Q&A: What is Tinty Music?

On to my musical past…

What is Tinty Music?

Tinty Music is the name I gave to my musical pursuits, as well as the name under which I released recordings for public consumption from 1994 to 1998. I reissued much of the Tinty Music back catalogue in digital download form in the spring of 2014.

The name itself came from a road-trip argument about what music to listen to next. Though the four of us in the car had some tastes in common, I was very much into the new wave/Second British Invasion music of the day, two were into mellow R&B and smooth jazz, and one was into that mellow stuff and country—specifically, Alabama. Well, Mr. Alabama and I started bickering about our respective tastes. He said something about the weird stuff I liked; I retorted that it was ‘better than that shit you listen to’—at which point he came back with ‘well, the music you listen to is tinty!’ None of us could figure out what that meant, and he made no attempt to explain it. But, when I began making my own music, I needed to label the tapes with something. So, I figured that if the music I liked was tinty, then the music I made myself had to be tinty as well.

Years of banging on the family piano notwithstanding, my first experiments in creating music took place in the spring of 1987. Armed with just a Casio SK-1 and a Sony betamax, I sampled bits of my record collection and made some crude recordings. I couldn’t do anything with them, but that got me interested in trying more.

In late 1988, while living in Tokyo, I bought my first synthesizer, a Yamaha EOS B200. With its built-in speakers, it was something of a behemoth, but it saved me from having to invest in additional equipment. I read up on how to operate the built-in sequencer, and went to work.

Initially, I wanted to make dance music in the vein of Madonna or the Pet Shop Boys—but my natural inclinations took over, so what I was coming up with sounded more like something from a weird mystery movie soundtrack. I was also heavily into David Sylvian, so I often ventured into contemplative sounds and textures as well. The limitations of the synthesizer meant that I had to keep things relatively simple at first; as time went on, and I added more equipment, I was able to get past a lot of those limitations, and achieve a fuller sound. My basic musical tendencies remained, but the results were a bit more accessible.

When I returned to Seattle in late 1992, of course I had to get a new keyboard, a Korg 01/W-FD; a few months later, I bought a sound card to expand its capabilities. By that time (1993), I had become interested in ambient music, which had become a prominent genre, thanks to the likes of The Orb, Aphex Twin, the FAX label, and so on.

The first Tinty Music CD, Weightlessness: Of Contemplation & Distraction, was finished in November 1994. I sent review copies to several magazines and zines, and promo copies to college and indie radio stations, getting some good reviews and a bit of airplay. I even landed some distribution through a new company emphasizing independent artists. Unfortunately, that company didn’t last very long, and I never got that inventory back (on the bright side, disposing of it became their problem).

In the spring of 1995, I was introduced to the world of Japanese noise. I had gone to a local store specializing in unusual sounds to see if they would be willing to carry my CD, and found all sorts of interesting-looking stuff there. On my first visit, I walked out having purchased a copy of Aube’s Flash-Point cassette—and I was hooked. Not only did I like what I heard, but I also learned that a homemade/handmade release did not have to mean a cheap, crappy cassette in sloppy packaging. And, because copies could be duplicated as needed, the investment required was much, much less.

From that point on, my focus shifted to cassette releases. I released three cassettes in 1995, and more than twice that in 1996. In the process, my musical focus shifted from carefully arranged ambient music to improvised noise experiments. Trades with Japanese artists Aube and MSBR got some of these cassettes in the hands of Japanese listeners, a couple of whom bought copies of just about everything I made. I wasn’t really making any money from this activity, but it was great to have an audience, however small.

As things progressed, I felt confident enough to submit material for possible inclusion on compilations. In 1996 and 1997, I had material released on the Mind/Body 3Nocturne Concrète, and Resurgence CDs, and the Wood Block Compilation cassette.

The Nocturne Concrète CD release party provided my first opportunity to perform live. I hated the experience (particularly as it took place in a bar, so the conversations, clatter of plates, and even an interruption by some guy wanting to know who the band was were all distractions), but accepted later invitations to perform at the late, great Anomalous Records, a much more hospitable place. The Anomalous Records performances became the basis of Anomaly and Live at Anomalous Records 31 May 1997, two of my 1997 cassette releases.

1998 saw both the last proper Tinty Music release and the end of Tinty Music. Most of my equipment was stolen that summer—and I didn’t have insurance. I had already become a bit stumped as to my future musical direction, so that was actually sort of a blessing.

I didn’t totally abandon Tinty Music, though. I would occasionally experiment with sounds from time to time; in 2004, I used some of these sounds to put together a new piece, ‘Eight of Diamonds’, that was intended for a compilation based on the 52 cards of the standard playing deck. Sadly, that compilation never saw the light of day. That year, I also put together a 10th Anniversary Edition of Weightlessness, which I never offered for sale, instead giving copies away as holiday gifts for friends and family, and then to other folks from time to time. In 2005, I made my first video, Sureru, under my own name, as well as creating a visual the Tinty Music piece ‘Fluorescent Lighting’, and putting it on YouTube. In 2006, I prepared a 10th Anniversary Edition of Sublimation, but, when I found that my plan to make it available as a CD-R would be too expensive, I made it available for free via the now-defunct social media site Multiply.

After a few years of not thinking about it much, in February 2014, I decided to revisit the catalogue with a view to putting it on Bandcamp. I started with a compilation of Tinty Music pieces less than two minutes each (Short Forms 1989–2004), then moved on to the rest of the catalogue—even adding a couple of EPs of previously unreleased material, and completing a version of Meditations on the Inescapable Self (which I would have released in 1999, had I not changed my mind about its readiness for release). A total of 24 releases are available for listening and purchase on Bandcamp.

Tinty Music is not for the mainstream-pop-minded, but instead for the more adventurous listener. I invite you to take a listen.

(17 November 2014)