In this modern age of economic tightness and shifting paradigms of distribution and funding, cultural workers of all kinds have been somewhat adrift for awhile now. At this point in history and in my career, monetization and promotion is still an ongoing challenge. Crowdsourcing such as Kickstarter seems promising. Grants are out there but have always been hit-or-miss, especially in the U.S. amidst its current anti-art climate. Today I want to just take a moment to tip my hat to one general model, and one specific instance of it: the small independent "record label" has been an important type of patron for musical and other artists for years. (The quotes are because both words are somewhat anachronistic, aren't they?) These little companies have been changing the landscape for decades in a variety of ways, and even as the "diy" way of doing things continues to grow in viability, there's still recently been, and will continue to be, an important role and need for the small, focused, dedicated outlets that nurture and curate the creations that are too under-the-radar or off-the-map for mass corporate attention.
In 1997 I found out about a new label starting up that seemed to be perfectly matched to my interests as a sample-based composer. It was called Illegal Art. At that first moment I actually suspected their initial call for submissions to be spam, or a prank, but they went on to be very important and a huge boon to me over the next decade and a half. Now they're going on indefinite hiatus.
IA specialized in music (or "audio art") made from found sonic materials. The first thing they put out was a compilation called Deconstructing Beck, which had a track of mine on it and which almost got us all sued by Beck's label, Geffen. (a few days ago was the 15th Anniversary of that disc's release.) A couple of years later they released a CD of my work, Original, the first disc by a single artist that they ever put out. I'd been ready to self-distribute, burning CD-Rs myself and stuffing them in envelopes, but they saved me from this and got my work into stores as far away as the Tower Records in Tokyo. Because of this first solo CD, and the closeness in aesthetic focus between Illegal Art and my website, Detritus, for some time I would hear the rumor that myself and Philo T.Farnsworth, the label's head, were the same person. This amused both of us and we didn't spend a whole lot of energy trying to prove it was false. Soon the label went on to publish a long list of other, amazing releases by artists far more accomplished and skilled than I, including Girl Talk, Steinski, Wobbly, and People Like Us.
Seven years ago, after a gradual turn from experimental music to socially-conscious filmmaking, I was just finishing up my first full-length documentary, On The Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juarez. Philo was impressed enough with it that he decided to take a significant step outside of Illegal Art's usual wheelhouse, and offered to release the film on DVD. Once again, for something that I was going to just go small-scale and DIY on, suddenly Philo gave me the rare and pleasureable experience of seeing something I made show up in stores and on Amazon and get reviewed in magazines, without that being because of my own legwork - something I, like many artists, am pretty bad at and have trouble getting motivated to do.
Illegal Art never had a lot of cash, and though they secured pretty good distribution deals, being an artist on their roster was not a huge financial windfall or star-making machine (Girl Talk is the exception, one HUGE star to come out of their stable. However, a few months after my DVD came out, I was still getting mucho disrespect from festivals and other institutions, including one conference in Juarez itself that cared so little about my film that I had to put up my own hand-written posters at the last minute to advertise a screening there - see the above photo).
But there was a certain cachet to the label, and I was proud to be a part of it. They never went on to put out any more DVDs, and I think mine was not a financial success, although they did do two pressings of the disc. But the film is still available from their website, along with most of the rest of their catalog (and they're working on providing the older releases), on a pay-what-you-wish (even zero!) basis. I can't really begin to put into eloquent words how important it is, what a rare treat it is, as a creative person, to have someone else, someone that's not only an individual but a business, put trust and interest and work and money into something in a way that not only shows their approval, but that assists in getting that something further along and out into the world (and in a way that clearly is not exploitation, as so many other record labels or film distributors are gulity of).
So: thank you, Philo. Thank you, Illegal Art. You've done well. Read more>>>
People are always dying, every day, all over the world, even dying too early. Our superconnected, hypermediated world usually rings the alarms and the mourning bells only when someone somehow famous or celebrated does it. I usually am sad when someone at least reasonably not a bad person passes and gets loudly eulogized in the echoing hall of mirrors that is our infosmogged culture, but I try to keep some perspective, because so many suffer and expire without so much as a ripple in that data-pond.
Nevertheless, out of all of the tragic early losses from the ranks of famous cultural workers, there is one that I truly really wish were not so. Not Whitney Houston, Nora Ephron, Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse, even Roberto Bolaño or Elliot Smith - yeah, sad, but David Foster Wallace truly stands out above anyone else I can think of as such an exceptional mind that it's literally a huge loss to the world that he will not be around, to continue to grace us with more of what he did. I say this not simply because he was such a skilled writer - which her certainly was - but really more because the wisdom of so much that he wrote and said (i.e. in interviews) is so consistently extraordinary and just plain useful to me as a human being (and I would think to others as well). He combined the gift of stellar talent in his craft with such an extreme intelligence and, most importantly, such an extreme concern and compassion for his audience and humans in general, I just am staggered when I think that we may have had, should have had, as a nation, as a people, as a society, 20 or 30 more years of benefit from having him around, doing stuff. I literally think he was on a level of compassionate, spiritual intelligence comparable to Gandhi, MLK, the Dalai Lama... take your pick.
