Nick Demopoulos Brings His Surreal, Starry, Deviously Entertaining Sonic Universe to Chinatown

by delarue

Guitarist Nick Demopoulos has a formidable jazz background and was a member of paradigm-shifting drummer Chico Hamilton’s band for several years. As you might expect, Demopoulos is also a pioneer – as an instrument builder. In one of his more colorful solo projects, he plays his touch-sensitive SMOMID, which stands for String Modeling Midi Device. With its twinkling lights, it looks like the instrument James T. Kirk would play to seduce an alien babe after a long trip into the future. The sounds he gets out of it are just as entertaining.

The first time this blog caught him playing it was in the spring of 2017 at Troost in Greenpoint alongside Moist Paula Henderson – who was playing EWI instead of her usual baritone sax – and Dorothea Tachler on vocals, keys and mixer. His solo set there just over seven months later was just as trippy, and surreal, and immersive. There’s literally hours of material on his Soundcloud page which will give you a good idea of what he sounded like that night.

Parenthetically speaking, that we would be talking about something that happened over five years ago like it was yesterday, or if it was news, is more than a little problematic, right?

The good news is that Demopoulos has picked up like he was never interrupted. His next gig with his space-age instrument is on March 11 at 8 PM at Downtown Music Gallery.

The way the SMOMID works is that when Demopoulos strikes a key, it sends a signal to his computer, triggering a vast available number of samples, from bagpipes to birdsong. The first Soundcloud track is the closest thing to EDM there, and a red herring: don’t let it turn you off. Things get fun in a hurry after that: imagine R2D2 playing a carillon.

Organlike textures underpin squiggly, twinkling loops and every little springy, mechanical texture you can think of. Animal noises and flitting human vocal samples also pop up occasionally. And despite the wild panoply of sounds, Demopoulos’ tunes are straightforward and catchy.

The last number in the long WKCR broadcast up at Soundcloud is a rare example of Demopoulos in full-on goofy mode. There’s a loopmusic aspect to this, but most of what he does is live. He typically uses a steady rhythm and likes a trip-hop beat. And while most of what he’s playing is in the upper registers, he can work woozy, synthy P-Funk bass sounds, or a pretty fair digital approximation of a digeridoo. At those 2017 Brooklyn shows, he built soundscapes to get lost in and could send you off to similarly unexpected places at the Chinatown gig.