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Machine Listener’s Matthew Gallagher Is Constantly Curious, Always Researching

Photo given by artist

Within the first few sentences of my interview with Matthew Gallagher, it’s clear that I’m talking with someone not only interesting, but interested. Gallagher’s artistic practice deconstructs the patterns of sound – waveforms – and uses them as mapping agencies. They are constantly inspecting, looking closer into sound, paint, media. With their project Machine Listener, Gallagher takes on electronic and club music, creating something kinetic and deep – moving both hips and mental gears in the listening experience. Their new album Metonym is at times pensive, like on opener “Charon,” and at others propulsive, as on “Boston’s Boy.”

Additionally, Gallagher is working on an exhibit at Hedge Gallery in Cleveland, showcasing their idea of “research for research’s sake” in many different formats under the words “Research & Development.”

I asked them some questions about what makes them tick – after the jump.

Jordan Reyes: Can you tell me a little bit about how you became interested in underground culture?

Matthew Gallagher: I went to Oberlin College in Ohio from 2009 to 2013 and stayed another year after I graduated. During that time I got hooked up with this really awesome crew from Ann Arbor and started booking shows for them on and off campus. Artists like Chrome Sparks, Fthrsn, Kohwi, Lou Breed, Dreampeter, etc. That was during the early 10s when blogs like Altered Zones and Stadiums and Shrines were really hot and writing about a lot of independent touring artists. At the time Adrian Rew was booking crazy shows too, but I was still at that sad point in life where noise made me confused and angry. A bummer–I missed a lot of wild shit like Rodger Stella, Drainolith, Merzbow, Keiji Haino and dozens of other once in a lifetime gigs. In 2013 when I graduated I needed a studio for my visual art practice. My friend James rented me a room at 3 Door Studios in Oberlin. Aaron Dilloway used to drop by to check out paintings and our yard sales and we became friends. At the time I didn’t quite realize how famous he was. He asked me for help moving into his new record store Hanson Records. I agreed and started hanging there a lot. He would pay me in noise LPs from time to time and pass artists my way to book at 3 Door. I was pretty much instantly hooked. I remember him telling me “Hey you’re going down a dark hole with this stuff I just have to warn you.” At the time I laughed it off, but he couldn’t have been more right. 21 year old me couldn’t have possibly conceived of the breadth of wild unexplainable experiences that come with participating in the global experimental music community. In 2014 Aaron and I booked Smegma at 3 Door Studios. Ben Osborne of Tusco/Embassy/Terror opened that gig and asked me for help setting up his music festival Voice of the Valley… It was a really serendipitous life changing moment. More on that later…

JR: When did you first begin drawing or creating visual art? How did that grow to include all of the mediums you’re involved with today? Do you have any preferred format these days?

MG: I always wanted to be a career musician, but was having a hard time breaking into Oberlin’s exclusive conservatory program. I started taking a few visual arts classes in 2011 and became obsessed with visualizing sound. I would throw on a Laurel Halo record and try to interpret the music while I painted, but ultimately, that was futile. Her music is singular and no artist’s rendition will satisfy. I realized that instead of trying to interpret music, I wanted to literally attach things to sound waves to visually map their movement. This came in the form of coating elastic bands in paint and twanging them across pieces of paper. The paint becomes a mapping agent for the sine wave’s kinetic energy. Once I discovered this, I was incredibly thirsty to expose more unseen forces and chemical processes. This has become the mission of my art practice, and has expanded to many other mediums and formats. I use powerful magnetic fields and metal to create sculptures, wax, temperature, and repetitive processes to demonstrate how organic forms are proliferated, ink and solvent to map capillary action in paper, and most recently I’ve been collaborating with Jeff Host and Jacob Koestler to create large scale installations that are essentially artistic standing wave demonstrations. So no, I don’t prefer a format, but a philosophy of collaborating with the organizational structure of our universe to create art that goes beyond what my frustratingly human imagination is capable of rendering.

JR: You have an upcoming exhibit at the Hedge Gallery in Cleveland. What kind of art will you be showing? Is there a theme behind the grouping you’ve selected?

MG: The show at Hedge is titled “Research and Development,” just like my last show there in 2018. I think the title perfectly describes what I’m doing and I believe strongly in research for research’s sake. Everything has to be applied these days and I think that’s too bad and maybe even dangerous. It’s hard for people to get funding for research without there being the eventual goal of some sort of market development. I say resoundingly: Fuck that. For this show, I’ll be showing the full complement of experiments I’ve been doing in the formats mentioned above. I think it’s really important for these different bodies of work to support and talk to each other. The last show was a huge hit and I am really excited for this one–I’m really pushing myself for it. 

JR: Do you remember your first foray into electronic music? What draws you in about synthesizers, samplers, etc

MG: Totally–my first true love was early UK dubstep like Skream, Mala, Plastician etc. I wanted to make that kind of stuff so bad and I got Ableton Live 8.2 in 2010. My friend Luke showed me how to use it. I remember that winter was REALLY cold. Like -10 degrees in Ohio. We would just stay in for days at a time working on tracks side by side. We were doing a lot of really weird drugs at the time too. Smoking big joints of valerian root, DMT, poppy seed tea, hawaiian baby woodrose etc. It was a wild and special time. Shortly after I got my first and still only analog poly synth–the Roland JX3P, which makes frequent appearances on ‘Metonym.’ After playing guitar in my young life, electronic music has been really liberating because it gives the user access to the full range of hearable frequencies. To quote a hero of mine, Richard D. James: “Forget all the equipment, forget the music, at the end of the day it’s just literally frequencies and their effects on your brain. That’s what everyone’s essentially after.”

JR: What about dance music? I don’t know if folks would always call Metonym “dance,” but it definitely makes me move! What do you like about dance music? What about the kinetic aspect of music in general?

MG: Dance music is the best! Sometimes it’s hard to even call it music. It’s like invisible sculpture that forces you to move. My best friend, Jake Johnson who plays as Moltar has been getting me into this really sick Swedish hard techno – artists like Glenn Wilson and Steel Grooves. It’s different than making music or sound art, much more craft oriented and anonymous. Two aspects I think are essentially human. Some of these tracks have like 6 views on youtube, but when you unleash them on a room full of like minded people, have very powerful unifying, political effects. There’s nothing more dangerous to special interests than a room full of people that only need each other and some sick tracks for happiness, self expression, and spiritual fulfillment. 

JR: How’d you get hooked into doing VoV in West Virginia? I’m sure you’ve answered this before, but I’m curious.

MG: Picking up where we left of on the first question–After the Smegma gig in Oberlin, Ben Osborne asked me to come to Millstone, West Virginia with him and some other crew members to begin preparing a site for Voice of the Valley. The location was very remote, literally on top of a mountain. The work was grueling – chopping down giant trees and clearing the wood, landscaping steep hillsides, jackhammering boulders out of the quarter mile uphill dirt driveway. Some of the work days I felt like I was going to die, but it was so worth it. I’ve helped to organize VOV every year since then, but in 2017 took on more responsibility with organizing and making the fest more financially and culturally sustainable. There is a board of around 8-10 people now and the volunteer coordination is much tighter. It makes everything run more smoothly so the party can go harder. Meeting the community down there has been really incredible. West Virginia gets shit on all the time in media – by northerners, and by their own politicians and outside corporate interests. The reality down there is much different. The locals are radical, forward thinkers with a deep connection to the land and its history. I can’t say enough good things about it. They’ve all welcomed VOV with open hearts and minds and we couldn’t be more lucky to host such a special event in such an amazing place. 

JR: Did any events or concepts lend themselves to the music on Metonym when you were creating it?

MG: All of my music is heavily inspired by my experiences in West Virginia. It’s classified as a temperate rainforest and the level of biodiversity is unreal. You can’t un-see a 120 foot tall tree filled with millions of lightning bugs, a black bear cub running across a meadow, meteors blasting across the night sky, or a ’96 Ford Ranger with a tree growing through it. It’s a really special ecosystem and a really inspiring place to run around in the woods. ‘Metonym’ attempts to synthesize some of those feelings. 

MG: The final track Scanner/Amma Eyes was an attempt to recreate music I heard in a dream. This alien chorus was projecting from the sky while UFOs flew around above us on a beach. I distinctly remember asking Ben Billington in the dream–is someone going to play a set? And he responded “the sets already happening – it’s fucking killer.” I used a sample of my favorite band The Bulgarian National Women’s Choir with a lot of generative processing from my Octatrack to recreate the sound I heard. That was a challenging process, but I was able to reproduce the music I was hearing in the dream. 

JR: You’ve mentioned that it was recorded live – what do you like about that? Is it the “happy accidents” aspect or something else?

MG: Yes a lot of these tracks happened spontaneously. What this means is I spent all of 2019 making patterns and synth patches on my Octatrack, Machine Drum and other synths. During the process of making ‘Metonym,’ I collaged together different patterns and patches at different tempos to make these tracks. That’s a super fun way to make music. Spend a lot of time on the front end making sounds and then use the sequencers to collage them together. You get some really wild combinations and, yes, unexpected ‘happy accidents.’ 

JR: Do you get down with reading much? What kinds of things do you like to read? Any recommendations?

