Reginald Bowls and Sophie Sweetland rehearse in a Downtown Eastside loft that acts as a work space shared by nine artists, working in all different mediums: painting, photography, textiles, and in Sophie and Reginald’s case, coaxing cool, weird noises out of old machines and crafting them into songs that manage to be simultaneously danceable and sort of scary.
The gear lying around Bowls’ rehearsal space/office/workshop is unique and customized. Most of the various toys and gadgets lining the shelves have been gutted for wires and bits and pieces for use in Bowls’ mad scientist creations, which don’t appear in MT-40’s stage show (yet).
The room is like a synthesizer version of the Island of Dr. Moreau: an electronic drum fashioned out of a mannequin’s leg. A Barbie Cassette Player. A sampler made out of a kids’ play phone. A microphone encased in a toy bird’s head.
When asked about his favourite piece of equipment, Bowls gleefully pointed out a jumbled, seemingly random mess of wires. “It’s a bitcrusher,” he said. “It takes a digital audio signal that’s separated into bits … and it crushes everything into one. So it just spits out a chunk of sound.” Bowls then proceeded to play around with the tangle of wires—sorry, the bitcrusher—making all kinds of bizarre (and very cool) noises.
One piece of gear Sweetland and Bowls uses is an integral part of MT-40—the duo’s moniker actually comes from an instrument: the Casiotone MT-40, a keyboard from the early 1980s that Bowls picked up for $30 at the pawn shop next to Pigeon Park. “Pretty much every song’s written on the MT-40,” Bowls said as he laid out the rest of the gear that they use in their live performances.
Bowls plays an old Commodore 64 keyboard, modified to access the Commodore’s internal synthesizer. The sound it produces instantly evokes 1980s computer games, and this is a big reason why Bowls likes the sound. “I’m attached to the Commodore 64 just for nostalgic reasons, because I wasted a lot of my time as a kid on a Commodore 64. So I might as well be doing something good with it now.”
In concert, Bowls sings and plays the Commodore synth (attached to a volume pedal), Sweetland plugs away on the MT-40 and they’re backed up by pre-programmed drums on Bowls’ MacBook.
Their specific instrumentation is no doubt an important part of the duo’s unique and distinctive style. “All this comes from not having money, not being able to afford an actual synthesizer … but it sucks because if we ever lose any of this shit, then the band would be over.”
MT-40 plays the Memewar Magazine Release Party at the Railway Club, Nov. 5 and Night Shift Nov. 14 at the Astoria with Gang Violence, Myths and Animal Bodies.