Los Angeles

The Indelible Grooves of Sahy Uhns

Sahy Uhns Desert
In Partnership with Proximal Records
Proximal Records is a L.A. based independent record label with a mission of supporting and promoting vibrant new voices in the local electronic music community.

By Drew Tewksbury

He crafts bass that can bark like a Rottweiler or rumble like an aftershock. His rhythms stutter-step and groove, melodies floating above beats or holding a song together like the spine of a sonic skeleton.

He's Carl Madison Burgin, aka Sahy Uhns, the L.A. producer who soaks in sound from wherever he may roam. He was fed West Coast hip hop as a kid and makes music that sounds good driving down the coast with your windows open. He's the co-founder of L.A. label Proximal Records, whose debut release "Proximity One: Narrative of a City" explored a city through sound; investigating the way music reflects the fabric of our home.

Sahy Uhns recently provided the music for Artbound's documentary on Victor Wilde, and we caught up with him to discuss how California and technology made him the musician he is today.

What about Los Angeles makes it a good place to be a creative?

Los Angeles has deeply ingrained this mentality of forward progress because of its legacy of Westward expansion. People moved here and still move here to get to where they want to go. The pioneers had lofty goals in mind and they risked everything to achieve it -- setting out west, not knowing what they would find. Los Angeles remains a central hub for people taking risks; people trying to do something new and different. I think because of that it has remained at the forefront of creativity.

Where did you grow up in Los Angeles, and how did that affect the way you began to make music?

Grew up in West LA and the first electronic music I was into was G-Funk and West coast gangsta rap. Growing up in the city of the greats like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Nate Dogg, that was in my subconscious before I even started making music. I got my first turntable around age 10 and my first guitar about the same time and I never stopped making music from then on.

Describe the genesis of L.A.'s beat-making community, where were some of the key places, people, shows that helped the scene develop?

Low End Theory is obviously a huge part of it. Having that kind of performance venue that presented things from electronic dance music to hip-hop to jazz to experimental, and having that broad range of things shown on the same stage on a weekly basis, was what encouraged that scene to develop. Non-musicians or people who weren't particularly interested in all of those types of music were introduced to them alongside the more familiar world of hip-hop because of Low End Theory. That was already happening, and then when Flying Lotus broke through in a big way with his record Los Angeles, a spotlight was shone on the city and all of the sudden people were hipped to these artists that were already making that music before it mattered to the masses. The genesis of the community was very organic and was driven by places like Low End Theory and the artists that performed and attended shows there -- it just took one popular artists breaking through to bring it to public consciousness.

What specifically do you like about making music based on electronics? What don't you like about it?

I love everything about it. I interact with electronic music similar to how someone gets feedback from a physical instrument except the computer can make sounds without the performer. What's nice about electronic music, is you can abstract things to the point that they don't evoke any real identifiable image or have any real physical representation. This leaves it more open to the listener to put in their own imagery. My music is very much a story telling medium. To be able to have a blank canvas for people to imagine whatever they want is what I love about electronic music. I can manipulate peoples emotions without putting specific images into their heads.

What role does technology play in the way you make music?

Technology acts as my collaborator. It plays into every part of my composition process, just in different ways. I have to interface with technology in some way to achieve anything I want to do in electronic music. There are a different set of difficulties and opportunities working with a computer vs. a person, but that's what's cool. The conversation that happens between me and a computer is very different than the one I'd have with another human being and that shapes the music.

Composing music through computer programs seems to have an aspect of visual art to it. Sometimes the combinations on screen can look good as well as sounding good. How does your approach to music making change if you're composing on a computer as opposed to playing live?

I always relate composing electronic music more closely to sculpting than I do to playing music live. You essentially take a block of sound or time and you chisel away at it until it looks and sounds how you want. How things fit spatially in a timeline definitely has an impact on the sound. The computer is predominantly a visual machine so it's just naturally going to have that aspect affect the composer. You're dealing with the music visually because you're looking at chunks of audio. That's really nothing like what it is to be performing live. Performing live is recalling memorized pieces of music, or reading a piece of music or interacting on the fly with music you've created but in a less-linear and structured way and without the visual representation of what you just played.

Los Angeles is also home to some of the biggest music companies in the world. How do you interface with that world? Is it better to be underground?

I haven't really interfaced much with that world, I think it's kind of a big dying beast. I'm pretty happy with the turn music has taken since Napster when the control of music and digital files was broken apart. The amount of control it took away from big music companies was a really good thing. There's more music coming out from independent artists and that can only be a good thing. I've discovered so much amazing music through places like Soundcloud and Bandcamp that I never would have had access to in the old model. People can make music and release it and nobody has to decide whether or not it's "good" before it sees the light of day. For some, that might seem like it leads to over-saturation but for me and a lot of music fans, that just means more weird stuff for me to listen to -- which is always a plus.

If you had to create an essential Los Angeles mixtape, what songs or artists would be on there and why?

Forty-five minutes of traffic sounds and sizzling street meat.

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Top Image: Sahy Uhns | Photo: Yael Shina.

About the Author

Drew Tewksbury is a Los Angeles-based cultural journalist, editor, photographer, and multimedia producer. Tewksbury is the managing editor / co-producer for KCET-TV's Artbound, a transmedia project providing in-depth arts/cultur...
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