Thursday, February 26, 2015

Interview with Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance

Ben Chasny is smart. And knowledgeable. And enthusiastic. He's the person who would try to check out too many books from the library; and not to impose too much of my own read on the guy, but he's probably going to read those books and try to figure out the context for their creation, because Ben is creative and analytic. John Cage famously made a set of Ten Rules for students and teachers. The one that's always stuck out to me is "RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes." I actually find the claim a bit dismissive: I think it's more along the lines of one hand washing the other. Analysis surrounds the creative process. Some people don't need to inspect a story's trajectory before they write it, but those are special cases. The majority should analyze and then edit the fuck out of it. Same thing applies to most art, but art is also buoyed by context. The thing about context is it permeates consciously and subconsciously. So while there is always a degree of external context or influence in any creative process, some of it can be controlled, but not without analysis.

That's where Chasny's new album as Six Organs of Admittance comes into play. Hexadic is a powerful meditation on control and balance. And it's interesting for a lot of reasons, the first of which is its guiding core system, Ben Chasny's very own Hexadic system, of which I can't claim to know the fine details, but I can say is at once open-ended, attentive, and maybe even a little forgiving. He explains a bit on his website and also in the below interview a little bit, but to me, it brings up a lot of questions. What happens to authorship when a creation claims to emerge from a system, even an open one? And the real haunting question to me arrives from the nature of the Hexadic System being a product of creation from one mind and from many minds. Think of it this way: if Chasny is a prism, then certain influences (Agrippa, Bachelard, and Llull) might be the light going into him. Instead of just having a rainbow coming out the other end like you'd get from white light moving through a clear prism, the result from the Chasny Prism is the Hexadic system. So the system is a product of Chasny and it's also the product of the things he's put into his head.

But once the system is formed, it too becomes a prism for creation where Chasny might be the light moving through it, so we're back to the authorship question. What or who guides the light? Who built the watch that lies in desert sand? The rider and the horse, moving at the right speed, might be mistaken for one another.

Jordan Reyes: I started listening to Keiji Haino and Kan Mikami based on an interview you did with Pitchfork in 2006. I've always been somewhat enamored with Japanese music even before it became contemporary - folk music like with a shamisen, but hearing these people you mentioned really changed how I listen to music. Are there any musicians for you that you can pinpoint and say "That person changed how I thought music could be effective?"

Ben Chasny: I'd say the person that most changed the way I hear music is probably Rudolph Grey. His Mask Of Light record totally re-arranged how I listened to and appreciated music. His playing is often described as "action guitar," presumably to draw a line of correspondence with action painting. His whole approach was just so revolutionary. After I heard Rudolph, I listened to everything differently, even acoustic folk music. 

JR: Speaking of Haino, I caught Nazoranai last year and was totally caught in this abyss of the sublime where the volume and ferocity sort of filled me with a pleasant dread. Do you think fear can be a useful aspect of live or recorded music? How can it be used well?

BC: I think all moods come into play with music because moods are so important to life. Moods affect modes of knowing, and therefore communication. Fear is interesting. I think if one tries to actively make someone or an audience fearful it can come off as quite camp and easy. Some sounds cause fear as a by-product. So I think it's tricky to try to cause fear. Fear does come into play as a performer, though. Speaking as someone who is very reserved and shy, the fear of performing tends to heighten focus on the music. 

JR: I know that you've played and recorded improvisational music before. It's completely different head space than a practiced piece. What makes for a successful improvisation in your opinion?

BC: For me, a successful performance is one where I go places I've never been before and things seem to happen on their own. 

JR: Do you think that playing music with other people is important? Does a music experience need to be communal to be worthwhile?

BC: I don't think a music experience needs to be communal. I play alone quite a bit and it's still very enjoyable. Playing music with other people is a great way to grow as an artist, though. Every person I play with teaches me a new thing about music and that is a wonderful thing. I feel lucky that I am able to play with so many great musicians. 

JR: Your new record Hexadic is intense. It's ominous, almost like a harbinger of something. It's like that beast slouching towards Bethlehem in Yeats' "The Second Coming." Why did you decide to go this route?

BC: Thanks. I probably went this route because I haven't recorded a Six Organs record like that before. Heavier music has always been an influence but usually doesn't show itself. I just wanted to do a heavier record, my idea of heavier. I'm a huge fan of Casper Brötzmann so I sort of felt like it was time to make some production moves that parallel his world a bit. 

JR: Is there a specific sound tied to the Hexadic system? Does music made from it require intensity and loudness?

