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Feature Mon Nov 16 2015

When David Meets Diode, It's a Whole Other World

On Facebook, David Cohen is pretty outspoken, and he's never concerned about being "politically correct." The 27-year-old Buffalo Grove native has figured out a sure-fire formula for his clever statuses, which involve a little self-deprecation, a hint of sarcasm, and a touch of an artist's narcissism.

The result: likes on likes on likes. It's all in good fun, of course. As a part of a generation fueled by their news feed, a healthy serving of honesty in a simmering pot of crass can go a long way.

Diode Milliampere

In person, Cohen puts a pin in his online persona. He isn't shy, just observant. Behind his long dark locks lie a pair of eyes barricaded by square, black-rimmed glasses. An unkempt beard traces his thin lips that wait for the perfect moment to speak. An engineer by trade, he is wired to think critically and respond accordingly.

Over the last few years, Cohen's made a career by staying current and exercising his right to compromise with technology's past. To his fans and Chicago's DIY community, he is known as Diode Milliampere, a solo artist with more than a knack for making music from obsolete hardware.

Last Monday, Cohen invited me over to Paragon Studios. The tall, mocha-colored brick building sits still near the entrance of a bustling Fulton Market. Right when he opens the door, he quickly warns me to watch my step as we travel up an infinite flight of stairs.

A brush of cold air sends chills down my spine, and Cohen explains the building is primarily used to store and distribute meat packages. The attic is reserved for the studio, which has been a home to a myriad of musicians for the last 25 years.

It's easy to feel welcome there. The soft-lit place feels more like a living room rather than a studio. The lobby is scattered with old-fashioned furniture, and an old TV set hums a rerun of The Drew Carey Show.

He leads me to a couple spots. The first, a storage room overflowing with nuts, bolts, chords, chips, computer monitors and parts to pieces of equipment that could make it whole, and only those with a keen eye could find something that was inevitably buried in over two decades worth of stuff.

The other, an atelier. A massive mixer lays in the center of the room that looks out to a larger space where musicians can rest alongside their instruments. Ghosts from the studio's past could be spotted behind the glass that boldly separates the two areas.

Colorful, tiny lights and buttons decorate the overwhelmingly enormous device, but that does not seem to distract Cohen from his own -- a tiny Toshiba Libretto 70CT. He confesses he doesn't typically make music in this place. He usually does it from his home back in the 'burbs.

Cohen's mentor, Joe Connors, the studio's chief engineer, rests on a couch in the back of the room. The two talk tech, and they run through process, programs and composition. To a pair of new ears, small details need explanations.

In both spaces, Cohen remains comfortable, which in other ways is a reflection of his music. Lost in a midst of an ever-changing, electronic chaos, he finds clarity.

Diode Milliampere

Cohen said since 2008, he has been experimenting with synthesizers and creating music digitally, but it wasn't until 2013 when he took a closer look at FM synthesis and trackers. From there, he said he began to "write and release tracks instead of just exploring sounds."

The industrial racket of junkyard noise is melted into a mature yet playful opus -- all created with the OPL3, a popular chip found in '90s PCs, and AdLib Tracker, an outdated sound system compatible with that device.

Cohen explains further "the concept of an entire multi-voice synthesizer being encapsulated in a chip the size of a fingernail was [and] is just really cool."

For him, the difficulty comes with discussing with others on how he actually does this. "I can't just say 'I make beats in FL' or 'I use such and such drum machines and synths,'" he said, adding for those who do know "what AdLib sound is and remember it [being] weird and terrible sounding," they tend to be impressed.

Seven EPs later, Cohen admits that each one of his compilations is a lesson learned from the last. There's a familiar voice in his songs, and that touch of nostalgia is hypnotic and endearing.

Diode Milliampere

From Psychic Pizza Connection to YMF262 to Erasable Programmable Read Only Memories, listeners become enveloped on a transient trip to the uncharted territory of technology. It's nightly conversations I imagined my broken toys would have had with my dad's dusty stereo once the lights went out in our garage.

On the verge of his eighth album, Cohen is committed to "improving what [he] can do with it" because "there aren't very many other active OPL3 musicians out there."

Currently, Cohen, who continues to make waves with his work in the DIY and chiptune scene, concentrates on changing the perception of his music from just "being good OPL3 music" into something more.

"There is a saying: 'The marvel is not that the bear dances well, but that the bear dances at all,'" he said. "I don't think most people realize or care that I'm a dancing bear, so I should work on dancing well."

 
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Alchemeleon / November 16, 2015 10:52 AM

It's "uncharted territory", not "unchartered territory".

Otherwise, great write-up =]

Andrew Huff / November 18, 2015 10:18 PM

Thanks, fixed.

John Rocky / December 7, 2015 7:03 AM

Well, this is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!

simpanha / January 3, 2016 10:59 AM

Well, this is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!
Website: http://www.clippingpath.co.uk/

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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