PART II – June 14, 2016
Jessie Marino: sup?
Travis Just: nuthin
JM: you got some fresh jams out today! [Object Collection audio/video release Problem Radical(s)]
TJ: (dancing bhangra emoji) but it is hard to care much about recordings…for me anyway. thoughts?
JM: ya - its kind of a drag I get sick of listening to the stuff. and I don't know anything about post production so usually its just sitting next to someone and going -- yeah I guess thats cool
TJ: i don’t know anything about it either, but i can make it sound funky and thick. i’m not terribly interested in studio knowledge anyhow.
JM: why'd you do the audio only?
TJ: audio only because that’s how people listen to things. i’ve been asked about it a little recently and finally thought why the fuck not just release it. i have these performances just sitting on my hard drive.
JM: sure, get it out there
TJ: we have videos for everything, but who is going to watch a video release of an opera?
JM: (me). and probably Paula [Matthusen]
TJ: i only care about the live shit.
JM: we're trying a video thing for the new pamplemousse album - making some super whacked out music videos old vh1 style…oh you're gone
TJ: am i back?
JM: you're back
TJ: but am i really? yeah….product. it’s a question right?
JM: YOU'RE BACK BABY! well I'm with you too - I"m mostly concerned with the live shit. its what I really get excited about
TJ: dealing with an artifact (even if a digital one, which has the identical issues) means dealing even more with non-artistic concerns than we normally have to. packaging, distribution, promotion of a dead thing (a recorded artifact). these things turn me OFF.
JM: for sure - and then you have this baggage - trash - even in digital format - it takes space -- performance can evaporate so you have to get into it RIGHT THEN -- the artifact lets you procrastinate -- and possibly never really pay attention
you can think about a performance later and remember something completely different too -- something that may not have happened at all -- so there is a developing fiction -
and a reveal of what is important to you as a witness at the time
TJ: i see them as substitutes for the actual aesthetic experience, which is being in the room with the thing.
but yes, locating where this aesthetic moment actually occurs is complex.
JM: they are mostly business cards
TJ: or an option for someone who isn’t going to be able to view it live in NYC. (or in my case, live in NYC 7 years ago).
JM: ya. well I think i'm turning around on it now. the recordings do help to broaden out interested folks who may not have the opportunity to be there
TJ: do you have a different approach to making a video for distribution as opposed to a video for live performance? do you consider the viewer/listener’s perceiving-situation?
JM: ya for sure. but the opportunity doesn't always come. If its going to be distributed I think it MUST be different than just a documentation of a live performance
TJ: opportunity for…?
JM: the opportunity to make a version for distribution. I think you have to alter it to function within the medium
TJ: it is interesting, i think of my thing as a snapshot of a live event, so it is necessarily a live documentation. maybe i just don’t trust myself in a purely video medium.
JM: well i don't know if you necessarily have to trust yourself - I think you just gotta commit to the idea when you see and then fucking put it out there!
I do also like those kinds of blair witchy POV shots of live shows - I guess I'm mostly talking about record label type distribution. its getting complicated now with things made for Youtube vs Vimeo vs DVD etc
TJ: or easier…? the ‘making any money’ aspect is certainly dead, unless one is making something more…consumable. which neither you nor i do (happily)
JM: ha - making money
TJ: i guess one thing that i think about is how important the listening/viewing environment is to receiving the work well. with Kara and my work, you really need to, like, have Avi or whoever standing right in front of you and sweating, glowering, staring you in the fucking eye. otherwise it is, quite literally, two-dimensional
…but enough about my hang-ups…i want to talk about the piece of yours from the Roulette concert last month
JM: sure -
TJ: it seemed to me to have a different angle (at least from some of your other recent work). the performative elements…well all the elements actually, whether performative or sonic…seemed to me to be sort of ‘squared-off’, very distinct components sort of hanging in time/space. as opposed to something more like a musical gesture (with the micro aspects of, say drawing a bow across a string or moving an arm). does this make any sense?
JM: yes - well its a piece about the digital. and as opposed to the former automatons who were interested in trying to find or develop or invent a kind of "personality" these characters are only able to function in an on/off, 0 or 1 kind of reality. so they do what they are assigned to do. they read down the list of stereotypes and execute
TJ: i thought there was a quality of larger-scale building blocks. and it progressed formally like: BLOCK, BLOCK, BLOCK, BLOCK. there was a brutalist aspect to it that i found unique and compelling.
JM: ya for sure - this idea goes through the entire piece - with even the weird band in the back quickly shifting between "styles" of music -- always punctuated by sharp hits in the drums -- and the blocks don't have much relation or development at all
TJ: right, exactly! not elegant at all. i liked that.
