Category: Music

RECALIBRATION

“Recalibration” Mini EP out now on Nina Protocol

Recalibration 3-song Mini EP as a single track:

1. Recalibration

2. Calibration

3. Uncalibrated

Written and recorded by Brandon Nickell in Conroe, Texas 2022.

Released on 122122.

Mastered by Thomas Dimuzio at Gench.

Minimalism intended to be played loud on speakers.

NINA

After six baseball seasons I am leaving the Statcast baseball data team at Major League Baseball. I’m enormously grateful to have had the opportunity to work at MLB, but it was time for a change and the pendulum to swing back to my roots of music and innovation. The big news is that I’ll be joining Nina Protocol as their first dedicated backend engineer, founded by Mike Pollard, Eric Farber, and Jack Callahan. We all share the strong fundamental belief that online music platforms and tools do not currently serve the needs of independent musicians and it’s only recently that decentralized blockchain technology is at a point where artists can take full control of their creative work knowing that it can survive past the lifetime of a centralized music platform. It’s very early days and the time to build is now.

For most of my adult life until I was in my mid-thirties, music and being involved in a community of experimental musicians dominated my time and energy. Always running in parallel was immersing myself in software engineering and learning as much as I could, and pretty much whatever supplemental income I had at my disposal was reinvested in music and putting out records for other people. This pretty much went on for years and I absolutely benefitted growing up in Oakland and the Bay Area at large which had an incredibly rich tapestry of electronic and experimental musician weirdos as well as an innovative hub of computer history in Silicon Valley. Eventually a wave of blandness enveloped San Francisco in the 2010’s dominated by bloated adtech, MBA’s leaving finance, and product managers that just took their Agile certification to get in on the wild carnival ride.

My first job coding was in the summer at age 15 and I never really looked back. Occasionally these worlds would intersect but for the most part I discovered over time that it was entirely healthy to not have my job depend on music and vice versa. In that time however, it became increasingly clear after many years that even amongst my most successful music peers, there really wasn’t much of an economy for releasing limited runs of vinyl that took years of effort for everyone involved only for it to be written and tweeted about for a month and then disposed of in an increasingly dystopian streaming platform world where power law curves dictated a winner take all business model. I cherished publishing an artifact that could sit on someone’s shelf for decades that could outlast most technology companies and loved labels that took this idea very seriously.

The universe has a way of slamming the door shut on an epoch of your life whether you’re ready for it or not, and that’s pretty much what happened with me at the end of 2016 and the first couple of months in 2017 that complicated my relationship with music. There were three key events that happened all within two months of each other. I had come off of a tour with legendary Coil collaborator Ivan Pavlov (COH) and had an unfortunate falling out with the label I was releasing music for. The Ghost Ship tragedy had just happened right around the same time which I’ve written about before, and it really ripped the soul out of the Bay Area experimental community and left a hole in our hearts collectively that will never go away. And lastly, I had resigned from the company I had worked for which had recently been acquired by a major streaming music company which I was pretty dejected about because it ran counter to my values as an independent musician and I was unwillingly sucked into it. Several months later I ceased operations with Isounderscore, the label I had started at age 23 ending a 12 year run. I still worked on music over the next five years but everything slowed down considerably to a grueling crawl with two releases to show for it. I focused more on rebalancing my priorities as a new dad and a large amount of focus on my next work opportunity.

When I was six years old, to help make sense of a world where the 1988 Dodgers took down my juggernaut Oakland Athletics in the World Series I had the idea to compile the statistics from the 1989 Fleer baseball set for each team for a first grade science project to demonstrate that the Athletics were in fact the superior team. Throughout the course of my life growing up I would voraciously consume advanced statistics and always did well in math, and was well aware of what Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics were doing as a small online community of nerdy A’s fans before Moneyball became a thing. But ultimately, I really had no idea how far the rabbit hole went with baseball analytics and baseball data pipelines. A small subset of my music friends knew that I was really into this kind of thing.

