I spoke with Taylor Schaerer over a hot beverage on a blustering cold Edmonton day. This guy most definitely fits the definition of multi-talented: he presently does freelance graphics, illustration, comics, animation and sound design. He has even done work for X Gen Studios and had some involvement with the newly-released Super Motherload on PlayStation 4. When I ask him to tell me a bit about himself, he reveals his artistic nature: “I’ve always been interested in making things, inventing things. With art, I can create a whole world. With music I’m into the idea of making music that hasn’t been made before.”
Schaerer’s musical portfolio crosses between many genres as well as involvement behind the scenes. He was the drummer of the former alt-punk trio, Red Hot Daggers (with Eamon McGrath). Along with Eric Ng, he co-founded the former record label, Champion City Records. He also played with the London Disturbance Force, I Am a Liar and Portraits. Currently, he drums for one of Edmonton’s favourite metal bands, Netherward.
Schaerer decided he wanted to add to the wide variety of music he has played and head the electronic route. Three or four years ago, Schaerer began forming an electronic solo project with the hopes of playing live shows. This was the start of Rat Knuckles. After telling friend Jim Cuming about a punk he met in San Francisco who owned a pet rat (which was the most punk rock pet Schaerer had ever seen), Cuming noted that the rat probably had tattoos on his little rat knuckles. This conversation inspired the name of Schaerer’s project.
The instrument he created (currently the first prototype has been constructed and it is patent pending) is called the Ratikon, and he focused much of his energy creating the instrument, as opposed to working on Rat Knuckles (he played only one show as Rat Knuckles thus far).
The dream of an interactive electronic performance led to the creation of the Ratikon. “When I started getting into doing the project, I didn’t want to be stuck behind a table on a laptop. That isn’t the kind of performance I wanted to be doing. I wanted an instrument where I could play these electronic sounds live… I couldn’t find something that I could use for that application. Once I had more time on my hands, I started building it and it worked,” explains Schaerer.” I didn’t want to be limited by a physical instrument.”
The Ratikon combines the advantageous element of both the guitar and keyboard. The first prototype resembles a keytar, but Schaerer has plans to change the aesthetic of the second prototype to eliminate any association with that instrument. “I want to create something that is a valuable artifact within itself, aesthetically pleasing. Keytars don’t look very cool,” he chuckles.
“I have a keyboard at the bottom. There are two rows of buttons on the neck. As you go up, alternating on the neck, it transposes those keys up a semi tone. It goes up one note, while keeping the same chord,” he explains.
“You can really quickly change chords without moving your hand position on the keyboard. Every additional button you hold down on the neck, transposes by octaves. For every hand position, you have access to seven octaves without moving your hands.”
This allows him to play arpeggios very easily. For electronic music that is especially cool and would normally be done using a computer (think Daft Punk, as an example). The Ratikon can do this live.
It can be plugged into anything that accepts MIDI input and generate that sound, as well as pedals. The buttons are pressure sensitive: the harder you push, the louder your sound.
“My interest now has been towards the instrument now, not the music,” says Schaerer, who is completely self-taught when it came to building and completing his patent pending application.
The Ratikon is still in the early stages. Once the second prototype (on which Schaerer is currently working) is complete, he wants to get his idea out there: “I want to create some viral videos happening using this novel instrument. I want to play songs people are familiar with… I learned Radiohead’s Paranoid Android. I want to prove that it is not a toy,” notes Schaerer.
Keep an eye out for Schaerer’s videos playing the Ratikon. He hopes to get it patented in Japan and USA and eventually some European countries.
Story and photo by Jenna Lee Williams