BC: No, not really. I just wanted this particular record to be intense and loud. In a way, it was all meant to magnify the peculiar and strange aspects of the system. I did a lot of acoustic songs using the system before I recorded Hexadic and they actually show off the internal logic of the system much better than the record. But I wasn't interested in having the record be supportive of the system. I wanted to make a record first and foremost and just use the system to do that. I'm hoping to do some more acoustic work soon with the system. 

JR: This may tie into the previous question, but your Hexadic system seems to be somewhat unpredictable in musical qualities. Drum beats hit in unexpected areas in unexpected time signatures. Vocals come in at novel times. Obviously if it's a system there's some sort of consistency in its rules, right? But how does it manage to seem so unpredictable at the same time?

BC: It could be because we are used to listening to music in a certain way. The things you are describing are time oriented. The system doesn't create music in a particular time signature, but instead, creates fields of notes that are supposed to be played for a given set of time. For example, let's say we have 5 different tonal fields (you can think of a tonal field as a cluster of 6 octave specific notes that can possibly be played within a given time) that we will call A, B, C, D, E, and F. Those tonal fields could be assigned a particular amount of beats. So for instance, maybe the the cards might be assigned A=3, B=2, C=7, D=2, F=3. That totals 17 beats total. Of course one could make riffs and have make combinations to involve a time signature, but the system generally conceives of these tonal fields as clusters that are presented one by one. So in that way, it is a bit of a different type of configuration of time. 

JR: Flipping through some of the images of the Hexadic deck also seems to me at once familiar and far away. Parts of these images I've seen before. And perhaps that's because symbology tends to rest on archetypes and mythology. Do you find that many of the symbols in the Hexadic deck are tied into certain mythologies or belief systems?

BC: There is a lot of symbolism in the cards. I worked with the artist (Steve Quenell, who does a lot of covers for me) closely. In terms of belief systems, it's probably closest to Hermetic philosophy, which in itself is very fluid. Those who are familiar with that sort of thing will see that right away. 

JR: You mention three historical figures having an impact on your creation of the system. Did any of their writings specifically influence the system?

BC: Yes. Gaston Bachelard's epistemological break, Agrippa's Square of The Sun, and Ramon Llull's combinatory methods of contemplation all played a large part in influencing the system. 

JR: Do you think you will use the Hexadic system to create and write more music? Is there room to expand the system itself?

BC: That is the plan right now. There will be more music made with it. The thing that I have tried to explain but which seems to get looked over is that the "system" is actually quite open and consists of different techniques. The Hexadic figure is just one way to compose with it. There is also a language aspect that uses Agrippa's Square of the Sun. There are graphic elements. All of these different parts interact with each other as in an assemblage. Because it is an assemblage, parts can be used or not. Parts can also be added. So I guess that was a long explanation to explain that yes, I do see more parts to the assemblage being added. Hopefully by other people.

JR: Now that you're going to release the notebook and deck, are you eager to see if people pick up on trying out the system? Do you have any expected reactions?

BC: I don't really know if anyone will find it interesting or useful but I'd like to make these things because they are part of the project. I'd love for people to add to the assemblage more than anything. If people do want to use it that would be wonderful, but I don't really have any expectations. 

JR: I know you're touring soon. Will you be enlisting the people who recorded with you for it?

BC: For the West Coast tour it is the same band. Those guys have serious jobs and can't really get away too much so I'll have different people for the different tours, however. Not exactly sure who yet. 

JR: What all is in the future for Ben Chasny and Six Organs of Admittance?

BC: Rangda just finished recording a record and Comets has been slowly recording a new record as well. There are always projects. For Six Organs I will be mostly concentrating on the Hexadic system, but there's also been talk of working on music for a play about Wallace Stevens. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Interview with Ryan Rousseau of Gila Man & Destruction Unit

I actually took this picture of Gila Man
Ryan Rousseau has played every single Goner Fest. He's played as Ryan Rousseau & His Desert Children, the Reatards, Destruction Unit, Earthmen & Strangers, Yuma Territorial Prison Guard, and Gila Man. Gila Man is Ryan's newest electronic-based project, though the man is no stranger to the siren call of a synthesizer. Though most clearly known for his roles as a figure in punk/rock with bands like The Reatards and The Wongs, Ryan has been making synth-oriented sounds since 2000. Destruction Unit has an interesting cross-section. Let's be clear, Destruction Unit makes psychedelic music, but each release does "psychedelic" differently. The early four-tracks are like sumfuck psychedelic. Sonoran is basically a krautrock album. And Deep Trip is the equivalent of watching The Running Man while drinking liquid DMT. So psychedelic comes with variety. And thank G*d it does because each Ryan doesn't seem to run out of ideas.

