Music News

Master of His Domain

Musician Todd Bradley's friends aren't the people in your neighborhood. Instead of kicking back on a modulated sofa with a cold can o' Coors, they'd prefer to chat on the Internet about WAV files, audio compression and the most current analog-to-digital conversion methods. Actually, Bradley's friends aren't even the people in his neighborhood. Rather, they are a bizarre group of technophiles scattered around the globe, a network of Netheads for whom musical collaboration rarely has to include a live, human interface. They include the extroverted Swedish techno artist Master Zap; the Tennessee-based Grandmaster Dumbass (who has spent Halloween dressing up as "Jeffy the Christian Brontosaurus" and handing out tapes of his own computer-generated music to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters); and Bob the Robot, a non-human entity who nevertheless has experienced some considerable trouble with his mechanical member.

Yet what Bradley sees in this group of seemingly disparate personalities is individual talents, folks who can contribute, one track at a time, to the collaborative and sometimes confusing body of work produced by 404 Not Found, an experimental electronic collective he started in 1996. It's a project born and raised in his Broomfield studio, the A7 Audio Research Lab, a homemade affair composed of both proletariat software and high-tech hodgepodgery. Among the hum of machinery -- the synthesizers, monitors and keypads and blinking, buzzing equalizers -- there's a distinct sense that Bradley is on to something. A former software engineer who by day provides technical support to those less savvy than he, Bradley might well be the most creative, prolific local composer that no one local has ever heard of.

Understanding what Bradley is on to, however, demands a fair amount of technical prowess. Asked to describe his piecemeal approach in simple terms, he offers the following: "Various tracks are done in different ways. For the most part, we start off with songs in a program called CakeWalk Pro Audio. It's integrated, so for the most part, I lay down the basic tracks as MIDI tracks, later play those and record the audio aspect of it using a task-am DAT machine built to convert the analog output..."

What this all means to the layperson is that Bradley collects samples and audio tracks from multiple collaborators and sources -- spoken-word pieces, bits of answering-machine messages, occasional speeches from ill-fated cult leaders -- then manipulates and later mixes them with his own considerable talents as a keyboardist. He is, in essence, an audio alchemist mixing up something tasty in his own bathtub.

Eclectronic, Bradley's most recent project with 404 Not Found, is an ambitious one -- eighteen tracks long and two and a half years in the making. It's the band's fourth full-length album since 1997's Something Is Wrong, which found favor with Internet audiences for the Bob the Robot-fronted song "There's Something Wrong With My Penis." ("It once did function, but now it's broke/I rode my bike and it stuck in a spoke," Bob sang, an eloquent and empathetic machine if there ever was one.) Eclectronic finds Bradley at his globe-hopping compositional best, collaborating with musicians and fans from San Francisco to Switzerland to produce a record that is at once fun, futuristic and funny as hell. It alternates between pure silliness and intelligent and true expressions of emotion and angst. It's a lo-fi endeavor that might summon memories of the sound effects in Atari games or Doctor Demento radio broadcasts. At once complicated and simple, it's what might have happened if the Ween brothers had eschewed live instruments for Casios and sound cards, or if Daniel Johnston had upped his computer skills and made a soundtrack for a sci-fi children's show.

Throughout the release, Bob the Robot serves as a sexually deviant Master of Ceremonies, providing both the introduction as well as vocals for two dramatically warped remixes of the same monologue. "I liked the idea of a robot coming to grips with his own sexuality," Bradley says of Bob, who is amused to discover that he's used the phrase "human member" to describe his fellow players in the band. "Did I say 'human member'? Oh, I guess I did. Human member, human member. Ha! Ha! Ha!" Bob says on "Welcome From Bob the Robot." The EuroPop and Fanatic Drums remixes were done by FranÇoise Giorgianni, the Swiss president of the 404 Not Found fan club. On all three tracks, Bob's "voice" is created by entering Bradley's words into a text-to-voice program that's now standard issue on most PCs.

Other notable tracks include "Slam the Competition," a hilarious vocal improvisation by Bradley cohort Steve Genoff, which sounds a bit like Zorak from Space Ghost giving a locker room pep talk to a team full of extraterrestrial athletes. The vocal track on "Please Ignore Me" is taken from a poem written by Master Zap; the title is one of many Internet insider jokes on Eclectronic and refers to a phrase that chat-room participants use when running test messages. "I thought the poem was so funny," Bradley says. "Zap's Swedish, so it had this kind of English-as-a-second-language quality to it. I wanted someone with a German accent to read it, but I don't know any Germans. Eventually, I found this guy I work with to do it. He's from Italy, but a lot of people think his accent sounds Eastern European, so that was close enough."