Thoughts Detecting Machines is the latest project from Rick Valentin, the man behind the pioneering late-80’s alternative band, Poster Children and its concurrent electronic side project, Salaryman. The debut Thoughts Detecting Machines album Work The Circuits is out now on Twelve Inch Records.
Poster Children existed at the forefront of new media, blogging, and webcasting long before these activities were even remotely commonplace in music marketing, much less in our daily human existence. The band was hosting its own internet radio show, Radio Zero, in 1997 (before there was an iPod to podcast to), and most notably, a song from the 1995 Poster Children album Junior Citizen was included with iTunes version 1.0.
“I started playing music around the time that I started programming computers,” Valentin remembers. “At the time I thought the two couldn’t co-exist. You could either be a musician or a geek but not both.” As recent music history has proven, Valentin was not only at a technological tipping point, but a cultural one, as well.
“I discovered punk rock and realized that a Coke-bottle glasses wearing computer lab hermit like me could make music, too,” Valentin says. “Salaryman was a step closer to merging technology and music – improvised synth instrumentals played through guitar amps,” he continues. “And even though the music I made with Poster Children wasn’t electronic, technology had an impact on everything we did.”
Launched in the college town of Champaign-Urbana, a couple of hours outside of Chicago, Poster Children went on to release records with legendary indie imprints such as spinART and Creation, and also survived a stint with the majors on both Sire and Reprise.
“When I started Thoughts Detecting Machines, I hadn’t written a song by myself in 20 years,” he explains. “I tried to do the singer-songwriter thing, but writing songs on an acoustic guitar made no sense to me. There’s just not enough volume.” Returning to a favorite well, Valentin accomplished his latest work by utilizing technology that didn’t exist outside of a professional studio two decades ago.
“Once I started looping and layering guitars, electronics, and vocals live at full volume, everything started coming together,” he says of the experience. “I could write songs like I used to with a band except this time there was no one else to drive crazy!” The end product is what Valentin describes as a “unified field theory” of his creative interests.
The songs on Work The Circuits merge the punk rock guitars of Poster Children with the electronics of Salaryman. Even the design of the physical packaging is a call back to Valentin’s eternal instincts, exploring the connection between art and technology, with custom-created covers made using a computer controlled pen plotter.
“I love the pen plotter,” he exclaims. “It has the exactitude of a computer with uniform curves and lines but there are also imperfections. Blobs of color where the pen first sets down, ink bleeding into the paper and gaps and overlaps where the servos don’t quite guide the pen to the right location on the page. It’s like the music - a collision of digital and analog, the perfect and imperfect.”
Even the upcoming music videos for songs from Work The Circuits will require interaction or contribution from the viewer. “It’s not a band; it’s a multimedia experiment,” Valentin explains. “What I’m trying to do with Thoughts Detecting Machines is take DIY to the extreme. It’s the solo artist as solo multimedia company. Technology makes this possible. To me technology has been always been about independence.”