But Mark Kunoff has always been the subversive at the table, a musician who works in video and audio, a man who steers clear of all the cliques.
“I like to do something different,” Kunoff explains, “to do it all myself.”
That’s exactly what he’s done, creating sounds and the visuals to accompany them for his performances, as well as immersive, pulsing electronic music.
But music, and the power of performance, has been part of his life almost as long as he can remember. As a child he had piano lessons and also realized he could sing. Yet it was a show at school that showed him the possibilities of being on stage.
“In elementary school I was cast as the Major General in The Pirates of Penzance at school. When I sang that song, “I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General” the audience gave me a standing ovation. I was a shy kid, but I definitely liked that. The stage was where the other Mark could come out.”
“Soon he was discovering the music that would propel him through life, bands like Hawkwind, Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream. But it was Kraftwerk’s Computer World album that offered the real revelation. “It was so different to everything else that had appeared,” Kunoff says. “It really made me think more about what could be done in that type of music.”
By the late 1980s he was a member of the Planets, signed to Chicago independent label Aesthetic Productions. But the true start of his career came with the release of his first solo album, Funky Moon. “Scary People” from that release also appeared on the Live from Bloomington compilation in 1992, firmly establishing him as a local artist with something new and electronic to say.
By then he’d already been experimenting with electronic sounds for several years. A graduate of Indiana University Audio Technology program at the School of Music, using synthesizers made perfect sense to him.
“At the start I borrowed a Micro Moog synthesizer,” Kunoff remembers. “I had a Sony reel-to-reel and I recorded what was really ambient music. Actually, what I did back then is sonically similar to the music I’m making now. Later I produced the Funky Moon album primarily with a Roland D5 and Alesis MMT-8 Sequencer.”
But in 1994, disillusioned with music, he decided to take a break and pursued work in graphic arts. Music, however, wasn’t done with him. It might have allowed him to wander away for a little while, but it never fully relaxed its grip and eventually the urge to return grew stronger. Hearing Nitzer Ebb and Nine Inch Nails showed him a way to combine his early rock influences with electronic music. But learning about digital audio workstation software was the big epiphany that really put him back on track.
“I work as an IT pro, so I’m comfortable with computers, but being able to do everything in the box was a huge revelation to me,” Kunoff says. “But I didn’t get serious about putting stuff out until 2005. The first thing I did that really felt significant was Othership, which took me into breakbeat music.”
Othership developed into an ongoing duo with musical partner Patrick Petro, and in 2008 Kunoff founded the Bloomington Electronic co-operative to help bring together local electronic musicians. By then he was also working as a DJ as well as performing live.
“I’m a huge fan of the hardware live act,” Kunoff says. “But really, I love it all. I put on showcases in town called Speed of Sound to give people a chance to play in front of a live audience and I also began doing visual work with 3-D projections and VJ content.”
As a digital visual artist he’s designed a number of album covers, art installations, and produced mind bending video art for concert visuals. He also has expertise in Fractal Geometry and generative digital art and has blended that into his live performances.
“What I like to do is control everything – hardware, computer, music, visuals – from the stage. I’ve started doing that, and it creates a complete environment.”
Along the way he’s kept releasing music and won plenty of plaudits for his music.
“Korg released an app for iPad, which I use for some of my sound generation. They ran a remix competition and two remixes I made were finalists. Then Indiana University wanted a piece of music that sounded like Aphex Twin for a television ad they were making. I offered to try and they loved it; it ended up being shown on prime time television during David Letterman and American Football games, which was very high-profile exposure.”
Success has been a spur, and Kunoff decided to send some of his recent work to his favorite labels.
“I was really surprised when Traum Schallplatten emailed and asked if I’d like to have one of the tracks on a compilation. They specialize in house and techno, and they wanted my piece, “Tonic.” They liked the song-like arrangement and the fact that it has a narrative. In that way it’s different to most electronic music.”
But different has always been the hallmark of Kunoff’s career. The outsider who penetrates the scene. There’s no reason to stop now.
— Chris Nickson