We’ve already introduced Betacicadae, the latest brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and photographer Kevin Scott Davis, when we got struck by the transcendetal and somehow redemptive nuances and sound of his debut album “Mouna“ (the title is a word which refers to a spiritual practice and derives from the Sanskrit word “mun”, meaning “measure” or “silence”). He tickled our fancy by means of a sequence of dreamlike spaces constantly shifting between earth and otherworldliness, where “Mouna” equates a forest with its dim lights, sudden havens of rest and crawling, so we decided to have a chat with Kevin. Betacicadae’s “Mouna” comes out on Elegua Records.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Kevin. How are you?
Kevin Scott Davis: Hello! I’m doing well and am just pleased you’ve asked me to participate here. Thank you.
Chain D.L.K.: Not so many days ago, I introduced your album as Betacicadae on our zine… very nice! But before speaking about that, could you introduce your project?
Kevin Scott Davis: Yes, Betacicadae is the project name for music I make that falls under a certain aesthetic. “Ambient” is an easy way to say it, but I think it’s a bit rougher around the edges than a typical “sound wallpaper” album (which I also love). Experimental might be a better word for it. It began as a blog and eventually evolved into “Mouna”, which was just released by Elegua Records on April 1st. I have since been recording much more music in the same vein, and am excited to continue to the project longterm.
Chain D.L.K.: There are many field recordings in Mouna. Where did you grab them and how did you build your collages?
Kevin Scott Davis: I carried an H4n field recorder around with me for a year or so, not really intending for anything to become album material at first. I have a love of environmental sound, and started to find that it was more fun than using a guitar as a starting point. Eventually, the collage building was just a way for me to try and dialogue with preexisting atmospheres as I practiced sound design, etc. I was living in Portland, OR then, so many sounds were recorded there. Some of my favorites were collected at my friends’ farm/home just outside of pdx. There are also a lot of Coquí frogs from Pahoa, HI. They are considered non-native pests there, but they have an unmistakable character, and a lot of volume, which was hard not to notice.
Chain D.L.K.: Why have you titled it as “Mouna”?
Kevin Scott Davis: This is a great question, and one that I should be able to answer a little better. I think that loose associations and double meanings can be more interesting and fun than hard definitions. In general, the word “mouna” has an eastern origin most closely related to “revelation” or “wish”, but I also simply liked the feel of the word. It had been written down in a notebook for months before it became a title, and I think it’s initial meaning is a bit lost on me. I don’t mind this, but perhaps this part of me is why I’ll forever be stuck making wordless music.
Chain D.L.K.: Graphics seems to be an important aspect of “Mouna”… could you explain the images and paintings you created?
Kevin Scott Davis: This had so much to do with David at Elegua Records. The label’s approach to presenting albums in special ways (handmade, limited editions) was a big reason I was drawn to it. A couple of my photographs were used, but David did all the layout and design. In 2012 I moved to a fairly remote location in Northern California, and the wooded area of my home seemed to fit with the music. The photo of the dark forest and sun flare on the CD cover I thought looked like some of the places I’d imagined when making the music (on ‘jjjjj’, in particular). I started out a visual artist long before I got into music, and tend to think of images and colors first. I perceive sounds as colors, primarily. Antonia Degen at Capricornus Photography also contributed and helped inspire the overall aesthetic. She does much better work in analog photography than I do and deserves to be mentioned, if you will.
Chain D.L.K.: Nature and synthesis are the pillars of your artistic production… and such a more or less harmonic dichotomy seems to permeate your album…what’s your point of view?
Kevin Scott Davis: I came out the other side of making Mouna with some updated philosophies on this. It may sound cliché, but the thing I realized most is just how perfect the sounds around us are in their untouched state. Computers and synthesis have opened up whole new realms of a science-like exploration of sound, but I can’t tell you how many times I’d walked outside after banging my head for hours against my computer only to throw my hands up in realization that the details I’d been trying to “create” were already there in nature, and that perfection doesn’t require me or my synthesizers. It helps to live in a rural area.
That said, I still consider myself a beginner, and it’s a fun challenge to try. Much of my music now is getting simpler as I get better at synthesis, I think as a result of learning this. Broader strokes, without the head-banging.
Chain D.L.K.: Would you consider “Mouna” as a “Telerehabilition” by reprising the title of homonimous track?
Kevin Scott Davis: “Telerehabilitiation” is separate from the album’s title. It does conclude the album, in more ways than the name. “Telerehabilitation” is a form a rehabilitation over long distances, particularly the internet (for drug users and such). For me it was a longer distance, and one that was spiritual.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the emotion you tried to render by way of sound and music on “Mouna” which is seemingly unexplainable by words?
Kevin Scott Davis: I think “Mouna” was/is a place for me I enjoyed traveling to. Mental images of locations were present, but I was also trying to describe a world in an inbetween state – something subconscious as well as literally geographic. Dreams were certainly a theme. I’ll be honest and say there was not a lot of visceral emotion intended. I’m interested in something a bit more latent, if that makes sense.
