Reviver Interview

7 March 2012 xdementia No Comment

Reviver is a hidden gem in the land of New England whose sound can be described as death tone drone; low rumbling feedback and pulsating synth noise with little breathing room. Christopher Donofrio is the soul entity behind this sickened sound and has so far presented a discography of consistent and pummeling sounds while evolving in his own unique way within the confines that he has set for himself. Add to this regular live performances and a taste for the obscure in everything from music to beer and we are left with an enigmatic character to explore. In this interview we attempt to breach the surface of Donofrio’s character and perhaps uncover some of his motivations behind Reviver.

Please give us an image of the everyday Christopher Donofrio. Who are you? What do you do for work? What makes you happy, sad, and gives you the motivation to get out of bed each day?

Alright….at the risk of offering a rather pedestrian response, I’m basically just a dude in his early 30’s who works a 9-5’er. I’m an AV Technician at a huge alcohol company….a traditional corporate environment if there ever was one, but the perks are certainly nice. I’ve been doing this for almost a decade now which is completely mind-blowing to me. I’m a rather fickle guy who often loses interest in things rather quickly, but this has kept me far too busy to even think about anything else….up until right now, I guess.

I originally went to school for studio engineering/production with the grandiose idea of becoming the next Vig or Albini or something. One of those ideas that starts with a Tascam Portastudio and ends with wrapping mic cables for what seems like an eternity (over-under-over-under-over-under). The production world started to freak me out while I was filling internships at a couple of high-profile studios in Manhattan. Your basic “gofer” shit to start with. “Run and get Puff Daddy some beer and cigars”. That sorta thing. I was almost 20 when I finished school which is entirely too early in life to begin what might eventually become a “career”. Far too intense for me, personally. Can’t say that I really learned anything from that type of environment other than the fact that it just wasn’t something that I saw myself doing professionally. Of course, some of this stuff does translate across to what I’m doing today, but not enough to completely burn me out. I still exercise these skills in one way or another on a daily basis, but certainly not to the point where I become overly critical about what’s going on around me. That always scared me….becoming trapped in that producer mentality. Spending too much time slaving over the particular nuances of a sound to really step back and enjoy what’s in front of me. I suppose that might have been the impetus for my burgeoning interest in experimental music. It’s a much more forgiving world.

Things that get me stoked: A really awesome beer, spending time with my girlfriend and her little dude, ridiculous party atmospheres, graphic equalizers, Swedish fish, people who actually get “it”.

Things that bum me out: Ulterior motives, contrived anger/aggression, driving in Boston (sorry, man), all of this Occupy Wall Street bullshit, people who really don’t get “it”.

So, can you explain more about people who do or don’t get “it”?

I suppose that was more of a blanket comment about those who choose to shut themselves off from attempting to find any sort of value in another person’s niche interests. Nothing bums me out more than the immediate dismissal of “art” and otherwise. Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff out there that can objectively (and perhaps unanimously) be recognized as garbage and carries almost no intrinsic value to anyone, but the refusal to see beyond one’s own personal hang-ups in order to open up to the possibility of general appreciation is a serious downer to me. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to music, but rather the whole spectrum of creative interests that are scattered throughout all of our lives….although, these notions do seem to apply to noise more often than not.

You are now located in Connecticut (near New Haven?). Have you lived there all your life? Are there – or have there been – a lot of people who get “it” in your life?

Actually, I’m a little further south on the coastline in Norwalk. Though, I’m often associated with the New Haven area as that’s where most of the action takes place in Connecticut. However, there are definitely a few pockets of strange scattered around the state. The Hartford area is a formidable runner-up…New Milford has its own little thing going on…Bridgeport’s got its own cozy community as well. I’ve lived here for a majority of my life with just a couple other residencies around the East Coast (South Carolina, Florida), but CT continually draws me back. There’s just something so comforting about being relatively equidistant to most of the major cities here in the Northeast. I like to think of Connecticut as a bit of a hub of sorts. Once you get past the terrible reputation of this state, it’s easy to discover its pleasures….which I’m still doing decades later. And there’s definitely a sense of community here in CT in regard to the experimental music scene, but I can’t say that there is any kind of notable aesthetic that can be broadly attached to all of the particular performers around here like you might experience around some regions. Everyone has their own recognizable style, in a way, so there’s always a mish-mash of stimuli to experience. You’ve got your academic types, your quintessential PE dudes, your weird dada crews that continuously leave you scratching your head…there’s a pretty good cross-section of styles here. Really, there’s something for everyone.

