NA002 | novellus | untitled

novellus writes his story in music, skewing and sampling his own sounds until it cuts sharp as a razor producing six fractured and slanted tracks about love, power and paranoia.

From smoke filled gambling dens and an itchy trigger finger pressed to a gun, to the claustrophobia of miscommunication and a room faraway from home, this is mutant-pop futurism, room shuddering beats and snap back melodies. Novellus focuses his attention on what matters most to him; a song for secrets, a song for pain, a song for fucking. It’s the music, it’s family, it’s love. A song for blameshifters, a song for a gun, a song for loneliness. What you need to know is in the grooves, the rest is distraction.

 

 

 

 

| 6 track EPVinyl Digital | OUT NOW |

“..from the sound of this smoky, undulating R&B track, it's going to be your winter sex soundtrack” PAPER

“ …tweaked out synths riding a danceable beat.“ – NYLON Guys 

“He layers his filtered vocals over the claustrophobic drum patterns,  and he displays his distinct and interesting vocal delivery as it melts into the woozy beat.” – Complex 

"Novellus is spreading a sound that can dig into your heart while making you dance, burrow into your ear without circumventing your brain." - Indie Shuffle

 

| Track Listing |

01 |  tough - the song for secrets

02 |  reign - the song for pain

03 |  make love (in the jungle) - the song for fucking

04 |  talk back - the song for blameshifters

05 |  felt | the song for my gun

06 |  twenty eight - the song for loneliness 

 

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Zander Blom | New Paintings

This October, South African artist Zander Blom’s recent paintings were shown by Stevenson Gallery at Frieze London. He sits here to discuss process and the intersection between painting and music. 

 

Jason Friedman: There’s something that occurs to me in your work which was much more apparent in the earlier paintings but is still very much there even as the surface has become more lush and that is the importance for you in painting quickly.

Zander Blom: When things go well I begin to do things without almost knowing I’m doing it, I go into the almost opposite of an autopilot. I’m making decisions but I’m making them instinctually. I get the feeling that the faster I work, the more I am able to avoid over-thinking and capable of making less contrived work. So, the obvious thing then is to know when to stop because you are making a million decisions quickly. You have step back, look at it for a while and then go back into it, or decide to keep looking for a longer time and then decide that it's finished. 

JF: This seems like something that’s central to your process and the way you talk about this moment in time when you’re making quick decisions chasing something that happens in that first moment as you lay something out. The first moment, the first scrap has something you are after that you couldn’t get to if you were seeking it in a more deliberate way. 

ZB: The best stuff comes out that way. And sometimes, labored stuff can be awesome but it can never have that same loose beauty you first put down.

JF: But moving fast in this sense doesn't necessarily mean completing fast, you still have to have this back and forth?

ZB: I move fast so I can catch things and then think about them. You’re right. The process doesn't actually go any quicker. After the initial attack, my critical faculties have to then start working. And what happens is after the oil starts seeping into the canvas—as the painting settles—suddenly this thing that I think is the beginning of something almost completes itself.

I look at it and if I can't find any kind pulse with it and if I can't find a way to improve the composition, I’ll keep scanning it and scanning it; scan it for every little thing that I didn't think of and eventually decide it’s finished or I’ll go back in. It's quite rare that you get lucky right away. It's usually a series of sessions like that when something finally comes together. 

I’m trying to get to where it looks like it painted itself. It’s a form of life doing it’s own thing.

JF: I had a painting teacher who told a story about Franz Kline and it's something I think about a lot. She was describing a photo where he's on a step-ladder in front of this massive abstract-expressionist piece, she used the phrase, "the seduction of speed", because he's there on the ladder with a tiny brush and he's adjusting the line where this massive black area meets the white. The image he made has this freedom of broad strokes and velocity, but the articulation is actually not that at all, it's something very finely adjusted.

ZB: Right, there's a vitality to it, it looks alive and has this energy. Some images are what they appear, made with that vitality, and some aren't. I suppose with some of the marks they require a fast body movement to get something that looks smooth—if you hesitate you're not going to get that line. But with me, it's so much sculpting with oil paint that it tends to come across—if I'm lucky—more like a thing of it's own accord rather than an artist’s expression. I'm trying to get to where it looks like it painted itself. It's a form of life doing it's own thing. With someone like Franz Kline or Pollock you always feel the artist’s emotion pouring out of the brush and that is very different.

JF: For you the emotion is not connected to the process or it doesn't register as a part of it?

ZB: I don't want it to register as an expression of any kind of angst. I want it to look like some weird bacteria from space you've never seen before.

JF: The raw canvas you’ve been using is really helpful then because it literally is making it's own organic marks in reaction to your more conscious marks.

ZB: Ja, I mean, the raw canvas does a couple of things. First, because the texture is so different from the paint, the painting looks even more plastic when I sculpt onto it. Instead of having paint on paint, it's paint on a material with it's own native color, this beige color. The other thing it does is to spread and create a drop shadow where the oil seeps into the canvas. It lifts the marks, they float; it creates an automatic depth with this surface. Even if you have a splat, it already feels like it's something arrested in space. Like a high-speed camera photographing some kind of natural event. It does have that vitality for me without the brooding expression.

JF: This is interesting to me because it relates a lot to how I think of making music except almost inverted.  In sitting, editing, I feel I’m moving toward a moment when this crystallization can happen, it feels a lot like painting to me when I work in the box and on a piece of music in a way that performing or playing with other musicians feels really removed from painting because it never crystallizes, it’s always changing. 

ZB: I see, so when you make it slow like that you feel you get back far enough?

JF: Yeah, sitting long enough with the layers, soloing aspects, so even when I’m losing them later, I still maintain some sense of the whole. It's like you said about wanting to paint fast so your hand and brain are connected in this fluid way. I start feeling like I'm slowing my own attention down so that I can perceive things in the track faster, if only because I've spent so much physical time in it. I somehow begin to feel like I'm seeing the whole.

It's still hard though or fundamentally different, because music is time based, you have to enter it on one side and exit on the other. But again, that's why I like the production side, and the process of sitting there and slowly building the track and going in and out because over time I finally get that sense of that. But I wonder how that biological spread could happen in sound? You’ve been making more and more music, how does the way you paint connect to the music you make?

ZB: I’m always relating painting to the music I want to make but there are times when I’m grasping at straws because I’m relating things that don’t relate at all. I want to be able to see the whole thing as a whole instantly like you said, see the structure, see the composition. You can live with the painting and look at different parts everyday and always keep the whole in focus. With music you have to, not only commit time to process the whole, but commit emotionally which painting also doesn’t demand in that way.

 It’s hard for me to imagine the music I make achieving this and getting to a place where I can listen to it as something I can enjoy. Like when I reach a point and make a call that a painting is finished, I can re-visit it as an image in a catalogue and then really appreciate it for what it is. It's only then, when I don't have the chance to change it, that it starts to feel I can let go. And then I’m also torn by wanting to make noise that relates much more to abstraction and also wanting to make songs. But, there’s something about making a lot of noise that’s kind of pointless and then there’s something about chasing this perfect three-minute song that’s also ridiculous because you work in this very, very closed set.

I’m somewhere between things that are completely out there, like structure-less weird shit and popular-form trying to find a common ground that feels to me interesting enough but that you would actually want to listen to. I’m curious how one can make something that works but is completely open. The kind of openness I get in painting. The moment a song is locked down, it feels quite dead to me.

