Brainfeeder, the LA experimental music label founded by Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison), focuses much of its attention on the intersection of visual and audio arts (an effort that, for what it’s worth, this publication is also increasingly making). Ellison has incorporated a prominent visual component into his shows for a few years now, and in 2013, while touring Until The Quiet Comes, he enlisted the help of audio-visual artists Strangeloop (aka David Wexler) and Timeboy (aka John King) to create what they dubbed Layer 3. The invention consisted of a screen set up both in front and behind Ellison’s performance, creating three layers, with Ellison as the middle layer — hence the project’s name. This set-up allowed the two visual artists to not only improvise visuals for every performance but also to react to what Ellison was playing, syncing up with the music to create otherworldly experiences. (There is a more in-depth explanation in this Red Bull Music Academy video, which also happens to show footage from a show I attended at Terminal 5 a few years ago — my first experience with any type of electronic audio-visual performance.)
Two years after Layer 3, Ellison released You’re Dead, but was not satisfied with using the same visual set-up, so he challenged Wexler and King to invent something new — something that literally added a new dimension to Layer 3. This new invention, with most of the physical design coming from King and the visuals from Wexler, was named Layer^3 — “Layer Cubed.” This new iteration consisted of the visuals being projected upon an actual physical cube with Ellison performing inside. By enclosing him in the space and elevating the dimensionality of the visuals, the behind-the-scenes duo didn’t have to just create the illusion of 3D, they could now create visuals in actual 3D.
In 2012, King released his own music on an EP entitled Vox, which itself had no visual accompaniment beyond its album art. The EP received essentially no attention whatsoever, and as far as I can tell, there hasn't been a single article yet written about it. The only information about the project seems to be from King himself, whose description of the record is fitting and beautifully vague: “I can be anyone I want to be because I'm not me. I'm nothing more than what I project of myself.” At the bottom of the Bandcamp page for the album, there is also a short dedication, “For Austin,” no doubt referring to Austin Peralta, a piano-playing jazz virtuoso who was on Brainfeeder before his tragically early death at the age of nineteen.
Although there is only a small amount of background context to Vox, it may be all a listener needs to approach the eighteen-minute EP. Simplicity is key to Vox. The album cover is a fascinating image of a creature with human hands and what appears to be an animal’s head, peeling away its face to reveal a jagged black-and-white pattern below with an eye at the center. This simple image conveys much about the album’s eight tracks — a peek inside the brain, or rather, a peak into psychedelia. However, it is only a small revelation, and inside there are no distinguishable stories, themes, or characters, only patterns. The music reflects this, each track maintaining some sort of pattern or refrain throughout its entirety. The tracks are concise enough to never feel overly repetitive, though. Only one track breaches the three-minute mark, leaving us with mere tastes of what Timeboy can do with audio.
Of course, what most sets Vox apart from other experimental electronic music is that its creator is chiefly a visual artist. His departure from classic electronic music structure and norms is not a lack of knowledge of musical form, but rather an illustrative approach to music. King’s music does not cater to an upbeat club scene, gear its audience towards a drop, or even tell elaborate stories. Instead, it paints moving images, and rather than have an explicit lead, rhythm, or harmony, most of its songs have foreground, background, color, and texture. On opener “The Pink Room,” the echo of the synths that begin the track create a space for King within which to work. From there, the sounds build, not into a major crescendo, but in such a way that mimics waking up: First you are aware of the space, and then as your eyes peel open, the details and colors flush in with the new light — but right as the image becomes clear, the song ends. And on “Among Us.” King overlays differing staggering rhythms into a lattice that supports both the repetitive swelling of ambient, processed vocals in the background and the twanging melody that colors the foreground.
Although Vox is short, it provides a wonderful dip into a pool of vivid colors and sounds. It’s experimental, without ever sacrificing aestheticism for intellectualism, and there are some truly beautiful moments packed into these eight tracks.
Stream and download Vox for free on Timeboy's Bandcamp.