THE WATER IS FINE: An Interview with Morphous and ShiZaru of Tsunami Bass Sound System
I heard rumors, whispers, brief and hushed utterings of Tsunami Bass Sound System before I experienced them and their craft live. Any head knows if the system isn’t thumping, the dance isn’t going to be proper. For Reconstrvct, that sound system is the Tsunami Bass Sound System. Conjured out of the locked rooms of their minds, visions of oceans and multi-sensory new ways of living begot from operators Andrew ‘Morphous’ Eisele and ShiZaru Zoe. Urged by the physicality of Houksai’s ‘The Great Wave’, they have blessed various spaces from their own NYC event EpiCenter, Burning Man, and other festivals with their joyful noise. With a system that can reach 5Hz and speaker stacks higher than your head, it’s a visceral image the first time witnessing their craft. At Reconstrvct, I’d be brought back to the Real as my body vibrated and I saw elven creatures manifest behind the speakers. Occasionally, they’d swim into the crowd and everyone was elated, it’s as if their footsteps and smiles worked on some higher plane. Whether they were hallucinations, reconfigurations of our unconscious past, tangible people or something else, they needed to be communicated with again. Again, my original plan was to take the long exodus to Brooklyn and interview both Luke and Morphous and ShiZaru at Reconstrvct, but as I’ve previously wrote, I was pulled into the undertow. The first thing I remember was making my way to the front around 10pm and immediately feeling like I was home amongst my tribe and in our natural habitat. Flash forward six hours and I’m on the train home with my body feeling like it was massaged into a nebulous mixture of elation and calmness. They had to be spoken with again. Imbibing the occult sciences and secrets of NASA pioneered sound technologies, new modalities of learning, the tribulations of running a sound system and more, Morphous and ShiZaru baptized me into the waters of Tsunami Bass. Dear reader, the water is fine.
TRUSIK: For our readers who aren’t aware of Tsunami Bass Experience (TBE) can you both introduce yourselves and TBE?
A: I’m Andrew Eisele (aka Morphous). With my partner, ShiZaru.Zoe, we write and perform music together as the Tsunami Bass Experience. We also own and operate the Tsunami Bass Sound System. I’ve been making electronic music since the late 90’s and have a number of releases on various small labels including Code of Arms records and Dissident Records. I hold a degree in recording arts from Full Sail and have worked professionally in commercial recording studios, project studios, and live sound since 2002. I’ve written books and training DVDs for most audio software applications. I was also the sound engineer at Club Love and the Dub War parties, which was hugely influential on what we do today.
Z: Prior to Tsunami Bass I had two separate careers in Education and Video Game production in the US and overseas, which provided ample training in curating experiences that cultivate learning/thinking modalities. Musically I grew up studying and playing trumpet as well as singing with a bit of song writing training. A big fan of live fusion improvisation, I greatly enjoy performing original productions on our system and seek to further enhance and advance the visual aspect. As an edutainer, providing an experience that is as multi-sensory as interactive is the goal of our art!
TRUSIK: Stories and legends of the weight and sound quality of TBE reached me long before I experienced TBE first hand, so what is the “origin myth” behind Tsunami Bass?
Z: I was spinning poi while pondering dual wave particle theory when I first encountered Dubstep at Burning Man in 2008 and subsequently had a vision for an installation that manifested as a wave on the 10 o’clock sound arm. After meeting Morphous in 2009, and engaging musically, the sound system component became viable and together we developed the concept for a kinesthetic aspect that would engage participatory interactivity. Thus the TBE~WaVe~ was conceived.
A: We envisioned a system so large it was “Tsunami” of sound washing over you. The installation we developed incorporated a large body-sonic or vibrating dance floor and a large-scale visual sculpture recreating ‘The Great Wave’ by Hokusai. The initial prototype worked so well, we built a modular 16’ x 16’ stage that is capable of generating frequencies as low as 5 Hz. We have an installation in Nevada that we use for our large-scale sound camp at Burning Man and we also have a double of the same installation here in NYC.
Z: Combined with the full frequency decency of our full rig, the resulting multi-sensory interactive experience taps into a participant’s audio, visual and kinesthetic learning/thinking modalities, thereby enhanced perceptions of the music being featured. This is the core of our mission with regards to bass culture facilitation.
TRUSIK: TBE and Reconstrvct have developed nicely alongside each other over the years, I asked Luke the same question, but I’d like to hear your side of the story as how TBE and Reconstrvct linked up.