The moment there is a beat that locks it down, even if the beat changes or the tempo changes it doesn’t feel like I can listen and hear anything other than what locks it down. Or it’s the opposite and it’s so open that it never takes on anything permanent. This isn’t true in painting, which opens up every-time you look at it but is always also an object in a room. The access points just seem more accessible. What I’m trying to do is something in between those two things and I’m wondering how much of that desire to make something that is listenable because I just want to listen to something like that or is it about wanting to make something that is accessible and familiar because that’s what music is supposed to sound like?

JF: Last year I was looking at a lot of El Anatsui’s work, and I saw him speak here in Brooklyn. I kept thinking what would it be like to make music that sounds like that looks? Not even literally the sound of the sculpture, which obviously has a real sound with the rattling of tin, but something more of an abstract sensibility, like as if you had synesthesia and the music made you picture something as complex as his work. A piece that was somehow non-linear but had defined narrative but still has composition and geometry. You can see it’s materiality but it transcends that to a point where you forget it.

ZB: Oh but that’s great, because it has repetition, it has the bottle caps and the form is a little undefined around the edge…

JF: …and takes on new forms depending on how it’s hung. 

ZB: Yeah, I totally can hear it, the shaking layers of texture. The image in my head, and how it’s draped it becomes organic; it folds over as it hits the floor…

JF: Right, so it would pool and in certain moments you would drift in and it would make sense in a certain way but then as a whole there would be really unifying elements of harmonic structure and rhythm. But, what you’re really talking about goes to the heart of what makes painting and music different.

What makes music music are the repetitive bits expressed over time. What you’re talking about, the things that lock it down are the things that move it from noise to music. That’s the difference. Like the old adage, if you fuck up while playing a show, just do it again. Because once is an accident, twice is music.

ZB: [Laughs] Of course. We have heartbeats, and that repetition, and that pulse is the human condition, I understand that but, if I make a painting, I pick a canvas of a certain size. Then you have a surface—a complete empty surface—then you have texture, rhythm and composition and whatever. Within that, the canvas gives you the structure; the canvas gives you the 3:20 song, it exists and then you forget about it. It gives you both the duration and the rhythmic structure.

It’s this defined space within which you can do something but then that structure moves to the background, you almost don’t regard the actual object of the painting. Like you’re describing in Anatsui’s work. Whether it’s figurative or abstract, it’s grounded even though you can reject that grounding. With music, if I adopt those structural limitations, I then can’t get beyond the limitations to get to the right space where I can appreciate what I want to express.

So like, on a piece of paper I can make a really aggressive crude line and that can be all that I draw and as a composition that piece of paper works. It would be like having a perfect 3:20 song that had all the hallmarks of that structure, like a canvas, but is just one long crude note. It’s an impossibility but somehow I keep looking for it. How to be able to express, I don’t know?

The canvas gives you the structure; the canvas gives you the 3:20 song, it exists and then you forget about it.

JF: Because you want the openness? Because you want to have as few gestures as possible to express something?

ZB: No. It’s not that, it’s that the contained space of a paper or canvas, the frame, already provides this locked thing that gives the painting or drawing familiar context and access at the same time that it’s totally forgettable because we take the structure for granted. Where as, music can go on forever and ever and ever.

JF: Right. And the rhythm or the arrangement when it takes on aspects of that clear structure it limits it in a way that makes you directly aware of the limitations. 

ZB: It’s harder to contain and also make something that is open at the same time. And still a gallery show still has some of the qualities I like about records. You walk into a show and the paintings are almost like songs. You check this one, check that, skip that one because you’re just not into it, keep going back to one. I don’t know the experience is similar to records but still, for me, when I try to work on music I just keep searching for the same expression and feeling I get from painting.

JF: Hmmm’ well for me, I often start just by making arbitrary decision. Like an oblique strategy, this is how fast it is, this is how long it is…

ZB: …It’s 120 bpm, 8 bar loop…

JF: Yeah, that becomes the canvas—from a making perspective—I work within some set of structure and limitations to start and it’s only later once that space has become more defined that I start to deconstruct or re-position or whatever and then multiple states or places emerge from the first instance.

ZB: So, what you’re explaining is that you almost have a roll of paper or canvas that you’re unrolling as you go. You’ve got the surface—which is the tempo—and then you have the size—which becomes set by the length—and the form which is the crude mark or whatever and it’s determined as you roll it out.

JF: Something like that but with the freedom to re-cut it at anytime or change the dimensions…

ZB: …the tempo.

JF: It can be like shifting from one size canvas to another. But, it’s almost like I’m starting over at that point and the first attempts really become like a sketch even if I’m still in the same session. Especially if the tempo is radically shifted, some things will immediately not work at the new scale. 

ZB: Of course.

JF: But really what you’re talking about I guess has more to do with how you experience the finished track you’ve made and less about the making of it? And because when you make music, like with your painting, you’re mostly improvising and making decisions about the music after the fact, you’re looking for it to coalesce into a new form, like with oil spreading on the canvass reacting to what you’ve done. For me, somehow the letting go or accepting of some of the idioms of rock n’ roll or the 3:20 song, somehow it’s enough to give me that feeling of the canvas. Like, the beat when it hits and it’s right locks you in and you forget about the structure in the same way I forget about the object of the painting. The beat becomes a part of my body.

ZB: I get that, you make a track, you’ve built your spaceship but you can build the interior anyway you like and the exterior but the structure is there. But one thing that I find problematic is this difference between the transcendent quality paint has for me, the paint becomes something alien or otherworldly, but sound often can’t escape its physicality. Like you said, if anything it goes backwards.

For instance, if I’m trying to come up with something like an original guitar sound. The more it goes onto a side that I like the more it becomes un-listenable to everyone I know and muddles the whole sound. It feels like trying to imagine deeper space in a very limited space. Because, with a guitar, I want to make something that doesn’t sound like a guitar because I don’t like a really normal electric guitar plugged into an amp sound but nothing really feels like that thing I’m searching for.

I keep relating it back to similar techniques I use when painting. When I moved from painting on white primed canvass to painting on linen, my whole world changed completely and suddenly it worked. Paint on paint looked dead, but paint on a textured warm surface suddenly sparkled. So, I keep thinking of sound, the sound of the recording and the sound of the instrument—however you make it—are equivalent to what materials you use when painting. Which has a big effect on whether the image is successful or not.

JF: And this idea that music can be an object at all is all still a really new way of thinking about music. In The Recording Angel, Evan Eisenberg talks about how before recording, and going back to the beginning of human history, music was thought of as the purest of art-forms because it never crystallized, because it only existed in the moment you perform it. Recording actually moves music and painting closer together than at any other point in human history, music becomes an object. Before recording, you couldn't own it, you couldn't rewind back to the moment, even when you played the same song again, it was literally different the next time. 

ZB: So it was always a moment and then it's gone, boom. 

JF:  And between performing and recording the physics of the sound is always mutating too. I’ve made guitar sounds that feel like I am getting to an otherworldly place and then I record it and it doesn’t sound anything like what I thought it sounded like. And that’s the thing, when you’re actually working to create a sound in a space, it’s vibrating more than just your eardrums, your whole body is involved.

But, let’s back track a bit. You’ve really become focused now as a painter but when you sort of emerged you were playing with installation and linking even more directly to music and more, let’s say conceptual based work, were you painting at the time that you were doing the installation work?