There are countless characters in my life that certainly get “it”…and yeah, a lot of these people do have their hands in the noise game to some extent, but there are plenty of others outside of that circle of influence who are incredibly supportive of what I/we do. I suppose these are the most important people as they have no specific agenda or bias in relation to what I do. The most pure, honest feedback generally comes from those sitting along the outskirts of these interests which can prove to be absolutely invaluable.

How did noise come into your life?

I guess there’s two parts to this….

As an active listener:

Kind of organically, actually….maybe even accidentally. I was one of those kids that was just turning 13 when Nevermind came out. I remember discovering the hidden track at the end, “Endless Nameless”. It freaked me the fuck out. There’s a vaguely coherent structure initially, but the song completely melts down towards the last few minutes in an extended display of guitar feedback. The idea that this would sit comfortably on an album that was otherwise rock/pop oriented completely blew my mind. I never really associated this directly with the noise movement, but was rather seduced by the possibility that music didn’t necessarily have to be melodic or even structured in a verse/chorus sense. The internet as we know it was in its absolute infancy as this time, so there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities of exposure to the world beyond. It was a couple years before I started to discover noise in a traditional sense, so I was mostly introduced by band associations. Nirvana led to Sonic Youth…which lead to the Boredoms…which instantly led to Merzbow…which in turn led to just about everything else. It really snowballed over time from something that passively existed in my life to something much, much bigger. Now, it’s become such an embedded part of my life that it’s almost inescapable (in a good way).

As an active participant:

I had dabbled with clumsy experimentation in my early 20’s. I had a guitar (poorly trained) and had been in hokey rock bands all throughout high school, but never really considered the possibility of pursuing noise as an isolated activity. Over time, I became more comfortable with the idea of generating unusual sounds from otherwise traditional instruments. It was a good 5 or 6 years before I discovered the magic of the graphic equalizer. Like a lot of noise dudes, I’m sure, I was initially convinced that I was the first person to ever discover how a feedback loop could be abused rather than utilized in a proper fashion. Obviously, this was not the case as I soon discovered an entire world of performers who exploited this technique to an infinitely more effective and interesting degree (Nakamura being the obvious example here).

Equalizers are a bit of a Swiss Army device, if you really think about it. They are typically used to shape tones…filter out specific frequencies in order to eliminate unwanted feedback….you know, generally conventional applications. As soon as I realized that these things were glorified oscillators, my head just exploded. I initially tinkered with various arrangements of EQ’s within a single signal path which opened up a lot of possibilities. It was until I started performing with other musicians that I began to understand the relationship these devices had with one another…how one EQ would effect the sound of another when mixed accordingly. It wasn’t long before I constructed a setup that would provide me with the sonic tools that were needed to create these sounds/effects that I had brewing in my head for years. I’ve reached the point now where I have a certain confidence in the equipment that I’m using which in turn allows me to improvise freely while still maintaining a somewhat cohesive sound that I now associate with my Reviver project. My setup hasn’t changed all that dramatically over the years. In fact, I’m still using that first Realistic 5-band graphic EQ that I found at the local Goodwill back in the mid 2000’s. It’s my workhorse.

That brings me nicely to my next question, how does your professional and technical knowledge, your education and current job as an A/V technician affect the sound of Reviver?

I can’t say that the work I do professionally really influences my sound all that much other than the fact that it equips me with the skills necessary to troubleshoot anything that isn’t working the way that it should (or perhaps even just the way that I would want). I won’t throw out any names here, but there have been countless times when I would be watching someone set up their gear prior to a performance and they’re just standing there scratching their head and staring blankly at a table/floor/suitcase littered with a dozen pedals and a huge knot of cables. I do my best to make sure that this never happens to me. Not to say that gear can’t be unpredictable or unruly, but one should at least have a basic understanding of their equipment (and signal flow, for that matter) if they intend on having a consistent approach to their music. I realize that this all sounds a little arrogant, but I can’t help but take a serious amount of pride in being intimately familiar with all of my tools and how they function. I’m a bit of an organizational freak as well so that certainly helps to keep things in check.