MG: Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Warhammer 40,000 Codices. It’s a tabletop miniatures game with this insanely detailed and expansive lore. Imagine Imperial space Catholics using genetically engineered superhuman warriors to fight psychic demons and hostile technologically advanced alien races all over the milky way galaxy in the 41st millenium. It’s actually a really amazing critique of fascism as well as being a hilariously ridiculous sci-fi narrative. I always wanted to play it as a kid but its rules are a little complicated and you have to assemble and paint the models yourself. Not super kid friendly. I also really like Wikipedia and scientific literature spend a lot of time researching evolutionary biology and physics.

JR: Are there any artistic mediums you’ve yet to try that you’re curious to? If so, what are they?

MG: I’d really like to collaborate with a physicist on some projects. It would be awesome if someone offered a residency at a research university where I could use some of their equipment or create new equipment for messing around with art to demonstrate principles of physics and chemistry. 

JR: What all is in the future for Machine Listener and Matthew Gallagher?

MG: My next record is being released by Cleveland’s Unifactor label. They do an amazing job and I’m excited to work with them. I’m also really stoked to continue releasing records with Hausu Mountain. I can’t speak highly enough of that label and the attention to detail they give their releases and representation. It’s one of a kind and I feel very lucky to work with them. I’ve also been exploring my gender identity more and have been using they/them pronouns. I’m looking forward to playing more with my appearance in the coming months. It feels really good and I’ve had some key support from friends and loved ones on this new journey!

JR: Anything else you’d like to say?

MG: Yeah, I’m an anarchist and I hate politics and think ultimately a lot of it is completely futile, but lets go hard for Bernie this year, k?

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Rusalka Wrestles With The Unknown, The Infinite, And The Sublime On “Base Waters”

Kate Rissiek has been performing noise under the name Rusalka since 2007, but had been a presence in the Pacific Northwest noise scene before that. In the intermediary thirteen years between then and now, she’s released twenty or so sonic artifacts under the Rusalka alias, honed an incredible visual art practice, played internationally, and worked alongside noise mainstays like The Rita and MK9.

In December 2019, she put out Base Waters, a collection of two side-long, meditative noise burners crafted with her Moog Theremin. Base Waters is impressive for a few reasons. Number one, Rissiek manages to create something both harsh and trance-inducing, which – to my ears – is the sweet spot. Number two, she manages to keep, even demand, your attention on both sides of the record. Number three, the intention in the work is palpable. To me, noise only works not only when there’s a hand thoughtfully guiding the chaos of a random signal, but when it’s apparent that a hand is doing so. Base Waters does a very, very good job of this, and I think it works well as a teaching guide in addition to as a piece of art.

Rissiek let me ask her some questions about her practice. Tune in below the jump.

Jordan Reyes: How did you become interested in noise and underground culture? What about it drew you in

Kate Rissiek: When I was a teenager I would go to any shows I could in my town or in the city. Punk, metal shows and raves. I became more inclined towards electronic and industrial music. I saw shows in Vancouver like Autechre, Einstürzende Neubauten and Wolf Eyes. Those shows were amazing but they were large concerts and I was always looking for something more intimate and challenging. Seeing acts play like Sistrenatus, Flatgrey, Taskmaster, The Rita, Griefer, Coastal, etc. guided me to the kind of shows I wanted to be a part of. Vancouver had Fake Jazz Wednesdays (a weekly experimental night) and a lot of interesting things going on – a lot of people doing their own thing. I had explored electronic sound in private and played around for fun with friends. Once I was exposed to more underground noise shows I was sucked in. Traditional music imposes structures and templates, which wasn’t appealing to me. Consumerism, branding, marketing, ego and pretentiousness  constitute a lot of the music industry. I wasn’t interested in being sold a product or becoming a product. I needed something that was the opposite of all that, a free arena to personally explore sound. You don’t need expensive gear to play a noise show, you can dive in with minimal equipment and play solo or collaborate with others. It doesn’t matter what you look like and you don’t have to sell yourself. Noise is cleansing, it washes everything away. There was very often no stage during performances I went to and no separation from the audience, everyone was on an equal level. That’s very appealing to me, a stripping of the ego, an antithesis to rock/pop music, a brutal equalizer. Raw obsession pulled me in. The nakedness, ferocity, honesty and unglamorous nature of noise was something I could resonate with. Ultimately though it’s up to you to get what you want out of it, as with most things.

JR: What was your introduction to the theremin? What made it ideal as an instrument for your music?

KR: I became aware of the theremin from movie soundtracks like old horror and science fiction. I’m a big sci-fi fan. I loved the sound of it and wanted to try it out so I bought a mini theremin online. This was fairly early on, I had been performing and recording with various sources/instruments previous to that. It took time to play around with different combinations of gear to find what worked well. I used two mini theremins at times. They were inexpensive and small which made them easy to transport. I still have a couple of those mini theremins. I graduated to a Moog theremin much later. The intuitive nature of the instrument made it approachable and the physical/non physical interaction. The theremin also demands precision and control. At least, the way I like to play it demands that. It’s complex and simple at the same time. I think initially I was more attracted to the eerie feeling conjured by it but now I find it expresses so much more than that. My relationship with the theremin has grown and evolved significantly over the years. I have a great respect for its complicated beauty and sound.

JR: What other kinds of electronic instruments do you use?

KR: I used to use the theremin in combination with various gear such as synths, tape loops and samplers. I now use the theremin as my main sound source processed through effects pedals. I like to use a minimal amount of gear. I want a lot out of a little. Again intuitive gear is important. I’m also more into doing field recordings and working with samples these days. I have enough toys to keep me busy.

JR: Does water carry an especially significant meaning to you and your work? What about water entices you or inspires you?

KR: The flow of water embodies many things. Currents of water flow like streams of electricity – it represents life on this planet, our bodies are made of mostly water, yet we can drown very easily. Life is given and taken by that powerful force. Endless flow is a theme that repeats for me. I grew up swimming, hiking through mountains to swim in rivers or lakes and swimming in the ocean. It’s no wonder I chose the name Rusalka for my project as it’s a mythological water spirit. The vast expanse of oceans puts into perspective how small the individual is, yet everything is linked and we are a part of that immensity. Aside from the conceptual inspiration I really enjoy the sound of water. It can sound violent as well as soothing and calming. In recent years I have been working more with recording water sounds. Flowing water looks very beautiful also. The continuous undulations and random patterns can’t be artificially reproduced to the same level of beauty. Water is also usually ignored until there is an absence of it or its force is exerted and people die. The weight of it on our lives should be understood and respected. The flow of water very much correlates to the sound I’m producing. I want to dive into the deep end and follow the currents. Oscillations, frequencies, circuits, radio waves, sound waves…they are all endlessly flowing waves.

JR: Taylor from Absurd Exposition talks about something lurking beneath the waves in the album description. Does fear or – at the risk of sounding too Lovecraftian – fear of the unknown have any carryover into your work?

KR: An embrace of the unknown plays an important role in my work. The unknown is exciting as it opens up possibilities. Fear comes from misunderstanding. Of course there can be malicious hidden forces as well. Negative things will always be encountered during exploration. The reference to something lurking beneath waves for me would be more about subliminal forces, things not perceived until conjured. Perception is something I try to experiment with. So many things are imperceptible until forced into view. Even a small glimpse into something outside ourselves is lucky. Imagination lies in the unknown. Stimulating that brings about interesting paths.

KR: One of my favorite sci-fi books is Blindsight by Peter Watts. A major theme of the book is consciousness and the title alone expresses limitations. I feel a lot of people are blind-sighted and simply run on auto-pilot never making an attempt to deviate. I worry about that in myself and I have tried for a long time to rewire myself. Although I agree with some pessimistic sentiments expressed in Blindsight about consciousness. Here is a quote from the book along those lines:

“Evolution has no foresight. Complex machinery develops its own agendas. Brains — cheat. Feedback loops evolve to promote stable heartbeats and then stumble upon the temptation of rhythm and music. The rush evoked by fractal imagery, the algorithms used for habitat selection, metastasize into art. Thrills that once had to be earned in increments of fitness can now be had from pointless introspection. Aesthetics rise unbidden from a trillion dopamine receptors, and the system moves beyond modeling the organism. It begins to model the very process of modeling. It consumes evermore computational resources, bogs itself down with endless recursion and irrelevant simulations. Like the parasitic DNA that accretes in every natural genome, it persists and proliferates and produces nothing but itself. Metaprocesses bloom like cancer, and awaken, and call themselves I.”

KR: The unknown is intertwined with consciousness but I believe reality is much more terrifying than monsters from our imagination.

JR: What about the natural world at large? Does it have a place in your practice?

