FEBRUARY 23, 2004

Game Boys just want to have fun: Handface rocks out in the joy of the moment
By Michael Croland, The Tartan, February 23, 2004

This must be how people felt the first time they heard Jimi Hendrix play.

A year and a half ago, "eight-bit geek rock" band Handface formed when senior music and anthropology BHA student Seznec united with junior design majors Jon Brodsky and Alberto Almarza. Their lead instrunment is an atomic purple Game Boy Color.

"I play Game Boy on all songs, but for some of the songs I have a keyboard controller," said Brodsky. He means a computer keyboard, not a piano-like keyboard.

The Game Boy musical software was written by Role Model and is also used by a New York artist named NullSleep. Pittsburgh's 8 Cylinder plays several Game Boys, but with different software.

Every Handface instrument holds a lesson in unconventionality. Handface drags a small army of instruments, amps, and a "bucket" of miscellaneous accessories to their live shows.

Seznec started off using a bass guitar but broke it after he beat it with drumsticks. He replaced it with a guitar that he bought for $15 at a yard sale.

Seznec supplements the guitar sound by plugging it into a multi-effects box. Some output from the box goes to a special effects guitar pedals. The rest goes through a digital 8-track that "pitch-shifts" the guitar-playing to sound one octave lower. It gets funneled through a bass amp to give the impression of what Seznec called a "ghost bassist."

Almarza's percussion includes everything from an old drum kit to two Sonic Smash pedals, a tire rim, a lost student art project, a tambourine, and what his bandmates said resembles a stive burner.

"Alberto loves finding random Shit to hit," said Seznec.

Handface's music lacks vocals or anything that would firmly identify them with specific bands or genres. They are rooted in what Brodsky described as "structure, rhythm, and whatever."

The music takes off from Brodsky's playing a patterned melody and beat from his Game Boy repertoire. Seznec and Almarza improvise special effects guitar noises and abstract percussion. Beyond explanation, it somehow all works.

The one standout marker about Handface is that they embody "'music at Carnegie Mellon."

"[Our art is] a reflection of the crazy times we live in," explained Seznec. "It's perfect post-modern music --- this really crazy, digitalized, lo-fi music. I think that's what life is about now in a lot of sectors in the world, at least in our tech-school mentality."

Handface might be a trio of artsy majors, but the band still appeals to the computer-techie nature with their Game Boy-dominated style. They love to yell "best end ever" as songs conclude, which is a Simpsons reference. They have songs titled "Smells Like Headphones" and Copy of Smells Like Headphones," a joke that only makes sense to people who use Pro-Tools software.

"My parents told me we should tour all the tech-schools," joked Seznec.

"All the tech-schools with an art department!" added Brodsky.

Seznec has a concentration in music and a minor in music technology, but another shout-out to CMU music is the analogy between Game Boy music and our beloved bagpipes. Bagpipes produce a coarse but high-pitched screeching wail. They have inspired Brodsky's musical contribution to at least one Handface song. "[Game Boy] can emit painful noises," noted Brodsky.

Perhaps Handface's biggest geek joke is the title of their new album ... did you mean hand face? The title is what pops up first when someone types "Handface" into Google.

The album is Handface's fourth venture into the world of recording. It was recorded in a studio in CFA, as opposed to its predecessors which were recorded in Seznec's living room. Released earlier this month, ... did you mean hand face? is certain to expand your musical horizons for the better.

Song titles and content are fairly arbitrary, and the band members themselves are unable to identify which song is which.

"What's the song called where I play that keyboard part that's cool?" asked Brodsky when asked for his favorite song. After Seznec played the CD for him, he affirmed that it is the album's last track, "Wing Flaps Functioning."

The standout song on the album is the epic "The Exits are Located." It weaves together appealing riffs with momentous drumming. The song features a sample that sounds like it says "get the f-ck out."

"I think it's saying 'get down' or 'check this out,' " said Brodsky. "One of the two, I'm not really sure."

"We like making music that nobody else has ever heard before," boasts the band's web site, While they presume that other artists are playing similar music somewhere in the world, the band prides itself in its unusual sound.

Handface walks a fine line between innovative creativity and a joke that's lasted longer than expected. The band members are conflicted over the quality of their work, and decry it from being unique to avoid sounding pretentious. They have had some limited success, winning them gigs at such off-campus venues as The Quiet Storm and Rex Theatre last week.

"We don't take ourselves seriously at all," said Brodsky.

They are either living for the moment or attempting to rewrite music history. Either way, Handface consistently gets fans dancing around and rocking out, and then humming Game Boy melodies on the way home.

Handface will play several shows at The Quiet Storm next month.