Based in L.A., Devin Sarno is an experimental composer creating in the worlds of improvised subsonics and low-end drone music. His pieces are reminiscent of his own influences, such as William Basinski and Stars of the Lid. It is clear that Sarno's work is so thoroughly composed, whether it be consciously or subconsciously, through the lens in which he views the sound world. The subtleties in his music are indicative of his seeming tribute to the feeling Sarno himself senses when listening to low-end drone music, as he creates immersive and meditative sound environments. Over the span of 27 years, Sarno has produced numerous works that constantly evolve and grow.
Describe your work in 1-2 sentences.
Improvised low end drone scapes.
How did you initially come across working in sound?
I guess it was around 1990 when I initially started to experiment with bass in a solo context
(under the name “CRIB”). I was in a band at the time and essentially was just looking for an
outlet to experiment a bit outside of that realm and see how I could push myself and the
instrument in general. I suppose for the past 27 years I haven’t really stopped. Granted, it’s
mutated over the years into different permutations of duos, trios, ensembles, etc. but at the
core has always been the solo work.
Can you elaborate on your work with subsonics?
I remember vividly a SWANS show in L.A. back in 1986. It was the first time that low end
affected me physically. To the point of making me ill. I had to leave the venue. While of course
that’s an extreme end of the spectrum, it always underscored the true power of low end for
me. My early CRIB work was unabashedly aggressive, high volume feedback. Being bred on
Hardcore and Experimental music as a teen, that was probably a natural starting point for me.
But over the course of several years the idea of subtle, low end frequency experimentation
became a more seductive and challenging prospect to me and that’s where my interests have
remained over the past several years.
Who/what are your influences? Has anything been on your mind recently that you want to
I honestly feel like I come across great new music every day. Lately I’ve been listening to:
Lawrence English, Dead Light, 36, Taylor Dupree, Noveller, Biosphere, Joanna Brouk. Long term musical influences, I’d have to say: Stars of The Lid, Arvo Pärt, Sigur Rós, Phill Niblock, Pauline Oliveros (Deep Listening Band).
Why do you make sound? In your mind, what can sound communicate? Do you think there’s
value in silence? Why/why not?
It’s just something that I’ve always gravitated to. I’m not the most outgoing individual or the
most talkative. Solo work (especially live performance) has always been very therapeutic to me.
I suppose it’s a way for me to express myself and let certain emotions come out in a more
abstract way. I’m not sure I can even properly articulate how important silence is to me but I
feel like it almost represents a purity of existence. It’s sacred to me. Undervalued. Crucial.
In your mind, what are the meditative properties of low-end drone music?
I can only speak for myself and how drones tend to affect me. But I generally find them to have
an immersive, enveloping quality. Especially repetitive drones. William Basinski is certainly a
master of this. I can lose myself in this type of sound. There is a beautiful, calming simplicity to
Where is your ideal venue for a performance?
Honestly anywhere intimate and resonant. I have played in so many varied spots over the
years, I’m not super picky. While I don’t have much interest in playing traditional rock clubs any
more, any sort of smaller, gallery-type setting is certainly appealing and conducive to what I’m
What was the idea behind your curation of “Absence of Wax”?
I felt like I was in a bit of a rut making music and wanted to take a step back from performing
and recording. But I didn’t want to totally disengage from music. On New Year’s Day 2011 it just came to me in a very unplanned and spontaneous way to maybe start a net label. The prospect of shining the light on other musicians really appealed to me. Also, I ran a record label for many years (WIN Records) and missed many aspects of that. Something internet-based has such a low barrier of entry in comparison to pressing records or CDs. So much so that the whole thing was literally born and executed in that one afternoon. I just recorded a track to document the day, posted it on my website and off it went. Ultimately over a 3 year period I ended up releasing 65 tracks from artists all over the world most of whom I found through trolling Soundcloud. AoW was one of the most gratifying projects I’ve ever embarked on.
What has your experience been like creating sound for a visual medium, like film? Do you have a certain process when creating this type of work?
The most amount of work I have done in film up to this point has been for Director Britt Randle. Britt is based in Toronto but has been able to come to L.A. and work with me in the studio for the 4 films that we’ve done together. It's been a super rewarding process all the way around. Most of the sound tends to be improv based and a lot of my friends in L.A. have contributed to the process of creating these scores. Each one has really been a collaboration with everyone involved and with me serving as a “ring leader” of sorts. Once the tracks are
laid down Britt and I, along with our Engineer Mark Wheaton, will spend a bunch of time combing through the tracks and sculpting the music to the various scenes. Britt has a great sense of what he’s looking for and so I’ll try to bring in appropriate musicians that I think can bring some of the right tones and textures…along with some of my own bass tracks. Britt, Mark and I work very closely together in the mixing process. I really couldn’t ask for more receptive, intuitive and creative partners. I would love do more film scoring in the future so hopefully some more opportunities will present themselves.
In what direction do you see your work headed?
From the ashes of Absence of Wax, I was reinvigorated to get back into playing. Once again, this wasn’t something that I necessarily planned to do, but ultimately over the course of a couple of months I ended up pushing myself to record what turned out to be an album’s worth of material, which I ultimately dubbed LONE ECHO. It definitely represents a specific moment in time to me and a bit of a rebirth. I tried to not rely on bass that much as well, so most of the
record is keyboard, guitar and found sound-based. I’ve been experimenting more in this vein
and diversifying my outboard gear in the process too.