If you’re into mind-blowing, metallically forceful instrumental acrobatics then you damn sure better check out Blotted Science, the trio led by master mind/master musician Ron Jarzombek (Spastic Ink, WatchTower). Debut full-length The Machinations of Dementia was released in 2007 and had fans of progressive, technically insane, and undeniably heavy instrumental metal music sitting in a pool of their own drool with heads spinning. New EP The Animation of Entomology is even better, owing in part to a broader array of atmospherics and sounds to go with the ridiculously complex playing of guitarist Jarzombek, Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster, and Obscura drummer Hannes Grossman. Quite a lineup, wouldn’t you say? Oh, and the album concept is 100 percent bug-related and insect centric in a film score kind of way. You’re scratching your head and wrinkling your forehead, aren’t you? Just read on. It’ll make more sense once you read Jarzombek’s explanations.
Cutting right to the chase, I enjoyed The Machinations of Dementia, but I love the hell out of The Animation of Entomology. Have you been hearing similar sentiments from fans, supporters, and critics?
Yes, definitely. The reaction is pretty much what I was hoping for. Really, the reaction could not be any better. I wasn’t sure if we’d get shot down because of all of the bugs and all, and people would think “What the hell is all this bug crap about?!” But when the CD was released, fans took to the music, and once the movies that we synced to were revealed, the whole thing just explained itself, and it’s so obvious why it was all done. It’s good to know that all of the hard work that we put into it is being appreciated, and people realize that it all makes perfect sense. We put the music together so that it could stand on its own, but when you “see” the music it’s great getting such positive reactions.
This is also a concept EP about insect society and it certainly does have a film score feel to it, which would make sense since the music serves as accompaniment to the “bug movies” that can be seen here. Please discuss your hatching of this idea and some of the finer details of the concept.
All 24 minutes of the EP were written as a film score to four bug movies. After The Machinations of Dementia was released, we wanted to keep things along the same lines of gore and the scientific element. Rather than go with what everybody else does with more skulls, witches, dragons, death, etc. we’d go the more creepy route and went with the bugs concept. Spastic Ink had written and recorded “A Wild Hare’ which was a filmscore for ‘Bambi’, and ‘The Cereal Mouse’ which was a filmscore for ‘Charlotte’s Web’, so why not score the whole Blotted Science CD to bug flicks. But take things to the extreme. Yeah, it was a lot more work than just writing “songs,” but it was something that we wanted to do. We had something like 15-20 bug movies to choose from, so I narrowed it down to the ones that worked best as possible “songs” that fans could relate to. A full CD would have been nice, but for all the extra work involved, 24 minutes was about all I could take. Any more and my head would have exploded.
The EP is undeniably Blotted Science, but you’ve added some elements, like keyboards and atmospheric effects in the context of a grander musical scope. There are some significant melodic developments here as well. It all comes together so well, especially on a song like “Vermicular Asphyxiation.” Please discuss the musical approach to the EP.
I had quite a bit of the strings instrumentation and midi generated sounds on my solo CD Solitarily Speaking Of TheoreticalConfinement so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to incorporate those sounds and textures, but it may have been for some of the Blotted Science fans to listen to. We did a bit of the typical “filmscore” type instrumentation on “Activation Synthesis Theory,” “Narcolepsy” and “The Insomniac” from The Machinations of Dementia, and we didn’t get any complaints about it. And yeah, on “Vermicular Asphyxiation,” that song was intentionally placed as song 3 on the EP to give listeners a break from the nonstop aggressive, pounding brutality. While the intention of “Vermicular Asphyxiation” was to bring things down a bit, we didn’t want to lose any of the disgust and evil overtones. I think anyone who watches the corresponding flick for it understands why we choose the instrumentation that is there.
In fact, the EP may be the one that brings more fans into the Blotted Science camp in that there is a degree of accessibility – relatively anyway – amidst the staggering display of musicality that maybe wasn’t as apparent on The Machinations of Dementia.
