I'm getting ready for another round of shows with Negativland, this time four in Texas:
June 18 at Aurora Picture Show in Houston.
June 19 at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz Theater in Austin
June 20 at Red7 in Austin
June 21 at the Texas Theater in Dallas.
It will be hot and sticky, especially in those flannel plaid shirts we wear. But it will be fun and if you live anywhere near those places, please endeavor to come, and if you know me, please do say hi (preferably after our set when i'm not worrying about something show-related).
I've posted this before but here's a little sampler/trailer of what the shows are like if you haven't seen it already:
I have no explanations for why I've taken so long to blog about this, other than the super boring and tired excuse that I've been super busy, and the slightly more interesting fact that Facebook has thoroughly trained me to not blog much, which is sad.
Anyway, it's been over 6 weeks since this happened, but as February turned to March I was in California to perform with Negativland. We played in Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, and Oakland. It was extremely rewarding, fun, and largely, it seems a success, artistically.
Here is some media about the shows, written/recorded both before and after:
Vice Noisy piece written after the LA show. (this is probably the best one to read)
East Bay Express article about Negativland and the Oakland show.
episode of Jake Fogelnest's podcast in which Peter of Negativland is the guest, the day after the LA show.
episode of Jonathan Ray's podcast, Beating A Pale Horse, in which he interviews me (mostly about other things, but toward the end we talk about Negativland and my involvement).
In short, it was a great time. And we now have 2 other little "mini-tours" booked: June in Texas (Houston, Austin, and Dallas), and end of August in the Northwest (Seattle's Bumbershoot, Portland, and Vancouver, BC)
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>>>
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 just saw this great, weird little film tonight called The Sound of My Voice. It's pretty thought provoking. The film is about two documentary filmmakers trying to make a film about a cult, but they sort of get drawn into the cult themselves, which is led by a woman who claims she's from the future, and it starts not being clear if she's lying or not.
they let you watch the first 12 minutes of it on the film's web site:
Anyway, it's somewhat good timing for me seeing this film now, having just finished reading a great book about Mormons and fundamentalist Mormon cults, and also in the wake of the bizarre and sad events at Diamond Mountain retreat center a few weeks ago - a place where I helped shoot parts of an ongoing documentary about a 3-year Buddhist retreat.
It also brings up a sort of meta-issue, about "weird movies" or more generally, any "weird" art or cultural work. By weird I mean in this case something challenging, whose meaning or "answer" is extremely confusing and isn't easily apparent. A head-scratcher, something that has you walking out of the theater wondering what the hell actually was going on in the film, and has you talking about it on the way home.
The issue I want to bring up is, why are some people (like myself, for instance) quick to identify some cultural artifacts like this as just purposeful obfuscation, weirdness just to impart the feeling of mystery and confusion, to give you a sort of high from the strangeness and ambiguity, with no real coherent meaning or solution possible? While others look at the same thing and want to spend time to puzzle it out, decipher and debate and discuss and find "the answer"? And which is the more healthy response?
I remember having a similar reaction to all of David Lynch's last few films, starting with Mullholand Drive, and being actually more and more pissed off and angry at him with each film he made after that one, for, I thought (still think?) purposely fucking with us without any hope of real coherent interpretation. But then recently I read a brilliant and detailed blog post explaining exactly the entirety of Mullholland Drive, written by the genius Film Crit Hulk. I read that and I thought, "wow, it really does make some kind of sense, I guess, explained this way. Well I'll be dipped." Nevertheless, does that mean there's a "solution" to everything? Not neccessarily.
On one hand, whether there's a meaning/answer or not to one of these kinds of artifacts, it's a waste to spend too much time thinking about it. Right? (I mean, in a world where people are starving or torturing each other or whatever, can't we put off til later the arguing about quirky movies? I suppose this is a sort of Adorno-esque, poetry-after-Auschwitz response to the problem.) But, on the other hand, is it a sign of a sort of hopelessness or cynicism (or is it willingness to let go of a desire for meaning?), to assume that something that you can't figure out quickly has to be nonsense, an intellectual laziness chosen over an innocent enthusiasm to explore a fictional world as a pure excercise in entertaining mental puzzle-solving? What does it say about those that tend to choose the cynical/hopeless path? What kind of people take the one approach and what kind take the other?
