Numbers on the Mast formed in 2002 after Eric Archer, Trey Smith, and Matthew Thies met while working at KVRX, the student-run radio station at UT Austin. Each was motivated by a common curiosity to coerce new sounds from whatever audio circuitry was on hand for abuse. The three soon began meeting regularly to discuss sound, and to develop a process for turning their personal audio experiments into an evolving group performance. Musically there were strong elements of minimalism, an obvious paradox for audiences who witnessed the extended onstage setup of three mixers, an analog synthesizer, six function generators, a dozen effects pedals, various delay units, two samplers, a CD player, turntable, Gameboys, strange homemade devices, three guitars, a gong, and correspondingly massive piles of audio cables. The setup itself included elements of improvisation, which complemented the nature of the group's compositions and ensured that each performance was completely unique.
Around the time the group's self-titled album was recorded, Trey was heavily into pure electronic feedback, achieved by plugging the outputs of his equipment back into its inputs. Trey and Matthew amassed collections of sound clips from film and television, which became blurred and twisted as they made their way through NotM's process of aggressive mutation. Matthew also used circuit-bent toys rigged to malfunction, processing their sound heavily through a vintage ARP 2600. Eric was often found producing drone frequencies from test oscillators and using a microphone as a small hand drum. A favorite game of Eric's was to tune a sine wave oscillator to the deepest resonant frequency of a room, sustained at the highest possible volume. Depending on the space and the sound system, this had different consequences; in one case, the vibrations set loose a shower of white paint flakes from the ceiling above the stage. Throughout their history, the band performed in numerous disparate venues ranging from backyard parties to downtown bars, the Church of the Friendly Ghost, and the sanctuary of the Scarlet Woman Lodge (the local chapter of Aleister Crowley's infamous Ordo Templi Orientis). Occult, mystical, and mathematical concepts found recurring expression in the group's work, along with subliminal suggestion and sound frequencies with trance-inducing qualities.
Within an overall tapestry of dark and foreboding sounds, Numbers on the Mast also maintained their own brand of surrealistic humor. As one example, a sinister and watery sound that appeared in one of the band's compositions was actually a recording of Trey taking a bath. On another occasion, Eric used a portable DAT recorder to sample the sounds of a fundamentalist Christian revival being held across the street from where NotM were scheduled to perform that evening, and the looped and distorted clapping and chanting became the bizarre introductory segment of the night's live performance. At other shows, the band practiced the methodology of clearing the minds of audience members with a long period of sustained hypnotic drones. Thus primed, captive listeners would be receptive to a verbal message (even if it took the form of abstract nonsense) and would have no choice but to interpret it some personally relevant way. Terrence McKenna, Osama bin Laden, Yngwie Malmsteen, and other diverse voices were all co-opted by a group whose motives and intentions occupied the spectrum between ambiguous and incomprehensible.
Trey now resides in New Orleans, but returns to Texas occasionally for reunion performances with Matthew and Eric. artificial music machine is honored to release the long overdue full-length album by Numbers on the Mast, who earned their place as one of Austin's most skilled and creative teams of experimental sound artists.