I think we’re asking a lot of the listeners, especially because of the structure and arrangements of the songs, but just about all have responded extremely favorably. The song structures are so complex and involved that it’s such a compliment when fans say that they didn’t even know that the music was scored to film, and they heard the music almost as “songs.” Not sure about everybody else, but I’m so sick and tired of the normal structure of “songs.” There are so many stupid unimaginative people who can’t accept a piece of rock/metal music that doesn’t have a semblance of verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus arrangement. That music format has been burned into their heads for decades and they just can’t grasp anything else. Pretty sad. And we’re supposed to be “artists” and push boundaries? But I think the fact that all of the songs were scored to bug movies gives the listeners/watchers more to latch on to. They’ll check it out if they’re into tech-y music, they’ll check it out if they’re into scary flicks, or it all may appeal to people like me who just like ridiculous “B movie” type flicks. Too bad we didn’t have the time and resources to score the other flicks that we had in mind. “From Beyond” would have been next, then ‘The Fly’ with Jeff Goldblum. The clips that we chose are both are eight minutes long. Maybe next time.…
You used a “12 Tone” system to write this album, which you explain on your YouTube channel, but I’ll ask you to explain here anyway.
The 12-tone system that we used for the new EP The Animation of Entomology is called 12 Tones in Fragmented Rows. It worked out great for the whole EP. Basically, all 12 notes are laid out on a “clock.” Riffs were created by using whatever notes were given by chopping up the complete row. We ended up with some crazy clusters of notes. That’s the cool thing about working with a 12-tone clock. You end up with weird note combinations that you wouldn’t have come up with without it. I think the weirdest thing about the material is the arrangements. Since we wrote all songs as a score to bug films, everything had to match up to what was onscreen. It was very difficult trying to make the material into constructed “songs” while maintaining the accompanying visuals. Measures had to be in 7, 5, 11, etc. because that’s how many counts we were working with in a scene. Rather than having “sections” in these songs, we had “themes” because scenes would change so fast. Some of these themes just last for a few counts, some as many as 45 counts.
How challenging were these songs to play compared to those on past releases?
Just about all of the songs on both Blotted Science CDs are a total bitch to play. The songs on the EP are much more involved because of the complex arrangements, but as far as the playing of the parts themselves, it’s about the same level of difficulty. I’m right in the middle of relearning, rehearsing and video taping the guitar parts right now for the instructional DVD, and it’s not exactly a walk in the park.
Is there any push-and-pull involved between writing technical material that challenges you personally and that may also appeal to the less musically astute or is this even a consideration?
With the EP we just had something definite in my mind that we wanted to do, and that’s what we followed. I wasn’t’ going to dumb down anything unless what was onscreen called for it. If something was beyond chaotic, that’s what music was written for it. If what was onscreen settled or slowed down, the music would reflect that. As for writing without “scoring”, I just have a hard time putting anything together that I consider “normal.” I suppose I could do it, but I don’t see the point in doing what has already been done. There are a lot of cool extreme metal bands doing quite well that take things to the extreme like Meshuggah, Animals as Leaders, Protest The Hero, and Between The Buried and Me, so I don’t think any artist really has to try to come down to the stupid listener’s level. You could even add Tool and Mudvayne to that list.
Charlie Zeleny (Behold… The Arctopus) played drums on The Machinations of Dementia and on the EP it is Hannes Grossmann (Obscura). What’s the story behind the entry of Hannes in the band and how would you compare is style with that of Zeleny?
First off, Charlie totally kicked ass on The Machinations of Dementia. He did a fantastic job with the material. If you want to call it a negative critique, I’d say the reason that we went in a different direction was Charlie is too versatile. I had just been introduced to death metal with Machinations and trying to get a grasp of it, and I felt that Alex and I had to give Charlie a bit too much direction on what the songs needed. Hell, I barely knew where I was going with Machinations. Hannes (Obscura) was on tour with Alex (Cannibal Corpse) and got to watch him play nightly and just mentioned to me that he thought Hannes would be a better fit for Blotted Science. Just like Charlie, Hannes reads music very well, and is a great communicator, so it all worked out great. And, by the way, Charlie is doing quite well with lots of other artists. He’s staying very busy these days.
Hannes recorded his drums with V. Santura in Germany, so were you basically sending tracks back and forth over the Internet? Was this the first EP for which this method of recording had to be done? How difficult was it?