Other than that, my “work” work and “noise” work almost sit at polar opposite ends of my life. My A/V work is based on getting just about everything right…doing things to spec….using equipment in a way that it was intended. Severe rulebook shit. My Reviver project simply ignores all of these things that I’ve been taught and instead turns concepts like signal flow on its head in order to abuse the various quirks of whatever audio gear I happen to be using. I’d be fired immediately if I ever tried to patch an EQ back into itself at any sort of company event. It certainly helps that none of my co-workers have any clue as to what I do in my spare time. It’s a Jekyll/Hyde type thing, I guess.

Why do you choose to keep your noise activities under wraps regarding other people in your life. How far does your Jekyll/Hyde life extend? Do your parents know about Reviver?

I guess it’s the difficulty of a proper explanation that keeps me from advertising, so to speak. I’m not exactly the type that practices self-promotion or even expounds upon the virtues of noise and its importance to me. Don’t get me wrong, I do my share of evangelizing, but I’ve made a conscious effort to keep it out of my work life specifically. Actually, I’ve made it a point to keep most personal interests completely isolated from my professional career. I really enjoy the fact that both aspects are entirely compartmentalized…it just keeps things neat and tidy. Again, the obsession of organization rears its ugly head.

My family is well aware that I perform “music” to some extent. Exactly what that entails I’ve yet to explain. It’s rather cute, actually. If I mention in passing that I’m playing a show, my mother will say something like “Play well!” or “Have fun doing your music!”….you know, endearing notes of encouragement that parents are often mandated to dole out. My dad is probably the most in-tune with what I do, yet he still has almost no clue as to what’s involved or even what it sounds like. My family isn’t particularly musical aside from a passive interest in terms of listening to whatever it is they enjoy (my dad = more blues/classic rock/Zappa stuff; my mother = Jennifer Lopez/Gloria Estefan). They definitely understand that what I’m doing is conventionally different and they are unquestionably supportive, but I don’t try to sell them my tapes or anything like that.

I would say Reviver has a certain sound that is shared in almost everything I’ve heard you do. How did you come up with your sound, or aesthetic for the project? Specifically what artists influence your work as Reviver?

There’s definitely a recognizable sound/aesthetic involved in what I do and it’s clearly a conscious effort. It mostly came to fruition by way of the graphic EQ which I’ve almost become a slave to at this point. There’s a sweet-spot that these things can be “tuned” to that just did it for me from the get-go. That real low-end, almost pulse-width modulated frequency zone. That’s probably one of the more predictable aspects of my particular style.

It’s tough to say who has influenced that specifically, but there’s a constant onslaught of stimuli in my everyday life that seeps into the subconscious of what I’m trying to do, musically and otherwise. One frequent touchstone that I constantly seem to reference in my own mind is that of dentistry. This sort of imagery seems to plague everything I do to some extent. Horrifically enough, I find a great thrill in the sensation of having my teeth drilled. Just the pure power of such a procedure…the sounds that resonate throughout your skull…even the smell. It’s probably one of the more visceral experiences that your average human might typically undergo during their lives, so it’s something that almost everyone can identify with.

I can’t really cite too many artists that directly influence my sounds other than my own peers in the noise community. Hopefully that’s not misconstrued as an attempt to bite anyone’s style, but I get a great joy out of seeing a number of my friends rip shit up and it always inspires me to continually move forward. Personal heroes? Telecult Powers is a no-brainer. Those dudes are locked into something that’s so beyond what we’re able to comprehend that it’s almost thrilling to just allow them to transport you elsewhere…anywhere. First time I saw them was at 119 Gallery in Lowell, MA many, many years back. Their entire process of setting up seemed almost like a ritual unto itself. This shit was so real. I just sorta laid back and let me toss me through space. An amazing experience, to say the least.

