To understand the greatness of the band ARP of the Covenant, you have to try and wrap your head around what exactly the ARP itself is. The problem with that is, the ARP is an undefinable entity. Sure, it looks like a keyboard, but it’s so much more than that.The men controlled by this keyboard-like instrument christened the ARP (after the company that manufactures them) are almost as mysterious as the instrument itself. All that’s really known about them are their names and some vague background history. Nicolai Zielinski (percussion), Brad Townsend (bass) and Mark Siegenthaler (keyboards, ARP), met as graduate students in the University’s Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation Department. Finding that they had a few friends in common, they began playing as a jazz piano trio in Brad’s basement in October of 2003. Humble beginnings for sure, but what happened next would change their lives.One fateful weekend, the group decided to go camping in Wisconsin. “We were hiking along an old abandoned railroad and came upon what looked like some sort of tomb. Inside the tomb was a crude altar, and atop the altar, a small keyboard instrument. Since that day, our lives have never been the same,” explained Zielinski.So what exactly is the ARP? Well, what isn’t the ARP might be a better question. “The ARP is a spiritual guide. A sensei. A master. A teacher. A provider. A mystic. The ARP is the lone synthesizer of the apocalypse. Think of it when you look to the night sky,” Zielinski preached.The thing about the ARP is that you can’t play it, it plays you. When asked to describe the process of making music with the ARP, the band replied with the 5,000-yard stare. First-hand accounts of ARP of the Covenant’s live shows confirm their servitude to this magical instrument. Only seconds after being flicked on by Siegenthaler, the group’s motor functions are seized, putting them at the mercy of the all-powerful instrument.Siegenthaler, known among his peers for his Mensa-worthy intelligence as well as his ability to piss off Mick Fleetwood (of Fleetwood Mac fame), is the man who gets to sit behind the ARP. Well acquainted with technology, Siegenthaler has been working with a program called Milkdrop that uses the sounds the band makes to manipulate images on a screen behind them. This cutting-edge technology will be on display Sunday, April 24 at 2 p.m. in the video studio of the Duderstadt Center. As well as a set with Milkdrop, the band will play a set as an acoustic piano trio, a format that’ll give Siegenthaler’s considerable keyboard chops a chance to shine.Providing the low harmonies for the group is Iowa’s finest, Brad Townsend. Townsend has many skills, among them not caring about his parents making him get a job at McDonald’s when his was 16, and bass playing. Townsend also purports to have “toured with many, many bands playing all styles of music — styles you didn’t even know existed.” When not waiting for the drummer in AC/DC to die so he can carry out his seven-step plot to take over the world, Zielinski mans the drum kit in ARP of the Covenant. A Minnesota native, Zielinski is not only jovial but boasts that his dad was Prince’s mom’s boss. An experienced drummer, Zielinski has been in dozens of bands, most notably Gay Cop Mustache, Mario Speedwagon, The Number F, The I in Team, Hard Core-tet and Skul Raydr. Indeed, all of those influences are fused with countless more to create the ARP of the Covenant’s highly stylized brand of electro-funk. Some of their professed musical inspirations include Warp Records, Cecil Taylor and the Depeche Mode. Alongside rip-rocking and raving originals such as personal favorites “Turbo Christians” and “Mr Li Poses With His American Birthday Cake” the group has been known to bust out covers as diverse as Kraftwerk, The Eurythmics and Sigur Ros.The ARP of the Covenant has future plans to spread their unique combination of space funk and soul-jazz throughout the Midwest in May after their aforementioned Duderstadt Center gig. Recently signed to independent label Rock is Dead Records, the group has plans to release a CD and DVD sometime this summer. For more information on the band as well as some mp3s, check out their website: www.arpofthecovenant.com. You will do this, and you will bask in the gloriousness; the ARP commands you.

Chelsea Trull
Music graduate student Mark Siegenthaler and Music alums Brad Townsend and Nick
Zielinski make up the electro-funk band ARP of the Covenant. (Trevor Campbell/Daily)

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