October 21, 2011
ART IS TIME: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINA CARTER
We’re proud to present this extensive interview with Christina Carter, covering her creative philosophy, the legacy and purpose of art, the immediacy of the visual over the audible, the continuing buy-out of the underground and many other topics that most other musicians are too scared to go near. Take a deep breath and read on for some very real insights from a present and future master of form and formlessness.
Christina’s contribution to our Alone Together 7” series is still available for order over at Emerald Cocoon.
Emerald Cocoon: What was the first album that made you realize 'I can do this'?
Christina Carter: There wasn’t one. It’s more of a history of mini-realizations involving many more things than just music albums adding up into beginning to ‘do this,’ before even knowing whether or not I could. That’s the thing. I didn’t know if I could do it before I started doing it. I hoped that I would eventually create the conditions that would enable me to learn to do it. And ‘it’ wasn’t just about music. It was about creating, expressing, using, interacting, establishing…. Entering into a whole life, a whole process, a whole legacy… About a sort of belief in this realm… It’s difficult to relate in a way because it becomes this attempt at detachment from self as well as this attempt to completely enter into the self. You have to detach from the self to believe it is possible to do it, to become something more than at first you believe yourself to be capable of, while making the ego serve that pursuit rather than serve your own sense of image or largeness or stature or place in the material world… It is not about me, and at the same time it must be about discovering my sound – but with the purpose of making an offering into that realm…
EC: Can you talk a little more about ‘making an offering to that realm’ and what you mean by that phrase? Do you feel a duty to do good by something that exists outside yourself, and seems to have animated art since time immemorial?
CC: You know it’s like an offering that you make to the gods. It’s kind of up in the air whether or not they’re going to accept it, but if you take the right steps it should prove itself worthy. Although there’s always the chance that you have a misunderstanding about the steps, or that it is a particularly capricious group of gods… But, you want to give something, show respect, add to the prayers, so to speak… Yes, of course I do have that sense of having a duty to do good by something that exists outside of myself. I’m very much a believer in there being something that exists outside of myself, first of all. Second of all, if one isn’t concerned with the idea of doing good toward this aspect of our humanness, what aspect/s is/are being honored instead? This one thing pretty much has been my calling for a long time. This is changing a lot with how things are developing. But I know the aspects I’m not going to put my energy into doing good by. They’ve got plenty of help already. So, I think in terms of other ways people try to enrich our collective lives. Art is just the most compelling thing to me and always has been.
…I wanted to play music and write and make art from as early on as I can remember wanting to do something. Three, four years old. But it was about from thirteen or so that questioning and investigating the psychological and technical aspects of what constitutes being an artist began, and then from eighteen or so beginning to put those observations into sustainable action… Early on, coming into contact with the Surrealists’ emphasis on the subconscious was a big part of this. People in Houston who were making music were a big part. And then, the music in the late 80s/early 90s that was called ‘lo-fi’ was a big part. That was part of the technical insight. It became immediately apparent with what the people in Houston and others were doing that were much more experienced than I was in thinking about the technical aspects that all of the trappings of money driving the recording process, i.e. studios, expensive equipment, engineers, producers, were completely unnecessary. And since I had no allegiance to any of that anyway in fact had never even considered those things up to that point it was a simple matter of hearing that fact and understanding it…. But I don’t think any album can make you realize you can do it. It is the drive to do it that makes one listen to music or observe art (and life/people) in a certain way that is about extracting information, answering the questions that you are seeking to answer… And by entering into a legacy, I mean that true art is the origin of all human beings meaningful relationship to the world they are born into and it became at some point, the ongoing opposing force to the spiritual, material, and political malaise that human beings experience in this world they are born into. It is evident that this world we experience now is not the world as it should be for us as human animals. Unfortunately, we’re lost permanently in this opposition between these forces… Reading Kenneth Patchen’s novel ‘The Journal of Albion Moonlight’ recently was a real gauntlet. It’s still affecting me, and I think unfortunately (in a way) drummed up some un-ignorable doubt in my mind about the value of continuing to wrestle artistically within this opposition. The end result seems to be a re-dedication to this, but you know it’s hard. It’s bleak sometimes, and the difficult truth is that creating can be a hardship. Can be. And I’m not talking about writer’s block… So my point is, once you have realized “I want to do this,” you have to realize “I am doing this,” then you realize “I am capable of doing this,” and then you have to keep realizing those things, especially “I am capable of doing this” over and over.