KR: I have a great respect for the natural world. I grew up on a farm surrounded by nature. Deer, coyotes, owls and all kinds of wild animals lived in the area, even an albino crow. Humanity has really messed up the natural world. It’s surprising we have lasted this long. I definitely work through a lot of the pain that is in the struggle with the artificial world. Society is an oppressive and destructive beast. I like to visualize space outside of this rock we’re imprisoned on and how it’s indifferent to us, an immense expanse devoid of us. The one place that isn’t hostile to our habitation we treat like a garbage dump. Luckily the human race is a small blip on an ancient timeline. Noise is very much the sound of life – it’s messy, loud, abrasive, chaotic and intense. While noise can also be about something outside of that, something floating in the void . Noise can be whatever you want it to be. There are calm patterns and rhythms from nature that influence my work. Mostly in my practice I search for a balance between the natural and artificial world. In my visuals nature is largely featured. Imagery of the ocean and forests are favored subject matter. The cosmos, the environment and landscapes have influenced my work from the very beginning, whether conscious or not. This is expressed in many aspects. 

JR: How did you compose and record the pieces for Base Waters? How long was the process and what did it look like?

KR: I took the sound that I was working on with my live performances and expanded on that for Base Waters. I recorded samples of ocean water and waves to use. Then I recorded quite a bit of material. There were some initial attempts that were scrapped. Once I had a good structure for the record I worked on editing little parts here and there. I’m fairly minimal with my multi tracking and editing. I don’t remember how long it took me but I know that I took my time with it. Also there was a problem with the first pressing plant the record was sent to and it had to be sent to another so there was months of delay. Due to set backs, it’s difficult to remember exact times. When an album feels complete I send the material on its way. I don’t like to overwork things so that’s a sensitive time. You can get bogged down with perfectionism. Nothing is perfect, it’s simply the best you can do at the time. I was pretty depressed when I recorded Base Waters. For me this is usually not a good time to be creative or productive. Somehow I managed to work through difficulties, which relates to your next question.

JR: Your bio on your site talks about the struggle between filth and transcendence. To me, Base Waters seems more emblematic of transcendence, but I’m predisposed to considering sublimity, or narratives of erosion of self/losing yourself to sound haha. Do you think that Base Waters is wrestling with filth and transcendence? Where do you think it ends up?

KR: I should update that bio as it’s old but the struggle for transcendence is definitely still there within Base Waters. That battle is constant in my work. Losing yourself to sound is certainly a goal. You must completely surrender yourself to get anywhere. I think Base Waters floats in a realm of indifferent or not completely defined space. It’s an attempt at finding some peace in the face of violence. It’s also a detachment from everything. It’s a journey through many things. Hopefully that complexity is communicated on some level. There are big emotions and then also cold unfeeling moments. I hope there is at least a brief moment where you can forget yourself. Sound is very meditative for me, even if it’s abrasive. I want to be sucked in and consumed. At the end of everything you get spit out but that’s just the cycle of things. The come down is always rough. I think the end of Base Waters feels a bit like being alone in a raft drifting out into the open ocean, or it has a feeling of burning down past attachments and something new washing over. Hopefully the latter.

JR: What aspects of sound and visual art do you find yourself most interested in these days?

KR: Good question. I’m most interested in meditative aspects and the potential of art to change perception. Also, the exploration of uncomfortable and dark subject matter. There always needs to be a place for that. If we lived in some kind of fantasy utopia maybe it wouldn’t be necessary but we’re sinking further and further into a dystopia. I’ve always needed something to help me deal with things. When I started working on art as a teenager I never thought about the end result as being ultimately important. I gave a lot of pieces away to people. It was very much about being caught up in the obsession and act of creating. Finding that passion is very important. It allows you to focus and shut everything else out. Even though I’m mostly a pessimistic person (I would argue a realistic person) I still have some optimistic ideas about art. It can elevate us above our worst selves and it can connect us. Most of the time art is a masochistic endeavor – it’s a lot of work with relatively little or no pay off. You may ask yourself why you even do it anymore. Partially it’s because you have to. You can strip naked and give everything of yourself just to be disregarded and demeaned. You can work years on something that gets torn down in a second. It’s up to you to keep going and to find value. Worthwhile moments will be revealed. 

JR: What all is in the future for Rusalka and Kate Rissiek?

KR: I hope to keep pushing myself. I’m working on recording with new equipment and trying new things out. In the fall of this year I hope to tour in Europe and visit my relatives in Germany. I will be performing in Vancouver and Victoria BC as well as planning other out of town shows. I have some ideas for releases to work on. These will take the time needed, sometimes albums can be completed fast and sometimes they take many months to finish. I seem to take more time these days. I will try to make more time to work on visual art. I’ve been getting more into photography and video. Lastly I’ll keep doing collage work, my long time love.

JR: Anything else you’d like to say?

KR: I would like to thank all the dedicated and hardworking people in the noise scene. It takes a lot to keep things going. 

KR: Thanks for the interview. 

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Get Meditative With Pulse Emitter’s New LP

Portland-based artist Daryl Groetsch has been making electronic music as Pulse Emitter since the early 2000s, covering a large scope of ground – new age music, more prog-oriented tunes, academic explorations, and more. His new album Swirlings on the great Hausu Mountain combines a lot of these, also showcasing Groetsch’s new experiments in granular synthesis. It’s a lush, melodic collection that takes the more ambient side of Pulse Emitter – see Meditative Music – and adds a rhythmic, wondrous element. When I listen to Swirlings, I hear curiosity, joy, healing. There’s something of fulfillment in the music – a replenishing.

I e-mailed Groetsch to ask about science fiction, synthesis, and spirituality.

Jordan Reyes: How did you first become interested in science fiction?

Daryl Groetsch: Probably watching Star Trek on TV growing up. First the Kirk and Spock reruns, then I remember watching Next Gen as a kid when it first aired. 

JR: Do you have any favorite books, movies, series, ideas relating to science fiction?

DG: Dan Simmons’ Hyperion series is some of the finest sci-fi literature there is in my opinion. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun as well. I like Jack Vance, Ursula K. Le Guin, and older “weird fiction”. I don’t watch a lot of television but I do love Black Mirror and The Orville.

JR: What about outer space intrigues you? Do you take influence from fictionalized stories and and reality?

DG: The emptiness, the scope, the way it makes humanity insignificant. But I’m as inspired by the Earth as much as by space, nature that is, and by imagining other worlds. And yes, I have made songs and albums inspired by specific sci-fi works. 

JR: Does spirituality overlap with your musical practice?

DG: For sure. It is the most spiritually rewarding practice that I do, creating music. And I do often create music that is intended to have a meditative quality. 

JR: You call a series of recorded works Meditative Music, and while meditation certainly doesn’t necessitate a spiritual aspect, it frequently does. Is meditation important to you?

DG: It is more than ever. I actually didn’t meditate in the traditional sense until the past few years. Now it’s something I do almost daily and it feels necessary to me, to find peace and return to the reality I want for myself. 

JR: What was your first synthesizer? How did your understanding of synthesis grow from there to what it is now

DG: My first synth was pretty lame, a Korg X5D. It was new and affordable at the time. Was impossible for me to program, I tried so hard. Then I found an old Roland Juno 6 in a shop. That was my first real synth, a great one to learn on. I’ve had it all just about since then – samplers, FM, modular, additive, wavetable. I’ve used a lot of software lately because it is so powerful. I care less about vintage hardware than I used to. 

JR: How long has Swirlings been in the works? Were there any specific things you tried out on the record that were new to you? Gear, recording techniques, frames of mind?

DG: One technique that was new to me is granular synthesis. I used that on “Fairy Tree” and “Cloud Refuge” via the Omnisphere soft synth. Also “Ripples” is made with Korg Gadget for iOS, have been using that to make music on the go. Some of the material I used for granular processing was my own going back a bit so I suppose the album was in the works for a while if you think of it that way. 

JR: I am almost certainly projecting, but I feel a sort of healing or nurturing when I listen to Swirlings – does that sound at all on point? Were either of those ideas important to its creation?

DG: I’m glad you get that out of it. I think I just have that vibe going on in my music a lot lately, wasn’t specifically aiming for that with this one.

JR: What parts of sound or composition do you find yourself most interested in exploring these days?

DG: Well, Swirlings is a mix of a lot of techniques and styles that I’d been exploring leading up to it, all digital compositions. The music I’ve been working on just recently is a return to the analog noise music I used to do in the 2000’s. I’m improvising and recording to 4-track cassette. It’s such a blast. I’ve got some darker things to express lately, what with the state of the world. 

JR: What is in the future for Pulse Emitter?

DG: These noise jams will likely make it to a release, still recording a lot. I have some shows coming up in Portland. I travel a lot for work lately so hopefully that will continue to inspire me. 

JR: Anything else you’d like to say?

DG: Thanks for the chat! 

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Luca Cimarusti’s Take On Black Metal Is Hilarious And Genuine

Photo by Michael Vallera

I’m especially into one-man black metal project Annihilus, helmed by Chicago’s Luca Cimarusti, because of its relationship to comic books. In the Marvel universe, Annihilus is a recurring villain who rules the anti-matter universe called the Negative Zone. He frequently positions himself in opposition to The Fantastic Four and the Avengers, and is generally up to shenanigans at the cosmic level. Cimarusti’s project, named after the character, takes words from Marvel’s pages and implants them into sludgy black metal to pummelling and cinematic results. His new 3-song EP Eternal Winter begins with two classically-written black metal tracks that could easily fit alongside Bone Awl or Ildjarn, albeit with higher sound quality and perhaps more maniacal vocals – villain shit. The third song – “So This Is What It Feels Like” – is more of a soundscape, sampling 2017’s Logan, a stand out in superhero movies, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve known Luca for a minute, and we’ve talked shop on comics to a not inconsequential degree – he’s routinely given me great advice on series to get into – most recently some classic X-men titles. It was a pleasure getting to read his thoughts on marvel, black metal, and having fun with music, even when it means upending genre conventions.