Nah, I’m used to it. Writing and recording via the internet sometimes without ever meeting band members is the norm nowadays for me. All it takes is communication along with good time management and it can be done. It doesn’t work for people who don’t do their homework on their own time and/or have to have other band members present to get anything done (hint, hint). But V did a fantastic job recording Hannes. They sent me the drum tracks on a few DVD-Rs and I just loaded them into my multi-tracker. I then did a bit of editing and working with drum sounds, and that was it. We never were in the same room together working on the material. The closest we came to that was the time that we Skyped for an hour and a half. Alex and I have this Internet writing recording down like clockwork.
This is the second Blotted Science release to feature Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse) on bass. You obviously enjoy playing together. How did Alex end up in the band in the first place and what does he bring to the table musically?
Yeah, I’m still waiting for the day that we’ll get in some kind of argument [laughs]. We’ve been going on something like six years and have yet to have any kind of disagreement. Very strange. But I was fully aware of Cannibal Corpse for well over a decade, but never was really into death metal. I just didn’t grow up with it. But WatchTower was looking for a producer I guess around seven years ago and Neil Kernon’s name came up. I then picked up Cannibal Corpse’s The Wretched Spawn CD/DVD to hear what Kernon was currently up to, and ended up noticing the Cannibal guys playing a song called “Frantic Disembowelment.” It was like “Holy Jesus!” And then I saw Alex playing some whole tone scales and other weird things that I was totally into, and knew that I had to get a hold of him somehow. About a week later, I did, and that’s when the writing of Machinations began. Alex brings the whole brutality of everything into the band. Before I met Alex, the heaviest thing I had ever written and recorded was “ACRONYM” from the second Spastic Ink CD, or maybe Dramatic Chromatic from my solo CD Solitarily Speaking. I think those are killer songs, but are nothing close to what Blotted Science is currently doing.
All three members for Blotted Science are credited equally with writing The Animation of Entomology. Is it safe to say you prefer a more collaborative effort even though Blotted Science is essentially your band? Was this the case on past releases too?
Sure, a collaborative effort is always best, but for this EP, I had to do all of the movie syncing, and trying to convey to Alex how many counts parts needed to be and what 12 tone schemes were to be used for specific sections, it just got to be a pain and too much to try to translate. And, yes, I’m the one who puts all of the tracks together in Blotted Science. Alex and Hannes have their hands full in Cannibal Corpse an Obscura, so it’s just the way things work out. Alex did a lot of writing on Machinations because I caught him at a great time when he had months off from Cannibal Corpse – no touring, no writing. But I think there’s a fine line between what is credited in rock/metal songs. Guitar solos are not credited, and neither are vocal melodies. Why? That’s just how it works. Even though I felt my solos on WatchTower songs on Control and Resistance had a huge impact on the overall vibe of the songs, I was not credited as a writer. And that’s fine. On the Blotted Science EP, I did quite a bit of the writing but felt that without Hannes and Alex, the material would have came out much different. Alex’s writing style has rubbed off so much on me that even on material that he didn’t come up with for Blotted Science; his influence is all over it. Hannes added quite a bit with grooves and a lot of accents here and there that reflected actions in the flicks, and played a huge part in the recordings.
And I must say that I find the Richard Morley (Morley Arts) cover intriguing intellectually and at the same time appealing to my “inner kid” in that all that “stuff” looks so cool. Shed a little light on it for us.
[Laughs] Yeah, Richard did a great job with the graphics. It’s cool to look at but it’s also a play on the word “Animation.” In one sense of the word, we are bringing to life to videos with the music (as in “animating”), while “animation” also refers to the art of illustrating. I just wanted bugs all over the place for the cover. I even called up a few exterminator places asking if they could save their killed bugs for me, so I could take pics of them. I also went to lots of websites with plastic bugs, and even bought a few dozen at Party City. Nothing was working so I sent an e-mail to Richard asking if he thought he could throw something together. We then came up with the whole “bugs in a laboratory” concept, and within a few weeks had it done. And again, how many metal bands have a bunch of bugs on their CD cover?
You released the Blotted Science titles more or less independently on your own EclecticElectric label. Is this a better route than going through an established label? How do you handle distribution?
