Posts Tagged ‘experimental’

I’m kicking off this year’s edition of “Coachella: GET PSYCHED” with an audio rebuttal to DJ / producer Diplo — who you may know as the beats / music guy behind early work from artists like MIA and Santigold. According to Pitchfork, upon seeing this year’s lineup, Diplo remarked via Twitter, “maybe im just throwing shade but coachsmella looks pretty lame this year.. u used to be a place to check out new bands/music”, and then, “besides snoop and dre thats boss shit right there” and “its like bootleg ultra w a few bands that are ‘safe'”.

Now, I could give two shits what Diplo thinks about anything, but I do take issue with the notion that the lineup is somehow “safe.” Coachella actually impressed me this year by staying true to its annual commitment to bring in a few really left-field acts. Admittedly, none of these folks are on par with Throbbing Gristle, who played in 2009. Many of them are widely known. But that has more to do with tastes shifting — and really with alternative tastes finding wider outlets as technology democratizes both the distribution of music and the distribution of opinions about music.

So, I thought I’d take this first post of the GET PSYCHED series to shout out a few acts who, while they have drawn almost mainstream attention, still fly the freak flag a bit in their respective genres.

Amon Tobin: Get Your Snack On

It’s a little tough for me to wrap my head around the fact that Amon Tobin has been making music since the mid-90s, even before he began recording albums for the legendary Ninja Tune label. Almost twenty years. Really? Good luck catching up to where he was back then, much less where’s he’s at now.

Always experimental to a certain degree, Tobin started making heavily jazz-influenced downtempo and big beat tracks, veered dangerously close to ambient territory for a while, and now (alarmingly) generates what one might term “Skrillex-bait.” (Seriously, if you look at the comment threads for some of his tracks on YouTube, the less initiated have the gall to suggest he’s making something akin to dubstep.)

The reality is: the guy has taken sampling in electronic music to a whole other galaxy. It’s beyond sampling at this point really; earlier tracks ransacked crates and pillaged rhythm tracks with reckless abandon. Now, Tobin is working almost exclusively with found sounds, recording everything from wild animals to his own crying baby. Here’s the rub: it all still grooves. You can dance to it. Even better, he’s now added a widely acclaimed visual component to his “ISAM” live show — and he’s apparently bringing that to Coachella’s Sahara tent this year.

“Get Your Snack On” is one of my favorite Tobin tracks, dating back to 2000. Also be sure to check out the official ISAM trailer to get a sense of what he’s going to drop on folks in the desert.

Flying Lotus: MmmHmm

You may know Flying Lotus from his work producing “bumpers” for Cartoon Networks “Adult Swim” programming (see an example of sorts here) — but he also creates his own stuff, semi-glitchy downtempo released mainly on Warp Records (home to Aphex Twin, Battles, Squarepusher, and many other mind-bending experimental / electronic acts). His stuff is out there in a deeply funky way – probably due in part to the fact that he’s the great nephew of John Coltrane’s wife, Alice. That’s some lineage, there. He’s also known to rub elbows with the cats from Radiohead, having remixed a track or two, and having brought in Thom Yorke to provide vocals to the song “… And The World Laughs With You” on the FlyLo full length, Cosmogramma.

EMA: California

Pitchfork dubbed Erika M. Anderson’s nerve-shot middle finger to the Sunshine State its third best song of 2011 (right behind Bon Iver and M83, if you can believe that) … despite the fact that it’s built entirely around a litany of lines sung-spoke in an apparent effort to provoke extreme discomfort and / or the prelude to some bone shivering catharsis. And then there’s that fairly agitating instrumental backdrop that’s, literally, nothing but electric violin and doomy-sounding programmed beats. There’s something mesmerizing about it all, though, which may be why the song broke through.

It’s worth reading Pitchfork’s explication of the track to get the full flavor of what all Anderson does here to provoke, surprise, and dismay. And it’s worth listening to the song four or five times to let it sink its hooks into you. I’m still a bit mind-fucked to know that EMA got as much attention as she did with this song last year, given that it’s a pretty intense affair all through.

tUnEyAdRs: Gangsta

Everyone from KCRW to the Village Voice lost their shit over Merrill Garbus, aka tUnEyArDs, this past year, which left a few other people — namely, Chuck Klosterman — really confused. One listen and it’s easy to hear why (although the music isn’t the only thing confusing the poor metalhead from Fargo). As the Guardian’s music blogger, Charlotte Richardson Andrews, noted in a rebuttal to Klosterman’s piss-take, Garbus draws a lot of vocal inspiration from Nina Simone, whose voice, though considered a classic now, provocatively de-femmed Jazz vocals in her time. And she doesn’t stop there. The music itself incorporates loops of her voice in ways that are, by turns, grating and delightful. It also stop-starts frequently, pulling the rug out from under the listener just as as one begins to find safe purchase. This is un-easy listening … but fun, somehow .. and also annoying … but ultimately great. And then there’s the whole queer politics thing sort of running interference when you start digging into the lyrics or watching the performance.

So, while I agree that Klosterman was being a bit of a sexist (homophobic, even?) bastard in his essay, I’m right there with him in being baffled at how music like this could top the annual Village Voice Pazz + Job music poll last year. And yet, I’m sure this is going to be a phenomenal set at Coachella, and that there will be a capacity crowd watching at whatever stage Garbus commands, completely freaking out over it all.

Atari Teenage Riot: Live in Berlin 2011

Germany’s Atari Teenage Riot (and its primary musician / songwriter, Alec Empire) pioneered a harshly confrontational sub-genre of electronic dance music in the mid-90s. Sharing its title with ATR’s record label, “digital hardcore” drew inspiration equally from hardcore punk, gangsta rap, noise, and gabber — a particularly aggressive, gritty strain of hardcore techno especially popular in the Netherlands. This was music designed to provoke confrontation on all fronts: between listener and an external target (for ATR, this meant neo-nazis and fascists), but also between band and audience, and between audience members themselves. Never has a band’s name more accurately described its music.

I don’t do cocaine, so it’s tough for me to truly love ATR the way that the band’s most fanatical fans do. But, in watching this clip of a live performance in Berlin late last year, I’ve realized that I do like them an awful lot — and I absolutely can’t wait to see them live again.

