Alleys Of Your Mind: The Sonic Pathways Of Juan Atkins

Alleys Of Your Mind: The Sonic Pathways Of Juan Atkins

The techno innovator on his new Cybotron live show...

There’s a lot that the musical and mathematical genius have in common. In 1967, John Coltrane gave a drawing, which the musically enthusiastic among you will know as the ‘Circle Of Fifths’, to saxophonist and musical professor Yusef Lateef.

The drawing incorporated many of Coltrane’s own innovations. Coltrane was a fan of Einstein’s work and was once quoted as saying he was trying to simulate it within music. It was an epic blend of the mathematical and the divine - a spiritual re-imaging of musical theory – implementing his passions for both theoretical and unearthly traditions.

Theolonious Monk once said that “all musicians are sub-consciously mathematicians.” That certainly rings true for the artist I’m speaking with today. Juan Atkins, the originator of techno alongside Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, has just finished a busy day of interviews discussing his new Cybotron live show when we connect over the phone.

“With anything I do, concept is involved,” he says, as we begin to discuss the idea behind the Cybotron revival, “basically it’s about sound. It’s about vibrations and soundwaves. It’s about the importance of sound and the geometry of sound. I think, sometimes, people don’t realise how important all of that is. All of the projects that I’m involved with going forward will be going in depth about the mathematics and universal applications of sound.”

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For those that don’t already know, Cybotron were a pioneering American electro group formed by Juan Atkins and Richard ‘3070’ Davis in Detroit during the early eighties. They provided the futuristic soundtrack to a Detroit in transition from an industrial heavyweight to a post-industrial wasteland, implementing a synth dominated sound paired with a drum machine.

Looking back at releases such as ‘Alleys Of Your Mind’ and ‘Cosmic Cars’, it really is quite astounding that these pieces of art were created during a pre-technological era. Now, as we rapidly approach the future that was once only dreamt of, Atkins is looking forward to implementing new technologies into the Cybotron concept.

“To be honest with you, we’ve been working on this ever since the beginning of Cybotron,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m doing it now. There hasn’t been a Cybotron live show. I’ve been asked by different people to do it and the right configuration came together to make me, finally, say let’s do it.”

The correct configuration that Atkins speaks of is a collaboration with Pilot – a next generation video, lighting and laser control system that allows complicated designs to be built and pre-visualised in its 3D real time simulator.

Pilot have provided a take on the technology, describing it as “stripping back the visual set up to its essence which on first site would seem completely minimal – a large black monolith. However, what lies behind this black monolith is far from nominal -embedded into its skin is what we will use as the base of our system - an array of over 1,000,000 individual LED pixels that the lasers will ‘talk to’.”

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That isn’t the only thing that’s new, either. Alongside the new live show will also be new Cybotron material, which will be a part of currently untitled Cybotron album. I’m keen to learn of Atkins creative process for the new work. Did he stick with the original technology he would have used during the early eighties? Or has he blended this with new musical technologies?

“I’m using the best of what is available today, for sure,” he tells me. “I don’t want to replicate what has already been done, and I don’t think the people that are going to spend their money to see this show want to see a re-generation of the past.”

“There are definitely some new elements. I’ve embraced a lot of the new technology now. I think there are a lot of things in the digital world that have opened up the realm of creativity. It’s limitless now. I’ve got a blank creative license to do things now that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Cybotron may be considered electro, but they have also had a huge impact on the early techno evolution. Techno was once regarded as the sound of the future, but if feel likes we are approaching that once distant dream at quite incredible pace.

With the new Cybotron live show, we are viewing musical mathematics in its most spellbinding form. Juan Atkins has always been forward thinking, ever since the first creative juices went into his early records, but it really makes you wonder, what can possibly be next? Is there no end to what can be produced, musically and visually, through contemporary technology?

Expect Atkins to be jamming on an alien planet sometime soon, but for now you can catch the debut of the Cybotron live show at the Barbican Centre, London, on April 12th.

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Words: Andrew Moore

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