Oliver DiCicco talks about nearly three decades with Mobius Music Recording
Although Mobius is no more, a new studio is operating in its place called Decibelle Recording Studio. Founded by JJ Wiesler, who leases the location from DiCicco, Decibelle gives the impression of quiet, easy professionalism, starting with the wall of neatly mounted guitars in the main room, the isolation booths in the back and state-of-the-art control. room. It’s the latest incarnation of a space that originally existed just for DiCicco and his friends to make some loud, creative noise.
Accidentally fall into the music
Originally from New York, DiCicco had no immediate interest in music as a professional activity. But a car accident while attending the University of Buffalo put him in traction for several months, giving him both time to think about future options and, along the way, earn some money. through a settlement. Part of the funds were used to purchase a small Moog modular synthesizer from the company’s nearby factory, which led to a series of positions there. He eventually returned to New York, where a studio owner in White Plains let him store his Moog in exchange for the opportunity to observe how to run such a studio, gathering technical advice and experience in the process of road.
He came to California by a similar fluke. “Friends of mine had moved to California after college and said ‘Hey, why don’t you come over, bring your synthesizer, we’re going to form a band.’ It was the winter of 1974 – it was when Patty Hearst was kidnapped and there was a free food giveaway,” DiCicco says. “I moved permanently in the summer, lived in Haight for four months and then I found this building, I was with my girlfriend and we lived downstairs in the front, and there was this building in the back.
“I set it up as a jam space, I had a few tape recorders, and even then I was trying to build instruments. I had heard of [American avant-garde composer] Harry Partch and thought, ‘Well that’s the coolest thing, here’s this guy creating an orchestra of his own invention.’ During this time, I got a job with the ADT alarm company, doing the rounds and fixing their Muzak systems. I was there for about a year and I got fired, and about that time these guys paid me to record them, and I thought, ‘Maybe I should try to get a studio.’
DiCicco soon began doing business officially as Mobius. In many ways, his timing couldn’t have been better: in addition to the connections he had already made, an explosion of energy was just around the corner thanks to punk rock and a host of new bands looking to record. . As DiCicco notes, however, there were other challenges as a result — lack of money and time, or in the case of the Dead Kennedys, frontman Jello Biafra’s own particular standards.
“It was pretty much the seat of the pants, recording that stuff,” DiCicco recalled of the band. “Biafra was always saying, ‘It looks wimpy. It’s not fast enough! Once the guitars got into the mix, the drums got buried behind that wall of distortion. And then he would compose his vocal parts – he would sing five times, five vocal tracks, and he would take me from line to line. I had these sessions with him alone, we were doing changes, compiled vocals. These were all his performances, so there was a kind of authenticity, but it was getting very tedious – and he would hear if I missed something! He would close his eyes and if I missed a switch he would say ‘No!’ »
Over time, DiCicco worked to improve Mobius, purchasing high-end recording equipment and remodeling the studio. A proud moment came when he bought and installed a complete 24-track Neve console (see the photo at the top of this piece). However, DiCicco is not foggy when it comes to the shortcomings of the board.
“It was like owning a British car. You were constantly working on it,” DiCicco says. “That sounded good! It really is a great sounding board. But the amount of work to get this thing working, all the modules working, it was very time consuming. Periodically I would remove all EQ modules, open them up, spray all the switches, clean the connectors, put them back in, make sure everything was working. Invariably, an outside engineer would come into the studio and walk over to the single module and say, “Ah, dirty switches!” “
DiCicco’s recollections of the many generations of performers and acts recorded at Mobius span a range of talent and notoriety.
“Ten percent of the sessions I did were really fun, ten percent were horrible, and the other eighty percent were somewhere in that bell curve,” he says.
DiCicco offers sessions that fall into that ten percenter category, praising in particular the work of Bill Frisell, Bay Area experimental guitar legend Henry Kaiser and Fairport Convention veteran Richard Thompson. Then there was a notable encounter in the 1990s with a famous ginger Texan who was in town to shoot an episode of Nash Bridges.
“Willie Nelson came in for an early morning shoot, 8 a.m.,” DiCicco says. “Willie got fucked up, they cut the track and he said ‘Let’s keep playing! He was a really lovely guy. He’s just the way he is – there’s nothing wrong with him. It seemed that the best musicians were the easiest to work with.
DiCicco identifies the turn of the millennium as the time when things began to change for the studio, not just with the business but his own relationship with it. Ten years before, DiCicco had founded a new parallel pursuit with the experimental music ensemble Mobius Operandi, reigniting his earlier interest in Partch and the composer’s approach.
“I put the studio pretty much where I want it to be, and I’m starting to get bored,” DiCicco recalled. “I went to see a therapist because I was unhappy with my life. She said, ‘Well, what do you like to do?’ I said, ‘I like to do things.’ She says, ‘Why don’t you do that?’
As his instrumental designs became more complex, his interests shifted away from Mobius, leading him to close the original space and sell much of his equipment in 2004. DiCicco for his kinetic sound sculpting work is now at Bayview, while what remains of Mobius as it was are photos, a few pieces of gear, and memorabilia. While Mobius has helped shape both his life and that of a number of acts in the city and beyond, and while Decibelle carries the flag for a new generation, DiCicco is ultimately content to have evolved.
“I never want to hang around in a recording studio again. That’s another chapter,” he says. “After a while, working 12 hour days in a studio, I didn’t want to hear music anymore. I couldn’t just put on a piece of music and enjoy it. Now I’ve been away from that for so long, I put something on now and I’m like, “Oh, yeah!”