Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Chris Weller played guitar and tinkered with a lot of antiquated music software to create industrial electronic music. When he moved to Pittsburgh to earn his engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon, he fell in love with the dusty warehouses of the Steel City, where promoters often threw clandestine drum and bass shows. Then he started making his own dance music, selling CDs and cassettes to anyone who would listen.
After graduating, Weller moved to Fort Collins for a microprocessor gig. He lugged an entire desktop computer, complete with CRT monitor, plus synths and other racks, to little-known outdoor raves, where he played his own brand of breaks and atmospheric drum and bass. He then left Fort Collins and flew to Stanford for a minute for graduate school, where he began to appreciate the vibes of soulful West Coast house music. Those sounds that would eventually flow into his latest project, Audio Flora, which just released an EP on Denver’s Quite Right Records just last week.
After Stanford, Weller had moved back to Fort Collins, where he took a break from music to focus on raising a family and more typically Colorado activities like skiing, biking, and home brewing. However, the urge for music was always there, and eventually he reformed his studio and started the Audio Flora project. Since then, his most popular track has had 75,000 plays on Spotify alone, and his account is getting nearly 13,000 plays a month.
But Weller still remains fairly reticent and has only recently started parlaying with local crews like Quite Right. As a computer engineer, he has skills that musicians rarely apply to their own music. With them he has created his own virtual instruments as well as scripts that create generative music. He also makes generative artworks for his publications.
west word spoke to him about the rave scenes he has been a part of, the intersections between technology and music, his evolution as a musician and how he would like to see the Colorado scene embrace his music.
west word: How was the scene in Pittsburg?
When I first arrived in Pittsburgh, a friend took me to a club near Pitt’s campus for a regular Thursday night event called Steel City Jungle. The resident DJ for those nights was none other than Dieselboy himself before he moved to Philly and found fame. I had never heard anything like it. Jungle and DnB were kings back then and I was definitely hooked. I remember the city had so many soot covered old warehouses, rusty buildings and bridges and funky places in the hills. I remember seeing arts and music events in some of the grungiest places in this city, but everyone came and got off. Really fun times and I think Pittsburgh is a really unique city.
This is your first time moving to Fort Collins. How was the rave back then compared to what you see in Colorado today?
Aside from the obvious evolution of music styles and fashion and such, I think a lot of events these days feel more like concerts. The venues are legitimate and the events are sanctioned. You don’t have to worry about setting up a bunch of gear and your sound system and then just getting shut down by the police.
Nowadays, DJs are usually placed on stages where all the audience looks straight at them like rock stars. In the old days you would often walk into a venue and have absolutely no idea where the DJ was. They were standing on the same floor as you, somewhere against the wall, with their gear on a folding table. Clubs used to have discreet little DJ booths in the corner of the venue. I’ve probably had some of the best times of my life, not knowing who or where the DJ was, just getting on the dance floor with the friends and strangers around me to the music.
What is your musical background?
I played mean clarinet in elementary school and really got into guitar in high school. I take piano and guitar lessons every few years to try and stay fit, but I’ve probably forgotten more than I know by this point. I really like incorporating instrumental parts into house music, so I practice enough to drive around the pentatonic and blues scales and pick up little riffs to weave into my tracks.
What made you take a break from music when you moved back to Colorado?
I got married and had a child. When you have a baby, your hobbies take a backseat for a while.
How did you get into making house music?
I’ve done the odd house track off and on for many years. When I put my music studio back together in 2017 and started producing as Audio Flora I wasn’t quite sure which direction I was going in. The electronic music landscape changed a lot in the 2010s while I was away, so I started trying different styles. I’ve actually tried making bass music and EDM tracks emulating the styles of artists like Pretty Lights and Koan Sound, but I didn’t quite feel it.
I produced a few house tracks on a whim and sent them to labels and got one of them signed to an up and coming house label in London. That was really encouraging, so I decided to just stick with the house music I knew and loved. I’m still experimenting a bit with other styles, but I’m pretty much focused on house.
What does your working day and everyday life look like?
I am a computer scientist. It’s a challenging job and then I come home and have two little boys who need a lot of time and energy. When they go to bed it’s 8:30 am and I’m usually exhausted.
I think 8:30 is chill-the-fuck-out-on-the-couch time for a lot of parents, but I grab a beer and head to the studio. Once I’m about fifteen minutes into production work, I usually get a second breath. Sometimes I take a 20 minute nap around 9pm to get myself going, which my wife thinks is legitimate behavior for a crazy person.
How did you find how to combine your professional skills with your musical ones?
I code a lot for my job and find ways to use it in my music project. I’ve developed a few VST plug-ins and write a lot of small scripts and tools to sometimes create interesting sounds and sample banks.
What advantage do you see in programming your own VSTs?
I love using randomization to look for interesting sounds and musical ideas, but I find the randomization in many standard plug-ins to be quite lacking. Many just have a button that looks like a six-sided die that you press, and the buttons snap into new positions with some generic hard-coded distributions.
I often want to jump in and have more control over the probability densities and constraints, so the few VSTs I’ve made allow me to do fairly standard things like MIDI drum patterns, arpeggiator, and chord randomization, but with really fine-grain control over parameters- randomization.
How do you integrate the generative systems into your music?
I’ve written a number of command line tools and scripts to do audio synthesis and manipulation. For example, if I wanted a clearer clap sample, I could write a small script that would randomly select two clap from my sample library and mix them with random levels and relative delay. I have the script generate 100 of these into new audio files and then listen to them in Ableton Live to see if I find anything interesting. I’m also tinkering around with Ableton’s Max For Live system and building small randomizable modulators.
I also do a lot of procedural graphics programming to render images and videos that I use for promos and cover art. i use this [programming language] Python and connect it to [3D rendering software] Blender for procedurally generating various scenes from geometric patterns, landscapes, plants, [and other things]. I’ll run it for a week to produce some renders. After that, I just scroll through them and pick my favorite results.
Where are the more surprising places you’ve seen your music?
I haven’t noticed any big DJs playing my tracks yet. My best tracks are pretty chilled and probably not the kind you would expect on big stages anyway. I was surprised that my music was played in Mediterranean beach clubs and by DJs based in Ibiza. This wasn’t a sound I was aiming for on purpose, but apparently my music creates a good vibe for lounging by the pool with a cocktail in hand! I’ve heard my tunes on Ibiza Global Radio and mostly find them in Mixcloud mixes by DJs from Europe and South Africa.
How would you like the Colorado house music scene to host your music?
That’s a good question. I’ve been really focused in the studio and always trying to produce better tracks and get them signed to the biggest labels I can. European house labels have been the best fit for my music so far. However, those labels don’t help me much in Colorado, so I work more on building relationships with Denver promoters and labels, hence the new track released on Denver’s Quite Right Records. As far as gigs go, I’ve always tried to do my music a bit “live” but I’m now moving to a more traditional DJ setup to be more versatile. My ideal gig is a sunny afternoon, cocktail-by-the-pool party, so I’m always optimistic about finding that!
Always get up was released on Quite Right Records. Get a copy on Beatport.