So let's get to Gila Man, Ryan's new techno project. I had the chance to catch Gila Man (and a slew of other Ascetic House favorites) at the Babylawn in Chicago. Ryan opened the night, playing his version of dance music, which is "supposed to [make you] feel as if you are dancing in an alien reptilian world." Hit the check mark for that reptile boogie box. But while the image is at once absurd, it also points to the idea that beyond the allure of electronic music is the allure of the unknowable & the unseen, which is inherently what drives psychedelia and exploration. You know this even if you've never thought of it that way. Expanding consciousness on one level can come from a chemical change in the brain, but it can also just as radically come from a new idea or an outside presence.

Dig. So growing up in a Christian household, I was told that the purpose of life is to conquer death - to be reborn once and never have to go through the transition again. When I learned about the Buddhist belief that we've been born countless of times and a final death/release from "reality" or consciousness is the reward, well, that was a bit of a mind-blower, and absolutely as game-changing as any chemically-driven experience I've had. Scientific fact and speculative fiction promote this idea, as does Ryan's work in all capacities, this uncannily permanent and pertinent and persistent "what if."

Where do we go from here? Stay tuned, sportsfans.

Jordan Reyes: Let's begin with something a bit unexpected. I know that you're a bit of a horror movie fan (maybe just a fan of the weird) and collect memorabilia. Are there any items in your collection that you're particularly proud of?

Ryan Rousseau: I'd say I'm a fan of science fact/fiction and not so much horror. I have acquired a lot of collectible junk through out the years, but nothing I wouldn't trade or sell.

JR: What are some of your favorite horror movies? Is there a certain style you prefer to others?
Stone God, the first GM release

RR: The Coffin Joe films, Basket Case & Blood are some of my favorite horror films. I don't like slasher/gore flicks.

JR: Tell me a little bit about your recent project Gila Man, one of your most overtly techno projects. When and why did you start making music as Gila Man?

RR: I started the Gila Man project to get more involved in dance parties. I've been recording synth-oriented music since 2000. Gila Man is based more on beats, ambient textures & the love of 90's Memphis gangsta rap.

JR: The only Gila I know is a lizard. Do you feel any sort of affinity with reptiles? Or even at a more basic level, do you like reptile life?

RR: I chose the name Gila Man because I do feel a strong connection with certain reptile species, like the gila monster & the sounds are very reptilian visually. You are supposed to feel as if you are dancing in an alien reptilian world.

JR: Prior to Gila Man, though, you've worked with a lot of electronics, like Dismal Light and even some of the releases under your own name. When did you begin getting into electronics? Do you enjoy electronic music more than rock-based music at this point?

RR: I love to record with synths and other electronics. I don't feel so limited to just the guitar frets and what I can do with the guitar. I pretty much always use a synth on anything i record that has guitar tracks and not vice versa.

JR: The last question is a bit of an oversimplification. Obviously, a lot of people have woven rock instrumentation with electronic music, especially in the psych rock realm, from many early Krautrockers to Lost Sounds to Moon Duo to your band Destruction Unit. Do you think that electronic instruments make music more "psychedelic" automatically?

RR: The so-called "psychedelic sounds" one can achieve with synths are pretty much endless.

JR: If someone stopped you, put a gun to your head, and demanded that you answer where the psychedelic elements of your music come from and you had less than 30 seconds to answer, what would you say?

RR: The "psychedelic" elements  come from within my brain and are channeled through the machines.

JR: You guys are also set to go into the studio to record the next Destruction Unit LP. When you go into the studio are you guys pretty much all set with the writing of the record or are there improvisation elements to the recording too?

RR: There will always be improvisation in our music, both live and in the studio. There is no fun without improvisation.

Destruction Unit
JR: Can you say anything about what the new record is like?

RR: The new Destruction Unit tracks are coming along just fine. The new album should have a bigger, tighter sound with more focus on the studio production. We'll have to wait n see what goes down in the studio next week. We're very excited to get this album under way.

JR: What all is in the future for Ryan Rousseau?

RR: Keep your eyes peeled for more Gila Man, Dismal Light & R.Rousseau releases on Cactus Man & Ascetic House in 2015.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Interview with Ted Sweeney of Negative Paper Assmebly & Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck

I met Ted through Rectal Hygienics and seeing him at a lot of shows, but to be honest, I've only seen Ted perform as part of Machismo. I knew Ted first as a dude with a sharp eye and a deep knowledge of both the perverse and the profound. Ted and I met after I had recently gotten sober. I'll always be an addict, but the key is to take the time I was using with substances and swap it out for something else that keeps boredom at bay. Two of those things are going to shows and reading. And Ted gave me (and continues to give me) a lot of recommendations. Not to go too in-depth, but Ted hipped me to Les Chantes de Maldoror, Dennis Cooper's George Miles Cycle, Les Fleurs du Mal, and others.