Jordan Reyes: Can you tell me a little bit about how you became interested in underground music, and black metal as well?

Luca Cimarusti: I first found weird, more underground music in the same fashion that most people like me did…it was a sort of way to rebel against the norm. It was something dangerous, something kind of different and challenging. I think my first introduction to that sort of thing was back when I was super young, like seven, and all the older kids on the street I grew up on were passing around a mixtape with tracks on it from Black Sunday, The Chronic, and Doggystyle. I guess in that sense hip-hop was my gateway to seeing music as a form of rebellion and individualism. I remember feeling a sort of thrill when I saw what a reaction it got out of my dad when he caught me listening to it. He also confiscated the tape, swiftly ending the Driftwood Lane hip-hop black market on 1993. A few years after that, a friend’s older brother showed us a Screeching Weasel CD and it was all over for me.

LC: On the surface, I got interested in black metal because I just like it…I like the mood and feel of low-fi black metal. It’s creepy and spooky but there’s an undeniable beauty in the darkness. But I think I’ve always been drawn to music that is surrounded by a sensational cult-like following. I love bands like Guided by Voices, Grateful Dead, and Kiss, bands whose fans have a larger-than-life devotion. Black metal is the same way. It’s a cultural movement….just a weird, creepy one.

JR: What about comic books? When did you become magnetized by them?

LC: When Jim Lee rebooted the X-Men in ’91 I was six, the perfect age to be grabbed by something like that. The extreme world-building, the twisted timelines, the bright colors, the over-the-top characters; it was all so fun and so easy to get completely lost in. This came along with a moment of X-Men ’92 the incredible animated series started, then there was the arcade game, so many comic series–and I was all in, buying books, collecting trading cards, watching the cartoons religiously. The Marvel Universe is such an endless, complex thing, getting stuck in its vastness was so exciting and rewarding. It’s just a really unique thing to get immersed in. Nearly thirty years later I’m still obsessed. Catch me at every MCU movie opening night.

JR: Your project is named after a Marvel comic – how did you decide on the name?

LC: A lot of black metal is Satanic or political. It was really important for me to keep this project free of either of those things. I’m about as atheist as it gets, so the evil darkness in this project isn’t going to come from the devil. Annihilus is a terrifying, indestructible, mysterious character from the Marvel Universe: an extra-dimensional insect monster bent on the destruction of humanity. To me, that’s scarier and meaner than the idea of Satan.

JR: What about basing your project’s lyrics off of comics?

LC: It’s the same sort of idea. A way to tap into something massive and epic and poweful, something that I’m really, really connected to without having to sing about something political or personal. The world of comics is huge and heavy, and I’ve devoted so much of my life to it, so pulling emotional energy out of it makes sense to me.

LC: For example, I think the most emotionally moving song I’ve done is “An Entire World,” and those aren’t even words I wrote. It’s a monologue from The Dark Phoenix Saga where Jean Grey looks back at the atrocities her newfound evil power made her commit, and her coming to terms with the fact that in order to stop it from ever happening again, she would have to destroy herself. It’s an incredibly sad page of comics, and I think it makes for a really sad song.

JR: Is there any humor in what you’re trying to do with the project? How does that feel in regards to existing in a genre that can be comically grim?

LC: Trust me, I realize how hilarious it is for a 34-year-old adult man to wear corpsepaint and scream his head off about Captain America.

JR: How do you record your project? What is the songwriting process like?

LC: I usually come up with song ideas just from plunking around on my guitar while sitting on the couch. I’ll come up with parts and put together a loose arrangement in my head. For all the Annihilus recordings so far I’ve linked up with my friend (and Luggage bandmate) MJ Grant in our practice space. He has a nice minimal recording setup, and he’s gotten pretty good at using it over the years. I’ll record drums first then layer everything else on top of it, trying to get it done in as few takes as possible. Capturing a ratty, raw vibe is more important to me than playing everything perfectly. When I record the songs, it’s my first time playing them on all instruments, up until that point I’ve only played it on my guitar. I kinda figure it all out as I go, which lends itself to an almost improvised vibe. This is my first time ever putting together a solo project, so navigating this sort of thing by myself is a really exciting new experience for me.

JR: Can you tell me a bit about the new 3-track EP? Why do you hate the elderly so much?

LC: This new EP is the third Annihilus release, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. I think I was able to conjure up a bit more depth on these tracks. In the current social climate, I’ve found myself really exhausted by and resentful of entitled old white men, so that’s where the song idea for “Eradicate the Elderly” came from. I was just kind of reading the news, looking around at the current world, and it was just like a “ugh thanks boomer” moment. The drone track on side B is more in line with other Annihilus songs subject-wise, though. It’s about Wolverine, and that sample is an incredible monologue from the movie Logan.

JR: Perhaps most importantly, which comics do you read these days? What would you recommend?

LC: The ongoing series I’ve been keeping up with recently are Saga, Outcast, Southern Bastards…kind of a wide range of feeling good and feeling bad in those titles. My favorite series of the past few years has been Vision by Tom King. Such a bizarre, sad, heavy run of comics, I can’t get over it. Definitely not one to be missed if you’re a fan of Marvel-lore. It’s beautiful and gutting. I have a handful of good friends who keep telling me to read this current X-Men run too, apparently it’s excellent. So that’s on my to-do list.

JR: What all is coming up for Annihilus?

LC: Next up is writing and recording a full-length. I have all sorts of ideas laying around, and I’m going to start piecing them all together once the new year hits. I’m the most productive during the winter. I have a handful of friends who are pushing me to make it a live band…it’s something I’ve been toying with a bit in my head, maybe that’ll happen too, although it’s not top priority.

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Tashi Dorji & John Dieterich’s Very Fruitful Third Meeting

Photo of Tashi Dorji & John Dieterich supplied by Moone Records

John Dieterich’s been kicking out jams since the 90s under a number of guises – in a solo capacity and a number of experimental projects including the long-running band Deerhoof, a band that showcases Dieterich’s dynamic range as a guitarist familiar with Bossanova chords, the punk canon, and occasionally just loud sounds. He recently got together with Asheville’s Tashi Dorji, an experimental guitarist originally from Bhutan whose contemporary prolificacy in the guitar sphere is heavy and inspired – last year my friend Marc Masters wrote a really great Lifetime Achievement Award article on Bandcamp as a guide to Dorji’s music, which I highly recommend. Each artist deserves a deep inspection into their discography, but for this article, we’re going to take a look at their recent collaborative album Midden on one of my favorite labels of recent – Moone Records, run by Caleb Dailey.

Midden shows two individuals comfortable with exploring and exploding space. The album begins quietly – a slight ghostly drone is punctuated by short plucks before dueling, spindly finger picking, occasionally affected, sets in, and that’s only the first handful of minutes. Midden is the recording from the third night of a three-night set of shows in the American Southwest. It sounds like they’ve been playing together for much longer, never stepping on each other’s toes or crowding the sound. They let me ask some questions about their collaboration, music, and more.

Hit play on the embed and read their answers below the jump.

Jordan Reyes: Can each of you talk about how you got interested in underground music? What about underground and experimental sound drew you in in the first place?

Tashi Dorji: I grew up in Bhutan with very little or no access to anything underground so when I first came to the U.S. for college, I became friends with punk kids who introduced me to records and live diy shows in town. From then on, everything opened up for me. The raw and unapologetic nature of live punk rock music blew my mind into a million pieces. I wanted to absorb everything, and eventually punks and punk rock introduced me to free jazz, noise, and all kinds of American underground phenomena of past and present.

John Dieterich: My brother was in a hardcore band in my hometown in the 80s, so that was probably my introduction. It was immediately very appealing to me and at the same time totally intimidating. He would take me out to see Agnostic Front and all these kinds of shows, and I guess I somehow “believed” the musicians. I bought what they were selling. If they were selling evil, I believed they were evil, and it scared the crap out of me. If they were selling power, I believed they were powerful. I think I’m a sucker that way, and maybe that’s why I got interested in music and art in the first place. As far as experimental music goes, I think this naiveté made me want to create that feeling for other people, but the idea would be to generate obscure feelings, maybe feelings that never existed before. I often think about that sort of thing, like I’m trying to create something that feels like it evolved in its own cultural ecosystem, its own culture. It should feel deep and wide.

JR: How did you all link up with Caleb at Moone Records? What was it like working together?

TJ: I was given Caleb’s contact for organizing show in Phoenix on my solo tour last year. Caleb is a wonderful human being! It has been amazing working with him, and I love the aesthetic and care he puts into his label.

JD: I think I hooked up with Caleb because I mixed and mastered a Strobe Talbot record called Funland that he put out. I really really really love this record and recommend it to everyone in the world. I also got to work on a Lonna Kelley 7″, which is incredible, and we’ve got several other projects on the flame. As for working with Caleb, it’s just been awful. We aren’t on speaking terms. Just kidding, we speak! Caleb’s amazing!

