Fractured Transmission: an interview with Nick Viola

Fractured Transmission

Fractured Transmission was created in early 2004 by Nick Viola as an experimental noise project drawing influences from Merzbow and Imminent Starvation and was often nicknamed “the Mono No Aware of Los Angeles”. By mid 2004, moving away from just noise, Fractured Transmission evolved into a more rhythmic and substance filled noise act.

How are you doing Nick?

Well, I have a blue book that says I need to live one day at a time, so I suppose that’s where I start. Outside of that I can’t really complain, I have a full pot of coffee, half a box of cigarettes left and a to do list for the day that includes everything from grocery shopping to emailing proofs to a client.

Coffee and cigarettes seems to be the diet of most musicians who rely on little sleep to feed their obsession with the noise. Do you find it hard to make time for your music? Do you ever find yourself going days without sleep while trying to finish that last synth hook, percussion loop, etc?

I don’t think it’s hard for me to make time to write music, it’s hard to feel inspired when nothings there. I work from home, so I’m always around my tools and I’m an insomniac by nature so I’m up all ours of the night. I have hard drives full of unfinished songs and scores, so I really don’t loose sleep over not finishing a certain hook or line because I know at some point I’ll reopen the project file and finish it. I try to really not force anything unless there’s a paycheck and/or deadline on it.

Where are you from originally?

I was born in the San Fernando Valley, which is sort of like the septic tank of Los Angeles, once all the crap gets flushed through Hollywood, it seems to ferment and die here. I was raised in North Hollywood and moved out to the suburbs when I was an early teenager and now currently reside back in NoHo.

What’s the music scene like there?

Los Angeles is really hit or miss as an artist. I love LA, but the fans here seem a little too fickle: meaning there are people who live in BFE that would kill to come see the show that you take for granted. But as a fan it’s great because every bands tour stops in LA at least once so I always have a show to get excited to go to. Franck and John over at Das Bunker have really stepped up as far as booking tons of rad bands on an almost monthly basis now, which is great.

How do you occupy your free time? Do you have any free time between the various music projects, production house, photography etc?

I suppose between writing tunes I stay busy with all things ‘NALOIVstudios’ (print, merch and apparel design, album art, live visuals) I try to sleep, breathe and take a few minutes to space out from time to time. I have this horrible knack for spreading myself too thin at times and not being able to say ‘no’ to projects and endeavors. Although I don’t see it as a bad thing for the most part because it keeps me busy/active/relevant, and 9/10 of the time, what I do for this project gets me the gig for that project: so I suppose it’s a vicious cycle that I’m kind of ok with.. If that makes any sense. Outside of that, I hang out with Defrag from time to time playing Gears of War II until 4 a.m..

Fractured TransmissionSo if I asked you to work on a project you would say….?

Sure, let’s set up a DropBox folder!

How would you define the style of Fractured Transmission?

Like a post-industrial combination of Fergie and Jesus.

So basically if Fergie was good and could make wine from water and raise herself from her tomb of a career?

That, plus micro step editing and distortion.

When you write a song do you set out with intended tones/sounds in mind or do you allow the song to evolve as your write it? Does this depend on the project?

It’s an odd process, sometimes it’s based on day to day frustrations and sometimes it’s based on just noodling around with some new sounds I’ve either created or kicks I scraped from somewhere. A lot of the time it’s based on whatever I’m listening to on my daily commute. I can honestly say ‘industrial’ music is generally not part of my daily play list: I listen to a lot of Hydra Head type bands (Isis, Boris, Jesu, Cave-In, etc.), a lot of Warp records stuff and just a lot of post hardcore bands like Converge, Norma Jean, Dillinger Escape Plan, Poison the Well, etc. That stuff has more of an impact on me as far as writing from my own projects.

Were you big into the metal scene growing up in California or did this interest evolve later? For instance, at 15 years old what could we have found in your stereo frequently?