EC: This a recurring battle for us also: how deeply can art enter into this opposition before it becomes simply a polemic? Do artists ultimately have a responsibility to enter into this battle at all? Or is it not possible for them to avoid it?
CC: I don’t know. In a way I think the artist’s biggest responsibility is to himself. This is in contradiction to a lot of the things that I’m saying here in this interview. But I really feel that a true artist naturally, in thinking about himself, creates art that bears a sense of responsibility toward others. When an artist is honest in the process of his art making it becomes something greater by default. The ‘battle’ though, I don’t know. The whole thing troubles me. It really does. You know, why not just live? Don’t think. Don’t worry. Simple. But, as much as it would be nice, the dichotomy between our animal natures and the culture we have built around us is troubling. I question it again and again. If other artists can turn it off, it’s reflected in the art, I think, but at some time they’ve probably wrestled quite a bit along the way… and it’s not like only cerebral art can address these issues, quite the contrary. There are so many different directions to come at it from… It might be possible to avoid it for a time, in the sense of attempting to dissociate the art from these concepts, But I think these issues are so sticky that they return despite brushing them away.
EC: How conscious are you of being part of a historical continuum in terms of this process/legacy/realm? Do you see the idea of a historical lineage as a useful tool or an albatross around the neck?
CC: Pretty conscious of it in the sense that I appreciate the historical continuum and so enter into it willingly. I don’t see it as a useful tool or an albatross around the neck, rather as something that just is. Though today I questioned what would it be like, as far as a useful tool, to see oneself outside of the continuum and maybe even opposed to it.
EC: What inspires you to record solo? Is there a certain state or setting you have to be in, or can you will the correct state and setting for recording?
CC: Oh god, it’s complicated! I think inspiration is an infrequent but important visitor… Yeah, there has to be a lot of willing of the correct state. The correct setting… That’s always been my living space. But it’s a difficult proposition. The last place I lived it was impossible to record. Not enough privacy, and a neighbor that demanded virtual silence after 10pm. It seems that the wee hours of the morning are better to record, but that’s not an absolute either… There’s never really been a correct setting. So that definitely takes being able to create a certain mental buttressing. Against the presence or potential presence of others. The sounds of traffic. The evidence of domesticity. The practices of domesticity… The state is a state of decision. Inspiration when it comes upon you is a remarkable thing, but it’s a misunderstood animal. Sometimes it isn’t so forward. It kind of hangs back and waits for you to approach. Sometimes it can’t be stopped from jumping all over you… But yeah, I’m not the type of person who has a routine either. There’s no playing, practicing, recording schedule enforced… I guess the solo part is it is just very hard to play with other musicians that can meet each other in a meaningful sonic space… The social aspect of music making is almost completely unimportant to me. Most of the time the results are more to me important than anything else, especially for recording… When the social part is important to me is after playing. I have had some incredible times hanging out between sets and after shows with folks. But if I want to relate with someone I’d rather talk and kick back and relax, not try to establish rapport through the music itself… But back to the state or setting: sometimes it’s a series of thoughts I’ve been having, sometimes a series of feelings, sometimes one very big and imposing thought or feeling… I just want to record… There is this thing about defying the neutrality of speakers by emerging from them. If you can make the music and voice come forward out of those speakers into the room as an almost physical, but certainly psychological, presence it’s a magical thing. That’s impetus enough… Now my current living space is a lot more conducive, so it’ll be interesting how that affects things.
