Surprising, Unexpected Singularity: An Interview with gimbal.lock

Thanks, once again, to Jeff Archuleta’s Eclectic Music Lover Blog—this time for alerting me to the music of gimbal.lock! When I played their song, “Fantasy,” on the #Tweetcore Radio Hour recently, I tried my best to explain what the term “gimbal lock” means, but since, as Jeff reports in his review, lead singer Ralph Bayer is a mechanical engineer working in the field of space robotics, I thought it best to let him explain. And while he was at it, I figured I’d ask a few more questions about his band and his music.

What does the term “gimbal lock” mean, and how does it apply to space systems or robotics?

Good question! First, let’s talk about gimbals for a second. A gimbal is a swiveling joint, kind of like a hinge, that allows an object placed in it to freely rotate. If we connect three gimbals together, we can move the object inside in all three rotational directions.

You might have seen a camera gimbal that a photographer or cinematographer uses to keep their camera steady while they move around.

Now, a gimbal lock is a phenomenon that occurs when two of the gimbals are aligned so that they lose the ability to rotate the object in a particular axis, causing a “lock” to occur. It is not a lock in a mechanical sense.

This is a singularity situation. Flight controls that use gimbal-based sensor systems are not as intelligent as humans. So, they start doing crazy things like shaking wildly or going in directions we don’t want. One well-known case occurred during the Apollo 11 mission, when a gimbal lock unexpectedly froze the spacecraft’s computer.

In robotics, gimbal lock can also occur, where the robot controller does unexpected things, such as suddenly accelerating their movements or repositioning itself in strange ways in the workspace. One must be aware of this when working with a robot and take appropriate precautions.

Along similar lines, how might the term relate to your music? I notice that the band’s logo depicts a guitar inside a system of gimbals.

The analogy here is that we want to make music that is surprising, unexpected, and a singularity. Timeless music that is accessible but does not conform to the so-called mainstream. A band one should be aware of.

Our logo shows a simplistic gimbal lock case (first and third gimbals are aligned), and we placed the e-guitar in the center because for us it symbolizes solid handmade rock music. That is what we do and our genre domain.

Also, we know that the name is already quite an unknown term for many people. Something special that once you hear it, you will not forget it so quickly.

More broadly, how does being a mechanical engineer inform your approach to music? Do you feel like it gives you a particular perspective on music-making?

My training as an engineer helps me with the technical aspects of making music. I produce all of our music myself, which means I have to have a certain level of technical understanding to know how to record and mix it well.

My music, which is more emotion-based, and my profession, which is more mind-based, are often at odds with each other, but that’s exactly why it’s a perfect balance in my life. Important things I bring from my profession to making music are the perseverance to get through difficult and exhausting things, and to always motivate myself to keep going at 100% and see the big picture. These are skills that you should have as a scientist and that help you immensely as a musician.

How did gimbal.lock come together, and who’s in the band?

gimbal.lock was something that I had been thinking about for quite a while. The initial concept was to realize it as a project band and invite guest musicians for the individual songs. When things became more serious, Tom (the drummer of gimbal.lock) and I happened to be in a hard rock cover band together. I asked him if he would like to play drums for one of my songs. The collaboration was so much fun that we decided to continue together.

Shortly after that Zsolt (electric guitar and background vocals) joined us. It was just the right moment, I guess. He had left his former band for some time and was hungry for something new. After we sat together and talked about gimbal.lock, it was quickly becoming clear that he would join us as a band member.

gimbal.lock therefore is now a band with a core line-up. However, we will keep a part of the original idea and ask musicians to collaborate with us from time to time. I really enjoy doing that.

Your first single, “Fantasy,” offers a meditation on the escapist value of imagination. What inspired it?

My songs usually develop during a longer process. Often when I’m jamming, I get stuck on a cool riff, a chord or a melody that triggers something inside me. There’s something meditative about that, and during that times images, scenes or thoughts emerge from my mind that form a symbiotic relationship with the melody. From this, in turn, the theme of the song and finally the lyrics develop.

‘Fantasy’ was special to me. The things in my head that came to the tune were very different each time, and they were often just beautiful, extraordinary places. One time, for example, I had an untamed Irish coastal landscape in my mind. Or I thought of journeys to the faraway, wonderful places in our galaxy or into the deep unknowns of our oceans. Every time I played it, something new and interesting would pop up.

As I found myself enjoying these short escapes from reality, where I just let my mind run wild, I got the idea to dedicate it to the root cause: Fantasy. I hope the song will spark the imagination of our listeners as well.

Why is imagination important?

I think that imagination is a crucial ability of us humans which facilitated inventions, literature, artwork, and music. But it also enables us to escape the mundanity of our daily routines or can even provide us with solace or distraction when we are just struggling. It gives us the opportunity to do things we can’t do in real life or relive our fondest memories. Rather than resorting to harmful drugs, we already have this gift in us, ready to use it at any time we want to, if we are open for it.

Along similar lines, why is it sometimes necessary to remind people of the value of imagination?