A: Dub War called it quits and Club Love shut down in 2010, leaving a void of UK style Dubstep in NYC. Luke approached us at a Tsunami Bass party in 2011 and proposed an event called Reconstrvct – with the concept that after War, we must rebuild or Reconstrvct. He asked if we could build a system that would deliver the quality and feeling of GSA system at Love. I remember it quite well. We were showcasing a small version of the ~WaVe~ installation in a tin shack in Bushwick. Dave Q, Space Jesus and us were on the line-up. Our system at the time consisted of one small sub and three tops, which we’ve been using as DJ monitors to this day.
Z: Yup. We were throwing small underground warehouse events to showcase our installation and fundraise for our Burning Man camp when Luke approached us one night. My understanding is he was familiar with Morphous from his reputation as engineer at Club Love overseeing Dub War through the final years and approached us with the Reconstrvct vision, seeking sound support and consultation. The challenge gave us the impetus to begin growing our small sound system into something that could recreate that same tangible vibe, that quantity of quality if you will, big speaker business small room vibe, the more kinesthetic the better.
TRUSIK: Outside of Reconstrvct, you also host your own events, EpiCenter. Can either of you explain how you decided it was time to throw your own parties and furthermore, how do EpiCenter parties differ from Reconstrvct events?
A: A Tsunami Bass performance is a live fusion DJ set or Live PA set that feature our original tracks with Zoe on trumpet and vocals. The Epicenter parties were initially intended to show case North American bass culture with a focus on live fusion performances. There aren’t a ton of people doing Live PA sets or incorporating live elements, but there are so many amazing producers and DJs. We’ve since evolved to focus on producers of original music. We also try to incorporate an international element and feature regional and local talents as well.
Z: We’ve actually been producing and curating events since 2009. In contrast to the very EU dubstep focused Reconstrvct, Epicenter is intended as a celebration of North American Live Fusion Dubstep and Sound System culture and is also, primarily, a showcase of the Tsunami Bass Sound System and TBE ~WaVe~ installation, when it can be feasibly incorporated. But we have produced a number of zany and fun interactive stages and events. One of my fav, other than Epicenter is our celebration of burlesque and bass called Peepshow. Hope to curate another one of those someday.
TRUSIK: Besides Recon and EpiCenter what other events have been blessed by TBE?
Z: Currently we provide sound for recurring events such as Fourth Temple, Insect, New School, Shade, among others and have reinforced or provided sound for a variety of events from RBMA showcases, to the Dub Champions Festival NYC, Sustain Release festival upstate as well as produced a number of sound stages (with our installation) at a range of festivals including Figment NYC, Transformus in NC, Burning Man in Nevada, and other private showcases and local parties like AstroNautico, Mutual Dreaming, etc. As per our mission, we are always eager to facilitate bass culture appreciation whenever and wherever feasible. As we like to say; have system, will travel!
TRUSIK: Without giving away any occult secrets, what equipment is the TBE comprised of? Speakerboxes, amps, etc etc?
A: We are advocates of Danley Sound Labs. Tom Danley has developed a number of new concepts and hold patents on a number of designs. He is a former NASA scientist, who pioneered sound levitation is zero gravity among other technologies. He’s figured out how to build a horn loaded box with multiple drivers that work in tandem and are mechanically time-aligned to deliver a phase accurate signal with clarity and power with zero distortion. He also holds the patent on the tapped horn sub woofer, a design that offers the power of a large horn-loaded sub, but in a much small package. Danley is expensive, but several years ago, he licensed some his early designs to SPL and Yorkville. We are currently utilizing the Yorkville Unity tops with LS801s tapped horn subs in addition to our LABS and just acquired a new fleet of BDeap subs with Crest Prolite 7.5 amplifiers, Ashly speaker processors and an assortment of outboard gear.
We were turned on to a sound camp called BassCouch a number of years ago at Burning Man. The founder Jeff Baile had hand crafted number of Labhorn subs from a Danley design that was released to the DIY community. We were lucky enough to meet and become friends with Jeff and eventually Zoe convinced him to allow us to adopt 8 labhorns, which we debuted in April of 2013 to much acclaim.
We are big proponents of sound system culture. This music we are so passionate about needs to be felt as much as heard. Our hope is that people who attend our events experience the best sound possible, sonically and viscerally. We are often asked if we make or would be interested in making our own custom system. Some day we will. However, it will take years of trial and error to match the quality of Danley’s designs, and currently, we don’t have the time or space to set up a wood shop.