ZB: I'd been painting throughout but none of the paintings I made then felt interesting enough to me, so I was doing a bunch of shit, video art and the weird installation shit in the house which was sort birthed out of not really having gallery shows and not having a place to show but I really wanted to build things on a scale. This is a long story but I'll try and cut it short.

I moved from Pretoria to Joburg and I decided not to take my computer with me because I had been trying to do this video shit for a long time and I was sick of staring at a computer all day. Instead, I decided to just do drawings. This also helped because I was broke but could afford paper and ink. I moved to Joburg with a mattress and I had this room and then I just made all these ink drawings that filled the room. I started photographing the drawings just to keep track of what I was making because I would need to take them down to make new ones.

The drawings turned into collages and the collages turned into these installations it just organically happened. I got a slightly better camera and then a slightly better camera from a friend. As my ability to photograph the work got better I also got more interested in making the photograph. I would build the installation. Photograph it and build another with the idea of making a book of all these photographs of what I was building in this bedroom. Which is great. One day you build this thing, you photograph it and the next day you break it down and build another and it allowed me to be quite productive but not need to have a big studio or make bronze casts or anything.

What I really liked about it was that the thing that came across was the idea of "just fucking do something with whatever you got". You don't need access to a massive studio or a massive gallery to be productive or to make work of a certain scale, you can make something above the bed and as I say, this really worked for me at the time because I didn't have those massive spaces or cash. It's cool when it comes together in a way that still translates.

But at some point I had to let go of the sort of context the photograph provides because you can make anything and photograph it and it will look cool—zoom out, re-frame it, include more of the environment so you have all this stuff that adds to the "painting". The challenge I think is to make something compelling with limited stuff or context, because as much you are limited just building something in a room, with a photograph the room itself is doing some of the work. To remove that and make the marks work with their own context on the canvass, that was the challenge.

What I really liked about it was that the thing that came across was the idea of ‘just fucking do something with whatever you got.

JF: So what was the shift then? Where did the point come when suddenly painting was starting to make sense?

ZB: It kind of slowly happened. I was doing a lot of really polemic based work. The first was the Drone Of Progress. That was sort of looking at modernism but also reflecting on the context. Having grown up with all the modernist stuff—Mondrian, Picasso and all that—my natural inclination was to mimic it. I felt like I was studying the masters in a way but from this weird position as a young dude in Joburg making this shit in his house. And the idea was to make a kind of fictitious catalogue survey going through elements of this formalist enterprise.

After I finished that I decided to do something that was again about modernism but that was more focused not on the idea of progress and abstraction but more about the exotic element in modernism, things that came from the periphery of Western Culture but enabled those artists to break away from the European traditions. Like they needed this to say fuck you to the history of reclining nudes. I was interested in that and it became The Travels Of Bad which I made into this rock opera. I wanted to frame it in a very throw-away pop culture way to say, you know the idea of Gauguin going to Tahiti to find the "primitive new flavors" to transform the center, I kind of equated that with this masculine bravado and stupidity like a hair-metal band. I thought it was quite funny. You know the ridiculous mythology of these crazy absinthe-drinking geniuses who argue about art and whatever I just thought that was funny and not that different from the guise bands adopt.

You can go see a small band in a shit gig but because the energy of the club, and the people, and the booze and the nice time, you’re loving it. If you make a painting and you put it in a gallery, the white cube space neutralizes the moment so you’re forced to engage in a different way. With music, or bands, it’s more of a mythology around everything that gives it it’s meaning. The video, the shirt, the images. and you can’t separate the music from the event where as with painting, you do separate the work from the event and you put it in a clean space where it almost becomes this incredible object because you are neutralizing context. But then at the same time, the mythology of the artist genius, the business of the art genius is really the same. That brings you to the market and something when it gets so big that it functions in pop culture, there's much more focus on the image of the artist than the work itself. 

JF: Right, right, the purpose of the art world is to pretend to create a context that takes you outside of mundane concerns. Like a cult of the neutral, there is only the object. But obviously, people get obsessed with mythology of certain artists, Basquiat or Van Gogh’s biography for example, but the idea is to champion art that transcends our time in some way. Music is much more overtly focused on the biography and with questions of authenticity and context in a much more direct way. First drafts of lyrics and memorabilia that gets appraised like holy relics.

Somehow though, like you said, all of this biography evolves to deepen your connection to unknowable moments and the music is just a part of that puzzle. I feel like in painting, the opposite happens where the more famous the ancillary products of the artist’s life become, it almost cheapens the work making it harder to see. Biography impedes on the white space but it’s also what ultimately gives the art monetary value even as it destroys the meaning of the piece of art.

ZB: We're side-tracking completely now but I was watching that Pollock movie with Ed Harris the other night and my feeling was "was he really like that or do they just portray him like that in post?" I kept thinking was he really as much of a moron as they make him out to be? Drinking, fucking, “I'm a genius.” was he really like this? The movie makes him out like he's never read a book in his life; he's just this pure primitive creature. It doesn't seem like he was really that thing. But the other aspect with someone like Pollock is how Clement Greenberg pushed him and the other guys into this direction of where he thought art should go.

JF: He sold them, these days that would be called brand development. 

ZB: It was a dogma and an ideology he pushed on the work itself. It seems we're post any one voice. Someone like Hans Ulrich Obrist has replaced that kind of roll but he doesn’t force his ideology on the artists. For the most part, everything is multi-flavored, you still have the big dudes but they're far more distinct. You have Jeff Koons, Paul McCarthy and on and on. It's a totally capitalist idea of progress. You can't copy Jeff Koons because there is no school of Jeff Koons it's just Jeff Koons. Everyone has their corner of the market and young artists are looking in trying to find a style which no one else has claimed.

JF: It often seems very limiting or old fashioned, those modernist ideas of art, where it was this ism or that ism but at the same time I wonder if we collectively have a harder time getting to that ephemeral place you are speaking of, the place where the rules don't make sense? Are we too attuned to the surface or the immediate context of an art object, does it all get reduced to its simplest meaning? Does it all become product and an eclectic decorative-art jumble? We still very much have isms left but it’s Tumblrism, #ism, or like a Google ad, you stand in the gallery, “Okay Google, who is Mondrian?” and a little screen pops up in front of the painting you were looking at. The ism is still the intermediary.

ZB: I think that's where capitalism and the art market comes in. Art gets made in isolation and somehow needs to define the opposite; needs to define inclusion. And with music and art now, you have the internet which connects everything and you have a device between you at all times, the same device to look at a painting or listen to music, it all filters through the same device. It’s this illusion that we are all connected and talking to each other.

I want to be in my own little world and I want to discover weird shit when I walk out of the house. I don’t want it to all look exactly the same, I don’t want the same emotional commitment for everything. It’s so alien to me. I understand what makes it lucrative and I love being able to download lectures about random shit for free, I love that, or that we’re using this right now to talk like we are in the same room, but there’s an aspect of it that’s shit.

As an artist you have to resist that to a degree, you have to work to keep changing and demanding your gallery accept the changes or you do just become a brand.

