Interview by Dan Warburton
April 4th 2009, détourné by email July 2009
time-honoured boring PT style, I'll start with the usual question about
your origins and background, so –
don't think things should be boring for routine reasons, so let's
try something out:
I'm interested in extending the exploratory aspect of improvisation to other areas that might seem to be at the periphery of music production
such as interviews and the way I present myself in the context of music.
I think that our knowledge about a certain player influences our appreciation of her or his music.
So I don't make a clear distinction between the production of sounds and the way one presents oneself.
A musician giving an interview should be honest: you should be the same person you are at home and the same when you're playing.
One coherent subject.
But I can see from the way you've asked me certain questions and the way you've edited my answers
you want to portray me in a certain way, as someone I don't think I am.
Then again, I'm not a singular coherent subject
and even if I might have done things to feed steoreotypes of this persona called Mattin, that doesn't mean I agree with all of them.
So I'll try at times to follow your game, and at other times to disrupt it
understanding that we might fail miserably
but at least we'll have countered the normative qualities of the interview.
I'll try to go against the stereotypical persona that I and others have created
against the mediation of my self-presentation.
Against the idea of neutrality in this interview, probably in order to feed another stereotype..
will this ever end?
That's the beauty of improvisation, it never ends.
When I say neutrality I'm thinking of the way people used to record improvisation sessions
trying to achieve as much fidelity to the event, creating the feeling that by listening to the recordings you're almost there with the players.
We all know that this is absolutely impossible, that there are always decisions that mediate your relationship with the recording.
For example, Dan gives the impression that this interview took place in a cafe in Paris in April, which it originally did, but we are now typing at our computers and it's early July.
– did you have a musical childhood?
No, not particularly,
but my mother had lots of tapes. Bands like MCD and Eskorbuto. I discovered
punk rock at the same as the Velvet Underground and the Stooges. Punk
in the Basque country was very political. Bilbao was totally economically
fucked in terms of industrial decline in about 1983. It used to be very
important for shipbuilding, and when that stopped in the 80s, there were
riots. There was a lot of unemployment, and a lot of drugs. Heroin. Middle
class kids weren't interested in following their parents, so they started
taking heroin. A whole generation, a lot of my mother's friends just..
died. It was really something. Heroin started in the middle class milieu
but the Spanish police used it to infiltrate the lower classes in order
to depoliticize the Basque radical left. There were demonstrations every
weekend, and for fun we used to go and pick up the rubber balls the police
used to fire at the protesters. It was intense. And the punk rockers were
talking about this – some of them were very political, some were
pretty nihilistic, but they all made something out of it. There were social
centres, squats or gaztetxes [young people's centres] –
it was a very politicized scene. It's great that there's a very strong
tradition of squatted social centres in the Basque country. The squat
scene was very connected to punk. Now with some friends we're trying to
reconnect squatting with improvisation, trying to see what the connections
between the two practices are, in the sense that both try to produce a
more autonomous social space. Trying to produce your own subjectivity
within the situation you find yourself in, either by inhabiting a squatted
space or by dealing with your instruments.
If I'm alienated why don't I squat myself?
Were you playing anything yourself back then?
No, I didn't
start until the early 90s, when there was another small scene that sprang
up, more influenced by Sonic Youth, the American indie thing. Quite noisy.
It was called Getxo Sound. But the politics had changed by then. People
had started singing in English, to distance themselves from their immediate
environment. I guess it was a direct response to the populist approach
of Rock Radical Vasco (Basque Radical Rock). It was also a class thing.
I played bass in an indie band called Intedomine, and sang on one song.
The rest of the band were pretty pissed off at me, because I didn't have
a good sense of time and used to change the bass lines. The drummer [Iñigo
Eguillor] was always getting mad at me. I still play with him in La Grieta,
and he's still mad at me (laughs) - actually that's not true:
he's one of the sweetest people I know. Iñigo and I played with
Josetxo Anitua as Josetxo Grieta until last year when Josetxo died. Josetxo
used to play in a amazing band called Cancer Moon. Iñigo and the
other guys from Intedomine now play in a band called Gringo.
BILBAO, MIERDA, ROCK'N'ROLL
What other music were you listening to at the time? Jazz? Contemporary?
No, not until
I got to London. We were always listening to things from a kind of rock
perspective. Maybe I still am, but I also understand more the problems
involved with rock, how close-minded it sometimes is, how male. I had
a Japanese friend, Natzuki Uruma, who took me to see Masonna, and that
was amazing. And then later on I saw Filament – those high sinewaves
created such a different perception of space!
Why do we need to constantly map out our influences?
Bilbao must have changed a lot since they built the Guggenheim Museum. What do you feel when you go back today?
Before, you could feel that there was something going on in the streets. In one high school I went to there were sit-ins and they squatted the building, because they wanted people to speak Basque. There was a constant political tension that was very rich. Now it's more diluted, not as present. Having said that, the other day I was walking where I used to live in Algorta and found this anarchist/autonomist bookshop called Eztabaida, and thought, great. Something is going on. We can sell our records there, and they seem to be interested. And it's just five minutes from where I used to live. But in general, Bilbao got very gentrified. How gentrified did I get myself?
