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

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