JR: How did you guys meet? I read that this recording is the third time ya’ll hung out – does that mean that the first two times you guys had played together already?

TJ: So while trying to set up a solo show in Phoenix, Caleb suggested maybe collaborating with John. I didn’t know John lived down that way, and it was thrilling to hear that he wanted to play together. I admire John’s playing alot – I think he is a pretty remarkable guitarist! We played 3 shows together and yes, the recording was from our third show and third hangout.

JD: I got an email from Jad Fair asking if I knew of any good venues in the southwest for Tashi Dorji to play. I had heard Tashi’s name but had somehow never heard his music, so I went on youtube and immediately related to what he was doing, which is a pretty rare feeling for me with guitar players. I ended up helping with a show in Santa Fe and hopped onto the tour with him. We played 3 duo shows in the southwest, and the Phoenix one was the last of the three. We had never met before the night we played together in Santa Fe.

JR: When you all were playing together, did you have any kinds of cues? Was the visual element of seeing each other play important to creating the recording?

TD: Listening cues – not so much visual.

JD: We didn’t use any cues, no, though it’s hard not to read the body language of a person when you’re playing together. It’s funny you bring this up because I decided that I wanted to kneel on the ground for these shows as one of my difficulties with improvising is feeling comfortable in my body while I’m doing it. Somehow kneeling on the floor really helped me. I can find ways of making anything work, but somehow kneeling felt the best, at least for those shows. It’s funny how that stuff works. I have no idea why I felt that was the right thing, but it certainly was, and then at the end of the show, my legs would be asleep and I could barely walk and would stumble around.

JR: I also read that you all recorded this at a church. Does the idea of a sacred space have any resonance with this recording? Does that kind of setting impact you?

TD: It’s always exciting to play big rooms. The vast room with high resonance and tall ceilings definitely changes the way I play. I think it’s more of a spatial response than spiritual.

JD: Yeah, it probably had some bearing on it. It was a really neat space with interesting acoustic qualities. I think we were probably more impacted by the other bands, which were great that night, and it was just an extremely good vibe.

JR: Can you each think of a technique you have while playing guitar or using the guitar as a sonic device that may come as a surprise to readers?

TD: Putting masking tape around the fret to get percussive sounds – would that be a technique?

JD: I don’t think I really have any specialized techniques. The greatest technical difficulty for me is to get in a headspace where you can react and be creative in these situations and not be thrown off by whatever random circumstances or odd things that can happen. The night before we played in Flagstaff, and I borrowed an amp which happened to be broken. I happen to love broken amps, so I was very excited, and it did indeed sound incredibly cool and broken, but I discovered pretty quickly that it demanded a totally different approach as certain things were impossible. There was a threshold below which anything I played was inaudible so all of a sudden I just had to play loud the entire time. It threw me off, to be honest. I think people who are great at improvising just learn to deal with situations like that and turn it to their advantage.

JR: Do you all read much? Have you read anything good lately?

TD: Reading Junji Ito’s Frankenstein

JD: I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like to these days. The last book that I read that really had an impact on me was this book on the history of debt called, appropriately, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber. Really mind-blowing read and recommended to all.

JR: Any recent records you’ve appreciated that you’d recommend folks to check out?

TD: Chepang is a Nepali grindcore band based in NYC and they are destroying the old and moving forward. Most exciting music I have heard in a while!

JD: When Tashi and I played in Phoenix, I ended up sticking around and hanging out with friends, playing a show with a group that Max Knause put together and also did some improvising with Michael Krassner. The headliner of that show was this band from Phoenix called Slow Moses. They were totally incredible, and I got their record Charity Binge that night. It has been on pretty regular rotation since then. Such a fun, creative band. Apparently they’re working on a new one now.

JR: What all is up next for you two?

TD: Maybe record more and definitely tour.

JD: Hopefully more playing/recording if we can organize it!

JR: Anything else you’d like to say?

TD: Kuzuzangpola

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Buck Young Channels The American Music Tradition

Buck Young

I’ve known Jason and Zoe from Buck Young for a while at this point. Jason and I message each other pretty frequently both about business – I carry many No Rent titles at my store – and pleasure, which mostly comes down to us discussing the United States or music. Fittingly, Buck Young combines those two things. Crumer told me that Zoe was going to handle PR this go round but that she’d reach out to me with some questions. I ended up writing the band bio for Buck Young’s second LP, which is an absolute scorcher. One of this year’s best. It also functions as a profile for the band, more or less, so I’m including it below. Congrats ya’ll!

“I was sending Jason Crumer live recordings of being on a freight train, traveling across the country, at one point.” That’s Zoe Burke, talking about the creative process behind Buck Young’s forthcoming 2LP Buck II: Where Do You Want It? A long-distance collaborative project between Burke, Crumer, Joseph Hammer, and many others, Buck Young combines classic Americana instrumentation and concepts with the avant-garde, weaving gentle, melodic guitar loops together with field recordings, samples, harsh noise, and vocalization.

While Burke was on a journey hopping intercontinental freight trains – a particularly poetic and cautioning tale of which is captured on album highlight “The Ballad of Bruce McLain” – Crumer was back in the lab both recording and processing audio with folks like Wyatt Howland of Skin Graft, Rose Rae of No Rent Fame, Vanessa Rossetto, Richard Dunn of FFH, and many more.

Buck II is an album about motion and communication – characters, real or otherwise, become attached, miscommunicate in person and via technology, head to the next town, and learning to deal with the shit hands they’ve been dealt, all the while conjuring modern interpretations of John Wayne – see humorous title track narrated by Dunn “Where Do You Want It?” or lead instrumental single “Stop Motion Mississippi,” a cinematic piece that Burke likens to “the feeling of watching time pass.”

Cinema is an important gear in the Buck Young machine. Take the song “Bell Jar of Whiskey,” a song about the unraveling female psyche, nodding to things like Cassavetes’ oeuvre, the Lana Del Rey phenomenon, or – as Burke jokes – “Jennifer Herema after all the fame dies down.” She laughs at that, but then takes the more serious path – “It’s about succumbing to an exclusively feminine weakness, then owning it, and somehow letting it cauterize into power.”

For all the damage, humor, and long-distance stem wrangling in Buck II, the album is tight and cohesive, more seamless than their debut album, brandishing a narrative arc like the best Westerns. Matter of fact, by the end of the record, you can practically see the gang riding West into the sunset.

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Derek Rush’s Meticulous Dedication To The Underground

I met Derek Rush in the flesh at Tulsa Noise Fest back in May – it was pretty clear that he had a lot going on. Rush was facilitating a set by anonymous rhythmic noise project Compactor, recording high-quality audio of each set, taking pictures, and slinging merch. If you spend enough time talking to Rush, you realize pretty quickly that underground music and subculture is his lifeblood, and he’s willing to put in work to document its happenings.

That’s just an example from one festival – Rush’s efforts go much deeper. His label Chthonic Streams has been releasing material since the late-90s, including his work as Dream Into Dust, but his creative work goes back to the early 90s.

August 2019 also sees the first Chthonic “batch drop,” which features tapes from long-running death industrial luminary Murderous Vision, a power electronics split from Pollutant and Straight Panic, and New York industrial darkwave project Octonomy, all of which are worth picking up.

He let me bend his ear about what makes him tick.

Jordan Reyes: How did you become interested in underground music – abrasive music, dark music, industrial music. What about it attracted you? What’s kept you involved?

Derek Rush: I had already been making my own weird music for a few years when I came across the RE/Search Industrial Culture Handbook, which blew my mind. I didn’t know until years later when I actually heard Throbbing Gristle, Non, SPK and the like, how similar my own recordings were to some of what they were doing. I was just making sounds that I found interesting at first.

DR: I was attracted to increasingly darker sounds and genres as I learned what was out there. It felt like a reflection of my own feelings, and a form of validation, to be able to identify with the work of others. Listening to and making such sounds is a way of exorcising those feelings. That keeps me involved as well, because I’ve grown as a person, but that part of me is always there; the part that knows so many things in the world aren’t right and wants to see that expressed.

JR: Do you have any background training in the arts? You seem to be good at basically everything haha – photography, engineering, graphic design, etc.

DR: I have a degree in Graphic Design, though by college I was more into making music. I’ve only had a few lessons on piano and recorder as a kid. I’ve never had any training in music engineering – that’s all been gleaned from reading magazines and books, using the hardware and software, and just getting better over time. As for Photography, I took one class in college, but that was old school B&W film stuff. Mostly I’ve just been shooting a lot of pictures and learning about bringing out the best in them through judicious editing.

JR: Tell me a bit about your archival efforts. A lot of what you do – photography, curation, etc – seems to be done with archiving in mind, not to mention you record so many sets. What is the importance of archiving you think? Do you feel as though it needs to be especially conscientious in underground communities?

