UMass’ Otto B. discusses his art, inspirations and iconoclastic approach to live performance

A conversation with the electronic music wunderkind opening WMUA’s Spring Concert

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UMass’ Otto B. discusses his art, inspirations and iconoclastic approach to live performance

(Courtesy of Otto B)

(Courtesy of Otto B)

(Courtesy of Otto B)

(Courtesy of Otto B)

By Jacob Abrams, Assistant Arts Editor

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Otto Benson, known pseudonymously as Otto B., is a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts who makes electronic music. Through his music and visual art, he has developed a singular aesthetic that blends child-like innocence and grotesquery. In October, Otto won the WMUA’s Battle of the Bands competition and he was awarded the opening slot at the radio station’s Spring Concert, which will be headlined by Guerrilla Toss. I sat down with Otto to ask him about his current musical endeavors, his inspirations and approach to live performance.

Jacob Abrams: What sort of music have you been making at the moment?

Otto Benson: Children’s songs.

JA: Elaborate?

OB: It’s not music meant for children’s consumption or about children in any way. It’s just a bunch of pop and electro/techno tracks that I’ve made, attempting to mimic the blissful, hyperactive aura of children’s media I consumed as a pubescent.

JA: What have your recent inspirations been?

OB: Recently, I’ve been inspired by over-the-top software instruments. I’ve fallen in love with Massive by Native Instruments, which is one of the quintessential wavetable synthesizers. It has oodles of really excruciating, sharp, digital sounds that are supposed to be for making dubstep and other abrasive EDM. When I was a tween, I despised pop/EDM and thought a lot of the textures and progressions were really disturbing. I distinctly remember staying late into the evening at an after-school program at my elementary school, when I was eight or nine years old, and staring out the dark window while “Disturbia” by Rihanna played on a distorted little radio. This was not long after my sexual awakening, so I had a lot of dark, confused images running through my head and I remember, in that moment, feeling inexplicably distraught. I find this image really funny in hindsight and I’ve been inspired to try and recreate what I felt.

JA: How are you approaching this particular performance?

OB: I’m really excited to see Guerilla Toss and I think their music is best enjoyed in a large, convulsing mass of sweaty bodies. So, I guess my approach for this performance is going to be a ‘warm-up’ service for their set. I also want to play like 90 percent new music, so I’ve been making a bunch of tracks that are upwards of 150 beats per minute. The 150’s are a nice range because it’s danceable or whatever but it also comes off as a little rushed and jarring, which I’m hoping will either get people bouncing or weed out the unenthused.

JA: What are your thoughts on live performance in general? Is it something you enjoy doing?

OB: Live performances are great, but with music made on a computer, it’s challenging to perform something engaging for myself and an audience simultaneously. I’d love to sequence and perform all my songs purely on hardware, which I’m getting close to with my current setup, but it’s really expensive. So, it’s hard for me to not use a laptop, which I think is something to be celebrated. Laptops are so powerful and accessible and I think more people should make music on their laptops and, more importantly, not be shamed for performing with them.

JA: What equipment do you plan on using?

OB: I’ve been building a big MIDI controller which I’m pretty proud of. It’s basically just a bunch of old stuffed animals sewn together with knobs arranged like an udder. I like the image of interfacing with wetware to play music. So, the controller is supposed to look like some sort of botched, man-made organism. Also, I’ve implemented a 5V gate output on the controller so I can sync external gear like my Korg Volca Beats. The Volca Beats is a really funny piece of gear to me. I think it’s very limiting and sounds rinky-dink in most contexts but the toms sound cute and the onboard sequencer is surprisingly powerful. It’s fun to try and push it to its limits and use it as an improvisational tool.

Benson and Guerrilla Toss will be playing on Friday, Feb. 22, in the Dick Rossi Room located under Hampshire Dining Commons. Benson’s set will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

Jacob Abrams can be reached at [email protected]