An excellent interview with Jason Zeh, here.
- Please give your perspective on the distinctions – positive and problematic – between the experience of your concert performances and the experience of your recorded works.
- How would you state your primary motivation/animus for making the music you make?
- What artist(s), from any media, might those familiar with your music be surprised to read is/are crucial to you?
- “What do you do”, as J.J. Gittes asked in Chinatown, “to make ends meet?”, outside of music? Is there a significant link between your day job and your music, outside of paying bills?
- Please respond to this quote: There’s nothing we really need to do that isn’t dangerous. Eighth Street artists knew this years ago, and constantly spoke of risk. But what’s meant by risk? -John Cage, Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)
- My recorded works are less than 2% of my work as a whole, and not even the best 2%.
- I hope this becomes apparent.
- The art most crucial to me is country music and a defunct rock band from Memphis called Grifters.
- I work as a mover, but also build/design electronic devices for some good people now and then.
- What’s meant by risk?
- I tend to see recordings and performances as completely different things. What I do in the studio is heavily process oriented. I spend a great deal of time crafting the sounds that I use on recordings and in performance. The focus of my work is on exploiting the inherent flaws in cassette tapes. I like to accentuate the undesirable aspects of tape: the things that make it an outmoded technology in the eyes of those who are interested in creating a faithful reproduction of the recorded source material. In the pursuit of this interest, I have developed a variety of processes for finding the limitations of tapes and emphasizing them. Many of these processes cannot be performed in real time. So, the behind-the-scenes crafting of source material is one thing that I do. Then, the play back and manipulation of that material is a different thing that takes place in a live setting.In the past, I have created sounds for recording projects and then mixed and matched and manipulated that material in live settings. The piece that I performed at CWNM 2011, on the other hand, was a live realization of a piece that was virtually the same as every other performance of it that year. Those live performances will be roughly the same as a recorded studio version that I am working on. But, that is an approach that I haven’t taken before. The piece that I am performing for the series this year is an opportunity to test out components of a new record that I am working on. I want to see how the juxtaposition of elements works out before I finish the record.
- All of my work, both visual and aural, deals with the flaws in analogue reproduction technologies. I have already spoken a bit about my work with tape. My visual art is very similar and deals with very similar concerns. Visually, I like to use the limitations of copy machines to transform source material (most commonly typewriter letters) into abstract forms. That work and my sound art are both attempts to meet a piece of technology as a collaborator. I work with the machine to try to discover its voice: to figure out what it wants to say. I then try to work with what it gives me so that we can make something together that adequately expresses something relevant to both of us. There is this strange drive that I feel to express something and to help the technology express something that would go unnoticed if I wasn’t there to facilitate it.
- This might not be surprising. I am not sure, but I have been reading Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell’s writings a lot over the past few years. I think that a lot of what I do can be traced back to visual artists. Jo Baer’s minimalist period is really special to me as are Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings. I think, though, everything that I do now can be traced back to a really serendipitous convergence of influences in high school. All within the span of a few months, I got turned on to Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Sonic Youth. That was the end. Sonic Youth and Rauschenberg destroyed my life.
- I teach academic writing to college students. There is very little direct overlap between my job and this work, but I am trying to fix that just for the sake of efficiency. For instance, I have been doing a really fun assignment with my students where we go to the Spencer Museum of Art on the campus of The University of Kansas, where I currently teach, and they have to write an essay analyzing one piece of their choice. I would love to do more of that kind of stuff. The other overlap is that I get to check out all kinds of rad books from the library that help me to think about my work in new ways. It is a great perk of the job.
