Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dulcimerhead Drummer Speaks! Or, How Inferno Got His Name

Hey Folks!

Today: a rare look at Fernando Villalobos, high-energy percussion engine of Dulcimerhead and man of many genres. You'll find him playing with Dulcimerhead at the Sharon Temple one day, and playing with Skorched at the Kathedral's “Glory Through Steel” Metalfest event the next.

“I don't know what made me want to play drums,” he says. “All of a sudden when I turned 14 I decided I must play the drums. I'm happy that I came to that conclusion. It's helped me get through a lot of times that I wouldn't have gotten through otherwise.” His parents gave him his first kit for his 15th birthday on the condition that he take lessons. He's come a long way since then, adding a djembe a year later, and recently acquiring a digital kit which he says is making it a lot easier to record demo CDs with both his bands.

Skorched is bringing out their first demo this month!!! Go get one at their gigs. And Dulcimerhead is releasing Dark Mandala this month!!! Just don't try listening to them at the same time...

So, the obvious question is – Dulcimerhead and Skorched sound um, extremely different in their musical approaches. Are they? Fernando laughs. “Aside from the obvious – that with Skorched I am pounding the shit out of a drumkit and with Dulcimerhead I am playing a djembe in kind of a trance – with Dulcimerhead I tend to be very relaxed, while playing with Skorched is like an electrical charge and I'm really revved up. The crowds may look a little different, but they do mix back and forth a bit!”

A Skorched gig is like taking a blast from a firehose of sound – they can really play! But I have to ask, on behalf of all the moms out there, what the heck is up with “death metal” and “black metal” as a musical genre. It sounds morbid. Should I be worried? Fernando laughs some more. “The music is extremely abrasive and lyrical content does tend to be violent and obscene, but typically the people who listen to it are very nice people! It's like watching a very gory horror movie or reading a graphic horror book. It's almost like poetry; it's pretty cool but to the outsider it's scary.To those who understand it, it's another form of art.”

Fernando says the metal community is the best he's been in, because the bands all tend to support each other. “They like to come out and see each other play, enjoy good music and good company. If a band needs a replacement member in an emergency, people will pass the word in the community and make sure they find what they need. His philosophy is basically “Mutual respect among musicians and enjoyment of the music.” His preferred music includes Slayer, Pantera, Chimaira, Meshuggah, Arch Enemy, Strapping Young Lad, DevilDriver, Fear Factory and many others.

His first band was Toxic-Culture, which he started up at age 17. Then at 19 he started playing with Heavily Medicated, a band that played regularly and got an enthusiastic following locally, opening for Strapping Young Lad in 2006. He met the two guys he would soon be playing with in Skorched – Tim (guitar) and Darryl (bass) – in a band called Shangrila. Fernando spent some time going between the two bands, but eventually he and Tim and Darryl formed another band called Krakatoa, which then morphed into Skorched. Their singer Sid and Devin on guitar rounded out that lineup.

To find out more about the whole Skorched phenomenon, check out

“What's great about Skorched is that we get along great and enjoy playing loud, heavy, fast music together,” says Fernando. The band members all bring skills to the band that make it work, he added. Many of the band members have day jobs or families that make it tough to find practice time and recording time. However, they are getting some good shows and the demo is a real milestone for them because they did it all themselves.

See them in Toronto at Lee's Palace February 25th!

Fernando's plan for world domination: “conquer the world through music, make my living through music! I promised myself that one day music would free me from my day jobs.” His day jobs have not just been tough, they've been dangerous. He is a certified welder with 4 years experience, and after 4 years he's had enough. “I've been set on fire about 13 times,” he laughed, and began reminiscing about a particular day when his not-so-fire-resistant overalls went up in flames. “I felt hotter than usual and smelling smoke, but I was running a bead and I couldn't stop – when I was finished, I took off my mask and found the front of my overalls had caught fire and the flames were creeping up my chest...maybe thats why I was given the name INFERNO.” He moved to working in home renovation which was going well until the recent economic downturn hit his employer hard. To bounce back financially, he is currently planning to explore even more new musical territory when he launches a kick-ass rock cover band with Skorched bandmate Tim – their working title is End of Silence.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Synaesthesia -- an amazing perspective!

Hello Folks!

At David Rankine's workshops and concerts, he often talks about synaesthesia -- the mind's ability to intake information from one sense but experience it via another -- to give only two examples, he will talk about the "colour" of a note, or how to "play" one's mandala. Now here's some exciting stuff about why we would bother doing this, and what is means to try.

I was very grateful to Andrew M for tipping me off about the CBC interview with George Stromboulopoulos and Daniel Tammet. (link below). This person, Daniel Tammet, describes himself as an autistic savant, but happily because of his own insight and powers of observation, he has trained himself to interact and communicate with others. The reward for his efforts has been the ability to communicate about his way of processing information and memory -- via synaesthesia. He shows a great gentleness and generosity of spirit, even though I am sure his struggle was not easy.

When you consider the brain is constantly accepting millions of bits of information from our "sensor array" (I try to resist using machine metaphors for this miraculous organ, but it's hard!) -- and the fact that we really can't process more than a couple of thousand via conscious mind, it makes sense that the unprocessed information is still available to us somehow.

Both Tammet and Rankine comment frequently that synaesthesia is available and normal when we are infants, but it is "beaten out of us." Our mind discriminates between what is useful and not useful, gradually screening out less useful info and losing the capacity to deal with it. And of course our early learning opportunities can frequently accomplish this process MUCH faster and unpleasantly, giving us a sort of unasked-for aversion therapy to synaesthetic processing or reflection. I belong to probably the last generation where teachers could force you to stop using your left hand in favour of the right hand in kindergarten! (And don't even get me started on the issue of learning disabilities -- that is a blog or 100 blogs in itself. I have one, and also an MA in Applied Language Studies. Dumb luck, and don't I know it.)

The implications for synaesthesia for people with so-called learning disabilities and neurocognitive processing problems are HUGE. I am off to obtain a copy of Tammet's book, Born on a Blue Day, and Embracing the Wide Sky. He is saying that he believes anyone can relearn their capacity for synaesthesia, and I mean to find out!

Tammet also has applied what he knows of his own process, to learning languages via patterns that he sees. His most famous ability helped him do a record-setting recitation of Pi to several thousands decimal places, which took over five hours to say -- but what REALLY knocks me out is the PORTRAIT he has painted of how he SEES the number Pi. As you know, this is a fairly mystical number representing the relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle -- it is an irrational number, running to an apparently infinite number of decimal places with NO repeat or pattern in digits.

Coupled with recent studies in the brain's ability to "be plastic" -- to relearn or redirect processing in a way nobody believed possible -- this is the most fascinating thing!

So when you hear Dulcimerhead music, or attend a David Rankine workshop, or view David Rankine's art -- this is a big part of his project too. When he talks about playing a "blue" note on his dulcimer -- or "playing a mandala" -- this becomes more than creative play. It is tapping more of the creative potential of the brain itself! And I thought it was just fun. :)

Check out David Rankine's ever-expanding playground of music, art and ideas at!

CBC 'The Hour' Interview

CBC's 'The Hour' with host George Stroumboulopoulos:

I got this off Daniel Trammet's blog Optimnem at

Don't you just love this excerpt from the Telegraph (UK) -- I gotta get his book!!!

Tammet quotes from the Borges story “Funes the Memorious”: “He remembered the shapes of the clouds in the south at dawn on April 20, 1882, and he could compare them in his recollection with the marble grain in the design of a leather-bound book which he had seen only once.”