There’s another side of the art market which is also frustrating and which makes it very difficult because what happens is instead of being generally able to do whatever you want and waiting to see how the interesting things emerge, what happens so much is that you hang-up something you do, the market responds, and they want more of that from you and only that from you. So, you're the “bubblegum guy” and that's what you do and you can't stray from that. As an artist you have to resist that to a degree. You have to work to keep changing and demanding your gallery accept the changes or you do just become a brand. I feel I have to actively keep other people or demands out of my head. There are things I can take from other people's opinions, obviously, but the moment that I do something because that is what the market or the gallery want, I've fucked myself. 

But okay, so, we've totally sidetracked. You asked how did I get to painting? I said first I did the Drone Of Progress which was the installation stuff all about formalism and all of that and then I did the Travels Of Bad which was more a thesis on exotic culture and it's artifacts in modernism and at the same time I was also painting but only in little bits.

JF: Was that because you didn't know what exactly you wanted to do with it?

ZB: Yeah, I had no idea what to do with it. The great thing about building the installations was that I could make a bunch of marks on the wall without having to make decisions and then photograph it. The marks are essentially just abstraction but the moment you photograph it, it becomes something completely different. When I was making marks on a canvas it just looked like some fucking boring abstract painting. The thing that happened with the Drone Of Progress was that I started making marks on the wall because I didn't want to make a figurative painting, didn't want symbolism and all of that which just seemed meaningless to me. I wanted to make paintings but wasn't sure what I wanted to say. There was resistance art and William Kentridge which was all associated with the struggle and all of that, but that had already happened so it was a question, what are you going to make art about?  

I started doing marks to avoid making a picture. That began for me taking all kinds of pop art images, cutting them up, reducing them to sharp lines and circles, chopped it up to get interesting compositions. Because you can't make an abstract picture without it immediately being connected to modernism it sort of became about modernism and growing up with modernism. What do you do with abstraction if you want to make abstraction because it's modernism? Then I did a third series which I called the Black Hole Universe. I was over that super colorful satire shit. I wanted to do something more minimalist and inspired by films. I was looking at scenes from space movies and say, Frank Stella. I was feeling the minimalism and space thing.

So this was series that doesn't have this polemic—a film without a narrative or structure. I did that, I enjoyed that, but at that point the painting started to go well. I think I had worked through a whole bunch of shit and I found the process of painting on linen. It had almost the same thing that making marks on a wall and then photographing it had. That surface, somehow gave me what white primed canvas hadn't. The oil stains, the environment the marks, suddenly, the paintings started working.

JF: I have this problem. I have a deep affection for minimalism and abstraction but I have a hard time doing it myself without building it off a structure, a folk or pop structure, that structure gives me so many markers to build around, it gives me the entry to hang abstract elements around.

But then, I think popular form is that relationship already, a weird combination of dissonance and harmonic structures. Even in big pop hits there’s parts that are outside the aesthetic norm and it fluctuates back and forth between clarity and chaos. It becomes abstract on a less immediate level.

So, was it like this in a way, was the structure you had created, the space film without narrative, did that just end up being an oblique strategy for getting into the painting and developing the technique to where it was telling it's own story and didn't need that kind of polemic or structure?

ZB: Ja, I needed those hooks, the cut up references from pop culture etc. they were like guides that allowed me to get to this place where I didn't need this narrative. Drones Of Progress, Travels Of Bad had these stories so the film without a narrative was a cool way to frame it. It came about when I had the opportunity to do some residencies outside of South Africa which normally I would avoid but, I had been making these installations in my house and I thought, why don't I make a project where I do photographs but they're only in different cities abroad?

The idea was to ignore the city but focus on the room I was in and do different chapters for the film in all these cities around the world. It was cool, but I was getting bored with it. After going all these places, I wanted to go back home and just paint. In the end, painting was just so much fun. I had been doing painting on the side for so long and it took me so long to get to a point where I thought the things I made were actually successful. I didn't want to go anywhere; I wanted to be home painting.

Making a physical object that's compelling that you see happen right before your eyes as opposed to building something, photographing it and then spending ten thousand hours on the computer grading it and going through them to select the best one with the best lighting and printing it. The process sucked so much compared to physically making a painting and having the object.

JF: I can relate. So, the lesson of that whole process of getting you there is in patience, developing these side inquires and letting them evolve and direct your course?

ZB: Having faith, get up in the morning and make something, get up the next day and have faith even if it's month or a year, have faith that it will get better or lead to something else, something you can't know yet.

NA001 | JXZ | Grey Eyes Glazed EP

Working through “the mail”, from Brooklyn to Johannesburg, Jason Friedman (The Hundred In The Hands | New Ancestors) & South African painter Zander Blom conspire to create six agitated heady tracks of dazed and dense electronic music.

Oscillating between heaving pianos and bells pooling in the playground sweat of “Shot Down Survived”, the stretched out dark minimalism of “Workja” and the obliterated anxiety-driven waves of heavy static in “Formless Fear” Grey Eyes Glazed is a cinematic fever-dream of schizoid rhythms, sun-baked reverbs and stretched tapes draped in loose-headed wooziness.  



| 6 track EP | Digital | OUT NOW |

BUY HERE

| Track Listing |

01 | Shot Down Survived

02 | Workja

03 | Coolzanhello

04 | A Blind Guilt

05 | Classic Doom

06 | Formless Fear

 

 

Adapt or D.I.Y.

Zander_Blom_Sheetmusic

Artwork by Zander Blom

 

“Undoubtedly, music is a play of mirrors in which every activity is reflected, defined, recorded and distorted. If we look at one mirror, we see only an image of another. But at times a complex mirror game yields a vision that is rich, because unexpected and prophetic. At time it yields nothing but the swirl of the void.”

-Jacques Attali

It is not by coincidence that the most popular of popular music began in America. Here, an unprecedented soup of people boiled together by the mechanisms of global capital created, as a byproduct, the most motley muddied mutt of culture: a world’s-best folk tradition that became Jazz, Honky-Tonk, Rock n' Roll, Hip-Hop, House etc.; the adapting voice of generations.

American music is a story of industrialization, of the creation of the modern world, and of how marginalized, otherwise voiceless people answered back. It is at every stage a story of futurism, of adapting to and away from new machines. Even the oldest variants—mountain music, ragtime, early blues—were not parochial and rural but mutating genes out on the frontiers of burgeoning urban landscapes where smokestacks blotted the sky and class, money and power—intrinsically fixed to the rising, inevitable tide of progress—collided. “Hard times on the killing floor” indeed.

Through mill-towns and factories, workers spread their cultures sharing and appropriating strands as they went. 1 America would give rise to a type of super folk music that music would return again to its sources at crucial moments—post-war Britain, post-colonial Africa, newly independent Jamaica—triggering new evolutions and directions.

Political, social, religious, this music gave voice to disfranchised communities, "CNN for black America," 2 bum-rushing the gates and barriers between race, gender, class and sexuality, even while its genres, trends and most popular (corporate) values became appropriated to re-strengthen the borders and solidify power structures. Folk music would follow the Great Migration of African Americans and the multi-ethnic working class through industrial America, spread on and evolve with almost every major culture defining technological advance of the 20th century, reflecting both the rise of capital, the collapse of urban centers and eventually their rebirth and gentrification.