CD Baby is our main distributor right now. Two of our other physical CD distributors don’t exist anymore. We also deal directly with several of the bigger indie mail order places, like The End, CM Distro, Laser’s Edge, etc. Selling physical CDs just isn’t where it’s at anymore. I’m thinking that in five years, physical CDs will be done with. It’s sad because I think what is printed on CDs plays a huge part in what the release is about. We went from full 12” x 12” graphics (albums) with full lyrics, pics, and credits to 5” x 5” better quality audio but smaller graphics (CDs), to present day no graphics at all with shitty illegally downloaded mp3s that you don’t even know for sure if it’s the real artist. But I think Blotted Science would have signed with a label if we could have got something in return. The fact that Blotted Science is not a real band that tours played a big part in self-release vs. going with a label. With a label, we wouldn’t have been much of a priority because selling records these days isn’t where the money is at. Unless you’re touring and selling merchandise, it’s not worth it for a label to invest in a band and try to push and promote it. We did just recently get a distributor in Europe via Basick Records to distribute the EP, so hopefully more fans are picking up the physical copy.
In the liner notes you thank the Blotted Science supporters for “buying our music instead of stealing it.” It is disheartening that there are still so many people that don’t make the connection between pirating music and hurting the bands that need the sales the most. With the recent takedown of Mega Upload do you think there is hope for the future?
It’s done. It’s not going to get any better. I read about something SOPA that’s going on that’s supposed to try to buckle down on online piracy. That would be great if they could patrol the net somehow, but I don’t see it happening. But since I seem to work on projects that only release audio and don’t tour, I’m fighting a losing battle. However, I am extremely thankful for the supporters out there who could steal music from me but choose to support what they believe is good music. Everything that I have ever recorded and released is available on iTunes and can be downloaded legally worldwide, so the excuse that they can’t find the physical CD or legally download it anywhere is really insulting. I find it hard to believe that people can spend hundreds of dollars on a concert that lasts a few hours, but can’t support a band/project buy coughing up $10 for a CD or legally download music that literally lasts a lifetime. I think kids today think of illegally downloading as the norm because that’s just how things are. It’s all they know. Why pay for something when you can get it for free? They just don’t understand the argument – or don’t want to understand. For them it’s probably the equivalent of what I think about global warming… That it’s just something for old farts to complain about because they don’t have anything else to do.
With regard to other instrumental acts what ones do you personally enjoy, assuming of course that you listen to other instrumental acts?
I don’t really listen to much of what’s out there, but in the tech field I’m into Animals As Leaders, Protest the Hero, The Faceless, etc. Usually when I pick up a tech release though, I listen to it a few times, and that’s it. I don’t absorb myself in it because something from it may stick with me and I don’t want to plagiarize anybody. I did pick up the new Van Halen though. Wow! Some people are complaining because they’ve just reworked lots of old material. Please rework some more old material for another release, guys!
I believe I read that you’ll be releasing some instructional guitar videos as well. Is this the Dissection Bugs DVD about which I’ve read?
Yep, that’s been my main focus ever since we released the EP a few months ago. For the past several years, I’ve had three other DVDs in the works, the first based on common scale use and abuse, the second on timing, and the third on 12 tone uses (simple 12-tone sets, multiple 12-tone sets, and The Circle of 12 Tones). Whenever I’m working on a band/project, I tend to put these DVDs on the shelf because I think more people are interested in what a band has to say versus a guitarist. But now that the EP is done, the Dissecting Bugs DVD is now my priority. I will be taking apart all of the songs on the EP, playing all guitar parts, and explaining all of the 12-tone keys, grouping, and configurations, all animated. I’m pretty hyped about it. I started working on it during the writing of the EP, so I got a pretty good head start. It should be done sometime later this year.
What’s next on the agenda for Blotted Science, Spastic Ink, and all things Ron Jarzombek?
That’s a good question that I don’t really have much of an answer for. I’m just going to get the Dissecting Bugs DVD done, then after that I’ll just see what that leads to. I had planned on releasing the three other DVDs after Dissecting Bugs, but the way our distributors are going down, I don’t think too many of them will be around much longer. If they can’t stay in business for CDs, they won’t be there for DVDs. Then I will only be selling the DVDs via my website. The reason the EP has to be done as a DVD is because it’s a complete collection of the Animation songs, the material on the other DVDs are scattered parts taken from the first Blotted Science CD, both Spastic Ink CDs, and my solo CDs. It all can be split up however I want. It’ll very likely be something digital only. That’s something I have to figure out. But maybe I’ll get into doing clinics, and more things online, not really sure.