Trust me - it's all related. On one level, there's an element of "smut" to the selection, but beyond that is a backdrop that says "These Things Happen." Well, maybe not Maldoror fucking a shark, but you know what I mean. Ted calls his taste "aesthetically specific," which is a really genius euphemism for being cool with fucked-up-shit. His taste informs his output though, most clearly in his Negative Paper Assembly project, a visual art journey that on one level documents the prurient and the violent, but on another level takes the absurdity of the modern newspaper and mashes its horror together. There was a shooting on the Southside. Another politician steals money. A Catholic priest has abused a child. Actually scratch the absurdity of the modern newspaper because it's really an absurdity in the modern world. That's what makes Ted's visual art output uncanny but effective. Many of the images are familiar, but they're arranged in unfamiliar and often thought-provoking ways, leading the viewer to understand that for some people this world is a hell. These Things Happen.

I'd be remiss not to mention that Ted was the vocalist for Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck, a power electronics group out of Boston that emerged at the turn of the millennium. Apparently the band has started tossing around some ideas for more music - Ted briefly mentions that below. In the meantime, you can hear some of Ted's solo sounds in the trailers for Negative Paper Assembly.

Ted is also part of the I Can See The Music art exhibit in Chicago this weekend. I really wish I were going to be there: the art is going to be great and though I don't drink, I know you (the reader) probably do so I figured I'd let you know that it's also sponsored by Pabst. Free beer and free art is a pretty solid deal. Don't be a nerd!

Jordan Reyes: Tell me a bit about Negative Paper Assembly. You started it with Omar Gonzalez, but it seems to have continued as a solo visual art project. Where do you see it heading?

Ted Sweeney: I started Negative Paper Assembly to center around collage artwork I’d continued to work on after my output of musical releases began to slow. I’d always put so much concern and thought into the collage artwork I’d created, and decided if it were to stay a project I wanted to share, even if there weren’t necessarily a musical component to coincide with it, it seemed practical to affix a moniker, not just for the base purpose of branding - but so that there were a specific scope the project would retain and work within. The Assembly initially was noting the action of taking bits of paper and assembling them together. When Omar (and now others,) began to contribute, the word evolved into more than gluing paper diagrams of pigs heads onto erections out of glossy adult magazines - but it now became an assembly of artists who shared a similar interest: fixing cut swine onto cocks.

JR: When and how did you begin to do collage work?

TS: I suppose I’ve always maintained an interest in the idea of collage, dating back to owning Paul’s Boutique, or Endtroducing as a preteen, and realizing that all the creatives I’d held interest in, seemed to be hammering that thesis of recontextualization into my understanding of what art could be. Growing up, I’d never separated those pop records from something obvious and classic in the world of analog collage, like George Grosz or Hannah Hoch, or whomever the art schools think a collage artist should pay attention to. It also stems from the fact that, as is, I’m not particularly dextrous or gifted musically. So I frame and re-frame and de-fame, as opposed to buying a new paintbrush. It is the most expedient way to manifest all the nasties I’m stuck telling to go away for a minute while I try to mow the lawn. It is speaking with analogy: Why would I pitch new words to Oxford when using signs in unexpected juxtapositions might more adequately resonate with the audience?

JR: When you're creating a series, such as the first Negative Paper Assembly softcover, do you go in with a certain theme or idea! Is it aesthetic ever or ideological?

TS: I guess a certain theme might be difficult to nail down. When I make a sandwich I have a certain theme happening, and the end goal is for the delicious to resolve my hunger. It’s fair to say that my thematic sandwich is to adequately convey these disturbances in my observations, in creating landscapes that I’m always seeing - but aren’t necessarily ever happening at the same moment in the real world. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a child raped in the middle of the Super Bowl while a politician was running away with a big bag of money in a photograph from the newspaper, but this landscape is being drawn out for me in every single newspaper. It only makes sense that I map this out visually - lets me look at the terrain I’m walking through. 

JR: You recently did the cover for the Rectal Hygienics record. How long had this been in the works? What was the idea for it?

TS: Rectal Hygienics proposed using one of my collages for the release, which I could not have been more thrilled about. Without gushing too much or playing the hype-role too hard, I think they are one of the best and most musical important rock bands in America today. The actual project had been in the works for some time - I’d created and re-worked a few separate final products as I’d heard demo versions and “Directors Cuts”, which are different than the record you can pick up at Permanent today. As the record evolved, it was only appropriate that the artwork evolve with it.

