By Judith Kahn
On Saturday, Sept. 14, the Richmond District/Senator Milton Marks Branch Library hosted a musician with a unique style all his own. Thomas Dimuzio considers himself a composer, but adds, “My whole life I’ve been an improviser.”
According to Dimuzio, improvised music happens when a musician starts to play with nothing much in mind. As music in its most elemental and purest form, it is opening your ears to let the music play through your instrument and guide you towards a destination.
“You’re kind of the vehicle for this thing called ‘music.’” His playing is informed by the energy in the room, the type of vibe he feels from the audience and even which other bands are playing.
“I like to think I make immersive music that pulls you in and takes you from one place to another place – and all places in between.”
Dimuzio has had a musical affinity since kindergarten and remembers writing little songs since second grade. He heard his mother play on the piano she grew up with. Although he had no formal lessons, he had an ear. He became a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, playing electric and acoustical guitar, piano, drums and clarinet. His formal interest arose in high school as he listened to the bands he loved, paid closer attention to where the music came from and discovered his own desire to play that music.
“It did start from rock and evolved to where I’m at now in a natural way,” Dimuzio said.
With a love for both the “noise” of elements, like static, and a love for traditional forms, he tries to integrate non-musical sounds into a musical context.
In performance, Dimuzio’s goal is to create something new and fresh. He uses no prepared backing tracks or samples for his shows, but captures loops and samples in real time, layering, arranging and composing sounds on his Buchla modular synthesizer live on stage.
“A Buchla is an electronic musical instrument and modular synthesizer,” Dimuzio said. “The intent was to build an electronic music box to create new and unheard sounds.”
Instead of a standard keyboard, “there are series of touch plates which are untied from equal-tempered or western tuning. The first Buchla instrument was conceived and built in 1963 in Berkeley, California and from there the instrument has evolved through many incarnations over 50 years,” Dimuzio said. Buchla USA still manufactures the modern versions.
On stage, Dimuzio’s vision of music as a land of sonic excursion allows him to layer, arrange and create the sounds on the Buchla, composing in real time out of nothing and tapping into the music or whatever the source is. When performing, he is the vehicle for the music. Listeners hear no melody, only different sounds that lead them to different places and spaces. Street noises, fog horns or any sounds of nature are all music to his ears.
A native of Pittsburgh, Dimuzio attended California University of Pennsylvania, then transferred to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Berklee got him out of Pittsburgh and into Boston’s vibrant music scene, exposing him to thousands of different bands that played rock and jazz, although still not the experimental music he was playing.
Dimuzio credits Led Zeppelin, King Crimson and John Cage as his three chief inspirations.
Led Zeppelin impressed him at a young age through the power and magic of their music.
“Orchestrated, layered and sonic in nature, they took full advantage of the studio and were able to capture their energy on record. Their riffs, melodies, and organic use of rhythm and odd time signatures” demonstrated their musical mastery.
King Crimson also captured fire in their recordings and, according to Dimuzio, the band “quickly evolved over a handful of years to become one of the first rock bands to freely improvise on stage.” He admired the work of the group’s guitarist, Robert Fripp, with Brian Eno because “they opened the door to a vast world of experimental and ambient music” for him as a young rocker.
John Cage “just tore the roof off everything” for him. With Cage, “sound became music and silence became sound.” Dimuzio regards Cage as “a true music visionary where anything could become music, whether intentional or not.”
To Dimuzio, music is a beautiful thing that transcends language.
“It’s the kind of thing that gives you goose bumps … shivers” he says. Moved by the feelings music generates, whether he is listening or playing, he reflects, “It’s amazing. When you are able to tap into music there is nothing like it.”
Dimuzio has been performing since 1985, when he was in a punk band. Although short-lived, that period opened his eyes to the network of underground music. He was already working with abstract music when he discovered the underground network for “cassette culture” – people using the U.S. Postal Service to share cassettes of the experimental type of music he was already making.
In 1996, Dimuzio and his wife moved to San Francisco for jobs with a company that was building a music software program called Deck II. He loves the City for its bohemian history and that it is a place where his genre is appreciated and also has venues to perform it.
You can hear noise, improv, avant-garde, experimental and electronic music at The Lab, located at 2948 16th St.; The Luggage Store Gallery at 1007 Market St.; Center for New Music at 55 Taylor St.; and The Peacock Lounge at 552 Haight St. For more information on Thomas Dimuzio and his music, visit http://www.thomasdimuzio.com.