Crank S(t)urgeon of magnetic confusion, people of the universe. Mr. Sturgeon is in full dissect and microsecond edit collage on this whopper of an oxide document. I own about 30 or 40 releases by this project (which is still about a third of what’s been released over the years), and this easily ranks in the top five favorite recordings. Pissing in a toilet bowl of NWW Sylvie and Babs styles, early Smegma, John Cage, vocal gab, and other pop music fragments, I find myself lost in the rapid-fire juxtapositions that only CS can carry off with pure modern dada flavor. Certain fragmented speed-change edits brought to mind passages from The White Mice Load Records LP that I obsessed over when it was released in the mid 00’s. This audio salad is topped with sparkling trash textures, howling feedback, and interspersed with contributions from numerous guests on a bygone radio show, A Butte for Huso, that was on WMPG in Portland, Maine from 1997 to 2004. Later edited and reassembled with found sound, shortwave, and vocal bitties in April 1999, this recording was found in 2020 and released earlier this year on Pennsylvania label Detachment Program. Nice liner notes and explanation of the process and contributors(a bunch of unknown names, Sickness was the only name I recognized). People can complain about projects that release copious amounts of material all they want, but Crank Sturgeon ignores all noise trends and laughs at your pretentious noise board comments, offering sonic freedom and (gasp) fun on this short release.
No online presence for this release!!
Here is a photograph of Crank Sturgeon to look at while you think about this cassette.
Scathing is the solo work of Kenny Brieger, hailing from Alice, Texas. The project has had multiple releases this year on labels like Hostile 1, Oxen, and New Forces. This release finds Brieger utilizing more field recordings to interrupt flow, without having a “cut-up” feel to it that one might associate with Developer or Endo works. There are no pauses in the attack, just fast-paced harsh noise that has my ears standing at attention for all 20 minutes of this ripper. Right out of the gate, this beast goes straight for the throat.
Side one gets into some really cool pixelated digital moments that dissolve within seconds. Stuttering moves into blast zones with wah-wah feedback and static dysentery. Fucking hell, it is inspiring to hear noise thatIi can’t name a piece of gear that’s being used. Scathing has its own language and way of perverting your sense of linear time.
The listener is treated to very unique shredding textures, constant movement, a tape that demands repeat listening to unlock the secrets of deft juxtapositions. Groaning vocals peaking up in spots in the mix, metal objects scraped and smashed into oblivion. American harsh noise at its best. Alternately unhinged and restrained at various moments on this all-too-short document of a project that provides quantity and quality simultaneously. Great presentation and artwork by the label as well. My dick is standing at attention, and this tape must be gripped immediately by all heads.
Mot is the sound world of Canadian visual artist Paul Van Trigt, whose art has been spreading like wildfire in the noise underground, gracing covers of labels worldwide. First side opens with some lo-fi turntable abuse interspersed with ripping physical textures, some stop and start punctuated with what sounds like digital delay feedback and a mangled vocal sample. Overlapping tape loops of low-end drones and scrap metal melodies. Great elements, some good movement, nothing overstaying its welcome.
The second side is where things really start to get into a groove. Shrill feedback tones bouncing in and out of a spinning vortex. …Silence… Underwater movements are evoked by contact mic’d textures with a filmy bass tone sitting on top like pond muck. Junk metal and feedback slowly coming up in the mix, then a quick shift to more junk metal and drones that evoke violins on downers. Best parts of this tape are the scrap metal abuse and hovering drones. Looking forward to more from this project.
First edition sold out. Second edition sold out. From Cruel Symphonies.
While I was listening to this tape, released on Syracuse’s Cruel Symphonies back in the summer, the fan unit on our air conditioning unit began to draw in air that reeked of burnt rubber. Perhaps it was a nasal analog to the thick auditory assault crumbling about in my headphones.
After hearing a Kadaver / Astro split and watching some YouTube videos, it seems the project employs two different tactics on releases:
-Thick, slowly deteriorating bass-heavy slabs of crackling static that avoid the “wall” tag
The first approach is on display here. It helps that the duplication and mastering on this is decent, allowing a clear perusal of a very muddy painting. Two-thirds of the way through the first side the muck starts to break up, and bits of incinerated flesh, torn by mechanical threshers, start falling to the ground. A mangled sample of female vocals cuts all of this short. Dead Body Love and OVMN come to mind after giving these textures a few listens. I’m most engaged with the material when it feels like it’s coming apart at the seams rather than dredging up miles of bass muck.
Some parts of side B hang out for a while and don’t do very much for me, although the sputtering ending that ends with disembodied vocals immersed in a soup of high-end static is right up my alley.
Scrap metal noise has a long-standing place in experimental music circles. From the anti-music aktions of New Blockaders and the Haters to modern masters like K2, Knurl, and Macronympha, artists have assimilated the discarded waste of industrial society into the fabric of their sound. From absolute processed and edited symphonies of prickly precision to stark documents of material abuse.
