Tristan Shone, also known as the author and punisher of the individual industrial act, was on tour for the opening of the legends of prog-metal Tool in March 2020 when the quarantine began.
The last three shows were quickly canceled. Shone, now 44, drove his van from Portland, Oregon, to San Diego, unaware that the pandemic would end up costing him 42 more gigs that year alone.
“I went home and kind of processed where [my wife and I] were,” he recalls, noting that he was lucky enough to still be able to work “in that lab in the university’s health sciences department.”
“A job in this lab” is an understatement. Since 2007, Shone has worked at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at the University of San Diego, designing and building custom complex detection instruments for electron and optical microscopy. (He also happens to have an MFA focused on “electromechanical sculpture” from UCSD, not to mention a long history of playing in heavy metal bands.)
In his off hours, Shone turned to other pursuits: surfing, hiking, making pizza, and creating music. Lots of music. “I settled down with a fridge and beer,” he says, “and from May  until October or November, I was just writing.
The end result is krüller, the ninth album from Author & Punisher, is out this Friday. The record, featuring guest appearances by Tool’s Danny Carey and Justin Chancellor, is vast, heavy and all-consuming. There are also meditative ambient passages, making it less sonically aggressive than Shone’s last two albums, 2018. land of beasts and the previous year American Ursus.
However, it is an album with an intense sound. And the subject matter is just as important: Shone sings, grunts and sometimes shouts about ecological collapse and human cruelty. In the past, he often used a voice distortion filter strapped around his trachea. He does it again krüller, but it is much rarer here. You can hear her actual singing, lending an air of vulnerability previously absent from her work.
The album feels, in a word, sorry. When I tell Shone this during a recent video chat, he nods. “In terms of ‘desolation’, that’s exactly what we’re going through,” he says. But Shone says he “made a real effort this time not to just throw in the towel for cynicism because it’s such an easy thing for white people to do.”
As if a new Author & Punisher album weren’t enough, Shone is also launching Drone Machines, a longtime company that will bring budding noisemakers everywhere more or less the same rugged controllers he uses in his live performances. .
The first three planned products are Knob, a hand-sized rotary controller made of customizable materials (like metal or stone) that spins on ball bearings, for sound modulation; Rack, consisting of two keys that slide back and forth on parallel rails and can manipulate pitch; and Lingot, a single massive wheel that can be simultaneously spun while sliding side to side in order to control attack, speed, and volume.
Over the past 18 years, Shone has built these and many other instruments, the most recognizably Rails, a forward and backward sliding pistol-grip controller programmed like a drum machine. “I really had a lot better luck getting the sound I wanted by doing it myself,” says the musician, who speaks in a measured voice, trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) to break down his inventions for the casual admirer without going too deep into technical jargon and abstract explanations of how physical strength translates into electronic sounds.
“Having an engineering job, I’m able to interact with this type of equipment all day,” he says. “The machine shops I deal with, I’m able to make these things while I’m doing my job. I ask the machinist, ‘Hey, how are the parts for our lab?… And also, how are the parts for my is the equipment okay? “” (Shone’s bosses are well aware of his music career and provide him with a flexible schedule to get out on the road.)
Drone Machines, a small boutique he runs with partners Jason Begin and Adam Reed-Erickson, plans to start shipping his gear this spring at prices ranging from $500 to $2,000. Shone sees instruments as a much more dynamic way to create electronic music than just turning knobs and pushing buttons. “So many [EDM and industrial music] has become Pioneer turntables and laptops now,” he says, “and these guys are dying to have some kind of physical movement on stage.
However, Shone has qualms about turning his instruments into a business venture.
“It’s something I’ve always struggled with a bit,” he admits. “Once you become a business, is it still fun? So you have to make money, and then you have to make decisions like, ‘Oh, we have to make this plastic thing instead of metal.’ (For the record, he doesn’t skimp on materials: “A drone machine will eventually survive you,” promises the promotional sheet Shone sends me after our interview.)
Shone hopes to make Drone Machines both a business and a way to create communities of DIY industrial artists. “Everything is going to be open source,” he says. “All the electronics are programmable – it’s a completely open frame.” In theory, anyone with the tools, hardware, and know-how will soon be able to clone Shone’s controllers. Eventually, he says, the company will foster forum- and GitHub-based communities for musicians, concept artists, and tinkerers with their own drones.
It’s clear that Shone doesn’t envision Drone Machines becoming the next Moog or Korg – the hardware requirements, along with its commitment to remaining a small, independent company, won’t allow it. Still, Drone Machines has the potential to help usher in a new era for industrial music, one that lives up to the name of the genre.
In the meantime, he has a new album to promote. At the time of our first conversation, Shone was finally set to tour overseas again. Last week, however, it announced on social media that it was canceling or postponing shows in the UK and Europe due to the surge in the Omicron variant. “Believe me when this is sorted I will be there,” he wrote.
In a later conversation, Shone admits to having some apprehension about re-entering the music scene. “I haven’t been in front of people in a while. I arrive singing this [new] songs in a naked, melodic way that I’ve never done live before,” he says. “I’m a little terrified, to be honest.”