"Plausibly Live" was a project I began back in the early 'oughts, attempting to represent a sort of simulation of the last few years of my live musical performances. I carefully edited and condensed recordings of the best moments from the improvisational electronic gigs I'd done in 1998 through 2002, but then life got in the way and the results never saw the light of day, til now. There are plenty more details in the capacious liner notes on the Bandcamp page. I hope you enjoy them, and the sounds.
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'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>>>
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>>>
I've always liked this song by Cat Power, "Maybe Not." I first heard it when I got it from the Protest Records website 7 years ago. It seems appropriate to blog about it today, especially because it popped up on my ipod shuffle while running this morning, and i had just been listening to a bunch of Cat Power yesterday. The song has many interpretations, and many video adaptations by fans, of varying quality, in addition to live renditions, covers, and a really mediocre "official" version. This is my favorite:
The lyrics are worth reading and thinking about:
There’s a dream that I see, I pray it can be 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>>>
3:47 minutes (4.33 MB)
For the last year or more I have been gradually getting back into making music. It's been slow going, partially because of the learning curve of new audio tools I'm working with, and also because I've been uncertain what sort of music I want to be making. One thing I know is that I do not want music to be my primary creative focus like it once was (for about 13 years ending in 2003). Filmmaking is still what I take the most seriously. Music is something I now want to do mostly just for fun.
So, I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do and how, but it will be more "accessible" than the experimental and noisy sound collages I used to specialise in, and it won't be so serious. Read more>>>