Salaryman: Mining The ‘Electric Forest’

SalarymanSix years passed until Rick Valentin could finally chop through the cool intricacies of Salaryman’s Electric Forest.

More productive than ever, Valentin and his band mate and wife Rose Marshack had some priorities to negotiate. They’ve since released three albums by their rock band Poster Children and a band mockumentary DVD, completed college degrees, Marshack earned her first- and second-degree black belts, and they had their son, Gram. They still continue to update their podcast Radio Zero, and Rose writes a bi-weekly column in The Hub (often referencing “The Husband” and “The Toddler”).

Their most recent team accomplishment was designing an interactive installation within an Airstream trailer to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the interstate highway system. Their employer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Valentin is a web development specialist and Marshack is an art and technology integration specialist) held the competition.

“When we first read this,” Marshack recalled, “we were like, highway travel! Which highway? Oh my goodness! That’s us,” speaking of the tour machine that Poster Children had been. Their design included a video-recording booth and a 3-D forum to display travelers’ recorded stories, which they curated as the Airstream toured in June.

So, Salaryman’s already-recorded electronic music patiently waited for Valentin to begin editing the 10, 15-minute, 24-track songs. “I started looking at these 15-minute chunks of music that I could cut up and change and fit into a whole,” said Valentin, intrigued by the studio as an instrument. “There were too many options. It’s a good thing and a bad thing.”

The job of having to distill so much music, plus their multitasking (or as they’d suggest, “spread-thin-tasking”), created the delay in the third Salaryman album. A perfectionist, Valentin said with The Electric Forest, he learned the tyranny of focus, which he documented in his personal online notebook of ideas, and had to walk away for a couple years.

“I was spending too much time trying to get something right,” Valentin said. “I have a tendency to beat my head against the wall — you just keep working and working and working — and that drives you but there’s a downside to that where…the law of diminishing returns kicks in, where…you’re wasting time by working on it.”

“You can’t see the electric forest for the trees,” Marshack kidded. “You should learn to knit, my friend,” explaining the simplicity of achieving perfection in a single stitch, repeatedly.

Valentin learned to put his focus elsewhere. “And then when you come back, you see things with a different perspective.”

Although a couple songs already had form and had been played many times at shows, “I don’t think you could pinpoint the genesis of any of these songs,” Valentin said. “It was just kind of like they would congeal out of a bunch of noise, and then all of a sudden — oop, there’s a planet, somehow we got a planet. I don’t know how it happened.”

Continuing the late-night analogy, he joked, “It’s just a bunch of rubble but it’s kind of a ring of rubble flying around,” then changing his voice to that of an old-school broadcaster, he announced: “It’s like the rings around Saturn, Rick said sarcastically!”

Though this alter-ego band is known to be more serious-sounding than Poster Children (at least to Marshack’s dad), Salaryman has a couple rock songs on The Electric Forest.

“I think the record’s just as influenced by the usual kind of electronic, synthy kind of influences,” Valentin said, “but then also instrumental [soul] bands from the ‘60s like Booker T. and the MG’s and The Meters.”

Himself a fan of listening to podcasts while working, Rick describes Salaryman music as a soundtrack, comfortable as background music, even with the radio or TV on in the room.

“And it sounds like it’s part of the song,” said Marshack, whose “playing” of the TV set(s) has been an intriguing component to their live shows, inducing the audience into a pattern-finding game between audio and visual.

“It’s meant to be like a soundtrack where you listen to it and you’re doing something else at the same time,” Valentin said. “That’s what I like about instrumental music.”

Marshack even suggests recommended listening environments for each song in the CD’s liner notes. The title track, for example, is best heard “in a hot air balloon on the coldest day of the year.”

Imagine that.

Now it wouldn’t quite be a Rick-and-Rose release without another component beyond the music. The Do-It-Yourself pioneers will develop an online interface to enable their audience to remix The Electric Forest songs. Though not a new idea, their biggest Salaryman influence of David Byrne and Brian Eno (who gets a nod in “eYES”) celebrated the 25th anniversary recording of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by presenting the online remix concept.

But Valentin and Marshack are working on software to allow non-techies to take part in the creative process. Keep tabs on www.salaryman.org

What’s next, now that the slate’s clean? “What’s interesting about now,” Valentin explained, “is we’re doing a lot of other things, we have our jobs, we have school, and touring for six weeks or half the year is not an option anymore — that’s sort of a generator for continuing to make records and doing all this stuff. And now it’s purely we want to make more music because we like to make music.”

“There’s so many different things that we do,” Marshack said to Valentin, “but if I can get with you and we can play together, it beats out everything else at all, it even beats out chocolate ice cream. It’s like you can close your eyes and you can see the music that you’re making, it’s like a different part of your brain. I just love it and it’s a little bit frustrating that we can’t do that, but when Gram gets a little older we’ll be able to again.”