- I think that this quote has two things that are of key importance: need and risk. For me, risk takes a few different forms in my work. The first is that, I believe, any meaningful performance requires vulnerability from both the performer and the audience. If valuable communication is to transpire, all involved parties have to be open to having themselves challenged and potentially changed. When I am performing, I am also vulnerable in the sense that it may all go wrong and it sometimes does. There is always that risk. The other form that risk takes in my practice is that I try to be very self-critical. I try to think carefully about why I am doing a certain thing and if the motivation doesn’t make sense, something needs to change. Also, if the motivation is comfort, then something definitely needs to change. Trying something new is always risky because there is a real chance that it won’t work or that no one will get it. For instance, I have been performing a piece for the last year and a half that seemed very static. Things shifted slowly and subtly. In performance, there was very little to look at. Deciding to perform this piece felt risky to me. A few years ago, I began to fear that my performances were getting stagnant because I was too comfortable with what I was doing. I started thinking about certain things I would do in performance that I rarely did on record. Many of these things were very gestural actions: things that were sonically interesting, but were mostly visually engaging. So, I started thinking about the expectations that people have about a performance. People think that in order to justify a live show, there needs to be something to look at. So, I thought, what if I strip away the visual elements so that I can’t hide behind those gestural crutches? It was really intimidating, but I learned a lot.I think that becoming uncomfortable, embracing failure, and violating people’s expectations can be really personally transformative As for the need that Cage mentions, that is the part that is really risky for me. The need to do this stuff is so great and so irrational. I go to bed dwelling on this need to do this thing that doesn’t make any sense. I will record things and I hate what I have done for months before I am ready to release it, but I need to do it. There is a lot of frustration involved in it, but the need is still there. I need to keep messing around with this stuff even though it is probably a terrible idea and I should probably be spending my time on more important things.
- When I like my performance solo or collaborative, I like it because I
remember what I did or certain moments during the performance or the
after party (in fact, late dinner after concert). When I like my
recorded works, I like it because I don’t remember what I did or most
of the moments during the recording. When it comes to my composed and
edited works (especially for the collaboration with visual artists or
filmmakers), it is different from my performance just because I am not
capable of repeating it even with the minimal resemblance.
- For me making music is about making music that my brain cannot remember, follow or sing along, but my mouth can imitate the sound/noise of it.
- I don’t want to surprise them.
- I am a Ph.D. student in political science for years. Being a graduate student helps me a bit. But finishing dissertation should help more. From time to time I write things and translate words written or spoken for living.
- I always like something risky when it causes laughter. Just like in comedy and improvised musical performance.
- They are two separate things in many ways. For one, much of what I do on record as a solo percussionist involves overdubs, and it’s often the case that I cannot involve enough musicians to satisfy all the parts. This might seem like a disadvantage, but what has occurred, is that by rethinking the work, I’ve been able to create an adjunct experience with the music. Something that points toward the original pieces, but offers another perspective: sonically, physically, and emotionally. This creates a bigger picture, and is more fulfilling to work on in terms of the scope of a project, as well as it being more for the audience to chew on.
- To contribute meaningfully.
- I’m very interested in Ethiopian folk music, Georgian choir, and Shape Note Singing. Although my work doesn’t sound like these musics, I am conscious of their approach and effect when working on my own.
- I manage a company that helps spread ideas. The aim is to help people work better, to be more creative, and become leaders at what they do. With music, it’s a deeper level inward, as each person has their own unique experience with sound and how it affects them.
- There is the risk of isolation, of not connecting with people on a human level. Of presenting something that some people assume isn’t interesting, yet they look for components of it in different places. Of satisfying real need while breaking down barriers of perception.
- I find less and less overlap between the two. All my work with the permanence and repetition of recordings in the last several years has amplified the importance of the “one time only” character of performance.
- I like creating problems that I’m not sure how to solve.
I have no idea what will surprise people but here are a few artists I think about all the time but don’t often mention: Geechie Wiley, Fernando Pessoa, Caspar David Friedrich.
- I teach experimental music at CalArts – that’s what pays the bills. Hard to think of anything more challenging and entertaining than observing what young artists come up with.
- It may be that an artist is the least qualified person to talk about the risks taken in their work. But I’m very interested in danger – which is not quite the same thing. To me danger has more to do with blindness and belief than vision and knowledge.