I grew up listening to metal and hardcore and all of its subgenres. I suppose when I was 15, it was safe to say there was a heavy rotation of Earth Crisis, Neurosis, Napalm Death, Godflesh and Cannibal Corpse, but I also balanced that with a lot of Autechre, Aphex Twin and Skinny Puppy.

How long have you been creating electronic music? Are you classically trained or self taught?

That’s tough to say, I would like to say somewhere in the early 2000’s. I got into DAW based recording in my early teens with programs like Digital Performer and early inceptions of Pro Tools. I really got into sequencing with Fruity Loops v.1 and started writing music heavily influenced by artists like Autechre, Orbital, Aphex Twin and old Skinny Puppy. To answer the question whether or not I was classically trained, yes. As a child, my Grandfather taught me how to play the classical guitar and understand it as more than just a six-stringed instrument to play bar chord punk rock songs. I learned it’s relation to piano and orchestral composition and with that I learned how to sight-read. Unfortunately due to a massive amount of psychedelics a lot of that knowledge got thrown out the window. Understanding music theory and notation is almost like learning another language, where if you don’t practice it and immerse yourself in it constantly, you end up forgetting a lot of it and just kind of remembering the key terms and buzzwords. I can tell you that the more scoring I do now, the more those old instances of theory come back.

Do you think the transition to DAW (digital audio workstation) has created an ocean of mediocrity or do you think it has strengthened the genre of electronic music? Also on the same hand do you see the transition to net labels and digitals releases as a good or bad thing?

That’s a pretty loaded question; I think good music always makes its way to the top.

I understand the economy is in the tank and I can see how a lot of the independent labels are losing money pushing physical releases to a scene that is more about downloading for free. It’s a drag, but I like how when you pick up a digital release now, it usually has a high res PDF of artwork and liner notes. I suppose I speak for the 0.0001% of us left that actually like buying cd’s and vinyl.

Classic question but it has to be asked, where do the names for your various projects come from?

As far as “Fractured Transmission” is concerned, it was the name of a cassette tape of early material I released just under my name. I needed to create a name for the project to be able to categorize the acres of project files on my old desktop, so I ended up filing it under “Fractured Transmission” and I suppose it just stuck. As far as NXV is concerned, it’s just my initials, with an ‘x’ because I’m an old hardcore kid, and the more ‘x’s in your band name, the cooler you are.

Also what was the inspiration for “A Willing Suspension of Disbelief”?

In a way, it’s my commentary on the world today, whether in the grandest scheme or the smallest microcosm. As a whole I think society tends to forego a lot of real facts and accepts things at face value, which may work if you’re ok being blissfully ignorant, but if you actually care about yourself and your neighbor, it’s your job to inform yourself and change your surroundings. It’s a commentary on people putting the ‘change’ stickers on everything they own, but not being able to man up and call ‘bullshit’ on issues that affect you.

So what are some current issues in the world that cause your blood pressure to rise and what would you hope for a final resolution/outcome?

I’m not trying to pigeonhole Fractured Transmission as a political themed band by any means, so I tried to keep the title of the record as well as the track names somewhat vague so they’re open for the listener’s interpretation.

What does your studio setup consist of? Do you prefer hardware or software for production?