EC: Where does poetry end and song lyrics begin?
CC: Poetry turns into song lyrics, but song lyrics don’t turn into poetry… so, there’s no point at which poetry ends. There is just the beginning of the manipulation… I tend not to think about these things too much. I mean I just engage with it. But as to what really happens, I never take song lyrics and manipulate them into poetry, but I do take poems and change them into lyrics. Also prose writing gets changed in this same way.
EC: How did the idea for the many breaths subscription series come about? What were its successes and its failures?
CC: I guess the idea came from wanting to do something outside of the bounds of the formal music ‘industry,’ however loosely I participate in that, and to engage in more direct contact with listeners. Also to set up a very challenging proposition for myself. The individual recordings made just for the subscriber gave me this framework to see how far I could go into various music modes I had been thinking about for a while, most specifically to stretch out farther with song length or piece length than ever before… I don’t think its successes have become apparent quite yet, or its failures. Or, whether or not it can even be evaluated in that manner. It was draining, I know that… after completing the project it seemed that maybe I had stepped into a place that shouldn’t have been stepped into. Or I suspected that that was possible. It is difficult to talk about without it seeming like I am saying it was a negative experience. Emphatically it was not. But, there was this feeling of perhaps having given over too much psychic energy to this proposition, to individual recordings for individual people… This is an open question to me… That’s part of the investigation to do another subscription series and see if that question can be answered more definitely… There were things that I had planned on trying that I never tried, such as an all-talking thing I had been thinking about. Maybe that could be defined as a failure… The new Many Breaths release ‘Trickster Who Is Like God’ came out of doing that series, so maybe that could be defined as a success. It is a sixty plus minute song, and it is definitely a song, not a piece. It is like taking a six-minute song and stretching it out for an hour with compositional coherence in tact. In other words, it isn’t like a six-minute song with a 54-minute jam stuck on the end. And lyrically it really allows for this opportunity to bring out alternate implications of the words. Every line could be interpreted three different ways, so then it starts to seem as if there are maybe three different points of view or even narrators embedded within this one body. I don’t know, it’s fascinating to me to have these multiple possibilities. But they aren’t completely open ended. There are definite limits to the interpretation possible because of what is purposefully put into the song. The tone of the singing voice adds into that – it’s changes. And, hopefully all of this leaves an impression of to the listener of multiplicity within a container. In other words, there is something binding all of this multiplicity together, in the music, in me, in them, in the world.
But to add something else to this discussion about the subscription series: my way of thinking, in general, is usually to examine the difficulties or problems with whatever it is. At least in my analyzing things, I tend to do this and it can come across as off-putting because the things that go smoothly seem to me to not require as much analyzing. This is the second interview in which I’m talking about the series, and essentially saying the same thing. Although in the Pitchfork interview because of its being extensively truncated and edited the reader doesn’t get as complex of a discussion as here, this is still very simplified. I want to say something different here, and not overlook the positives, which revolve around two things: the people who subscribed, and manifesting the desire to do something like this. But what I’m saying is that even in discussing the positives, it has to be a simplified conversation. Otherwise it could go on for another twenty pages! But, I got concerned that the subscribers would read the Pitchfork interview, or this interview and think somehow I was unappreciative of their role in this thing, or somehow blamed them for the feeling of the exhaustion. Actually when I first completed it, I didn’t feel the exhaustion yet. It was after a while. I started to think about certain effects in my life, and thinking maybe this was at least a part of the cause. I’m talking about events of the psyche. These sort of spiritual events. But the people who subscribed are a small, patient, and amazing group of people. Without them I couldn’t have done it in the same way and with the same terms. But, if you think of this as a sort of religious experience maybe that touches it a bit. Where the powerful experience and contact and dealing with energy – my energy, outside energy, repeating energy, but not the subscribers’ energies - causes something that is a little hard to term as just positive. If I don’t do it again, it’s not because I’m rejecting the whole, but because I’ve determined it’s not necessary any longer. It might be demanding on the subscribers too in terms of waiting for the music. So maybe it’s also not necessary in those terms either. I don’t know. It was/is an experiment. That I can interact with people that want to be part of an experiment is amazing. I think it shows there’s something still left of the spirit of things that is alive. People willing to take a chance on things. That’s one of the main things I wanted to do is take a chance, and manifest that way of being. Something sort of un-tamed. It’s just if you can imagine setting out to completely empty yourself creatively for hours straight at a time, improvisationally, alone, for memory, hopefully you can imagine some amount of eventual questioning of the process. And also imagine that having a process that forces you to do that as being worthwhile.