- My friend James Talambas in Fort Worth did an amazing job recording my album “Psalms” but it’s also a constant reminder to me that most of my recent work cannot be fully captured by a recording. The timbres are so strong and strange and so dependent on the acoustics of a live room (and vary wildly from space to space) that a recording is always going to be missing something, but I can’t play everywhere (though I’d like to) so a recording is a compromise between quality and accessibility.
- To better know myself and an insatiable desire to articulate my weird fascinations and compulsions.
Souled American, the most seamless and powerful combination of the esoteric and personal adventurousness of experimentalism and the joy and sadness of country and rock music that exists in the world. If I have a “favorite music” then they’re it.
I work for Austin Community College. A wise friend once said to me that he was trying to keep his financial and artistic worlds as far apart as possible; this has proven to be very good advice for a percussionist who has no desire to teach percussion and loves his partner, house, and dogs.
It feels silly to talk about risk and danger in art and music knowing that I could be gunned down at any time in a country that won’t do anything to stop gun violence.
- Lately I have been developing pieces over the course of a number of performances that end up being released recorded works, trying things out in a performance setting, bringing them home and adjusting things – adding, removing and trying them out again. So for me the link is very strong and clear.
- I want to reveal the depth of the everyday.
- Mostly writers it seems like – Matthew Revert’s intricately and palpably detailed impossibilities, Chris Kraus’ descriptions of “subversively utopian ordinariness,” Danielle Collobert’s tightrope of fraying words traversing a seemingly bottomless abyss.
- I sell used books. In this pursuit and in my music I endeavor to find things of value that are discarded or under-observed. Both of these involve a great deal of hunting, sifting, culling and surprising oneself.
- When asked about how he was able to play with such intensity, Elvin Jones said something along the lines of “you’ve got to be willing to die with the motherfucker,” and to me any commitment to an artistic vision can and should involve some risk. If you don’t take chances you just repeat yourself. Sometimes mistakes are the most beautiful things you can make.
- The luxury of time. For recorded works, the use of multitracking, the ability to generate, assemble, playback, take notes on, take time away from, and then resume working on material at a later date is what makes studio work different than the live experience. With the live experience, I often pare down my gear so that I can focus possibilities / potential to a greater depth. Of course, I’ll work with the pared down gear for a few weeks before a live set to get a feeling for where things might go, but otherwise, I enjoy letting the machines be a more active participant in the live setting.
- Simply, it’s a creative outlet that both provides balance to and enhances other elements of my life.
- Perhaps that I enjoy pop music. It’s stuff I don’t make nor care to make, so I enjoy it when it’s well done.
- I teach English (composition, rhetoric, and literature) at two community colleges. Over time, I’ve recognized (or decided, perhaps) that teaching is a lot like my music; there is a certain structure to each class, but there will almost always be some improvisation—be it through what a student might bring to the table or when something crops up that strikes me as relevant to the material / worth expounding on.
- Something I’ve learned is to embrace that the machines I use will sometimes not act in a manner I anticipated—be that in a live or studio setting. But, and this ties to the quote, if I knew what the outcome of every recording/performance was down to a T, what enjoyment would there be in doing it? If I’m not surprised by some of the outcomes, and don’t have to react to them, it unequivocally lessens the enjoyment.
- For me it’s the same experience.
- For liberty and I compose in instant present to hear the music I’ve not heard.
- Phil Minton, Sainkho Namtchylak.
- Singing and to compose music it’s my job.
I think some artist are afraid of the accident, they to control everything but accident is creativity so don’t be afraid!! Nothing is dangerous! We can finish with this quote: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones” – John Cage
- Some of my recorded works are basically recordings of performances. These are good documents in their way, but have a pretty hard time communicating a lot of things. Sound is only one part of music. A very few others are really designed to be recordings. This breed really stands or falls on its own merits. In my case mostly falls. I don’t have enough time or interest to dedicate to being really expert at this kind of thing. My performances, like most of my records, aren’t designed to be anything in particular really. There’s not a lot of philosophical or theoretical underpinning. I just try to make something that I think is beautiful and interesting and engaging and maybe surprising.
