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Q&A: Ben Greenberg Of Hubble, The Men And ZS On "Cyber-Dread" And "Shred-Fi," Playing Guitar On His Bed-Stuy Rooftop, And Not Being A Boner

Q&A: Ben Greenberg Of Hubble, The Men And ZS On "Cyber-Dread" And "Shred-Fi," Playing Guitar On His Bed-Stuy Rooftop, And Not Being A Boner

Ben Greenberg's riffs are so virtuosic, they prompt the young ax-dude to toss a Steve Vai quip as he transmits dizzying sonic waves from his Bed-Stuy roof .

Jokes notwithstanding, the tat-covered, mop-topped Greenberg geeks out and slays in his myriad projects including longtime experimental pioneers Zs, the recently defunct noize-punk Pygmy Shrews, and the Men, for whom he'll now be playing bass. But as of late, the bulk of Greenberg's playing has been as the lone member of Hubble, a minimalist one-man show of cataclysmic fret-hopping grandeur. The recent Hubble Drums (Northern Spy) is a shred epic—three massive, equilibrium destroying jams drenched in glorious delay and loopage action.

Sound of the City talked to Greenberg via email about Zs' duo show at Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and Hubble.

How and when did you think up the idea of Hubble?

Over the summer of 2010, I started to realize I wanted to make something more specifically guitar-based without other instruments involved. I began climbing up to the roof of my house in Bed-Stuy and playing guitar all day, every day. After a week or so, I started recording myself and focusing my playing. I don't remember when I started doing the militant stereophony, but I do remember seeing Rob Lowe roll up to a Lichens show on a bike with his modular synth in a messenger bag and thinking to myself, "I gotta ditch these guitar amps and start going direct!"

Are Hubble compositions all written and rehearsed? Is any of it stemmed from improvisation?

None of it is written down on paper, except the first riff I ever came up with. From there I just started coming up with endless variations and remembering them. I have structural signposts or whatever in mind when I'm playing live, like I'll be thinking about how a small germ of repetition is going to splay out or resolve a few minutes ahead of time. I'm improvising, in a sense, but I'm doing it within a very focused lens of melodic/rhythmic/performance constraints, so it isn't exactly total freedom to play whatever comes into my head, or the whole thing would fall apart!

But i guess that's true of any improvisation. I don't know, I think everyone's improvising on stage, to a degree, just like how Azerrad says all music is psychedelic.

Can you differentiate your musical approaches to Hubble and Zs? Do you play a different style in both bands?

I play different songs in both bands, but my approach to playing music has always been the same: Play hard, don't be a boner.

You were in Pygmy Shrews and now joined the Men, two bands decidedly un-ZS and un-Hubble like, at least in my mind. How challenging is it to play the music the Men plays one night and doing a Hubble gig the next?

It isn't challenging at all. My mindset is the same going into any performance sitch, play hard, don't be a boner, etc. Honestly I don't even like to think about my different musical avenues as being all that separate. Everyone's coming from a similar place, trying to do a similar thing.

Where is your mind at when you're playing with ZS, Hubble, the Men and when you were in Pygmy Shrews?

In all instances I'm usually just trying to avoid eye contact with the audience, which is much easier when I'm not playing solo.

What do you classify Hubble as playing? Is there a genre Hubble occupies?

I call Hubble "Cyber-dread," which is a joke genre that Joe Williams came up with. I think it was Joe or it might have been Matt Papich, I forget. Cyber-dread is about fear of already living in the future. Sometimes I call Hubble "Shred-fi," too, which is more of a joke on the more, ah, Vai-esque aspects of what I'm doing. Both terms are a joke. I think genres are a joke in general.

Was there a question if ZS would play again since you are super-busy doing your projects and recording duties and so is Sam with Diamond Terrifier?

Definitely not! ZS has been incredibly busy behind the scenes, working on all new material for our next LP.

How is your new piece Hubble Superposition different from Hubble Drums?

Hubble Drums is the name of my first full-length album. It came out this past November, and it contains three separate pieces of music for solo stereo electric guitar, and some synthesizers. Hubble Superposition is one long-form (40 minutes to an hour) piece for Quadraphonic electric guitar. It can only be performed live, since there isn't really a good way to capture and distribute multi-channel sound beyond stereo. Unless I did a surround sound DVD, that is, but how many people checking out Hubble really have a 5.1 system set up in their living room? I've performed Hubble Superposition at the Berkeley Art Museum in California, the BCA Plaza Theatre in Boston, the TOPS Warehouse in Austin, Fairchild Chapel at Oberlin, and now I'm going to do it for the first time in NYC at BAM. So excited!

 

What is "quadraphonic electric guitar?"

Quadraphony is any audio system which contains four speakers playing discrete material, or four separate channels. Just as stereophony refers to a system of two discrete sources, coming out of two or more speakers, but two channels of audio is the main thing. My Quadraphonic setup for Hubble Superposition is very simple, I send my guitar signal to each of four speakers placed in the corners of a room, and each speaker is slightly delayed from the last, so the sound moves in a circular motion around the room. This opens up a myriad of exciting possibilities for a musician like me. I love feeling sound move around and manipulating its motion with my hands. It's almost a magic act.

Will Hubble always be just you solo? Will you add other players into the mix?

I've been working with a number of collaborators on material for my second full-length album. There aren't any specific release plans yet but keep your eyes peeled. I'll be releasing some interesting media involving other musicians before the end of the year.

You and Sam will be debuting new ZS material as a duo at Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. How is the new stuff different from the old?

The old stuff was like an old Soviet tank driving down Main Street; the new stuff is like a spaceship landing on City Hall.

Do you have something against drummers, since you do Hubble alone and ZS as a duo, at least for the Crossing Brooklyn Ferry gig?

Well, my first instrument was actually drums, so maybe it's not so much that I have something against drummers. But more that I'm rarely impressed by them. That said, I've had the pleasure of playing with the best drummers in the universe: Jeremy Villalobos, Alexander Perrelli, Brian Mcomber, Rich Samis, Ian Antonio, Ben Shapiro. I played with Ray Barretto once. He was a dick.

You recorded one of the best albums of last year, White Suns' Waking in the Reservoir. You seem to be in demand as a producer. What new recording gigs do you have on tap?

Hell yeah! That record slays. The new Pop. 1280 record The Horror fucking slays too, check that shit out! I've done seven or eight records since the beginning of the year, and I'm really stoked on all of them. Keep your Google searches pointed at Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang, Pampers, Zulus, Sleepies, Organs, Rapstar, Patrick Breiner's Beyond Animals, Icon Chasm, Bad Credit No Credit. But honestly the upcoming projects I'm most stoked on are my own. We're heading upstate next week to start work on the next Men record, ZS is gonna start laying down tracks in Sam's basement after we get a few more shows under our belt with the new material, and I've been slowly amassing new Hubble recordings (including guitar/bass/drum jams and some acoustic jams) for the next LP. Oh yeah! And there's gonna be a Hubble 7" in the fall called Hubble Mingle. It's coming out on a new label out of D.C. called Company. They're sick bros and I'm stoked on it! It's two sides of stereo acoustic guitar jams. Super stoked!!!

ZS plays BAMCAFÉ Thursday, May 3rd as part of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Hubble plays BAM Rose Cinemas Friday, May 4th as part of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and The Stone Saturday, May 12th

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