That’s why jumping into one of my other passions which was baseball data and analytics was the perfect pivot, and really for the first time in my life I owed it to myself to do something completely different which is why I joined MLB Advanced Media back in 2017 before the Bamtech deal spun us off as a technology organization at MLB. Many people don’t realize this but it’s a very small team in San Francisco that helped build out the baseball data infrastructure for Statcast which involved heavy collaboration with the fine folks over in New York operating out of the MLB headquarters. My role was to work very closely on helping create real-time metrics and a lot of the backend engineering. I was totally obsessed with the Statcast data for years and it forever changed the way I think about and experience baseball. To see how that changed the game of baseball in a very short amount of time while having a small part in it first hand really blew me away.

I’m incredibly grateful for my time at MLB and the opportunity to meet people across the baseball industry. It’s humbling to have had the privilege to collaborate directly with people over the years like Tom Tango, Mike Petriello, a really talented group of analysts and data scientists like Jason Bernard and Travis Peterson, our physicist Clay Nunnally and of course the software engineering team in the San Francisco office that I was a part of behind the scenes doing a lot of heavy lifting. When I met Daren Willman for the first time when I came to Houston in 2017, he demonstrated what southern hospitality meant with his generosity and is now helping rebuild the Texas Rangers in his post Statcast career. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I am indebted to Rob Engel for giving me the opportunity to work at MLB, he is incredibly humble and the man behind the curtain since the very beginning of Statcast’s inception. The truth is that the biodiversity and expertise across multiple technological domains under Major League Baseball is impressive, and the scale that is required to support the game of baseball whether it’s on the field or behind the scenes is truly humbling.

For the first time in a very long time I’m actually looking forward to enjoying baseball simply as a fan again, even if it means braving the Astros crowd in my now dated kelly green Matt Olson jersey when the A’s come to Houston. I really don’t know if I’ll ever work in baseball again, who knows? I’ll probably make some public contributions here and there for the community with some rare downtime. But it’s time to take care of some unfinished business and help build the tools that I would have loved to have had in the 2000’s and 2010’s working on music and the label. I really could not have found a better place to do that at right now than at Nina.

Time to get to work.

LONE STAR

I ventured out to a show for the first time in over two years since the beginning of the pandemic and the first one since moving to the Houston area. The last show before this was days before the shutdown back in March 2020 curated by Michael Castaneda via Sunwarped, and as a non-participant it was attending Hive Mind in Oakland around January that same year which in itself had a long lapse. Needless to say this was long overdue and finding something like this was very cathartic.

The venue itself is legendary and built by postal worker Jefferson Davis McKissack between 1956 through 1979 and something of a folk-art landmark. After being more or less confounded stumbling into this place for the first time and finding the other stage, the sound was stellar from some familiar faces. An overwhelming feeling of never taking DIY shows and venues for granted again, and it was also a perfect way to help purge the darkness of Uvalde just 300 miles away and some other unfortunate relative circumstances that have come to light.

Outside the venue
Studded Left…Chuck from Better Call Saul would enjoy this band
In Spite of Dreams
Future Blondes

In other news currently working on another Nina release which is the platform of choice for the foreseeable future. The previous release Inverted Void is sold out. Without getting into the nauseating evangelization of Web3 or decentralized tech (that certainly warrants another post in itself), I’m fully convinced this is path forward for self-sustaining artists. I highly recommend checking them out, founded by peers I highly admire and respect. There will be more very soon…

I promise.

Ashley P. Svn (1985-2021)

I was passed along news that Ashley P. Svn unexpectedly passed away peacefully at home last Tuesday afternoon on August 17th, 2021 due to an ongoing illness that had been going on for some time. There aren’t many details right now.