EC: Any thought of re-visiting that ‘all-talking’ idea?
CC: No, not really. It has to be rethought in a different way, conceptualized differently. But honestly it hasn’t been in the forefront of desired processes/outcomes in a while. There’s this dangerous aesthetic ground with executing an all-talking idea, and if it didn’t happen when I could really envision it, it seems to be a dead-end. At the time I thought of connecting it to movement. Of course, the listener wouldn’t be able to see the movement, though they might be able to hear some aspects of it. So maybe it wasn’t entirely an all talking idea.
EC: What is the story behind the ‘Message, Vol.1’ CDR? Do you have any other plans to work in installation form like that again? Do you think of art and music as interchangeable?
CC: Yeah, there were plans to work in an installation form again in Houston, and in New York City, but I could never get it together time wise in one instance and in the other the gallery didn’t end up being interested in doing it. That’s something that’s been put on hold in general. Most important is to get back into recording and visual stuff and writing in general… I decided to go back to school and get finish getting a degree, so that’s been taking up a lot of time. Too much time. And that’s not even close to being completed yet, and now there are a lot of doubts about that whole pursuit anyway… These questions could be spun off into so many different directions… But, so that Many Breaths release isn’t actually the pages from that particular installation… it was inspired by it. The cutting up of diary into miniscule pieces… The installation was in San Antonio and was a couple of years worth, maybe more, of diaries cut up with scissors into very, very small pieces and all put into this yellow plastic shopping bag and the diary covers, those grammar school composition notebooks, arranged in a semi-circle suspended over the bag, along with one particular drawing from the diaries in tact… That design (as far as the arrangement of the covers) was done by the curator. My thing was simply the importance of having those items together and the very specific arrangement of the bag. It was supposed to be folded down to look like a sack full of something, sort of bulging, and so that the contents could be seen emerging out of the top very slightly even from a distance. But that part didn’t get translated to the actual exhibition. It was something hard to communicate – the visual meaning I was going for. So you could just see the bag and had to actually walk up onto it to see that there was something inside. That’s not the way it was supposed to be… Anyway, I had been sort of obsessed with cutting things up for a while, and that carried over into the release… But no, I don’t think of art and music as being interchangeable at all. What I think of as being interchangeable are the conceptual tools used, mentally, to create them both. And the relationship of the artist to his visual work to be similar to the musician to his sonic work. But, then you get into manipulating the actual materials and results and there are major differences, especially if you want to talk about painting versus music. Painting can achieve an immediacy that music can never ever achieve. Music is less flexible in this regard, because a painter can achieve the temporality that music must work within by being, for example, monumental enough that it is impossible to take in the painting in one visual contact moment or by being inlaid enough with information that the mind struggles with it visually and does not perceive an instant summing up of the image. Music can do nothing but lead the mind through time, no matter how repetitive, forceful, or aurally demanding the composition.
EC: That’s very interesting to hear, because it’s normally music that makes claims to immediacy. Is that fact that music has to be considered along a linear timescale (minute two must come after minute one) something you’ve ever attempted to work against or transcend?
