Tycho's take on ambient is pleasantly disorienting
Close your eyes and press the palms of your hands onto your eyelids, not too hard. Then pull your hands away. Those whorls of light you seem to see? That’s a visual phenomenon called phosphene, and it looks the way Tycho sounds. The music of the San Francisco–based project, the brainchild of graphic designer Scott Hansen, is a sunset-hued swirl of ambient sound. On the latest Tycho album, Dive, Hansen has arranged the synthesizer and guitar tones into a wide-screen take on ambient music, albeit one anchored by down-tempo beats.
“A lot of my music is based on chords that I didn’t necessarily play, but are created through the interaction of two whole separate tracks, and two different instruments,” Hansen says over the phone from his home. “And when you have those two instruments drifting in and out, slightly out of tune, you get some more interesting harmonics. Some more complex relationships start to kind of come out of that, and it just makes for a more diverse experience for the listener, I think.”
Like the best work of Boards of Canada and even My Bloody Valentine, Tycho tracks such as the aptly titled “Daydream” have a pleasantly disorienting feel. They are constantly shifting and evolving in ways that you would never notice if you were to focus on only one part.
“It’s the same with my graphic design,” Hansen says. “When I mix fields of colour, if there’s blue, I don’t want it to be just blue. By the time you move to the corner, it’s a darker blue than the blue up at the top, just like when paper gets old and ink degrades, you get these fluctuations. I see my music and design as really similar in the processes, and that’s the perfect example, where things are subtly shifting over time, be that the colour or the sound or the pitch or whatever.”
Hansen no longer does graphics work for outside clients, and he sees the sonic and visual aspects of Tycho as parts of a whole rather than separate endeavours. They are becoming increasingly indivisible, too. “Any design I’m doing, it’s going to be because it’s for a show poster or an album cover or a vinyl release or something,” he says. “So I don’t think they’re different things now, especially now that I’m working on this new video project. I’m redoing all the visuals for the live show. This will be kind of a rough draft of it, but once I’m really where I want to be with that, in two years or something, the big plan is to create this whole movie, where there’s a narrative and it all comes together. For me, that’s the singularity that as an artist I’m working towards.”
Tycho plays Electric Owl on Friday (May 25).