Do you have any sense of national identity yourself? Do you think of yourself as Spanish, or Basque, or what?
In Bilbao there
has never been an strong tradition of speaking Basque so I don't speak
it, but I did grow up in that environment. At school there were Spanish
history books and Basque history books. I still feel very connected to
a certain Basqueness, but not in the kind of politics the Basque separatists
want. I'm interested in the idea of resistance, of people refusing passports
and living underground, not the idelogical aspect that they are fighting
for. I'm not interested in the construction of a Basque nation, or any
other nation (is there a nation without police?). It's like what Jean
Genet said about the PLO, I'm interested in the rebels, they look so beautiful
etc., but once they get a nation, count me out. For me this is easy to
say: Genet actually lived with the PLO for several years.
You've moved around a bit – you lived in Berlin for two years, and before that seven years in London.You're based in New York at the moment, right?
Yes, but only
until the 5th of June, when I'm going to Gotland in Sweden, where my girlfriend
lives. That's where Ingmar Bergman lived the last 40 years of his life,
and where Pippi Longstocking was filmed. At the moment I am doing
the Whitney Independent Study Program and living one block away from Ground
Zero, in a room that belongs to Jeff
Perkins. He's a really interesting artist who used to do light shows
for the Velvet Underground, Cream, and later The Germs, when he was living
in LA. He's also very good friends with Henry Flynt. This year we've been
organising four-hour lecture sessions in our kitchen with Henry Flynt
talking about the economic crisis and communism.
much distance is there
our political claims
our everyday actions?
When and why did you move to London?
I was a very bad student, probably the worst. So in 1995 I went to London to learn English. And clean dishes. I worked in a hotel in Harrow, cleaning dishes. A few years later, I was working in a factory in Poole, Dorset, making and packing pies, and I said to myself, I'd better do something with my life. So next year I enrolled in Art School. I did a Foundation in Camberwell [College of Arts], a B.A. in Central Saint Martins (apart from Anne Tallentire the college was fucked), and then an M.A. in Art Theory at Goldsmiths, which was great.
Who was on the Faculty at the time?
was quite impressive. Everything was interesting and experimental. You
could try things out. Things were pretty eye-opening. Later on we could
see that it was quite problematic in political terms. They're very good
at generating sophisticated terminology and theory, but I sometimes wonder
how much they wanted to put it in practice and how much it was going to
help the underprivileged. Then again I also wonder how much what we do
helps to change the dominant culture, and the people excluded from it.
For me the important thing was Eddie Prévost's workshop, where I met people like Tim Goldie, Anthony Guerra, Denis Dubovtsev and Romuald Wadych, great people. I heard about Eddie's workshop through the LMC.
much of what we do helps
change the dominant culture
and the people excluded from it?
So you were listening to improvised music by the time you got to Saint Martins, then.
I went to an LMC festival in 1999, and saw John Tilbury, Mass Producers and Filament. They had like a stall with all the Resonance magazines, so I got a few of them and started reading, and that's where I heard about Eddie's workshop. And it really changed my life. People were so committed to what they were doing. People like Seymour [Wright]. There was a feeling that we were doing something interesting and important. It was very focused and there was a sense of self-organisation. Eddie's generosity was exemplary in the sense of giving us the courage to just go and do it. It inspired us to self-organise, get our concerts, get labels running, write about what we do and so on.
How were the workshops organised?
Eddie had a
kind of.. strategy, like ways of playing, duos, trios, quartets. There
wasn't much talking. Maybe that was kind of part of the AMM thing. After
the workshops we'd go to the pub, and there we'd talk. Share information,
organise concerts.. I like talking! I don't make a distinction between
talking and improvising anyway, they're both part of the same thing. I
don't believe there's any kind of purity in playing music. There's a musical
quality to talking and a conversational element to playing, and they feed
each other. They're both ideologically and historically constructed practices,
frameworks that limit (or focus) our scope of action. The more that we
talk about them, the more we're able to understand and transform them.
Can talking be a form of praxis?
When you started, you were using a guitar and sampler. When did the computer become your instrument?
I went to Berlin
in 2000 and there was this off-ICMC computer music conference at Podewil,
and all these people were playing, like [Zbigniew] Karkowski, Merzbow,
Pita, everybody was there. It was very refreshing. When I came back to
London I got a computer. I basically liked that the computer was not only
an instrument for music but for many other things. I could basically run
my label with the computer: email, covers, website, music, mastering,
burning CDRs.. But more and more I think the idea of the instrument is
problematic. We're faced with so many possibilities: focussing on a single
instrument sounds very reductive. Especially now that trumpets try to
sound like electronics, and electronics like acoustic instuments, and
so on. I try to think of ideas as instruments, to have a more open understanding
of what improvisation could be, rather than focus in formal terms as it
was before. At some point improvisation became so enclosed.
many times have we thought that things can be different
yet we daren't change the situation we find ourselves in?