Xah is an unfamiliar name to this reviewer, but after a couple listens, I’ll be keeping an eye on this project. No discernible effects are used in these very raw and energetic recordings; a barrage of different techniques and structures are worn into entropic bliss. Xah alternately coaxes low-end gurgling and high-end screeching out of their set up. This short tape is a great introduction to a killer project that I can’t wait to hear more from.
“A C30 Cassette dubbed in real time housed in a silver norelco with professionally printed j cards and labels.” Available from Cruel Symphonies.
“Zero Sum Game” is the first offering from the trio of Eddie Giles (Final Solution), Jay Howard (Circuit Wound), and John Grimaldi (Submersive Productions). The three have done some work together under the name Run for Omniphobia, though I’m not familiar with that output.
Side A has some toxic radio waves bubbling out from darkened drain pipes in a nightmarish realm of suffocating filth. There are some moments where electronics start evoking an acoustic industrial sounds like engines idling, washing machines in slow motion, cars on a bridge, puddles splashing in muddled rhythm… The title track, “Zero Sum Game,” is an exercise in anti-musical drone, leaving me feeling trapped in a large concrete room full of malfunctioning vacuums unravelling dusty rugs through some searing fuzz effects. It’s machinery without a human presence. I like how there’s different tracks on here and not just one long jam session, concise editing of what I’m assuming was a mail collaboration.
Side B dives further into a mechanical, grinding world of unknown machinery. Hints of synthesizer churning out withered pulses provide the backdrop for some reverb’d feedback accents, almost post-mortem in feel. This is not high energy harsh noise. It is thoroughly corroded ear filth. I love the nasty hum that comes in and out of the mix halfway through the side. It reminds me of “Hole in the Heart” by Ramleh. Truly ominous without being overtly cinematic or rhythm oriented.Out of this maelstrom, we’re dropped into the center of a finely tuned wind tunnel where the fans oscillate at different pitches and speeds, simultaneously moments of tonal harmony and dissonance fused into a rising mass.
Skott (aka: id m theft able) is one of those people that I knew through trading tapes of thrift-store cut-up in the mail for years before seeing him perform live with an amplified table of various re-imagined objects, prepared digital cut up, radio, and THOSE VOCALS. Since moving to Portland, Maine, I’ve had the pleasure of a lot of conversations with Skott about our shared love of experimental music and hair metal, growing up in small towns, and seeking out sounds on your own as a teenager. I wanted to ask Skott questions about elements that link up his total art worlds which seem fairly evenly divided between sound and visual collage. Here’s some of them that took place in summer/fall of 2017 about his visual and sound practice, the DOES series of shows he curates, side project 3D Jet Scooter,and his long-standing label MANGDISC.
You said something in an earlier interview about comparing your voice to a saxophone. Do you listen to much horn stuff?
Sure, I don’t focus on it particularly, but I do like free-improv and free jazz.
How does comedy fit into your perspective of your sound work?
I never set out to be funny, but I know that sometimes if I follow through with particular impulses I have people are probably going to laugh. I had a dream once that I ripped a soccer ball apart on stage, so I decided to try it in real life. So I got a soccer ball and tore the panels off one by one, the panels had strings attached between them and the ball and as I pulled them off I made a crude sort of lute. I plucked the improvised strings and sang in a falsetto. Of course people laughed, and though I wasn’t trying to be funny, I’m glad they were engaged. It was interesting to me so I did it, how people react to it after I do it is out of my hands. No response is invalid. That said, I like and am influenced by comedy.
When I was younger, I did worry about doing things that would undermine the “seriousness” of my intentions. This now seems laughably stupid and pointless to me. I did away with any pretense of being taken seriously/not seriously over time, and it’s quite liberating to simply have faith in my impulses and intentions and not worry about any of that anymore. Serious/not serious, fuck it, if I want to do it, I’ll do it.
I’ve always been curious about the process of how you come across all of these backwoods Maine objects that work themselves as motifs/repeated themes into your work. Can you tell me a bit about this process?
I’ve got several dumps all over rural Maine that I visit, one that I visit once a week and I’m on a first name basis with the crew there. They have a vague idea of what I do and will occasionally set stuff aside for me. Sometimes I actually bring a mallet with me and just go around tapping on things, auditioning garbage. Almost all of the stuff I use on stage that isn’t electronic I get at either the dump or thrift stores. I’ve never had the money to get fancy gear, and at this point I really don’t care to. Mine is cheap music, and I’m happy with that. I recently bought a $350 PA and that’s easily the most expensive piece of equipment I’ve ever bought.
How much does your visual art relate to the sound collages? They seem to make sense together.