DR: I’ve become a bit obsessed with documenting music shows in still photographs for the past few years as my abilities in that area have improved. I’m fortunate to have been born and raised in New York City, and living here provides an embarrassment of riches in terms of events happening every week. There are millions who can’t see what’s happening, and some of these artists will never make it to a lot of other places to play. Some people are doing really great things and I want everyone to know. Especially if it’s in some DIY space that maybe only 20-40 people were at.

DR: I don’t always record everyone’s sets because I don’t always have access to the main mixing board, or a lot of disk space. But at certain fests I make an effort because I’m sure the artists would want a record of what they did. It’s better to just make sure something is captured. You never know what’s going to be a classic moment until it’s passed.

JR: How did you first start making music? How has this changed over the years? Are there particular sounds or instruments you find yourself drawn to these days?

DR: As a kid, I was interested in making my own music before I understood there were genres and rules. I used an out-of-tune piano, some African drums, “bonus beats” DJ records on a kiddie turntable, and a few borrowed cheap tape recorders, which I recorded noisy experiments with. I kept upgrading the recording setup over time with each bit of money I was able to scrape together. I still record and mix in a weird way, capturing things on an old analog board, going into a hard disk recorder, and then dumping tracks to an outdated laptop to edit things. So, while the actual gear has changed, what hasn’t is that I use what I have and just deal with making it the best I can. The sounds and instruments I’m drawn to are things that have a more unique sound, and maybe have been or can be modified from their original design.

JR: What spurred you to release as a “batch” this time? Do you think there are overlapping concepts in the releases? What links them outside of simple genre lines and your engineering work?

DR: In the past, I’ve mainly released very short runs of specially-packaged albums that are to some degree handmade. That’s enjoyable, but also exhausting. The copies also sell out fairly quickly and then it’s basically done, after all that work. I’ve noticed other small labels seeming to have success with batches of releases, so I wanted to try that. I definitely chose these three albums to be released together very carefully. Chthonic Streams has never been about one particular sound or genre, but a series of related sounds, flowing together from different sources. I can’t really speak for the artists in terms of similar concepts, I feel we’d have to have a roundtable with all of them to see what they think. But from my point of view, besides what you mentioned, there is a definite anti-establishment streak in all of us as people, that comes out in the work.

Photos left to right: Murderous Vision by Pauline Lombardo, Octonomy by John Rohrer, Pollutant, Straight Panic

JR: How did you become in contact with the folks who you’re releasing for this batch?

DR: I’ve known Stephen Petrus over the internet for over 20 years, since the days of the Malignant Records e-list. We finally met for a show in 2001 and have been involved in a few projects together. We’ve been fans of each other’s work for a long time, so it was kind of inevitable that we’d work more closely on a Murderous Vision release.

DR: Heidi Lorenz also lives in Brooklyn, and we’ve booked each other’s projects for shows before. We have several mutual friends and frequently end up at the same places. I could hear what she was doing was pretty incredible, but I didn’t see a lot out there as far as definitive recordings, so I wanted to help.

DR: I first started hearing of Thomas Boettner when he was still living in Alaska and working under the alias Fire Island, AK. I finally met him when Straight Panic first played New Orleans in late 2016, and we’ve been in touch a lot ever since, meeting up at various noise fests around the country. I’ve never met E.N. of Pollutant, but when Thomas offered the split material to me, and talked about its themes, I could tell this was quality stuff I could get behind.

JR: What all is in the future for Derek Rush and Chthonic Streams?

DR: I want Chthonic Streams to continue to be about curating great underground dark sounds, representing them in live events, on releases, and in photographs. There are a few albums in the pipeline for the future by Wilt, Morher, Turing Heat, and the long-delayed official release of my collaboration project with the late John Binder (Arkanau, Exhuma) called Mortuary Womb. I’ve been helping edit, arrange, and add instruments to the upcoming Theologian album ‘Contrapasso’ which will hopefully finally be out in 2020. I’ve also been working on mixing tracks for STCLVR, and have been approached by a few others to do the same for them. I continue to work as SysAdmin for Compactor, and there are a few live shifts coming up, most notably Northeast Noise Fest, NorCal Noisefest, Sustain/Decay 48-Hour Drone Fest, and Peaked Signals. New Compactor documents are forthcoming on Sonic Terror and Ohm Resistance, which I’m pretty excited about.

JR: Anything else you’d like to say?

DR: If underground music means something to you, please support it. Everyone may do this for love or other non-monetary reasons, but we live in a real world where things cost money, from instruments to merch to the rent for venues. Beer is great, but if you want to keep having places to hang out with good people and drink it while experiencing good music, make sure to save a few bucks for those who make that happen.

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Stefan Aune’s Noise Is Personal – It Brandishes Motifs Instead Of Following A Template

Photo by Derek Rush

2020 will be the 10th anniversary of New Forces, the carefully curated noise label run by Stefan Aune. For nearly a decade, Aune has delivered harsh sonic artifacts from artists across the world – Japanoise legends like Killer Bug find a home alongside contemporary American greats like Shredded Nerve, Interracial Sex, and Striations. So far in 2019, New Forces has put out more than ten releases, including tapes by Limbs Bin, Serration, Jackson-Pratt, and a 2LP reissue of The Rita’s masterful Magazine.

In addition to his work on the label front, Aune has been making noise since the label’s inception – at first under the monikers Breaking the Will and The Sun Turns Black, but these days his electroacoustic project Kjostad seems to take a lot of his creative bandwith. Combining nature-based field recordings with abrasive textures and processing, Kjostad both rewards patience and indulges your inner harsh head.

Stefan and I talked about nature, personal creative pathways, and more.

Jordan Reyes: Has nature always been an important part of your life personally?

Stefan Aune: I was born in Northern Minnesota into a family for whom outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, and cross country skiing were important. When I was little we moved down to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis / St. Paul) so the north woods were less immediate but I’ve always spent lots of time up north visiting family. I eventually discovered hardcore music and the vegan straightedge, so hunting and fishing haven’t been something of interest for awhile, but I still love to spend time in the woods or on the lake. Hiking, kayaking, canoeing, getting away from people and enjoying some solitude are all very important to me. Without dropping too hard of a “lecture” on your readers I’d also argue that “nature” is important for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you live in rural Minnesota or the middle of Brooklyn, ecology, plants, animals… these are part of your day to day life and you should consider your relationship to them. To paraphrase an environmental historian named Bill Cronon, one of the problems with ideas like “wilderness” is that people imagine wilderness or nature as distant, far away… places you visit. In fact, nature is something you have a day-to-day relationship with and humans seem to get in trouble when they forget about that reality.

JR: Can you remember some of the first natural sounds you heard that you thought you should record?

SA: I’m not sure I’ve got an interesting answer for this one. My initial forays into noise music were driven by the artists I was around at the time (Baculum, Wince, Gnawed, Wilt, Juhyo), great harsh noise and PE artists that seemed to be doing really interesting things with these tables full of devices. After observing those artists my thought process was: “if I get these pedals I can make these sounds,” which I think is the thought process many noise artists start with. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but I think it can sometimes give artists a ceiling on their own potential if it’s all about gear. I don’t like to see performances that just feel like a gear showcase of whatever devices they’ve purchased in the last 3 months. Gear is a tool for making music and I want to see what you are doing with the gear. What has been really valuable with my Kjostad project is turning that formula on its head and giving all priority to the sounds sources, trimming away effects where possible, and really trying to start with interesting sounds. This has bled into my other projects such as Breaking The Will and Form Hunter, in that I try to assemble collections of good source material that can then be played through some sort of electronic system or assemblage of gear.

Logo of New Forces, Aune’s Label

JR: What is your process for field recording? What do you use? Do you go to any specific places?

SA: No set process, but one of the cornerstones of Kjostad is that most (but not all) of the sounds are recorded literally at Kjostad Lake, which is a small lake in northern Minnesota about 15-20 minutes from the Canadian border. It’s where I go when I go home to visit family, and it’s been artistically invigorating to really explore localized, place-based field recording as the impetus for music. I usually use a Zoom H4n which is a nice hand-held recording device. I need something portable as much of my field recording involves just walking around the woods. The thing about making field recordings in a forest is that 90% of the audible sounds are wind and birds. 9% is squirrels and chipmunks, and usually the other 1% is the engine on a boat or truck, or maybe one of my younger relatives yelling as they jump into the lake. You’ll hear all of those things in Kjostad recordings, but you’re gonna hear all kinds of other sounds that won’t be immediately recognizable. It’s not just me passively recording the environment – I may rub the microphone against a piece of birch bark, or grab an interesting rock and scrape it against a deer skull laying on the forest floor. Field recording is definitely an active process, in which I’m sometimes quietly recording the forest, and sometimes “playing” the forest in different ways. Additionally, part of my process is just recording everything and finding interesting moments later on. I probably make just as many tape loops out of sounds that were unintentional accidents as I do of sounds that I intentionally set out to capture. You have to leave yourself open to happy accidents, but I think that’s true with any kind of experimental music.

JR: What equipment do you use for Kjostad? Is there a difference live versus recorded? Does it change based on the tour you’ve planned out?