Fantasizing is something that nowadays tends to be negatively associated with childishness and mistakenly with unproductivity. Today’s society is all about optimizing one’s time in all areas of life – even free time – with maximum results. Where would we be in cultural or scientific terms without the people using its imagination? Or without the fantastic stories of science fiction writers who inspired others? Star Trek is a modern example of this. Many people were encouraged by it to become engineers or scientists in the first place (myself included).

Moreover, in our fully digitized world, almost nothing is left to one’s imagination. We are currently seeing artificial intelligence with its ever-increasing capabilities being used in more and more fields, especially in the arts.

The tragedy is that the ability to fantasize seems to atrophy more and more when it is not used anymore. We are already seeing some of these effects in our children, who should be masters at it, but now often don’t even know what to do with themselves without a smartphone or tablet.

However, the song is not meant to be a lecture, but simply a reminder and encouragement to just allow yourself to daydream once in a while. That’s a beautiful thing.

You employ some interesting instrumentation on the track. Jeff’s review of the song mentions “the use of exotic instruments like the buzuq, a long-necked Arabic fretted lute, and the santoor, a trapezoid-shaped Indian hammered dulcimer.” I’m curious as to whether you’re playing actual instruments on the track—or are we hearing samples? It’s a cool sound either way!

During the transition from the demo version to the official studio recording, I had the idea to express the world of fantasy musically, with something that is rather rare in Western music. I decided to use orient-like melodies and to use authentic instruments for that.

The bouzouk is an instrument in my possession that I played myself in the first chorus. I bought it many years ago during a vacation in Athens, Greece. I just love the sound if it.

For the santoor in the second chorus, we used a virtual instrument whose melodies I programmed. We tried very different instruments, like flutes, harps, bells, etc., but the santoor had the right feel right away. It immediately draws you in.

Like a lot of the musicians who appear on this blog (myself included!), you play music, but you also work full time. What does making music add to your life?

I would like to quote something beautiful from John Miles: “Music was my first love and will be my last …To life without my music would be impossible to do. In this world full of troubles my music pulls me through”

It enriches my life on many levels. It gives me comfort, joy, energy, and balance.

What’s next for gimbal.lock?

The next few months are going to be very exciting for gimbal.lock!

We are currently working on the release of our next songs. All these self-written tunes are part of our first album titled ‘Scattered Pieces’.

As far as releases are concerned, we have adapted to today’s time and will release them gradually over the next months. It’s just great that we can constantly offer our listeners something new.

At the same time, we will work hard on our live performance. We are very excited that we were able to catch our rehearsal space a few weeks past. It is very hard to find such spots near Munich.

Another thing we’re going to do again this year (it’s a tradition Tom and I have been doing for a few years now) is a Christmas special. We’ll see, maybe even a Christmas-EP might be possible. It might be fun rocking the Christmas songs in the studio in August with t-shirt and shorts!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thanks for having me, I had a blast!

Everybody’s In a Big Hurry to Get Nowhere: A Conversation with Tim Cameron of Cameronoise

Tim Cameron has been aspiring to make noise since receiving a Beatles album at the age of four. Hence, it only makes sense that he should adopt a portmanteau of his surname plus “noise” in his stage name, Cameronoise. His latest album, the self-produced Racing to the Next Red Light offers a collection of six instrumental tracks influence by the styles of his classic rock favorites: the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and Booker T. and the MGs, to name just a few.

When did you have the epiphany to join your name with “noise”?

I’ve had the name in the back of my mind for a while, I think I got the idea from George Harrison’s publishing being under the name Harrisongs. I liked that wordplay when I first read that as a kid, so I came up with my own version.

Your new album is called Racing to the Next Red Light. What does it mean to you, and how does it relate to the music on the album?

I got the idea from observing the traffic around my neighbourhood. There’s a school crosswalk near my place, and just a block beyond that is a major intersection, which is always backed up in the mornings at rush hour. I’ve seen so many impatient drivers tear through the crosswalk only to be caught a few seconds later at the red light, so the phrase came to me from that. Everybody’s in a big hurry to get nowhere. As to how it relates to the album, there wasn’t any intentional connection, although maybe I’ll realize there was a subconscious connection later. For now it’s just a catchy phrase, and people have told me similar traffic madness stories about their own neighbourhoods after hearing the title.

How do you come up with titles for instrumentals? What’s the relationship between the music and the name you attach to it?

Some of the Cameronoise songs are re-workings of songs from my singer-songwriter days (as T.C. Folkpunk), so I kept the titles of those for anybody who’s followed me all this time. Other songs that are just melodies that never had lyrics are fair game as far as their titles. There’s an instrumental band called Atomic 7 (which grew out of Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet) and they’ve always had such great memorable titles for their songs. ‘You Ain’t Having Fun ’Til You’re Dialling 9-1-1’, or ‘Seven Stranded Castanets’. I have a notebook filled with similar goofy little turns of phrase, so I’ll refer to that when I need a title.

There’s definitely a classic rock sound to your music. What draws you to that style?

It’s not really intentional, I think it’s just what I heard a lot growing up, so it just gets repackaged when I work on a track. The whole “big plan” behind Cameronoise is that it’ll eventually cover all sorts of styles, just whatever I feel like at the time. Prepare yourselves for the birth of “Synth-Polka”!