I’ve always been a software person. Generally speaking, my workhorse softsynths are: Native Instruments Reaktor 5 and Kontakt. I seriously cannot speak high enough about these products and pairing it with the Kore controller is sexy. Other softsynths that are in regular rotation are the Korg Legacy pluggins (legacy cell, ms20 & polySix), the Rob Papen series (predator, blue, albino) and the Native Instruments series (absynth, massive, pro53, fm7/8). The Aurturia/G-Force series is also worth mentioning, I absolutely love their Prophet, Jupiter, Modular Moog and Arp 2600 synths. I’m a Mac and PC user as well and find strengths and weaknesses in both platforms. I went from one of those obnoxious G3 iMacs and a Compaq 386 to a G4 Power Pc and now currently I’m running a Mac Book Pro with a 2.24ghz core 2-duo processor with a couple gigs of memory, I had a Dell Laptop to run Fruity Loops almost exclusively until the Intel Macs came out and then I boot camped it to be able to run XP pro on my Mac. But I’ve really strayed away from FL over the past year/year and a half maybe just because I was too lazy to jump over to the PC side. I used Reason for a few things here and there, but primarily I would write everything in FL and bounce it all down and dump it into Logic to polish it up. I’ve actually started composing a lot of the new FT material primarily in Reason 4 and Logic, just because it’s heading in more in a soundscape-y direction as far as the synths are concerned, something that a grid style sequencer can’t really replicate. But as far as being able to chop the shit out of an Amen break, the only thing that comes close to FL is Ableton. I’m at a point where I’m really forcing myself to learn the ins and outs of Ableton Live because I do see the potential that Live offers as far as creating a solid piece of music from start to finish. And as far as a live performance tool goes, Ableton all the way. I just did a gig as NXV with Ableton and an Akai APC40 and it was really fun and I’m going to be using it from now on for all Fractured Transmission live shows.

I suppose if I haven’t lost the readers attention by now, to sum it up:

Mac/PC + FL/Logic/Reason4/Ableton + tons of soft synths & toys = Nick

Fractured TransmissionWhat is some gear you are looking to acquire or wish to include in your setup?

Well, I can honestly say I hate writing music on a laptop, so the next thing on the laundry list of studio junk to buy is a Mac Pro or something comparable on the PC side and a ginormous pair of LED monitors. I generally do all of my post-prod/composing/design on the same machine because sometimes when I’m doing one I’m inspired to do the other. The Pro also has I think 4 detachable hard drive bays, so I can hot swap drives in and out, which is great for spending a week or so writing a crappy song or doing a crappy layout, save it and then pull the drive out and bury it in the back yard. Outside of a new desktop, I’d love to get my hands on one of those Open Lab’s 37 key MikO’s. It would just be for live just because I’m tired of lugging a laptop, audio interface, controller, cables etc. to live gigs. With that thing, I’d plop it on a table, plug it in, send my lines to the house and call it a day. Something else on my radar is a Virus TI2 Polar, just because I love the Atomizer, but that’d be for live gigs where I would need a synth. I suppose an RME fireface 800/400 might be on the Christmas list too…

How did you come to be in contact with Mechanismz and why the recent parting of ways?

If you were an artist in Los Angeles you joined the Mechanismz collective. At its peak, its roster was like the Ant-Zen of LA. The Operative, W.A.S.T.E., Fractured Transmission, Embodi, Hazing Ritual, Noit.Exev, Vuxnut, Victo_Ecret… Rad powernoise coming from all areas of Los Angeles. We were all friends and kicked it at Das Bunker every week where The Operative and H-Bomb would spin 4 1/2 hours of nothing but dirty and distorted powernoise. Over time, artists moved onto bigger and better things, moved away, etc. I felt for a while that I needed to move on just to sort of light the fire under my ass to try and take Fractured Transmission to the HNL and I finally did it. Being a ‘free agent’ again so to speak is a little odd, kind of like a dog without a doghouse, but I’m sure when the planets align or whatever that I’ll make a jump to a label that will be able to facilitate my next level of growth as an artist. Don’t get me wrong, I love Shane to death and we’re still great friends and I’m greatfull for all the love he’s given Fractured Transmission over the years.

What would be the ideal label set up for you? Also what are some current labels that you think deserve some notice?

Ideally, I’d like to find myself associated with a progressive record label that understands the artist comes first and foremost, with all decisions made with the artists best intentions in mind. I’ve also learned the power of having an open line of communication, so there are no surprises down the road.

Tympanik Audio, n5MD, Decisive Sounds, MECHaNISMz, Hymen/Ant-Zen & Hydra Head Records are all labels that I think are pushing quality music in a sea of mediocrity.

