Workday/Schoolnight not your average electro

by Ryan Snyder

There’s a lot of truth to be found in the old axiom “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Just ask Greensboro electronic musician and current drummer for Invisible ( Bart Trotman why he might be interested in something like an old Commodore 64 trivia database tape. Trotman, who performs under the moniker Workday/Schoolnight (, has become a thrift-store regular, constantly in search of new (consequently, old) sources of sound that create the framework for much of his material. Not that you’ll ever see him Dumpster diving for gear, though he’ll tell you with little provocation that he’ll eagerly snatch up a sweet piece of discarded electronics left on a curb if he can fit it into his scheme. Walk into his live show and it might look only a few steam-powered bicycles short of a miniature version of the Museum of Retro Technology. With a setup that includes three throwaway ’80s consumer keyboards, a tape player/TV/alarm clock combo and an ancient Hammond drum machine only a part of his collection, Trotman has distinguished himself of one of the most imaginative artists in the area. “This is stuff that I’ve been accumulating for years,” he said. “As opposed to having one fancy keyboard that does a thousand things, I have a lot of different things that are limited. But since I have a lot, I think it gives me a unique sound.” What’s his favorite find? Undoubtedly, he says, are answering machine tapes. “It’s one-of-a-kind music and only exists on that tape,” Trotman said. “I always try to play some of those at shows.” Avid fans of popular electronic music might greet this knowledge with a bit of skepticism, however. After all, progressive house band the New Deal shaped the majority of their studio debut around an answering machine tape of someone being fired from their job. But understand that the two concepts, however similar in practical application, are artistically worlds apart. Unlike some of his dance-oriented distant cousins, Trotman isn’t looking to pack club floors and festival tents with sweaty, glowstick-laden rave children. Instead, he creates dystopian soundscapes by imbuing his satirically witty choice of samplings with his own rather bleak societal point of views, especially regarding contemporary medical practices and the Food and Drug Administration. Think of Ben Folds forced to endure endless viewings of David Lynch films through the Ludovico Technique and you might approach where Workday/ Schoolnight is going. Though danceable grooves occasionally pop up in his music, despite paying no regard to trifles like beats-per-minutes, Trotman says that he doesn’t cultivate nearly enough confidence in his audience to get their feet moving. “They have to trust you that you’re going to continue to play a danceable beat,” Trotman stated. “If they don’t know what you’re going to do next or that you might kill the beat and start playing some kind of weird noise, then they don’t want to be caught hanging.” “I like accessible music, but I’m much more interested in making something different,” he added. “There’s accessible music everywhere, but when people come to see my show I want them to see something that’s very different.” Though he has been working on his solo material for around four years and produced four albums, Electronic Trash being the latest, Trotman only recently started performing live. His first live performance came in October 2008 and since then, has only played publicly a handful of times. Admittedly not the most adept pianist, his performances possess their own brand of avant-garde panache. “It’s very punk rock in the sense that I’m a drummer first and not a keyboard player,” he stated. “My keyboard playing is very limited, but I find that working with limitations is actually a really good thing.” That sort of honest transparency is evident in each of his performances, as Trotman prides himself on allowing the audience to see just how every sound is made. He engages onlookers not just aurally, but physically. While some artists utilize laptops to create a full, robust sound, they might just be playing Tetris or checking e-mail for all the audience knows. Many use complicated lighting schemes to fill the empty space created by the lack of movement, but that’s not the case with Workday/Schoolnight. His samples are the tapes he collects and not computer files, so the audience actually sees where the origin of the sound. “I’m putting the tape in and hitting play while creating a drum beat with my hands, as opposed to just clicking and having a full drum beat appear out of nowhere,” he added. Workday/Schoolnight performs at the Green Bean on Friday and at the Maya Gallery on Feb. 20.