I admit to feeling a certain nostalgia for it all, too. ATR’s first album dropped while I was DJing industrial and experimental music in college at KDVS back in 1996-97, and we all went completely crazy for it. Nothing else sounded like “Deutschland Has Gotta Die” at that time. And the music had a weird impact on people who experienced it live. I remember going to see the band — and several other Digital Hardcore — acts at a show in Riverside, Calif around that time with one of my best friends. We had to physically lift some meth-fried teenage girl off the ground, hoisting her by both arms, in order to stop her from angrily throwing ice cubes at ATR during its set. After we told her to settle down, and then put her back on the ground, she immediately launched into a frenzy of fake-ass karate kicks and chops, aimed at us but connecting only with air, before storming off (presumably to get another cup of ice to throw).

The group’s performance at Coachella 2012 is part of a series of reunion shows, featuring a new lineup. A vocalist named “MC KidtroniK” now stands in for original member MC Carl Crack (who died in 2001); Nic Endo replaces original female vocalist Hanin Elias, who apparently shredded her vocal chords recording all those early ATR tracks (not a shocker … there was a lot of intense screaming going on).

Advertisements

Michael Gira“Most anything Michael Gira is involved in immobilizes me with despair,” Slackjaw columnist / author Jim Knipfel said in a 1999 review of New Mother, Gira’s first album under the moniker The Angels of Light. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he concluded, summing up pretty much how any one who interacts with Gira’s music feels. Listening to anything Gira has released – either as part of the seminal post-punk / proto-goth group Swans, or his more recent work as the leader of the more personal, mostly acoustic ensemble Angels of Light – is eviscerating in the most endurable of manners. Sure, like any great singer / songwriter, his softer moments vibrate sympathetically with the frequency of an utterly wrecked heart. And yeah, occasionally he just reaches in and does the wrecking himself. He does it with such grace, though, such empathy and such reflective human-ness that you don’t mind. You invite him in. Let him stay long enough, and he will mirror you.

In 1999, following the dismissal of Swans (which had grown creatively stifling) and the dissolution of his longtime partnership with keyboardist / vocalist Jarboe, Gira began running his Young God Records enterprise in earnest, amassing a stable of forward-thinking underground bands with which to further the aesthetic Gira and Swans pioneered. He’s turned to producing now as well, turning in credits on recent albums by U.S. Maple, Calla and Flux Information Sciences. He’s also creating some of the most interesting music of his career; his “psycho-ambient” project, Body Lovers, drew rave reviews for its debut, Number One of Three, while its sonic doppleganger, Body Haters, showed flashes of Gira’s savagely noisy past. Most notably, his more formally arranged group, Angels of Light, has put out two stunningly intimate albums: 1999’s New Mother, and the just-release How I Loved You. It was the occasion of the latter’s release, and the launch of the Young God Records Web site, that found Choler’s editor Sean Flinn connecting with a gracious and newly techno-savvy Gira for an e-mail interview.

Sean Flinn: Let’s talk a bit about the new Young God Records Web site. For a few years, the only online resource available to your label and fans has been the Swans site (that I gather is run by Jarboe). It seems like you’ve resisted somewhat jumping into the online space with both feet. What finally motivated you to break away from that and establish your own online resource for your music and the bands whose work you produce and release on the Young God label?

Michael Gira: I suppose I just finally realized how self-defeating my technophobia was, that I was denying myself and the other people I work with through Young God Records access to a large amount of people that might be interested in our music. This was no easy feat, for me. I didn’t even have a credit card until a few months ago (in fact I didn’t open my first bank account until the age of 35!). I have just always had a disdain or suspicion of getting involved in systems which might ultimately lead to someone else having control over my life. But, with the options available to interesting, non-commercial music steadily shrinking, it became obvious that the net is/will be one of the most important ways to reach people around the world who might care about the music we release. As I say, now that there’s several other groups on the label aside from myself and my own work with Angels of Light, I felt a responsibility to do the best for them that I could. So I took the plunge, got the credit card, maxed it out of course, got the computer, and soon made contact with Ted Matson, who’s the Webmaster at http://www.younggodrecords.com and we’ve been working furiously together to make the site as comprehensive as possible.

Our guiding principal in terms of design has been simplicity and clarity, and to make the site as user-friendly (for fools like me) as possible. I’m also not a fan of flashy effects and gizmos and sputtering graphics etc, typical to a lot of websites. It reminds me of the first days of sampling, when everyone was so infatuated with the technology – the stuttering sampled vocal etc – like some kind of shiny new toy in the greasy hands of a giggling infant. To me, it’s just information. So we tried to make the site like a textbook might look – clear and simple …

What are your plans and hopes for the site? What sort of impact has it had on you and the label in the short time that it’s been up?

Aside from compiling as much information relevant to the music we release as possible, our links section (still not up yet) will be extensive – regardless of reciprocation, and I also want pages/sections devoted to the work of artists – visual and otherwise – I admire, with a “gallery” of their work, brief statements of intent they supply, and of course links back to them personally. I also want to have a section devoted to conversations/ dialog with people I admire – artists, writers, musicians etc. This will hopefully lead to some interesting connections and cross-references along the way. In addition, I’ll be doing special projects – limited edition CDs etc – available exclusively at the site … It’s already having a very positive effect, in that our tendrils are creeping ever outward, with the additional corollary effect of making me so busy I sometimes forget who or what I am – but that’s a good thing!

There’s a statement on the Young God site to the effect it’s the only site officially overseen and affiliated with you and your work, implying that other sites are making this claim, and doing so erroneously. What’s the back-story here?

In the interest of cooling down conflict with someone I will always hold in the deepest, highest regard, all I can say is that I have absolutely zero input or involvement with any other website claiming to represent me or my work, past or present. However, I wish that “someone” the best in all things, as always. My hope was to be mutually supportive allies, but …

Anymore, bringing a label or band’s presence to the Web begs questions about a larger online music strategy and the online music environment in general. Have you formed an opinion of file swapping technologies like Napster, Gnutella, etc.? Do you see them as threatening you and your label’s roster, or as providing a new avenue for promotion / communication with fans?