Chain D.L.K.: Any recurring dream during the recording of “Mouna”?
Kevin Scott Davis: The album started with the track “jjjjjj” (the title of which was the first thing I banged out on my keyboard), but became a forest, for me. The rest of it was a journey leading into and out of that forest, and something that I daydreamed about the whole time while making it (‘Pirene’ takes place in the same forest). On one level, it was very personal, though. I don’t prefer to superimpose my mental images onto what others might see or feel. But since dreams are perfect places for in-between worlds, I did place binaural beats beneath at least a couple of the tracks, which are rumored to sync brain waves with certain intended relaxed, or concentrated states. That may have been a bit of mischief.
Chain D.L.K.: How do you please your ears besides your own creations?
Kevin Scott Davis: When I was recording this, I listened to nothing, or very little. Afterward, I listened to Kanye West for about a year. Now I’m back to listening to very little except the ambient music I love at night, for sleep. And by necessity, unfortunately, my own new recordings – which increasingly become purposed for sleep as well.
Chain D.L.K.: Is there any phase of musical history you missed or you would like to relive?
Kevin Scott Davis: I was a late bloomer. I was always the last person to know about the Smiths, or the Velvet Underground, or Silver Apples, in all the bands I’ve ever played in. I studied music composition in college, but the education went no further than Schoenberg, who was frowned upon. There are a lot of artists I’d have missed out on if I hadn’t been pretty in love with discovery. I’m mainly interested in frontier music, now. But to most, that’s everything from John Cage on. It would be exciting to live in a world where this was more common, since that’s about 60 years back.
Chain D.L.K.: What about your audio devices?
Kevin Scott Davis: Most of my sounds are made with a lap steel guitar and ebows, a mopho desktop synth, fender telecaster and fx pedals, Ableton Live, Reaktor, Max/MSP, H4n field recorder, odds and ends like thumb pianos, cymbals, violin, friends that sing or snore, etc.
Chain D.L.K.: Beside listening pleasure, is there anything else you’d like a listener to catch in your record?
Kevin Scott Davis: I hope listening pleasure really is something some people can take away. I’d be so honored. I was very aware in making it that it was not going to be a smooth listen. And sometimes even I myself prefer that. But the response to such a strange album has been really positive, and I think that means people are willing to accept things that can be challenging. If people place my record on as an active engagement, I’d feel more like a playwright, which would be way beyond my talent, but an amazing feeling. Maybe something to look forward to.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?
Kevin Scott Davis: Yes, certainly. I don’t know what the next Betacicadae album will be, but there are many works in progress in broader strokes. Much of it has been sounding slower and deeper, if that helps.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to bring “Mouna” on a live stage?
Kevin Scott Davis: Betacicade will be on tour in late July through the first couple weeks of August, though the live sound will be different. Much of this new sound is indicative of future records, I think. I only have two hands, but would love to find a collaborator or two for live shows (email me).
Chain D.L.K.: You explicitly said you believe in Christ. Do you feel confused after these recent happenings within the Roman Catholic Church (pedophilic priest, collusion with some financial and masonic lobbies and so on)? What’s your viewpoint about that?
Kevin Scott Davis: I do believe in Christ, and believe in daily communion with God. I am pained by many things that have taken place in the Catholic church recently, but not confused. I think it was St. Augustine that said church should be “not a museum for the pious, but a hospital for sinners.” Coming from a long generational line of mental illness and difficulty, Augustine’s church is the one I most relate to. I don’t identify as a Catholic, but I don’t denounce many Catholics’ true efforts in knowing God, either. Many of my favorite writers are ancient Catholic mystics. But they are writers who speak of love more than authority or politics. There is no end to human pride. If religion is not based on love for others, you can be sure that those you have been witnessing are sinners’ flailing attempts to save face. It is not a surprise to me that those given the most authority have a difficult time managing it. I think that the simpler you can become, the better. My Christ resides in the heart.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s your opinion on other old and new cults?
Kevin Scott Davis: I believe most people are after God, in some form or another. By my actions, I hated Him, for some years. So I cannot give an answer here that is not somewhat pointed, as much as my old liberal self would love to. If I had not come to know Love, with a capital “L”, I would not be alive today. That said, I accept the winding road. I accept that many paths lead to God. But I refute the acceptance of evil, and even the flirtation with it. I accept science, but would rather believe in science-fiction. I accept boring hymnals, but would rather believe in dragons. You make your path, but it leads one place.
Chain D.L.K.: Thanks in advance for replies. Anything to add before clicking on “send”?
Kevin Scott Davis: Just thanks for the review, for listening, and for caring about music and art that’s not often paid for.
visit Betacicadae on the web at: kevinscottdavis.net