At various points the very act of listening to it, tuning in to it, would in and of itself be a radical and political act, challenging notions of acceptability, establishing independent networks of mutual support and threatening the cultural hegemony. At times this threat would be aggressively and violently put down, spied on and manipulated. More often it would be co-opted, cleaned and made polite. In the end, as the 20th century drew to a close, folk music would become accepted, universal, ubiquitous, mimicked, looping endlessly back on itself in a state of permanent-presence. 3 Its power to unsettle, to be more than a decorative art, would become diluted just as its individual currency, devalued through hyper-inflation, created new value in ancillary feeds of user data. It is again, not an accident of history that at the same moment American cities began their renewal and gentrification—spear-headed by new theories of the creative class—folk music risked becoming ornamental; the voice for a new cultural-hegemony of flattened, cloud-based mashups.

Adaptation is always the key, an aesthetic survival mechanism that flourished through all these mutations, on all of these fronts and in this great multitude of circumstance and context, reacting both to and against market forces. Each mutation establishes a network, a clandestine means to challenge or usurp institutionalized control even when this challenge is only a subconscious action. The question we ask ourselves is whether this capacity now needs only one final shift 4 toward transhumanism. 5

Does the rise of digital networks, and what we hope will always and forever be open and thereby keep free the nodes of communication, make the need for subterranean networks irrelevant? 6 Technology is, it is said, on the side of accelerated copying 7 and the free-flow of information breaks down the traditional gates between cultural classes. We are repeatedly told of the inevitability, the manifest destiny, of technological progress and that to question any of it is tantamount to being against openess and human potential. But, what do we make of these facts when inequality seems to grow parallel to Moore’s Law? How do we make sense of agendas and rehetoric that so confusingly unites free-culture advocates, progressive scholars, venture capitalists, libertarian entrepreneurs and investors in a great showing of solidarity? This network to end all networks giving us both the tools to subvert corporate culture even as our actions facilitate expanding revenue streams to justify Wall Street’s faith. 8

Is it even possible, even relevant, to dream of a network not so much off the grid but running parallel to the homogenized global system of corporate value? Or have we come to a peaceful agreement with conglomerate multi-national corporations, 9 trusting them to manage the infrastructure of the network, to say nothing of their capacity to aggregate and organize our tastes? Is adaptation to the needs of the network, to feed the feed, our primary occupation? 10 Were we all along wrong to worry about monopoly, monopsony and corporate control of our cultural legacy? Now that “advertising has saved indie music,” is it safe to abandon gates knowing we’ve made friends 11 with those we always perceived to be philistine hordes? 12 With so much attention paid to gates that preserve institutional hierarchy, are we forgetting the need for gates that protect vulnerable communities from those very institutions? 13

As our streams and connections are rearranged by algorithms designed with obfuscated ideologies, 14 freely manipulated with social-experimentation to alter mood 15 and the likelihood to vote, 16 can we trust our voices are our own? Does any of this really matter when the right to consume un-impeded, without restraint and with the aspirations of “kings and popes” 17 is so utterly and wonderfully fulfilled? 18

In another time, in another place, in the Road Warrior, we saw a vision of the future. Gatekeepers huddled against mutant hordes. The gatekeepers wore white, they all dressed the same, they valued the localized-community, concentrated wealth. They seemed nice. The mutants in black leather bondage gear frothed with rugged individualism, their inventive machines snarled idling on the dry valley floor. We’re there on the hilltop now looking down/back, from a different future, trying to suss out which side we’re supposed to be on.

At times we are overwhelmed by all these questions, all these unstable voices, unsure whether our reactions are retrograde or future positive. We are compelled to feel we have answers, conflicted over whether we are living in a moment of transcendent utopian revelation or an age hopelessly conservative and nostalgic. Fundamentally, it’s this binary rationalization that is so frustrating. And so, its with the music industry disrupted as harbinger of the new economy, we stare back into the mirror and return to music as a locus for listening into the mechanization of our environment.

“Listening to music is listening to all noise, realizing that its appropriation and control is a reflection of power, that it is essentially political.” 19 Music is our oldest language; it’s foundations largely spiritual, a network for allowing the community to resurrect the dreams of ancestors. Ritual music, the church hymnal, Yoruban Gelede etc. are communal appeasements to hold this fragile world together. “In that capacity [music] was an attribute of religious and political power [signifying] order, but also [prefiguring] subversion.” 20 Musical notation adapted this roll so that by the Enlightenment music was almost fully transformed from a means of awaking ghosts—looping into the past—into a method for conjuring the dreams of our future selves—the composer given primacy over divine orchestration.

Recording transformed this relationship further giving folk performance the same claim to both posterity and individual human autonomy. Suddenly freed from a telephone-game of unwritable history, the individual voice, the individual performance, the individual style was graphed and catapulted away from the local into ever expanding spheres of regional and temporal influence. The performance became more than the song, more than the notation. From the record to the jukebox to the radio to the South Bronx, these physical units of human experience claimed self-governance—their meaning both confirming the agency of the individual performer and recontextualizing it to fit the needs of future generations.

The rise of the independents gave auxiliary economic autonomy and tools to resist the pull to crystallize in the pop-center, even as it transformed that center. The expansion of the means for digital distribution and production now establish new forms, new exhibitions of agency, still not yet fully in focus and exasperatingly linked to old ideas of value controlled by consolidating capital-realist interests.

“Fetishised as a commodity, music is illustrative of the evolution of our entire society: deritualize a social form, repress an activity of the body,” the device, the cloud, the stream collapse the body to states of virtual dependence and infinite declarations of i-ness. 21 “Specialize its practice, sell it as spectacle, generalize its consumption, then see to it that it is stockpiled until it loses its meaning.” 22 Music devalued through hyperinflation becomes everywhere and thus decorative. In this, cultural value is transformed from the individual unit of creation to the ancillary product of invisible value: the collection of meta-data to acquire portraits to divine the behavior of individuals.

“Eavesdropping, censorship, recording and surveillance are weapons of power.” 23 This we must remember remains true whether governments, corporations or individuals yield it and that censorship in the adaptation of algorithms to bury information in volume or by obscuring its discoverability, like Borges’ Library of Babel, is as potentially damaging as burning books. Super-evaporation into the cloud yields all culture vulnerable to these manipulations. As we build this system, we must think further into the future imagining how these systems might grow well beyond us and what power individuals not yet born might yield with it. This is the fundamental importance in prizing art objects that do not owe their existence to the network.

"The technology of listening in on, ordering, transmitting, and recording noise is at the heart of this apparatus… these are the dreams of political scientists and the fantasies of men in power: to listen, to memorize—this is the ability to interpret and control history, to manipulate the culture of a people, to channel its violence and hopes." 24

In practice, the dynamics at work shift back and forth from these schizoid positions largely forcing the conversation of new sounds under the scope of larger disconnected interests, most of which see little value in the autonomy of artists, or any need for art to have anything beyond decorative value. Lost in this bluster of industrial dynamics is the music itself, and the question of how to assess and support—financially and critically—new folk mutations, and how to differentiate between affectations of past experimentation and those avant-folk forms that evolve forward.

We need new processes to escape the trap of the zeitgeist to reclaim the future from the rush of immediate and compartmentalized reactions that keep us locked to the gluttonous, trending, now. In this we seek to return folk to a molten state, not a bucolic return, but out into the frontier where analogue, electronic, digital and acoustic mechanisms mutate with unexpected veracity.

