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Vijay Thillaimuthu

Vijay is an artist whose practice encompasses

How did you first get involved with synths and electronic sound?

In my formative years I started experimenting with running the outputs into the inputs of an old beaten up mixer. I discovered this harmonically rich, deep bass-tone. Because of leakage between the discrete channel circuitry, it caused this wild stereo pulse-width modulation. Of course, I had no idea what it was at the time, or how much of an impact it would have on my existence from that moment on. I started running rhythmic material through this setup, which caused the ‘bass-tone’ to fluctuate, and that basically formed my first performance system. Prior to this I had become obsessed with Kosmische Musik, particularly Can, Faust, Harmonia and Klaus Schulze. I guess it was therefore only a matter of time before I bought my first actual synth, the Roland SH-2000, and continued the steep electronic descent into the world of modular (madness).

How would you describe the sounds you make today?

I tend to develop complex rhythmic relationships using polymetric, aleatoric and probabilistic approaches. I am particularly interested in the unique timbral percussive synthesis created using vactrol based systems and karplus strong synthesis. Compositionally, I like facilitating interactions in order to develop or disrupt the outcomes. The systems are always designed to be performative and I love the tangibility of a physical instrument that allows you to shape sound voltage in real time.

Where do you find inspiration, what motivates you?

I love exploring new sounds and processes. The most exciting aspect of synthesis for me is the endless discovery. There’s always potential for new approaches and ideas. The simplest tweaks can yield a whole realm of possibilities. For example there is a stereo filter module I have had for over ten years that I have only started using in a completely different way, as a kind of unpredictable stereo pseudo-kick drum. There’s always a means to delve deeper, and this can be done largely intuitively.

What’s been one of the most rewarding or satisfying moments of your journey so far?

Performing at the Tokyo Festival of Modular in 2018 has been one of the absolute highlights of my career so far. Through a carpark in Shibuya, you descended into a three-stage subterranean venue. It was an incredibly special festival to be a part of, run by a vibrant and very dedicated local creative community playing alongside international artists like Richard Devine & Daedelus.

And the most challenging?

One amusing thing that comes to mind: I followed a convoy through dirt roads in the Blue Mountains to play a Breakcore party with some local legends. When I went to play my set, the only way I could see my gear in the darkness was to wear a head torch. Not a great look, but it did the trick. Except now, bugs from the surrounding wilderness flew directly into my face. So there I am, trying to perform while ducking and weaving. At one point an insect crawled inside my synth and I tried to shake it out (unsuccessfully). Apparently it was still a pretty good set… Kafka vibes.

Do you have a current ‘go to’ set up at MESS? Any favourite machines or combos that you’re currently digging?

Since the first time I used a Buchla 200e system at the Banff Centre in Canada, I have been captivated by its unique palette as well as the potential of its aleatoric generative processes. The first sounds I developed from the oscillator formed a unique organic percussive timbre that I likened to the percussion instruments heard in Carnatic Music. It is an incredible privilege to be able to continue this sound exploration with the system at MESS in my home city. I also love the Moog Model 55 for the richness of its sound and its unique playability and feel. I wish it had like ten of those lowpass filters though!

Are there any machines in the MESS collection you’ve had your eye on but haven’t tried yet?

I am very keen to work with the Transaudio System. I don’t really know why I haven’t got there yet! A vintage system like a monster EMS synth developed in Melbourne, what’s not to like?

If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you first started what would it be?

Just that being an artist is ultimately a game of developing resilience, being somewhat strategic and, ultimately, stubborn. Kind of impossible not to take the most personal thing to you personally, but that’s basically what is required.

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