Interview conducted by Jack Chuter
Your new album Guts is an assault/dissection of a piano. Can you tell us about the piano in question?
About 10 years ago I was driving around, and I saw this old piano sitting on the street. I had a pick-up truck so I pulled over and asked the folks in the house if I could take it and they were very happy to know I wanted it. So there were about six neighbors helping out lifting this damn heavy piano into my truck and then when I got home I couldn’t get it out of my truck alone because as you know, pianos are really fucking heavy! So I cut up the piano inside my truck with a big power saw so that all there was the iron piano soundboard or the “guts” as I would refer to it. Even trying to get the “guts” moved was extremely difficult; I had it outside at my house and used it for sounds here and there, but to be honest it was best used for neighbor children to bang on it for fun, which was really fun to watch and hear as you can imagine.
Finally I had to get rid of this massive chunk of wood and metal so I put an ad in Craigslist for free scrap metal, and then after posting it I thought, “Oh crap! I’ll never have my piano guts again!” So I ran outside to the piano guts and put a Zoom digital recorder inside the sound board, and proceeded to smash the hell out of it for a hour until a metal scrapper came to take it away. For an hour I was throwing big rocks at the strings like a baseball player, trashing the strings with a huge wooden stick or taking a garden rake and thrashing the strings to hell and back. The whole neighborhood was wondering what the fuck was going on at my house – rather funny actually! I mean, my time with the piano was hot so I got the most intense noise out of it before it went away. After that I took the high-res raw recordings and mangled them to hell and back with a lot of computer granular synthesis and such.
I feel it’s a good relationship to the acoustic and the electronic world in which I am always trying to find the perfect balance. I never really do pure digital computer noise and nor do I ever create pure acoustic music, so the marriage between the two is always important for me to get a strong weld. As far as location goes it was at my house, so in a sense it’s like going out to my backyard to get some fresh lettuce from my garden, but instead it’s grabbing some fresh piano noise from my rusty old piano. I really like that “hunter and gatherer” mentality with making music. I’m not sure if there was an inspiration to choose to use a piano because it all seemed to fall together in a coincidence of sorts. As I was working on it I did get feeling I was onto something. I really like a lot of other deconstructed piano work from other artists – Anthony Pateras is one of my all time favorites – yet never would I imagine I would do something like this. It sort of all fall into place…or rather crashed.
You’ve used an X-ray of your dog Arrow as the album cover. Why is this image appropriate for Guts?
About three years ago my tiny Chihuahua got attacked by a huge Labrador, and it was so awful that I had to pry open the large dog’s jaws top get my little doggy out. Horrible incident! He should have died! He was okay after all with some internal bruising, but the vet gave me the x-rays and they were brilliant to behold. I said to myself that some day this will make a great LP cover or sorts and I waited for the right recording to come around. As with all of my recordings, the most difficult work is actually coming up with a title. Hard to believe but it’s true. I struggle the hardest with titles and never in my DNA brain could I come up with even track title, let alone the ability to make lyrics! Making sounds and noise is natural to me but words are another thing. As I was working on this piano recordings I was going to call it “Piano Guts” and then I remembered my doggies x-rays and it all fall into place to just call it Guts. I’m not sure if most other people have referred to the inside of the piano as the “guts” but I always referred to anything inside of something as “guts”, so the title and the doggy X-rays fitted and all was fine from there.
Does creating this music have a particular function for you?
Well it’s something that I “have” to do because it’s in my DNA wiring. I can’t stop working with sound because it’s simply what I like to do passionately. Nothing more or less. It’s just a pure passion of mine. When I say “What Does Blood Sound Like?”, this is referring to what is the gasoline that fuels your engine to create and invent yourself. For myself, I divide each day with equal proportions of mind, body and spirit. For the mind, I will read books and educate myself, for body I will exercise and practice good health, and then for spirit I simply work on art; whether it’s photography, video work, writing and of course music. Keeping everything in balance is very important. Poor health will infect the mind and spirit and so forth, backwards and forwards and so on and on. It sounds almost corny and trite but really it’s true and it’s a solid system to live by.