JM: no very un elegant
TJ: i mean, you say digital, meaning like an old binary conception? because it isn’t, you know, swooshy and pretty, like synthesis or something
JM: yes i mean the very basics of what makes digital digital - theres only two states. and they are very very literal
TJ: literal in what sense? oh, the ON/OFF quality..right
JM: yeah, and that there is nearly no nuance. or secret meaning. i think i was trying to deal with the experience of living in silicon valley for so long
TJ: also it was striking that there was no concern with the small-bore execution of the activities (sound producing or otherwise). the movements etc. necessary to execute a BLOCK were irrelevant. whereas most musicians/composers/whatever are EXCLUSIVELY interested in these small-bore movements/gestures/activities.
Silicon Valley….speak on that
JM: I think the people there are quite demented. its a culture of complete self obsession - zero creative thinking - and no concept of self doubt
frankly its terrifying. completely self righteous. When I would tell someone I was a composer - they would ask what kind of apps did I compose for
TJ: capitalism heaven
JM: no fucking kidding
it was really horrible to see that happen to humans. but thats the way it seems to be going
they all think that they are changing the world - but really they are just hyper producing absolute shit which people somehow buy and in return a small few get to have the feeling of owning the world -- which then lets them disseminate this idea to their workers that they too are changing/owning the world
or probably it will get to a tipping point and there will be a great chasm
TJ: in other words, a difficult place to make art? sounds like Hollywood
well that’s an aspect of the internet (or: The Internet)….remember way back when it was supposed to level the playing field for distribution of music/video/art/ideas/etc? major media companies were going to be wiped out and replaced by…what, the early 21st century great unwashed? what a dodge that turned out to be
as a wise man once said:
JM: well of course - those fuckers are not dumb - they saw how it was changing and could seriously be used as a force for revolution and they hunkered down and capitalized -
TJ: i suppose the alternate view is that you and I have a romantic notion of an individual artist working on a unique output.
JM: i guess that is rather romantic. but i'm into it
TJ: is it an old-fashioned attitude to rail against these mega-structures? or should we all just buy in like Jeff Koons and Matthew Barney?
JM: if we are then there is only Jeff and Matt. kinda boring don't you think. and I like to get angry sometimes
TJ: well it begs the question of just what are we trying to do anyway? which windmills are we tilting against?
JM: well maybe thats where I get off the boat. i want to be a fickle hater. having it always be against one type of idea/ ideal is maybe too romantic or old school for me. i like flip flopping
TJ: obviously we’re not trying to make ‘em dance, nor are we trying to send the audience into reveries about athletic musician-fireworks or beautiful soothing sonic soundscape-baths. and, fortunately, we aren’t trying to move “Composition” forward to the next brilliant stage of progression.
JM: no no - but I think you truly end conversation if you have too strong of stakes in your own opinion - like that stupid fucking story about Feldman disowning Philip Guston for painting people again. thats garbage
TJ: right, but with Feldman I always assume there is some Proustian salon bullshit behind the scenes. he’s mad about something someone told him someone else said at a party sometime.
JM: or he's invested too much importance in the absoluteness of his aesthetic that he can't even be a good friend. whatever - that guy was bad news
just do what you need to get out at that moment. if we aren't reacting to the things that are happening now we just live as ghosts. angry ghosts
TJ: i’ve thought for a while that one of the big problems I have with most composers is that they care too much about their sounds (and that the sounds are very much ‘their sounds’). which was what I found so refreshing about your piece at Roulette (and your stuff in general).
JM: sound can be a precious thing yes. its never been like that for me - although I guess more recently I have been leaning more towards very nostalgic sounds -
TJ: oh really? in what sense? for new work?
JM: well its mostly due to the technology i'm using. old casios and shoe box cassette players. but they are used more as time traveling devices than they are about honing and crafting a particular sound
TJ: and where is the nostalgia generating from, from a sense of boomboxes in backyards in the 80s? (i dont mean that in a sarcastic way!!)
JM: no thats exactly right. the keyboards and drum machines that we would pick up at garage sales as kids
TJ: were those objects and devices your initial entry into making music?
JM: of course! -- and honestly they are still the reason why I make music --- I always start a new piece by going to the thrift store and seeing whats been left behind!
what is it about the finicky sound world building that you don't like?
TJ: oh i like it fine! none of my opinions are steadfast!
JM: ha! thats what I love about you!
TJ: finicky sound building meaning what exactly….building up layers of material? circuit bending?