CC: Music claims emotional immediacy, it’s true. But upon reflection, it seems to me, that what is really being referenced is emotional intensity of a lasting nature (and one that is easily recalled.) What I’m interested in are the things that happen immediately, before emotional interpretation and I think it is visual art that has a more intense, immediate, mentally stimulating impact than music. Music because of the linear timescale has to be interpreted – emotionally and intellectually - continuously, through and within time. Painting etc. brings all of its information at once, perhaps a lot of it subliminally. There is no need for interpretation in time for its impact to be felt. To make another comparison, when a person first sees another person who they find attractive, they instantaneously have multiple lines of association created without thought. Now apply that to work that doesn’t seem to overtly court beauty, but maybe instead to court grandeur, incomprehensibility, or pure sense impression. The lines of association that are triggered are very interesting to me. It is that experience that I don’t believe music to be able to provide.
EC: There is a strong visual element to the many breaths press releases - so strong in fact that it seems like the visual presentation and the music are inextricably combined. Can you talk about your visual work and how it relates to your music? Are your working methods similar for both?
CC: Sometimes they are similar, as they both can employ this sort of detachment of construction, as in modular blueprints for basic layering. But, mostly no… The thinking methods are similar. I think of them both as involving manipulatable parameters and certain retractable and expandable properties… But feeling methods are so different. I never feel emotional about the visual aspects… Using hands in that way is something that’s never connected with my overt emotions for some reason. Maybe because I was pegged as someone lacking in that ability early on in life… But with the visual stuff I am trying to overcome all of these aspects of whatever, record covers, jackets, information, etc… There’s this strong desire to make this really unwieldy, thick, complex thing without resorting to any of those gimmicky obviously nihilistic things where you have to destroy it to get to the music, or it destroys the music. I don’t want it to have power like that, but to kind of be changeable, flexible, seeming like maybe it would grow some if you left it to its own devices… or that maybe in the stuff I was doing with the multiple pages the sense that it could be part of some larger set of pages… I don’t really feel like I want people to redesign the package themselves, but in looking at it, you see it is possible. The owner could change it if they wanted to. With the puffy ones made out of tissue paper they could rewrap it completely differently. There is enough material for it to be something else. You don’t have that with just a square of cardboard. And obviously they could put more pieces of paper in the ones with multiple pages and it wouldn’t be out of place… And of course, it was very important to stop having duplicated images. Everything handwritten. But this is ridiculous and takes so much time. These pieces don’t just represent time. They are time. They are the direct result of the time of my life being used…Handwriting is so fascinating, and an interesting thing is that a lot of people are frightened or worried by it. So that handwriting of the song titles and etc. is not an adjunct to the art. It is the art.
EC: I love the idea of art IS time. It seems to me that obviously the end result takes priority for you, but that the process itself is almost as important. Is this true?
CC: Yes, definitely the process itself is almost as important. Maybe of parallel importance… And I very much would like people to understand that aspect. The process is ritualistic, in a way, but it also certainly brings in concepts to me of representing very real, concrete vestiges of experience. The process is not, has not been concealed from the listener. At the same time, it doesn’t follow that there is no artifice. Different aspects of the process are shown in different works. Some are more ‘polished’ than others, but it is all there at some point in the work as a whole. And, going back to the ritualistic aspect of it, a human being’s hands touched the things that the listener is touching. The maker’s breath, thoughts, feelings, sacrifices, physical motions are all contained within and connected with it. It’s like a spellbook, a mystery book, of a life, and a mind. This is to me why art stays with us so long, so strongly. They are not just ideas, but particular ideas of particular people that resonate in their complexities. It is a sense of something outside of mortality, which brings in all kinds of problematic issues! While this aspect fascinates and attracts me, it also troubles me because it makes me consider that perhaps art is also a manifestation of the more problematic parts of our human nature after all. This goes into what was so affecting about the Patchen novel Albion Moonlight to me. There’s this whole mini-thesis in it about the wrong turn, or fall of man. He seemed to place it symbolically within the painted caves of Europe, with the urge to become something more than animals and participate in this creation of space and time and meaning outside of presentness, animalness. But now, that we are here this art sustains the part of our culture, our souls that resist leaving behind our human nature as we become ever more regulated and consumerized and roboticized. We try to stop this progression, or at least mitigate it by creating, being creative, being deeply invested in leaving our mark on not only the present, but for posterity. I hope people understand that in the future, this music and art and etc. may not even be graspable to people because they want nothing that mysterious and insubstantial to grasp. Although people believe the ‘information age’ to be obsessed with the insubstantial, it is all about (in my opinion) creating a space where there is only the substantial, that is, where there is no tension between substance and non-substance. Everything is related to from the position of hardness, even though it may be nothing but words floating in space… It sounds funny to use an old-fashioned word like roboticized. It just seems we had imagined this for ourselves a long time ago… I don’t know. There are a lot of theories of my own making, as well as ones pieced together from other sources, that go around and around in my mind. No answers, a lot of questions, and a lot of theories.