SA: A whole variety of things. As I said, sound sources are key, so it’s devices like tape players and samplers supported with a few effects or other electronics and a contact mic or two. The best pedal is the Boss Bass Overdrive ODB-3 so you’ll usually see a few of those on my table. For both recordings and live sets I try to assemble a collection of sources and tracks that I’ve already composed and sort of play them like a conductor, using shorter vignettes or compositions and merging them into a larger track that has a narrative or flow to it. I use a lot of stereo panning and try to create a wall of sound that is dense but still has recognizable parts embedded in it. Like I said, once I press record, or begin a live set, there has been a lot of work beforehand to collect sounds sources, some of which will be featured “raw,” but many of which have been composed into larger tracks or embedded on tape and fashioned into loops. You still need to leave room for performative spontaneity, however. I don’t want to just sit up there and push play on a sampler.

JR: Tell me a bit about the ending to your description of the first Form Hunter tape – noise being a blast of euphoria. Is that how you experience harsh noise? Is that what it provides you?

SA: Definitely, these sorts of loud sounds feel really good to me, and a well executed harsh noise performance is going to give me a rush or surge of adrenaline. It’s hard to describe, but noise can really take over all your senses.
JR: There’s a recurring motif in a lot of your work of artillery and military. How did this become important to you? Do you use it conscientiously in your work? Why?

SA: These motifs are born out of a general interest in war and violence as integral parts of human history. I work as an academic historian and one of my areas of focus is the history of colonialism, imperialism, and warfare. I’m not trying to produce a pedantic “protest” aesthetic, but rather highlight the fact that an incredible degree of militarization literally structures our day-to-day lives in the United States, in often invisible ways. It’s very much in the industrial tradition of saying “look at this, how are you going to deal with this??” – as opposed to the more punk rock tradition or simply screaming “I don’t like this!!!”

JR: You’re straight edge, too. Does that play any role in your work? What does straight edge mean to you? How has it benefited you?

SA: It plays a role in my life generally speaking, so of course it impacts my work in some way, but none of my projects are defined by any effort to emphasize the straight edge thematically speaking. The one exception is the X Means Not Welcome compilation on FTAM, which was a fun chance to slam together the iconography of harsh noise and youthxcrew hardcore. Honestly, attending noise shows, particularly festivals, just emphasizes that I’m definitely making the right choices relative to intoxication.

JR: What else is in the future for Stefan Aune? Anything else you’d like to say?

SA: Thanks for the interview! Nothing I said is a rigid template. Learn by doing, develop your own process. I’m just making this up as I go – everyone is. Plenty in the works from my label New Forces, which you can keep track of at as well as @newforcesnoise on Instagram. Look for an upcoming Kjostad full-length CD on Chondritic Sound titled “Extinctionist,” an LP from my duo Form Hunter on Found Remains, and some renewed activity from my project Breaking The Will. 2020 also marks the ten-year anniversary of New Forces, and I’ve got some really exciting stuff in the works to celebrate, including releases and performances.   

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The Trance-inspired Trip-Hop of Pale Spring

Pale Spring by Cellini Kim

I’m just going to say it – Cygnus by Pale Spring is one of my favorite records so far this year. It’s a tightly-composed, eight-song collection by the sultry, trip hop – and husband/wife – duo Emily Harper Scott and Drew Scott. From the outset, it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the vocal melodies and hooks on the album, and, veritably, each song has strong stuck-in-the-head capacity. From the dance floor ready “Happening” to the more hip hop influenced “Guilt Trip,” Cygnus brings together many forms of beat-based music, all masterfully swirling under Emily’s gentle but powerful croon.

Recently released on the great Doom Trip Records, you can stream (and should really buy) the album from the embed, and check an interview I did over the phone with Emily and Drew below the jump.

Jordan Reyes: Are you guys both from the Atlantic Seaboard originally?

Emily Harper Scott: Yeah, I was raised in Baltimore City and never moved until just moving to L.A.

Drew Scott: I grew up in Maryland and New Jersey.

JR: And what were ya’ll’s experiences growing up in terms of music? Did you have music playing a lot in your childhood homes? Was it encouraged?

EHS: For me, definitely – my great great uncle played for the New York Philharmonic, and he later taught my grandfather how to play jazz trumpet at Juilliard. My great uncle was a middle school music teacher his entire life. I was forced into piano lessons, musical theater, clarinet lessons from about age five on.

JR: Wow – what about you, Drew?

DS: My grandfather was amateur musician who sang in a doo-wop group in Philly when he was younger, but he was always putting instruments in my hands. I didn’t really get into making music until later.

JR: Did you begin with a band or immediately with electronics?

DS: I started making rap beats basically – I taught myself how to sample, and then I started to meet rappers, and make beats for these people. This was before computer programs, back when lo-fi chill beats weren’t really a thing – this was just what we used.

JR: You used a Tascam?

DS: It was like a Boss 16-track, and eventually computers made things a lot easier. I still use a Roland SP-404 and a Maschine Mikro II.

JR: Did you get into Fruity Loops at all?

DS: You know, I never got into Fruity Loops, but a lot of my friends did.

JR: I’ll be darned.

EHS: (Laughs)

JR: Everyone I knew who was getting into hip hop production with computers started with fruity loops.

DS: I used something else pre-fruity loops, actually. The first thing that changed my life, though, was the Korg Triton. I got that, and that is basically what I used for melodies and sequences. I stopped using computers so much after getting it. It was a synth, a sampler, everything.

JR: Do you use it on the record?

EHS: No! He sold it before I even met him, and I’m mad about it! (Laughs). It’s an amazing piece of technology. For the record we used a microkorg, which we sold before moving to Los Angeles, before we got into midi. We were doing everything line-in, so we had to replay things until they were perfect – you can’t quantize it, really. We used the Maschine Mikro II for sampling and beats, did some glitching on the SP-404, I use a vocal pedal, and then I play the guitar on top of some of the songs.

JR: So it’s all played live?

EHS: No – usually we record like a synth line and then loop it – so we’d record a bar or so, then edit in post-production. The guitar is played live, of course, but then the Maschine Mikro II uses midi, which we can quantize, so it’s much easier.

JR: And were you using Ableton for recording?

EHS: No! This is an anti-Ableton household (laughs). No – whatever works for you works for you, but we use Pro-Tools. I think our method of doing things is a little different than most people, but I don’t know – he taught me how to make beats.

DS: My friends definitely call me an old man, but it works. I like limitations when I make music basically.

JR: So how long did it take for you guys to write the songs for CYGNUS? Did you write all of them, Emily?

EHS: I wrote all of them except for “Belongings.” “Old Sounds” is the oldest song, and I seriously cannot remember for the life of me when I recorded it, but I want to say the end of 2016 or early 2017. The album has been written for over a year because we finished writing in June of 2018, and then production and recording stretched into September. I didn’t get the final masters to Zac until Mid-October of 2018. “Belongings” was written by my friend Chris Taylor – he’s kind of famous in the DC hardcore/post-hardcore scene. He was in a band called pageninetynine – they toured all over the place. When I released the first Pale Spring EP, he found me on Twitter and hit me up saying he loved my album, and I was like “We should make music together!” I had “Old Sounds” written at that point. It took a full year, but in March 2018, he came over and stayed for a weekend, and wrote the second half of “Old Sounds,” which we finished together, and then he was like “Hey, I have this song I’m working on – I can’t sing it the way it’s meant to come off. Do you want to try singing it?” I had never tried anything like that, and it was fun since there wasn’t as much pressure.

JR: So how did you team up with/meet Zac from Doom Trip?

EHS: So after EP 2 maybe in April or May of 2018, I was like “Okay, me just cold-emailing people isn’t going to go anywhere, I should build some social media relationships with smaller labels because these are people doing good work for artists, and that might be a good way to make connections.” I started finding indie labels on twitter that I liked, followed them, started corresponding a little bit. I guess timing worked perfectly, and I added Zac on Twitter while he was on Twitter, and so he followed me back immediately, then checked out my EP. I got an email within days. He was working on the 3rd Doom Trip comp, and he said “Hey, are you working on any new music? I’d love to have you on this comp” so I finagled my way in there. I said “Hey, I’d love to – also I’m trying to shop my album around that I’ve almost finished.” At first he was a bit apprehensive because he curates his label so well and he gets so many submissions, but we liked the way we communicated with each other. He gave me really good advice about my demos when they came through and finally when I had the masters he thought they were perfect. I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s awesome, and puts in so much work.

JR: Yeah he’s one of my favorite people to correspond with – we’ve become good buds. Did that factor to you going out to Los Angeles?

EHS: No – we actually had been planning on going out to LA for like two-and-a-half years. It was going to be either LA or New Orleans. But…if we went to New Orleans, there was the chance we’d become alcoholics, and it’s more humid than Baltimore – I don’t know if we could have survived that. Maybe one day, though. Truthfully, we just wanted a change of life, and I don’t think we even had a conscientious rationale, but now that we’re here, it’s like “Oh, yeah – we’re out here for music – duh!”

JR: Were there any specific events that triggered the lyrical content on CYNGUS?