I confess that I was late at appreciating this. I still have about five-sevenths of his entire output to read. But almost every time I read anything of his I am just blown away and... enlightened, even if just a little bit. There are not many writers that I could say that about. Yes, there are many that are good, and/or very smart, very clever, advance the form, etc. But to also just express things that teach me how to be a better human being - that's rare.
I'm reading his second book of short non-fiction, Consider The Lobster, and what made me want to write this post is his 1999 piece contained in that volume, originally for Harpers, called "Authority and American Usage" (original title, "Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage"). You might get a few pages into this and think, so what, it's a really smart guy reviewing a book about another really smart guy being a stickler for grammar and so what. But there's so much more to it, because on the way to explaining why the dictionary he's reviewing is a good one, he swerves and swings out into tangents, as most DFW pieces do, that seem at first to be unearned departures, but turn out to be completely relevant and coherent with his main point. In this review he discusses abortion, racism, classism, child development, his own childhood and the traumas therein, democracy, the crisis in education and especially the teaching of English, white privilege, and more - all in a review of a dictionary! And most striking is his personal discussion of his efforts as a college Lit teacher to get his students to be better writers, so they can go further in our society (and in turn make our society better, also), out of a sincere and deep caring and compassion for those students that is just unparalleled...
He was just super unique and valuable, and I really wish he were still alive and around to care about and help his fellow humans like he so obviously and deeply did. Read more>>>
I just posted to Bandcamp the second in a series of unearthed old tape releases of mine from the early 90s (see here for background and details about the first tape). After a few years of playing guitar in noisy, gothy, thrashy, bluesy, punk bands, I began to meet and jam with a few people I met from the University of Michigan music school, as I got more and more influenced by non-rock musics like Cage, Zorn, Sun Ra, Faust, and The Hafler Trio. I was exposed to this stuff via the student radio station I was at, WCBN, as well as the music classes I was taking as a kind of reprieve from my engineering coursework that I hated.
I believe it was in the fall of 1991 when I started doing a radio show called The Difficult Listening Hour, which was a late Sunday evening collage of field recordings and media samplings, mixed with a flurried survey of 20th-Century contemporary art music. One week I invited my friend Neil Chastain down to the studio, and we set up tape loops and synths and samplers and jammed live on the radio for an hour. The posters were a collage of commercial promoverbage and one phrase, "Ears Under Siege" jumped out, so afterward we decided to keep working in this mode under that name (at the same time we were playing with 2 sax players in a noise-jazz group called Wax Utensil Guild, and Neil was drumming in a math-metal band in Cleveland called Craw as well as working on his music degree and playing in several other music school ensembles). I invited Jeff Warmouth from an earlier band we were in, The Tao Puppies, to join us on bass and effects, and things clicked for several long recording/improvising sessions and a few scattered gigs (including the infamous Noiseapalooza in the summer of 1993). As we went we brought in a variety of other instrumentalists, along with Kevin Lee on tapes and electronics.
In early 93 we put together the best distillation of many hours of recordings, boiled down to a 60 minute tape, and I released it on my Viral Communications label. This is electronic/electric music made before there were laptops and the current craze of high-end retro custom synths and fancy controllers. And yet I still like and am pleased by the sound of these tracks, raw but richly textured, restrained at times but (and sometimes also) unapologetically challenging at others. Abstract, but with a sprinkling of sociopolitical messaging and dada whimsy mixed in too. I hope you enjoy them now. Read more>>>
I'm delving lately into boxes full of old cassette tapes I've been carefully storing. Some are over 20 years old. So far they still sound okay. These tapes contain some of my very early forays into making music as a self-identified "composer" and "fine art" or "experimental" musician. Some of them I released to the public, under the aegis of a cassette label called Viral Communications, which I operated from approximately 1992 to 1996 (the name inspired by William S. Burroughs and his writings that "language is a virus from outer space"). With this label I produced seven albums, which included my work, recordings by some bands I was in, as well as a compilation of music by various fringe Ann Arbor artists and an album by an avant-jazz group some friends were in. With the founding of VirComm, I launched myself into a thriving, pre-internet long-distance community known as the zine and cassette underground. I published a zine called Synergy (which I will be scanning and re-releasing soon), and sent that and my tapes out to dozens of other zines that reviewed them, and a handful of people ordered stuff and wrote me letters and sent me their stuff. In this age of digital recording and instant mass distribution, those days seem like a bizarre and clunky primitive world, but there was a certain exciting, rewarding aura to those odd hand-packaged cassettes and booklets that in some ways for me has still never been matched. Read more>>>
The other day I realized I had over one hundred photos on my phone that I had never downloaded (sideloaded? whatever) from it. Periodically I do that, not that often because it's a little bit of a pain, but this time I hadn't done it last since May 2012. After the process was complete and I was looking through them all I realized that it was interesting how the things I took photos of were in some ways different than what I shoot when I have a "real" camera with me. In a way it's a story of the last seven months of my life, told with the only device I had available, that I have with me all the time.
