Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Interview with Mike Brown of Livewire Electronics.

Photo byKenneth Reeves

Livewire Electronics modules give the overall impression that you have discovered abandoned 50’s alien test equipment.
With this in mind, I had to interview Mike and see what made this mad scientist tick.

Mike tell us a little about yourself.

This is the one I usually dread... (I'm not one for talking about

myself much) but how about this:

Played in a few bands during the '80s & '90s... if anyone

remembers Cafe'Noire, Aura Circuit, or my solo project,

Electronium (probably not... haha)

Studied electronic music at Cal State University San Bernardino

under Dr.Raymond Torre-Santos (now at Hunter College in New

York). At the time they did not have an electronic music

program, so when I showed up for recitals with my reels

of tape music... the jury of music dept. administrators

threw me out... haha...2 years later they had a full blown

electronic music major program. figures.

I had always wanted a modular synth... but being married

with small kids,had no hope of justifying the expense.

Then around 1994, I discovered a book in the local library...

"build your own synthesizer" by Thomas Henry.

I thought "I can do *this*!" so I set about gathering parts

from local surplus stores and schematics from anywhere

I could get them... library books mostly... I was on the

internet, but this was pre-web days I think...

So then I went about starting small fires for the next

six years or so... ;)

Eventually, the circuits began to actually work... and

then I was thoroughly hooked.

A few years later, the idea came about to start

Livewire... mostly from the fact that I absolutely

ABHORRED my corporate day job. I started the business

while still working as a project manager for a bank, and

it took another six months to a year before I built up

the courage to make the leap to full-time self employment...

and I've never regretted the decision.

Now, one thing I must say... the thing I like the most

about this business is the camaraderie of the boutique

synth community... Dieter Doepfer, Wowa Cwejman,

Jered Flickinger, Eric Barbour, Yasi Pererra, Jurgen Michaelis,

Bruce Duncan, Carsten Schippmann and of course, the

one and only Ken MacBeth... these guys were all amazingly

supportive and helpful... and in turn, it has been my great

pleasure to help out guys like Scott Jaeger and Josh Holley

get started with their eurorack lines.

So that about brings us to 2008... Steve has done

a fantastic job in following through with my vision to bring

all Livewire products to factory assembly. We are now

delivering products to dealers in quantities we never

could have managed before. A huge debt of gratitude goes to Steve for

taking Livewire to the next stage.

Can you remember what “that” moment was when you were blown away by electronic music?

Wow... that's a big question. let's see... When I was *really* young, I

remember hearing "Funeral for a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding" on Elton John's

"Yellow Brick Road" LP... honestly, that was probably my first real

awareness of synthesizers.... (yeah, I know... pretty lame, huh?) after

that... I remember my friend's hippie older brother playing this record for

me through headphones... it was "Autobahn" by kraftwerk. now that REALLY

blew me away... then the late 70s & early 80s came... some records I

specifically remember would be "TVOD" by The Normal, "Metal Beat" by John

Foxx, the "Leave in Silence" 12" by Depeche Mode, that first Heaven 17 LP...

what was it called?, "Rage in Eden" by Ultravox (Conny Plank's work...

amazing), the "Replicas" LP by Gary Numan, "Your Silent Face" & "Temptation"

by New Order... all this stuff really got me into electronic music. it was

like an explosion really... all this great music and most of it made with

synths. then in the 90s I remember the first time I heard "Papua New

Guinea" by FSOL... and then all that big beat stuff... "Block Rocking Beats"

& "The Rockefeller Skank"... and then drum n bass... and IDM... Autechre &

Aphex Twin... man, so much great stuff.

The Dual Cyclotron was the first Livewire?

Yes and no.... the FrequenSteiner was technically the first Livewire module,

but that was just a clone of Nyle Steiner's design... the Dual Cyclotron was

the first module that I designed all myself, from scratch.

You have an amazing collection of old test oscillators. Why?

Hmmm..... why......? a good question. I guess I became obsessed with the

idea of building a big modular synth out of them once I discovered you could

buy them on ebay for $5 and $10... and y'know... they just look so cool.

What's interesting about working with them, is you have to really adopt a

different approach to get any kind of 'music' out of them... because you're

working with machines that really aren't meant to make music... sometimes

they really aren't meant to even make sound! so you have to approach it

with a different way of thinking...

In the end, this really affected my ideas when it came to module design...

particularly with things like the dual cyclotron... which is specifically

inspired by the way I used to patch up certain pieces of test equipment.

Your modules seem old school circa 50’s era electronics but in an alien

dimension. What is it that you love so much about Livewire?

Hmm... another good question.... I guess what it is is that I am designing

modules for myself, generally... I design stuff based on the things that *I*

like... things that *I* want a modular to do... and I suppose it's based on

that 1950s SciFi aesthetic... which is one of my favorites... y'know lab

coats & Tesla coils & great big dials & switches. NASA stuff.

Why do you think there is a growing interest in modular synths?

I think it is because people like to turn knobs... pretty simple. a laptop

touch pad can get pretty boring.

Do you think you will ever run out of ideas?

Nah... too many good ideas... I'll more likely run out of time! ;)

Two of your modules the Dalek and Vulcan make me think you are a Doctor Who and Star Trek fan?

Well growing up in America in the 1960s & 70s I was a big Star Trek

fan... but only of the orig TV series. now my kids & I are huge Doctor Who

fans... we don't miss it!

I see on the back of my AFG quotes from The Matrix, are there any other quotes I may have missed on other boards?

There are quotes on every module... you just have to look harder on some ;)

The Dual Cyclotron has quotes in the form of a riddle... 3 excerpts from the

lyrics of 3 different songs... but all related... so far Daniel Miller is

the only one who has been able to guess the connection (but he cheated... as

he's part of the riddle!)

We have seen some of the Livewire module prototypes. Can we expect new modules released in 2009? 

Yeah, definitely... there will definitely be new livewire modules released
in 2009... of the prototypes you've already seen, the Subdivider & Chaos
Computer will probably be released this year... along with the expander
modules for the AFG. plus, I have a couple of modules that I have not shown
that I plan to release soon..... stay tuned!

Photo Ken MacBeth


acro said...

Very good interview. Glad to see you back, Mike!

kidtesla said...

yeah!!! go Mike!

Sam said...

Mike you're a fag. jk