Mystery machines

Minneapolis’ Mystery Palace pits electronic innovation against jazz orchestration.

Andrew Penkalski

What: Mystery Palace

When: 9 p.m., Friday

Where: 7th St. Entry (701 N. First Ave.)

Mystery Palace founder Ryan Olcott touts a laudable local pedigree. The Twin Cities musician spent the bulk of the âÄô90s and early aughts fronting the expansive rock group, 12 Rods. Their densely orchestrated 1996 âÄúGay?âÄù EP is on the short list of releases that Pitchfork deemed worthy of their oft-derided 10.0 rating.

Even within the confines of their big-guitar rock, OlcottâÄôs clocked hours with 12 Rods carried a sonically diverse pallet. ItâÄôs such mind-turning explorations that have made Mystery Palace, his current circuit-bending pet project, a stable center for his creative focus.

âÄúItâÄôs always been a struggle for me as a songwriter, especially with 12 Rods,âÄù Olcott said. âÄúI spread myself really thin on the things I wanted to try out and capture in a song musically. I did a lot of rock stuff. I tried a lot of ambient stuff, but I never really felt like I captured a song. But with this group and our resources we kind of locked ourselves into this focus.âÄù

OlcottâÄôs Mystery Palace trio is the simmering resultant of his involvement with circuit bending. The technique, most critically associated with the contemporary noise scene, involves the gutting and resoldering of simple audio devices. While last monthâÄôs âÄúNervioâÄù EP demonstrates a greater diversity than basic electronic ruminations, this technical practice has come to be OlcottâÄôs creative and songwriting nucleus.

As is the case with many newfound benders, Olcott started his tweaking practices on a commonplace childhood toy back in 2003 âÄî a bit before the dissolution of 12 Rods.

âÄúA friend of mine named Markus Lunkenheimer from Skoal Kodiak just kind of opened up one of his old Speak and Spells,âÄù he said. âÄúI was kind of like âÄòWow, this is really all it is.âÄôâÄù

Naturally, Olcott has moved from this fledgling phase of electronic reinvention. His house now plays host to a graveyard of modified sound devices. Even with this wealth of untapped machinery, Olcott still falls upon his old standby, the Yamaha PSS-470.

âÄúIâÄôm always either improvising on that stuff still or writing music on it,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs funny. Who else is going to do it? No one else is going to take this machine seriously. ItâÄôs like a $30 keyboard you get on eBay.âÄù

This mindset of creative resuscitation isnâÄôt simply part of OlcottâÄôs productive process. ItâÄôs somewhat of a metaphor that aurally drips onto every Mystery Palace track. His electronic implementation dances from blippy âÄô80s anachronisms toward lush millennial atmospheres.

 At the bedrock of this technical waltz are the irremovable instrumentations of bassist James Buckley and drummer Joey Van Phillips. There is an uncanny pop cadence that the two bring the project âÄî something that softens OlcottâÄôs otherwise synthetic compositions.

âÄúThe sound is the guys with me,âÄù Olcott said. âÄúJamesâÄô bass tone and JoeyâÄôs ability to follow the sequences that are thrown at him, thereâÄôs really no one else I know that can make those sounds.âÄù

The effortless gelling is apparent throughout âÄúNervio.âÄù Van Phillips and Buckley are a presence that gives the whole project a Vangelis jazz-group appeal. A song like âÄúAmericaâÄù also weaves these contrasting cultural talking points towards similar realms of lyrical clashes. Amid dour surrealism, Olcott delivers a whisper of a chorus, âÄúWe live in America, she said/Hey, anything can happen.âÄù

ThereâÄôs something historically conscious and reflexive in these Mystery Palace moments. ItâÄôs also wholly apparent in OlcottâÄôs approach to circuit bending itself.

âÄúTo me at the time it was kind of, you know, post-modern,âÄù Olcott said. âÄúYou harvest the sounds right, and it sounds like something a little bit more extensive than it really is.âÄù

With words like that, it almost seems like Olcott doesnâÄôt see himself as a true player of these instruments. Even if that is the case, heâÄôs still one helluva conductor.