Explain how computer feedback works.
It's very simple.
I've always had a very direct approach to things. If you turn up the volume
to your computer, and set the the little microphone inside to maximum
level it will feed back, just like any other type of microphone. I just
put it through some filters and add some white noise or pink noise. For
me, the thing was to use elements that were marginal in other types of
music, take something of no real value and use it. I was influenced by
Keiji Haino and Bruce Russell, and wanted the computer to sound like that,
like those guys who played guitar in that very brutal way. I didn't want
to sound like Mego. I didn't want it to sound digital. I didn't want it
to sound glitchy. I wanted it raw. Punk rock. When I saw Masonna, it was
like punk taken to extremes. People find punk rock kind of stupid, kind
of limiting in its parameters, but at the same time the kind of affective
quality is empowering. It gives you the feeling that you can
also do it. I'm still dialectically dealing with that, trying to make
something out of that contradiction between sophistication and brutality.
How pretentious can I be?
When did you start the wmo/r label?
2001, to release my own stuff, and have control over it. There were three
things that interested me at the time: that Haino / Russell guitar sound,
the nasty feedback of Whitehouse. And Radu Malfatti, who was equally radical,
in a different way. There was something going on that was really mind-opening.
Can you do that? Yes you can! You can hear 30 second silent tracks in
Whitehouse's New Britain, and if you amplify Malfatti's die
temperatur der bedeutung to death it's fucking noise. You can see
they're very similar. Maybe it's about going against a certain notion
of "musicality" to achieve your own voice, but the extreme and
perverse has always interested me.
Right now, I can do things differently
and I don't want to ask myself later:
when did I miss my chance?
How did you get into Malfatti's music? Which piece opened the way?
I'd heard a
lot about Malfatti and then we did a tour with Joel Stern and went to
Nickelsdorf [Austria] and Christof Kurzmann told us about the duo [he'd
released, Rotophormen (Charhizma)] with Annette [Krebs] and Andrea
[Neumann] and mentioned Radu and Bernhard Günter, like if you like
silence you should listen to that. I saw Günter perform live, and
thought, wow, this is something. After hearing all those punk records
played as loud as possible, to be able to hear all the detail was fantastic.
I was also listening to Cage and Reynols' Blank Tapes, the very
quiet stuff. I've always been interested in minimalism. As in, how minimal
can you get? How boring can you get? What questions emerge when you push
things to extremes? So when I heard about Radu Malfatti and Wandelweiser,
things like Antoine Beuger's Spinoza piece [calme étendue (spinoza)],
I was interested.
Apparently it took a month for Beuger to perform that piece, which consisted of extracting all the monosyllabic words from Spinoza's Ethics, and reading them one by one, one every eight seconds. So he was performing from four to eight hours a day, just sitting there reading calmly. The extreme nature of the work, its duration, questions what a concert is, what music is, what the audience is if it cannot hear the whole concert, and to what extent one is committed. It just breaks with so many conventions of what a concert or performance is. And then you have the issue about value, how do you measure the value that is produced in this concert? Do you judge it according to its musical quality? What is the musical quality of the piece? Or do you give value to the amount of boredom that is produces? But aren't we actually pretty bored ourselves even if we are constantly reading and writing in internet forums, blogs and websites like this one?
Another piece that I found interesting along the same lines was Robert Barry's Closed Gallery Piece, in an exhibition in Amsterdam, 1969, at Art and Project, which was basically an invitation card saying
during the exhibition the gallery will be closed
This type of
work questions value production, and the limits of what is considered
art or not. But why are all my references to male artists or musicians?
Graciela Carnevale did a much more radical exhibition in a much more difficult
context (Argentina under strong repression) a year earlier. She was part
of the Grupo de Artistas de Vangardia, formed in the 1960s, which created
some of the most important examples of political and investigative art
in Latin America. Their practices encouraged the viewer to consider ideas
such as power, economic disparity, the state and the social role of art.
An early work by the group, Experimental Art Cycle (Rosario, October 1968),
was a series of individual exhibitions that challenged the conventional
role of the gallery, placing art within a wider context. On the opening
night of Graciela Carnevale's exhibition she locked the guests in the
exhibition space (she slipped out and then locked it from the outside).
They only escaped when a passing member of the public smashed the gallery
window. This exhibition questions radically notions of authorship, forcing
the audience to activate the space, think about power structures and do
something about them in a situation which is fucked.