- Originally I wanted to be Jimmy Page because the first time I heard Led Zeppelin II on headphones I thought my entire being was going to explode. I’ve mostly chased that feeling since then I think. The exterior of what I do doesn’t look or sound much like that anymore but if you dig a little I suppose you’ll find Heartbreaker not too far down.
- This is something of a moving target, and I have no idea what would surprise people: David Foster Wallace, Peter Gabriel, Jean-Pierre Melville, Taj Mahal.
- As a bass player I have the opportunity to make a few dollars playing for other people and teaching bass lessons, both of which I do. I also teach meditation in various situations, some of which I get paid for.
- Risk of what? There’s no risk.
The concert performance is deeply connected with the environment -the room acoustics, the architecture, what have you, will affect themusic and my playing. The listener has an active part.The recorded work is more a picture of things that took place.
- To discover, to learn, to contribute.
- Early Flemish painters (Hugo van der Goes, Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, Dirk Bouts).
- I’m thankful that at the moment playing the bass is paying bills.
- Take a risk, leave your comfort zone; without some discomfort there is no growth.
- The process Ernst and I have gravitated towards over the years is slow, contemplative, and painstaking – in rehearsing and recording, we wind up excising at least as much as we retain. It’s also a hybrid process, in which the distinctions between ‘composition’ and ‘improvisation’ are entirely (and intentionally) porous. It gets an order of magnitude messier with our released recordings, which are heavily edited constructions. We’ve chosen our tools in large part precisely because of their precariousness and instability, and our preference for potential over kinetic energy. ‘Mistakes’ are a huge part of the point; but in recordings, we get to choose some over others and deploy them at will.That’s not at all to say that our concerts are unimproved versions of the sort of material that winds up on our CDs. I’d like to think there’s an intensified aspect of shared discovery – a real-time, communal contemplation – that’s quite different from the concerns underlying any recording (which inevitably becomes a ‘composition,’ with the dubious honor of sitting outside of time). I honestly consider it a rather sensuous endeavor – we’re savoring as ‘audients,’ simultaneously with the ‘audience,’ sounds in a room that are in all truth only barely under our control.
- I’ve had to give this a lot of thought because of the somewhat ridiculous variety of my music making. The through-line I’ve found that connects EKG with all of the work I do voluntarily (more on the mercenary angle below) is a preoccupation with the social aspects of music. In one sense, this manifests in my obsession with alleged boundaries of genre, style, and practice (with all of the subcultural codings they so often imply). But there’s a philosophical, political dimension as well: I’m interested in making music that can serve as a laboratory for, and model of, ideal forms of communicative interaction. I deeply value collaboration, collectivism, plasticity, uncertainty, and accident; while all good music thrives only when performed with attention, intention, and spontaneity, I try to push these qualities to the foreground. I think of these elements as the real material that melody, timbre, rhythm etc. are employed to realize rather than the other way around.
- Extramusical: Donald Barthelme, Borges, George Saunders, Thomas Pynchon. Intramusical: I’m not sure how surprising these are other than being only tangentially related to EKG’s aesthetics; but let me attempt a list, not of ‘favorites’ necessarily, but of artists whose work proved personally foundational, revelatory, and/or pivotal (for a variety of reasons), in roughly the order they were received throughout my childhood, youth, and schooling: Bach, Ives, Stravinsky, Depeche Mode, Dead Kennedys, Skinny Puppy, Einsturzende Neubauten, Bartok, John Zorn, Ruins, the Ex, Peter Brotzmann, Evan Parker, Dog Faced Hermans, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Anthony Braxton, Messaien, Rova, Splatter Trio, Art Ensemble of Chicago… (There’s also lots of exhaustive, self-indulgent contextualizing fun to be had in these two Dusted Magazine features: http://www.dustedmagazine.com/features/826 and http://www.dustedmagazine.com/features/409 ).
