I Am Robot and Proud: The WL Interview

Purveyors of: Shiny bytes of joyfulness

File next to: Mouse on Mars, Matthew Herbert, Telefon Tel Aviv

Playing: Wavelength Monthly Music Series, Saturday April 13, 2019 @ Brothers Dressler. Get your tickets here!

Shaw-Han Liem has been creating music under the I Am Robot and Proud moniker for some time now, seeing the project transition from solo bedroom producer to world-traveling full band over the years. The pristine, effervescent electronic wizardry has not only maintained its joyful sound but has found its focus by merging with coding and interactive video. Wavelength’s Aaron Dawson caught up with the musician, video game composer, and video artist to find out what’s new.

These days you are performing with accompanying musicians, although you started out playing solo. Can you tell us about how this transition came around, and how or if it influenced your recording process?

I grew up in Toronto and played in bands all my life, so that type of process is really comfortable to me. Just being in a room with your friends and working on ideas, learning from each other, trading ideas. So even though I record a lot of this music alone, when it comes to playing live I like having that group dynamic. The musicians who’ll join me this Saturday are Robin Buckley (drums, percussion), and Mike Smith (bass, synth)… both good friends that I’ve played with in various situations around the city, and have played on my albums and toured with me for years.

You create not only music but also beautiful video work that is directly integrated with it. You’ve said that these days you are merging the creation of those visuals much more into the process of making new music and recording new albums. What is your dream for this and where do you see that progressing?

I started out doing reactive projections for my live shows about 10 years ago, and I’ve explored the idea of merging musical logic with visuals in other ways (most notably the Playstation game Sound Shapes which I co-designed). But this year was the first time I really integrated my visual work with the songwriting process. I’ve been posting short audio-visual sketches on my social media over the last year, and a lot of those things are what eventually became the songs on the album. The process has really opened up a lot of interesting musical ideas because it lets me “see” the music in a different way, and think about musical ideas from a different perspective (for example, symmetry, balance of positive/negative space, etc). 

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 The name of your latest album is Lucky Static. Is there a story behind that title?

I guess it’s another way of saying “happy accident” – a lot of times the most interesting sounds come out when you do something unintentional and maybe the software or piece of gear responds in weird way… and you all of a sudden hear something. This is the feeling I think I’m always chasing, it’s the real payoff for messing around with gadgets and mumbo-jumbo.

 You spend a lot of time touring in Japan, and it seems your music is quite well-accepted there. Can you tell us how that came around and what the differences are to touring and performing in Canada?

I made a record that came out in 2006, which was essentially ignored in Canada but had a really great response in Japan. If I’m being honest, I have no idea why. Since then I’ve gone back often and have had the chance to work with and collaborate with a lot of Japanese artists and labels. Japan is a great place to play music, there are fans of every genre and tons of activity and music lovers of every kind. 

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ありがとうござます tower records shibuya 💿👀

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What we can expect from your live show at Brothers Dressler this Saturday?

We’re preparing for a month-long tour that will take us all over Japan, and this will be the first time we’re playing out a lot of new material. This will also be the first time that each of the three musicians will be connected to the visual system individually, so in terms of “seeing the music”, it’s a tighter link than we’ve done before. I realize that electronic music performance can sometimes seem aloof or opaque to the audience, I hope this is something that helps people connect with what we’re doing.

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