Since the cameras on phones are pretty low quality compared to dedicated cameras, and my phone's cam is especially bad, that means I'm usually only snapping a photo when I'm going about my regular life - I don't go out on a project to shoot cell phone photos. It's only while I'm on my way to do something else and I run into something weird or notable, or, in a few cases, i want to take a photo of the camera that i'm using to shoot something else in a more high-quality way.
It's interesting, for me at least. Just to click through them and get a different angle on last year. See the whole set here.
Any sort of "connoiseurship," which might be described as an extreme
knowledgeability and affection for a certain subject or practice, is a
potential "rabbit hole" down which one could descend quite far if one allows it.
And the internet often makes that hole deeper and, shall we say,
smoother, all the time. Easier to fall in, easier to fall down it, both further and faster. It might be also possible that just as there are addictive personalities, there might also be personalities that tend to do this (is this the same as obsessive-compulsive?) - not about just a single interest, but that are more susceptible to getting geeky about any specialized area. Because "geekiness" is another word for this, isn't it - either geekiness or its dark twin, hipsterism. Hipsters differ from geeks in that they want to use Read more>>>
This is about a bad idea, and a set of other, good ideas, and an essay by Paul Kingsnorth called Dark Ecology in which he writes wonderfully about those ideas. It's a long (17 page), somewhat slow, meditative, and often sad piece of writing, and you're no doubt extremely busy. And so I will understand if you don't get to it. You may not even get to this here, as you peruse the title and first few lines of this blog post in your facebook feed. But I'm writing, here, my summary of it, so maybe at least some folks I know might get the gist. Still, there's no way I can really replace the original, so if you do feel interested, or inspired, you should click and read.
Who is this for? Is it for you? Well, first of all if you self-identify as an "environmentalist" or as "green" or as someone interested in "sustainability," then this, and Kingsnorth's piece, is for you. It's also for you if you care about nature and where the natural world is headed and where our society and civilization is headed. Read more>>>
As the New Year slouches into being and beyond, one thing that is a goal I have is to write more, including writing more here on this blog. Blogging has fallen by the wayside for me in the last few years, I think mostly because of Facebook. I think this has happened to a lot of good people with blogs. On the other hand, lots of friends who could never have been bothered to have a blog are now very regularly posting the same sorts of things that they would have probably put on a blog if they had bothered, so I'm not saying Facebook has been a complete disaster, socially at least.
However, for me, to the degree that writing helps to center the thought
process and provide a map or template for life, Facebook has served to
fragment and defocus my thinking and leave me wandering a territory I'm a
little lost in. And so, not a 'resolution', but a loose goal, to write
more here. And if you start coming back here you will probably see it
To start, here I'm going to simply provide a bit of textual accompaniment to some recent photos. Because what our favorite social networking service has also done is fragment and defocus my photographic practice. Or rather, the practice of organizing and presenting the output of my photographic practice. Because I've continued to takes lots of photos, some of them even quite good. But I used to be very diligent and prompt, for the most part, about posting the better ones on my Flickr account. I invite you to click through and peruse them more thoroughly at some point. Read more>>>
Early this fall, I was asked by my friend Peter Young to provide audio accompaniment to the opening of his art exhibition, "Capitalist Masterpieces", at Tucson MOCA. The original idea was that, instead of having a band or a DJ play normal music that would just get turned to mud by the cavernous, reverberant space of the museum (which used to be the city of Tucson's downtown firehouse), why not provide a soundscape performance that was more fit to that room, and also fill the other smaller galleries with abstract sound inspired by the paintings? Because of problems resulting from the museum's priorities, we weren't able to provide all of Peter's request, but I did create 3 site-specific audio art pieces for 3 of the back galleries, which I'm rather happy with and would love to have heard beyond the one-time, 2-hour event. Here you can listen to these pieces, and if you wish, purchase the tracks for yourself. Buying the whole album also gets you a map and some photos from the opening on December 14.
For the last year or so Greta and I have been part of a little group of backyard chicken-keepers here in Tucson, called Zen Hens. We want to print up t-shirts and other stuff with our logo on it, but we're lacking the capital to invest in that, so we're doing a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. I made the campaign video. Click through using this widget, and if you want to help out, or just get a cool t-shirt or apron or sticker, pledge your support. Thanks!