As for the “strategy” reference, the only strategy I have that I can think of is to make the music available to people that might be interested in it. I don’t want to convince or seduce anybody into an opinion, one way or another, about what we do, just make what we do available to those with similar tastes.


The act of making something … is ultimately an act of control, or will. It’s saying, ‘This is what I think, how I view things, these are my ideas or feelings,’ not ‘Here’s a bunch of vague notions, now it’s your turn.’

As for the MP3 issue, it’s generally anathema to me. What, are we all supposed to be hippies or anarchists with rich parents or something? I work extremely hard at what I do, with considerable financial and personal risk involved in the making of the music, and the same scenario applies to just about everyone else I know that’s made the disastrous decision to make music a career, so we deserve to be paid for our efforts. You wouldn’t expect a book by an author you admire to be free, nor would you expect an electrician to come into your house and rewire it for free. How are we any different? This is our work, what we do for a living (of sorts), and if you like the final results, buy it, you spoiled brat. Also, from an artistic point of view, it’s very important to me that an album be heard in its entirety, with all its juxtapositions and contrasts intact. I spend a huge amount of time and put a great deal of thought into that aspect of the final album. I don’t want some ninny, irony infected post modernist getting their fingers into it, rearranging it to suit their taste. It’s about control, I guess. The act of making something – a painting, a piece of music, a piece of fiction – is ultimately an act of control, or will. It’s saying, “This is what I think, how I view things, these are my ideas or feelings,” not, “Here’s a bunch of vague notions, now it’s your turn.” So, in addition to the potentially devastating financial consequences of the music being downloaded for free at random, there’s the issue of dissipation, aesthetically. Also, I like packaging. I like the way the visual sensibility, the images used, the general feel of the packaging, affects the perception of the music …
So, we have soundbites of all the music at the site, but never the whole song. If you like what you hear, buy it, if not, don’t. That seems quite fair to me.

However, it might be that we’ll make one entire song from each CD available as mp3 download, like a single, I guess. In the long run though, it really doesn’t matter what I have to say about this, because if people want to share mp3 files they’re going to do it anyway. I don’t know, maybe in the long run it’ll just mean we’ll be forced economically to find more lucrative careers!

Moving on to the music: let’s talk a little about the new Angels of Light album, How I Loved You. How did making this album differ from making New Mother? Was there again a process of begging, borrowing and stealing involved in getting it completed? Did it flow any easier for you?

New Mother, for the most part was built up from initial takes of just myself with an acoustic guitar, sometimes recording the vocal simultaneously, then orchestrated on top of that. How I Loved You was rehearsed as a band, then most of the songs played live in the studio, with some overdubbed orchestration added later. So the latter has more of an “organic” feel, and the sounds are less separated. I don’t really see one process as being more valid than another. In the end, it’s all just sound to me. But the songs on HILY had been played a great deal live too, so they’d expanded in many cases into the beastly and lengthy versions that exist now by the time they were recorded, which I guess makes the material more “emotional” in a certain way.

Yeah, the usual tortuous problems of financing this kind of recording apply, but in the end I think it was worth it. But it did lead me to the decision to record my music from now on at home, in protocols, just getting a friend or two over from time to time, adding ideas. My ears have been bigger than my wallet for far too long, and it’s time to get simple. That way of working will necessarily force a change in the sound of what I do, but that’s not such a bad thing in itself. I’m sure the learning curve will be monumental though …

You’ve called the album “a collection of love songs.” First off: why that particular form? What attracted you to the concept of the “love song”?

I never, never work from a concept outward. I wake up in the morning, pick up a guitar, and start writing. Whatever is occupying my mind at the time is what I write about. So really, as “love” has been pretty much my primary personal preoccupation for the last few years, that’s what ended up being the subject matter of the songs. Not to say they’re all typical love songs though. One song is an homage to Nico, with whom I was obsessed for a while. I went through a period where I listened to The Marble Index and Desert
Shore constantly, over and over, and I was just consumed, seduced, with an overwhelming need to, well, FUCK NICO, to be frank. ‘course she’s dead, so that saved her the ordeal …

Another song, “My True Body,” is based on a memory from when I was in prison in Israel as a runaway kid. I used to see (and hear) this one Arab boy raped repeatedly every night. We were in an old army barracks, so there were about 100 prisoners in one large room – Arabs at one end, American and other foreigners arrested for drugs or whatever at the other end. The lights would be out, the moonlight entering through the metal grills that covered the windows. There’d be their undulating, dim shapes at the end of the barracks, emitting a kind of muffled, distant, suction sound, along with his whimpers, of course. Then when they were finished with him I’d hear him shuffling across the concrete floor on his way to the sink, where he’d throw up for a while, then brush his teeth. Then he’d shuffle back in the dark to his end of the barracks. Anyway, since it was a pretty formative experience for me (I was 15/16 at the time), I often thought about him, wondered what happened to him, so I wrote it as an idealized or romanticized homage, where “the singer” – myself – sings in the first person, as him, or my version of him, as his memory exists in me…

Another song, “New York Girls,” is a tribute to a particular breed of young women you’ll find at pretty much any rock or rock-related show in NYC (and would have also been there at say, CBGB in 1979 when I moved to NYC) – tough, cynical, smart, but with a very desirable soft white underbelly… Other songs are very specifically love songs sung for/to particular women – very openly sentimental…

It seems like you’re really playing around with the format here (the only comparable works I can come up with are Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and Diamanda Galas & John Paul Jones’s The Sporting Life); there are some sweet Jeff Buckley-esque moments that start off the album, but also some more raw, almost abrasive pieces that crop up as the album progresses. What are you getting at here? Is there a “medium is the message” commentary running through the album?

I have to say that I’m not “getting at” anything. Really, I just write about what interests me. I’m not trying to make some point about music or “The Song”. I don’t care at all about that kind of thing. I just do my work, then try to forget about it and move on to the next thing.