To run a sound system, it takes years of dedicated training to develop your ears and utilize the technology. I was fortunate enough to work on the GSA sound system at Love, which really helped train my ears to what proper sound should sound like. For me, it is what all sound systems are measured against. Part of the equation of proper sound is the equipment used, but equally as important is the engineering of that equipment. I’ve heard a million dollar Funktion One system sound like complete garbage and I’ve heard a small $5000.00 system sound fantastic. I equate running a sound system to being a racecar driver. Just because you can afford a Formula One racecar, doesn’t make you a racecar driver. It takes years of practical experience to develop your “sound”.
Z: Bass Master Morphous engineering. Hands down, his artistry is the most integral component of all.
TRUSIK: Following up on the whole technical side of TBE, you guys recently upgraded the sound, with EpiCenter05 having of 50,000 watts of power! Is there a special story behind that acquisition or am I way off base?
Z: So far, each Epicenter has represented a different milestone of sorts so you are not off base at all. Epicenter02 – 04 featured increasingly larger Labhorn configurations each event while at Epicenter05 we were showcasing our latest acquisition at that time, the fleet of SPL BDeap Subwoofers (aka the “Monolith”), which proved quite complimentary to our flagship line of Labhorns. The recent Epicenter06 was yet another upgrade as we added more to room with dual wave attack rear stacks for a reinforced fills. Yesterday’s Epicenter07 (June 27th) represented yet another milestone, showcasing yet another powerful configuration. And we are really looking forward to the ever elusive “break-even” milestone (laughs).
A: 2014 was a really tough year. There were huge life changes for me personally. I transitioned back into a 9 to 5 work schedule, while both my mother and stepfather passed away. We purposefully took the year off from producing our own events and writing original music to get our “house” in order. The Epicenter: 50,000 watts was a celebration of getting back to producing events, etc.
We’d recently acquired 4 more Labhorns and 8-Bdeap subs bringing the total to 20 infrabass bass bins. When we planned the event, we were basing the 50,000 watts on the previous amplifier, which put us just above 50,000 watts. Within a month, we decided to go with higher-powered amps, which pushed us to 75,000 watts for just the infrabass bins. Well over that now.
We’ve also expanded the number of tops and mid-bass subs. Our short-term goal is to be able to cover 4000 people. We will soon upgrade into higher-powered tops, which will be another monumental milestone. Once we reach this goal, we can take a break from adding and building and focus on refining and logistics. We have a design for an even bigger system, but that’s a few years away (maybe sooner, who knows).
TRUSIK: Ok, last question about sound specifics, but what are the challenges to owning and operating such a weighty system? What are the joys?
A: Our biggest challenge is support. We always say support yourself to be supported. We are only two people. Technically, we can set up and run the system with just the two of us, but it’s a monumental effort. We have come rely a few friends that are more like “family,” that not only help us set up and break down the system, but also help out when throwing events like Epicenter.
We also need support with attendance with our own events. We are not rich and the events are expensive to throw. The more people come out to support, the larger the system will grow and the bigger the parties we can throw. Right now, we aim to break even at events, but, we end up losing money out of pocket. We hope that eventually we’ll be able to throw our own large-scale festival focused on just sound system culture and bass music.
The other type of support we need is to hiring out the system. Again, our events do not make money. We rely on other paid events to keep Tsunami Bass afloat. There are significant costs associated with running a system this size. We pay a premium for storage, transportation, insurance, and maintenance. We’ve invested our life’s savings and continue to invest our own money in the system upgrades. We may never recoup our initial investment, but that’s not why we’re in this.
All music and especially Bass culture is important to us spiritually. Whether we are performing or running sound for an event, it is the massive bass frequencies that vibrate us to our core and provide a healing and meditative state. That’s the joy for us. We’ve had a number of people come up to us after an event and say, “You’ve completely changed my perception of music”. That is the best compliment anyone could ask for. Also professional producer/DJ will tell us that they’ve playing all over the world and we are the best sound system they’ve played on. That means so much to us and makes us want to continue doing what we do.
We think of ourselves a Sherpa to the sound system. We care for it, but our hope is that a community will get behind the movement and help us grow and expand. Local DJs that want to play the system, please get involved and volunteer. We employ a rotating residency for local talent with the hope that they will in turn help out. We always need help with setup and breakdown for any event. For our own events, we need help with the logistics of running a bar, door, security, lighting, video, etc.
Z: Oh the weight!! In so many ways and means… The high overhead and heavy physical labor involved are indeed huge challenges. Especially since it’s just the two of us bearing the brunt. The joy, that’s the experience each and every time we got the rig running just right and peoples perceptions are effected. When that kinesthetic intuitiveness is enhanced proper. Written many a diddy ‘bout it. Grin.