Digital production and the home studio yield new forms and textures, time-bent, heaving dynamics opening up spaces previously unimaginable. These vortexes of sound billow with the abstracted articulations of shredded digital realities. Shards of this are heard bubbling in the most forward leaning of avant-pop stylists who coil their voices into terrains that warble and blister. This becomes radically destabilized in the iterations of more esoteric works that demand patience and committed attention. Often these articulations exploit contradictions of commercial plasticity, encrypting subterranean folds into the deeper architecture of the format. At other times they are consciously removed from life in the box and the rigorous grids of digital space re-focusing attention to the primal and performed instrument, the acoustic terrain, the stretching and hypnogogic quality of tape, the architecture of lived environments and the poetics of space.

We are deliberately eschewing explicit examples; specific aesthetics and materials shouldn’t limit our scope. Too easily we devolve again to that binary logic, between sounds that are conservative (analogue, authentic, warm) and those that are new (founded in code, digital, cold). This is an artificial articulation of simulated velocity and sentimentality that misses the greater complexity of avant-folk trajectories that privilege the “idea of the new” or the “idea of the real” over truly forward leaning mutations. They are equally reactionary positions.

In the de-materialization of the sound object we are brought back closer to music’s first iteration. The DAW becomes the parlor piano, the parlor becomes the public space: music the province of localized acts linked to global networks. In this new ephemeral state, music can evolve to become purely transient—the background hum of advertisements and restaurants—or reclaim access to the metaphysical—a return into sacred space demanding presence and prescience.

In this the potential of the physical shouldn’t be forgotten, records are future fossils, they coalesce to preserve a history beyond the control of network and the zeitgeist. Objects that evolve with us etching our interaction, graphing each playing onto the tape or record have a future value, value we can’t predict but that must be thought of beyond units of consumption. We need newer dynamics and modes of thinking that push beyond the limitations of the MP3, the stream, two-channel mixing and the concert stage retand return us to the primacy of the sound object and event. In unlocking the potential of physical music, reconfiguring, formats to move beyond stereo 25 we can re-introduce scarcity in the object and space of music. Venues should become site specific engaging with the new realities of the laptop composer. These are critical mutations a generation of networked voices can seize upon and adapt so we can move away from the exploitive economies of interchangeable and endlessly reproducible content clouds.

More than a decade and a half ago, "adapt or die" was leveled as a charge against the complacency of the music industry.26 In this sense, the adapting principle is one of conforming to realities of commodity exchanges and for artists to become nothing more than conduits for aspirational consumption.

A true folk music must adapt to subvert these tendencies, to always challenge the status quo of the industrial economy, and it must self-organize to establish independent modes of financial support that privilege creation over consumption. This also means reassessing and questioning how we stream, how we consume and how we engage. We must undermine the mechanisms of the entertainment industry even as we pivot to ensure we fund truly independent channels of art production.27 We need more networks that act with love and generosity, creating ways to be self-sustaining and geared to artists uncomfortable in the zeitgeist, the hype-machine or with the need to become "entrepreneurial" hucksters. A network that doesn’t de-value the human contribution, financially or spiritually, that wrests control away from the limitations of corporate hive networks and venture capital backed ideas for digital busking. Adjusting the concept put forth by Jem Cohen and Astra Taylor,28 we propose: those who make vital culture, those who distribute it and those who receive it, must share a relationship of mutual protection and admiration: a triple anchor in which each end guards the other.



  1. It is now impossible to think of the banjo without thinking of white-southern music. Likewise the guitar is all but synonymous with African-American blues. That the banjo has it’s origins in Africa and that the guitar comes from Europe is testament to the great fluidity of exchange that has occurred on the frontlines of modernity.

  2. Chuck D’s famous line. “It’s more like rap music is the worldwide religion of people 25 and under, and we have to watch the King James version. We’re in a misinformation age, as well as being in the so-called information age. It comes at us from all angles now—Internet or television, music, the radio—in the disguise of a mirror of itself. People are quick to listen and relate to images that resemble themselves in appearance, sight, and sound—the theory of the vibe. And we pick upon all of it.”
    - Chuck D, Quoted in Bomb, 68 Summer, 1999.

  3. "Today, music heralds—regardless of what the property mode of capital will be—the establishment of a society of repetition in which nothing can happen anymore."
    - Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy Of Music, (Translation Brian Massumi), (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press; 1985).

  4. Capital-realist metaphysics—the invisible hand of the market—adapts to quasi-religious tech-utopianism: “At some point our machines and ideas became so dense in feedback loops and complex interactions that it spawned a bit of independence. It began to exercise autonomy… We created the technium, so we tend to assign ourselves exclusive influence over it. But we have been slow to learn that systems—all systems—generate their own momentum. Because the technium is an outgrowth of the human mind, it is also an outgrowth of the physical and chemical self-organization that first led to life. The technium shares a deep common root not only with the human mind, but with ancient life and other self-organized systems as well. And just as a mind must obey not only the principles governing cognition but also the laws governing life and self-organization, so the technium must obey not only the principles governing life and self-organization—as well as our human minds. Thus out of all the spheres of influence upon the technium, the human mind is only one. And this influence may even be the weakest one…
    The technium has its own wants. It wants to sort itself out, to self-assemble into hierarchical levels, just as most large, deeply interconnected systems do. The technium also wants what all living systems want: to perpetuate itself, to keep itself going. And as it grows, those inherent wants are gaining in complexity and force.”
    - Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants (New York: Penguin Books, 2010).

  5. “What appears to be different in the return to [the questioning of the future] today is recognizing the scale of disorientation and displacement created by the impact of computerization, the rise of new forms of engineering and new modes of knowledge, the creation of artificial life, etc. However these new realities demand not an impetuous abandonment of a thinking and valuing of the ‘human’ condition, but rather a radical re-examination and revaluation, in which one would show the extent to which this condition has always been a matter of invention and reinvention, that is, always a matter of the transhuman.”
    - Keith Ansel Pearson, Viroid Life: Perspectives on Nietzsche and The Transhuman Condition (London & New York: Routledge, 1997).

  6. “Whatever social transformation any [revolutionary information system] might have effected, in the end, each would take its place to uphold the social structure that has been with us since the Industrial Revolution… History shows a typical progression of information technologies: from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel—from open to closed system…
    The pattern is distinctive. Every few decades, a new communications technology appears bright with promise and possibility. It inspires a generation to dream of a better society, new forms of expression, alternative types of journalism. Yet each new technology eventually reveals it’s flaws, kinks, and limitations.”
    - Tim Wu, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall Of Information Empires (New York: Vintage Books, 2011).

  7. "We hear that not only is change accelerating but that the pace of change is accelerating as well. While this is true of computational carrying-capacity at a planetary level, at the same time – and in fact the two are connected – we are also in a moment of cultural de-acceleration. We invest our energy in futuristic information technologies, including our cars, but drive them home to kitsch architecture copied from the 18th century. The future on offer is one in which everything changes, so long as everything stays the same…
    If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation. Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us.”
    - Benjamin Bratton, “We Need To Talk About Ted”.