Putting pictures of your parents on the album’s cover and calling the album a “collection of love songs” suggests a sort of Freudian bent to the work; (insert thick German accent here) So, tell me about your mother. Tell me about your father. Are some (Or all? Or any?) of the songs on How I Loved You love songs to your parents? You’ve mentioned that some of the songs on New Mother were more hagiographical – do any similar songs crop up on How I Loved You?


I was just consumed, seduced, with an overwhelming need to, well, FUCK NICO, to be frank. ‘course she’s dead, so that saved her the ordeal …

My parent’s photos have been taped to the walls of the various places I’ve lived over the years, always there. I just instinctively thought their images fit with the music, in this instance. I guess you could say that since their “love relationship”, and who they were and what they became as a result of their relationship, played a large role in deciding what I would become as a person, and how I would ultimately view “love”, I thought it appropriate to use their images for this album. No, there aren’t any songs to or about them on this album, though. But they’re there, since they continue to live inside me.

It seems as though you’ve used your different post-Swans projects to pursue to a further extent, but separately, certain musical ideas that were somewhat jammed together in Swans, perhaps confined and kept from growing to their fruition by the baggage of the Swans legacy: Angels of Light presents your formal songs and lyrical ideas; Body Lovers mines the more “psycho-ambient” areas that began to crop up on Soundtracks for the Blind; and the Body Haters brought back some of the real visceral, abrasive feel of the early Swans projects. Would you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?

I guess I just don’t want to mess up my songs with a bunch of artsy-fartsy ideas!

Your songwriting has become gradually more lyrical as time as gone by; the two Angels of Light albums are very strong on melody and extremely easy to listen to (which is not to say that the music has in any way been compromised) in many spots. How and why did you begin changing your songwriting style?

I just try to keep myself interested in what I’m doing. Things move along in the usual haphazard way, and I try to follow the flow … I’m really not premeditated at all in that sense, though once I discover where I’m going, I then hack away at it (and everyone around me) until the work achieves an internal logic.

How is the next Body Lovers album coming along? When and what came we expect from it?

I don’t know when it’s coming. I have some ideas, but as usual, they’re expensive. I adamantly don’t want to just generate sounds from artificial / computer sources. It’s important to me to make the initial sounds for Body Lovers with people playing instruments together, to generate a feel, first. Then that would lead to conjunctions with other sound sources, which would then be manipulated further.

What’s up next for you? More production duties? An Angels of Light tour?

I don’t have any production work lined up at the moment. An AOL tour will probably happen some time soon, but honestly, I haven’t picked up a guitar or sung a note in months, because I’ve been grappling with the label, trying to get it stabilized and moving forward. So the first step will be to just sing by myself here at home, probably for a few months, to find the connection with that part of myself again, and to get my voice back in shape. Then I’ll start to gather the musicians. So it’ll take a while. Could be I’ll do a little solo-acoustic tour though, just because the thought terrifies me! Also working presently with Dan Matz of Windsor [for the Derby, another band on the Young God roster] on an album called Ourselves: What We Did. It’s songs Dan and I have done at his house, by ourselves. In our minds, it’s a “pop” record, but whenever we play the material for someone, they always look at us kind of dumbfounded we’d say that.

Boyd Rice

“I got a laptop computer about a week ago. Actually, someone gave it to me,” says Boyd Rice, who, under the moniker NON, has been terrorizing the industrial-gothic underground for a quarter century. “But I don’t intend to go on the Internet, and I’m really doubtful whether I’ll even have e-mail,” he theorizes. For an artist whose work has perpetually forced the expansion of counterculture’s periphery, Rice’s personal life and predilections steer remarkably clear of the cutting edge. A notorious raconteur and prankster who, while exerting an influence over protégés like Marilyn Manson, has always longed for at least one moment in the sun, Rice is torn between his growing desire to live a more “hermitlike life of solitude” and his compulsion to communicate with and grow his fan base.

“I’d like to get more involved with my Web site,” he explains via phone from his home in Denver, Colo. “I was just talking with [the people who run my site] at Brainwashed [a Webzine that also hosts official sites for pioneering electronic artists like Rice, Coil, Meat Beat Manifesto, Luke Vibert and Diamanda Galas], and it’s always been my desire to have more communication, have more news on things that are going to be happening on it rather than just really bizarre rumors.”

His concerns are well-founded. It’s one thing for an artist to labor in obscurity because the work he produces presents a pill too bitter to be swallowed by the finicky maw of pop culture. It’s quite another to be forced out of the limelight by lack of attention to his Web site.

To wit, the “news” page on the official NON site. The most recent entry notes the impending release of NON’s latest album, Receive the Flame, which has been on shelves since December 1999. The “older news” section has remained static for the past year, despite Rice’s eventful completion of a European tour with goth luminaries Death in June (with whose leader, Douglas P., Rice works on a number of projects) and the Stockholm Film Festival premiere of Richard Wolstonecraft’s film Pearls Before Swine, in which Rice plays the lead role. In short, the site possesses little beyond a wealth of disinformation and outdated semi-facts.

This leaves Rice frustrated.

“It’s like, me remixing a Richard Stapleton album,” he says of the validity of the site’s news. “Who even thought of that? In the past, I’ve sent them obscure old albums for little contests, and they’ve gotten rid of those, given them to people. I’ve done stuff like that, but I’ve always wanted to be more involved. I just don’t necessarily [want to] be on the Internet. I’d get mail from everybody. It seems like e-mail makes things a bit too easy. People who would never have the patience to write a letter and put a stamp on it and mail it to you, if they had your e-mail address, you’d probably hear from them every other day.”

A fine line divides Rice’s ambitions, but after 25 years of pushing people’s buttons, Rice has grown notorious for treading fine lines. His music and performances have drawn strong reactions — positive and negative — since he started his trademark practice of melding raw noise into music back in the mid-’70s. “When I first started doing it and nobody was doing noise music, the responses were uniformly negative,” he laughs.

It’s easy to hear why. NON’s albums typically consist of viciously repetitive drones culled from tape loops and samples of, among other things, bubblegum girl-group music from the ’50s and ’60s. It’s easy-listening music taken to an uneasy extreme, sonic wallpaper that obliterates natural ambience. Though technically apolitical, NON’s aural assaults are often interpreted by his detractors as unambiguously fascist, bigoted and even demonic. And while Rice acknowledges that the spoken-word rants that occasionally accompany his sound collages do toy with fascist imagery and reflect his long association with Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan, he is puzzled by the strong and vocal opposition his work draws from some quarters.