TS: The general idea started as something very simple. One of the members said it should look like “some Macronympha shit.” That was all I’d needed to hear to get the ball rolling, but as the cover was worked and re-worked issues that the band both face and surrounding power and identity became much more important than sado iconography. I’m happy with how it came out - it visualizes how the record sounds for my purposes, a torn to shreds snapshot of the underbellies bellying under the underbelly.

JR: Tell me about the upcoming art show in Chicago. What sorts of pieces are in it? How did you set up the exhibit?

TS: Chad Edwards, a local curator, was pointed towards the Negative Paper Assembly website via Gifford Kasen, a close friend and owner of Logan Square Tattoo, where the I Can See The Music exhibition is taking place, with tons of works from great artists from all over. The premise of the show is that each artist involved selected a piece of music and create a visual artwork somehow inspired by it. It had been a minute since I’d moved from Chicago (I’m now located in Boston,) and I was excited about the prospect of sharing some of my new work with friends I hadn’t seen in months. I urge everyone in Chicagoland to come out if for no other reason than it is sponsored by Pabst, and free beer and art is good. Getting drunk and purchasing an expensive collage that your wife won’t let you hang up anywhere is good as well. Maybe better.

JR: You recently told me you were making solo music. How has that gone? Do you have any plans to release anything?

TS: Currently I do not work on music that I think needs to be shared as a standalone project. All of the trailers which are associated with Negative Paper Assembly’s publications have an  audio component that I’ve composed or arranged. They’re all on the Negative Paper Assembly website and Youtube if you’re curious about my sonic palette these days. The music I work on currently is not dissimilar from these compositions. I love listening to and creating abstract and violent experimental music, but I find the genre has reached a level of saturation where I do not care to contribute. That said, I still enjoy performing if the appropriate circumstances manifest themselves.

JR: You were a founding member of Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck. That project also got a pretty big reaction. Do you miss being in the project?

TS: Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck was a very significant part of my life starting just before the turn of the millenium. We’d put together sounds and performed what we’d later learned fit into a genre called power electronics, which we were unfamiliar with at the time. In the beginning, our desire was to create antagonistic noisecore music without drums or guitars, and have a live performance that was more caustic than anything we’d seen before. as we learned more behind the history of the sounds we were making, and matured (to use a term as loosely as I can manage,) as songwriters, the project was able to become the exact spectacle I would like to listen to and watch, which is often times all I’m ever really striving for. With that said, we did just record together for the first time in years and years, and I was very happy with the bits we were tossing around - so we’ll see what comes out of that.

JR: You were the vocalist for the project. How did you write your lyrics? Did anyone or anything particularly inspire you?

TS: Initially my lyrics were based entirely on snappy-one liners that were snotty and obnoxious, but hardly memorable.

TS: “Adolph Hitler was nothing without his mustache.”

TS: Lyrics that kinda popped like a balloon, very loud but hardly with much substance. As the band started to cut its teeth, I’d focus on more personal lyrics, like those that can be found in Red And Brown, a song about discovering the infidelity in a committed relationship by contracting an STD from the person you love.

TS: “This must be before me. Just keep praying it was before me. And now I can’t fuck you when all can I do is stare knowing his lips were there.”

TS: Let’s be honest - none of these are vying at the Frost Medal, but this is the lyrical component for Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck. I’m sure Elliott Smith would have chosen his words more carefully than I did writing the lyrics for Girls Born in the Nineties. But hey, he’s dead now - so look how far that got him. I’ve actually been listening to a lot of Elliot Smith today, and probably could’ve come up with a better comparison here. Fuck it.

JR: You guys do seem to play live every now and again still though. How do these shows come to be?

TS: The last show we played was at Suxby Suxwest in 2014. We basically came out of retirement to play this one set. Believe me, it takes a whole lot for me to get myself in a place to smash my body and mind enough to pull off a true-to-form Twodeadsluts set these days, but Shane was able to convince me once Jonathan Cash proposed the idea to him. Having a lot of good friends on the bill was pretty much what sealed the deal for me.

TS: I just lied. we played the Apop Records 10 Year Anniversary more recently than that. My arm was in a cast due to a mishap performing guest vocals for Machismo a few weeks prior. I had to wrap my whole arm is duct tape and secure it to my body, just to make sure I wouldn’t fuck myself up more than I’d already had - so I was slightly limited in terms of what I’d like to do for a performance.

JR: You somewhat recently moved back to Boston. Are there any projects or artists from there with whom you feel any kinship?

TS: Since moving back last summer I haven’t spent much time digging into the local music scene to intelligently talk about Boston’s “Hot or Not” list. In terms of a kinship (really seeing eye to eye on a project) even though I don’t see many similarities sonically, I would have to mention Nurture Abuse. I know Chris has indicated he’s been working on new material - I’m really excited to hear what he’s on right now.