  8. “Eliminating copyright could theoretically equalize opportunity, allowing everyone uniform access to everything ever made but this is not necessarily the case. The commons has also historically been used as a source of raw materials for colonizers and corporations seeking to profit from traditional lands assets, and knowledge, which well-capitalized entities are better positioned to take advantage of than comparatively poor locals. Not everyone benefits equally from openness. The ocean may be common, but a company with a large fleet of trawlers is uniquely situated to exploit its riches. Disney is better able to reach mass audiences with films based on folktales in the public domain; Google holds an almost unassailable advantage when it comes to indexing all the public data posted on the Internet, spending billions annually on infrastructure.
    The commons are accessed asymmetrically, like the massive repositories of genomic data that have been made available online by scientists who hoped the repositories would become a ‘global resource, shared equally,’ but which have been overwhelmingly used by private biotech firms in a handful of wealthy countries. The romance of the commons—the idea that a resource is open to all will be accessed equitably and create a more just outcome, that differences evaporate online, openness ensures fairness, and the goods can be ‘free’ to all without negative consequence—ignores the problem of inequality. In reality, differing circumstances, abilities, assets, and power render some better able to take advantage of a commons than others.”
    - Astra Taylor, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power And Culture In The Digital Age (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014).

  9. "Like other participants in the movements taking place around the world, and like participants in earlier ones, artists tend to want to lend themselves and their energy and abilities to social betterment and utopian dreaming, but not necessarily as participants within sanctioned and institutionalized frames. The artistic imagination continues to dream of historical agency. In a protracted economic downturn such as we are experiencing now, while the creative-class thesis is showing its limits in respect to saving cities, it becomes clearer that artists and other members of the art community belong to the pan- or non-national class whose composition is forged across boundaries and whose members are inclined, as the cliché demands, to think globally and act locally…
    If the creative-class thesis can be seen as something of a hymn of perceived harmony between the ‘creatives’ and the financiers, together with city leaders and real-estate interests, guiding the city into the postindustrial condition, perhaps the current grassroots occupations can be seen as the eruption of a new set of issues related to a new set of social relations of production.”
    - Martha Rosler, Culture Class (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013).

  10. “It’s not about breaking rules, it’s about how Instagram, Facebook and other social media have enabled our addiction to communicating while quietly taking over the copyright… Our generation accepts appropriation and borrowing from all pasts because we accept a future of unity. “The Yes generation” How else could we move forward except through this acceptance and the freedom it gives us?...
    We wave our right to privacy, sometimes without realizing, sometimes voluntarily, so what is our ideal platform? The online space is a new sort of palette for artists to offer new perspectives on voice and freedom. Accept and broaden the platform. Celebrate fellow artists and live against the grain…
    I see our generation and our fight for equality in all things as exactly the opposite of [re-appropriation as marketing]. We should be pushing against all boundaries, whether industry, gender or otherwise. Collaboration and standing on the shoulders of giants, using the way of the world and industry are set up in order to change both, can only be fruitful and a way to find and give freedom.”
    - Cara Stricker, “Open Letter to Richard Prince”.

  11. “Though licensing a song to an ad is lucrative for an artist, [Gabe McDonough] says that the benefits of this relationship are even more valuable for a client. ‘Eight out of ten of the most-followed people on Twitter are musicians. Nine out of ten of the most-viewed things on YouTube are music videos. What’s the value of having [a musician tweet] about something to 20 million followers? That’s more than a primetime ad buy on NBC you could spend gazillions on. And musicians are finally starting to realize that this is worth more than any song [they] could write. That’s money.’…
    ‘What artists need are resources to make music, go on tour, make videos, grow their networks, and expand their audience,’ explains Adam Shore, who manages Best Coast, who have soundtracked commercials for Windows, Payless, and J.C. Penney (and recorded their debut album at [commercial music house] Black Iris’ studio). While bands need the same things they always have, record labels are at a loss for how to create revenue and provide reach. Larger deals (and larger advances) come at the expense of selling off an artist’s rights to everything — publishing, merchandising, tour revenue. Meanwhile, a commercial sync has more reach, nominal terms, and bigger paydays. If ad execs are the new A&R, then it only serves that brands are the new record labels, yet 'brands can provide these better than labels ever could, at minimal cost and effort to them,' says Shore...
    For all the freedom and choices an infusion of ad money can provide or the signal boost a well-placed spot can provide, it comes at a cost. Success can change things, just as sure as a platinum record once did, and access to lump sums can affect which direction a band is facing as a corporate client becomes the only paying audience they have. While advertising cannot save or replace the music industry, there is one undeniable fact, says McDonough: 'These big companies are the last people paying musicians what they are worth.'
    - Jessica Hopper, “How Selling Out Saved Indie Rock”, (Buzzfeed, Nov. 10, 2013)

  12. “If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money. If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than truth or beauty.”
    - Jaron Lanier, You Are Not A Gadget (New York: Vintage Books, 2010).

  13. “At the moment, those people are obsessed with how they read books—whether it’s on a Kindle or an iPad or on printed pages. This conversation, though important, takes place in the shallows and misses the deeper currents that, in the digital age, are pushing American culture under the control of ever fewer and more powerful corporations. Bezos is right: gatekeepers are inherently élitist, and some of them have been weakened, in no small part, because of their complacency and short-term thinking. But gatekeepers are also barriers against the complete commercialization of ideas, allowing new talent the time to develop and learn to tell difficult truths.When the last gatekeeper but one is gone, will Amazon care whether a book is any good?”
    - George Packer, “Cheap Words” The New Yorker, Feb 17, 2014.

  14. “But science, of course, does have a moral code, which would be apparent to anyone who’s ever tried to conduct experiments involving humans. Many such experiments would need to be approved by various human subject panels and institutional research boards. Scientists don’t just spontaneously ‘try things’; they are forced to think through the social and political consequences of their work, often well before entering the lab… What institutional board would be satisfied with the excuse that Sergey Brin produced after the Google Buzz fiasco [which ended up compromising the privacy of many users]: ‘It never occurred to me as a privacy thing.’ Well, yes—that’s why no company, certainly not a company of Google’s size and clout, should ever be ‘trying things’ without first establishing an institution-wide respect for ethical dilemmas…
    We must stop thinking of the new filters and algorithmic practices promoted by the new digital intermediaries… as unproblematic, objective, and naturally superior to the filters and practices that preceded them. These new filters might be faster, cheaper and more efficient, but speed, cost and efficiency are only peripherally related to the civic roll these filters and algorithms will be playing in our lives.”
    - Evegeny Morozov, To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism (New York: Public Affairs, 2013).

  15. "'Facebook cares most about two things: engagement and advertising. If Facebook, say, decides that filtering out negative posts helps keep people happy and clicking, there's little reason to think that they won't do just that. As long as the platform remains such an important gatekeeper – and their algorithms utterly opaque – we should be wary about the amount of power and trust we delegate to it.'"
    - Jacob Silverman quoted in Robert Booth, “Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions” Guardian, June 30, 2014

  16. Christian Sandvig, who studies the hidden logic of algorithms and their effect on users, tells a story of one of the first large scale commercial algorithmic systems, SABRE. “At the time it was built [in the 1960’s] it was the largest computing network, non-governmental, in the world. And its purpose was airline reservations.” That is, a network for travel agents to communicate with airlines making travel faster and more efficient. SABRE became controversial when it was suspected to be privileging American Airlines flights over competition. It was in fact American Airlines who had paid for the development of SABRE.
    Called before congress in a famous anti-trust investigation, then American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall replied aghast, “The preferential display of our flights and the corresponding increase in our market share is the competitive raison d’etre for having created the [SABRE] system in the first place.” In other words, why else would a corporation build such a thing if it wasn’t going to use it to control market share? Sandvig calls this Crandall’s Law of Algorithms, a foundational theory for understanding the logic of corporate engendered algorithms: to privilege corporate value, manipulate markets and achieve monopoly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owwQXwDTUfM A profile on Sandvig's work appeared on an episode of: Benjamin Walker's Theory Of Everything.