EC: Were your tracks Obelisk / Tholos on the Alone Together 7" improvised or did you have a composed idea, structure before you recorded?
CC: Improvised. But it’s also important to define that term. I mean, no I didn’t know exactly what would happen when I recorded the two songs. I had already tried to record in my almost impossible to record in apartment with a completely different approach and it just fell flat to me. They were more like songs, and maybe they were fine, but they were obviously wrong. So my boyfriend and I went out to Giddings, Texas which is about an hour east of Austin where his family has a place that’s a lot more private and I recorded what ended up on the single. In that sense, I knew what the music wasn’t going to be like. I knew it would be vocals and bells. And then, there is a language that one builds up over time. Also this almost innate sense of narrative structure that comes together instantaneously. No, innate is the wrong word. It is something that gets fostered over time, but becomes imprinted within. So there are these structural capacities within that get activated. There is a certain amount of conscious thought involved, and a certain amount of subconscious activity. A lot of ‘pure’ improvisers bemoan this fact. But, god, if this isn’t one of the most powerful parts of artistic technique and skill than I don’t know what is. Then other techniques come in play to control that process, or conversely loosen control over that process. Any player comes up against the stumbling block of potentially overusing certain language, but I am definitely in favor of acknowledging and respecting your own personal language and being glad for it. For enjoying sounding like yourself, and representing an individual living, breathing, viscerally bodied, passionate, thinking human being. The photograph that I sent you that ended up on the back of the 7” was, incidentally, taken there at the house in Giddings with the bells I ended up using before I knew that it would be recorded there and before I knew those bells would be used.
EC: Do you think the idea of ‘free improvisation’ (in the sense Emanem/Incus other European labels in the 70s etc) is an oxymoron?
CC: No, it isn’t an oxymoron if it is meant in the limited sense that it is the jargon of a specific language. They are talking about “free” from the particular moves of a certain type of music that is structured with certain characteristics. It’s when the idea comes into being that not only the characteristics of certain kinds of musics must be flouted, but also that characteristics of being a human being should be flouted as well that I have problems with it. Freedom from. Freedom to. But, the characteristics of human beings are changing. It’s not so hard to leave them behind maybe… So, no I don’t think inherently it is an oxymoron, as the words can be manipulated at will to mean different things… It is part of a spectrum of philosophies about what all of these things mean. How one should live one’s creative life. How one should perceive creativity. How one should promote creativity. I just have a very different orientation, while at the same time having interest in and respect for some of the progenitors of that sound. But, I have a feeling that particular philosophy of negation (certainly not upheld by a lot of the earlier musicians) has the potential to become quite a dead-end like a lot of previous sounds, but maybe that possible result is the oxymoronic (to stretch the meaning of the word) because the premises are explicit and utopian.
EC: Are you currently working on any new solo material?
