Joe McMahon

(Pemungkah) Chat Tech (Plays with Spud)

Joe McMahon is a programmer, musician, and photographer. At RadioSpiral, he works on our chat, including our bot, @spud (and does other techie things, but only admits them to Spud ~ Gypsy).

Joe’s original musical experience was as a trumpet player, playing in his school band. He was lucky enough to have a middle-school band teacher who was a Berklee grad, and who introduced him to jazz and improvisation. In 8th grade, he got his first real introduction to electronic music via Wendy Carlos’s “Clockwork Orange” soundtrack: that first note of the theme, with its more-bass-than-anything timbre and internal phasing sealed his fate as an eventual electronic musician. A 45-minute chance to play with an ARP 2600 in 9th grade just made it more so.

He continued to be interested in electronic music, taking a class in college from Gil Trythall, who in 1979 (Joe’s senior year in college) added an “electronic music for non-majors” class to the curriculum (formerly, you could only get your hands on the college’s synthesizer if you’d taken four semesters of music theory). With access to a Micromoog, a sixteen-step analog sequencer, two tape decks and a splicing block, Joe found out that he had a knack for electronic music and that he loved making it.

After college, Joe went to work for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center. In 1989, NASA finally started getting on the Internet, and NASA management encouraged everyone to have a presence on newsgroups and mailing lists to help promote that yes, NASA was now out of the dark ages (though Joe was still working on basement-filling mainframes). One of the places that he found was a mailing list called EMUSIC-L, where the actual music aspects (as opposed to pure gear discussions) happened. Not long after, this guy Metlay showed up and joined the discussions. They soon became fast friends.

Mike and he went on to become co-moderators of the list, and Mike helped him decide on his first keyboard in 1991. Mike invited him to the not-as-successful second Team Metlay gathering, and later to the wildly successful Ballistic sessions, where he, Mike, and DAC Crowell mastered Joe’s first album, Shatterday, all performed with only his trusty Ensoniq VFXsd.

Between then and 2007, he continued to play and compose, sticking to his VFXsd, only adding a Lexicon Vortex and eventually an Ensoniq SD-1 to replace the VFXsd (still his only keyboard!). He contributed the second half of Rethink/Pemungkah — the name of which is the source of his oft-used handle — to Beneath Stars, the last Team Metlay album. In 2007, he brought some tracks to Different Skies at Arcosanti to see “if anyone thought they were any good”. Everyone encouraged him to release them as an album, and in 2009, Ocean Music came out on Earth Mantra.

Since then, Joe has continued to compose and has released several albums of music, including an album-length track to Jack Hertz’s Fog Music series. He has performed live on RadioSpiral and in the 2009 Droneshift performance at San Francisco’s Luggage Store Gallery, and participates when he can in the Disquiet Junto. His music can be found at pemungkah.bandcamp.com and on archive.org.

He needs to get his trumpet chops in shape again sometime.