“How do you dance to this?” A lanky concert-goer in front of me asks his friend.
“However the hell you want!” the friend responded.
He stretched his arms loosely to the historic ceiling of The Observatory -- a small San Diego theater turned concert hall -- demonstrating the freeform exuberance Tycho’s music encourages. The ensuing performance would serve to emphasize this point through subjective sounds and visuals.
Tycho is an ambient electronic project led by producer Scott Hansen, AKA visual artist and designer ISO50. Hansen independently led the project until 2010, when he enlisted the help of drummer Rory O’Connor, keyboardist Billy Kim, and bassist/guitarist Zac Brown to create Tycho's live show. The musicians have collaborated on the album trilogy of Dive, Awake, and the Grammy-Nominated Epoch.
Since Epoch’s release in September of 2016, Tycho has embarked on a rigorous international tour throughout the US, Australia, and Europe. Their return to the Observatory marked the second day back in the US after shows in Denmark, The Netherlands, and Budapest's Sziget Festival.
Opening with warm lights and the lithe, spacey sounds of "Glider," the four-piece invited the audience for an audio-visual journey through sweeping chords and images of bare wilderness. Shuffling between tracks from Past is Prologue, Dive, Awake, and Epoch, the four-piece meandered through the wavering synths of "PBS," crisp guitars of "Spectre," the dripping melody of "A Walk," and the bass-driven title track from Awake.
Their dynamic, lilting melodies walk the tightrope between bright, crisp electronics and immersive organic sound. The instrumentation was tight and precise, creating cohesion while maintaining a distinction between instruments. The sounds morphed from one track to another, without one timbre overshadowing another.
It was apparent throughout the set that Tycho’s music is largely influenced by natural elements channeled through an electronic medium. Hansen, who creates visuals and graphic design for the project, reflected this by flooding the Observatory with kaleidoscopic visuals of crashing waves and vast, rocky valleys. The album art is similarly minimal and abstract, using shapes and muted colors to communicate themes of simplicity and space.
Hansen's control over multiple facets of Tycho's presentation created a fluid and focused live show. Unhindered by lyrics, their music is far more interpretive than direct. There were few breaks throughout, with Hansen pausing briefly to express his gratitude before diving into the next sonic masterpiece.
The effortless flow and consonance between performers allowed the audience to lose themselves within O'Connor's adroit metallic rhythms, or Brown's rich bass notes. At one point, the audience seemed to move in unison, syncing dancing to the percussion, and breathing to the rise and fall of soft synth washes.
Tycho's abstract approach encouraged the listeners to define the music for themselves. The spacious sound facilitates the ability to reflect and connect, just as solitude in nature does. We are the ones responsible for finding meaning. Or, as my fellow attendee pointed out, we can can dance however the hell we want.
Closing with "Montana" from the second album in the trilogy, Tycho left the audience rejuvenated and moving freely. Friends created dance circles, lovers swayed together, and for a moment, we all seemed to find some clarity in a cluttered world.
Experience it for yourself on Tycho’s Tour.
Image source: Alingo Loh