Memphis musicians are often credited for a fiercely independent creative spirit that has been characterized at times with lofty platitudes such as "maverick" or "renegade." While those adjectives ring true with several local acts, they are particularly apt when applied to the new local experimental/avant-garde duo known as >mancontrol<.
>mancontrol< is the latest project helmed by two of the Memphis rock scene's most reliable and well-loved figures: Dave Shouse of the Grifters, Those Bastard Souls, and the Bloodthirsty Lovers, and Robby Grant of Big Ass Truck, Vending Machine, and Mouserocket. But this project is nothing like any of those rock/pop bands, as the ">mancontrol< manifesto" (a document composed by Shouse, who declined to be interviewed) explains:
>mancontrol< ([C14, from New English, stem of "manual control"] make music in the moment; experimental, improvisational music built from the most primitive of sounds: monophonic single waveforms. Arbitrary factors come into play with each new venue: the amount of ambient light, bodies in motion or curious light sources like swinging chandeliers and LED hula hoops. There is no stage at a >mancontol< show. We set up in a way that allows audiences the opportunity to affect our music. Anyone that makes light or interrupts it becomes a factor in the evolution of each song.
What this means, basically, is that Shouse and Grant manipulate simple synthesizer tones and encourage the crowd to participate by altering the light in the room, which changes the sound. In truth, the execution is likely as complicated as it seems it would be.
"Overall, the sound originates from a basic sine wave. Then it's processed and built up using effect pedals and light," Grant says. "We are both producing melody with our voices. We don't have set 'songs,' but we do have goals for each performance. We know what we want to communicate and roughly how we will do it."
The original idea for the band was conceived several years ago by Shouse but began to take shape in 2010 when he discussed the idea with longtime acquaintance Grant.
"When Dave invited me over to just play around, I wasn't sure what was going to happen or if it would turn into anything. Heck, it took a year to solidify even what my instrument would be," Grant says.
"When I first showed up, I brought a lot of pedals and stuff with me and made a lot of noise. Dave slowly suggested I simplify everything and create more space. Right now, we're kinda like a two-person orchestra with Dave as the conductor."
The newly christened >mancontrol< played a couple of low-key shows in town in 2011, aided by former third member (and New Mary Jane/John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives bassist) James Godwin, before paring the band down to two members and taking the show on the road. Earlier this year, they played highly successful shows in New York City (where the duo already has a booking agent) and Cincinnati.
"We were really surprised at the positive response to what we were doing," Grant says.
With a few encouraging experiences now under their collective belt, Shouse and Grant finally feel ready to launch >mancontrol< as a full-fledged project in town. To that end, the group will be performing this Saturday, December 8th, at 8 p.m. at the Medicine Factory, an art space located at 85 Virginia Ave. West.
"This is our first show where we feel like we have evolved enough to promote it," Grant says. "We did a video there [the Medicine Factory] a few months back and have stayed in touch. They asked us to play a December show, and we were happy to oblige."
The show is not only a coming-out party for >mancontrol< but also features the debut of a mural by artist Gabe Martin and the unveiling of a musical innovation called the "eyelophone," which was created by photographer/artist John Markham.
According to Grant, the gallery environment, among other locales, is more conducive to what >mancontrol< wants to achieve.
"We're trying to find alternative spaces as much as possible," he says. "We are totally self-contained, don't need a soundman, and can play anywhere with power. The only place we don't want to play is on a traditional rock-club stage — but in the corner or the bathroom is fine."