Audio Flora on Coding House Music
Chris Weller grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, playing the guitar and tinkering with lots of outdated music software to create industrial electronic music. After moving to Pittsburgh to earn his engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon, he fell in love with the dusty warehouses of Steel City, where promoters frequently staged clandestine drum and bass shows. He then started creating his own dance music and sold CDs and tapes to anyone who wanted to listen.
After graduating, Weller moved to Fort Collins for a microchip gig. He carried a full desktop computer, complete with a CRT monitor, plus synths and other racks for 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 soul music. These sounds will eventually translate into his most recent project, Audio Flora, which just released an EP on Denver’s Quite Right Records last week.
After Stanford, Weller had returned to Fort Collins, where he had taken a break from music to focus on building a family and more typical Colorado pursuits like skiing, biking, and home brewing. However, the music itch was still there, and eventually he reformed his studio and started the Audio Flora project. Since then, his most popular track has 75,000 plays on Spotify alone and his account sees almost 13,000 plays per month.
But Weller still keeps a low profile and only recently started chatting with local teams, such as Quite Right. Being a computer engineer gives him skills that musicians rarely apply to their own music. With them, he created his own virtual instruments, as well as scripts that create generative music. He also does generative illustrations for his releases.
Westword spoke with him about the rave scenes he’s been part of, the intersections between technology and music, his evolution as a musician, and how he’d like to see the Colorado scene embrace his music.
West word: How was the scene in Pittsburgh?
When I first came to Pittsburgh, a friend took me to a club near the Pitt campus for a regular Thursday night event called “Steel City Jungle.” The resident DJ at these parties was none other than Dieselboy himself, before moving to Philadelphia and rising to fame. I had never heard anything like it before. Jungle and DnB were kings there back then, and I was definitely hooked. I remember the city had so many old, sooty warehouses, rusty buildings and bridges, and funky spaces tucked away in the hills. I remember arts and music happenings in some of the grungiest places in this city, but everyone came and went. Really fun times and I think Pittsburgh is a really unique city.
You moved to Fort Collins the first time. What was it like to rave back then compared to what you see now in Colorado?
Besides the obvious progression of musical styles and fashion and such, I think a lot of events these days are more like concerts. Places are legitimate and events are sanctioned. You don’t have to worry about setting up a bunch of gear and your sound system and then getting pulled over by the cops.
These days, DJs usually take to the stage with everyone in the audience facing them like rock stars. Back then, you often went to a venue and had absolutely no idea where the DJ was. They were standing on the same floor as you along the wall somewhere with their gear on a folding table. Clubs used to have small, unobtrusive DJ booths in the corner of the room. I’ve probably had some of the best times of my life not knowing who or where the DJ was, just getting to the music with friends and strangers near the dance floor.
What is your musical background?
I played clarinet in primary school and really discovered the guitar in high school. I take piano and guitar lessons every other year to try and stay sharp, but I’ve probably forgotten more than I know at this point. I really enjoy working instrumental parts in house music, so I practice enough to navigate pentatonic and blues scales and record little riffs to incorporate into my tracks.
What made you move away from music when you came back to Colorado?
I got married and had a child. When you have a baby, your hobbies take a back seat for a while.
How did you come to do house music?
I did some house stuff every once in a while for many years. In 2017, when I rebuilt my music studio and started producing under the name Audio Flora, I wasn’t entirely sure which direction I was going to take. The electronic music landscape changed a lot during the 2010s while I was away, so I started trying out different styles. In fact, I tried to make bass music and EDM tracks, mimicking the styles of artists like Pretty Lights and Koan Sound, but I didn’t totally feel it.
I produced a few house tracks on a whim and sent them to labels and got one of them signed to a fledgling house label in London. It was really encouraging, so I decided to stick with the house music I knew and loved. I still touch a bit on other styles but I’m more focused on house.
What does your daily job and everyday life look like?
I am a computer engineer. It’s challenging work and then I come home and have two little boys who need a lot of my time and energy. By the time they go down to bed, it’s 8:30 and I’m usually exhausted.
I think 8:30 is couch time for many parents, but I grab a beer and head to the studio. Once I have about fifteen minutes of production work, I usually have a second wind. Sometimes I take a twenty-minute nap around 9 p.m. to help me out, which my wife thinks is legitimate crazy behavior.
How did you figure out how to integrate your professional skills with your musical skills?
I do a lot of coding for my work and find ways to use it in my music project. I developed some VST plug-ins and wrote lots of little scripts and tools to sometimes generate interesting sounds and sample banks.
What advantage do you find in coding your own VSTs?
I love using randomization to research interesting sounds and musical ideas, but I find randomization in many standard plug-ins to be quite lacking. Many will just have a button that looks like a six-sided die that you press, and the buttons snap to new positions using generic hard-coded distributions.
I often want to go in and have more control over probability densities and constraints, so the few VSTs I’ve created allow me to do fairly common things, like MIDI drum pattern, arpeggiator, and randomize chords, but with very fine control over the randomization of parameters.
How do you integrate generative systems into your music?
I’ve written a bunch of command line tools and scripts to do audio synthesis and manipulation. If I want a more distinct clap sample, for example, I could write a little script that randomly selects two claps from my sample library and mixes them together with random levels and relative delay. I’m going to have the script generate 100 of them into new audio files and then listen to them in Ableton Live to see if I find anything interesting. I also tinker a bit with Ableton’s Max For Live system, building small randomizable modulators.
I also do a lot of procedural graphics programming to render the visuals and videos that I use for promos and covers. I use the [programming language] Python and interface it in [3D rendering software] Blender to procedurally generate various scenes of geometric patterns, landscapes, flora, [and other things]. I’m going to let it run for a week to produce a bunch of renders. Then I will scroll through them and choose my favorite results.
What are the most surprising places where you have seen your music?
I haven’t noticed any big DJs playing my tracks yet. My best tracks are pretty laid back and probably not the kind you expect to hear on big stages anyway. I was surprised to see my music played in Mediterranean beach clubs and by DJs with residencies in Ibiza. It wasn’t a sound I intentionally targeted, but apparently my music sets a great vibe for lounging by the pool with a cocktail in hand! I heard my songs on Ibiza Global Radio and I find them in the Mixcloud mixes of DJs from Europe and South Africa mainly.
Would you like to see the Colorado house scene host your music?
It’s a good question. I really focused on the studio, always trying to produce better tracks and get them signed to the biggest labels possible. So far European house labels have been the best fit for my music. However, those labels don’t help me much in Colorado, so I’m working more on building relationships with promoters and labels in Denver, hence the new track on Quite Right Records of Denver. When it comes to gigs, I’ve always tried to play my music a bit “live”, but I’m now moving towards a more traditional DJ setup in order to be more versatile. My ideal gig will be a sunny afternoon, cocktail party by the pool, so I’m always on the lookout for those with optimism!
Always increase was released on Quit Right Records. Get a copy on Beatport.