- I feel unreasonably lucky that my day job IS music – there’s a wide gamut, but most of my income (such as it is) comes from freelancing as a classical oboist, subbing with regional orchestras and playing loads of educational concerts with two woodwind quintets. While there are plenty of gigs that I’m not particularly invested in creatively (and that occasionally verge on the soul-crushing), they all lie on a continuum, they all have something to teach me when I remain mindful, and they all engage my craft and keep up my chops. I’ve been extremely grateful in the past few years that, on balance, more and more of this (paying) work has been tipping towards ‘New Music’ – even, occasionally, my own.And, lest we forget (or permit the discourse to continue to be yanked out of our hands and into the fortified cul de sacs of pettiness and rage): many, many ends are met collectively, outside the marketplace. I have the good fortune to be entangled in a strong social support network, with an amazing wife (yes, with a job of her own), a loving family, and a relentlessly creative and supportive community.
- I’m not entirely sure of where Cage is going with this. I will admit to skepticism that any art can ever be, in and of itself, truly dangerous. I’m suspicious of that notion as self-congratulatory, self-deceptive and irresponsible – it raises the hoary old Romantic specter of the alleged ethical superiority of the ‘Tortured Genius.’That said, I do believe that the process of art making (and, under ideal circumstances, sharing) is particularly well suited to serve as an analogue – a lightning rod and framing device – for matters that are in fact both risky and crucial: prioritizing creativity over consumption, charting an escape from the Spectacle, practicing harm reduction, pursuing Right Action… Certainly not the only means to such ends, and probably not the best – but better than many, and the one to which I’ve tethered my life, for better or worse.
- The process of making the recorded work is just a slow-motion version of performance. I have a malleable rule-of-thumb that I do not edit together anything I don’t think I could execute in performance. Thus recording becomes a place to explore ideas I could use in performance and vice-versa. I really don’t have enough capacity to fully control what I am doing in either case. Playing a clumsy computer requires some very different ideas of spontaneity, anyway.
- I am very easily bored and irritated. When I am working on music, there’s a slightly lesser chance that I will be bored and irritated. I usually describe my relationship with music as something pathological or compulsive. If left alone long enough, it’s what I will do. If asked not to think of anything in particular for long enough, it’s what I will think about. I probably could have been spared some hardship if this weren’t the case. If I ever get a bead on why I make music, I will probably quit.
- Getting a handle on the production techniques of mainstream electronic-music-influenced pop provided some things for me to think about. Otherwise, I think I am a pretty dull open book.
- In my “day job,” I teach courses in music history. When I am feeling enthusiastic, generous, or charitable, I will say that my teaching exists in “productive tension” with my musical pursuits. When I am feeling less so, I will say that there is “not much relation at all.”
- In cynical moments, I would say that there is not much authentic risk in what I do. Nick Hennies is right – in a country where you or someone you love could be gunned down while buying groceries, it seems like an art-school fantasy to imagine you are doing something very risky. In optimistic moments, I think I am gutting the bundle of habits and neuroses that constitute my innermost being in the hopes that something unexpected and completely external to me will reassemble them anew. Something pragmatic usually mediates between the two.
- I feel better represented by my records than my concert performances. I appreciate the stories of awkward, incidental, accidental, or unwanted outcomes that occur while listening to the record; I don’t tend to appreciate these aspects of people’s experiences of my gigs. When friends of mine listen to my CD, I feel that they are reacting more directly to the work, as it were. When they come to an improv concert, I sense they are less connected to the music itself because I’m there as a person. I think they feel the need to tell me it was a good performance and to personally validate me, and are more guarded with their reactions to the music itself. I haven’t played experimental/improv music live very much lately.
- When I started playing, it was an area which I had an entry point to, socially, and which made sense to me at the time. It offered the chance to use my instrument in a new way, didn’t require years of practicing a structured discipline such as jazz or classical music, and which made me feel free of the type of expectations that most musicians are faced with.