I rarely ever start working with a concept, I just sort of… start. Sometimes I’ll have a particular word floating around in my brain, or a particular subject I want to address, but for the most part I don’t know what a piece is about, if it’s about anything, until I’m well into creating it. This is true both in terms of how I make collage and how I make music. I try never to let my initial concept burden me. If it makes sense to change direction in the moment, I change direction. I don’t want to be weighed down by my own ideas if I see some other direction that makes sense in the moment. With collages my intention is usually simply “I want to make a collage” and I sit down and start tearing paper. With music my intention is usually “I want to make music” and I just go. I’m not entirely anti-concept though, and sometimes having a structure of some kind can prevent you from falling into the same old patterns that you find yourself repeating.
There’s a lot of consistency with the CD abuse and tape editing in your work. What’s your process like for that?
I have a weekly radio show that’s basically me doing two hours of “sound collage” (their term, not mine!) every week. So, on Tuesday, I go into the the side studio before my radio show, do all kinds of naughty things to CDs, tapes, records, radios – whatever they’ve got lying around and whatever I’ve brought with me. The cut-ups I think you’re referring to I make in real time, fading and cutting in different elements that I think might make sense together. I’ll usually do 4 or 5 passes with a particular set of material until I get something that I like. Then, later, I remix that material on the air, add or subtract elements, splice it together with other things that make sense, sometimes add vocals or other acoustic sounds live.
Every CD player has a different way you can exploit it. Some deal with glitches in very different ways than the standard skip we all know. Every time they get a new deck at the station I’ll put an altered CD in there (I mostly only alter them with Sharpies or scotch tape) and see what I can get it to do. Most of my tape work is about quirks with tape loops, especially intentionally damaged ones, or recording things onto low fidelity tapes and working with that. Speeding them up, slowing them down, that sort of thing.
I don’t hear a lot of effects in your work. That’s very refreshing.
I like it raw, I always have. I do occasionally use effects, especially various types of distortion, but sparingly. Last week on the radio I took one of my rain recordings, sped it up, added a little distortion, then maxed out the gain on the mixer on top of that and made a little HNW on WMPG. It was actually pretty fun, but, in general, distortion almost always seems to remind me of rock music, no matter what you’re doing with it, which is by no means a bad thing, but isn’t where I want to be sonically a lot of the time. I’ve always thought of harsh noise and its offshoots as just a sort of extreme form of rock music, like a really awesome guitar solo that just goes on for a long time. I love it, but that’s just not where I personally want to be. I did use a little flanger on something the other night though.
How long has Mangdisc been around?
The first release came out in 1999, but I had a different label before that with the cute name of Melt Brain, and there were 4 or 5 releases, all of my music, well before Maang. If you count the negative and found series, I’m at around 120 releases.
What’s the biggest press you’ve done with Mangdisc?
I pressed around 300 copies of the Visitations CDR which came out in 2005. By way of their association with Time Lag Records, they were pretty hot shit at the time and Nemo from Time Lag actually asked me for something like 200 copies, so, I made them! The three members of that band are close friends (and I’m actually on that whole record, as Lovebunny, a secret half man half rabbit from the wilds of Windham) and I was happy to do it. It actually sold out quite quickly! That was an anomaly though and I’d say aside from that one 7 inch I did (which had about 250 copies) things rarely get over a hundred copies, and some of the titles there were only ever 4 or 5 copies of.
When you started doing the project, was it in relative isolation? Did you know about Prick Decay/Dylan Nyoukis/Jap Blonk’s’ work?
I had no idea about any of them when I started doing vocal work. My influences in that department were more Joan LaBarbara, Cathy Berbarian, Yoko Ono all of whom I got into in high school. I did know about Sound Poetry, Kurt Schwitters and all of that as well, so that was certainly in there. Most of my vocal influences were and are actually non-vocal. I really started using the voice mostly because I couldn’t think of a way to create the sounds I was imagining for various pieces, so I just started imitating them vocally. I actually made music for years before I started doing any extended vocal technique stuff at all. I first heard about Jaap Blonk after someone reviewed one of my tracks on some compilation and said “this sounds like Jaap Blonk recorded on the side of a busy highway” or something like that, so I subsequently found and immensely enjoyed his work. Dylan I’d heard about because he was a friend of Crank Sturgeons, but I didn’t hear his work until much later. Big fan of his too. Honestly, all of these folks have probably rubbed off on me in some way, but I’m probably every bit as influenced by rap music, or Robert Plant’s wailing or what have you.
How do you relate to the Portland experimental scene? It seems like you tour more than play live shows around here.
Portland has never really had all that extensive of a scene for this stuff so there really isn’t too much to relate to. To be honest, there’s more folks here in town doing it than there ever were before, so you’re sort of here at the peak of it, but as you well know there’s still not a lot happening. Portland isn’t nearly as cool as it thinks it is. I definitely play far, far more often in Massachusetts and elsewhere because there’s just more interest down that way. That said, there are a small handful of people in town doing work that I dig, yourself included.
Do you feel like something would change if you didn’t have the isolation of living in Windham? You seem like kind of a hermit to me.
