Nature boy

Downtown ambient-techno musician and illustrator Tycho leads hikes through a psychedelic wilderness

Tycho looking downward, not toward the heavens like his namesake.

Tycho looking downward, not toward the heavens like his namesake.

Sometimes a community college professor’s lecture on public-access TV can yield hallucinatory side effects. Beyond the geothermal music-box melodies, the disembodied lullabies and the sparse beats of Tycho’s “A Circular Re-education,” the viewer hears someone ask: “How can [we] find a way for everyone to have a voice? How do we find a way for everyone to have an equal share?” That voice was sampled from a Cosumnes River College professor’s lecture about the distribution of wealth in America, according to interpreter Scott Hansen, whose alter ego is electronica artist Tycho.

And yet, the lecture alters into something else when heard at so far a distance—a hallmark of Hansen’s aesthetic as Tycho. “Whenever I have visions, they’re always beyond my reach, just over the horizon,” he remarked in a phone interview. Alas, his songs and graphic designs often appear to be visions of 21st-century bucolic utopias as found in Jimmy Carter-era issues of Omni magazine, with their colors all faded, pages smudged with fingerprint oil, and corners torn. His debut album, Sunrise Projector, is set for a July 12 self-release.

The Tycho sound is essentially instrumental hip-hop that drifts in and out of sleep with early-1980s-style synthesizers, koto melodies, hymnal organs and vocal samples that hide in the bushes. “I just want to bring a psychedelic experience where [listeners] can just chill out at home with friends,” Hansen, 27, explained. “It’s not exactly party music; it’s more of an atmosphere.” If his music resembles a soundtrack to nature documentary videos, consider that he employed video images of arctic birds moving in reverse at his recent performances and that he named himself after the Danish Renaissance astronomer Tycho Brahe. Hansen traces this ecological aesthetic to his childhood of hiking in Fair Oaks before shopping centers became the new habitat there.

Such memories often surface in Hansen’s posters and album covers, where silhouetted trees and sightseers are superimposed on geometric impressions of suns, water sprays and rainbows. “They seem like things that happened a long time ago, and you can’t be a part of it,” he said. “You can only look at it.” His cover design for his now-shelved EP Huron Spectrum features the silhouette of a 1960s go-go dancer set against a retina-tightening bonfire of a rainbow. He dislikes the “retro” tag and its 20 pieces of baggage. “I’d rather call it ‘future-retro,’ because I throw in more modern design techniques to juxtapose with the [1970s styles],” Hansen explained.

Hansen became an electronic musician by accident. As a computer-science major at the University of San Francisco, his friend gave him a broken drum machine and audio sequencer. Neither Hansen nor the repairmen at Skip’s Music in Sacramento could salvage the goods. However, Hansen later toyed with an in-store Roland drum machine and fell in love. After joining the dot-com boom as a Web designer, he eventually ended up downtown, assembling a home studio. Hansen then obtained a bootleg CD of a mysterious, mathematics-obsessed Scottish duo called Boards of Canada. “They’re trying to evoke the feeling of the wilderness,” he marveled. “That’s what I’ve been chasing ever since with my music.” Boards of Canada’s childlike synth melodies and down-tempo beats all enlightened the melancholic Tycho sound.

Hansen veered into the Sacramento music scene with a bulky tower PC in 2001 at Marilyn’s to a mixed reaction. He eventually employed a laptop, which was easier to schlep, and a projector to display his choreographed images. By the next year, Hansen released his debut EP, The Science of Patterns, which sold more than a thousand copies. He gradually pieced together Sunrise and is now finishing up a remix album of older tracks, titled Life Sciences. He mentioned that his in-progress concert film merges a photograph and its illustrative copy together from two separate screens.

This notion of a holographic fusion of two characters also appears in his song “Dictaphone’s Lament.” Faintly heard in this ballad is Hansen’s mother, who asks his toddler self if he wants to hear a rock record. The same vocal track then seamlessly jumps 11 years into the future, with his mother speaking to his brother Kirk—melting away the time between moments.