Of synthesizers and symphonies

Soundscapes: At a recent performance at the LAB, electronic musician Danny Peck performed to a video that included found images, bird flight patterns and a vintage Betty Boop cartoon perfectly timed to the music.

In the notes about his new album, Defiant Heart, local electronic musician Danny Peck (aka dep) writes that he was "inspired by a personal hero of artistic creation, Dmitri Shostakovich, whose compositions have always had the ability to move me." Shostakovich, a 20th century Russian composer, is known for his heavy, moody works. If the trajectory from classical to electronic seems a bit of a reach, Peck points out that, while he was growing up, he always liked classical music (along with bluegrass and other genres that seem unlikely favorites of a "knob twiddler").

Actually, Peck (who was raised in Weaverville and went to college in Mars Hill) has a number of instruments under his belt — trumpet, which he started playing in sixth grade, French horn from high school, guitar and piano, which he played in his parents’ house. "I was always experimenting with songs as far back as I can remember," he says. "Getting on a computer and making songs."

Peck is a prolific composer, regularly releasing new work through his dep.fm website. His albums are free for digital download, and often his live shows are free as well. "The most important thing as a new artist is to keep the barrier of entry as low as possible," he says. "I want to make it accessible to anyone. The more people I can get exposed to what I'm doing, the better."

Peck is fortunate to have a day job that pays his bills, which removes a certain pressure (to succeed, to sell albums, to fill venues) when it comes to working on music. "I can write whatever I want to," he says.

Since 2006, dep has released 14 albums, though it was not until 2009's Instructions for Flying that Peck, in his album notes, concedes a "truly mature release." "The stuff you've done in the past will always sound amateurish," he says with a cringe.

Xpress has been watching dep's progress since last year's Start Loving Robots (that album could be ordered in hard copy, which came in the form of an adorable robot-shaped flash drive). Releases since then (there have been five) run the gamut from delicate melodies to piano-only tracks (no electronics), ambient and (with Made in the Shade), upbeat electronica that edges into dance-music territory. Peck says that, at the heart of his recent material, he's most concerned with "developing melody and counter melody."

He adds that it's a misnomer that electronic music has to be very structured, with four-beat measures and lots of repetition. "A lot of electronic producers are really rooting their stuff with a lot of musicality behind it," says Peck. "Those are the artists who I lean towards — the people who want to ensure that behind the beats there are actual keys and chord progressions and instrumentation in layers."

But having that goal in mind doesn't necessarily make the final outcome easy to achieve. Peck says that it's been a constant journey to have the right tools and to be able to make the music sound like what he hears in his mind. "I think I have maybe another 10 years to go before I'm actually able to capture what I'm thinking," says Peck.

Defiant Heart
is a step closer to turning idea into sonic reality. Peck thought it would be "a fun project" to tap the dark and brooding compositions of Shostakovich, deconstructing them. "I started taking clips from some of my most favorite Shostakovich recordings and completely distorted them, stretched them out to where they're pretty much unrecognizable," says Peck. That left him with "a canvas to add my own creativity." Defiant Heart's completed form is not Shostakovich set to beats, but rather "the way his music makes me feel as a framework for my own process," says Peck. "Heavy strings, heavy brass, epic climaxes are the spirit I try to convey."

Peck plans to perform tracks from Defiant Heart at his BoBo Gallery release party. That show will also include a limited number of hand-packaged hard-copy CDs for sale and what Peck's calling "a full night of music." Clemency, an indie-rock band from Nashville will perform a set as will Asheville-based electronic/lounge artist Kie Cochran. Later in the night, there will be a second dep performance of "a mix of tracks I've been working on." Hopefully, Peck will also include some of his live-compositions, a process that includes loop pedals, found-sounds, electronics and improv. "Things will happen organically on stage that I didn't plan," says Peck of those intuitive sets. "I have a framework, but I like to leave it open."

— Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

who: dep
what: CD release party for Defiant Heart, with performances by Clemency and Kie Cochran
where: BoBo Gallery
when: Saturday, Aug. 20 (9 p.m., no cover but donations welcome. http://www.bobogallery.com)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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