Future Prairie Radio Season Three Episode Twelve: The Art Part with Michael Davis-Yates
Hello, I’m Michael Davis-Yates. I’m a guy that makes audio stuff that I really like. And that’s my motivation for it. I was raised in Benton Harbor, Michigan as an adopted child of two really cool people. My mom was a teacher. My dad worked for the city and sang in the Lakeland Choral Society and St. Joseph Michigan. Through them, I got a real love for music. My dad was a jazz guy. And also, he worked with his vocal group. My mom was the president of our church choir for as long as I can remember, music was always a big part of my life.
As a kid, I was kind of an oddball nerd, and I spent a lot of time alone as an only child, even though I had pretty hardcore group of friends in my neighborhood. I always found time for myself to find things out by breaking electronics by accident and then taking them apart with a screwdriver to see what was inside. Junior High was a big one; I blew up my first speaker with too much power from an amplifier. The smell of the electronic smoking and the impact of the driver blowing out was pretty cool. I wanted to know more, and I kept with it.
I’m definitely not as outgoing as I’d prefer to project. My life as a DJ is an excellent example of that. It insulates me from the public aspect, because I’m out, but I’m not really out and available. I don’t have to interact that much. I’m a huge nerd. I still keep a day job, which was heavily brought to me due to Cstm Math and my speaker building. It all turned into a portfolio. Now I’m working for a company that I’ve been with for about four years that’s in Portland. We build studio monitor speakers for professional recording studios. That takes up a lot of my time. I’ve been DJing at night and on weekends (until COVID hit). Now I’ve gotten a lot more time to focus back into things and realizing that there is no rush. The ideas are there and working on them and making them better has been a great asset to me.
I’m making speakers and boomboxes. A lot of my boombox work now has been based around vector recreations of retro boomboxes, or imagination stuff that pops out. Yeah, that, imaginary stuff. I work with plywood mostly. Laminated plywood is my favorite thing to work with, stacking the layers of Baltic birch to get a really cool edge effect.
Cstm Math is a name that I came up with a couple of years ago for it. I’ve been building speakers since 2011. And at the time, I created a name, Leap — Lamar Exciting Audio Project. Lamar is my DJ name, DJ Lamar La Roy, and that was a thing. I kind of got jaded after a while of working with that, due to outside influences in my speaker building and decided to step away from that.
Cstm Mathematics came up during a point in time where I was reading up on the 5% Nation of Islam. They have a thing called supreme mathematics, which is the numbers one through ten with a symbol that represents a step of knowledge and learning, understanding. Reading through that, it felt kind of inspiring. It inspires me. Custom Mathematics means I do customized speaker work. I need to customize this because I definitely can’t focus on the pre-mathematics because there’s some problematic things with that whole ideology. But the ten parts were pretty prominent, and that’s where Cstm Math came from.
The public art showing was going to be in June, and it was going to be a straightforward showing of my works from the last seven years and up until the latest stuff that I’ve been working on. But over this time, I thought more about reaching out to other artists that I know from my experience in Portland to collaborate with work, and I believe that’s the direction that it will take. Now, as far as an in-person showing, I don’t know if that’ll actually be possible, the entire premise of that would be to have as much traffic as possible, and if traffic is going to be stifled by mandate, that’s kind of a non-starter. At the same time, not needing to produce this live event would open up a lot more time to dial in my website, which is in sad repair at this moment. That could be an excellent formal introduction to everything.
I will have a public showing. There are two parts that are going to be focused on in the showing, when it happens, in whatever form it happens. And that would be the retro design boxes, or things that are straight out of my imagination. When it comes to the ones for me, they’re a little bit more on the hi-fi side of things, where sound quality is the first concern, along with that cabinet construction being solid. And I laminated plywood, because it gives me the ability to mill out internal forms that you can’t make by gluing panels edge to edge, you know, traditional manufacturing processes. It gives a solid sound when you dunk on it, and I like that. Whereas the retro designs are more focused on the adornments which are...Well, it’s a combination of traditional table saw work, along with laser etching. I use a tiny laser in my basement to cut out single pieces. Imagine an old school JVC boombox has little silver buttons for tape deck, play, pause, and all that stuff, or tiny switches and small bezels over the speakers, all those parts, I’m cutting out singly with a saw or the laser, then reassembling them at varying levels of height to add a three dimensional element to the facade of these boom boxes. Vector art and tedious gluing.
As far as art making...the art part of it all is pretty much the main experience. If I can remember that far back, I’m getting pretty old now, I feel a professor actually mentioned that that might be the most essential part of any art — the process.
Living through things is going to be my lifelong art project. I’m a beautiful person inside and out. For the future, I have two things on my mind. I’m a strict nerd when it comes to what I desire. If I have a plan, I chip away at it until it’s finally executed. That’s what all this has been in roundabout ways that I didn’t predict. Hopefully, at some point, I will be creating a venue, but my central part is building a legally insane system that makes people feel something they’ve never felt before. And it’s mostly for that, not for profit, per se or the usual things. But I mean, the system is actually what it’s been called in my mind a lot, but it’s the space that would encompass a music venue, performance venue, with an insane sound system, hence the name. Al recording facilities. It would be a community hub type situation where people can do whatever they want without needing a gatekeeper’s okay to get in and perform or pay absorbing fees, or anything that. Kind of what Regional Arts and Culture Council does for people, except embodied in a tiny venue that’s a niche. That seems a farfetched goal nowadays with COVID dampening the parade. My biggest dream would be chilling somewhere, in a small manufacturing shop, making stuff.
My creative routine is not too creative at all. It essentially involves getting up for work early in the morning, going there, spending eight hours, getting off, taking about 30 minutes to breathe a little bit, and then going in the basement and looking around at what there is trying to get to it. I’m still in the baby stages of it, I feel, I haven’t really hit my stride. It’s more of a, I know if I can keep myself focused on the goal, keep on chipping away at it, I’ll get somewhere at some point. And the chipping away feels pretty good to me. I don’t have a problem with that.
We definitely need more art to get a lot of views across nowadays, especially for things that really matter, because we happen to live in a time where attention spans are very short. And it seems it’s something that’s done on purpose to keep people chomping at the bit of near insanity. To tell the truth, the last few years, culminating with now have been quite frightening. I wouldn’t say depressing, because it’s far too scary to get into a slump for me. It feels we need more art to like, allow people to speak without shouting over each other, and have a comment that actually lasts. You can walk away from your moment of anger and then see that again and say, “Hey, maybe I’ve caught a message here.”
Seek out help, because there’s a ton of support here. Portland is a beautiful city to live in. I can’t say that there’s any place I’ve ever lived in the United States that offers as much help towards its citizens trying to get a leg up doing whatever it is they’re doing. For a long time, I did not pay attention to it. It wasn’t until last year that I spoke with a friend who mentioned to me three or four more friends who had ideas and approached different entities and have their dreams come to fruition. If you have your passion, follow that passion, because that’s going to be the thing that drives you, no matter what.
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