Mark Kuss is another great example of an acquaintance turned influence. This guy’s performances awe-inspiring. He’s a professor at Southern Connecticut State and a fully accomplished classical composer/musician. However, it’s not uncommon to find him flexing his own noise muscles at any given noise show in the New Haven area (hope I’m not blowin’ up his spot here…he typically performs as -M). Dude builds these wondrously steampunk-ish devices that just emanate the most raw tones imaginable. This guy lights up his amp stack every time. Literally. I’ve noticed a bit of a common thread shared between our respective techniques and sounds so I’m hoping that one day we’ll be able to collaborate on something. These are only a couple of examples, but I’m sure you get the idea. I’d much rather draw influence from those that are directly accessible to me than perhaps someone who is so far removed from my life that they might as well be from the moon.

Is noise more of a masochistic or sadistic experience for you?

Good question! I guess it depends on which side of the noise I’m on. As a performer, it’s definitely a sadistic experience. I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of performers, actually. Volume plays a big part in this as there’s a distinct physicality that I like to invoke within a given space…though, I don’t always resort to body-pummeling decibels just for the sake of it. I think that certain frequencies are infinitely more effective at lower volume levels. You don’t need to be exceedingly loud to hit a listener with some severe bass as your performance environment can generally do this for you if you’re cognizant of its acoustic properties. I’d say that volume plays a much bigger part when you’re dealing with higher frequency registers…that extreme nails-on-a-chalkboard type of sound doesn’t work all that well if it’s just a cricket in your ear. I mean, imagine how many audience members at any given noise show might already be suffering from some sort of tinnitus or general hearing deficiency. You almost need to do them a service by pushing the fader, so to speak. They’re going to feel the bass anyway, so that’s just half of the battle.

Though, as a listener, it’s undoubtedly masochistic. I can’t say that I go to any noise shows with the expectation of being handled with kid gloves. We know it’s not healthy to be exposed to such excessive volumes over long periods of time, but we put ourselves through it anyway just for personal enjoyment. I think that the awareness of this self-abuse is where you begin to discover the true masochistic nature of noise rather than just within the basic atonality of it. Not to say that my performances are entirely devoid of masochism, but you certainly won’t see me cutting myself with a broken bottle any time soon.

Can you tell us a little about the Ocular Prolapse cassette? The cassette appeared to be 2×30 second loops rigged to actually loop on the consumer’s tape machine. What were the motivations behind the release and did you accomplish what you had hoped?

Oh man, diggin’ deep in the vaults…

The Ocular Prolapse cassette was a bit of an early (and rather amateur) endeavor for me. The playback format was an answering machine cassette which would have typically contained your outgoing message. The cassettes came first and the concept came shortly after. Yeah, the title is a bit of unfortunate imagery…I’m pretty sure I was just trying to gross myself out at the time.

My initial intent was to create approximately 30 seconds of material (the maximum time available) to record onto each tape with the idea that the listener is encouraged to allow it to play for extended periods of time without interruption. Basically, it’s meant to be an exercise in patience and aural stamina. The difficult part was having to create such a short amount of content which would work in the context of repeated playback. Too many ideas, too little time. I ended up with an unmanageable pile of short passages that I had to sift through before settling on something that I was comfortable with. Kind of an odd notion considering how short some of my live sets tend to run, but it was definitely something that I was never really confronted with until I had to deal with this particular imposed time limit.

Unfortunately, the major folly of this particular media is that there’s a little strip of metal which connects the two ends of the loop. This sensor is designed to trigger the answering machine to begin recording on the incoming message cassette. To your average consumer tape deck, this metal strip means absolutely nothing and simply translates to a split second of silence. It’s an uncomfortable pause for something that’s supposed to be played ad nauseum, but it was a caveat that I was willing to accept. After having it loop maybe a dozen or so times, it becomes less noticeable and almost a part of the looped content itself. Oh, also, these tapes are all one-sided. There are no teeth on what would otherwise be side B’s take-up reel so flipping it over equates to complete silence…the cassette reels do not turn. Another severe limitation of an outdated technology.

