Audio Flora on Coding House Music

Chris Weller grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, playing guitar and tinkering with a lot of antiquated music software to create industrial electronic music. Upon moving to Pittsburgh to get his engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University, he fell in love with the dusty warehouses of the Steel City, where promoters frequently threw clandestine drum-and-bass shows. He then got his start making dance music of his own, and sold CDs and tapes to anyone who would listen.

After graduating, Weller moved to Fort Collins for a microprocessor gig. He would lug around an entire desktop computer, complete with CRT monitor, as well as 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 jetted out to Stanford for a minute for graduate school, where he started appreciating the vibes of soulful West Coast house music. Those sounds would eventually morph into his most recent project, Audio Flora, which just released an EP, Always Riseon Denver’s Quite Right Records last week.

After Stanford, Weller had moved back to Fort Collins, where he took a break from music to focus on starting a family and undertaking more typical Colorado activities like skiing, biking and home brewing. However, the itch for music was always there, and eventually, he reformed his studio and began the Audio Flora project. Since then, his most popular track has had 75,000 plays on Spotify alone, and his account has seen nearly 13,000 plays a month.

But Weller still stays pretty low-key, and only recently started parlaying with local crews, such as Quite Right. Being a computer engineer allots him skills that musicians seldom 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 artwork for his releases.

Westword spoke with him about the rave scenes he participated in, the intersections between technology and music, his evolution as a musician, and how he would like to see the Colorado scene embrace his music.

Westword: What was the scene like in Pittsburgh?

Chris Weller: When I first got to Pittsburgh, a friend took me to a club down by 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 became famous. I had never heard anything like that before. Jungle and DnB were kings there at the time, and I was certainly hooked. I remember the city had so many soot-covered old warehouses, rusty buildings and bridges and funky spaces tucked into the hillsides. I remember art and music events in some of the grungiest spots in that town, but everyone came and got down. Really fun times, and I think Pittsburgh is a really unique city.

You lived in Fort Collins the first time you moved to Colorado. What was it like raving then compared to what you see now in the state?

Besides the obvious progression of musical styles and fashion and such, I think many events these days feel more like concerts. The venues are legit 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 cops.

DJs nowadays are usually put up onto stages with everybody in the audience facing directly at them like rock stars. Back in the day, you’d often go into a venue and have 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 discrete little DJ booths in the corner of the venue. I probably had some of the best times of my life with no idea who or where the DJ was, just getting down to the music with the friends and strangers in my vicinity of the dance floor.

What is your musical background?

I played a mean clarinet in grade school and really got into guitar in high school. I take piano and guitar lessons on and off every couple of years to try and stay sharp, but I’ve probably forgotten more than I know at this point. I really like working instrumental parts into house music, so I practice enough to cruise around on the pentatonic and blues scales and record 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 kid. When you have a baby, your hobbies take a serious back seat for a while.

How did you end up getting into making house music?

I made the odd house track now and then for many years. In 2017, when I put my music studio back together and started producing as Audio Flora, I wasn’t totally sure which direction I was going to take. The landscape of electronic music changed a lot during the 2010s while I was away, so I started trying out some different styles. I actually tried making some bass music and EDM tracks, emulating the styles of artists like Pretty Lights and Koan Sound, but I wasn’t totally feeling it.

I produced a couple of house tracks on a whim and sent them out to labels, and got one of them signed to a nascent house label in London. That was really encouraging, so I decided to just stick to the house music I knew and loved. I still dabble a little bit with other styles but am pretty focused on house.

What’s your day job and day-to-day life like?

I’m a computer engineer. It’s a challenging job, and I then get home and I have two little boys that need a lot of my time and energy. By the time they go down for bed, it’s 8:30 and I am usually exhausted.

I think 8:30 is chill-the-fuck-out-on-the-couch time for many 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 wind. Sometimes I take a twenty-minute nap around 9 pm to help me power through, which my wife thinks is legit insane-person behavior.

How have you figured out how to integrate your professional skills with your musical ones?

I do a lot of coding for my job, and I find ways to use that in my music project. I’ve developed a few VST plug-ins and write lots of little scripts and tools for generating interesting sounds and sample banks sometimes.

What benefit do you find from coding your own VSTs?

I love using randomization to search for interesting sounds and musical ideas, but I find randomization in many standard plug-ins to be pretty lacking. Many will just have a button that looks like a six-sided die that you push, and the knobs snap to new positions using some generic, hard-coded distributions.

I often want to get in and have more control over the probability densities and constraints, so the few VSTs I’ve created allow me to do pretty common stuff, like MIDI drum pattern, arpeggiator and chord randomization, but with really fine control over the parameter randomization.

How do you incorporate the 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 might write a little script that randomly picks two claps from my sample library and mixes them with random levels and relative delay. I’ll have the script generate 100 of those in new audio files and then audition them in Ableton Live to see if I find anything interesting. I tinker with the Max for Live system in Ableton a bit as well, building little randomizable modulators.

I also do a lot of procedural graphics programming to render visuals and videos that I use for promos and cover art. I use the [programming language] Python and interface it into [3D rendering software] Blender to procedurally generate various scenes of geometric patterns, landscapes, flora, [and other things]. I’ll let it run for a week to produce a bunch of renders. Afterward, I’ll just scroll through them and pick my favorite couple of results.

Where are the most surprising places you’ve 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 sort you’d expect to hear on big stages anyway. I was surprised to find my music getting played around Mediterranean beach clubs and by DJs with residencies in Ibiza. That wasn’t a sound I intentionally targeted, but apparently my music sets a good vibe for lounging by the pool with a cocktail in hand! I’ve heard my tunes on Ibiza Global Radio, and I find them in Mixcloud mixes from DJs in Europe and South Africa, mostly.

How would you like to see the Colorado house-music scene host your music?

That’s a good question. I’ve been really studio-focused, always trying to produce better tracks and getting them signed on the biggest labels I can. European house labels have been the best fit for my music thus far. Those labels do little to help me in Colorado, though, so I’m working more on building some relationships with Denver promoters and labels – hence the new track out on Denver’s Quite Right Records. As far as gigs are concerned, I’ve always tried to perform my music somewhat “live,” but I’m moving toward a more traditional DJ setup now so I can be more versatile. My ideal gig is gonna be a sunny afternoon, cocktails-by-the-pool party, so I’m always optimistically on the lookout for those!

Always Rise is out on Quite Right Records. Get a copy on Beatport.

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