delays, reverbs. I also have the option that
I run Live along with that. Im not using it as much as I should at the
moment, but they had a one-shot sampler single note, but I needed a multi-tone