Photo: Kyla McDonald

Anti-social distortion

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By Kyla McDonald

Improbably mixed with the burps and screams that come with residence life at Pitman Hall are the techno sounds of a student musician. But Andrew McCallum just considers himself a “guy who sits in his bedroom and makes music.”

McCallum’s Grey Matter is a collision of music and technology created by the second-year AIM student. He makes his own brand of trance-industrial techno sounds and it’s all done on his computer. “I just like making noises and making things fit together,” says McCallum, who has made an appearance on Hot 103 FM’s Dr. Trance Show. The show has about 50,000 listeners. “It was really interesting because almost all my distribution had been through the Net up until a year ago,” says McCallum, smiling to himself and blushing self-consciously as he creates a barrage of keyboard sounds from bass beats and buzzes to regular piano notes.

The amazing variety of sounds created are especially surprising when they come from an ordinary looking computer in the centre of McCallum’s room. The monitor and hard drive are battered and covered with old stickers. “This isn’t my regular computer,” McCallum says apologetically, “my real computer is getting repairs.”

His room is colourful, contrasting McCallum’s basic black straight-laced style. He repeatedly tugs awkwardly at a newly-groomed goatee as he adjusts the knobs and dials on the mixing board which sits beside his monitor.

McCallum started creating computer music about five years ago and now gets fan mail from all over the world. “Most musicians start out with local listeners and then try to expand, for me it was global to start with,” he says, fidgeting with a candle. McCallum gives a lot of credit for his success to the Kosmic Free Music Foundation.

Kosmic is an organization of musicians, graphic artists and programmers who distribute their works for free on the Net. It has been around since 1991 and McCallum was flattered when its president asked him to join their ranks. “When people are picking stuff up off the Net, if they see that it’s from Kosmix, they know that it’s decent quality.”

On top of his radio debut, McCallum has been interviewed by Jim Carrol for his book, The Canadian Internet Handbook. McCallum is hoping to do live shows and that desire led to his first tape. “I had a lot of people who were asking for tapes who didn’t have Internet access,” McCallum says. He estimates he’s sold 150 tapes.

McCallum’s background is not only in computers. He’s spend 10 years on the piano, five on the oboe and two on the guitar, giving him the necessary harmonious smarts.

Now, his main instrument is his sound card. This bit of hardware saves synthesized sounds which can be played back through certain computer programs. Each note is then written on charts which can be played back in any chosen sequence.

A keyboard and mixing board are the newest additions to McCallum’s set up. “I haven’t had a lot of chance to use the keyboard yet, but it gives a clearer sound,” he says, adding that techno for him is all about blending sound textures as much as rhythm.

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