For me the most interesting artworks of the last century were probably Duchamp's readymades, Cage's 4'33'' and Debord's first film Hurlements en faveur de Sade, which interestingly enough came out the same year that Tudor performed 4'33'' for the first time, in 1952. Even if politically I wouldn't trust either Cage or Duchamp, and Debord's filmmaking took ideas from Isidore Isou, what their works have in common is that they bring a new paradigm shift on how art and music can be understood. They radically question what the framework of artistic activity is, what its relationship is to our everyday life. They bring the social context in which they are presented or produced to the forefront. Their minimal nature makes people question at the same time the production and the reception of the piece. In Duchamp's readymade, is the worker who has mass-produced the bicycle wheel the artist, or the one that claims it as art? Or in the case of the Cage or the Debord, who is performing the piece when the audience itself activates the context in which it is presented, often by its own rage? I saw Hurlements en faveur de Sade screened in New York, and almost 60 years later it still created conflict: some people started singing, others told them to shut up, and others replied: do you think this was made to be appreciated in some puritanical way?
I often question myself about improvisation today. People seem to be making this music just to show what great players they are, rather than to open things up, or show how fucked up things are. If somebody intervenes during a concert they get angry, as if something was being taken away from them. Or, even worse, if somebody copies them, they think that they're being ripped off. This type of wanna-be-genius mentality makes me sick.
proud to say I have invented nothing.
All I've done is taken from somewhere else.
When did you meet Radu himself?
Thanks to Christof Kurzmann I got a residency in Quarter 21 in Vienna for three months in the summer of 2003, and set up a concert there with Klaus [Filip], who I knew already, Dean Roberts and Radu. We went on to record that disc that came out on Grob [Building Excess], and it was a great feeling. That quartet was really special, totally surreal, really beautiful. It's probably the most mellow thing that I've done. I'm very happy with that album. Radu wasn't. The label had to pay him 400€ (instead of copies of the disc he preferred money). I remember you criticised it quite a bit too.
Did I? You remember my reviews more than I do. Maybe I'd been blown away by Whitenoise first, and it was a question of EAI overkill. I listened to it again not long ago and enjoyed it very much, if that's any consolation. Had Radu heard your noisy stuff before you played together? When I played with him and Frédéric Blondy, he'd been tipped off by Axel Dörner that Blondy played piano like Fred Van Hove, and Radu was worried. Until we did the gig and he was delighted.
No, I always
played it cool with him. I showed him my soft side (laughs).
I really wanted to play with him. About that time I was preparing the
on improvisation and politics, and I had one extended conversation with
Radu, which was very interesting, and then at the end of my stay in Vienna
we recorded Whitenoise in Amann Studios, and it just clicked.
It just felt right. That's one of the best things that I've done. It was
very clinical – we did one thing for about 30 minutes, like warming
up. Radu had three mics on his trombone – Amann you know is very
meticulous – and the computer was very loud, so we were in two different
rooms, listening to each other through headphones. There was no editing
at all, apart from taking the silence away, like removing the sounds of
Radu's stomach gurgling and the saliva in his mouth. It was very straightforward.
A great experience. When we finished we knew that we had made a good record.
For me Whitenoise reaffirms an already established appreciation of improvised music. Nowadays I'm interested in making records that are more difficult to categorise. People tell me that what I do is too conceptual, that it's no longer about music, that it's post-music. But of course it's about music. Perhaps not the music that you like, but I still play concerts and make records which contain sounds. It's not about subtraction, as if bringing ideas prevents you from focussing on the music. It's about adding ideas and concepts in order to explore what could be done without reaffirming or consolidating an established genre of music.
How can we make a music that cannot be easily pigeonholed? Take Attention, for example. When Taku Unami and I finished that record we didn't know how people would react. Many people laughed at it and took it as a joke, but others didn't: Jean-Luc Guionnet told me that along with Whitenoise it was the best record I'd been involved in, and Miguel Prado thought it was even better than Whitenoise. Alex (Angelus Novus) gave it one of the most interesting reviews we've ever had, and another guy at a post punk blogzine, ZGUN,even did a review in the form of a concrete poem. The release inspired him to experiment with the format that he was dealing with. I get a kick out of these types of responses rather from people telling me I am a "good musician." They're probably lying anyway.
Was the following year's Pinknoise [with Junko] deliberately intended to be the total antithesis of Whitenoise?
Well, it made sense. One was quite quiet and the other was quite loud. The story about that is very simple – in March 2004 when I produced those CDs I was in Australia, staying with Swerve from Dual Plover. There was this computer shop run by these Chinese Australians who were selling clam-shell cases, five clear, and five pink. We needed a lot of CD cases, so we used the clear ones for Whitenoise and the pink ones for Pinknoise.
How was that session with Junko?
She's like.. a highway, you just go with it. Playing with her is not about
improvisation, it's about keeping the same level of intensity. One of
the speakers got fucked (sorry Taku!). Junko is such a special person.
When we recorded that, I was with Taku, who mastered the album, and we
took Junko to the station afterwards to catch her train. I'll never forget
the sight of her, just standing there waiving us goodbye. It was so touching,
this person who can produce the most horrific, brutal sounds, looking
Out of 39 interviews published in this website there is only one interview with a woman. This interview helps the gender imbalance represented in this website.