JM: no no i mean what you were referring to earlier when you said there was a problem with composers caring too much about the sound
TJ: oh. i dunno. i haven’t thought about it more that formulating that phrase…i like the laziness of this kind of sloganeering!
Nostalgia though can be a fascinating element. i dont work with it myself, but there are fabulous people i know who engage with it directly: Brian Harnetty, Devin Maxwell has some pieces, Paula Matthusen has a few. i love this work.
JM: i think its really interesting to try to find a way to communicate and ignite others nostalgia -- and sometimes tricky not to just communicate your own version of nostalgia
oh man I saw this piece of Paula's recently that was actually difficult to watch as a result of its nostalgia. it was fascinating!
TJ: in what sense difficult?
JM: it was a piece that was quite literally wailing. for bassoon and electronics. and the bassoon player is mostly utilizing just the mouth piece. the bassoon player Dana Jessen, who is amazing, was also indulgently expressive in her playing of this tiny object
it at once felt completely over done and wrought with an unshakeable feeling of pain and release
TJ: and you found it difficult because of the intensity of emotion? or was it otherwise problematic?
JM: i think if you underplayed it and did not outwardly express it would have felt very callous. it was that there was a genuine feeling of grief that was being somehow exploited. and maybe it was a problem with the performance aspect - but the music itself I think would have communicated the same thing. it somehow felt manipulative
like if you weren't also accessing a moment of grief in your own emotional history then you weren't able to sympathize. but you really really want to be able to sympathize. i know that seems like a negative comment - but I actually was totally transfixed by the pieces ability to do that to me
TJ: i’ve always preferred artwork to be something separate from daily life…including grief and tragedy (which is certainly on our minds this week after Orlando).
but also political concerns (like what Kara and I engage with)…that there is no misunderstanding of our work as actual political rhetoric or action.
JM: right of course. but that is a social call not a personal one. its different if it feels self indulgent
TJ: you mean distinguishing between the approaches? i guess some people (both artists+practitioners as well as audience) can come to art as a sort of therapy. i’ve never had that attitude. but whatever helps in moments of need i suppose..
JM: do you think you make different work when you are in a "good" place vs. a "bad" one?
TJ: if i am in a truly bad place i dont think i would be making work at all.
JM: you do the shut down?
TJ: though i have committed my life to it and think about little else, i guess i see art ultimately as a luxury. if i were actually suffering, the last thing i would want to do is compose something for violin.
TJ: there is a quote/criticism and I cant remember exactly where it is…maybe from George Lewis’ AACM book (or from him himself). it is directed to an attitude about artmaking very much in general, but i think it uses James Tenney as a specific example
JM: (oh my gawd Trav, I am also reaching for the quote book right now!!…from Judith Halberstam)
TJ: it says something like ‘the attitude of experimental composers that their work aesthetically “prepares the way” for political change is a mistake’ (or something) strongly worded actually. saying that an ambivalent attitude towards what the artwork is saying, what it is doing, is a massive problem.
and i have found myself permanently coming down on either and neither side of this, and remaining ambivalent about the entire issue while simultaneously always thinking about it.
JM: I think my deep cynicism prevents politics from coming into my art - I don't fully understand or see possibilities for the kinds of changes which are desperately needed -- maybe its my naiveté and we are getting close - but I can't perceive that now... so I choose to make art much more about frivolous fictions
TJ: understandable. i guess in a sense i can’t see anything as outside of politics anymore (for a long time now). frivolous fictions just as much as Judith Halberstam quotes. [which i dont mean as a criticism!]
JM: Maybe the composers George is referring too are also concerned with making work that is "serious" (thats where the Halberstam quote comes in )
TJ: i think he (and i really dont remember if it is indeed George or not) is saying that this sort of ‘friendly liberal’ attitude of engagement without specificity or engagement without action is detrimental. or something like that. What is the Halberstam quote?
JM: “Being taken seriously means missing out on the chance to be frivolous, promiscuous, and irrelevant.” In other words, that one’s concern for a kind of correctness (be it political or otherwise) in art can stunt the opportunity of discovery
TJ: i guess i see social+political engagement as a matter of course in work, an inevitability. much the same way that theatricality and performative context is an inevitability around the work. i just can’t separate them out and create borders between the world and the work (or between action and sound)
and that George Lewis (or whoever!) idea problematizes it for me somehow, i can’t escape the problematized situation. which maybe isn’t bad.
JM: but then it stops for you when it comes to a personal/emotional realm?