I will say that I really like talking to people, but my natural inclination is sort of not to. Working at Strange Maine definitely keeps me social. I was a fairly isolated kid and didn’t really have any real friends until high school, so being a bit isolated is a normal state for me. I’m very glad to live out in the sticks so that I have the space to decide whether I want to talk to or see anyone or not. I’m also so glad to be involved with the store and to have made so many great friend through music and art. My creative impulses, such as they are, were definitely born of being a weird isolated kid with no one else around that I related to.
What prompted you to start doing the DOES Series of shows?
Well, I did shows at Strange Maine for 13 years and once that was abruptly stopped I had to do something. The last string of Strange Maine shows were relatively well attended, I was feeling really good about booking, so I knew I wanted to continue somehow. I was really influenced by Andrew Chadwick’s “Action Research” series in Gainesville, Florida. He’s never been tied to one venue, the series has always moved from venue to venue, and I liked the thought of that. So, I basically decided to see if I could emulate that. The Apohadion reopening has been awfully helpful for that. That place is amazing and I’m so thankful to Pat and the gang for letting me book there.
Let’s talk about 3D Jet Scooter, a trio you have with Frank Turek and Janane Tripp. Janane used to be in a band called Prisma that put out a record on Time-Lag Records, was in Visitations, and is in the Veasies. You seem to take turns determining who steers the direction or disrupts things, like Janane was doing last time you played.
3D Jet Scooter is me and two of my favorite people on the planet. Janane Tripp, known for her work in Visitations and Prisma, as well as her solo work, and Frank Turek who’s been making music and art in a myriad of genres and permutations around Portland since the late 80’s, I think. The range of what he’s done is amazing. I always tell people we’re a “spacey improv band”, but that’s pretty simplistic. It’s definitely improv, as the most we’ve ever decided beforehand is something like “let’s start quiet” or what have you. I really like the band, there’s something about the combination of playful personalities that works more often than it doesn’t. Sometimes it crashes, but usually it doesn’t.
Pleasure Brothers – The Accident & Ecstasy 2.25.16 by Jacob DeRaadt
According to Cantankerous Records’ website, Pleasure Brothers is the defunct moniker for Sydney, Australia’s Tony McKey, who specializes in a very peculiar sort of nauseating minimal tape loop action that calls to mind the more minimal elements of Dog Lady Island and Aaron Dilloway. Side B of “The Accident” drags your ears through the muck of tape slowly shedding its magnesium oxide, shedding its fur and flesh slowly as air is compressed into the engine room and parts.
A shining example of constant motion becoming non-movement over the course of 20 minutes of hypnosis. Small metal spheres are hovering in a white room, moving in small circles around a room that is full of light, the capstans dragging on the reels increasingly with each painful repetition, a machine that will eventually self-destruct. The performer has left the mechanisms to their own eventual destruction, but not before they wear down their gears in the process of pointless labor. The machine plays itself with as little guidance from the operator as possible, and a state of eternal entropy emerges. All movement becomes non-movement. There is no “same moment” in a state of total repetition where things slowly melt into the background or vise versa. The interaction of near -static constant tones and rumbling gear-like movements are corroding viscosity of the machine and my earlobes. Left me wanting more.
Which is great, since a copy of another recent PB release on Altered States Tapes, “Ecstasy”, came in the same package. This tape sounded a lot closer to what I’d heard on their release on Mazurka Editions a couple of years ago; slow-moving formations of confusion and oxide degradation coupled with a pervasive humming undertone that freezes your blood with a chill of the eternal decay that is life and death. More of the same on side B. Pleasure Brothers are the Lungfish of the modern tape loop scene. The same song being played over and over… Damn, its a good song, though. No answers. Modern minimal excellence in tape saturation and (de)composition that deserves your attention.
A loose, free-associative collage of field recordings made on a trip through Mexico City and Guanajuato, in January 2015. This is the sounds that tourists’ ear takes in, with intermittent interference from recording device and atmospheric conditions of recording space. There are lengthier, airy drones that serve as segues in between the various scenes observed.
Transitions and editing seem to stretch out and blend like a dream after the fact, rather than the feeling of constant interruption or random memory recollection. Special tender moments of paper shuffling around a room while a Spanish guitar is being played. The guitar elements recur on the second side, voyeuristic recordings of schoolchildren/playground with traffic drone of highways with thousands of motors colliding together perfectly. This recording is very warm and inviting to my ears as far as engaging my curiosity about a possible thread or story line. One that would flow through these disparate moments that sound like they might be slightly overdubbed in some parts, but acoustic elements of recording are very strong as far as their juxtaposition with more “electronic sounds”. The birds chirp away in the morning light, traffic keeps going, the children are back in school, the mundane details of the day are blown up in benday dots of bright tones. Life goes on and there is a silent promise, just underneath the surface of being, of unknown depths of experience that are hinted to by this document. The listener is part of the recording. This is the sound of a recording being recorded. There is a thick shroud of mystery that hangs in the air at the end of side A that captures this set of earlobes’ flighty fancy.
