Musical Rooms

October 15, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 44: Mahjongg

Filed under: Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 4:04 pm


“Our studio in Chicago and is an acoustically insulated Grey Room attached to a control chamber, with a drum isolation room and a vocal booth. By leaving the basic structure simple we customize the environment to the project we’re working on. For instance our last show we started this thing Stage Coach, just two of us from Mahjongg. We both sat down – me surrounded by a bank of computers, mixing equipment, and a couple of hand drums – and Michael Chochran, Jr next to me playing drums and keyboards that are in turn sent back through me and my computer. We also had a light sensitive diode on top to solo [with a light bulb], and a bucket of glass patched in there as well. This was all covered by some tank netting draped over all our gear back to the top of our 4000 watt sub, and a bank of some Ministry-ass looking grates I found in the basement. Then we hooked up the fog and this laser light we ordered from China that’s so magnify-intense it’s said it’s illegal to manufacture them in The States.

In our Chicago studio we add a bunch of odd drums, a piano, analogue keyboards, Styrofoam, water and metal bowls. Our most prize possession is the Quad 8 mixing council. The most important thing to have in our studio is my friends and my computer. We’ve put so much stuff into that space it’s hard to quantify importance. We built the floors, walls, ceilings and cabled the whole thing, and sealed it all up.

I’m here pretty much all the time. We do have a schedule and there’s a white board calendar where we write down whatever project is going on that day and who has a show and where. We’ve been recording some other people too. Most recently our chief engineer Benjamin Balcom has been recording narration for a documentary made by Kartemquin. We’ve recorded our friends’ bands Lazer Crystal, CAVE, The Chandeliers and Waterbabies.

I work two ways: alone and in a group. I do one or the other every day and I feel that’s the true path to realizing your personal music potentiality. I come up with ideas alone sometimes and then share them with my friends. Then we constructively break them beat them down and build them back up. I think that you can always tell music that is made alone and music that is made with a group and the group aesthetic is typically better.

I usually start with rhythms that are real simple and then trick them out on the computer. Then I play them, record them then and chop them up again. Sometimes I start hitting a drum or a piano key and make up a song with my inner voice. I think that the element of pseudo randomness that comes from the quantization of information on the machine helps me pick out patterns from the chaos when I’m blending sounds. I use a lot of equipment but it’s basically drums talking to computers and dudes trying to sing on top and then back through the computers, but we use pretty much anything we can get our hands on. I use junk and then guitars and skin and pianos and pure noise analogue digital – you name it, I got it, but it’s probably falling apart whatever it is.

What I like most about this space is that my best friend, Josh Johannpeter is there a lot.”

Mahjongg are a Chicago-based, Missouri-born post-afro-funk- soul-dance-electronic collective or as Pitchfork calls them, “Chicago’s herkiest, jerkiest, motleyist crew of post-punkers”. They bring their collection of drums, percussion, roto toms, effects, samples and many synths upstairs to Whelans, Dublin on Friday 17th October, followed by an all night dance party courtesy of Skinny Wolves & Maximum Joy DJs. For more information, visit

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