TJ: honestly i cant conceive of a barrier between my personal/emotional realm and an aesthetic/social/political one. which doesnt mean that i’m like Mr. Politically Engaged Dude or anything.
maybe i just dont have enough of a sense of identity. or, honestly, an interest in it. i would be a shitty Freudian subject
i see - meaning that we make political decisions regardless of our intent to make a political decision
TJ: exactly. and not like some cheap Twitter burn about Trump or something, a greater political identity.
JM: oh man i had a crazy dream last night
TJ: do tell!
JM: i was in a house with my band mate Andrew - and we heard this insane noise outside - there were skylights in the house and so we could see from inside, that there was like a 1940's war-type aircraft bobbing just above the roof of the house -- but it was turning on its nose like a drill press so it was bobbing and the propeller blades were just barely missing the house - and then it dove into the pool and sunk out of view
JM: and when I woke up there were parrots outside the window talking to one another
TJ: i rarely remember my dreams.
Kara and I were watching a Prince concert video last night - Lovesexy tour, 1988 in Dortmund - and she dreamt that Prince was running all around in ridiculous outfits all night.
JM: thats a great dream to have! dreaming can be quite productive Trav - you can hang out with all sorts of people
TJ: when I was composing the Fugazi opera and was in the depths of working through their archives all day every day i was having dreams that I was like, in the band. part of their conversations.
and then I met Guy Picciotto at a party just last weekend and actually told him this. man did he think I was a lunatic.
JM: really? - that seems like a very plausible dream situation.
TJ: dreams…i dont really know how to generate them. i think it may have more with translating non-linguistic impulses into linguistic images upon awaking. that threshold…nothing crosses it for me. which is fine.
JM: wait - you met Guy recently? what kind of fancy parties are you going to now Travis!!
TJ: oh god no. no fancy parties. never have never will. it was Dan Joseph’s birthday. Dan and Guy are from DC, were friends in their teens.
JM: aww !
TJ: it was through Dan that I contacted Fugazi in the first place. and it was his reassuring them that Kara and I were for real that they agreed to allow us to make the opera.
JM: very very cool
TJ: they think that we are insane. in a good way i guess.
JM: thats high praise I'd say!
TJ: so what are you working on these days? anything besides moving your ass to the midwest?
JM: ugggghhhh. while most of the days are about apartment hunting I am supposed to be writing a short opera but luckily I found some extremely stealable material recently! have you heard the music of Judee Sill?
JM: its fantastic! - she was this kind of mythical american woman. she was a prostitute and a smack addict and robbed banks and then got clean and learned how to play gospel piano
TJ: and you are making a piece based on her?
JM: she wrote some songs for the turtles and was an early find of David Geffen and the whole Asylum records thing. well I'm gonna use 3 songs from her album Heartfood as the kind of musical fodder
TJ: whoa like the Topanga Canyon sound and stuff? Neil Young and Joni Mitchell?
JM: exactly. she was very much into the occult - so i'm trying to think of ways of making a ghost opera
TJ: ghost in what sense?
JM: been reading a bunch of Madame Blavatsky and Crowley. I want visually to turn the singers into ghosts and try to employ some of those good old thee-ater tricks like peppers ghost
TJ: well, via Crowley you get to Jimmy Page
JM: oh yeah whats his deal?
TJ: what’s Jimmy Page’s deal? mostly rockin’ out. stuff like that.
JM: oh oh oh that Jimmy Page!!! ha! - I thought he was some sort of theosophical dude
TJ: and via Blavatsky you get to Abner Doubleday and the invention of baseball (he was a big Blavatsky guy…involved in that whole SoCal spiritualist commune)
JM: Abner Doubleday is really one of the great names that ever was
TJ: kara used a bunch of text from the interview that Burroughs did with Jimmy Page for a one-off performance of ours. at the end of the day, that might be the main reason i love working in the theater. if it were all just violin sounds and shit we wouldnt be able to talk about Madame Blavatsky and Jimmy Page.
JM: oh my god so true!
SoCal Spiritualism is for real - the sun makes people do and think some seriously other things! the Unarians - have you heard about these guys?
TJ: i havent’… i hate to say this but i’ve got to run
TJ: hey, this was great. thanks a million!!
JM: indeed - anytime!
TJ: miss you and hope you have a good move! (not going to Germany this summer, right?)
JM: perfecto! -- thanks! - please come visit once I"m settled - we'll do a show! no Deutschland :(
TJ: eh, they dont know what they’re missing! luv u. stay frosty!!
JM: june gloom in SD baby!! -- till soon!
conducted over internet chat June 14, 2016