- Nah. I listen to a lot of things which don’t relate to my music (and some that are similar), but I am usually thinking about non-musical aspects of my life when I’m playing.
- I work in a very small nonprofit which publishes a research index of progressive and radical leftist publications, which is used in libraries. It’s interesting and challenging work. There isn’t a correlation to the music I play aside from I feel privileged to be able to be involved with both. I’m also partway through a masters degree for library science.
- “Like the Butthole Surfers said, it’s better to regret something you did than something you didn’t do.” ~ Red Hot Chili Peppers
- “I don’t know exactly what I want, but I do know exactly what I do not want.” ~ Radu Malfatti
Liveness is not transferable to a document, however a document is not an inauthentic experience. Our experience of a document and of a performance is constantly changing. Our definition of liveness is even changing – technology brings the subjective into the document. An online chat is both a document and performance of self. The gaps between our self and our mediums of self are closing.
Improvisation in performance and in recording lends itself to a presentness in it’s unrepeatable and unscripted nature. Electronic music removes some of the ear’s urgency to identify a source and an instrument and a body playing that instrument. In live performance and recording, it’s not always easy to find the source of an electronic sound – a body producing that sound. This is what makes electronic music intriguing to me – how indelible is the body in the sound? This is what makes text interesting to me – how indelible is the body in the word? Live performance and recordings/documents both ask that question.
I’ve never been able to completely move away from the use of my body to produce art. Hands touching circuits to alter sounds, typing words on a keyboard in a live performance. The more abstract the sounds and texts that I want to produce, the more computer driven or electronic the process, the more interested I become in enacting some physical intervention. I’m interested in how one is present or makes their presence known in a technologically mediated culture. I view my practice as that of filtering and processing, primarily concerned with constructing and creating recombinant, chimerical forms. I think individually and as a culture, we understand ourselves and our experience through the forms of art we make and the creative processes in which we engage. I don’t want to make work about a condition, rather I want to work from within a condition (mine and ours), to listen to that condition.
This young artist and friend, Trisha Baga, has been a huge inspiration of late – http://www.bagalab.biz/work/About.html. To paraphrase our mutual friend Cliff Borress, Trisha’s work is extraordinary because in making her art, her new forms, she does so by continuing to collapse and empty out the old forms that don’t seem to work anymore.
Poet and scholar Fred Moten is crucial to my practice right now. A few years ago I was struck, hard, by this bit from an interview published in Callaloo Journal. This approach to writing and art resonates with my current practice.
Writing a poem has become for me, at least in part, an attempt to find out some things and to try to work through some things intellectually, emotionally, and musically. I’m trying to find out some things, get at some things, and consider some things, while at the same time trying to make some things. That process is a struggle toward language that tries to struggle toward things; it is movement in preparation. – Fred Moten, “Words Don’t Go There” Interview in Callaloo Journal, 2004.
I used to think that there was more of a separation between the work I do primarily to make money – internet related project management – and my creative life. It felt as though there was some purposeful reason to keep these things separate. Now I realize that that is the wrong way to think of one’s life – it leads to false valuations. What I do with my life is completely my life. \I plan to be a creative person forever, the small details of how I spend this part of the day or that part of the day are inconsequential, they’re all part of the same creative life.
I don’t find what I would consider dangerous work being done by American artists or musicians these days. However, I think many of us feel the urgency borne of necessity to change the conditions of oppressed people in our country and in the world. There’s a crisis for me as an artist. What, if anything, does my work accomplish towards these goals? I think the answer likely lies outside of the artwork itself, in the other work that an artist might do through education, public and community projects, and dialogue.
In our particular time, using the words “risk” “danger” and “necessity” to describe aesthetic concerns rather than social or political ones, seems problematic.
My interview with KMSU program host David Perron can be found here.
photo: Keith Rowe’s table, cwnm concert, October 2012