Taylor Deupree - Biography
In the world of electronic music, the practice of working behind shadowy and varied aliases serves to place the emphasis on the music instead of on the personality of the musician. It’s a grand tradition and stands in direct opposition to the cult of personality that drives the rock and pop music charts. The interesting difference in the career of sound artist and graphic designer Taylor Deupree is that once Deupree began using his own name after years of producing under many different monikers, it is as if the desire to operate outside of the spotlight spilled over and infused his music with a newfound and rigorous experimentalism outside genre definitions.
Taylor Deupree was born in 1971. He now splits his time between Brooklyn and upstate New York, and he owes much to his experiences with the early 1990’s techno and rave culture of New York City. As one third of Prototype 909, Deupree made hard and fast dance-oriented techno in the ‘90s. The group gained acclaim for their energetic live shows and refusal to perform with any prerecorded material. They worked completely live with vintage synthesizers and drum machines — a rarity in the world of electronic dance music. Prototype 909 released four full-length albums in the ‘90s: Acid Technology (1993 Instinct), Live 1993 — 1995 (1995 Instinct), Transistor Rhythm (1995 Instinct), and Joined at the Head (1997 Caipirinha). These albums are full of well-crafted acid techno with an energetic rave bent, peppered with terse beats and blasts of rhythmic distortion. Meanwhile, Deupree was working solo under the alias Human Mesh Dance and also with Greek electronic musician Savvas Ysatis as SETI. He used these projects to explore a more ambient techno pulse and it has resulted in some of his most engagingly rhythmic work. Three Human Mesh Dance albums were released between 1993 and 1997: Hyaline (1993 Instinct), Mindflower (1994 Instinct), and Thesecretnumbertwelve (1997 12k). Thesecretnumbertwelve, the most successful of the three, is an intriguing album of shimmering gossamer ambience and also holds the honor of being the first release on Deupree’s own label, 12k. Deupree continues his collaboration with Ysatis to this day, although not under the SETI moniker. Their sound has become more abstract, but still references the ambient techno pulse of SETI. Some highlights of their ongoing collaboration include Tower of Winds (1998 Caipirinha) and the excellent The Sleeping Morning (2007 12k).
12k was founded on January 1st, 1997 and marks when things began to change aesthetically in both the sound and look of Deupree’s records. Deupree’s first release under his own name leaves the constant thwack of techno behind for a more IDM-tinged throb. 1998’s Comma (12k) employs some of the textural exploration of the Human Mesh Dance records but rests on rather typical IDM-style rhythmic structures. It only hints at the experimental ambience Deupree would soon focus on. The end of the decade brought on a full aesthetic shift for Deupree. Collaborating with sound artist Richard Chartier, 1999’s SPEC. (12k) marks the beginning of his focus on quiet ambience and microscopic sounds. The record deals with silence and microstructures, producing a kind of miniscule musique concrete. Deupree and Chartier would go on to form LINE, a sub-label of 12k that deals especially with ultra-minimal sound art. The duo still collaborates frequently.
Deupree continued to explore this austere digital minimalism for his next several releases. Albums like 2000’s .N (Ritornell) and Polr (Raster-Noton) are exemplary statements of this style, rich in sonic texture and adventurous in structure. Deupree took influence from the musique concrete composers of the ‘60s and ‘70s and applied it to a unique digitally fractured, post-techno format. The music is extremely precise and controlled, an architecture of sound.
With 2001's Occur (12k) and the following year’s Stil. (12k), Deupree explores this territory of control in full. Occur, with its vast landscapes of icy drones and relentlessly detailed digital crackle, fully defines Deupree’s style of post-techno microsound. To say that Stil. re-introduces the ambient warmth of earlier work would be an overstatement, but it is somehow a warmer record than its predecessor. With a slightly more melodic bent and use of rhythm, Stil. is the more directly engaging of the two. Both releases are absolute headphone classics and landmarks of abstract digital minimalism.
January (Spekk), released in 2004, picks up where Stil. leaves off. On January, Deupree takes the austere style of microsound he used to build Occur and grafts back on techno’s pulse as well as an ambient melodicism that is totally engaging. The sound is definitely still extremely minimal and abstract, but there is a new sense of emotion and warmth in the music largely due to the introduction of these traditional elements. The genius of Deupree’s work is his ability to manipulate both melody and rhythm to feel unconventional. Throughout January, he maintains a sense of experimentation, subverting melody and rhythm to fit his minimal song structures. This approach culminates with 2006’s Northern (12k), Deupree’s most beautiful and successful work to date. Using guitar, melodica, and other instruments, Northern is the least minimal of Deupree’s albums. He processes the instrumental sources to create a swirling slow-motion dervish of sound. There is a larger sense of space on this record than on his previous work. It’s certainly the most organic record he has made, hinting at the sound of live bands like Stars of the Lid and Labradford, while still maintaining Deupree’s signature icy minimalism.
Throughout his career, Deupree has been an active collaborator resulting in work with Tetsu Inoue on Active/Freeze (2000 12k), Frank Bretschneider on Balance (2002 Mille Plateaux), Kenneth Kirschner on Post_Piano (2003 Sub Rosa), and Christopher Willits on Mujo (2004 Plop). In 2008, Deupree released a book of his photography and design work accompanied by a CD of new music titled Sea Last (12k).
After shedding many aliases and working under his given name, Taylor Deupree developed a signature style that eschews obvious gestures and personality gimmicks through experimentalism and focus on small details. Seemingly not content to rest, Deupree continues to fold new ideas into his work, returning to traditional elements with the confidence to manipulate them to fit his unique vision.