At the end of 2007 I organised a solo concert for her in a tiny venue in Berlin, a very small basement with a huge PA. Junko's microphone was on the verge of feedback, and she played for an hour, the longest hour of my life. Each scream was like the sharpest knife slicing your brain, and the more the people left the room the louder it got because there was less protection between you and the speakers. By the end of the concert there were only eight people left, three of them in tears, and we all looked totally disturbed, as if we'd just watched our fathers being raped for a whole hour. Total alienation in the form of the most beautiful concrete poetry ever.
Unami is one of your frequent playing partners these days. When did you start working with him?
I first saw him play with Mark Wastell at the Bonnington Centre, but I'd already heard that CDR of his, Music for Whitenoise , which I thought was very interesting. I'm very interested in white noise, as you can imagine. So I went to the concert and he was like, oh we can set up this tour for you. Being with Taku is extremely inspiring. I love his.. I don't know if it's right word, but perversion, the idea that things are possible, the craziest, stupidest things. Try things out. Anything is possible. For example, in this interview, I should be just talking about my background and my music, so that others can understand what I'm doing. But one thing I learn from improvisation is that you don't always know what you are doing. Do I really know what I'm doing? Do you?
What are the
privileges that allow us to do this? I'd love to have a Marxist and /
or feminist analysis of the situation. Why don't you do that instead of
concentrating on details of my miserable and pathetic musical life?
Why haven't I met any feminist or queer activists in the improv scene?
Firstly because I'm not sufficiently well-versed in Marxist analysis to undertake the task, and secondly because I find those details more interesting than you do. I'd sooner listen to a piece of music than read a book of philosophy, unlike my friend and yours Jean-Luc Guionnet. Talking of Jean-Luc, how did you meet him?
I first heard him with Hubbub at Freedom Of The City in May 2003, and then he set up a concert for Tim [Goldie], myself and him at the Instants Chavirés. I remember that gig, Tim with his mirrored sunglasses saying, this is fucking cool!
It was fucking loud.
Well, we like to have fun (laughs). Is playing loud the only way I know how to have fun? No no, I also like to be soft. Did Jean-Luc tell you about this project that we're doing? We're about to release this concert we did in Niort with Seijiro Murayama last summer. We're all interested in philosophy, and Jean-Luc saw certain connections between the non-philosophy of François Laruelle and non-idiomatic improvisation. I already knew [philosopher] Ray Brassier in London, who'd organised some conferences on the subject of noise at Middlesex University, and he told me he did his Ph.D. on this obscure French philosopher, who turned out to be François. So Ray was the man to work with. We thought he'd want to do something with language, a kind of commentary, something like that, so we met up in Paris for a couple of days. And he said, I don't know what I want, but I know that I don't want to be "the philosopher", I want to be up there with you. So I was like, well what can you play? He said, well when I was about ten years old this nun taught me a couple of chords on the guitar.. and Jean-Luc was saying, fuck, I've played with too many bad guitarists. What's going to happen? Then we had this opportunity of playing the NPAI festival in Niort, and Ray picked up an electric guitar for the first time in his life. We had a basic structure worked out so that he would play solo for the first 15 minutes. So there he was, this guy who'd never played an electric guitar in his life, playing in a festival of improvised music. The whole concert was very intense, amazing. Many musicians who were there didn't like it at all, because there was something else going on other than just music. Other people really liked it. What we set out to do was to make people cry. And one person did! So that's what we're going to release. We learned many interesting things from that concert. Most importantly that you don't need to be a musician to improvise. Musicianship isn't all that important. How much can you expand the notion of improvisation? Get rid of the roles. Who is the philosopher here, who is the musician?
Have you always felt the need to explain what you do in words?
seen musical production as part of social production, linked to different
elements of society. Like I said, I grew up with punk, and the lyrics
of the songs I liked were about reality, and young people were expressing
themselves by playing music. It's always been more about attitude, for
me. Expressing yourself within society. What does it mean to produce sounds
in this society? in the 60s there was more discussion of that, of the
politics, and I want to return to that. Music production is political
in and of itself, and I'm interested in exploring that.
In this regard I find the Scratch Orchestra extremely interesting, in the sense that everybody was welcome to participate, and there was no unified sense of aesthetics. I've been listening to the 1969 10" mini LP and it's so rich in ideas. Just the other day I went to see an exhibition on Cornelius Cardew at the CAC in Bretigny, and they were showing the film Journey to the North Pole on the Scratch Orchestra made in 1971. There were two amazing moments that really impressed me. One with John Tilbury lying in the street playing a bird whistle and a melodica at the same time while tied to five other people – imagine seeing that in your street! – another with Keith Rowe quoting Mao, basically saying culture is produced either for the benefit of the bourgeois class or against it. Who are we doing this for? Class distinctions might be more blurred today than they used to be, but I still believe that what you do either serves the dominant culture or counters it. In improvisation there's a false understanding that we're doing it just for ourselves. What do we actually represent? If you imagine the general reader of this website you can think about specifics: gender, sexual orientation, economic and social status, a certain education, race... If we compile a few statistics we might find that the general reader of this website only represents a tiny part of society, probably quite privileged and perhaps well inserted within the dominant culture. Of course, it's difficult for us to care about that which we are not, or about what we don't identify with, but we have to acknowledge that there are a lot of people living in much more difficult conditions that we are, and that what we do might help them, or might help them to remain marginalised. I don't think we should forget this, or forget about the people that we have above us who make our life miserable.
