Kirk Hellie Bio

By Teresa Antista

When Kirk Hellie was 9 years old he stuck his first Radio Shack microphone out into the San Fernando Valley to record the noise of the night. That thick valley air was rich, its stickiness serving not only as the climatic haven for the many rock star teased-’dos that sought refuge there; but also as Hellie’s earliest noise master. With his scratchy Sears’s brand cassette recorder, and boxes of Scotch C-90s, Hellie began to record. These ambient noise collages were the early markers of Hellie’s growing fascination. This noise had hooked Hellie’s tiny soul into the addiction of vibration.

At this point Hellie had strong indicators of his future musical success: he rarely ventured out of his boyhood dark room – except at night as a strolling minstrel – his nutrition was deplorable, and he had entered that sado-masochistic abyss commonly known as Catholic school. He was a natural. He was also becoming a bit of an inventor. Hellie had begun to ‘prepare’ the strings of his standard guitars to extract percussion notes, instead of chords. He had also stumbled across the contact microphone. In a frenzy over this new toy, Hellie had begun to create notes from everyday life. This music, pulled from the mic’ing of apple crunches, his small wind-up toys, the underneath of the chairs around the dining table, and the household plumbing became his earliest compositions.

This rich experimental stage was followed by that rite of adolescent self-indulgent cool, and his first taste of L.A. rock fame: the garage band. For most, the fondest stop in any lifetime. For Hellie, a profound bond of leather and music was born, along with the realization that distinct madness always finds a home.

With the waning of his hormonal musical connection, Hellie got serious. He went to college to study classical guitar, sitar, tabla and orchestration (classical) and arranging (jazz). By that proverbial stroke of luck that sneaks up on the driven, he found himself in the classroom of famed 20th century composer, and visiting Professor Aurelio De la Vega. Under De la Vega’s guidance, Hellie was introduced to the world of the Avant Garde composer. Heavily influenced by the classically trained journeymen of this movement, Hellie began to study and collect their scores, books and recordings. These works, such as; the I-Ching-method compositions of John Cage, the electronic soundbursts of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the homemade instrument legacy of Harry Partch, would become the formal basis for Hellie’s future work.

Now it was time to leap. Loudly, Hellie and his guitar landed on stage with former Sex Pistol, Steve Jones. Playing guitar for The Steve Jones Band, Hellie hit the road on several tours, with Iggy Pop, the Cramps and Hunter/Ronson.

While this was good, ripe experience, it was not quite the musical thumbprint he was headed towards. In fact, this hard time on the road only pushed Hellie deeper into the refuge of his purer boyhood experiments in vibration and sound. While still with Steve Jones, Hellie started composing in the art underground. He had created various experimental groups known differently as Hellie Siblings and Death Loop Detonator.

These groups furthered Hellie’s instrumental improvisations and led to the 1994 forming, and subsequent signing by Interscope Records, of his venture, Pink Noise Test (PNT).

PNT emerged as a sort of noisy homage to the Beach Boys. In a return to his scratchy Sears cassette recorder days, Hellie went to work on the band’s first independent releases. On PNT’s 1997 “Plasticized,” Hellie fed homemade cassette loops through Fender Twins, and turned an empty 50 gallon oil container into a percussion masterpiece. During shows, he began to create spontaneous, "on the fly" guitar loops, creating live variations of songs. This improvisational songsmithing has since become a mainstay for Hellie.

PNT’s commercial success and loyal following proved to him that there was room in the music world for his brand of exhaustive creativity and loud noise.

Today Hellie remains moored to the vast and strange musical world he has created. Disembarking from PNT’s pop song structures, he founded his musical alter ego, disKoNeKt the Hi-Fi. Touring internationally, disKoNeKt the Hi-Fi’s ever changing line-up is an attempt to work in improvised or semi-composed soundscapes. Much closer to the pioneering free-music ensembles of the ’60s, Hellie has expanded on these early ideas, and added his electronic mutations of guitars and strange toys.

Squeezing the most out of his current good mood, Hellie has also entered the world of “Power Electronics”. His related project, Caveat Emptor, is a joint collaboration with Edward J. Nervo (Home Audience). Working from the extremes of the aural spectrum, Hellie and Nervo have scoured the swap meets of the aerospace industry to pull together a futuristic arsenal of military test equipment, pulse generators, and other NASA-inspired instruments. The resulting compositions of Caveat Emptor are the modernistic conclusions of Hellie’s earliest noise compositions.

The beginning of the new millennium had brought even more and varied projects into the picture. Several string/orch. arrangements for various albums interspread with a long stint in London, England working with Nothing Records artists 12 Rounds. While living/working there Kirk played most of the guitars, bass, noise, radios, slinkys, along with some keyboards, etc. Unfortunately, with the demise of Nothing Records, the album may never see the light of day.

Back in the USA, Hellie collaborated in the now defunct caustic, art-punk band Tape. And returned to his obsession with the "pop song" with Meow Meow whose debut album “snow gas bones”(2004) garnered much critical aclaim, Meow Meow are now finishing up album #2 with the usual ridiculous amount of songs to choose from. You can still always hear Kirk “ghosting” on several other artists records contributing guitars, bass, keys and various sonic (mis)treatments.

It is his natural impression of a world where, in sound, all things begin and end. It’s that same boyhood dream to transform all of our noise into music.