The Secret Lives of Scientists: Playing in the band, the improvisatory cinematic art rock band

Gary Boas
May 2, 2014

Few bands name themselves for a Cold War test pilot who jumped out of a gondola 19 miles above the Earth. But then, few bands are anything like Parachuter. 

A Boston-based “cinematic art rock” group, Parachuter is the brainchild of the Martinos Center’s Tyler Triggs, a senior research technician working with investigators David Salat and Diana Rosas in the Center for Neuroimaging of Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease.

The band has a unique vision, aiming to create evocative sonic terrains through a mix of composition and improvisation while also incorporating field recordings and sound design—the manipulation of audio through some technological means. Its latest release, 2013’s Woven, is designed to take the listener on a journey through life and subconscious, “stitching together vivid scenes from youth to death,” according to the band’s website. “Street to sky, heaven to the sea, forest to the desert, desert to afterlife.”

Tyler traces the approach he’s forged with Parachuter to his very first band, which he joined soon after picking up the guitar in the seventh grade. He and his young bandmates would improvise as a group, he says, while also trying to keep the music moving forward, unfolding like a pre-written song would.

“It didn't always work,” he adds, “but we found that the more we played together, the more ‘telepathic’ moments we would have.”

He continued this exploration of live improvisation in college, and then further after moving to Boston. When he first arrived he joined a couple of area bands playing bass guitar. He enjoyed his stints with these groups but ultimately needed an outlet for his idiosyncratic approach to music-making, where he could also return to his first love, the guitar.

After some months of Craigslist postings and getting to know different musicians Tyler finally formed Parachuter in 2010. He hasn’t looked back.

“Parachuter's aesthetic is a major branch of what I'm interested in exploring musically,” he says. “One of our aims is to try to avoid treading the same territory whilst having some form of identifiable ‘sound.’ It's definitely an abstract goal that on its face sounds contradictory, but I think we’re nailing it.”

The group released a self-titled EP, recorded mostly live, in early 2011. Woven, which takes fuller advantage of the possibilities of the studio—of audio design and building soundscapes in the studio—appeared last September.

Tyler says his musical life is generally informed by his life as a scientist, and vice versa. “My musical aesthetic has been a product of my trying to understand why and how some music has such strong emotional impact on me,” he says. At the same time, this interest is in part what led him to pursue his bachelor’s degree in neuroscience.

“To be an invested musician, you hold the theory that melody and rhythm clearly form an abstract language that can directly link to a person’s subconscious emotional self,” he says. “While the subconscious is a difficult thing to explore scientifically, studying ways the brain handles information has always captured my interest.”

Parachuter play the Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge this Sunday, May 4. Further information here.