"Needless to say no Scratch Music is Copyright"
- Cornelius Cardew 1971
What was it about the shot of Tilbury that interested you?
The fact that
he was in the street, not a professional context but an open framework,
a social and public space where all types of different people pass by,
and there he was, taking risks without being afraid of looking utterly
ridiculous! It reminds me of something that happened during the recent
riots in Athens, where journalists came across a gang attacking places
that represented neoliberalism to make noise, using breaking glass and
burglar alarms as instruments. Improvising in the city. That's so inspiring,
like the Futurists, the Scratch Orchestra and Black Block joining forces
in an extreme form of sonic dérive! Imagine using police
sirens as your instrument! Imagine what a beautiful drone twenty of them
would make! The urban space offers so many possibilities for noise production,
let's use the city as our venue – we'll always have an audience!
IMPROVISATION TO THE STREETS!
Do you think the music today has lost that political edge?
to the previous question about class. Capitalism has developed very sophisticated
forms of alienation and fragmentation. What is contemporary class consciousness
today? Nowadays we often contain within ourselves different social classes;
it's very difficult to relate to each other in general terms, we can only
relate either through very specific interests – an interest in a
specific form of improvised music such us EAI, for example – or
through extreme mediation with the use of social network software such
as Facebook and MySpace, while somebody else makes a profit out of our
If you're talking about the improvised scene, well of course it has lost that political edge. People seem so claustrophobically interested in a few little fucking sounds that a few "great players" produce. I'm not interested in that, I'm not interested in being in a fucking little niche. For some time I was part of one, and now I don't give a fuck. I find allies, people I work with and they're the ones that matter. I could criticize people as much as you like, but what good would that do? Don't get me wrong, I am interested in critique, but I just think that there are more important things to critique than a few great improvisers. I want to know what this music means and whether making it might be a way of changing our immediate environment. Do these people care about that? Why don't they care? I care.
STOP WRITING AND ORGANISE BLACK BLOCK CONCERTS!
So you play the agent provocateur, the bad boy of music.
Well that says
a lot about this scene, doesn't it? In other scenes what we do would be
normal (perhaps like punk or noise...) but here in improvisation if you
do something a bit out of the ordinary they just call you an agent
provocateur. The bad boy of music or whatever stupid term they come
up with. I've never described myself as anything like that. I have a set
of interests that I want to explore and try out. Sometimes that pisses
people off, but that's not my problem.
I've talked to several people about the experiences they've had in the improvised music scene, and how conservative it is in some aspects. In the beginning, when I started improvising, there were so many taboos: you were supposed to improvise just with your instrument, not your voice; moving around the room was considered strange, and interfering with other people was out of the question. So many things were like, oh you mustn't do that! You have to respect this, you have to respect that! And that maintains a certain status quo. For me improvisation is about taking risks, not alone in my living room but out there on stage or with other people. I have a problem with the notion of respect: you have to respect each other, you're playing too loud, you're playing too quiet, you're taking this idea from here or from there.. respect what, normality? That normality that shapes and constrains us every fucking day of our lives? I'd rather piss a few wankers off than get depressed at home.
STOP READING AND ENGAGE IN URBAN WARFARE!
You mentioned earlier that you had a "basic structure" worked out for your Niort concert. That seems to be something you do quite often. I wanted to ask you about the gig I saw in Paris [Comète 347, April 21st 2008], where you started off normally enough and then suddenly stopped playing for ten whole minutes. You actually went to the bar for a beer and sat down next to me in the audience! What was the idea there?
not only in performing but in all aspects of the concert. What is the
framework of our improvisation? What if different notions of silence are
played out in a concert? There are many kinds of silence. There's the
Radu Malfatti silence where you stay with it, listen, but if people see
you go and get a beer, you know, it becomes a very different type of silence.
People approach silence differently. The interesting thing for me was
how our silence that night differed from one of Radu's silences. For example,
when Taku Sugimoto plays one note in one hour, there's a lot of silence,
but he's there, the musician framing the silence, and it's very formal.
There are many sounds that are produced during that hour, but because
they've not been made by the musician, they're not perceived as having
the same musical value as Sugimoto's note. I find that problematic in
the sense that we accept certain hierarchies de facto, while
in reality we might be producing more sounds than he is. Does our condition
as audience preclude us producing something interesting? Somebody might
say: not now, this is not your time, this is not your framework, we've
paid to see and hear somebody else, if you want to express yourself get
a career, and show us you're serious about what you do. But you can be
very serious about disrupting a concert, and why not? It might also make
it more interesting.