On the day before the start of this year's National Novel-Writing Month, which I plan to participate in (and succeed at, like I did 5 years ago), I've decided to finally get around to a blog entry I've been meaning to post for many months. What I want to do is list some of my favorite passages from David Shields' amazing book "Reality Hunger: A Manifesto." The book is a sort of inspirational artistic romp through the hybrid world of mixed fiction/nonfiction, narrative/memoir, original/remixed writing and other media. My "novel" I plan to write in November will be just this sort of hybrid, so I need to look through Shields' book again anyway. Here are a few choice quotes (which themselves may be quotes he's making, largely uncited, from others, and which I will largely leave uncited, with a few exceptions):
So yesterday, as you're aware, Brother Camping was proven wrong once again about when the world would end. To commemorate this I put together a little DJ set of relevant music and sound and broadcast it on ustream. While "spinning" I also played some old vhs tapes on a tv and pointed my webcam at the screen in an attempt at improvising some kind of video element without too much preparation. You can watch/listen below, and below that, read the playlist. I like how i managed to make the set tell a little story, introducing the situation, looking at the people going and the people "left behind" from both perspectives, then getting into the nature of evil while also criticizing the assumptions of the Dispensationalists that believe wackos like Harold Camping and others like him throughout history... then examining the armageddon situation as it would continue, and then some final jabs at Christianity and the worst of those who believe it, and finally it all dissolves away and everything is ok... or is it?
Playlist: Read more>>>
This is the first in a series of postings about creative pursuits and other activities in my long-ago past. I recently digitized several old vhs tapes full of various things I've done, including short film, video collage, and various music projects. Here I'll tell you about a short-lived but very unusual and very fun band I was in almost 20 years ago.
In the early 90s I was part of an small circle of musicians in Ann Arbor, Michigan that did various experimental or "avant garde" sound projects, including a "band" called Ears Under Siege. Having its origins in one installment of a collagey, noisy radio show I did at WCBN called The Difficult Listening Hour, the group was basically about creating long, ambient, droney soundscapes, inspired by artists like The Hafler Trio, Nurse With Wound, Phauss, Eno, etc. There was sort of a revolving membership to this band but the core of the group was myself and Neil Chastain. I was into sampling and Neil had tons of old synthesizers, and we would include various other players of electronic or acoustic instruments, somehow always maintaining a sort of low-key, spacey yet challenging aesthetic. Every session would start with a long period of everyone tweaking their instruments, developing patches and editing samples and setting up elaborate chains of effects processors. Jeff Warmouth, mostly on bass guitar, and Kevin Lee on electronics, became quite frequent participants and the group was around for a couple of years, playing several gigs and recording lots of material.
Bu this is about a totally different band. At one point in the summer of 1993, Jeff, Kevin, and I met for an Ears Under Siege session at my apartment. I can't remember if we knew beforehand, but Neil did not show because he was out of town, playing drums with another group of his, the math-rock band Craw based in Cleveland. Anyway, we scheduled the meeting anyway and set up our piles of gear but then as we started fiddling with sounds we decided we wanted to do something different. Perhaps it was Neil's absence or maybe it was some other sense of a need for variety, but we decided to try playing a series of really short songs, instead of the long, 20 to 30 minutes drone pieces that EUS was so partial to creating.
The challenge to come up with something different that would be interesting in just a minute or two ended up Read more>>>
I just read this great rant by a movie industry bigwig, screenwriter of "A History of Violence." It's entertaining it's extreme honesty and openness about the craft of screenwriting, and it's funny, and it's called "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script." I recommend reading it if you are any sort of creative person.
One of the best ideas is this: Read more>>>
Here's another example of the burgeoning field of making interesting aggregate works out of raw materials found on YouTube, along the lines of Kutiman's synthesized ensembles. This one forces hundreds of cats from around the world to play 3 piano pieces by Arnold Schoenberg, the composer who sort of invented modern Western atonal music. If you're a music geek or a collage nut or a related type of dork, or if you just like cats, these video clips and the explanation of how they were made will be really awesome to you, otherwise, well, watch out....