JR: What do you think makes a noise or experimental project appealing? Why would Ted Sweeney be listening to any particular project?

TS: Noise music is a tricky one. I listen to a lot of the the really lush and shimmering, like Organum or Tribulations-style Skullflower. But it takes a lot for me to really swoon over a release after that first listen. I listen to a lot of releases exactly once. The Breathing Problem tape that was in the car I cracked up a few months back was getting a lot of play, but sadly the tape went with the rest of the car: from the tow truck to the scrapyard.

TS: I will say I’m a total sucker for that electro-acoustic turning into a tornado at the drop of a dime style. Jason Crumer told me the kids call that “slambient.” He may have just made that genre up, too…not sure. Because he’s one of the better players at that game, I’ll let him have it. Pedestrian Deposit, Kazuma Kubota, Oscillating Innards, a lot of that stuff that was coming out six or seven years ago. Wicked A/B shit, but with some poetry behind the fuzz. Can never get enough of it.

TS: Most importantly, I like creatives who bring something wildly different to the table, not working at being an oddity - because that’s what they would be doing anyways. Folk like the Gerogerigegege, Les Joyaux De La Princesse, Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock, Vagina Dentata Organ - you couldn’t repro those visions if you listened to Yellow Trash Bazooka as if it were Kabbalistic studies. They completely own their sound, and that’s why those bands stay so fucking good.

JR: You've given me a LOT of book and movie recommendations. Loaded question, but can you give me quick top 10 books and movies lists?

TS: In fairness, that’s not really a loaded question - but it is a tall order. I’m never good at recalling the shit I’ve been digging on when someone asks me to. How about this…

TS: Ten pieces of literature that I can see from where I’m typing and have no problem recommending:

1. G.P.O. vs G.P.O., Genesis P-Orridge
2. Uptown Problems 1-3, Nicholas Clemente
3. Gay Men and Anal Eroticism (Tops, Bottoms, and Versatiles), Steven G. Underwood
4. The Myth Of Natural Rights and Other Essays, L.A. Rollins
5. The Banquet Years, Robert Shattuck
6. Choosing Death (The Improbably History of Death Metal and Grindcore), Albert Mudrian
7. Drugs Are Nice, Lisa Carver
8. The Weaklings (XL), Dennis Cooper
9. Collage (The Making of Modern Art), Brandon Taylor
10. Cancer As A Social Activity (Affirmations of World’s End), Michael IX Williams

JR: What draws you to a book or movie?

TS: Well, you can’t judge a book by its cover - but to be honest, that’s what will grab me. I am easily seduced. I take a lot of chances with books and usually get ten pages into them and quickly realize they’re going to be source material for one of my collages before I ever get to page eleven. Kiddiepunk is putting out a lot of stuff that excites me, although the concern there is that so much of it’s very sexy and immediate, and whether Skeleton Keys, just for example, or that type of flashy agit-kink, will hold up over the test of time - well, it’s dubious. But I like it for just that reason. It’s a seductive little package I can cruise through and drop and that’s all I’d ever want from it. I feel the same way as I feel about a Last Days of Humanity record or that movie Red White and Blue (just caught it on Netflix the other night.) This media serves its purpose to a fucking T, catching my fancy, and at the same time remaining completely disposable.

JR: What's in the future for Ted Sweeney?

TS: My future’s so bright I gotta throw shade. Fucking fuck everyone who makes art still. Get over it. We need more people writing about it. I have had more fun checking your blog - thanks for your efforts Jordan, this is a great thing you’ve got going. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Interview with William Bennett of Cut Hands

William Bennett's legacy doesn't really need to be discussed at this point. That doesn't mean I'm not going to discuss it though. I mean, the guy coined the phrase "Power Electronics" in the notes to his seminal Whitehouse album Psychopathia Sexualis. And to be perfectly frank, Bennett could have only done Whitehouse and still been a successful underground musician. The difficulty is that William, beyond being a noise mainstay, is also a pioneering sound artist: he's simply not satisfied with one sound.

Cue Cut Hands. I could talk about the dozens of other projects that William has been involved in, but I'm not going to. For my money, Cut Hands is doing something not so much artistically revolutionary as it is doing something artistically necessary. Let's lay the cards on the table: power electronics and noise aren't known for being exactly welcoming or liberating styles of music. For every Tim Hecker (I know it's not PE), there's a Deathkey or Hate Speech. The reason I find Cut Hands to be so valuable is its inclusiveness - Cut Hands synthesizes what might be lumped into the "world music" category with noise and ends up not only being rhythmically transcendent but inspiring and novel. And you can dance your ass off to it!

