Perhaps one of the most crucial elements to a musician’s success—especially in today’s world of complete music/media saturation—is the ability to network, make connections and get others in the field on your side. Word of mouth—that’s how I was clued in on the budding Florida-based electronic duo Bells and Robes. After returning from tour, Clark Smith (the sax man from Dynohunter) dropped me an email singing the praises of Bells and Robes, who opened for Dynohunter while they were in the humid Southeast. Not long after that, I scoped out their SoundCloud page, and, needless to say, was more than a little impressed. Thus is the power of great music and better homies to help spread the word about it.

I [Luke] started playing piano when I was 10 years old. I took lessons for 8 years and was in a few bands around that time. In 2006, I got music production software and started making some electronic music. Dean started playing drums in high school. He began making beats on a classic MPC and helped some rappers get some songs started.

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It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with musicians who are as thoroughly invested in charting new territory and exploring the sensual qualities of music as the boys from Bells and Robes. After connecting as neighbors in college, Luke Sipka and Dean Spaniol—with years of musical background between them—made a promise to themselves and each other “under the penalty of death” to create soul-stirring music together.

We met in college at the University of Florida. We both wanted a record player and we were neighbors, so we split one and started a record collection. On the summer solstice of 2012, we signed a contract under penalty of death that we would finish an EP by the winter solstice of that year. Kind of an outrageous story, but that’s how it all went down.

Bells and Robes—a name adapted from a Zen Koan (below)—then started on their journey to produce music and explore its innate connection to the senses besides just hearing. The title of its first two EPs, “One Should See Sound,” comes from the same passage and encapsulates the essence of the duo’s music—sound that is not only heard, but seen and felt.

Ummon asked: “The world is such a wide world, why do you answer a bell and don ceremonial robes?”

Mumon’s comment: When one studies Zen one need not follow sound or color or form. Even though some have attained insight when hearing a voice or seeing a color or a form, this is a very common way. It is not true Zen. The real Zen student controls sound, color, form, and actualizes the truth in his everyday life.

Sound comes to the ear, the ear goes to sound. When you blot out sound and sense, what do you understand? While listening with ears one never can understand. To understand intimately one should see sound.

When you understand, you belong to the family;
When you do not understand, you are a stranger.
Those who do not understand belong to the family,
And when they understand they are strangers.

 

To its credit, the Bells and Robes sound is as unique and mercurial as they come. Whether on stage or in the studio, spontaneity and “happy accidents” are cornerstones of the Bells and Robes experience, resulting in tracks that have similar qualities but are never the same. (Bob Ross would probably dig the B&R style.) From lush ambient soundscapes to far out hip-hop beats to deep ethereal grooves, the Bells and Robes sound satisfies the soul and whets the appetite of even the most eclectic listeners.

Typically for song-writing we’ll start with a drum loop, chord progression, or some sort of sample. We write with software called Ableton Live. Typically we try to write as quickly as possible without any hesitation. We like to get the song laid out and then go back in and edit after there’s a general skeleton for the track in place. There’s a lot of spontaneity involved and we utilize a lot of “happy accidents” throughout the process. We love the quote “Write drunk, edit sober,” by Hemingway.

Like an increasing number of electronic acts, Bells and Robes makes the most of their live shows with a stage set up featuring a variety of tools—two keyboards, electric drums, a sampling pad and a trusty Ableton-running laptop—in lieu of a simple set of decks. Leaving much more room for improvisation and on-the-spot creativity, Bells and Robes (and others like them) are helping to push electronic music to new heights while raising the expectative bar on the part of both musicians and fans alike.

Our set up consists of me [Luke] on two Keyboards. One is a Moog Sub Phatty that I use for a lot of bass tones and leads. The other keyboard is used to control virtual instruments through a computer. Dean uses an electronic drum set to play live drums and grooves. He also has an electronic sampling pad that he uses to trigger samples, loops, and other FX. We use a computer running Ableton Live to control and trigger backing tracks that go along with what we’re playing. We try to incorporate as much improvisation as possible.

 

Between a positive, forward-thinking attitude and a keen ear for sound, Bells and Robes is just beginning to hit its stride. Check and the duo’s first two EPs, “One Should See Sound pts. 1 & 2” (both steaming in the header), and be on the lookout for a few new remixes for the likes of Dynohunter, The Heavy Pets and Will Brennen coming out soon.

Stay in touch with Bells and Robes by visiting its Facebook, Twitter and SoundCloud pages and official website. But most of all spread the music and spread the word!

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