Turing Machine

Interviews | By on Nov 30th, 1998

yping “Turing Machine” into a search engine to find more info on computer scientist Alan Turing led me to the band Turing Machine. Intrigued, I soon discovered they’re a totally rockin’ band that just signed to Jade Tree, the leading label for many of today’s best indie and emo bands. I got in touch with guitarist Justin Chearno, and was pleased to find out he was just as knowledgeable in the field of AI, if not more, than me. Then I picked up the CD and was totally blown away. Alan Turing would’ve been proud. Well.. If he was into beat-driven techno-flavored experimental live rock.

So Turing Machine is a heavy rock instrumental band, right? Can you describe it a bit. And how did a rock instrumental band hook up with Jade Tree?
I’ve never been too good at describing my own band, but I guess I like to think we’re an amalgamation of several things — from 60’s 70’s rock (like Can, Neu, This Heat, National Health..) and early electronic (Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, late 70’s south bronx electro boogie) to stuff like the Wipers, Mission of Burma, Fugazi, The Ex, even things like funk and fusion play pretty heavily into what we do. But (at least I like to think) none of it is deliberate. We just sorta play what we like. I think that’s one of the reasons we get along so well — none of us like one type of music…

As far as the Jade Tree connection –Scot and I have known Tim and Darren (the guys who do Jade Tree) for about 8 years. they put out a couple of singles by the band we were in before Turing Machine (Pitchblende). but we’ve remained really good friends, and rarely, if ever, talk about music or the music business. Honestly, I think they are the BEST label that there is right now. And we thought there was NO WAY they were gonna put out our record. I mean, they had just signed Euphone, and we figured there was no way that they wanted another instrumental band — no matter how little we had in common musically with Euphone — so we sent them a “demo” hoping that they would recommend another label (and just because we’re friends and we wanted them to hear what we’d been doing) and strangely enough, they said that they really wanted to do it..

How did the recording of the new album go? I heard you got lucky in the studio… You had some big names produce and mix it…
The recording went surprisingly well. Our good friend Bill Kellum (who I also play with in the VHF/Kranky Records band Doldrums) brought up his digital 8 track and we set up to record in our practice space. we did the whole thing with like 8 mikes — none of them costing more than 100 bucks, for the price of a steak dinner. we sorta figured it would be more a demo than anything, but we really lucked out and managed to get “real” sounds on the tape. I’ve been in quite a few bands and spent way too much money on recording, and this is definitely the only time I’ve ever felt like the guitar on the record sounds like my amplifier (even if we screwed up and recorded it out of phase..)

But yeah, boy did we ever luck out. After we realized that the recording was pretty good, we decided against mixing the whole thing through a couple of home stereo speakers.. We were sitting around discussing who we would want to work with and the one name that came out a couple of times was James Murphy – who did a lot of the mixing on the last trans am record. Through a couple of connections I managed to get his # and during our phone conversation we realized that we had met when his old band and my old band played together (Pony and Pitchblende, respectively). I gave him the record and he told me that he had to run it by his partner…they decided that they wanted to do it…I later found out that his production partner was Tim Goldsworthy, who was at one time a programmer for the group UNKLE. He’s an absolute fucking genius on the computer. Just amazing. I still can’t believe that we spent 6 days in the studio from 6pm to 6am every night and they never had a complaint. It was the best.. I can’t wait to do the next one with them…

How did you come up with the name?
We knew we wanted to use something that had to do with computers and the more we learned about his machine and his life the more we it made sense.. He was a very tragic person, and its very rare to read about a man who was both a mathematical genius but with so much anguish in their personal life.

What do you think about Artificial Intelligence? Do you think we’re far off? What do you think would be the sufficient conditions for machine intelligence? (i.e. the ability to learn, imitation game, the appropriate program, massive adaptability, etc)
Yeah, I really do think we getting closer and closer to getting something to think and feel on its own..I do think that will be a reality in the near future, but I don’t think the whole “cyborg/robot” sci-fi thing is going to be AI’s manifestation — I think it’ll be more like some kinda digital personal assistant…

Back to the band.. You obviously know a lot of music theory. Where do you begin when you create and structure a new song?
First, I know absolutely NO music theory. At all. I’m pretty lame as far as that stuff goes, I can’t read music, I’m not very good at figuring songs out… hell, I can’t even remember half of the songs that I write.. The way we write 99% of our music is at practice. Someone will start playing something and we’ll all just end up playing along. I know it’s lame, but really, all of our songs come out of “jams” — we hardly ever begin something with a “concept.” That kinda stuff usually comes in during the arranging process…

What’s in the near future for Turing Machine? Tours, working on the new album?
We’re gonna tour midwest in March and the east cost in April. We can’t really tour that much because we have pretty serious jobs (that we actually like..) so when we do go out, it’ll be more of the 3 days at a time kinda thing…We’re already working on songs for our next record and if things keep going well, we’ll be back in the studio at the end of the summer…

One last question… Sharks. Dinosaurs. In the next issue they go head to head. Who will be victor?
Difficult. I mean sharks in the water, all the way…but they ain’t got shit on dry land, do they? I mean, there is always a *chance* that the dinosaur could kick some ass submerged…I’m gonna have to give it up to the dinosaur….Even though I think sharks are way cooler…

Turing Machine’s new album “A New Machine For Living” is out now through Jade Tree Records. To learn more about Alan Turing, click here for my mini-bio.

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