There’s a lot to be said about applying Occam’s Razor to music production. Sometimes bands opt for such complicated multi-track recording that the vibe of the music is almost lost. Forma have chosen a more direct approach: early analog synths and sequencers going straight into a digital recorder, all in real-time – the result is a timeless electronic sound, contemporary with an ear to classic German synth artists.
I had a chance to sit down (over the internet) with member Mark Dwinell, former guitarist for the Boston group Bright, who formed Forma with Sophie Lam in 2008. It all started with the purchase of a Farfisa in 2007, “Sophie and I started playing compact organs in late 2008, Terry Riley/Philip Glass jams. And in Dec 2008 bought a Moog Little Phatty. I wasn’t sure about this purchase, we thought we were gonna be an organ band – $1300 is a lot of dough for a monophonic instrument. Then I just fell for it, all of the timbre possibilities, so I started collecting monosynths, and eventually put away the organs.”
Mark’s penchant for synths goes back to the 80’s, “my first instrument was a JUNO 106, bought brand new, 1987,1988. Got into sequencing, composing with it”. MIDI seemed to come naturally, as he soon got into composing with an Ensoniq ESQ-1 then incorporating the EPS sampler. However, with the 90s came a general decline in synth quality – “the synth manufacturers, they just put out garbage” – and Mark put away the keys, picked up the guitar and sold the Juno.
Around the same time, he was working at a Boston-area record store and recording music on the side, when a co-worker gave him a tape that changed his musical direction. “I played him some 4 track jams, he said I’m gonna make you a tape of something I think you’ll like – A side Kraftwerk 2, B side Musik von Harmonia. That tape totally confirmed for me that what I was doing at that time had a precedent. Because what Bright was doing didn’t sound anything like Sebadoh or Pavement.” That recording project evolved into a proper band, releasing their first full-length in 1996, with 5 more LPs in the next 10 years. their last being 2005’s Bells Break Their Towers.
Flash forward to 2011, and Forma’s in full-swing, releasing their first self-titled LP on Cleveland-by-way-of-Austria’s Spectrum Spools label which they found (or found them) in a roundabout way: “I used to have shows here at my loft, the Schoolhouse. One night we had Sam Goldberg play from Cleveland, he said he had a tape label and would love to put something out. We sent him a tape and he loved it and wrote us back saying ‘my friend John Elliot from the band Emeralds has a label imprint and he wants to put this out as an LP.’ So Spectrum Spools is the label, and it’s an imprint of Editions Mego, which is run by Peter Rehberg”. The group went on to release their second LP, OFF/ON, with the label in late 2012.
Forma’s direct approach to recording seems anachronistic on one hand, but the results sound fresh and modern. I asked Mark how computers fit into their production process: “No computer for music making, all hardware. I use an Alesis MMT-8, from the late 1980’s. All of our stuff is recorded live, stereo L/R line-in to a TASCAM DR-01 handheld recorder, so we record on a flash card technically. Then I use Peak Pro for simple stereo editing. Starts and stops basically, fade ins and outs where it feels right. All mixing is live on a Mackie 1402-VLZ3. We only use what sounds great, and nothing extra but EQ in the mastering – Forma is really refreshing in that regard, I spent so many years multi-tracking with Bright.”
After hearing their latest LP, I’m excited to see how the group develops. They’ve played live shows in their hometown (NYC) and are looking to tour in the future. Hopefully we can get them here to Michigan. In the meantime check their website or Facebook page for updates.