In many ways I think improvisation lies behind other disciplines like visual arts. For example, in the visual arts when Minimalism came after Abstract Expressionism, context became relevant: the artwork was part of the space that it was presented in. Dan Flavin's everyday object fluorescent lights is not only about the light itself but the way it affects the space: the artwork isn't just trying to hold your attention, like a Rothko painting, but make you perceive your environment differently. Clement Greenberg's idea that the work is self-contained became problematic, as it failed to take into account the context and the forces of production behind the making of the work. So conceptual art, and later institutional critique started to investigate the framework and take into account all the conditions in which works were made.
For me, reductionism really opened the way to reflect on the context of the production of this music. There are great records that bring contextual sounds to the surface, like dach or the live disc of Futatsu, but they're still perceived in formal terms. And that's my problem with a lot of the reductionism going on now: rather than use silence and space to analyze the context of production, and enable us to experiment with a different relationship with the audience, it's still about looking at silence in formal terms. There are people who are trying different things out, taking a more conceptual approach rather than a formal one, and that's great. Like Lucio Capece's piece About "The Society of Spectacle" Guy Debord 1967 on Wedding Ceremony, which you criticised so much in the Wire.
Debord's critique of the "public" is as devastating as it is accurate. In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, his last film from 1978, is probably the best film I've ever seen. I think his critique of alienation, though it might be a bit dated, is really helpful. It's time we developed a more updated version, now that we have become the spectacle of society. We're no longer contemplating our life through certain forms of representations. We've internalised the spectacle to such an extent that we, the way we relate to each to each other, our interactivity in everyday life and experience, are reproducing it not with a feeling of passivity or distance but with an intense desire to enjoy ourselves, be ourselves and be connected. Have your say, produce, write, listen, start your own blog, comment in online forums, express yourself..
Never before have we had so much access to self-representation but never before has our subjectivity been such a product of representation. The distance between producing and consuming is decreasing – we consume our own production, no longer passive consumers of our life but active participants in developing new forms of alienation involving our feelings and emotions, thinking we are freer than ever. We no longer live in the society of the spectacle, we are the spectacle ourselves, generating what Marx called general intellect or general social knowledge, which is not only knowlege shared by many people, but also a capacity to think and be more self-analytical. Before I said how today we contain within ourselves different social classes, and this is because we're increasingly in charge of putting out our imagination, knowledge, desire, our ability to express ourselves, in other words our potentiality in order to be more visible and more social. And in doing so we gain more value in this economy of attention. Right now, in this interview, even if there's no money involved, we know that we're producing cultural capital, which adds recognition and reputation to me as an improviser and to you as a journalist with a specific knowledge in improvisation. So maybe in the future it'll easier for me to get invited to festivals, or for you to write for other magazines that might actually pay you. As Paolo Virno says on the general intellect: "They are not units of measure; they constitute the immeasurable presupposition of heterogeneous effective possibilities." It's not that we are producing value in a very concrete way, but instead we're producing the potential to produce value. That's why improvisation is so important right now: our ability to react quickly to new situations, to be inventive and imaginative, to be "original", has greater value in postfordism, where we no longer produce objects but services, knowledge and experiences. As improvisers, the way we combine thought and action, and our personalisation of subjectification – for example when we play our instruments – might well make us not avant-garde musicians but avant-garde capitalists!
Now is the time for self-détournement!
The idea of anti-copyright is an issue that's important to you. Why?
I have affinities with politically are all interested in these issues.
I was reading these critiques of authorship, Barthes's Death Of The
Author and Foucault's What Is An Author?, and the idea of
authorship seemed pretty fucking rotten, totally linked with capitalism.
How can you attribute an idea to a single individual, with all the kind
of influences that give rise to it? It's bourgeois ideology. Now technology
is able to fuck with that, and it's very interesting. More and more people
are appropriating things from the past. How far can you explore the concept
of authorship? It's all very problematic, and there's a lot to explore.
For me improvisation goes against the idea of authorship. And yet once
a record is produced it has a kind of authority, it's a kind of statement.
I think we should have the same kind of openness with making records as
we do in a concert situation. People try to frame, and limit the exploratory
aspect of improvisation, and I think it should stay in motion, elusive
and unstable. Why set limits? Of course you can understand limits: a concert
has a beginning and an end, but many people discuss the concert before
it starts, and after it finishes. The framework is always troubled by
social considerations, and it's the same with records. Once one person
plays it in a different stereo it's a different experience. We talked
about that in email about your review of the Seymour Wright / Keith Rowe
3D. You and I see things very differently. For me the most inspiring
comment I read about that release was Brian Olewnick's, who played the
discs in three different machines at the same time. Of course he couldn't
press play on the three players at the same time, and even if he had been
able to, the players would have had different start up times. So by playing
the three records at the same time, he was not recreating the concert,
but producing something unique for him. What's inspiring is that he played
around, he experimented with the release itself, avoiding any sense of
objectivity, instead of claiming as you did that one or more of the three
recordings was more accurate or better.
Needless to say, none of this interview is Copyright.
And the Free Software Series also ties into this, I suppose.
I was back in Bilbao in 2004 and there was this hack-lab in a squat there
where they were promoting free software, with a very political conscience.
