The Phantom Tollbooth

Interview with Brian C. Janes
May 4, 1999
By Linda T. Stonehocker

Two choirs intone minor-keyed musical sound walls worthy of any twentieth-century composer in this 35-minute original composition dedicated to the children lost in the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing April 19, 1995. Originally created as a senior project, the work was released to underground circles on the premiere industrial/synth/electronica independent label Flaming Fish paired with a half-hour of companion industrial pieces by such dial twisters as Way Sect Bloom and Engrave. The reason this hybrid came about,
and manages to blend such divergent styles so effectively is budding composer, sound engineer, and producer Brian C. Janes.

Requiem began merely as a way to fulfill Janes's graduation requirements. It blossomed into an expression of all his interests: the classics, electronic/industrial music, and production. Janes says, "There are a lot of similarities between industrial and pop music. Both are influenced by classical music structure. It isn't too much of a stretch from one to the other."

Trained in classical composition, his first love has always been industrial music. In his spare time on campus, he did production work for Flaming Fish artists. "At school, I had access to all the equipmentI needed," Janes says, "I mastered a lot of the early Flaming Fish catalog."

But composing each type of music is an entirely different process. "Instead of an ensemble of instrumentalists or singers, for industrial you use computers, sequencers, and samplers, rearranging, turning the sounds into something new. You create the instrumentation." Generally, no one bothers to write out the notes to industrial pieces, although Janes has wanted to: "One of my goals is to pull off a complete live industrial show. It would require completely scoring the pieces, to hand to the musicians. Live shows are pretty rare in industrial music. Globalwavesystem's live show at Cornerstone festival in 1998 was quite a triumph."

Composing classical music for school was an entirely different process. "You use existing instruments and the creation process is more established. An exception to the no-notation industrial practice was the two keyboards used in Requiem. One was set up to play samplers, the other a synthesizer. Both were played live for the performance from Janes's score.

What motivated him to devote his opus magnum to the Oklahoma City bombing? On the fateful day, April 19, 1995, his niece was born, and reflecting upon that, it struck him that while 19 died, new lives were born. "I wanted to do something to keep those children alive in people's memories." But the senior project got bigger than he planned.

He developed a 30-minute piece, originally planned for full adult and children's choir. But the practical requirements of his project--that he not only write the music, but recruit a conductor and performers, set up rehearsals, and get them to the point where they could deliver a polished live performance--forced him to scale back. "There just aren't very many children's choirs out there. I had to use samples for the kids, and have the choirs sing some of their lines. Even then, it was hard to pull everyone together; it was a tough educational experience."

In January of 1997, rehearsals got underway, with only the first half of Requiem written. He rehearsed his volunteers weekly, adding the two synthesizers later to accustom the singers to the unusual sounds. Two weeks before the performance, still writing out parts, he added percussion to the practices. It was only at the dress rehearsal that the percussionists received their full scores.

The one and only performance of Requiem was on campus. "It was in a medium-sized hall with good acoustics," says Janes. He placed the percussion front and center on the floor while the empty stage held 19 candles. The choir was split by sex, placed in the back of the horseshoe balcony and positioned to face each other.

"I still hold the record for best-attended student recital," Janes says. "When the piece was over, the audience just sat in silence for a minute-and-a-half. It really struck them deeply. There were even a few tears. People told me they were powerfully touched by it, even drained. Finally, a friend of mine started the applause. Otherwise, I'm not sure how long we would've sat there. I personally was drained just by pulling it all together."

"I would like to see it played again, and I would revise it, based on hearing it done once, but I'd need some funding to do it," says Janes. "I've shopped it around a little to publishers, but I haven't gotten any nibbles." Student works are rarely heard from again, after the professors critique them, but James the industrial music producer couldn't resist taking the DAT recording back to the studio to clean up to CD standards before filing it away.

Friends urged that it be released and he began to share tape copies. They urged him to press a CD. He was hesitant for two reasons. His piece wasn't long enough to fill a complete CD, and he was squeamish about the ethics. "I knew to make money on it would be exploiting what actually happened, and I didn't want to do that; so I decided to do the release as a benefit."

With the encouragement of Flaming Fish's president, Carson Pierce, Janes sent copies of the tape to industrial artists he admired, inviting them to compose something in the same vein. "I didn't want contributors to cheapen their music, just modify their style to fit into the CD. I knew they were exceptional music writers who could pull this off, and I wanted to have the opportunity to release new music by bands that I admire," says Janes. Working closely with the bands (Aphorism, which is actually Audioparadox; Cult of Jester, EnGrave, Keven Dumps Core, the Way Sect Bloom and WeltWasher) the demo tapes passed back and forth as Janes guided their work. "I wanted to be assured that I was building a listenable compilation. It takes the listener through different sound landscapes without jarring them," says Janes. "I'm very pleased with how they captured the mood and the theme."

When the album was completed to his satisfaction, he presented a copy to the director of Family of Survivors, Marsha Kite, whose daughter died in the bombing. "It was quite an honor," says Janes. "I tried to make it clear to that the only motive was to honor their children, not to exploit the situation which is still a tough thing for them to deal with. Kite listened to the CD. "She said it was hard to listen to." An offer to send copies to all the parents was declined. "You have to be sensitive about these things, because all of those parents have been inundated since the tragedy with offers of help."

After completing Requiem, life took a drastic turn for Janes. He graduated. "I have no free time, and right now, no access to a production studio. I'm working full time for a start-up Internet company, which is an education in itself, and getting married soon." But these are minor setbacks on his dream. "My company, Kraynight Productions, is already incorporated as a business. I want to use it to build up the local Chicago scene, and ultimately, the national one. I'm saving to build a project studio and get back into
recording. I'm looking at re-releasing the 1994 tape from my group, Tempestuous All, and do more compilations. "Right now, it's a big hobby--it by no means pays the bills. My ultimate desire is to own and operate a full-fledged recording studio. In the meantime, there are things I can do to amuse myself, new skills, new bands to know and start to collaborate with. I'm looking for creative ways to reach the goal, taking feasible steps to the infeasible goal of making composition pay."

How does his faith intersect with all this? Janes's answer is honest. "I'm a Trinitarian Christian, four-square, plain and simple, but nondenominational. It's a very personal thing, and I'm at a brittle stage with it. I've been working hard on what I believe and how it should intersect with my day-to-day life, but that is hard to say. I'm not ready to say what others should believe. Krayknight Productions is not a Christian label. Tempestuous All is not a Christian industrial band. It's a given that my music will beaffected by my Christianity, because you can't operate independently of what you believe; but if I had to give what I do a slogan, I would borrow Flaming Fish's: enlightened music for an industrial age." Industrial has a reputation of coming from the depths of negativity. Flaming Fish has gone the other way. "I want a good balance of both. Mainstream industrial musicians are really good musicians, and to isolate yourself from that is harmful. Both sides have a lot to share. I want to blur that line as much as possible, to include the entire spectrum."

Reflecting on the entire experience of composing a requiem and everything that has happened to him since, Janes says, "If I sit down and think about it, I realize how much I'm actually doing. In the big picture, I'm relatively pleased. It's real life. I've never experienced real life before, and it's a trip."

For The Phantom Tollbooth review of Requiem, click here.

Requiem is available through Flaming Fish Records.