TRUSIK: When I was at the latest Reconstrvct I would occasionally gaze up out my meditations and noticed several visual elements to TBE, notably the ukiyo-e image of The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Hokusai and those awesome hats that never seemed to leave your heads. Occasionally, I’d see one pop up behind the speaker and encourage the crowd. It seemed almost like an elf or some other mythical creature beckoning you to dance! In a weird, roundabout way, my question is does TBE include a visual element or did these sort of things occur more naturally over time since you started running TBE?
Z: Most def. organic development I’d say as we’ve both been heavily influenced by Asian cultures and have both lived there. The physics and Japanese elements are more my contribution while the Thai hats and science come from Morphous, but yes, the audio, visual and kinesthetic components are specifically intended to combine to unlock the intuitive, thereby enabling perception to be enhanced. That’s the Experience. To say, see, hear, and FEEL the full frequency in all its glorious decency. Bass Culture, specifically Dubstep or SubLow MUST be felt as much as heard. To roll off high without tangibility does a huge disservice to the art of the music in my opinion. Otherwise, what’s the point in wasting all that frequency? Dual waves of vibes and levels must combine.
A: We’ve always had a visual element in mind. The Tsunami Bass event has always been designed around the three learning modalities. Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic. When all three learning modalities are engaged, it unlocks this ability reach a higher consciousness. Obviously, the sound system was provides the auditory and the ~WaVe~ installation provides the kinesthetic connection. Our visual element has been by way of analog video feedback, where the audience participates by being incorporated into the video feed. How the gatherers ebb and flow on the dance floor, directly affects the visuals. It’s really cool. Our previous visualist has been on sabbatical for the past couple of events so we are hoping to develop this aspect further ourselves. We have some new innovative ideas we are experimenting with. We’ll be debuting this soon.
The hats became an official Tsunami Bass iconic element. I started wearing the hat while working at Club Love, as it always seemed like an appropriately festive hat. It also let’s me be instantly found in a crowded environment, so if I’m on the move, people are quick to respond. We’ve been called Elves, Gnomes, and Wizards. I like to think of us as some DMT inspired hallucination where we are Space Elves at the helm of a gihugous space craft!!
TRUSIK: What is your most cherished memory you have since operations began for TBE?
A: Every time we upgrade and present our next incarnation of the system is a cherished memory. When ever we see a sea of smiling faces with the room going bananas is a cherished memory.
Z: Watching performing producers feel their music as a full body experience while commandeering our rig. Having producers specifically create tracks to perform on our system. Notable memories include Hank Shocklee at Figment, Moldy at E03 and then again 04 with more, Truth buckling the WaVe on playa, Underslung slinging his TPs with glee, recurring DJs like Thelem, Dark Tantrums, Doppelgenger, etc getting all gushy with each upgrade, hearing Viveck’s sincere compliment “levels” at the 2nd & 3rd anniversary, etc… oh too many competing memories!!
TRUSIK: OK! Last question for you guys, after a hard day/night of running sound for THE bass music night on the East Coast, what music do you turn to decompress and enjoy?
A: It’s funny you should ask. Whenever a party ended at Club Love, I would put in a playlist that was made my cousin which has every track he can remember from his earliest memory. It starts with ‘Pure Imagination’ from Willy Wonka, followed by Brandi’s ‘Brand New Key’ and then on to some fantastic selections of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Lately, when we’re done, we will listen to NPR, or Sunday’s Jazz and Blues on the radio. Or a deep set from Overcast Radio.
TRUSIK: Final thing, if you like to shout out, send love, big up, bless up anyone special here’s your chance!
Z: YOU for doing this!! Luke, Jeff Baile, TsunamiBass Stamina crew mainstay Andy Kemp (YagiPunch!) and anyone who has helped us hump subs in the morning, noon or night. Really warms the cockles when people help us out selflessly. Gets us all warm and fuzzy in the chesticles and makes it all worthwhile.
A: Ugh, There’s way too many people to thank and big up. First and foremost we must shout out to our Tsunami Bass Family – Andrew Kemp is our second in command and is instrumental in helping us at every gig. Dan Bockrath has been a huge help.
Jeff Bailey and Basscouch.
Wulfus and Innessa. Chris and Erin. Rozi. Yanni.
The Jersey Crew – Chuck, Dave, Anthony, Linds, Medina.
Luke from Reconstrvct.
Scott and Seth from 4th Temple.
Joe Nice, Dave Q, and Juakali from Dub War.
Underslung from Banana Stand.
All the folks who come to our events and share time and space with us. Our friends and family.