I still have a ton of these things hanging around. I’ll dig one up every now and then to play as a little refresher. Strangely, I can almost never quite recall the nature of the content. With most of my releases, I can reference the time/space from which it was created almost instantly from memory. In this case, it seems almost foreign and unrecognizable to me. It’s a weird one.

So where is it all going? Why are you making noise, and what do you hope to accomplish?

Unfortunately, I’ve never had the proper foresight to really predict where/how things will go for me. I’ve always set my own goals realistically low so as not to create any unnecessary pressure for myself. I generally work at my own pace which is seemingly glacial at times. I suppose this tends to keep things in check and within the realm of manageability….I mean, I’m definitely not the type to release every single jam session that I lay down. If anything, I’m overly self-critical to the point that I only ever seem to put out that which strikes me as truly worthy. I literally have miles upon miles of content that I’ve hemmed and hawed over for years, but never felt 100% happy with. Although encouragement abounds, I typically ignore the urges to throw things out into the world that would otherwise seem tedious and tired to my ears.

However, as far as short-term goals are concerned, I’m definitely hoping to become far more active in 2012. Perhaps a tour situation that would take me beyond the usual Northeast haunts. I’d like to eventually get over my digital hang-ups as well. For reasons that have almost entirely escaped me, I’ve always insisted that my releases be available exclusively on cassette format. I don’t think that I need to expound upon the virtues of analog tape to anyone reading this, but I’ve never really felt comfortable with the world of CDs. Oddly enough, I do think that a lot of what I do would translate much better on digital format due to general sound quality and headroom. I don’t have anything personal against compact discs; I’ve just never felt like the CD aesthetic was something that I’ve found particularly seductive. The mechanical nature of the cassette has always seemed like a better pairing for the sounds that I’ve been creating…to the point that I’ve almost become a slave to the format. It’s only a matter of time before I begin to swear those off as well and become transfixed on some other ancient format. Wax cylinders seem like a worthwhile prospect….

Your performances a few years ago averaged around 2-4 minutes. The last time I saw you play was about 10-15 minutes. Why was it so short in the beginning? How has this evolution taken place, and what are you doing to further explore and evolve the Reviver sound? Is digital the “new realm” for Reviver?

The length of my sets has always been relatively short. This was, at first, the result of not having a particularly large vocabulary when it came to my equipment/sound. I simply didn’t have all that much to say, really. At this point, I feel that I’ve built up a greater arsenal of sounds which allows me the freedom to explore a bit more in a live setting. It should be noted that I have an incredibly short attention span which also significantly affects the duration of my performances. I’m not sure that will ever change. “Short and sweet” has become a bit of a personal mantra. Honestly, the Halloween show was an anomaly for me…those 15 minutes felt like an eternity. That was actually the first time that I had ever sat down and arranged something specific for a set, believe it or not. The scene that I had chosen worked much more effectively in slow-motion….so what should have been a typically brief set turned into something a bit more drawn out. Purely a result of the running time of that particular clip and not necessarily a conscious effort to simply play longer.

As far as further exploration is concerned, I’ve only recently opened myself up to the use of other devices beyond that of graphic equalizers…I just got so locked into that specific “gimmick” that it almost backed me into a corner. It’s no longer uncommon to see me using things like reverb tanks, cassette loops and even microphones to vary the sound a little bit.

And as for digital….no….I definitely don’t have any plans to step into that world exclusively. Don’t get me wrong, I rather enjoy my fair share of laptop/synth-generated music, but I just don’t have the wherewithal to properly exploit it on my own terms. I much prefer the tactile relationship that I have with my choice of gear over that of a more “virtual” device. I’ve even experimented a little bit with digital EQs. They just didn’t have the same response that I would get out of some old, shitty MetroTec 5-band equalizer. These things have a personality all their own that simply cannot be recreated otherwise….at least not by any means that I’ve discovered.

We’ll leave it with the power of the EQ. Anything else you want to add, upcoming releases?

Nothing set in stone right now. Just hoping to make it through this year alive. I still owe Mike Haley (905) a master that’s long overdue…so maybe I’ll decide to finish that at some point. Maybe not. I need a beer.

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