Is it cathartic in any way?
I don’t think it’s cathartic in any way to be honest, because it’s just a natural feeling to me and fortunately technology is very good tool for me to create what I want in sound.
Do you believe your music to have an ideal listening setup or environment? If so, what is it?
Probably not during a nice date…or maybe? Well, what I mean that my work is best for loners and so is most weird music. It seems to be simple math that avant-garde music is created by solitary individuals for solitary listeners, and it’s always been that. I’m referring to recordings of course, and it’s true that this music is demanding to be heard alone without anyone around or distractions. It’s loner music by loner musicians, and for the most part and that’s a beautiful thing! For myself, my work has been intended for a one-to-one experience and what it means to have a personal-emotional relationship with the drama contained within the sounds and noise. After all, I feel I’m more of a dramatist with sound than a musician, so drama plays a strong role on how the listener can get lost. The thrill and danger of getting lost alone in a dense forest is the ideal feeling I hope to achieve with my sound work. If you ever have been lost alone somewhere, then you’ll know the feeling. There’s some fear involved in the unknown, yet there is also comfort in the loneliness. This is where music plays the important role to all of us. The Romanian philosopher Emile M. Cioran once said about music: “Music is the refuge of souls ulcerated by happiness.” I think that saying is a bit true in regards to how us humans are so spiritually weak compared to the animal kingdom in that we “need” music, so there’s a sense of humor in what Emile Cioran is saying.
You’ve recently started uploading a series of raw field recordings of various locations (empty school basements, waterfalls/rivers). What does these soundscapes possess that makes them worthy of capturing?
I’ve been recording a lot of nature sounds since I scored a simple digital recorder. Since I hike a lot, I take my camera and snap a lot of photos and if at a position of interest then I will record sound; typically at far away places away from any urban sound whatsoever, although planes can fly by and ruin a pure recording. So far I can say I have recorded days worth of nature recordings, and I have mixed and edited them down for anyone to hear online through Soundcloud. Some of the mixes are so scattered in time and place but the cross-fades and arrangements work really well on their own. So in short, I make raw nature recordings just like I take photos – basically stealing the soul out of my subjects just like what the Native Americans used to say about white man and their early cameras! Occasionally I’ll record something not very natural like, say, loud sizzling electrical power lines that are crackling with a zillion volts of electricity. I really like those recordings a lot, and the power lines that I recorded were deep in the mountains. And then there was a high school I used to work at…in the summer, when there were no students, I walked around the huge basements recording just the ambience of the rooms. You can hear these loud cracking sounds; that is the sound of my ankles cracking. I used to skateboard a lot and my ankles are really crunchy. I was amazed how loud my ankles cracked in those quiet rooms! It just added to the recordings. I can say that the element of adventure is what makes a recording worth while – not really planning, but simply finding an amazing situation to capture a sound. “Hunting and gathering” is still the main urge within us.
What’s next for yourself and your music?
Right now I am working on a huge gigantic collaboration project with the duo-group Mamiffer, which will be a very shocking recording for sure complete with multimedia audio and video. This will be quite the surprise for many who are familiar with Mamiffer and even my work. Hopefully there will be live collaborations as well with this relationship. Beyond that, I have other ideas and such but it’s too early to spill the beans on them as of yet.
What can be expected from your upcoming string of live European dates?
I’ll be performing (hopefully) with my video work – that is if the venues have a projector. But if not that’s fine, because I perform two different types of performances: with or without the video. I make these videos of billions of animated nature photos flickering in a strobe light manner, and I perform with live electronics and simple contact mics on my body and objects in my hand. I’m very excited in performing now because I feel I am making some of my most intense work. There’s an odd thrill in being able to create intense work as I am getting older; typically aging inspires a mellowing of sorts but I’m at a different angle. The closer to my mortality I am, the more intense my output has become. When I ask the metaphorical question: “What does blood sound like?” I better be walking the talk with that. So expect a crimson tsunami!