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Salt Lake City electro-artist Agape soundtracks scribbles in his head.

By Randy Harward
Posted // June 11,2007 -

Hit Agape-Technology.com, the Website of local electronic music artist Agape (aka Ryan Powers), and you won’t see much: a white page with links that say little and a crude rendering of Powers with a thought bubble containing a scribble punctuated with an exclamation point. At first listen, that scribble seems to be all you need to know about his music.

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Click on the scrambled line and you’ll be directed to Powers’ PureVolume.com site where you can hear the track “Autocathe.” The track is an audio scribble, all white noise and funky bass notes and histrionic shrieks and fluttery percussion and crashing piano chords. The image that comes immediately to mind is of Powers sitting among a bank of modular synthesizers, pianos, drum machines, miscellaneous toys and racks and racks of effects having a nice, frothy seizure'like someone is scribbling with Powers as the crayon.

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“The scribbles,” Powers explains, “are relative to a thought process and emotion, a sort of critical mass of synapses firing off in your head when the energy or excitement of a moment reaches an inexpressible climax. Well, not quite inexpressible. The idea behind Agape [pronounced uh-gah-pay] is to encapsulate that feeling into something tangible.”

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We’ve all felt that feeling'it’s that involuntary shudder that shimmies down your spine. It’s an endorphin rush. It’s the aftermath of drinking Mexican tap water. It’s your best buddy scaring the hell out of you. It’s the precarious pleasure-fear you get from autoerotic asphyxiation (not that I’d know). Powers says the feeling is why he chose Agape as his handle.

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“Loosely translated into English from Greek,” he says, “[it means] ‘altruistic love.’ The idea behind this idealistic passion always intrigued me, it seemed so volatile and temporal'I am convinced anything that amazingly absolute could only exist for a fraction of a second. It is often blatantly misinterpreted by Christians around the world as ‘God’s Love’ or something similar to that, which I found ironic, that an idea so temporal and labile was being used to describe a deity.”

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Agape began as a duo in 2002, playing what Powers calls “a slew of noisy, ridiculous shows.” They had no percussion'it was a symphony of bass guitar, marginally functional amps, screeching feedback and ridiculously loud keyboards. Powers says it was almost unlistenable, but definitely an experience. He tried a few drummers, but eventually elected to use a drum machine. “There was a shift from pretentious jerk-ass noise core to catchier jerk-ass noise core.”

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Soon after, he recorded an album (which he duplicated on CD-Rs because he “was too poor to press it”) and began touring. During the “infamous tour of doom,” he lost his bass player to love in Orange County. Suddenly solo, Powers was unsure how to proceed. “There I was, by myself with a ridiculous amount of speakers and amplifiers.” He chose to continue soundtracking the scribble in his head.

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“It didn’t take long for me to begin writing again, there was another big shift towards more danceable music, the energy level stayed as intense as ever and Agape just got louder and louder.”

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Which brings us back to “Autocathe,” one of six tracks on Agape’s new self-titled EP. In a way, it and its counterparts are just the sound of one dude snapping, “jerk-ass noise core,” as it were. It’s inescapably loud, terrifyingly dissonant, maybe even obnoxious'if you’re not paying attention, it’s a disorganized scribble. But Powers somehow manages to make it all as catchy as a pop song by making every change and every sound count'these scribbles are carefully scripted.

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“I think there is a lot to say for semi-conventional song structure,” Powers says. “Repetition and formulas can set themes and moods far better than random placement. Instead of striving to make a song as unpredictable as possible, I really like to use random changes [and] notes as carefully calculated accents.

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“[My music] really is pretty formulaic, I just like to put a lot of different sounds and keep them focused, because extraneous noise is a copout. Excessive sampling and overdubbing of bleeps, blips, sweeps or even feedback is just lazy and uninspiring. You might as well be a f'king laptop musician at that point.”

 
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