Cut Hands recently released a 2 x LP called Festival of the Dead, which incorporates the aforementioned superb understanding of rhythm with thoughtful samples and noise passages. I find it to be a vital record, rather than simply an engaging record, which, of course, it is. I fired off some questions to William across the pond, trying to get a better understanding of his mindset, and here's what I got from him.

Jordan Reyes: I often think of physical art (like records, paintings, or film) as a modern example of Plato's idea of form and substance. A form (record) houses substance (music). Do you think that any specific "forms," or formats as they are often called today, are better for the substance in your work?

William Bennett: Well, as a vinyl lover, I have my own subjective preferences but to each their own; it's not just a question of the format that music format that music is packaged in, but also the phyisiology of the environment in which it's experienced, so many transparent concessions in fact.

JR: When you go into the process of creating Cut Hands material do you have any specific ritual or philosophy to get your mind in the right place?

WB: Actually, in order to enhance creativity I actively tend towards avoiding ritual or at least any repetition of process, that keeps things evolving in a nice way

JR: To me, there seems to be an element of ritual and even the spiritual in the music and live element of Cut Hands. Is there a place for the ritualistic or spiritual in Cut Hands' output?

WB: In the spirituality sense, absolutely yes

JR: I saw you open for Godflesh in Chicago several months ago and was really quite taken with the audiovisual synthesis of what was projected behind you. Did you create the backdrop? What material did you use and how did you gather it?

WB: Thank you, they are personally created, I've used elements of the films and photos of Maya Deren too - funnily enough, the use of visuals originally dated back to wanting no light at all, the only way to have the house lights down was by using visuals and then just projecting a black screen! then bit by bit texts were added, some b/w visuals, and now it's a full-blown explosion colour

JR: Perhaps a frivolous question, though I'm curious - you also employed a certain dance/posture where you put your hands together above your head and shook your body a bit a couple times. Did you get that dance from something specific or did it just come to you?

WB: I have learnt many styles of formal dance however with music like this it's nice to just let it possess you and let it do its own thing

JR: On your online store, you sell Cut Hands t-shirts - I think they're even handmade - but you state that your preferred attire is to have them cut and cropped. Where did that style of dress come from?

WB: I'm not sure it's particularly original, it's just nice to have shirts not look so much like the kind of thing you'd buy in a regular store

JR: In the pursuit of "Afronoise," are there any places, people, or ideas that have been particularly instrumental in its genesis and gestation?

WB: Af course a lot of people, the original spark for the project came from seeing some amazing inspirational voodoo music from Haiti, so I wanted to incorporate more of that kind of energy and intensity into my own music (the music itself would be almost impossibly difficult to recreate), I don't think Cut Hands sounds particularly 'African' (whatever that means).

JR: You just released a new 2 x LP called "Festival of the Dead." What was the process of writing and recording this album for you?

WB: Long! I spend almost every day working in the studio and each song takes way more time than I wish it would, like weeks for a single song sometimes, just too fussy really.

JR: Where does the name "Festival of the Dead" come from?

WB: It's a universal and ancient celebration of death that is present in most societies around the world, especially around the end of October - some of the most spectacular are for example Día De La Muerte in Mexico and Obon in Japan; all the music is dedicated to that celebration.

JR: The color of artwork for "Festival of the Dead" is much different as well. There's a red background as opposed to the typical black. Obviously, this was a conscious decision, but why did you make it?

WB: It was big decision to break with the tradition of black, we (i.e. Mimsy, Blackest Ever Black label, and myself) wanted it to look beautiful and thought it would look really striking and stand out from other people's records.

JR: Do you think you will tour the U.S. in support of the album?

WB: Yes, there should be a few US dates this summer I think

JR: What is something about William Bennett that most people would not guess or know?

WB: I hate swimming in water when I can't see the bottom

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Interview with James Tom of Krakatau

I pick up every record that Trouble in Mind puts out. It's just something that I do. Wanna know why? It's because Bill & Lisa Roe only put out slam dunks! Krakatau's Water Near a Bridge from last year falls into this category.

Krakatau is a three-piece (Dylan Lieberman, Danny Smith, & James Tom) Australian band in the vein of Popol Vuh or even Chicago's own Bitchin' Bajas- sort of psychedelic slow burn, sometimes as reminiscent of a transposed Gregorian chant as rock music. They're about to come to the United States to play Austin Psych Fest at the beginning of May and are priming the release of two separate records that they're hoping to finish by the end of that month (they detail these below).

This sportsfan cannot wait!