CC: No, no… The last thing was the Alone Together stuff. The last month has been spent getting settled in my new place, starting back up with the studies and working a lot more at the day job. And it’s unclear where my mind is going to turn next. There’s this new freedom with having a dedicated room for recording, or almost dedicated room. I’ve been so used to working for a long time now mostly in whatever bedroom I had… There are a couple of releases that are in the finishing stages, some reissues and some new things. There’s a Many Breaths reissue of Future In Past, and a Root Strata reissue of Masque Femine on vinyl. Also the new Charalambides album Exile on Kranky and the new Many Breaths release mentioned above.
EC: In what form will Future In Past see a re-issue? I’m very interested in knowing why you chose that particular release for reissue as it’s very high up Emerald Cocoon’s imaginary ‘if only we had the funds’ reissue campaign. There’s a particular tension to that release and I’m wondering where exactly it comes from. Is it simply that it’s a live album, or is there something else to it?
CC: Future In Past will come out as the next Many Breaths CDR, with the usual approach of a handmade cover, but maybe some variation on the original cover concept as well. I want to do this one next because I feel like it will be taken in a different context now that more solo releases have come out. It seems like it sheds some light on the development that happened, both by showing what were the germs of ideas further explored and by showing what were the aspects that haven’t been explored as much (so far). And yes, there is a particular tension to that release that I don’t think comes from simply its being a live album. Maybe it has to do with the fact that it documents the first live show that I ever played, and what came out of that sense of intention, control, and purpose in other early live shows. It was paramount to be completely transparent and detached; to let the music speak for itself. Also, there are some very intimate recordings on there – one that was sung alone, without any kind of audience, and others with virtually no one in attendance. I’ve wondered if it would be possible to regain that sense of tension, and I am skeptical. The tension, although purposeful, came organically out of the process that was happening at the time. Now, it would have to be super-imposed onto the different process happening now. It might be interesting. There’s nothing wrong with the attempt in principle.
EC: Do you have a recent favorite album?
CC: I’ve been listening to Richard Youngs Amplifying Host. You know, it’s very unusual for me to listen to an album a lot and for me “a lot” means maybe two or three times in a week. It’s a listening habit established a long time ago, when working at Record Exchange and there was just so much music to hear that it seemed foolish to get hooked onto one thing (which should not be confused with being indifferent, unmoved, or not liking whatever music it happened to be). I still feel that way, I suppose. Though for various reasons, now I find myself becoming a listener who does go back more frequently to certain records… Anyway, Richard Youngs is an artist that I invariably get excited about when a new record is coming out, buy it right away, and do listen to it and have it become more of a part of my ‘daily’ life… I think he’s a genius – flat out. He has created his own sound world over the years; it changes but it’s still his sound. His melodies are gorgeous but never cloying, and his voice is this perfect instrument. The songs/pieces always have this developing sense of natural narrative. They never seem like they were closed systems, at the same time they have a structure. They never seem like they’re just ‘hanging there.’ This makes me think of the difference between a really well done tunic, and one that’s poorly done. One maintains its shape, which is seemingly simple while enhancing the shape of the wearer, and the other shows how difficult it is to design a good looking, simple dress even though superficially it very much resembles the better constructed dress. It is terrible when a dress looks like a sack hanging on someone. It’s terrible when music is poorly designed as well, and unfortunately there’s a whole lot of that out there at the present, and I don’t see that changing. So, I wish more listeners would train their ears to hear the difference in the music, and really hear it, so it becomes as obvious as what the eyes tell you when you see a piece of clothing designed and sewn by someone who puts no thought or care into its construction, or perhaps is even ignorant to the basis of superior construction… And it sounds strange to me to hear myself say these things, but this is what has been realized over the years. I’m not talking about static, orthodox methods of constructing and creating music. Methods are translatable, changing, flexible, slippery, contradictory. But they are discovered though intensive processes. They are revealed through difficult work. And I don’t see a respect for that (or maybe knowledge of that) nowadays. This image of music making being a perpetual (boring, superficial) party as portrayed in a Bacardi advertisement is so tiresome… Of course, if one doesn’t care about creating anything lasting… On a more positive note, another album that I’ve been listening to lately is the new Haunted House Blue Ghost Blues LP. It was funny, because I had just listened to the first one not too long ago and were lamenting the thought that they probably wouldn’t make another, and this new one thankfully popped up shortly after… And I’ve been going back and revisiting some stuff: Dead C’s early albums and Leslie Q Presque Vu…. It’s a sincere hope of mine that the concept of music making being an artistic activity that requires guts would re-emerge in the general consciousness.
