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10 jul. 2020

Interview met Reed Reimer & Benjamin Emory Larson

Vorige week schreef ik een recensie over CodeBurst: A Cyberpunk Soundtrack van Reed Reimer en Benjamin Emory Larson. Vandaag publiceer ik mijn interview met deze talentvolle heren uit Minneapolis. Ze hebben een heftige periode achter de rug en ik heb een enorme bewondering voor niet alleen Reed en Ben, maar ook mijn vrienden van Nitrowave TC en alle bewoners, hoe zij zich staande hebben weten te houden in een stad vol verdriet en boosheid. 

Last week I wrote a review on CodeBurst: A Cyberpunk Soundtrack by Reed Reimer and Benjamin Emory Larson. Today I publish my interview with these talented gentlemen from Minneapolis. They have had a rough period and I have a great admiration for not only Reed and Ben, but also my friends of Nitrowave TC and all the residents, how they managed to survive in a city full of sorrow and anger.

Reed Reimer & Benjamin Emory Larson

Ben and Reed, can you please introduce yourself?
I’m Reed, and I love to create. I live in Minnesota with my wife and twin daughters, and when I’m not being a dad and a husband, I’m working in the studio creating music for one project or another. My day to day music creation is generally for mixed media projects; recently a video game, a web-series, and one-off videos used for advertising.

I’m Ben! Artistically, I tend to split my time pretty evenly between music and theatre. Outside of the work I do with Reed, I’m part of a couple different writing teams currently working on musicals, and I’ve done a lot of work as a music director, conductor, and pianist for musical theater. I live in Minneapolis with my wife and fur babies Zelda (dog) and Leo (cat).

Your latest project ¨CodeBurst: A Cyberpunk Soundtrack¨ is a real masterpiece. How was it to work on this soundtrack?
Most of the music we’ve released before now is underscore for film, theater, or other media, so we intentionally carved out space on this soundtrack for SONGS. The most fun, most special part of the process was imagining what kind of music might be playing “on the radio” in this crazy world we created for Codeburst. Getting to work with incredible singers and musicians who brought their own ideas, creativity, and vibe to each of the songs was definitely the most rewarding part of the process.

The most difficult aspect of the project was completing the album during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the shelter-in-place requirements, we ended up having most of the featured artists record at home, and for the one artist we recorded in studio, we had to wait until social distancing restrictions were lifted and even take precautions during the recording session, which was a strange and invasive reminder that things weren’t “normal.”


Also, the two of us weren’t ever able to simply be in the room creating together, which really changed the dynamic in how we collaborate. In some ways, the music evolved in a different way than it usually does. Usually tracks develop into what we refer to as “the third thing”: there’s the thing Reed would make, the thing Ben would make, and there’s a third thing that we could only make together. The only Codeburst track that truly became the third thing was “Medusa (Turn Me to Stone),” which Soubrette also gets credit for…she brought a LOT of her own ideas to her performance. Everything else on the album is essentially a track by one of us with notes or occasional embellishments from the other.

In retrospect, we really grieve that. Like all musicians, our favorite thing about music is creating WITH people, so being unable to truly create together the way we usually do wasn’t just challenging, it was depressing, hahaha. All that said, though, we’re proud of the work we did, and we're happy with how the final project turned out. And we've learned some new tricks and methods for tele-commuting and tele-collaborating.

Next to the soundtrack you guys also wrote an exciting sci-fi novel. What can you tell us about this story?
We like to describe Codeburst as a story about confronting evil—even if it’s inside you. It’s set in a dystopian, technologically advanced future where nations have dissolved and given way to massive corporations (unaffectionately referred to as “corp-states”). The main protagonist of this first volume of the story is Jamie, a young man being controlled by mysterious “codebursts” downloaded directly into his mind—he has no idea who is doing it or how they’re doing it. After being forced to kill someone, he seeks refuge with his only friend and mentor Merrill, who tries to cheer him up, but they’re interrupted by Jamie receiving another codeburst. This new codeburst has an unusual mission, and it starts Jamie (and his wise-cracking robot partner) down a path that will lead him into direct confrontation with his own inner demons and the people who have been controlling him.

CodeBurst novel by Reed Reimer & Benjamin Emory Larson

How do you reflect on this project?
Codeburst has been the largest, most challenging, and most rewarding work we’ve done together. In some ways, we’re exhausted by the effort it took to complete it. In other ways, we’re completely energized and feel like we’re just getting started, since now that the world is created, we plan to expand the story and write more music. We already have plans to release a second volume next spring.

In a time of now where we have several crises (health, social and economic), how does this period inspire you as an artist?
For me (Ben), I literally wrote “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers” about COVID-19, uncertainty about the future, and the frightening nature of quarantine. I had been music directing a musical (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) for three months, and the timing of quarantine couldn’t have been worse for us. We had our preview performance with a small audience on March 19th, and the next day theaters in Minnesota were shut down for quarantine…we were shut down the night we were supposed to open. Three of months of hard work, rehearsal, and expectation evaporated in an instant.

Obviously, I’m grateful our local leadership took the steps they did to keep people safe, but that doesn’t change the feelings you have in the moment. I wrote “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers” the following week as I was processing the grief, frustration, and fear that my community and I were experiencing. As of this writing, there’s still no reopening date, and the more time that passes, the more uncertain it becomes whether that production (or any theaters in Minnesota) will be able to open soon, so the song continues to be meaningful and cathartic for me. And for some reason, I decided to use the melody for Liu’s theme “Blackbirds” in the underscore…maybe because she has so little hope? Maybe because in the end, she’s the one who will bring us hope? We’ll have to see how the story unfolds...

