Jono Milo’s Expansive Digital Universe

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(Photo: Jane Bruce)

Sometimes talking to Jono Milo can be a little dizzying: He drifts between IRL and Internet existence seamlessly and seems to know everybody in the world of Net art and ambient experimental music. It can be hard to keep up if your understanding of it all is rudimentary (or worse), and if Jono were made to stop and explain the backstory of every underground tape label–Orange Milk, I Had An Accident, 1080p–and every piece of animation or audio software that he references, well, that could take hours. It’s hard to blame him, though, for going full throttle on the esoterica, because as a Net artist, founder of a new tape label (Afternoons Modeling), musician (Daytime Television), and tireless collaborator, well, this is kind of his thing—and he’s really good at it.

When speaking with Jono, I recognize about a quarter of the allusions he was making to other Net artists and Internet sub-genres (i.e. vaporwave, chillwave, seapunk, health goth), making sure to nod and scribble down the rest so I could look them up later. Jono utters words like “post” and “tag” without feeling the need to qualify these actions with “on Facebook” or “on Twitter.” The stream of proper nouns and names isn’t completely unusual for people deeply embedded in certain “scenes,” but Jono’s way of blurring the lines between the physical world and the digital, I imagine, can be a bit of a challenge for people not as hyped on Internet culture.

Jono and I met at an apartment above the Silent Barn, the home for artists-in-residents at the DIY-space-gone-legit located in Bushwick. Before we sat down at a long wooden table to talk, he pointed under the table and apologized for a slumbering man. The place is jam-packed with artists, so space is understandably pretty limited in here, but the guy under the table was evidently used to this sort of thing and stayed right where he was for the next hour or so.

Jono is back in Brooklyn after a brief hiatus in Pittsburgh; he returned here when he scored a spot at Silent Barn. “One of my homies that runs sound downstairs, he kept tagging me: ‘Oh the open call, the open call,’” he said. “I really wanted to come back [to Brooklyn] and do more work here, but you know rent’s so expensive and it can be tough trying to get anything started. So he thought this would be perfect for me.”

Over the past seven years, I’ve seen his development as an artist mostly over Facebook and Twitter. Jono’s had his hand in several different sub-genre scenes: vaporwave, what he calls the sea punk “movement” and, most recently, health goth. Before sub-genres became a big to-do, we lived in the same town in Michigan for a few years, then adjacent towns, and eventually just bumped into each other at shows in Detroit. So for me, Jono has been absent as someone I speak with directly, but present as someone I peripherally know, someone who’s always popping up on my Facebook feed with a new project, a new album, or a new piece of Net art with hundreds of likes.

Jono, like his work, is transient and without borders. In the time I’ve known of him, he’s moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Detroit to Ypsilanti, Michigan to Portland, Oregon to Pittsburgh and Dayton, Ohio (where he’s originally from) to Brooklyn, from Brooklyn, and back again to Brooklyn.

We spoke about recent disappointing developments in Brooklyn: The closing of Glasslands, 285 Kent, Body Actualized, Death by Audio, and many more, all within the past year. “It’s definitely the cost of trying to get stuff done here that makes it hard for these venues to keep going on,” Jono says.

Cost is something that’s been prohibitive to Jono’s permanency in Brooklyn, he admits. But despite the obstacles for artists and musicians living on the cheap, he’s excited to have the opportunity to stay for a while. “I feel like the Silent Barn especially is lucky in this way,” he says. “There are all these resources at the Silent Barn that aren’t just events that will sustain it for a really long time. “

Both the space itself and the location of Silent Barn have afforded Jono opportunities for collaboration in the area. “I’ve been sending a neighbor here all these projects and my whole thing is I want to make an algorithmic composition app,” he says. “So I can take my laptop to a show and it’s basically me curating the sound files and the application will be kind of a random usage generator, but [the picks] are seeded by other ideas, other core progressions, so it sounds like pop music or an R&B song, but all the samples come from something I’ve created beforehand.”

Jono’s music today is a massive departure from the time he played as part of the band Daytime Television (a moniker that is now reserved just for Jono). A former member of the band described the music he helped Jono make back when the band played house shows and dives in Michigan as “way dark and Krautrock sounding.” In those days, Jono played guitar alongside other musicians, but now he’s focused as a singular musician on creating ambient music through software-based compositions. Most recently he’s been employing algorithms to help him create ambient audio collages of sorts.

“Lately I’ve been using Rapid Composer, which is like a band in a box,” he explains. “There’s like the phrase and you pick a core for the entire phrase—like I want this song to be in F Major—and it suggests different chords and MIDI notes for you throughout the phrase.”

“I pump out songs like that probably two or three times a day. Sometimes I feel like I should just give them all away or something,”  he laughs. This is how Jono composed “Anxiety,” a new track inspired by recent events that he dubbed “#class_warfare #idm #juke #police_state #anxiety #drone #crisis #chiptune.”

And though this particular collaboration began just days ago week, Jono says he’s been trying to get this idea inspired by a Japanese app called Vocaloid off the ground for at least a year. “It’s a lot like this Japanese app where you can take your phone and sing into it, and there’s an algorithm that will cut up the sound of your voice and turn it into like a J-Pop or K-Pop song. I thought it would be sweet to have the Westernized version of it.”

Jono hopes that an integral part of his app will be live shows. “Every performance of it will be different every time,” he says. “It would be kind of neat to coordinate a tour around that, one where every performance is going to be completely different regardless of what I do.”

Though his music has seen a distinct evolution over the years, Jono’s preoccupation with Net art and the creative possibilities of the Internet has been a longstanding fascination. He’s thrown a series of Internet-based shows over the years, where the audience meets not in a DIY space or a bar, but on the Net. And he’s also interested in the ways in which video games relate to Net art. Last week, he hosted his birthday party at the Silent Barn and invited each guest to bring a video game console. “It was so loud in here, it was like an arcade,” he says. “It was really fun, and unfortunately a lot of people are against it, like, ‘I’m not a bro, I’m not a gamer,’ but I think that as Net artists, video games are something we should really be looking into.”

Jono isn’t just a video game nerd, he’s also been at work with LA-based net artist Cassie McQuater on creating a video game-based music video for an upcoming release. He’s brought this tech sensibility to Silent Barn in other ways as well: On New Year’s Eve he helped organize an art and music show, Sousveillance 2015, dedicated to exploring the issue of surveillance.

“People don’t feel really comfortable about surveillance, it’s like a really polarizing subject,” he says. Yet somewhat awkwardly, Silent Barn has recently acquired a security camera which is placed on the non-residential, ground level of Silent Barn–something that Jono and others have mixed feelings about. Sousveillance was all about exploring the implications of that camera, and  also made use of other recording devices to create a sort of surveillance grid throughout the venue as part of an art installation.  “I think we’d be saying a lot more if we could have the camera up here [in the living space],” he reasons.

Though his residency at Silent Barn ends in February and Jono plans to return to Pittsburgh to fulfill a Flight School Fellowship he received there, he promises he’s not done with Brooklyn. “Oh yeah, I definitely want to keep coming back,” he says. “I really like being able to connect with everybody here, but there’s a lot going on at the same time. When I come back to Brooklyn again, I’m going to have to be a little more reserved.”

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