“I think mostly the people who impose some sort of negative meaning on it get pissed off about it, but they don’t actually come to the concert to see what’s happening. Because if they did, they’d have a completely different idea of what’s going on. They have no idea what they’re talking about. They formulated these opinions, and I’ve said to these people, “Come in and look at this, and if there’s anything that you object to, fine. But you won’t see anything.” And these people stand outside and protest, but they won’t actually come in and find out what they’re protesting against.”

non logo

The Wolf's Angle, a controversial symbol used by Rice as the logo for his group, Non

His frustration is typified by the misinterpretation of the image he uses as NON’s logo, an ancient symbol known as a Wolf’s Angle (pictured right), which the unaware have associated with Nazism, even going so far as to misinterpret it as a swastika (a symbol that is believed to have originated in ancient Troy or what is now Turkey, pre-dating its appropriation by the Nazis by about 3,000 years).

“[The Wolf’s Angle] dates back to the oldest alphabet of runes,” he explains. “When the second alphabet of runes came around, that symbol wasn’t even a part of it. That symbol is ancient and has existed for centuries and has always had the same meaning. And it was used by some extremist group in Germany in the 1500s, then it was used briefly by the Nazis at the end of World War II. The meaning I’m attributing to it has more to do with hermetic gnosticism [a pagan belief system dating back at least as far as 500 A.D., rooted in the texts on the Egyptian god Thoth] than totalitarianism.”

Controversy has earned Rice reverence as a cult icon, but his musical efforts have had a far greater impact, providing a sonic vocabulary to industrial, experimental and ambient music. Few — if any — pop and rock musicians were playing around with the composition of music from non-musical sources when Rice released his first LP, The Black Album in 1975. Today, mechanical clangs, tape loop drones and field-recorded samples pepper the pop airwaves, texturizing everything from Björk’s hyper ballads to Nine Inch Nails’ dour soundscapes.

“Maybe a year ago, I heard that media analysts had said that, in two or three years, the huge form of music would be noise music or industrial music — that there would be this overlap of fans from heavy metal getting into noise music, goth people getting into noise music, and that it would be this huge thing where people like me would sell a million copies of a CD,” he notes. But he’s quick to acknowledge that, while it has overtly influenced several now-popular artists and musical styles, NON won’t sell a million records until “Hell freezes over.”

So Rice won’t be hitting the Billboard Hot 100 any time soon. But he can take pride in the massive success of those he’s inspired over the years, most notably, reigning shock-rock king Marilyn Manson, who took some sartorial and philosophical tutelage from Boyd.

“He used to call me up when he was a teenager living with his parents in Florida. He would call me all the time and just talk and talk about philosophy,” Rice said of his relationship with Mr. Mechanical Animal. “Whenever he comes through town, we visit and hang out, and if I’m in London when he’s in London, we hang out together. But he’s a really busy guy now, so I actually had a lot more contact with him before he even had a recording contract.”

When he’s not making beautiful noise and shaping the minds of tomorrow’s counterculture icons, Rice amuses himself with his other driving passion: pulling pranks. The author of a popular book on the subject for the infamous RE:Search series, Rice has spent years culling practical experience in the field.

boyd rice and marilyn manson

Boyd & Marilyn: What are they hugging?!

“I still do stuff like that whenever the opportunity arises, but it’s just like — it was a passion when I was young. And now that I’m older, I kind of feel like actively wasting somebody else’s time could be fun, but at the same time, I’m actively wasting my time as well. The impulse is still there, and we still do it. Do you remember when Denny’s had those little timers? If you went in, they took your order and pressed this timer, and if your meal didn’t come within 10 minutes or something like that, you’d get the meal for free. So I stole one of these timers, and I would invite all my friends to go to Denny’s, and as I was about a half a block away, I would press the timer, and it would start ticking over. Then we would go in, and we would order, and the waitress would set her timer down, and as soon as she left, I would put my timer on the table and take the timer she had left. We would order all this food — you know, steak and eggs, coffee, milkshakes, pie à la mode, all this stuff — and get it free every time. When I was young, I was interested in how these things could be functional, how you could just screw around with somebody’s thought in order to get them to do what you wanted. I was thinking, I didn’t want to hold a normal job, and I thought, ‘When I’m older, I’ll just make a living off of conning people and getting stuff for free and just going through the world that way.'”

Little surprise, then, that he found a career in the music industry.

“I think it’s far more constructive,” he says of turning his impulse to prank into making music. “Because when you’re pulling a prank on someone, you’re sucking them into an alternate reality for a brief period of time, and then, sooner rather than later, they find out that it is false. It’s like a slap in the face. Whereas with music, I think that it’s an alternate universe that people can feel comfortable with. Or maybe it’s a universe that they’ve always existed in and have felt at odds with what people call’the real world.’ Or they’re at loggerheads with how everybody else lives their lives. That was always the way with me. As a youngster, I felt like I was walking out of rhythm with everybody else in the world. And then I’d find these strange artists or philosophers who [I was] totally in sync with. You kind of think,’Oh. Maybe I’m not alone.'”

While devoted more to music than practical jokes, Rice still finds time to indulge his prankster side. On his recent European tour, for example, he and his pals from Death in June came within a hair’s breadth of making global headlines.

“We went to Italy, and we tried to steal Mussolini’s brain,” he recounted. “Mussolini’s brain is interred in a little marble box, separate from his body. It’s in a glass case that’s in the wall because they removed it and shipped it to the United States to do scientific experiments to find out how intelligent he was. So we happened to be there in this town in Italy that was Mussolini’s hometown.

“We found that he was buried there and found that his brain was interred separately. So we snuck into this place and tried to steal his brain, and we couldn’t get in there. It would probably make the world press,” he said when questioned about why he would even want to possess the brain of the late icon of Italian Fascism.

