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A healthy diet

Producer Chris Brann maximizes his minimalism

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You are what you eat, so they say. If so, there are worse things than to be as organic and unprocessed as raw cabbage. It's the meal Buckhead-born producer Chris Brann picks at with his delicate hands one afternoon at Cameli's in East Atlanta.

It's a balmy March day, but Brann, like the weather, is starting to warm up. And just because the 30-year-old semi-recluse keeps his life shaded doesn't make it any less colorful. A reformed "fast-food vegetarian" turned die-hard organic vegan, Brann's pleasures are all natural, and in many ways indicative of his homegrown approach to music.

A self-taught studio technician and musician, Brann has spent much of the last 10 years behind the boards, whether for A-list clients such as Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Everything But The Girl, Jody Watley and K.D. Lang; or with underground contemporaries such as David Sylvian, Charles Webster, Mondo Grosso and Naked Music; or for himself, recording progressive, techy house as Wamdue Kids and Wamdue Project, deeper pop-structured house as Ananda Project and freer polyrhythmic expression as P'taah.

Brann scored a Top 10 hit overseas in 1998 with the Wamdue Project track "King of my Castle" and has toured to enthusiastic crowds as far away as Japan, though only on rare occasions has he appeared live in Atlanta. Occasionally, he has gotten behind the decks, revealing in DJ sets a wide range of influences on his own music. Rarely, however, has the star -- enigmatic enough to have once been declared "Brann flake" by the British press -- offered a truly revealing glance at what's behind the man.

Now, spurred by an abundance of new material -- most notably, P'taah's Staring at the Sun and Ananada Project's Morning Light -- Brann has emerged with increasing frequency to DJ and discuss his upcoming collaborative efforts, projects whose warm, redemptive tones reflect the direction Brann's life has taken in recent years.

"I think my life's goal is to become less and less," the often ambiguous Brann says between bites of his vegan wrap. "I think I've started with a lot and am trying to get rid of it. Not in a reactive way, just in letting go."

Brann's increasingly as concerned with his intake as his output, whether that means subsiding on gingered beet or carrot juice and raw vegetables, or further exploring his musical lineage. Of late, Brann's listening choices have traced back to ECM jazz and Erik Satie, artists whose less-is-more philosophies result in compositional clarity, and a use of space and purity in tone that Brann appreciates.

Growing up, Brann's backlash against his surroundings -- R.E.M. and drivin n cryin, for instance -- was to make a keyboard and drum machine his fuck-you of choice. You didn't need a guitar to get out adolescent rage, Brann discovered. He found himself so intrinsically adept at figuring out the workings of electronic composition that he went straight from high school to many successful ventures in production work.

"What I've tried to achieve I have made reality," Brann says. "I have had a shot at being a semi-figure in music. Now I'm looking for the next challenge. Which is not to look back and say it wasn't worth it, but to find a personal challenge, more likely on a local, personal level."

That challenge, Brann feels, will emerge through the reductive process that begins with his diet. Brann has gained energy by slowly weaning himself of refined, mass-appeal products, a concept easily applicable to music.

"So much music is merely functional," Brann observes. "It programs people. The way a DJ programs a dancefloor -- bringing them up, putting them down, sending them to get a drink then get back on the floor. But I think of myself as an artist making music that happens to be house music -- music that doesn't share characteristics in much other house music. It's not flashy enough; it's not going to fill a large dancefloor in New York. It seems too subtle or too intimate.

"I'm still trying to comprehend Kraftwerk," Brann adds. "There's such a beautiful simplicity. How can something speak so much with very little verbiage. There's this drive by so many people to tweak everything, but I strive to keep the integral tones. I don't censor people playing with me. Though I may have to edit it later on, I completely identify with what it's like to need complete freedom for accurate expression."

Looking at "house" music in an almost literal sense, Brann has developed an approach to song architecture that helps designate a space within which people can freely interact and express themselves. Depending on the rhythmic structure, that approach becomes Ananda Project or P'taah.

"When you go so far into a genre you can come out the other end of it and realize you've mastered the form, then you can play with the boundaries," Brann says. He seems to draw from a deep well for each answer, pausing before each thought. "With electronic music, I feel I've studied it and been it and lived it so now I can rearrange it on my own terms. I'm not going to screw with nature -- house music is 120 bpm, the double time of man's natural rhythm -- you're not going to fuck with that, that's primal. But even if you're not reinventing the wheel, you can still work what's in it around."

Brann's belief in the manipulation-without-mutation of natural forms draws a parallel to another of his unprocessed pleasures: sailplanes. Similar to music, they provide an escape, a parallel reality that echoes a living, breathing art. Working with the winds and gravity translates to Brann as similar to working with tone and frequency.

Truly, elemental comparisons are suited for Brann's work, which often gets described in visual, visceral imagery -- "breezy," "arching poise." "Aqueous," it seems, is the most apt of the bunch.

"The way a conga speaks from the hands of the player is the connecting point to the 'waterness' of many of my songs," Brann states. "The African concept of rhythm and its permutations provide the building block for almost all of our popular music, and I draw on its life-affirming nature."

Indeed, the work of P'taah, as evidenced on Staring at the Sun, affirms why Brann has been so compelled to come back to life and more actively share his recent productions. Featuring keyboardist Julius Speed, vocalists Terrance Downs and Marta Gazman, and, from the group Kudu, drummer Dee Parks and vocalist Sylvia Gordon, Staring at the Sun is a latticework of Afro-Latin influences, ambience gleaned from composers Brain Eno to Ryuichi Sakamoto and jazz fusion that draws on tones both cool and cauterizing. It's more at ease than its predecessor, the reactionary Compressed Light, which was a pointed departure from strict rhythmic structure. The new one's broken_beat bouillabaisse includes, among others, Brazilian, electro and two-step patterns.

Meanwhile, Ananda Project's latest, Morning Light (to see Japanese release far before it makes it stateside), is a silky streamlining of Brann-orchestrated blissout, a dozen selections of acoustic-flecked progressive/ deep house whose jazzy/gospel swing reflects renowned jacked-up garage/Chicago house producer Larry Heard. A showcase of subtlety, Morning Light lays out a sensual temple that takes headspace into consideration as much as, if not more than, club space.

To promote his most recent releases, Brann will DJ March 29 at the Crescent Room for a low-key showcase that will also include a P'taah performance featuring Parks and Gordon. An overseas tour has also been booked. But overall, Brann will not be revealing himself through many performances, particularly in the U.S. -- something he doesn't much regret.

"A lot of people don't write well about me because I think they don't know how to portray ambiguity well," Brann says. "The point is, I want to stop thinking about what I'm doing, why I'm making music and just be making music. I find my center playing piano in my own reclusive space, exploring my own language and textures and tonality, studying what resonates with the frequencies that emanate from within each of us. I don't need the gratification of playing it in front of an audience. That satisfaction can be as artificial as an addiction to any number of substances. From food to music, I get more out of getting my nourishment naturally."

tony.ware@creativeloafing.com

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