The Chronicles of Smomid: The Visual Electro Artist Discusses His Handmade MIDI Instrument, New Album

Electronic artist Smomid is no stranger to thinking outside of the box.

A performer, musician, and instrument fabricator, the unique artist employs a self-created “String Modeling Midi Device” – or Smomid – to create songs featuring abstract textures and ambient spaces. 

Originally a plain ol’ guitar player, Nick Demopoulos, A.K.A. Smomid, sought to create an instrument where players could interface with computer software, allowing them to modify and shape sounds while playing. His solution gave birth to the “String Modeling Midi Device,” which also emits light through high-powered LEDs and illuminates visual animations through several displays embedded in the instruments.

Demopoulos created the first device in 2010, and since, he’s released three full-length albums using only Smomid and Pyramidi instruments. “Geophilia,” the lead single for his upcoming album, further explores his sound, using scattered beats and dream-like synths to create an electronic landscape. 

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Smomid’s album, Cyber Solstice, releases July 29th, and looks to capture audiences and entrance them with heavy beats and sonic versatility. 

We got the chance to chat with Smomid about his upcoming album, instrument design, and much more. 

Can you tell us about how you got your start in music? Who or what drove you to pursue it professionally?

My first memories of music was listening to Bach as a baby while my mom was doing Yoga. From that point forward, I always loved the music of Bach. I played trumpet in elementary school and really got into playing music from that. At the age of 14, I started playing guitar, which is an instrument I feel very aligned with, and what I use to experiment with harmony and improvisation. 

I blame the reason for me being a professional musician on my high school career counselors. Despite being a straight A student, I got rejected from every college I applied for. I went to a community college for two years, and then was accepted into a guitar program at USC, where I received a degree in music performance. I was working professionally as a musician starting around age 18. Despite not being the greatest career financially, being a musician is an infinite pursuit that constantly humbles, surprises and amazes me. 

When you’re designing and building instruments, are there specific sounds you intend to replicate?

When I was first building instruments I wanted to make sounds that would sustain forever, which is typical of a synth or organ sound, but is the opposite of a guitar sound, which decays into silence quickly after a note is created. I never initially wanted to replicate any existing sounds, but did try to build sounds that were very expressive and could be manipulated with the joystick on my instrument. Now I like sounds that I can tweak while I am playing them, making them evolve, bark, scream, cry or moan by manipulating them with the controls on my instruments. Speaking through the sounds of my instrument is the most honest thing I can do. 

When you created the first String Modeling Midi Device, was it before or after its completion you came up with the idea to make songs and albums centered around it?

I made my first String Modeling Midi Device (SMOMID) as an experiment and a challenge to myself. The first iteration of the SMOMID only worked for like two weeks then died because of some design flaws. I started actually making music with the third iteration of my Smomid instrument, which actually worked. I released the first Smomid album, Rhythms of Light, five years later in 2015.. 

How might fans expect to hear your personal sound develop or evolve on your upcoming album, Cyber Solstice?

Cyber Solstice is different from all my previous Smomid albums. Previously, I recorded all my songs live and edited together different live takes. I made Cyber Solstice more like a traditional album where I recorded each instrument separately and layered them on top of each other. The reason for this is because Cyber Solstice was made in lockdown 2020-2021, and I had all the time in the world it seemed, plus my instruments, plus an eight track multitrack recorder.

I think you can hear this layering effect easily on songs like “Geophilia” and “Adrenachromatica,” where there are lots of Smomid tracks layered on top of each other in harmony. I also overdubbed guitar onto some Cyber Solstice tracks, which I have never previously done on a Smomid recording before. It seemed to be something that some of the songs needed, so I added it into the mixture. Having said that, some songs, like “Digital Stimulants”, are live recordings that I added extra parts to. 

Where was it produced and who helped it come to life?

Most of Cyber Solstice was recorded at a bedroom in my Mom’s house in LA, where I carved out a little music nook to make some noise. I mixed the album at my apartment in Brooklyn, NY, which took over a year to complete because it took awhile to get all the layers of synths, doubled parts, synth basses and background parts to get balanced sounding in a mix. It might be hard to hear, but most every every synth melody is doubled or in some cases quadrupeled with other synth parts. 

I produced and recorded all the music myself with some exceptions. Evan Schwam, an amazing multi-instrumentalist, recorded the flute part, including a great flute solo, on “Harmonic Wave Interference.” Evan and I both played in Chico Hamilton’s group Euphoria. We were in touch often during the lockdown and sent musical ideas back and forth constantly. I really wanted to do a collaboration with him, so this piece was kind of composed with him in mind. 

I also got together with drummer Donald Sturge Anthony McKenzie during lockdown a few times. Once we recorded samples of his beautiful sounding 10 piece drum kit. You can hear these samples throughout Cyber Solstice, but especially on “Cr8tive De$truction”, where all the drum sounds are from Don’s kit. Don thinks of the drums like a piano, with a very wide range of drums and cymbals occupying different parts of the auditory frequency range. His drum sounds kind of inspired a lot of the beats I made on Cyber Solstice. 

Also Cyber Solstice was mastered by Michael Fossenkemper, who managed to get most of the crazy piercing high frequencies out of my mixes. Other than the people mentioned, I did everything including the cover artwork for Cyber Solstice. 

What has been your favorite or most rewarding part of making this album?

Making [it] was really an incredibly cathartic experience. Like most people during the lockdown, I need an escape from all the craziness happening in the world around me. I sort of lost touch with reality because the internet was my main source of news and there was so much misinformation floating around. Making music gave me something to get excited about. I would record stuff almost every day, then listen to it in my car stereo while I drove to the beach late at night. I’d hang out on the bluffs in Santa Monica looking at the water late at night after listening to what I had created that day, and would meditate on what I wanted to record for the next day.

Given the importance of visuals in your performances, what does a dream gig look like for you?

I think the perfect setting for me to present what I do is an intimate gallery or theater type setting. I like to project my visuals on a wall close to where people are sitting and near where I am playing. I want my audience to be fully immersed in what I am doing in a Muti-sensory way. It also helps me get inspired by what I am doing if it’s a smaller space. I feed a lot off the audience’s energy, so if I am close to them it helps me interact and build a rapport with those present .

Where do you draw inspiration from when you make songs?

I get ideas for songs from many different places. Most often from just jamming or experimenting with myself or improvising on the guitar. When I happen upon something I like, I will record a little snippet of it and revisit it later to perhaps flesh it out into a composition. I also come up with a lot of cool ideas by mistake. I’m sure everyone makes mistakes, but if you make good sounding mistakes and let them get away, I feel like you are missing out on a huge resource.

What’s one feeling or takeaway you hope to evoke in Cyber Solstice when it releases later this month?

I hope listeners of Cyber Solstice will feel experience a multitude of feelings: excitement, peace, pensiveness, questioning, inspired, horny, anxious, and hyper to name a few. I think the compositions on Cyber Solstice are so different each one evokes different feelings. If you listen to the whole album from beginning to end, it should feel like a journey that was hopefully unpredictable, stimulating and thought provoking. 

What else can we expect to see from Smomid for the rest of the year? (Musically or otherwise).

Since I finished [the album], I started working on visual content for my new material to be used for live performance. I feel like this new visual content is far more exciting and interactive than anything I’ve done previously. I am also working on some new music compositions that are totally different from what’s on Cyber Solstice. Later this year, I plan of resuming work on an exciting new instrument I am developing. Hopefully I will be performing on this new instrument by next year.

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