Don Hassler is a musician working with electronic instruments and media. He is very well versed in electronics and the arts, and is very willing to share his knowledge and expertise. This generosity is a marked departure from a scene often defined by secrecy and self-promotion. In Dan, one couldn't ask for a more open introduction to music sometimes termed "difficult". Find out more about his activities and recordings at http://www.donhassler.com and http://hasslerbutcher.blogspot.com/
TSS: You have your hand in many pies. Which do you most identify with and why? Musician, artist, technician?
DH: I've mostly have just said I love electronic music. To whatever extent I might be able to participate at a given time would determine my role out there. Just depending on what opportunities are available to me. I do like assisting others the best, though.
TSS: You seem to have a marked preference for the EMS Synthi Mk I. What continues to draw you to this instrument, and how would you compare it to say, your Buchla 200e?
DH: I became fanatically interested at age 8, in 1968. But, it was prohibitively expensive, and it took more than ten years for me to finally get an instrument. I long knew I wanted either a Synthi or a 2600. On paper, the 2600 made more sense, but the Synthi just seemed cooler. Over the years, I've been exposed to a bunch of others. The Synthi still remains my favorite due to my familiarity and its depth of unexpected behavior. I'd say most any modular could offer just as much and more capability. It seems the 200e though shares a similar degree of eccentric quirks though. That seems to be the thing I'm attracted to.
TSS: How would you describe your collaborations with Jason Butcher? Why collaborate?
DH: Assisting and learning! To make something new!
TSS: I quite like your use of self-playing patches. Does the abandonment of some control provide an essential sense of discovery to draw from?
DH: I hardly ever approached electronic music using the typical musical practices. The idea of sitting down in front of a keyboard and playing a tune makes very little sense to me. As a consequence, my usual routine with anything I've used was to set it up to run on its own. It only very recently occurred to me that I could get away with calling the results finished work. And that came about after I decided it was okay to steal and misappropriate terms for titles. In going through all this, it became clearer to me what might constitute usable listening material to others. I assumed there would be maybe two or three others out there, and the main focus would be on specifically what was happening. The idea then would be to simplify, and use the recording as an opportunity to present a specific machine's character, independent of my continued messing around. The work then is really just about the material itself.
TSS: What kind of formal concerns do you strive for in your music? Do you find yourself balancing Classical ideas of order with utter randomness?
DH: I'm aware of a lot of formal elements out there in music and art, I have a degree of understanding of some of them. I never attempt to introduce anything prior to creating a work though. I only work with the material as such. It's afterward I might spot things that could be construed as say, an ending, or rhythm. So for instance, if I'm only using a Synthi, and at that, not interfering with it while I'm recording, the device itself will determine the structure. The Synthi has only very basic generators which create simple patterns. But it at least allows those generators to completely interfere with themselves and each other by way of feedback and cross modulation. The result is a natural range of varying predictability. I don't think it's randomness I'm after, only rough and predictable. There are periodic events, though due to the instability caused by the relative complexity, there is variation. I attempt to strive for a similar sort of organic behavior on the 200e, or even on the computer. I think in all of what I am attempting is a harsh ambiance, which setting these machines up the way I do tends to produce.