EHS: Yeah…I had a super depressing childhood, and I’m not going to get into it, but I did a lot of trauma therapy in my adulthood, so a lot of the lyrics are about coping with this bleak, desolate past in a subconscious, dreamlike way as an adult. Also, I’ve struggled with sleep paralysis and nightmares for my whole entire life. I used to be on a medication for how bad my nightmares were – a lot of my writing comes from dreams. “Quarantines” was directly from a dream I had – I almost feel like it was a past life of mine, but I had a dream that I was a young woman living on a prairie, and my house was burning down.

JR: Do you keep a dream journal?

EHS: I did! Oh my god – I did. I used to come down in the morning from bed, and I’d tell my roommates that we needed to talk about the fucked up dream I had just had, and they’d be like “What the fuck? You need to write this down in a dream journal.” Some of them are so funny, and some of them are so dark and weird. I had a dream that my best friend’s mom sawed off my foot with a chainsaw once.

JR: Wow – that one doesn’t sound all that much like a Pale Spring song, I have to admit.

EHS: (laughs).

JR: So once you have the dream, do you immediately contextualize it as a song?

EHS: No – so the way I write music is stream-of-consciousness. The instrumental always comes first. I’ll have an idea for a beat and explain it to Drew, and we’ll either sit down together and make it, or he’ll start it alone sometimes. Or – for instance – “Happening” was a beat that he already had. He showed it to me, and I was like “No, that is not a Pale Spring song – I am not singing to that,” but he wanted me to try, and I wrote the song in like twenty minutes. It always starts with the instrumental. Once we have the shell of a beat, I’ll pull out the scratch mic, and try some mumbo jumbo over top, but after that, I sit with the song and try to visualize myself, which frequently goes back to a dream I’ve had, and then I come up with the lyrics that way.

JR: When you play live, what’s the arrangements like?

DS: I just use the SP-404 and Emily has a mic. I will glitch the tracks a little bit, but not too much so it doesn’t fuck up Emily. I don’t think we’ve thought about it that much, but the live experience is really just the beat and us – kind of how it would be at home, how we make music.

EHS: He just sits with the sampler on his lap on the stage, and I stand on the floor. I typically prefer to play on the floor rather than on a stage to connect at an eye level. I don’t like singing at people.

JR: I also prefer playing on the floor.

EHS: It’s less pressure, and I think you get your emotional message across more.

JR: I agree – I also think it becomes this thing where you are telling people to witness your humanity, too. It’s all about that transmigration of feeling between one another. You get something from the audience and vice versa.

EHS: Yeah that duality is very important.

JR: Do you all have plans to tour any time soon?

EHS: Yeah we’re partnering up with our friend Lauren Lakis for a West Coast tour for early September. We’re in the planning stages.

JR: Cool – well, what else do you all have coming down the pipe?

EHS: We’re writing some songs – don’t know what it will turn into, but we’re definitely writing a collection of songs. I’ve been going on hikes out here into nature, so that’s influencing my writing quite a bit, and we know that once we have the shells of the songs written, we’re going to either try and record the demos or finals in ideally an earth dome house in New Mexico in the middle of nowhere.

JR: You heard it here first

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Deathbed Tapes Takes No Prisoners


I met Alex Ford, Deathbed Tapes head honcho, at Dayton’s Skeleton Dust Records back in early January of this year – I was coming through on a Reverent tour and Luke Tandy who runs the store hooked me up with a gig. Though – according to many – Ohio is for harsh noise, my all-vocal industrial blues project went pretty well among those who attended. Mike Shifflet and Total Deceit – a harsh collab between Wes Gibbons and Rusty Remus – also played. After the show, Ford – who operates the projects Death Cult Ritual and Begravd – came up to me to purchase a Reverent tape, and a couple other things I can’t remember right now. He gave me a Death Cult Ritual tape, and we struck up a near constant online chat soon after.

It was during that January tour on the East Coast that I began recording for Spring Break. Prior to the project’s existence, Jim Haras of Fusty C*** and Deterge and I had been texting a bunch about our views regarding power electronics and industrial music, and one thing led to another – I expressed interest in trying my hand at PE, and Jim said he’d be interested in releasing it, so long as I didn’t fuck things up. A few other friends were incredibly encouraging, and excited on the material – Antonio Olivieri from Angst, Rusty Kelley at Breathing Problem, Sam Stoxen at Phage, and many more.

Alex Ford took things to another level. When he released Sic Semper Tyrannis, I had already submitted final mixes to two tapes at Fusty C***, the 2CS Scared Little White Boys at Phage, and Gatekeeper at Breathing Problem, but Sic Semper Tyrannis came out first. It was freakish. I literally turned in mixes one night at like midnight or 1 AM, Ford flipped out, said he wanted to do it, and next day the tape was released, art included. My jaw still drops thinking about it.

Here’s the thing – Alex Ford is a maniac. He works harder than most, has a curatorial prowess that beats many, and a true vision for his label. He’s released tapes by underground luminaries like Controlled Death, Autoerotichrist, Richard Ramirez, Vomir, and many more. Frankly, all signs point to things continuing to ramp up. You’ve seen the teaser for the 7 Deadly Sins comp? Fuck, dude. Take no prisoners, for real. I asked him to tell me how he does it, and here’s what he said.

Jordan Reyes: So let’s start with an easy one – why did you begin Deathbed Tapes?

Alex Ford: I had some recordings that I felt deserved a cassette release, but no one wanted to release them..

JR: How did you come up with the art design for those recordings?

AF: Before I started the label, I spent about a year experimenting with different collage and xerox techniques as a hobby. Some of the early Deathbed covers are recycled pieces that I just added text to. The design for the Subklinik tape, which feels somewhat iconic now, was a piece I made a year before with plans to use it on one of my personal projects. Now it’s hard to go to a noise show without seeing someone wearing that shirt!

JR: Haha – what about the Deathbed Tapes logo?

AF: In January 2018, which was pre-Deathbed Tapes, I started a visual project using photos of World War I facial reconstruction surgery patients. I cut out maybe 100 different faces and glued them onto paper in a grid. One of the faces I used was Henry Lumley. When I decided to start the label, I flipped through my file of old artwork and Henry’s face was sitting there loose, so I took it as a sign. 

JR: Very cool. Tell me a little bit about how you got into noise and industrial music in the first place.

AF: I started going on 4chan’s music board in 2010, which got me into bands like Throbbing Gristle, Coil, SPK, Masonna, Plague Mother, Breathing Problem, Jason Crumer, Aaron Dilloway, Black Leather Jesus, Whitehouse, etc.

JR: And what about making noise? When and how did that start for you?

AF: I had fooled around with making feedback loops with my guitar pedals over the years, but never considered recording anything. When Skeleton Dust opened in Dayton, I built up like $300 in store credit and spent it all on noise tapes. Luke Tandy said I should start a project, so I came up with ‘begravd’, which is a Swedish translation of the word ‘buried. I chose a Swedish word because I wanted the project to be more mysterious but after playing some live shows, it was pretty obvious where I was from.

JR: Haha! Amazing! Can you tell me a little bit about the importance of death in your curation and creative output?

AF: My obsession with death goes back further than I can remember. I remember as a kid drawing the same skulls over and over – I would get excited to find a new picture of a skull to draw. I got my first copy of Photoshop at eleven, and by thirteen I was designing band logos with skulls in them for my friends. There was never any question about it – the theme of the label was going to be death, and the only thing I had to figure out was which “death” word to use as the name. It was almost Deathwatch Tapes or Deathblow Tapes…

AF: I typically reach out to noise artists that deal with heavier themes, and sometimes tell people to “make it deathy.” I also actively look for projects with the word in their title such as Controlled Death, Death Dedication, Death Cult Ritual, Dead Man Walking, Christ is Black Death, Unsignified Death, etc.

JR: Oh interesting – I didn’t realize that was conscientious, but makes total sense now. How about the sonic curation? Are there types of noise that you’re more particularly drawn to?

AF: While there are noise projects based on ducks, anime, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, or feet, this kind of extreme music typically deals with a more extreme subjects, so it’s pretty easy for me to find tons of projects focusing on death, hell, crime, rape, catastrophic events, etc.

JR: Can you talk a little bit about the growth in Deathbed? You’re releasing basically a tape a week now.

AF: It quickly got to the point that I was working on four or five tapes at a time, which gets really stressful, and I decided that working on one at a time, and one per week would work best for me. I have about fourteen releases ready, about thirty more in the works, and I’m constantly planning more. It feels like I’ll never catch up, so I’ve started doing bonus releases on some weeks – this week’s will come out on Thursday – it’s Christ Is Black Death, a Richard Ramirez project that I’m really excited about.

JR: Can you tell me about the idea of using deluxe packaging in your work?

AF: I try to put out releases that I as a consumer would want to buy. Some of the items in the box sets have been gimp masks, leather collars, rope, human remains and grave dirt, antique Last Will and Testaments, hand-painted model skulls, military-issue ski masks, anal lube with plastic baby Jesus with a tampon string around his neck. I’m currently planning some really cool ones that I haven’t announced yet…

JR: What all is in the future for Deathbed Tapes and Alex Ford?

AF: I’m gonna keep doing the once a week schedule as long as I can. I have some huge things planned, but nothing I can really talk about yet… maybe a Deathbed Fest?

JR: Hot dog! You heard it here first! Anything else you’d like to say?

AF: Nope.