“It would be exciting to have everybody in the world imagining that there are people who cared enough to steal Mussolini’s brain.” Ultimately, Rice found solace in the fact that his heist was foiled by Italy’s impenetrable brain-protection technology. “It was locked up tight as a drum at night, so we went back the next morning. We went in, and there were all these old people in there putting wreaths on his grave, and they had tears running down their face, and I just felt really kind of selfish — like, ‘Oh, fuck. What a selfish asshole I am, wanting to take this, and it means so much to these nice old Italians. I’ll leave it so everyone can appreciate Mussolini’s brain. It belongs to everybody. It doesn’t just belong to me,'” he laughs.

One imagines him barely able to keep a straight face. And if he could just get his Website updated, he could share the laughter with everyone.

Diamanda Galas

Diamanda Galas, the first lady of scream. Photo by Austin Young.

A tireless activist and peerless vocal talent, Diamanda Galas has taken a turn for the sultry with her latest album, Malediction and Prayer.

This interview originally appeared on KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, California in November of 1996.

Sean Flinn: The first questions I have here focus on the new album, Shrei X.

Diamanda Galas: That refers to the word “Shriek.” It refers to a type of performance that was done in the 1940’s in Germany and Austria. It was a performance that was generally wordless, and it was something that they would say came out of the nervous system. It was very…well it wasn’t as much emotional as it was, perhaps, nervous. It was a very high strung kind of performance. I have never studied that performance because the documentation has been lost, but this piece uses the word “Shrei” in homage to that theater while also being a different type of performance itself.

You mentioned that the performance itself was not necessarily vocal …

No, their performance was vocal, but it was very theater based. And you know, in this piece, when I’m using the word “shrei,” I redefine it in this context to mean “an animal that is attacked repeatedly within a confined space.” So the performance is 35 minutes long, it’s performed in darkness, and it’s performed with the darkness as a [tool for affecting] sensory deprivation. And it’s in quadraphonic space. This is not the performance that I’m going to be doing in Berkeley.

Yes, I know, I have some questions about that. That’s Malediction and Prayer, correct?

Yes. But I have toured this performance through the United States last year, not hitting Berkeley and San Francisco with it, but hopefully I will.

You mentioned the darkness functioning as a tool for sensory deprivation. Does that function deprive not only the audience of sense but the performer as well, to bring the performance out of you?

Yes, you’re right, because in a sense it gives me a curtain of anonymity, which is very nice. So I don’t have to be seen during this performance, at the same time there are no visual aides for the audience, so they can’t refocus on something else. They have to sit there and listen. It’s a curious expression: they have to sit there and listen to “art” rather than looking at it, and that’s a very difficult thing, because you have to concentrate over a period of time, over 35 minutes rather than, as a lot of times [with visual art] getting distracted.

And essentially if something from the performance disturbs them, there’s nothing that can distract them from it …

Precisely.

… nothing visual that they can drown their senses in.

Well, I’ve been thinking of Iannis Xenakis, who’s in New York this week, and I always think that the reason that his work, or any kind of sound work – avant garde electronic work – has not had the financial potential of “visual avant-garde work,” is simply because it’s much more difficult to process. The demands are much more radical, and it takes time out of someone. It takes time. You just can’t look at it and then go away and then look at it again. You have to sit there. I had a lot of people really complaining during Shrei, during the performance and after the performance and just saying all sorts of things to me, you know, in whatever city I was in. They were really annoyed. And that’s just too bad … but the piece goes on. So that’s irrelevant to me.

You’ve mentioned before that your voice is “a weapon for your friends and a weapon against your enemies.”

Yep.

And so when people are annoyed, it’s almost like they’ve come out and identified themselves.

Well said. You know there was one guy in Prague last year, I remember, he stood up there and said, in his language, “Fucking bitch! Get off the stage!” You have to expect, when you do this kind of work, that people are going to react the way that they do. But in this particular piece there’s no way to interrupt it to have a kind of conversation with this guy. I have to let him do what he’s going to do and keep doing what I’m doing.

Now do you normally find that you get hecklers during a performance, or somebody like this, who is so disturbed that they have to do that?

I’m used to that, through the years. But with the voice and piano stuff, not really, because it’s really much more of a proscenium type of performance. It’s much more classic in the style of performance, but, with the other work…yeah, with Vena Cava, I had someone who ran out into the street and hid behind a truck and people ran after him because they didn’t know what was wrong with him. I get different reactions. But the person who goes through a lot of this primarily is myself, because I compose the work, and so it’s coming from asking honest questions, but also going through those mental states myself. So if someone goes through that, you know, it’s their privilege, but I also understand why a person might not want to be subjected to that sort of thing. I mean, what the hell? If somebody pays, they can do whatever they want. They can stay, they can leave. I would prefer for them to shut up, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

It’s kinda like “you pays your money, you takes your chance.”

Right.

You talked about the performance’s effect on the audience, but what, sometimes, is the performance’s effect on you? I imagine you have to summon a lot of things out of yourself to be able to put these performance on.

Extreme concentration, I would say. Very, very extreme concentration. I have to know what I’m doing. With Schrei I have notes in front of me in terms of the text and some notes on how I’m delivering the vocal work (although these are very sparse). But primarily I have to be very focused on what I’m doing.

Also, I know that some of the liner notes to Shrei X mentioned that you’d been doing a lot of research on the sound system that you used. Has that been going on for a long time, and finally culminated with Schrei X, or is this something that you’ve been using throughout the years in your performances and just fine tuning it.

I think that, for years, I’ve been working with ring-modulation, changing delay times and quadraphonic space. And I’ve worked in this way before, on Wild Women with Steak Knives and Eyes Without Blood, but I wasn’t using such a radical type of, for solo pieces, signal processing as ring-modulation. I mean, we’ve done some square wave modulating work, but we were combining ring-modulators with a lot of the work for the piece DM42 which was giving us a lot of delay changes. That combined with the vocal techniques that I used, which are creating a lot of noise, gives you a sound that no longer sounds vocal. And initially the vocal sound often does not sound vocal.

I was noticing that while I was listening to the album. At some points your voice sort of moves beyond the realm of the vocal … that was really neat.

