Hieroglyphic Being In The Studio

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As minimal techno plunders the ashes of Chicago's jack track aesthetic, Jamal Moss (a.k.a. Hieroglyphic Being) represents another deviation of the classic house sound. Mentored by Chicago legends Adonis and Steve Poindexter, Moss' tracks recall the sort of wild experimentation that can only be achieved through limited resources. Armed with little more than a couple drum machines and budget mixers, the typical Hieroglyphic Being 12" stands in stark contrast to the clinical style of laptop production. Squashed, clipped, noisy, and raw, Moss' work serves as a reminder that musical evolution can come from unlikely sources. Let's have a look at which ones those happen to be.

XLR8R: Adonis took you under his wing when you first started out. How did that work?

Hieroglyphic Being: I met Adonis through this girl that we both knew from parties. I figured he was just trying to hook up with her, but she ended up organizing a three-way call between us, and it turned out [he and I] had a similar ideology about music. So I started coming to his studio...one of those situations where I sat around for a long time watching people sing on microphones and mess around with keyboards...and I was getting kinda antsy, like, "What can I do?" So finally Adonis stuck this big, bulky-ass drum machine in my hands–it was a Korg DDD-1–and said "You got to learn how to make beats before you can do anything else."

You did full tracks with just the drum machine?

Yeah, and this was like in '92, '93 when the whole Cajual and Prescription Records thing was blowin' up. Everybody else had all this other equipment, and I'm walking around with this old drum machine like some kinda Neanderthal! I was getting laughed at 'cause I would make these tapes with just simple beats on them, and it'd be like "Yeah, yeah that's cool, whatever." But eventually Adonis recognized I got to a certain point with making beats that he started showing me how to use other gear.

How DID you get people to listen to your stuff?

Adonis' whole shtick was DIY, like how the punk rockers would do with pressing up 7"s, making their own tapes, and doing their own artwork. It was dealing directly with the people, and that's what I was doing. So in the mid-'90s, there would be a rave party, and I'd go stand out at the pre-sale line and try to sell my tapes, but nobody would buy them. But at 6 a.m., when all those kids were coming out of the party, still amped up on the music and still going off the cocktails they had, they'd be like, "Oh, you're that guy that was out here at 9 in the evening!" All the sudden, I'd have 80 people trying to buy a tape.

Speaking of tapes, how do you get that grit with your tracks?

Well, right now I'm using a Panasonic VCR to record. You can fit eight hours of sound on [the tapes], and it's got that old, analog, warm feeling...

It sounds so much different than anything else.

It's funny, because in the mid-'90s' won't say any names, but, like...I'd give demo tapes out to certain people and they'd say they liked the actual compositions, but the way it was recorded sucked. Even when I put out my first record in '96 on Mathematics' was all geeked 'cause these cats in the UK were pressing my stuff. But one of them called me up and asked if I was sure I wanted it to sound "messed up" like that. I liked it the way it was [but] I was always getting kicked in the head because of the sound quality.

What's the rest of your production setup like?

Right now, it's a Boss DR-5 [Rhythm Section] and a Zoom RT223 [RhythmTrak drum machine]. I run those into a Gemini DJ mixer, into another cheap, old Behringer mixer, and then into the VCR...I used to have a couple of Roland SP-404 [samplers] that I used for an experimental DJ thing.

That experimental thing was on BBC Radio One a few months ago.

Yeah, that was from a live set I did last summer. I was playing a party in front of five people, and I was getting drunk messing around with samplers, and just clacking all over the place trying to get everything to edit perfectly. Sometimes it just wasn't rocking right, and there was all these glitches in the mix...

Those glitches were the best part!

Now see, that's messed up. I was embarrassed when I found out they played it on the radio! I guess that's one of those situations where it's weird when you take a chance and experiment. You're not doing it to be innovative, but a lot of innovative stuff happens when you're just fucking around...or by accident.