“Palmillas” was released as an edition of 25 tapes by Power Moves Library in packaging that leaves a little to be desired. Physical copies are sold out, but it is available to stream.
Crank Sturgeon is the multi-disciplinary visual and sound artist Matt Anderson, who currently resides in Western Massachusetts. His discography is among the most prolific of American sound artists, his performances incorporating elements of improvisational comedy, homemade electronics, and jarring junk noise. Positioned in a unique space within the American underground, his artistic practice encompasses elements of dadaist sound poetry, Viennese Actionist confrontation of art/non-art boundaries, and good old fashioned screaming noise dysfunction. After admiring his craft for over half a decade, I had the chance, back in 2012, to sit down with the man behind the cardboard fish-head over a few pints and discuss everything from the meaning of ‘Americana’, to getting an audience, to straddling toilet humor and more academic commissions.
There’s certain songs on (Captain Beefheart’s) “Trout Mask Replica”, where it’s just like a song-poem that you can tell he’s sitting down in the middle of a field and observing his surroundings which is kind of, for lack of a better word, Americana.
I was just gonna say he’s what I see as Americana. There’s such a direct line from him to hobo music, standing on side of trains and that kind of culture, that kind of backwater-y, well-traveled. I can correlate that as anteceding Kerouac and all this free-verse, Americana, folk which would never espouse itself as being avant-garde, but, what can you say is? But everything else is for that matter. (laughter) Because they’re saying, “we’re not doing this as an art tradition.”
Maybe Pierre Henry (electro-acoustic stuff) and Kurt Schwitters in their own right were doing the same thing. Like Schwitters, who was doing all vocal poetry, which was probably coming from a German folk art tradition, it was just collaged and layered differently, ya know? And therefore was deemed avant garde. Who knows?
You can say the same with Beefheart. Beefheart’s sound was probably one of the more jarring things to come out of the 60s. Definitely a mad man behind all of it, with a little help from Frank Zappa mixing, especially on “Trout Mask Replica”. He wanted to view it as a world music, technographic field recording, and he wanted to record it out in the field. (He) would leave the tape glitches in, that sort of thing. But also it really embellished Don Van Vilet’s poetry, really going out on a tangent.
Again, I was doing things unaware of that tradition, but parallel to it. I was just interested, personally, more in Kurt Schwitters and James Joyce. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Finnegan’s Wake, but he had the ability to take up to 14 language references and make new words out of it.
I could never get through it.
Yeah, it’s difficult as hell, but for some reason there’s a deep cosmic laughter I have when I read that kind of stuff. When I first heard Beefheart, I was like, “Oh, a reason to start playing guitar again.”
Yeah, these are people that are deconstructing. You mentioned Joyce, and who was aware of that tradition, but they felt the need to reinvent them to reflect new time, a new era, and you work with the materials at hand.
Yeah, that which is provided.
Speaking of, you don’t work exclusively analog?
No. Not at all. I enjoy it, but I’m not one of these adherents to it. Even the ones who are considered adherents to it, aren’t. For instance, Hal McGee. Other people might say “Oh, he only uses microcassettes. But he’s a hypocrite because he put out a CD-R.” No. It’s what you use, what’s really audible. It’s funny about that conversation about Hal on the Troniks board and people ripping him a new asshole and him just holding his ground. It’s that whole internet bullshit thing, where it’s like, if you guys just hung out, you would not be squabbling.
I feel like there’s a huge misunderstanding between the younger, up and coming generation and the older. People have a lot of different backgrounds and traditions that they come out of. Maybe a lot of people my age didn’t absorb the same things, I mean you’re 12 years older than me.
How could you, because you didn’t have my upbringing. You didn’t live through the Reagan 80’s like I did. You weren’t there for mail art or tape art, all that stuff. Not that I was a full-fledged applicant in that regard either. But I caught on, and whatever age I was, 22 – 23, just sending tapes out to whomever and marveling at the response these things that would arrive in your mailbox daily. Christmas every fuckin’ day.
Do you feel like there’s an over-saturation right now in things? I feel like if you would’ve started a band 10 years ago, you would’ve started a punk band. Now it’s a noise project.
I don’t know. Because of travelling, it still feels like everywhere you go, each city or borough has its own allotted by-law, 20-22 years old, experimental/noise/weirdo artist types. And after that, they send ‘em off to another place. For me, there’s more opportunity, I’ll put it that way. There’s potentially more people coming to shows, there’s more people who are informed by it because of the internet. Yeah, I don’t know, I definitely have a wealth of really, really crappy releases that I’ve acquired on tours, an earnest as they are, I’ll give them a once-through. I can’t give them away because they were given to me, you know? It’s not because they’re a crappy person, it might because they’re still learning and new to it or I might just not like it. Everyone’s trying to do it and everyone’s starting at a different place. They’re putting out a handmade CD-R with felt marker on it and Xerox and there’s not enough hours in the day to go through all of these things in a box.
