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Sound + vision

Knamiproko finds balance in going back-to-the basics


Even when it's geared more toward listening than dancing, electronic music has never been a particularly exciting spectacle to watch live. The technology, stripped-down personnel and often-cerebral subject matter don't lend themselves to much, if any, on-stage chemistry.

Atlanta's Knamiproko, however, initially set out to confound the conventional wisdom by fusing equal parts mechanical funk and dynamic visuals into one seamless piece.

It seemed to work for a while. But almost as quickly as the group's abstract image projections began getting noticed, Knamiproko decided to shed its visual accompaniment in order to focus more on the group's live presence.

Axing the visuals in order to be more visually appealing? It if sounds contradictory, even self-defeating, maybe it is. But in doing just that, Knamiproko's music has emerged with a newfound identity, making the group one of the local electronic music scene's most notable acts.

Knamiproko formed in mid-2001 when beat purveyors John Simmons, Chris Case (who's also a member of the Flakes, and the force behind experimental jazz act Samadha) and Ryan Rasheed (who mans his own experimental hip-hop project, Leb Laze, and serves as Prefuse 73's tour DJ) came together for an impromptu jam session. Each armed with an arsenal of keyboards, computers, cables and knobs, they've crafted a highly evolved sound drawing from each of their respective backgrounds. They chose the name -- a hybrid of videogame company Konami and Pro Kadima, a beach racketball game -- because it's musically non-specific though contains allusions to the music's electronic and repetitive natures.

Meanwhile, video artist Shana Wood was a close friend of the group, and familiar with their previous work. Soon after the trio formed, Wood offered up her visual talents and became the group's fourth member.

By then, Case, Rasheed and Simmons had taken up residence together in the former home of Scott Herren, whose acts Prefuse 73 and Savath + Savalas have made him one of Atlanta's most acclaimed underground electronic-music producers. Under one roof in what has been affectionately dubbed "the house of hits," the three harnessed their improvisational skills and developed the kind of silent telepathy that comes only to groups who've collaborated intensely.

Throughout the group's two self-issued CDs, 2001's Twelve Track Mind and last year's Ultimum Functum, Knamiproko applies early industrial music's in-your-face moments without coming across too rigidly. Elements of minimal funk, post-disco and IDM filter together, garnering comparisons to everyone from Can to Kraftwerk to ESG to Boards of Canada. Deep rhythms and abstract musical structures create a sense of surrealism and technical virtuosity throughout both discs. On "Invaders" and "New Life Assembly" (from Twelve Track Mind) and "White Worm (Oh Yeah)" and "Pool Shark" (from Ultimum Functum) bits of sputtering electronic minimalism fall over driving rhythms, hooks and a warm analog throb.

When the group began playing out, mostly at parties and art spaces, it would build around sonic structures developed during rehearsals. Some of the material sounded similar to the recordings, though the music was never scripted. Instead, it was the result of the musicians knowing each other's style intimately enough to develop each piece spontaneously.

As the three musicians shared a house, practicing often and growing together organically as a musical unit, fourth member Wood remained an outsider -- both physically and in terms of her aesthetic input. While her contributions consisted mostly of composing video accompaniment to the music, without the technological capabilities to mix live videos, she needed to construct the images before each performance -- essentially creating a prepared piece to lay over spontaneously composed music.

Still, though Wood's videos never extended beyond the live arena, her contributions became an integral part of the group's identity. In fact, Knamiproko evolved into less of a band than an art project. Wood's videos played an active role in the show, with sound and images coming together to create a murky, dreamlike experience. Placing equal emphasis on the sonic and visual elements drew much attention in the city's electronic music scene, with show attendance increasing steadily. But the massive images projected on the wall above the players concealed any sense of a stage presence.

Inevitably, its members found that the audio and video parts weren't in sync -- both physically and aesthetically. The only solution, they determined, was to split Knamiproko in two. While the sound faction continued using the Knamiproko name, it wasn't without first re-examining the group's musical approach as well. The result was a new, back-to-the-basics sound. And with this restructuring, a newfound distinctiveness is emerging.

"We became concerned about our presence on stage -- what the point of it was and how the experience was translated to the viewer," says Simmons. "We wanted the presentation to be a lot more dynamic than it was and not be like us showing a movie while we're playing. The whole thing is a performance. Right now we're trying to reorient our approach to playing live, and with every show we completely rewrite the book of how we do it. Each of our shows depend on a lot of variables coming together, positive or negative, and the video wasn't a fluid or natural extension of our music. We're taking a break from it and just trying to get back to the basics of playing live and finding out what elements fit together perfectly so the show can be as cool as possible."

Though neither Wood nor the rest of the group will say whether the separation is permanent, both parties have continued moving forward. Wood remains active in the local visual arts community, participating in shows at Eyedrum, Youngblood and Agnes Scott College. The rest of the group, meanwhile, has vested its time in developing the music and the visual presentation that develops directly out of the musical performance.

At recent performances, Knamiproko's three players could be seen nestled behind computers, bobbing their heads and twiddling knobs under the house lights. Not much different from most live electronic performances -- the ones often criticized as being visually lacking. But in this lack of any visual stimulation, the music receives the audience's full attention, and the music itself hits harder than ever before. The vague imagery has been eclipsed by a concrete presentation of a sound that no longer has anywhere to hide.

Stage presence is still a concern. Removing the visuals has somehow brought stability to Knamiproko's sound, but it's by no means a permanent change. The group is still spending time finding out what works, and the members have considered everything from adding live instrumentation to bringing a DJ into the mix. Though nothing has been integrated yet, the lineup will surely undergo more changes in the future.

"We're not going to ever totally remove the visual elements from the performance," Case says.

Simmons adds, "We want everything to be as direct as possible. We want to put on a good show, and we don't want it to look like we're just noodling. We want it to be like there's stuff to look at and we're doing it off the cuff, and we're going for a very man/machine kind of performance. We want to have a presence--a point where the band is the focus, but the music is mind-wrecking at the same time."

As Knamiproko develops, finding a new balance in sound and vision depends on its ability to hone its skills and grow organically. And the musical household that grows together will surely hold together.

"We don't rent time in a studio and go over songs in order to get them tight," Simmons says. "We live together and we record at home. We record in the morning, we record at night. If one of us is doing it, all of us are doing it."

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