I live in Minneapolis, and George Floyd was killed by the police a few blocks from my apartment four days before we uploaded the music of Codeburst for distribution. It was chilling and heartbreaking to witness the cruelty and inhumanity of the policeman’s behavior in the video. It was shocking and inspiring to see people all over the world talking and posting about something that happened in my town. It was terrifying when rioters were breaking into stores and setting buildings on fire in my neighborhood.

Two days later, the night the rioting in Minneapolis first began, Erika was out of town camping with family, and I was up late at night rewriting “3 Karmas.” I had listened to the previous version of it that morning and decided it wasn’t right, even though we were only two days away from uploading the album. As I was sitting alone in our first-floor apartment working on the new music, a friend of mine shared a live video on facebook of the first building being burned to the ground a few miles away, and I was filled empathy for the rage the rioters were feeling, fear of the physical danger, and uncertainty about what it meant for the future of the neighborhood…I have tears in my eyes just recollecting that night and re-listening to “3 Karmas” now. I absolutely channeled what I was feeling into the music, which happens to underscore a tragic moment in the story of Codeburst.

As of this writing, most of the stores in my neighborhood are still boarded up, although the boards are decorated with paintings and tributes to George Floyd…oddly eerie and beautiful at the same time. Despite the violence that dominated the news, 99% of the protests and demonstrations that have occurred here have been peaceful, inspiring, hopeful tributes to George Floyd and calls for an end to violence against people of color. The entire event has left Reed and I rethinking the next few chapters of Codeburst and re-examining our internalized American ideas about violence and how we write about it in our work.

Going back to the music, how was it to work with artists like WRNG HAUS, JØUR, Savannah Smith, Soubrette and Moon & Snow for the first part of the soundtrack?
I’m constantly amazed by how connected we are as humans in the year 2020. Most everyone did their part remotely, and we’ve never even met Moon & Snow in person (nor Mat Kaminski, the artist who created all of the illustrations for Codeburst, as well as the cover and logo), but we had constant communication with them via Twitter, FaceBook, and Zoom. There were times where it was difficult to work through notes, or get proper preparation, but all in all, it was a great experience.

From WRNG HAUS’S creative complex vocal harmony, to Soubrette’s bone-chilling witchiness, to JØUR’s perfect sound, to Savannah’s heart-rending intimate performance, to Moon and Snow’s face-melting shredding, this album would NOT be the same without these incredible collaborators, and we’re SO grateful to all of them for their creativity, giftedness, and willingness to work with us.

CodeBurst: A Cyberpunk Soundtrack

When we have a look at the past, what synth(wave) artists had an influence on you?
I (Reed) am a child of the 80’s and remember listening to groups like Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, Corey Hart, and a-ha. There was always something so cool about the style of their music, and they were always on the radio. More recently, groups like Magic Sword, Perturbator, and Dance With the Dead were on heavy rotation in preparation for Codeburst, as well as less synthwave groups like Starset, Muse, and Nine Inch Nails.

My (Ben’s) influences are a little chaotic…my favorite truly synthwave band is Carpenter Brut, but ironically I didn’t discover them until after we had finished the album. I studied Magic Sword, Perturbator, and Mind.In.The.Box quite a bit to enter into the world of synthwave and get my head wrapped around how the music works (I know, Mind.In.The.Box doesn’t technically count, but Mat said I should listen to them!). Most of my direct inspiration was from synthwave-adjacent work like the Good Time soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never, the Tron: Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk, the Celeste soundtrack and ESCism by Lena Raine, Blood and Mother by In This Moment, Simulation Theory by Muse (especially the the Alternate Reality version of “Algorithm”…what an AMAZING track!), Three by Phantogram, the Oblivion soundtrack by M83, Ten Love Songs by Susanne Sundfør, Sigrid, Massive Attack, and Sleigh Bells. And anytime I was working on the story, I had Tweekend by The Crystal Method in my headphones.

Can you give us a sneak preview of new projects coming up?
Our next two projects are already in the pipeline! A second volume of music we wrote for the fantasy / sci-fi RPG web series Adventures of Gaia will be released on August 7th. After that, we’re contributing a variety of synth-based music for the sci-fi RPG Anomaly, most of which is already written. Anomaly is slated for a fall kickstarter compaign, and the music will be a big part of that.

Bigger picture, we’ve been daydreaming with Mat about the next volume of Codeburst, as well as tossing around ideas for our next major project, Heroine.

What do you like most about the ´80s?
For me (Reed), the ’80s has a lot of nostalgia, because it’s where I was exposed to all of the pop culture that helped form me into the person I am. I don’t know how many VHS I wore out of The Empire Strikes Back and Back to the Future. So many good films by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg with music by John Williams.

Is it terrible that I (Ben) LOVE ‘80s throwback music, movies, and video games, but I’m not a huge ‘80s fan? Haha! That said, while doing research for Codeburst I read Cyberpunk by Katie Hafner and John Markoff about the history of hacker culture in the 80s, and it was FASCINATING to read about how hacking essentially evolved through teenagers in L.A. and Berlin pranking and stealing long distance access from phone companies. As a ‘90s kid who can only barely remember life before the internet, that seems like a completely different world!

And finally, any last words to the synthwave community?
We’re still relatively new to the community, and we’re still learning and evolving as synthwave creators, but we’re so grateful to synthwave artists and fans for inspiring us, teaching us, and listening to our work!

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