It’s gonna ebb and flow, regardless. Like, you go on tour and it was a great show. Maybe a couple years later all these people have moved on, or have kids, or whatever. This stuff just happens to people as they get older.
Here (in Portland, Maine), it’s never been hip. The only drawback is I get a lot of emails asking me to set something up in Portland. I just tell them there’s not a scene here. I can tell you a dedicated 3-5 people will show up, but not more than that.
Tell me about the origins of Crank Sturgeon and how academic music and performance art came together.
I was getting frustrated with music at the time. I knew I never wanted to be that. (makes noodly guitar solo sound with mouth) I didn’t have the fingers to do that kind of stuff and I was interested in different sounds.
(Going to Boston University) was a really great, nourishing environment, teachers and student body alike. We were basically teaching each other to do this shit. There were a couple of us who had the most amazing music collections. That was the biggest sponge phase for me, absorbing everything I could. John Cage, Neubauten, Glenn Branca, Fred Frith, on and on.
Why the sturgeon?
As a kid, I was really into dinosaurs and weird biology, so it was just an easy transference from my subconscious because I had (as a student) started to get into stuff like Futurist poetry. And I had parents that reinforced that. They took me to the library. I could name every reptile in every book. The sturgeon just came about in art school.
What’s the best audience interaction you’ve ever had?
Most of them are really amazing. There’s so many. I did this show in Antwerp and I did one of these monologue things with noise tape going and ventilation hoses going. And I did this crazy set, and my table fell with all my stuff on it and I thought that was the end. But at lightning speed, those guys picked it up and said, “You continue.” There was a sea of people waving their arms and I crowd surfed to end the set. That was such a rock-star ending. It’s almost like there’s no end to the joy; you keep on doing it whether there’s police that show up and are just laughing or whatever. Each response seems to be pretty unique to each tour and situation. Nine times out of 10, it’s great.
I’m playing in Gainesville and some guy, who wasn’t being mean, makes a joking comment. And the audience was just rabid, following every move. So I made some dry comment like, “What’re you, some homophobe?” So I got the whole audience to chant, “Homophobe!” at him. It was just one of those moments, where he’s saying “No, I’m not.” And they’re saying “Yes, you are!” Just this call-and-response thing. things come out of your head and then they do it, willingly and joyously.
Do you ever have moments where you find yourself saying, “Why am I doing this?” Have you ever gotten to that point?
Moments of self-reflection are good. I think having really bad shows is a good thing, you’ve got the capacity to improve and reflect on it and say, “Why did that suck?”
I’ve had a couple, of course. You’ve gotta look at it as dry and emotionless as possible. What are you trying to convey? Is it the noise? Is it the gear? Is it the persona? Is it fake? Is it real? All of these things go through the sieve/filter and you go back and reflect on it and hopefully you learn very quickly what to improve. At least for myself, I have moments of realizing why this isn’t working, and how to make it better, but it’s only after a couple of flops, where you’re like, “I can’t continue on this path, I have to change gears”.
It just reinforces that you do have to practice, you do need to know what you want to convey, whatever that is. You can’t go in completely blind, roll down your pants and expect people to say, “Oh, that’s really funny.” You pull down your pants and it’s like, “Sorry, honey. You’re limp.”
As far as the process goes for Crank, do you feel like there’s a general path that an idea follows from inception to completion? Or does it seem to form uniquely each time?
Oh, definitely. You find comfort zones in patterns, in the process. Take the instance of a tour and ensuring that not all of these shows are going to be harsh, loud and noisy. That can cause oneself to step outside of one’s usual patterns. I mean, noise tours are great and I love them. You have your case of gear and you open it up and you know exactly how each pedal lines up in the exact order. You can get into a comfortable pattern with knowing how your gear works.
When you’re on tour, you’re in tour mode. Your brain perceives everything at such an accelerated fashion that you can walk out and do whatever because for the previous three weeks you’ve been doing this show and you’re in such balance with it. But another nice thing to do is change the gears. Not having shows that are necessarily harsh noise every night, doing more arty nights or environments, or galleries, people who you can’t convince this high-decibel craziness is something they should be enjoying.
I’m reading Alan Kaprew’s books on happenings, looking at how he was interacting with people, and of course reading Fluxus stuff. It’s great because the early happenings (not the doped-up, later-60s addled minded, and stupid, psychedelic crap), where it was about conveying a collage of ideas and senses, instead of relying on LSD.
As full-sensory ideas go, I find them to be things that I can reveal and get inspiration from, so I really tap into that and hoard these books at this point. I don’t actively buy music. I buy books because it’s important to me to think about that historical context.
So you don’t find Dada or Fluxus to be anti-art as commonly perceived? Because there’s a difference between getting rid of the elevation of one form of art over another, and wanting to burn the forms themselves.