Yeah, thank you, because I’ve always thought that was interesting. It was something I heard from the first experiments with tape concrete from Paris with Pierre Henry with Pierre Schaeffer. They were doing a lot of spatial manipulation of the sound. Pierre Henry would just take the sound…well, he did a record called “A Door and a Sigh.” And he’d have the closing of the door and the sigh, and that would be it. And he would have to manipulate those two signals alone, over a period of twenty minutes. And he made that so incredibly effective, with the tape manipulation and with spatial manipulation. And I heard that, and I said “you know…yeah!” I mean, he’s not using a voice, but it’s irrelevant what material you’re using.

There’s sort of been, on that subject, an explosion in the genre of experimental noise recently. I know that at KDVS now, we have several shows that feature experimental noise prominently. As a result of that, have you noticed more and more people coming to your performances recently, or have there always been sell-out crowds? Have people become a little more receptive to your work now?

I don’t really know, because, again, when I do something like Schrei, it’s very demanding, and I know…well I know there’s a lot of noise work that has kind of a rhythmic background, you know, like a lot of the rave stuff — a lot of the techno stuff – has become increasingly popular, but I don’t know if something that has no rhythmic underpinning (which makes a person feel kind of familiar, makes them feel like they can space out to it) is really in line with what a lot of what these people are doing. I think you’re probably right on one level, people will say, “That’s pretty radical, so let me check that out” in a way that they didn’t before. Perhaps. But then I think they were probably tricked into going, and then they realized, “Aw shit! This isn’t techno!”

Yeah, I’ve noticed too that some of the guys – some of the Japanese noise artists like Merzbow, and the Gerogerigegege – a lot of the guys who get up on stage and use metal grinders as instruments and produce zero beat per minute type of work – this stuff is actually sort of blossoming right now.

Oh! They’re not using a rhythmic thing?

No, they’re not.

Oh, that’s really interesting. That’s kind of refreshing for me to hear.

Yeah, it’s really interesting to see what’s happening with people’s tastes. We’re getting a lot of phone calls on some of the experimental shows down here.

Good!

So it seems like the avant garde has sort of filtered down a little bit to people, sort of taking on that punk-rock aesthetic where they can do this in their garage, and experiment with sound and just noises and not worry about rhythm or formal song structure.

Well, it’s also certainly an electronic music aesthetic that’s gone way, way back, and it’s gone with a lot people in the United States who nobody knew about and didn’t really care about. So it’s going to be very interesting for these people to re-acquaint themselves with that tradition as well.

Yes. O.K., Malediction and Prayer: I haven’t seen any press releases or anything on this show, I’ve just seen comments here and there, in the San Francisco Chronicle and publications like that. Could you maybe run through what you’re doing in this show, and maybe describe for me the guiding theme behind the show, if there is one?

Sure. Malediction and Prayer is a concert for voice and piano, and it deals with a lot of songs that might be sung by a person who has spent too much time alone in a room and is going through, because of this, a lot of different states of remorse for things … they’re like dirges, in a sense, maybe a kind of funereal feeling about people and things. And then some of them are songs about people that this person might have murdered, or wanted to murder. Or this person, when they were going through different extreme states, maybe ended up in a mental hospital, and is talking about that. So things like “Insane Asylum,” by Willie Dixon, or “Iron lady,” which I dedicate to Aileen Wuronos, is a piece about the electric chair. “25 Minutes to Go” is Johnny Cash …

Yeah, I was going to ask you about that.

Well, that piece to me represents a lot that I think about in terms of … it’s kind of an age paradigm in a sense, because it’s “25 … 24 … 23 …” It’s a countdown, and at the end, the person is hanging on his neck from the noose. One of the verses is, “I asked for the Mayor, but he’s out to lunch … 17 minutes to go.” And then the countdown until at the end, you just hear him hanging from the rope. I mean, he does it in a very jaunty way, and he’s talking about hanging and I’m talking, certainly about the same thing, but when I’m singing about it I’m really thinking quite a lot in terms of the AIDS parallel.

And is some of the jauntiness that you mentioned some of the typical Johnny Cash gallows humor?

Exactly! Exactly! I have my own black gallows humor. It’s nice to hear you say that, because sometimes people will say, “Oh man this song … these songs are so depressing.” I say, “Oh no! No! I’m taking this shit from being depressing to another place.” Because pure depression is a place where you can’t operate. You can’t even move when you’re that depressed. I’m taking things that people go through to another place.

So this sort of continues on … well I know that a lot of your work is about empowerment …

Yep.

… so that’s continuing on with the empowerment perspective.

Exactly.

I was walking around the other day and I had a revelation about your music. I realized that, when I hear it, I don’t feel annoyed or scared. It actually kind of pumps me up.

Oh cool. I like that.

And that seems to be the response from most of my friends who listen to you as well.

Oh, I like that! We did a show at Carnegie Hall at Halloween. And I did it in dedication to my best friend who just died of AIDS a few months ago. And I put it on that day because I see that day, Halloween, because I see it as a day that recognizes the saints. It’s the day before All Soul’s Day, it recognizes the saints who are defined in the American College Dictionary as “formally recognized by the Christian Church as worthy of veneration on Earth and a place in Heaven.” And I had to change but one word in order to make sense of this, which is to say “persons who were formerly recognized by the Christian Church as being worthy of veneration on Earth and a place in Heaven,” but who are now attacked and stalked like witches. And that makes perfect sense.

And that corresponds to the efforts by some people who have tried to pigeonhole you by saying that, “She just makes Satanic music.” And you’ve responded by saying, in a sense, you do make Satanic music, in that Satan is the spiritual resource of those people who were “formerly recognized by the Christian Church …”

Right. Exactly. It’s the same as what Baudelaire says, “O Prince of Exile.” He refers to Satan as a “Prince of Exile…who once ruled.” It’s the same thing, and so I talk a lot about this kind of inversion of power, but I think a lot of the things I talk about can not be understood in very traditional terms. I think that, when people think about Satanism, they think about Anton LaVey and they think about all these things which, for me, represent a kind of Las Vegas Satanism. It’s not really what I’m talking about.

It’s a glitzy, fun Satanism.

Yeah. I mean, I have nothing against him. I think he’s probably very entertaining, I don’t know his stuff, but it really isn’t what I’m talking about.

