Onomono: The Art of Intelligent Design

Born in cramped, darkened urban clubs and sprawling metropolises, electronic music used to channel the clanging ferocity of the city, filling listeners with a booming beat akin to the pulse of the street. No longer relegated to the foam-covered dance floors of Ibiza and New York, the increasingly diffuse electronic music scene thrives wherever electricity and determined composers can be found. Even the far-flung towns of Montana boast a few innovative producers. MSU’s own Shane Johnson (a.k.a. Onomono) is among them.

An accomplished graphic designer, Onomono blurs the line between the visual and the auditory, applying his innate knowledge of geometry to music. A palindrome, the name “Onomono” embodies this disciplinary convergence. “As a designer, I like throwing around names and working with them visually,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of graphical nature to it and I felt like it was most descriptive of what I am doing. Each sound kind of reflects off of the beat, like arranged letters.”

Apparent to anyone who listens to a carefully constructed Onomono composition, Johnson’s keen spatial awareness may be the key to his success in the studio. “It’s the visual element that is as much of an inspiration as the music and when I’m recording,” he said. “That’s what I’m going for.”

Unique in a sea of dubstep, neo-house and nu disco releases, Onomono’s albums spurn the clinical polish so many modern producers prefer, cultivating a warm and lush “lived-in” sound the analog giants of yesteryear would appreciate. Johnson remarked on this style, declaring “That squeaky clean shine on everything drives me crazy. Throw a little dirt on it for God’s sake!”

The synth-encased soundscapes on Johnson’s latest effort, “A View from the Second Layer,” contain vibrating concentric rings, notes within notes the texturally inclined producer relishes. “I use the synthesizer and that’s mostly because of texture,” he explained. “I like things to leave a certain taste in my mouth.” This desired “flavor” shines through in songs like “Grand Pianos Jumping out of Widows” and “Affect Effect,” tracks that swell and subside in a gently churning tide of electronica, a quivering, pregnant soup adrift in a crackling atmosphere. Firmly three-dimensional, these pieces feel architectural, comparable to intricate art installations and models brimming with eye-catching detail.

Onomono exits his orbiter from time to time, grounding himself with earthy hip-hop projects and collaborations. “I initially started making hip-hop,” he said. “It was the most natural, easiest route to making music, as it’s loop-based. My hip-hop work is still in the abstract, but how I sample is true to the genre.”

Johnson backs emcee Hemingway and he currently works with Michal Madeline, a female vocalist.

A rising local talent, the self-taught Onomono demonstrates considerable skill. His albums are available at Onomono.bandcamp.com.