No, the Dadaists were artists. They were just reacting to the mad, upside-down bourgeois world that had created the war. And anyone that creates and calls themselves an anti-artist is full of shit. You’re an artist. Period. You make stuff, you draw, you paint, you’re in a band. You make a zine and you’re passionate about it. You’re an artist.
As far as thinking art is disposable, I think a lot of it is, certainly. I don’t mind these things fading out over time, either. You know paper’s gonna rot, CD’s are gonna lose their memory, tapes are gonna flake away, records are gonna lose their grooves. But then again, all the Dadaists are dead and it’s nice to have their books. It’s also reflective of the human condition. What we’re interested in is our behavior.
For me, what I got out of Dadaist art was a deconstruction of the logic of “art”, because they saw it as supporting logic and culture that upheld horrendous, anti-human behavior. There was this angry, absurd reaction. They felt trapped.
And we live in very Dadaist times. And is some ways, things have gotten worse as far as a logic-operated culture exists.
Do you consider yourself to be a primarily visual or sound artist? I was wondering about the interactions on this last tour with PCRV. You do a lot of installations and drawings.
Yeah, they feed into one another, definitely. And I wouldn’t be able to function without one or the other. I mean, I consider myself a visual artists who ended up doing sound. I was never really a good enough musician to consider myself a musician, but over the years of making noise, cardboard costumes and working with junk for installation, it’s like “Well, I’m not that great of a visual artist either, so…” (laughter)
Tell me about the workshops you’ve been doing lately.
Well, I’ve been doing instructional workshops with microphones and adults, students, and other artists. It’s “how to build you own” kind of thing and that’s fun. This year I got invited to work with kids. It was for a reading program. Read Across America or something like that. So I read them Dadaist poetry and gave them the “Intro to Dada”. We made Dada poems together and it was nuts. I’ve been doing that now working with a local arts organization, state funded, who works with people in group homes. The mentally disabled, (people with) brain injuries, what have you. We’ve been doing the same thing making a zine with our poems and making a CD together. It’s so fucking cool to work with these people. Again, these are the folks that are shuttled off to the side of society. People may have been like, “Oh, I don’t know how this guy is going to respond. He’s a little weird.” You know what? We’re all fucking weird.
I think you’ve tackled a little bit of Dadaist art – that mentally jarred parody that’s not completely right. It seems like a perfect fit.
These guys are great. They don’t approach with any of the stereotypes that we approach it with. They fucking shine. They’re like, “Let’s do this! This is great! Oh, we get to sing it?” I tell them, “You can do whatever you want. You can read it backwards if you want.” You play back the recording of all of them reading it together and they think it’s hilarious. Some are laughing and they find the same joys. It’s really rewarding to be in that place to work with them. It’s an honor.
That’s cool. That defies the stereotype of the avant garde artist being aloof and secluded in castles, only coming out to reveal their precious masterpiece.
Certain rock musicians have that sort of identity too. They just position themselves into a place on par with senators and kings. They expect this adoration and suddenly people throw tomatoes at them. (laughter)
Do you find art to be a communal thing for you or is it fulfilled by a function for certain times?
It can go many ways. It’s deeply, deeply personal because I love to poke around. I can peer around the corner and see what happens when I touch these two cables together or build this or this or whatever it is. I like the idea of it also being communal because I don’t mind it being seen. I don’t mind process showing. I don’t mind duck tape or seams showing during a performance, whether that be an aesthetic choice or whatever. Yes, I do make forms and I hope they stand up, but I do believe in creating quality. I also like the elements that allow you to understand its humanity. As far as creating in a communal fashion, I’ve worked on group projects many times for many years, the battle of egos thing always happens. Not battles per se, but you find that everyone wants their piece in the pod. Working with groups is nice 10% of the time.
I think we had a conversation at the Denver noise fest where you made a remark about the multimedia collaboration that you were involved in the Czech Republic. I gathered part of it was not entirely satisfactory. There were some clashes.
There was. We got along really well and we did what we did, but I think the idea of the residency, and I’m actually kind of fantasizing of doing it again knowing what I know, is about forcing people of different aspects of art making and compelling them to make an art project together. It’s the mangling of language barriers and customs, political, social, cultural. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know if it makes necessarily for the best art. It makes for some interesting offshoots, if not compelling. That kind of approach can be very difficult for me. What it forced me to do was to find my personal time for work in very strange hours when everyone would be asleep. I never pull all-nighters when I’m working on my other stuff, well, occasionally, but I was really toiling extra, extra hard from like, 9pm on to 2 – 3 in the morning. just because I needed to vent from being around people all the time. Not that they were bad, hardly, but it was trying to work together that drove me bonkers sometimes. We’d come up with new things for the project and then we would all go off in our different directions to work on that, which we contribute back into it. But mine became very physical because I was actually the one building this structure for this installation. It was a lot of physical work, and after a while I became so obsessed with it, literally. I was just like, “I don’t want any one’s input.” I couldn’t stand any more input. “Go do your thing, man. This is mine. Let me have my one thing.”