For those that knew Ashley, it wasn’t a secret they had many demons to contend with, but like many talented and troubled artists that wrestle with the abyss they can emerge for brief periods and conjure up a creative energy that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Like many in our very small community, I had fallen out of touch with Ashley over the past three years. Fortunately in my case, I had the privilege of working with them during most of the good and very productive periods in between those troubling times of their life, and helped release their HOM “A$X” LP on my old record label Isounderscore, one of the last two records I released before ceasing operations in 2017. In an odd twist, the roommates that were with Ashley were looking for any contact information and found my friend Thomas Dimuzio’s name on the back of the “A$X” LP he mastered. They contacted him with the message and it was then that Thomas forwarded me the very tragic news.

HOM “A$X” LP released 2017 on Isounderscore. Ashley’s last released recordings.

I remember discovering Ashley’s solo work as HOM sometime around 2014 through my friend Michael Buchanan’s production and remix work on a HOM 12″ EP called “Bound / Somn” released through the Motor Collective based out of Seattle, Washington. Meanwhile, the Bay Area was going through a revival of weird techno and electronic music at the time for a variety of reasons that emerged out of a convergence of phenomena including the popularity of hardware and modular synthesis and an evolution of experimental musicians that worked in noise and non-rhythmic areas picking up drum machines and sequencers again. Naturally, another consequence of this as it is with any genre of music, there was an immediate oversaturation of techno which was a huge turn off to me. However, Ashley’s HOM project had unique and intangible qualities in the music.

As I would discover, they were part of a duo prior to the HOM project called “Thee Source ov Faunation” or an alias as “Thee Source” which appeared to have been influenced by early Psychic TV without the cringeworthy cliches and possessed a magical and mystical quality to the music. After discovering this work it was clear how it bridged into Ashley’s HOM project. After doing my research I directly sought out Ashley and contacted them to meet up. It turned out they were playing a show out in West Oakland and were in the middle of bouncing around between the Pacific Northwest and the Bay Area. We talked at length and struck up a friendship and had asked them if they were interested in doing an LP. From there on we had kept in touch, and I was largely unaware early on that they were going through some difficult times but they would later express that the project would help them significantly and allowed them to focus on their creative work. I never was able to track down physical copies of Thee Source, as they were released in tiny editions and the circulation was very tight. Thankfully some are still online.

Over the years there would be many phone calls out of the blue that were a bit surreal at times with where Ashley’s head would be at. I could tell they were struggling, but always enjoyed the conversations because we shared a common thread and goal of getting the work done and out there because ultimately I believed in the unique imprint of what they were doing. One story that stands out in my mind as I’m still processing everything as I write this is when Ashley revealed that their parents both passed away at a young age but emphasized that they provided them with an experience of growing up in a very creative and artistic household. That was a real gift, and they lived art and breathed it in extreme ways. I had recently become a father for the first time, and they stressed the importance of being there as a father for my little girl and I understood where that came from.

The reality is that our world is smaller than we think it is. I was telling a friend Sunday night who also knew Ashley that the past five years with losing friends in the Ghost Ship tragedy, society ripping itself apart on social media, and a global pandemic has accelerated an isolation and disconnectedness that’s more real than ever. The experimental music community is very small, and those of us that have gone through what we’ve been through have a lingering black pool deeply seated in our unconscious that unfortunately is never going to go away. I never talked about the Ghost Ship tragedy publicly and losing our friends like Barrett Clark. For months I would wake up in the middle of the night with the same nightmare–no sound, black smoke filling a room rapidly, and then waking up. Ashley and I would share stories and anecdotes about the people we lost in that tragedy, and their passing last Tuesday was a complete trigger of that black cloud filling the room. Even with starting a family, working as an engineer in baseball, and moving to Houston Texas during the middle of pandemic, I still feel connected to all of this years later that’s very difficult to articulate to normal people who are outsiders.

Ashley was a very shadowy figure even by experimental music standards, but was very well connected in the underground experimental music scene across the West Coast. I really hope that the people that knew them can celebrate their work in a way I wish I could have done when I was still running the Isounderscore label.

Rest in Peace.

© 2023 nickell.io

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