Your music was featured in the Canadian indie film Love in the Sixth. How did that come about?

I was invited to a party on Easter weekend in 2014, a week before I was going in to the studio to record one of my Folkpunk albums. While I was there I bumped into another songwriting friend who had her guitar out, and she was also heading into the studio with a bunch of new tunes. So we passed her guitar back and forth playing our new songs to each other, and after we’d finished a woman (Jude Klassen, who I’d met earlier that evening) came up to me and said she loved my originals and wondered if I’d be interested in writing for a film she was going to start shooting in a couple of months. I jumped at the chance, of course. It played a few festivals, ended up on Amazon Prime, and Jude’s made another film since then, ‘Stupid For You’, which I also wrote a ton of music for.

You also acted in that film?

Well, I stood in front of a camera and said things that I’d memorized from a script, whether I was good enough to call it acting is another matter…

But yeah, Jude needed somebody to play one of the main characters, so I auditioned and got the part. And when I say auditioned, I mean she said “Can you act?” and I said “I think so”.

You played at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool in 2010. Can you talk a little bit about that experience? Or a lot, as I imagine there’s plenty to say about it!

That was mind blowing, to be standing on sacred ground with my guitar plugged in. The sound man, Jim, had been to Toronto a few times with a band that he was managing, so we had a whole bunch of Toronto friends in common, which was weird. I spent a couple of days walking around Liverpool and seeing landmarks that I’d heard of in biographies about the Beatles. Lime Street Station, the Adelphi Hotel, The Grapes pub… I was there for the International Pop Overthrow festival, which featured a mix of international and local acts, and the Liverpool bands were just incredible! There was a vague air of “This is Liverpool, our lads The Beatles invented powerpop and we’re defending the title” coming from those bands. Definitely something in the water there. Speaking of water, my hotel room was on the first floor and looked out at the Mersey, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I think  expected the river to be full of ships and to be a lot more active, so I spent the first couple of days thinking it was just some anonymous canal.

Your music was also featured in a German high school curriculum in 2007. How was it used? And did you get a chance to interact with the class at all?

I’d written a song called ‘American Dream’ which looked at our neighbours to the south through a Canadian perspective. It was fairly punked up, almost a companion piece to The Clash’s ‘I’m So Bored With The USA’. Somehow a high school teacher in Bonn, Germany found the song and emailed me to ask if she could use it as part of their studies on how American culture influenced the outside world. About two days before she contacted me, I’d become a daddy for the first time, so my world was completely upside down. I quickly emailed her back giving permission, but never found out too much more about the class. I did see a spike in sales of the song on the iTunes Europe store though, so I guess somebody liked it.

You produce your own music. Has this always been the case? How did you get into production?

It’s almost always been the case, yeah. I only got into production incrementally by default, first by recording little projects at home by myself on one of those old cassette 4-track machines, and then dubbing off a few copies for friends. Then going to a small studio in a friend’s living room with slightly better gear, and having 300 copies of that manufactured. And then a bigger studio, and more copies manufactured. Now I’m back to recording at home and not manufacturing anything, all of the releases are digital downloads only, so I’ve come full circle. I’ve worked with a couple of producers, but the results were mixed (no pun intended), so I tend to do it all myself, albeit with an occasional bit of inspiration from books or documentaries about famous recordings or studios that I stumble across.

Are all of the instruments live, or do you program some of them?

It’s a bit of both. Guitars, bass, harmonica and a lot of percussion things are live. The drum tracks are built up from scratch in the computer, partly because when it comes to playing drums, I’m mediocre, and mostly because I’m in an apartment. The keyboards are half-and-half, I play along with the bed tracks, but have to do a lot of editing because I’m pretty “meh” at playing keys too. Remember, I was a guitar toting singer-songwriter for years, that’s my excuse!

Do you have a particular approach to production?

I sort of went into the first Cameronoise album blindfolded and stumbling, but I’m starting to develop a bit of a production line mentality. I’m my own Berry Gordy! I try to put something a bit unique onto each song, like a trumpet riff or a weird jangly guitar in the background, so each song has some little sonic fingerprint to set it apart from the others on the album. I’m so amazed at what George Martin was able to accomplish with just four tracks that I kinda treat my software as if it has similar limitations built in, and I’m not allowed to fill a hundred tracks just because I can.

What’ on the horizon?

I’ve already started recording tracks for the next album, which I hope will be ready for release this July. So far I’m sticking with my plan to release a six song mini-album every six months. I sort of think of it as if I’m releasing side one in January, and side two in July.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thank you, Marc! I’m really glad we got a chance to do this.

The #Tweetcore Radio Hour, Episode 6

Here’s the latest edition of The #Tweetcore Radio Hour… This week’s episode features some spoken-word flash fiction by Charles Holdefer, an interview with Scoopski, and music by The Star Cumbles, Bees!, The Hollow Truths, Unlucky Mammals, Orchid Mantis, The Wends, Won’t Say Rabbit, Fendahlene, Electric Looking Glass, Eric Linden, and Scoopski!