My Favorite Martian: Ben Bracken

    Ben, could you tell everyone what you do at Cycling '74?
    As most employees do at C74, I wear a number of hats. When I first started at Cycling '74, I was doing Authorization and front line Tech Support. Being in direct contact with so many people using Max in different ways gave me a broad Max education — I'm very thankful for that. I learn so much from our user community! For the past few years, I’ve been doing “Internal” Support, which translates to a lot of different things. I make sure our engineers hear about user problems so they can be fixed. I also make sure the rest of the company knows about new features in the software, which also means heading up a lot of testing of the new features and bug fixes. Finally, I help determine what goes in the next incremental update to Max, and I’m in charge of building and deploying our installers.
    What do you do outside of work to exercise your creative energy?
    Currently, I'm working on a lot of music. My partner Ashley Bellouin and I make music and instruments together, and we are putting the finishing touches on an album of sorts, which feature some of the instruments we have built. We have a few performances coming up in early 2016, one at The Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, and one at Artist Television Access in San Francisco. I've been thinking about and prototyping a number of other instruments that I'd like to build, another many-stringed instrument as well as some ideas inspired by musical traditions of a few indigenous cultures from what is now modern Vietnam. I've also had the pleasure of working with a good friend, Chuck Johnson, on his new album, "Velvet Arc" (out on the Trouble In Mind label in late February, 2016). I played bass on a number of tracks and will be playing a series of shows with him when the record comes out. Although I am hesitant to call myself a DJ, I love sharing recorded music with people. I have a long-running collective with some friends called International Freakout A Go-Go. Our nights focus on music from around the globe, and we do a monthly at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco. We also throw special events at other venues throughout the Bay area, often with live band performances.
    You've been traveling a lot recently. Where and what?
    This year I spent time in lot of disparate landscapes. Some of it was for creative pursuits, and some of it was just for a change of scenery. I work "at home", and home can be a lot of places. I spent time in some very remote locales in Greece, Turkey, Norway, Sweden, and Hawaii, but maintained a full workload for most of the time. When I was in Sweden, I took a few weeks off and participated in a residency with Ashley at Elektronmusikstudion (EMS) in Stockholm.
    I can strongly recommend that experience! The studios are amazing, and we had a blast playing with the Buchla 200 modular synthesizer and Serge systems. There are a number of multi-channel sound systems, so diffusion and re-recording pieces was really fun. The staff there is incredible, and the place holds a lot of history. Stockholm in the summer is a very exciting place to be, with a lot of warm weather energy that people have stored up from the cold winters. I'm currently residing in Otis, Oregon at the Sitka Center for Ecology and the Arts, as my partner Ashley is completing an artist residency here.
    You get a chance to see a lot of people's work. What have you seen the really excites you?
    I'm most often inspired by the work of close friends. Marielle Jakobsons has been perfecting a new "visual instrument" that uses sound and light to create "cymatic" patterns in liquid. She is a long-time friend and collaborator, and I'm always amazed by her creative vision. You can see and hear her work here:
    I saw a number of excellent performances at the Lab in San Francisco this year, some highlights being Tashi and Yoshi Wada with a stunning piece for electronics, alarms, percussion and bagpipes, a duo of Aki Onda and Akio Suzuki which utilized found objects to create a cacophonous performance art/sound piece, and an incredible multi-channel performance by Marcus Schmickler which utilized "inner-ear" sounds (taking his cue from Maryanne Amacher's research), meaning, sounds that make your ears make their own sounds!
    While in Stockholm, I caught a few fantastic concerts. Ethiopian legends Mahmoud Ahmed and Alemayehu Eshete performed at an outdoor festival, modular synth genius John Chantler and field recording mash up maniac Mark Harwood played at a beautiful and intimate multichannel space called Audiorama, and we caught the enigmatic Haight-Ashbury legend the Space Lady at the impressive Trädgården music multiplex/rave zone.
    You've been a long-time resident in the Bay area. What do you think of the changes that you see there, and how is the artist community affected by the influx of Huge Money? Can the Bay Area art world survive this?
    Looking back, I think that the changes in the Bay area is part of the reason why I spent so much time out of town this past year. I live just a few blocks from a massive new development in downtown Oakland, the headquarters for Uber, which is a 423,000-square-foot office housing 3000 employees. This will radically change the makeup of our neighborhood, and practically speaking, will make it harder for many people to stay who are already living on the edge. I've had many friends start feeling disenfranchised and making moves to other places.
    Although it might be a little more acute in San Francisco, Oakland, and surrounding areas, these changes and issues are not unique to the Bay area. Everyone is talking about the problems of gentrification in their communities. I've been sad to see some long time Bay denizens leave, but I'm also constantly amazed by the creativity that is flourishing despite these conflicts and contradictions. I think such conflict has the potential to bring out the best in people, culture and art. I remain very optimistic, but the forces at work are focused on their own benefit so we can't just assume that everything is going to work out for the rest of us. I'm not sure what we can do to keep these powerful processes in check, but awareness of the problems is hopefully one step in the right direction.

    • Dec 30 2015 | 5:52 am
      Loved reading this article. He's always answered my emails with astute kindness; a true gentleman! (he's my favorite C74 employee... but don't tell him i said that lest his ego grow too big... haha, can't imagine it would with such a nice dude... hope i didn't write all that out loud :p)
    • Dec 30 2015 | 5:18 pm
      >>he’s my favorite C74 employee
      i am suprised to hear that you got one.
    • Dec 13 2019 | 12:05 am
      Cool article! Ben, I'm having trouble notarizing my app and there are few steps on your thread that are not quite clear. How can I contact you directly?
    • Dec 13 2019 | 12:12 am
      @JOSEP I'd recommend starting a new Forum thread (or finding a pre-existing one), and we can all learn together. There might be some other users who have useful experiences to share.