By Eric McKeefer
Local Music Journalist
A man of many talents, Eric Ross, lives right here in San Marcos and studies computer science at Texas State University. In his time outside of class, Ross is a music lover and the bassist of the local Austin band The Cuckoos. What I didn’t know until we talked in Mazak’s Guitar III class was that Ross is the head composer, publisher and mastermind of several experimental projects scattered and living in the depths of online music websites like SoundCloud and Bandcamp. I was lucky enough to interview this young and prolific gentleman about his projects, inspirations and future plans.
Eric McKeefer: How many projects are you involved in?
Eric Ross: I have one serious project I’m involved in, which is my band The Cuckoos. All the other projects I’ve done are usually temporary. So for example, right now I’m messing around with one other project [Anxiety Cannon]. Within the past four years I’ve had at least six. Probably more but I can’t really recall all of them right now.
McKeefer: Are there any specific artist that have inspired your work?
Ross: The free jazz works of John Coltrane were a big inspiration when I first started making experimental music, and those works are still a big inspiration to me today. Cecil Taylor, who’s a free jazz pianist, also definitely gave me some inspiration and insight into the possibilities of chords and what are called “tone clusters.” Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane have probably had more of an impact on me than any other music I’ve ever heard. The album Bitches Brew by Miles Davis also gave me a lot of ideas which I utilized in some of the weird music I was making like four years ago. The composer Anton Webern has also been a really big influence on me as of the past two years.
Flexing his free jazz inspirations and experimental nature, Ross takes music to a new realm with the most purely experimental project I’ve ever heard, Awaken the Seahorse. Ross is just as experimental with recording as he is with composition, as he explained.
Ross: I do all the vocals in Awaken The Seahorse, and it was all recorded on the music program Audacity, which is one of the most absolute primitive music programs you can record on. I would literally just hit the record button on my Mac, and record using the built in microphone on the Mac. I would say at least half of the sounds you can hear aren’t actual instruments at all, but just recording general sounds with the microphone and adding effects to the noise. I used electric pencil sharpeners, the sound of a bunch of CDs dropping to the floor, the sound of a can of keyboard cleaner being sprayed, weird stuff like that.
The latest album from Awaken the Seahorse, Escape Goat, explores deeper extensions of Ross’s vocal creativity. While retaining a healthy amount of space, each track is layered with many sound textures blended together quite nicely. Not everything is revealed at first glance and you never really know which way the song will turn. “Apollo Area 51 Live Life Loader” the second track from Escape Goat, moves with goblin/horse voices mystic acoustic guitar riffs panned to each side with a layer of suspiciously haunting synth atmosphere that takes over halfway through. The percussion here is sparse and layered. At one point I think I heard a pinball machine.
In this album Ross created a continuously morphing Kandinsky painting of sound. It’s awe-inspiring to hear something like this, that is so abstractly sewn together, tell a story that is bursting with life. The clusters of different sound textures really create their own very strange and real world full of life and mystery. Definitely worth a listen for late night auditory exploration. With that being said this is album is not for everyone and the voices remind me of the animal sounds from the computer game Spore.
On the lighter and more palatable side of Ross is his newest creation Magical Fun Land by Anxiety Cannon. Clocking in at only 13 minutes, 31 seconds, Magical Fun Land is a children’s music style with bouncy keyboards, a spoken word narrator and harmonious choruses. The rest you’ll have to find out yourself but it’s not long before this story takes a turn.
McKeefer: Do you see yourself pursuing similar experimental projects in the future?
Ross: Me and some friends want to play another Awaken the Seahorse show. We played one like three years ago and it was a lot of fun. It sounded weirdly good. Like legitimate free improvisation. I’ve also been wanting to join a legitimate free improvisation group lately and play shows and work with serious free improvisation musicians, who have a passion for that type of music. A lot of the experimental music I make is just for fun. A lot of it has a comedic effect for me. Like, the vocals on Awaken the Seahorse are completely ridiculous, which makes it fun to me. Its not straight up serious pretentious experimental music. It’s just really really weird, ridiculous experimental music. A lot of the experimental music I’ve made I wouldn’t consider to be very serious work. It’s almost just like a painter doing sketches. Just getting random ideas out. I don’t play video games or anything like that, so whenever I get bored I just make weird music. It’s more fun than making regular pop or rock. But like I was saying, I would like to meet a group of musicians who do seriously have a passion for free improvisation music and play with those types of people, because I am very interested in that music.
Featured image by Eric McKeefer.