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For STS9, technology opens new paths

| Thursday, May 4, 2006

The music of Sound Tribe Sector 9 takes on varying hues and tones, with elements of rock, jazz, hip-hop and ambient music present from song to song.

Why, then, is STS9 most often categorized as an electronic outfit?

"Within what you're hearing, whether you recognize it or not, there's a lot of electronic elements," says percussionist Jeffree Lerner, who will appear with the band tonight at Mr. Small's Theatre in Millvale. "It can be masked sometimes by how rooted we are in organic instruments. Even the electronic quality of a song may be that organic instrument tweaked out. It can be a bit ambiguous in that respect."

No matter how it's presented, there is a hypnotic quality to the quintet's music. Formed in Atlanta in the late 1990s, STS9 has undergone a series of transformations after starting out as a jazz-funk trio.

Lerner -- whose bandmates are keyboardist David Phipps, guitarist Hunter Brown, drummer Zach Velmer and bassist David Murphy -- thinks the band took a natural course that led to the group's current direction.

"We never set out to be an electronic band," Lerner says. "It was just a natural progression of where we were headed with our interests and the time and energy we put into things."

What enabled STS9's current sound, however, is technology. All band members write and compose on that most impersonal of instruments, the computer.

Traditionalists might deem that heresy, but Lerner says technology has opened up new avenues of creativity.

"I can only speak for myself, but I'm a percussion player," he says, "and in a traditional sense percussion players aren't necessarily writing songs. But through the technology I'm able to come up and create ideas that can be shared with the group."

However it's created, the music is presented with a warmth and depth that is atypical of other electronic outfits. "Artifacts," an album released last year, showcases a range of styles and emotions. Live shows are similarly diverse.

"We treat our music like a conversation," Lerner says. "We think of the song as the subject matter, and we're all listening to each other; we don't speak over each other. And if someone has an idea that goes off on a tangent, we might follow that idea. ... It can change subjects, we can say the same thing we said last night if we want to, or we can incorporate the things we learned into it."

The band is also noted for its extensive and inventive live shows, and state-of-art sound quality. At heart, however, the band's goal is similar to that of Grateful Dead or any of the other bands who elicit communal reactions and responses and attempt to raise consciousness.

Lerner admits that while STS9 strives for this fusion of music and awareness, the band has to be careful not be heavy-handed.

"Those things speak to the intention of the music," he says. "The interpretation of the music is another thing. How the listener takes it is really where the empowerment or consciousness comes into it. Just by intending a song to raise consciousness doesn't mean it necessarily does. It takes the audience as well to cover a part of that process. But that's what we believe in; we're just five gentleman who have taken the time and energy to put their lives toward their dream. We're living it, and that's the example we're trying to set." Additional Information:

Sound Tribe Sector

With: IsWhat?!

When: 8:30 p.m. today

Admission: $18

Where: Mr. Small's Theatre, Millvale

Details: 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com

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