Jordan Reyes: You guys just released your debut LP on Trouble in Mind, US label, last year. I'm curious since you're from Australia - how did you guys get in touch with Bill and Lisa? Did you know each other (or know of each other) before?

James Tom: I was talking to my friend James Vinchi who plays drums in Total Control and at the time I lived with his girlfriend in a share house. Asked what he thought about Trouble In Min as a label: turned out he personally knew Bill and Lisa and sent our album to them. Literally an hour later they contacted me offering to put it out.

JR: That record "Water Near A Bridge" is made of three longer pieces. How much of those pieces is pre-written and how much is improvised?

JT: The first and last of the tracks are semi improvised pieces, we would perform these and at a glance or musical signifier, change to the next section within the piece. So lots of room for improvising with each of our individual parts within the pieces. The second piece on the album ‘All Water Near a  Bridge’ is  a posthumous track created in the studio with organ tape loops made from Riddells Creek, it sort of tied into a bigger idea I had for the record and I liked the duality of meaning in the title. The album signifies the end of an era in someway; our bass player was moving to Canada on exchange for a year, we were in the early stages of playing more complicated progressive material but wanted to catch what we had been up till this point. ‘Water Near a Bridge’ is a retrospective record even at the time of recording.

JR: Water as an element or theme appears in many of your song/movement titles for "Water Near A Bridge" like "Riddells Creek" and "Leviathan Theme." Is this a conscious decision? Was the idea of water important in the construction of the album?

JT:  The title ties mainly into what I talk about in the above paragraph; A metaphorical water (the band changing) passing under the bridge yet it hasn’t quite. Kind of playing with the ‘water under the bridge’ idiom. As for ‘Riddells Creek’ that’s the geographic location of where we recorded that tune and wrote the piece with that location in mind. The feeling of the record to me is a dark naturalism; water may be s key part of this feeling though!

JR: Similarly, the name Krakatau is the same as Krakatoa, a massive volcanic island. Seems like the theme of uncontrollable nature is important to you guys. Do you find that you guys function at all as conduits of the uncontrollable or perhaps the unfathomable?

JT: When we started we were 100% about improvisation (or semi-improvisation) it has always allowed an important performance aspect congruous to our sound and allowed us to become better musicians over a shorter period of time. So I guess in that sense there was a tie in to our name; unstable, improvisational etc. But melodic change and pattern has always been paramount to how I write songs with Krakatau. We don’t really rely on effects at all these days (though still use sparingly). I think we’ve progressed a lot since 2012 & Water Near a Bridge.

JR: One of the bands that comes to mind when I think of you all is Popol Vuh, who did a lot of Werner Herzog's movies. I can't help but think of your music as functioning in the realm of film. Do you guys have any interest in the film medium? Would you ever consider scoring film?

JT: We all love Popol Vuh and have for a long time; ‘In den Gärten Pharaos’ and ‘Hosianna Mantra’ are seminal records in my opinion. I actually studied film and have scored music for all of the shorts I’ve made. The crossover to me feels really natural and I would love the opportunity to do more film scoring. Also I should mention Goblin are another huge influence for Krakatau. 

JR: I saw on your facebook page you're trying to finish two records before May. Are these LP length records? Seems like a lot to do!

JT: Well yes, our last record was recorded in 2012 so we've pretty much been working on new material since. The first record we finish will be a 12” ‘single’ but I use this term lightly as both songs clock in around 10 minutes. This will also include possibly our most accessible tune to date, a slow synth driven jazz-funk slow burner. So I’m interested in how people respond.

JT: The other record contains material that we've literally been work shopping for years. It’s our most complex, arranged and progressive work to date. It has two almost side long tracks (one with vocals even!) and a third track that we’re not sure if it will fit on. This one will be released probably late 2015/early 2016 where the 12” will probably be out in a few months.

JR: How's the writing/recording process going? Where are you guys?

JT: As it stands we still need to record half the album so each weekend we have two days of rehearsal where we painstakingly go over different sections fine tuning rhythmic and melodic relationships between each of the parts in the song. It is close to being recorded.
JR: You guys are coming to the US to play for Austin Psych Fest. Are you going to tour at all around this appearance?

JT: Pending Visa approval yes, there will be a tour!

JR: Are there any artists you particularly want to see at APF?

JT: Fuzz and one or two others. Most of my favourite contemporary music these days is outside of the rock sphere. Sometimes I wish there were more artists blurring that divide between rock and electronic (techno, house, experimental).

JR: What all is in the future for Krakatau?

JT: These two records I’ve mentioned, a music video that ties in with the 12” single, a US tour and probably late 2015/early 2016 a third full length album.