We recently interviewed Thomas Arsenault, composer, improviser, instrumentalist, about his use of Ciat-Lonbarde instruments in the studio and on tour throughout North and South America.  His delightful blend of acoustic and electronic sound simultaneously evokes ancient folk and techno futurism.  Here’s what he had to say regarding his creative process. 
                                                                                                                                   - Ciat-Londarde

CL: How long ago did you get these instruments? Do you remember why?

TA: Ha... I think I got it about three or four years ago, I would need to check. Whenever it was it... it was the beginning (laughs).  I just got a new apartment in Ohio and I had an amazing room for a studio finally., And a great window and it was such a big room, and up until that point I had been using my laptop. Automating changes in software or programing MAX/MSP patches to generate some complexity for my relatively simple songs, and I just wanted to fill the room with toys and get away from my computer. Bring on the student loan. At the time I read an article where this... I think it was a Fourtet or Fridge interview where the guy mentions that using a computer was too visual a tool for him. It had not occured to me, but it just killed me, how true that was, and how stuck in the same physical position and glare stare I was in. Especially when your trying to reach a new or different space, the screen is a void, not the good kind. That was huge for me. So just the move to hardware really got me looking at these instruments of yours. I had some hardwear, like a mic and a guitar and some shakers and a drum machine, a good filter too. But I was not so comfortable on guitar, or I wanted to jam on sounds and get tricked and seduced and I wasn't, im still not there with guitar, at least not playing in an ensemble. I wanted instruments to jam on. When I read the discription of the Cocolase I was confused in the best way, and just felt so much potential. I wanted that physical rocker or camber star catharsis I envied from my instrumentalist friends and also to be taken away. And I guess they just look so beuatiful. Oh and Seve (Severiano Martinez) he has a Cocolase and i jammed on that, he spoke so highly of it and i didn't really jam on his much but it just nursed me in bed at night.

CL: You also got a sidrasi at the same time.

TA: I did I did. The sidrassi is another story, I use that most when I play or am writing music in Beijaflor [Beijaflor You Hummingbird, duo with Michael Beharie]. We'll improvise, on guitar and me on the Sidrasi. I used to hardwire it with wire, but now I play it with two brilo pads on each side. I saw someone playing one with there hands to short the connections on the side but I like to leave that to metal. We record everything and find a some nice moments, usually not longer than two or three seconds, then we cut the rest away and build off of it. Often the Sidrassi wont even make an appearance in the final score, we mostly score movies together. It is just such a nice combination of clean electronic tones and whispy crunches. Even more than the Cocolase there is that physical connection with the bars, up and down pressure, and you get that hard cut direction electrons stuff, not like a flute. My bars are metal, I saw you make them with wood now, I gotta look into that. We [Beijaflor] work alot with sine waves and zithers, that is rour whole pallet really. And the Sidrassi is amazing in there. I used it in my solo set a bit, looping sort of sparatic and sparse puffs, just getting a root systems under everything. I'll include a tune with some of that approach here. But when it is down to the Cocolase and the Sidrassi I gotta say i've put many more hours into the Cocolase. I think im gonna change to wood and start hardwireing it again, that way you really get an instrument with more traditional limits, that is always cool. 

CL: Do you find you need to really work hard to get what you want from the Cocolase?

TA: No no, but I still spend huge halls with it. When I first got it I was really all about having no computer so I wouldn't even record anything. Which is a bummer looking back. And everyday before a shower or a meal I would play flute or a shaker into it and then I would just let  a long unfolding/folding loop play about my apartment. I cant tell you how excited I was it was really some of the best listening experiences I've ever had.  I wish I had recorded them, I wish I still lived there. I wish I was 14, but ya know... I really think maybe those were the best cuts I made with the coco cause they felt so on. I would leave in both banks a sample churning and moving and i'd leave the house and i'd come back late at night and turn them way up and have a cold shower and get ready for bed and before the lights went out do I measured and grateful fade out. that was a magical time. A really good summer. BUt should have recorded it. Or definitely not. I have issues with regret...

CL: You use recordings now though?

TA: Oh yeah. Actually in the studio I rarely if ever, and never really successfully when I have, run signals into the Cocolase as an FX box the way I would gate or add verb to vocals after they are recorded. You know like bus something to the Coco and mix it as a separate FX track. The cocolase is always tracked as part or as the body of an instrument. Now I record mostly everything I do in the studio. Either with a hand held recorder, or I multirack everything and distill tracks from rehearsing a tune, or just improvising. I write a lot of my lyrics running my voice through the Cocolase and it flips the syllables around. It helps cause I feel among other people.  A regular delay just reminds me of what I just said. I sort of hear the shape of words in the Cocolase. I guess it taught me to sing, because I always hated my word choice before, and the Cocolase really changes that up for you, so i got comfortable saying things I mean cause they'd get blurred out. Now I'll sing a song that is like "I love you, come true, lets make due..." And I would have cringed myself into a raisin before, maybe others will, but i feel good. Now I mix the effected signal supper low and play around for a while, it is not like im imitating the stuff it churns out it just sort of obsolves me in a way, and it knows I mean well, so it takes the best parts and delivers them home. Yeah, so I get a lot of lyrics out of using it. I often dont even sing those songs with it live. It has a varying level of involvement with each song or a show, but it is there. 

CL: Tell me about using your Cocolase live.

TA: I guess Im super conservative with it now. I dont feed it back into itself the way I used to, with an alligator clip on the tip of a 1/4" cable. And I leave all the oscilators in LFO mode and dont really patch them in at an audible frequency, but I think I will, that has some subtle power, I've just not been there much. I usually sing through it. I have a solo project called Able Hearts, and more or less it revolves around live singer songwriter stuff. Through electronics and improv, but really I do have lyrics and simple changes to deliver. I like the Cocolase for my voice becuase it compresses it and dirties up even the dry signal. And I keep the second bank on a foot petal so I can bring in these wafting gangs of voices when I like. I also run a 909 hrough it, just the rim and hi tom. I like the beat chop stuff it does, especially when modulating the bank size slash playback speed, it gives me this complexity for free which I like, it is nice cause when your singing it is hard to be to much of a listener, but when you let the Cocolase take things away it allows you to sit up thee and be a part of the audience a bit. It is really wood sounding too.  I'll slow or spead things around from that and just make slowly changing walls of sound to transition between tunes or back something that comes next but it is light, not really walls of sound but at the best times little orbits or something, or mists. I like being surprised when Im playing. I need to be surprised when I write, but it is nice to have when playing live because you cant think to much about yourself that way, and you gotta just be happy to be there. 

CL: Any last thoughts?

TA: Not really. I'm just happy to talk about these things... Yeah, thanks for making these amazing things. So much. And I brought these two photos. On is of my Cocolase in sunny Uruguay. And the other is of a dinner party I played for this man's family in Argentina I think in 2005, probably the weirdest show I've played. A Cocolase is sort of like a salad maker though, like from scratch. 

::::: here are two tunes by Thomas Arsenault / Able Hearts :::::
able hearts in argentina 2005
thomas' cocolase
able hearts in argentina 2005
"wont you time"
coming out on
shinkoyo records
the album
"I'm Worried"
"may at the farm"
a recording from
a show in 2006
with ben kamen
at a farm in ohio