EC: Can you speculate on where the attitude of music as a ‘perpetual party’ comes from? We were talking about knowledge of a historical continuum previously – do you think the idea of music being a perpetual party comes from a lack of historical perspective? Or is it simply the artistic manifestation of the ‘bigger better faster more’ mentality that we’re all been hemmed into via advertising etc (“And now that we’ve got more / we want more” – This Heat)?
CC: No, not from a lack of historical knowledge but from a lack of historical context. Maybe a lack of political context. The bigger, better, faster, more mentality certainly negates any kind of political contextualizing… I see it as cultural gentrification, really. The same way it is happening to most major, and a lot of not so major cities and towns, it is happening to the ground of underground music. There is no more resistance to transferring values onto it that were once foreign. The ‘neighborhoods’ that used to be liveable, interesting, populated by all sorts of ideas and people are being bought up and homogenized. The people and ideas are subsequently being scattered and losing their force as viable cultural entities. It’s the music writers who know what is going on and go along with it and don’t say anything that really puzzle me. Does anyone not wonder why all of a sudden there are certain artists and labels everywhere, after not so many (if any) concrete accomplishments? I’m certain that the fact that the major labels have nowhere else to go but ‘down’ is a big factor. If you follow the lines with agencies and labels you find that there is so much money being pumped into establishing these values in the underground that it cannot be anything but the successful implementation of attempts that were made in the early 1990s: fake independent labels, independent labels with very little integrity bought-out, manufactured ‘artists,’ etc. Fans are apathetic to these patterns or simply not equipped to interpret them. You find yourself strangely being brought back to the days before the American underground became strong, despite now, seemingly, the ‘underground’ proliferating. The proliferation is of a microcosm of the larger system, not a system resistant to it. The question is: why does it matter? Not many people seem to realize what is being lost. I’ve asked the question several times lately, and no one seems to want to answer. Who do you want making music? There’s this false idea that those who want to do it strongly enough will go on despite dwindling interest, sales, and attention. This idea that true artists will find a way to overcome all of these obstacles. But when an artist isn’t well off, maybe even poor, it starts to become an impossibility. The musicians and labels that will be able to survive are those who are subsidized. The paradigm of musicians making their money off of touring, instead of recording doesn’t hold for the person who has to work a job year round just to get by. Because unsubsidized touring does not work in the US at this point. And what kind of art can a person create when they have no time to themselves to create? There can’t be a vibrant, real American underground without a politically and economically conscious population. So, of course the idea of it being a place of perpetual party precludes serious consideration of these issues, and therefore leaves it wide open for exploitation. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, and it’s not a conspiracy. It’s the same pattern that has repeated over and over. At this point, what is different though, is that there just seems to be an utter lack of any kind of counterweight. And it doesn’t have to be ‘square’ or dry, or dull. That’s the part about historical context vs. knowledge. Yeah, you can take the work of all these incredible artists and musicians from the past and just look at it aesthetically, but it had more meaning than that. It wasn’t just a sound, or a look – it encompassed an orientation to the reality around them, and in many, many cases (those that are relevant to what we’re discussing here) an overt (or sometimes just naturally embodied within) resistance to the reality they found themselves surrounded by. Their stuff meant something more and hoped for something more for us as human beings.