There’s actually a band called “The Electric Hellfire Club” that operates out of the Church of Satan, and their whole mission is to make Satanic dance music, to show that Satanism can be fun, you know, as sort of a weekend thing.

Well, there it is. And I think Marilyn Manson has a laugh too. He’s supposed to be a very nice guy, and I think he kind of reminds me of Alice Cooper actually. But that’s a different thing altogether. I’m talking about witches. I’m talking about people who were persecuted, I’m not talking about using symbols for something.

You mentioned Baudelaire in there, and I’ve been trying to bone up on my Baudelaire and Antonin Artaud and Gerald de Nerval and stuff like that … Do they continue to influence your work?

Consistently.

Are you finding that you’re uncovering new elements of their philosophy and incorporating them into your work?

Yes. Especially from Baudelaire, because a thing about Baudelaire, for all of his manifestos, he’s also able to back it up with profound writing. And that’s why I constantly return to him, because he just happens to have a gift of writing some wonderful incantational, liturgical work, which I mean, it really lends itself to musical interpretation because of its rhythmic elements. So I return to him a lot. And I think, Corbiere, I’ll be doing some more things of Corbiere’s. I’ve also discovered Henry Michaux, who I think is very interesting. He used to write hexes, these poems that were written as hexes, and he wanted them to operate as hexes, to either help people or to destroy them. He was very, very serious about it, and they’re very beautiful, very interesting poems.

Does that tie into the song “Hex” on The Sporting Life album that you did with John Paul Jones?

Definitely. I didn’t know about Michaux then, but that was definitely a piece that was dedicated to someone, and it worked. It took about a couple of years, but it worked. The person was on the way out anyway, but it was really nice …

… to have that as sort of an extra push?

Just to feel that I had given that extra push.

Well,there you go. And speaking of the album that you did with John Paul Jones, I haven’t had a chance to read the interview that’s on your web page that you did with him, but I am wondering, as are a lot of people who are interested in that album, how you guys came to work together.

I think the interview you’re talking about is with a journalist and John Paul, and not with the both of us, talking about how we worked together. It was a joy. We were introduced by mutual friends. He had seen me perform, and naturally I had heard his work with Bonham on Led Zeppelin’s work and thought that was a killer rhythm section, I mean, that’s it. I heard that and thought, “That’s the kind of rhythm section I’ve been looking for,” as far as the voice. But it never occurred to me that, if we met, that he would be really interested in touring. And then he said that he wanted to tour, as well as produce the record, and that was just lovely, because he’s such a great musician. I said to him “Listen, what I want to do is sing and play Hammond, you play bass, and we use a great drummer, and I don’t want any guitars,” and he immediately loved that. And that was it. It was a power trio. We didn’t need any of that. We didn’t need the Barbie Doll backup. We didn’t need all that crap. We didn’t need all that prancing around, because we like the music.

And that’s what it’s all about in the end anyway, or what it should be about.

Yep.

Did you find a lot of people coming to the shows who were Led Zeppelin fans and then were like “who’s that woman?” People who then heard the performance and walked out.

Definitely. In Italy we did this show – it was in Rome – and half of the people were screaming “John Paul Jones!” And then the other half were screaming, “Diamanda!”

So it was sort of a meeting of the minds …

It was great. He had these, like heavy metal fans, and I had these big Italian queens who were like “Diamanda Galas!” [Laughs] You know? I loved that!

Some other questions; I had some of the other KDVS DJs and fans and such ask me a few questions that they’ve been dying to ask you over the years of being fans of your work. One person asked this morning, “What made you decide on the type of music that you perform?” In other words, you started as a classical pianist, correct?

Oh no, that erroneous. That’s where it’s wrong. If I had started as a classical pianist I think I would have had some real difficulty making the adjustment. I started as student of my father, and we played all sorts of stuff together. New Orleans stuff, I played everything, Fats Waller, I played music. I played everything. And then eventually I started reading music, but it was not the first thing I did, I didn’t read music at the beginning. And that’s why improvisation was a part of my background, and I used it even when I would read music by asking my teacher to play the piece a few times so that I didn’t read it as well.

Yeah, I think, having been in school bands and stuff, I can identify with that exactly.

You know what I’m talking about; “Can you play that for me?”

You listen to it and memorize it and then imitate the sound on the instrument.

There it is.

I think the person asking the question too was wondering what steered you toward working primarily with your voice (though I know that’s not your exclusive instrument) and what steers you in the direction of your particular performance style?

I think, about that, I don’t really have much choice. I think that’s probably a visceral inclination. I think, again in reference to some of that German theatrical work I was talking about earlier and in reference to some of Artaud’s theories, that there are just people who, for some reason or another, are pushed to do a very extreme type of work. I think that we would not be satisfied doing anything less. It might be a biochemical or a nervous system kind of thing, it’s hard to say. I think my father could answer that question better than I.

That just sparked something for me about the style of Greek singing that you’ve been doing …

The Mira Loia? It’s really the Greek dirge music where the women get up and they speak to the dead. When someone has died they speak directly to the dead, they’re not speaking through the image of Christ and they’re not speaking with the priest (the priest speaks through the symbol of Christ and they are threatened by the women usually because the women are speaking to the dead). That’s seen right there as a kind of ancient Pagan (which it is, by the priest’s standards) evil ritual.So this type of witch-calling is as old as the hills really.

It occurs to me that perhaps it’s not so much of a performance really … I mean it is equal parts grief and mourning and trying to find, through the performance, some kind of power to lift one’s self out of that grief, to have power over the depression that we talked about earlier being so paralyzing.

Exactly. Sure, because pure depression is catatonia, And that means you don’t move, you’re like a frozen object. And that is the most terrifying thing. I understand that because I have had that in my family and I have been close to it, and I did everything I could to figure out how to never get that close to it again. That’s where I feel that I’m lucky to be a singer, because singing is the most extroverted activity. You extrovert the sound, because the state of really being depressed is so introverted that you curl up and your head’s up your ass, and when you sing you have to really make that sound go through buildings. That’s your aim: to go as far as possible, and it takes you right out of depression. It’s a gift in that sense.