I noticed that you are always lending a hand as a guest musician for live shows including Marching Dynamics and Manufactura. What are some highlights for you from past tours and records? Also what do you think makes a great live show?

I’ve definitely had the privilege of not only sharing the stage with some great artists but also playing along side them. Sharing the bill with Manufactura and Cervello Elettronico at a David Lynch themed club night in Phoenix, Az. was pretty fun. It was so hot that night at the venue, the Ensoniq Mirage that I had taken out for my set went completely haywire on me 3/4 of the way through my set because of all the humidity. I guess the other real stand out moment was myself as Fractured Transmission opening up for Noisuf-X upstairs at Das Bunker. I had an amazing crowd response to the new material and even a moshpit about 20 people deep. It was a loud and intense show, one for the record books I suppose.

In my opinion, the key to having a great live show is realize that you’re an entertainer and the purpose for you playing live is to entertain your fans. Here’s a trick, put yourself in your fans shoes, would you want to pay money to see you live? Maybe it’s the visual artist in me speaking on this one, but generally I want to attack all of the crowd’s auditory and visual nerves. Generally, if someone leaves one of my shows either dizzy, deaf or a combination of both, I know I did a good job. Playing live also allows you to interface with your fans, kind of feel out what people like and don’t like, that way when your next show comes around, it’s twice as better because you were able to add stronger elements and subtract weaker elements. I think that’s a huge reason reclusive artists continue to churn out sub-par albums and tarnish their credibility, because they lack that need to interface with fans and sort of say ‘fuckit’.

Any plans for future side projects (HexRx, etc) or future releases?

Well, I have a lot coming down the pipeline as far as releases. I have the full length Fractured Transmission record done and am working on finishing up an EP, NXV is essentially a live performance act, so there’s nothing solidified as far as a release for it. Unless it’s a band that I’ve created either by myself or go into as partners, I consider myself an independent contractor. I enjoyed collaborating with Roger on the ‘D’ record and their subsequent live shows. I also work with Mekano from EMBODI on a project called e/mission, which is really inspired by acts like The Knife, Ladytron and Crystal Castles. I did a track with Jeff of Tea & Grief a while back that made it onto his ‘hesitations’ record and I’d always like to collaborate again with him, he’s a really good friend of mine and an all around muso like me. He’s also a collaborator with me as NALOIVstudios as far as live visuals and aesthetics. I also have my hand in a few other cookie jars so to speak and some of those I’ve sworn to secrecy over until they’re released, but when they are, you guys will be the first to know about them.

I love the work you have done with Hex Rx and I will definitely have to spend some time checking out e/mission simply for the reference to The Knife. Which do you prefer more remixes or collaborations? And what makes one exceptional in your opinion?

Thanks, it was a fun ride and I absolutely enjoyed having Roger and HexRx as a large part of my life.

It really depends on the workflow at the time and it depends on the other party in question. I really like remixing but I prefer collaborations especially because there’s the potential to play it live and that’s what I love first and foremost: playing live.

Any tips for the musicians out there?

Anytime you want to play a track you’re working/worked on, don’t preface the conversation with a laundry list of things you would have or plan on doing different. Just play the fucking track and if it’s cool and people dig it, then so be it. Write whatever it is you want and don’t worry about trying to file your tunes under a specific sub-genre, because then you’re pigeonholing your creativity to fit into a certain set of guidelines and boundaries. Subgenres are just promotion tools for an artist to try and separate themselves from everyone else that sounds the same. Also, don’t be ashamed at what gear you have or in the same respect, what gear you don’t have. I started writing music with a hacked copy of Fruity Loops 1 way back when because I had a shitty minimum wage job that made buying things like software and nice controllers a pipe dream. I worked and saved, worked and saved, worked and saved and eventually I created situations that allowed me to buy gear I wanted.

Fractured Transmission

Relevant links

Fractured Transmission @ MySpace
Fractured Transmission @ Facebook
NXV @ MySpace

— interview by James Church (July 2010)