Chemistry Class

Denverites Recone Helmut and Clark ov Saturn have not gone out of their way to disassociate themselves from their previous group, Westword profile subject LD-50 ("Lethal Dose," March 13). Like LD-50, which broke up this past summer, their new act, pH-10, shares its name with a chemical abbreviation--and they chose the moniker, Helmut concedes, because "we wanted something derivative of our former band, so people would recognize who we are." Adds Saturn, "Better living through chemistry is our motto."

But by the same token, pH-10 utilizes a substantially different formula than its predecessor. Whereas pH-10 is an electronica duo, LD-50 was a quartet that balanced industrial sounds with elements not all that far removed from traditional rock--in the beginning, anyway. "LD-50 had been heading in the direction of a purer electronic expression of music all along," Saturn says. "And it eventually reached an apex where there was no more room for the lead guitar, bass guitar and my vocals."

"There is a way to fit those types of instruments into an electronic band," Helmut allows. "But for us it was too limiting, and there was no way to do it efficiently."

Thus Helmut and Saturn, who had been forced to shoehorn programming and sampling into LD-50's compositions, left the nest. Saturn, a local video producer and German-speaking frontman for a cable-TV show called Tele Deutsch (see "Sprechen Zie Interactive," December 19, 1996), could not be happier about the change. "We've been fooling around with a lot of complicated side projects all along, and pH-10 was a way to streamline that work," he points out. "Now we have just one project, and this is it. We are a lot more focused. Personally, I have more direction toward what I want to do in life with this band than I've probably ever had before."

As implied by the title of its debut EP, Recone Helmut vs. Clark ov Saturn, pH-10 functions differently from most musical partnerships. Rather than collaborating on tracks from the outset, Helmut and Saturn create them on their own, then present them to each other for commentary, criticism and revision. However, the four songs on the disc are of a piece: drum-and-bass-heavy environments that, thanks to the engineering acumen of ex-Nebula 9 whiz Jim Stout, sound as slick as anything released of late on major imprints. "Corpuscle," a bellicose opener decorated with arcade-like pops and beeps, is the aural equivalent of a blood-flow graphic from a tattered high-school science film; the trip-hoppy "7th Bottom" features a martial cadence and looser, almost swinging loops; "Ambulance Driver" sports squelchy rhythms, sighing keyboards and a cleverly repeated vocal snippet ("Rock and roll is dead"); and "Proverbial Kicks" gives listeners a boot via borrowings from the Frank Sinatra version of Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You." (Saturn is such a fan of Ol' Blue Eyes that he e-mailed his best wishes to him on December 12, Sinatra's 82nd birthday.)

Saturn, who's never been shy about self-promotion, is proud of the CD. "I think we've created drum-and-bass music that you can actually dance to. We've really anchored the songs for dancers," he notes. "We wanted to make body music with this CD, and I think we achieved that."

Although its recording is relatively brief, pH-10 has no shortage of material--only of money. "Since we are operating totally independently right now, without label support, we do what we can afford," Saturn confesses. This situation is exacerbated by the difficulty of launching a big-time music career from the base of the Rockies. According to Helmut, "I think it's a shame that Denver has such a cool and interesting scene, yet bands still have to leave town if they want to make it, or even disband, because all the industry is on the coasts. Foreskin 500 is a prime example of that." Saturn believes that these problems might be solved by more cooperation: "We need something like a collective that energizes the scene and shares both the burden and the profit of putting on shows. Everybody just chips in and then benefits together."

Until such a day comes, local performers must rely on live performances to build a following. Electronic outfits have seldom excelled in such a setting: Knob-twiddlers generally have a hard time matching the excitement generated on stage by guitarists and lead singers. "Those performers take the focus away from the people working the machinery and give the audience something to watch," Saturn states. "LD-50 had that energy."

"The audience needs to see warm bodies up there," Helmut agrees. "We are doing as much work with our gear as a guitarist--if not more--but it's not presentable to an audience in the same way."

Instead of adding instrumentalists for gigs, though, Saturn and Helmut have opted for a greater emphasis on theatricality. "We always conceptualize the look of our shows," Saturn says. "We use LCD pixel projections, track spots, computer video mixing, fog and smoke."

"You gotta love smoke," Helmut pipes up. "Smoke works wonders."
"And who knows?" Saturn continues mischievously. "You might see live wrestling, ant farms, Jell-O sploshing, animal tricks...The sky is the only limit."

CD-release party with pH-10. 9 p.m. Saturday, December 20, Seven South, 7 South Broadway, $3 in advance/$5 day of show/$6 cover plus

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