This opera singer we were working with had all these great ideas but they were impossible to achieve. (with accent) “Why can’t we put a swing here? What do you mean you make video all over the place?”
Do you find that you clash with really traditional art establishment people?
No, not necessarily. I think you can draw a lot of similarities. The will to create and where that stems from, whether you come from drawing, oil painting, even architecture; I think you’re coming from a really primal, basic idea on creating form and I think that should be the standard amongst all of us. It’s interesting with some artists, when the clashing starts while working with or being around them, they put a genre or style first. I’m willing to work with people to take and see what I can make aesthetically and make it contribute to a whole.
What we all did as artists, we made it so hard on ourselves by holding onto what we had thought, that collaboration usually meant conflict. When I look at it, I look at it fondly because our group was all genuinely fond of each other. The four of us amongst the 40 people, we were the one group that held it together. We were the one group who would go out drinking together, hanging out, joking, whatever. We saw a lot of each other. The other groups were crying and yelling and fighting. We never did that. We got exasperated, we would pull back and reconsider how we are approaching this. Everyone had the maturity to do be able to do that. We were always having fun. When it came to work, there were a few stepping stones. All told, the angst was probably the length of this conversation. People would get it and leave you alone. That whole idea of compelling people to work together is still interesting because what they’re trying to do as an artists residency is put forth very interesting examples to a local community of what is happening in the international art world. They have their doors open and a lot of the locals are involved, so I like that. It’s this little tiny peanut-sized town in the hills. It has this huge international bundle of artists working there, maybe begrudgingly, but I think when it’s all said and done, everyone enjoys being there.
Do you feel like there’s a distinct difference in doing a recording and a live performance? Are there different motivations, different process?
Recording is about sitting there with head phones and popping things, whatever I have splayed out in front of me – wire ends, bits, maybe something I’ve built. It’s really the sort of hacked approach of trying to take all these little things and put them together. I’ll build a little FM transmitter and run that through a Walkman, take the output and shake the antenna, filter it through all these different sounds of distortion and a microphone that’s running into the transmitter. You get amazing textures that way. And you keep playing. Through this playing process, and microphones, and trying to build new microphones that fail, and through the process of failure, and trying to record those things all in the studio, that approach is much more of the tinker guy. What I do for a live show is try to take that which worked, it might be a little tenuous, but I can trust the effect it’s gonna do. I take those elements and create a piece out of it, something I can rely on and having a broad range of dynamic sound that can deliver all those tasty goods you have in a big show or a little show. It can be loud or soft, amplify this or this, whatever I’m fixated on at the moment. So what I work in the studio and recording through tinkering channels go through into a live show only by technique and what I’ve learned from recording. So when I’m doing a live show it’s kind of operating on trusted elements. The big unknown is what’s going to happen in the show and how it responds to the audience or whatever circumstances are at the venue. Whatever concept I want to be building or a costume might not fit right, all those things.
The recording element, backtracking, it’s not just playing with broken cables and stuff in the studio. I have the field recorders with me, most of the time, when I’m hiking or going on walks. Having that whip-it-out-and-grab-that-sound kind of thing, yell into in the car kind of thing, or I’ve gone to top of a mountain and I’m exhausted and my brain is working and endorphins are flowing and just spraying out a poem into your recorder. That’s always been happening so I’ve always got that kind of tinker tape element going. Basically, a tape recorder, digital recorder, or reel-to-reel recorder in every room or one on me. When you work a four track you can record 10 million ways. You can do theses exquisite corpse versions where you don’t listen to anything you’re recording, and of course there’s musical sensibilities that come into it too and the little songs start squeezing out mid way within a recording session on the 4 track. Suddenly, I’m doing prepared guitar, and how would it sound if I just started doing this, and then you’ve got a tone going.
I will differentiate between pop and experimental. But sometimes I experiment to get to pop. And some times you can take a pop song and deconstruct it experimentally. I don’t actively write songs, but once and again the just come out. Part of my process is I write a lot too. I still love guitar. Guitars have always been a part of my body. It was the first cool instrument I learned. Clarinet was the first, actually, because my parents wouldn’t let me get a trombone. I wanted a trombone because there was a girl in the band who was playing the trombone. They said, “Well your brother’s clarinet is free and the trombone is $200 dollars.” So I learned clarinet to be in the band and be near the girl who played the trombone who was way over there (points to the other side of the room). Long story short, I ended up playing guitar when I discovered rock music at 13 or 14.
I have reconstructed, deconstructed, and taken out the pick-ups and put them back in. As a result I’ve given away guitars and I collect new ones. I have hoards of them. Some very playable, some just made for destroying during your show. Not destroying, but doing that kind of thing. It’s instant texture. The nature of electronic pick-ups, strings, clips, metal, wood, whatever you’re treating it with. I like the instrument still.