I was interested in the free software thing, but I'm not the most technically
minded person. They were giving free classes in GNU/Linux, so I went there
every Wednesday and it was the most progressive community I'd encountered.
About the same time Julien Ottavi was working with GNU/Linux and he introduced
me to things too. I saw that there were a whole lot of people making music
with GNU/Linux, but for some reason the music made using proprietary software
was somehow supposed to be "better", sort of "quality"
music. I thought that was very strange, and pretty stupid. So promoting
free software is also about leaving things open, letting other people
access it. It's a way of moving the debate on intellectual property forward.
I am so behind with the Free Software releases, I want to apologise to
Loti Negarty, Taku Unami, and Martin Howse, I hope to have the records
out this summer. I am very sorry about this!
Pirate Bay just sold to Global Gaming Factory for $7.8 million
How do you see the next five or ten years of this music? Are you optimistic?
I could criticise
the blandness in a lot of what we see, but that's not where I get inspiration
from. I'm more interested in people like Emma Hedditch, Karin Schneider,
Julien Skrobek, Mathieu Saladin and Miguel Prado, different people with
a lot of energy, pushing things. And people in the Basque country are
doing very interesting stuff, like Xabier Erkizia, Loti Negarty, Xedh
and everybody connected to Arto Artian (www.artoartian.org).
Tell me about Feedback Conceptual. How am I supposed to listen to a six hour piece?
made to be listened to at work
if you work eight hours a day you still have time
for a break
and a nap
There's no proper way of listening to things, in the same way that there's no proper way of improvising. If you want to listen to Feedback Conceptual in one go you can, but if you want to do something else at the same time that's fine too. The good thing about file players is that you can put a cursor at any point and listen to it from there, just like a record player (but if you try to cut six and half hours into a record you're going to get hardcore reductionism – and probably quieter than Francisco Lopez's release on Mego!).
How can we mix noise and improvisation with conceptual art and still try to show the political connotations of what we're dealing with? I was interested in trying to put aspects of noise making into theory, and bring them back to music. What could feedback mean in conceptual terms? I also wanted to incorporate the discussion of intellectual property and make that part of the piece. I was very inspired by those pieces by Xabier Erkizia [Spam Detect] and by antyology '0', an electronic chemical sound poem by Aitor Izagirre (Loti Negarti) and interested in the way in which our conversation was an important part of the process. There were several things going on at once, and it became a big melting of pot of language and exploration. Discussion also has its musical qualities, in the same way that music produces discourse.
I can't understand what you're on about because it's all in Spanish.
So then listen
to it as sound. Why should it be in English anyway? Most of the discussions
of this music you see online are in English already. The record I'm working
on is a follow-up of Attention, another essay CD, trying to combine
the making of a CD with language, a constant dialectic between noise and
language, and the way that language might change the listening environment
and the perception of space. I
want something that fucks with my mind, that really questions to the core
what judgement itself is, a social thing, an ideological thing, not
something that reaffirms my own "very good taste." I'm interested
in exploring the conceptual side of things, blurring or making problematic
the distinction between performer and audience. At Future Tenant in Pittsburgh
recently I played this concert with very loud laptop noise for about half
the set, and then I stopped and said, I find what I'm doing very conventional
and the way you're reacting to it very conventional too. Let's try something
out: I want us to take the computer down to the basement (where there
was another PA system). So we carried everything downstairs, and it was
feeding back all the time, and people started playing around with the
feedback themselves, putting their mobile phones and coins on the speakers,
like what Taku Unami does. We were all part of something. In Washington
the day after I stopped playing after ten minutes and sat down in the
audience and started to criticise myself. It's important to be able to
criticise one's own position. When Marx said: ruthless criticism of all
that exists, surely he was including himself.
In criticising ourselves we also criticise the stereotypes we represent.
Tell us about the concert with Radu Malfatti at Erstquake in New York in September 2006.
I wanted to
talk with Radu beforehand about what we were going to do, but we only
had a brief discussion over lunch. I wanted him to play one of his own
compositions, and I would record the sounds during the silences and play
them back. For me it's possible to bring composition into the context
of an improvised concert, because the reception of the composition itself
becomes the improvisation. But the soundcheck was a disaster, and I had
problems with my sound card, and it ended up as a total improvisation.
I could see him looking at me while we were playing, like, this is not
happening at all. It was very intense, and people felt uncomfortable because
they knew they were part of it (actually one member of the audience fainted).
Next day, Radu and Klaus played a very, very beautiful concert in Brooklyn,
which kind of confirmed something I'd thought for a long time: that there
are people who make far more beautiful music than I do. Radu is interested
in calmness, but I'm not. I'm interested in transformation, trying things
out, even if they don't work. I'd rather test ideas in improvisation as
a way to explore the limitations of the context we find ourselves in than
confirm or reaffirm a ready-made understanding of what music is, or what
playing an instrument is, or what politics is.
It's easier to have an idea than to play an instrument.