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Add It Up
Ratios, algorithms, XY axes—it all makes musical sense to Glens Falls’ Mathematicians

By Kirsten Ferguson
Photos by Leif Zurmuhlen

 "Feel free to jump in on drums or any other instruments,” offers Pete Pythagoras as he and his band members gear up to play in the Glens Falls warehouse that serves as their practice space, hangout pad and recording studio/computerized think tank. They’re friendly fellows, these Mathematicians. Pete is the goofy unassuming one who shows up for the interview in a bowtie, checked blazer and red polyester trousers, brandishing fresh baked goods such as tasty cookies and muffins. Onstage he plays bass and sings with the stiff posture and clenched grin of a lifelong Pointdexter. His namesake Pythagoras contributed to the mathematical theory of music, after all, noting that vibrating strings produce harmonious tones when the ratios of the lengths of the strings are whole numbers.

 Synth technician Dewi Decimal, a quieter, more studious type but just as friendly, wears black-framed glasses and a white lab coat over a striped tie. (Looking closer, I notice that Dewi’s spectacles are empty plastic frames with no lenses. Hmm.) Dewi leans over a Yamaha PSR keyboard that sometime, in a previous ownership perhaps, was inexplicably covered with blue paint. “You make do with what you’ve got,” Dewi says. He also has a Korg synthesizer and a PowerBook laptop running a vocoder.

“One plus one plus seven equals forty-nine,” counts off the disembodied HAL with calculation skills that are dubious at best, as the Mathematicians begin to play “Hypotenuse of Love.” The song has a dreamy, post-apocalyptic feel, thanks in part to its robot love-triangle subtext and moody Kraftwerk-esque synth line. (The band claim to not own any Kraftwerk or Devo records, so end your comparisons there.) The lovestruck tune has something to do with the theorem of Pythagoras, I think, which states that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Or something like that.

Nerdy as we want to be: the Mathematicians. Al Gorithm

Al Gorithm, on drums, just may be the secret brainchild behind the band. Accordingly, he’s the most nerdish-looking, wearing the largest oversized glasses (taped at the bridge) and the loudest synthetic-fibered pants (an unappealing crap-brown color) while demonstrating the most appalling affinity for plaid. Al, who warns me early on about the decibel level of the band’s practices, is a maniac on stage, somehow managing to stand up and hop frantically while keeping time on drums and playing programmed beats off his tabletop sampler. Still, there’s no singular frontman in the band. All three Mathematicians trade off on vocals and write their own lyrics, which name-check equations, ratios, and algebraic functions the way some bands write about fighting, drinking or getting laid.

These are the Mathematicians. Their motto is, “Calculating the equation of rhythm plus melody equals bringing the pulse to the people.” They aim to please. The band’s best mathematical metaphor is found on the song “4 Eyes.” On the recorded version, Pete raps over a horn section and soaring female backup vocals as a drum track ticks at 86 beats per minute, far too slow for such a dance-floor anthem. “Who cares if your suit clashes/We’re no dance floor fascists,” Pete declares in a demonstration of true nerd democracy. “It’s 4 then 4 on the XY axis/Free your mind and wipe your eyeglasses.”

The band’s mathematical precision was applied quite studiously to their self-released debut album, Level One. Dewi and Al produced and engineered the album during a three-month period last winter, while Pete was busy booking the band on a nationwide tour that took them from Buffalo to Spokane, Wash., in April and May. (Highlights of the tour—including lots of shots of kids dancing spastically—were captured by the band in a hilarious tour montage video that can be viewed at www.themathematicians.net.)

Pete Pythagoras

As Al explains prior to the band’s practice at Mathematician headquarters, the goal for the album was to combine the consistency of electronic music with the more organic sounds of live instrumentation. “Basically the album is a hybrid of electronic and acoustic instruments. All the drum tracks on the album have both electronic drums and real drums. The kick drum sounds and the snare drum sounds were samples. We first made outlines of the songs in Reason,” Al says as he shows off the software on his PowerBook G4 laptop. “It’s a virtual rack of samplers, drums and synthesizers. It’s a tool for making electronic versions of songs. We built all the songs in Reason before doing any recording. Basically, we made maps of the songs, cheesy versions that were all electronic and perfectly to tempo.” At Edie Road Studios in Greenwich, the band then used the studio rooms to record drum, bass and keyboard tracks directly into the computer. Al played the drums listening to the songs that had been made in Reason, to capture the flawless tempo. “All you need to have is a click track, a beat, with an original source that’s perfect, so your tempo is perfect,” he says, demonstrating—who would guess—all the perfectionism of a mathematician.

“What took the most time was editing,” Pete adds. “If we were doing this with tape, it would be nearly impossible. So many bands are doing things this way now. The technology is there. It’s cheap. These programs make it more accessible for people to have a lot more options when it comes to recording music. When angst-ridden teenage kids couldn’t play their guitars, but they did it anyway, it’s the same thing. Kids who can’t play their instruments can record this way,” he says, likening the new technology boom to previous decades when the DIY movement took hold of rock. (Of course, the Mathematicians can play their instruments, I will attest.) “New instruments are making new sounds happen,” he adds. “It’s still rock & roll for me, it just sounds different.”

At live performances, Al hooks his laptop up to the stage speakers (necessitating a loud PA) and plays elements of certain songs through his computer. “What’s kind of cool about what we’re doing, in my opinion, is that all over the country on tour we kept running into these one-person bands, where somebody would play all their sequences [on a computer], like karaoke, and then sing over it. It’s refreshing. I think it’s awesome,” he says, citing artists like synth pop musician Anna Oxygen from Olympia, Wash., and one-man electro-funk band the Show Is the Rainbow from Lincoln, Neb. “We wanted to be able to have certain sounds onstage and we thought, ‘How will we do it?’ Inadvertently, we were combining this karaoke style with a live style,” Al continues. “We’re doing both, playing instruments and sequences. I’m proud that we’re doing that. I think it’s cool. If Bjork was poor, she’d be doing karaoke-style music right now.”

“Cellos are expensive,” Pete quips.

Dewi Decimal

Merging elements of electronic music with the live performance values of rock & roll is not necessarily new in other parts of the country, but in this area a lot of bands tend to stick to more traditional, well-defined genres. It’s somewhat surprising, then, to find all this innovation taking place in Glens Falls, a town that barely has a venue to play in. But the Mathematicians are a window to a surprisingly fertile Glens Falls-Lake George scene. They are part of the Tali Tribe, a loose consortium of bands and artists who share a Web site, members and practice space. (Other Tali Tribe acts include electronic-hiphop collective Blue Water Tribe and experimental rockers Pink Hearse Paparazzi Project, to name just two.) The Mathematicians and their band friends put on shows at Sweet Cravings, a Lake George coffee shop that is one of the only North Country venues currently hosting original music. They also organized the Guerrilla Picnic, a two-day outdoor showcase for local bands that unfortunately was shut down at the end of the first day.

“If there’s nothing going on, let’s have something going on,” Pete says, explaining the Tali Tribe perspective. “You can always do it yourself.”

Agreeable chaps, these Mathematicians. Just don’t make the mistake of mentioning any of their look-alikes, who are sometimes spotted in civilian clothes. The Pete imposter is rumored to have his own record label called Make Your Fate, and he reportedly once worked for the lo-fi label K Records in Olympia, Wash. Pity the reporter who makes a clumsy reference to “stage names” at the close of the interview.

“Stage names?” the three Mathematicians ask, staring at me incredulously. “What stage names?”


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