Las Vegas was the only place to go. Years ago, Mike Silverman — aka That 1 Guy — moved to the Sin City to study under one of the world’s greatest magicians. His circuitous path had cast him toward arts both dark and sunny, and the lure of sleight-of-hand metaphor pulled him deeper into the desert. Of course, he brought his magic pipe with him. He brings that everywhere.
Early last year, That 1 Guy released Poseidon Deep Water Adventure Friends, an ocean-themed album that explores new territory for the versatile musician. It’s the first in a four-part cycle of albums that will cover the alchemical seasons (the rest including outer space, fire and Earth) and it’s a deeper exploration of the style Silverman has built for years.
The album opens with “The Great Navigator,” which calls to mind perfectly the rollicking tilt of a ship at sea. Silverman draws on melodies in strange sounds, using “the magic pipe,” a unique instrument he built himself. It comprises two aluminum pipes, each connected by phosphorus bronze joints and strung with an orchestral bass string. The pipes can be wired into any number of samples or effects.
Over the years, Silverman has contorted the magic pipe into a variety of fascinating moods and textures.
“I was kind of looking at this as a chance for me to do something that evolves on its own,” he says. “That’s what the whole alchemy cycle is about: transforming into something. It was sort of a personal exercise to try to get better at a bunch of different things that are all pretty difficult.”
He draws a comparison to reverb-drenched surf music, which more often than not sounds like the ocean. Biologically speaking, of course, the same goes for whale communication (see, naturally, “Whale Race” on his latest album). Throughout this latest album, Silverman manipulates the magic pipe into sounds that really do recall the ebb and flow of tides or the wobbling of trippy deep-sea organism. “Infinite Depths at the Bottom of the Sea” is a great example of his ability to combine the sounds of moving water with headbanging hooks and choruses. Even his vocals call to mind a swashbuckling sailor.
Think of the “magical realism” genre in literature and then apply that to music. Then make it even weirder.
Here’s the thing: Silverman gets obsessed about things. The ocean is a great metaphorical image for his work, as there’s an incomprehensible depth to those parts of the world. For Silverman, that’s kind of how he looks at music.
He began playing double bass and electric bass, soaking up as wide a variety of influence as possible (classical jazz, punk, funk, etc.). As he took his instrument further, he began reeling in a percussive element — banging on the bass itself, like a drum — crafting a one-man-band ethos along the way. Silverman took that attitude to the drawing board, where he began working on what would become the magic pipe and the next step in his life as a musician.
As he was building the instrument, Silverman worked through a number of sketches and blueprints. He ended up with about “30 percent” of what he set out do, mostly because he had incorporated all he really needed into this beast and because he had a gig coming up. Deadlines make the world go ’round. With his own instrument and his own style, Silverman tosses himself into his own learning process with full force. He’s been able to call the shots every step of the way with his music, literally creating sounds that no one else had previously dreamed up. His music ends up embodying the old “journey is the destination” aphorism. At home or on tour, Silverman is constantly pushing himself forward.
“I’m trying to learn things that I’m not even sure are there,” he says with a laugh. “You know when you kind of go down a path and you have a feeling about something, you know, ‘I have a feeling if I study this I’m going to get something out of it.’ That was the same feeling I had when I started studying magic. I didn’t really know why I was doing it, I just knew it felt right. I knew that maybe I could learn a vocabulary that I could use for other things.”
A couple years ago, Silverman began really incorporating magic into his sets. He organized a pre-concert magic show for VIP ticket holders. This is close-up magic, a genre that gets the audience as close to the tricks as possible. There’s no real stage set-up — just powerful, dazzling magic. It’s become his favorite part of the tour. And as a preamble to the concert, Silverman’s magic works in an enticing foreshadowing capacity.
Like any good magician, Silverman is controlling multiple variables at once. That much is evident onstage. In a broader sense, he’s working on the outer space album, which is nearly done, but he’s also found himself diving into a series of other compositions. He expects the latter will show up on a quick EP sometime early this year — the “result of working really hard on something else, when other ideas just pop out,” he says. The alchemical season cycle remains his overarching narrative.
Alchemy works as a great metaphor for life, after all. We’re all working toward our own transformations and trying to become better, fuller versions of ourselves. Music is one route, magic another, but we’re all trying to get to the same place.