  17. “Technology innovation disproportionately helps the poor more than it helps the rich, as the poor spend more of their income on products… It’s a consumer utopia: Everyone enjoys a standard of living that kings and popes could have only dreamed… Human nature expresses itself fully, for the first time in history. Without physical need constraints, we will be whoever we want to be… make no mistake, advocating slowing tech change to preserve jobs = advocating punishing consumers, stalling quality of life improvements.”
    - Tweets by Mark Andreessen quoted in Andrew Leonard, Tech’s Toxic Political Culture: The Stealth Libertarianism of Silicon Valley Bigwigs” Salon, June 6, 2014.

  18. “For [the poorest 50 percent] of the population, the very notions of wealth and capital are relatively abstract. For millions of people, ‘wealth’ amounts to little more than a few weeks’ wages in a checking account or low-interest savings account, a car, and a few pieces of furniture. The inescapable reality is this: wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of it’s existence, so that some people imagine that it belongs to surreal or mysterious entities. This is why it is so essential to study capital and its distribution in a methodical, systematic way.“
    - Thomas Piketty, Capital In The Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014).

  19. Attali supra note 3

  20. Ibid.

  21. What was once the most inherently of communal activities, music since the Walkman inverts the relation making it the most individual of choices a shift reflective of the Libertarian expectations found in the politics of Uber, Amazon et al. “Sound both colonizes the listener and actively recreates and reconfigures the spaces of experience. Through the power of a privatized sound world the world becomes intimate, known and possessed.”
    - Michael Bull, “The Audio-Visual-Ipod”, The Sound Studies Reader, Jonathan Sterne ed., (London, New York: Routledge, 2012).
    From the headphone to the walkman to the iPod to the silent disco: http://betanews.com/2014/11/11/woojer-a-wearable-subwoofer-that-lets-you-feel-sound-review/

  22. Attali supra note 3

  23. Ibid.

  24. Ibid.

  25. http://www.residentadvisor.net/feature.aspx?2093
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odJxJRAxdFU

  26. Let’s throw out the idea of the music industry as a unified whole. We don’t feel aches of remorse for how Sony, Universal or Warner might satisfy Wall Street in the coming years. Music after all was never really the concern of the conglomerate. We assume they’ll end up owned by Google or Facebook anyway who will most likely then decide there’s far more monetary value in free content. We believe there is, such is the value of the network and the pyramid scheme of watching consumers even if emotive pay per gaze advertising never takes off.
    Furthermore, we should re-evaluate the breadth of the music economy to include not only album sales and streams but instead affix additional value to the ancillary aspects of data mining. If we do, the picture of what value is and where it is accumulated changes radically from an industry in steady to decline to one seeing rapid growth. In this way, the decline of the music is not following traditional rules of supply and demand. Muisc is in greater demand than ever but where and how that appears is obscured by disruption to the distribution model. The value then should be placed in the value of the network which demands openness and near-infinite capacity to access product in order to make its business models profitable. What has been transformed then is not only methods of distribution but the idea of the product—a transformation that alters the onus of payment from individual consumers to the network itself.

  27. Nicholas Jarr’s Other People and Drip.FM are two such examples of opt-in cultures of sustaining membership that promote sustainable networks of communal admiration rather than communal consumption.

  28. “ ‘On one side, there’s a receiver for whom, with a few clicks, everything is available, free, and exists to be shared without consideration or consequence. On the other side are interests, usually corporate, envisioning how with more restrictive copyright and insistent branding, everything can become even more commodified than it already is’. Cohen has no interest in protecting the assets of Hollywood, major music labels or other conglomerates, nor does he support reprisals against those who don’t obey their dictates. Yet he thinks we need to be conscientious about the culture we take in as we are about the food we eat’… to this end, Cohen advocates what he calls the ‘realizable dream’ of a ‘new economy of fair trade for artists and audiences.’” Taylor supra note 9

Profile: Helena Hauff | Physical Music In An Open Space

In the cavern of the club, music pushes the body, shuddering with heaving bass and synths sharpened to rip a head off. This is physical music, real records, real machines, real bodies moving. Helena Hauff sits in the middle, mixing bottomless dark somnambulant tracks thick with scurrying bass lines and skittering synths. No one is succumbing to the temptations of #preening as the beat burrows down deep. The room breathes, a humid, sticky night playing out between the subwoofers and the weaving sleepless, twitchy, wired & ghost-like crowd.

At home, recording live in her bedroom studio, Hauff maintains this energy in a cloud of cigarette smoke. She snakes around reaching for records, trying on tracks, building rhythms on her MPC. There’s no crowd to distract her, no demands on moving a particular room in a particular way, no sequencers, just beats written on the spot and pulled together through immediate connection. “When I think, oh there's something,” she says, “I press record and build a track. It's pretty straightforward really. Just messing around with machines and then at a point, yeah, that's good enough for me, I have enough to start recording" In some ways this whole approach seems like a throwback to the roots of House and Industrial when people making electronic music actually had to use tape machines and perform the machines themselves as opposed to working in the box with Ableton or the like where living on the grid strains music to conform to pre-prescribed rhythms and the accidental swings of the music and body are cut out.

I just want to keep it simple and use machines and try to learn my machines by heart

“When I started making music,” she says, “I thought it was a good thing to kind of limit myself to not get overwhelmed with possibilities. I started to make music in Ableton as well and it just really didn't click at all. I don't know why. It's just not my instrument maybe. I thought, okay, I just want to keep it simple and use machines and try to learn my machines by heart.”  That sense of being live, of being lived, resonates in the tracks and EPs she’s released for Werkdiscs and Lux Rec, the killer collaboration with Andreas Gehm on Solar One and remix she dropped for the indomitable Factory Floor. A certain hour a certain space takes over. It’s a vibe and feeling directly drawn out from long nights DJing as a resident at Hamburg’s Golden Pudel boiling electronic music down to its zoned-out heart. 

“I just think, oh, that sounds cool... record it or, that sounds shit, let's not record it and then afterwards I think, okay, is that something that I want to put out? Do I think people have to hear this or do I just think, it's nice but it's not that interesting? While making music, you have freedom to do whatever you like.”

In 2013, Hauff began performing out with Hypnobeat—the improvisational electronic project begun by James Dean Brown in 1983—feeding a 707, multiple 808’s and 303’s into polyrhythmic waves of emotion and earth shuddering fits of bowel thumping low-end.

“We basically start from scratch and it is like producing a new track in front of an audience. So you kind of have those two things of like, being in front of an audience and thinking about what's going on right now plus making your own music. I'm always trying not to think too much because at the end of the day I want the music to be good. It's not just about getting people to dance.” 

“Working with machines, you have to stand up and move your whole body. When you're at a computer you just sit down and the whole thing is made with your fingertips. That's what I like about DJing as well that it's very physical, it's the same thing, you work with your whole body and I quite like that actually. I don't have anything against working with computers it's not an ideological thing it's just I feel comfortable working like I do so I think I should keep on doing it.”

The freedom from making music like this helps Hauff avoid the kind of pitfalls that consume more baroque electronic artists who sometimes get buried behind screens filled with thirty-two tracks and banks of plug-ins. Expectations of what the audience might want are kept out of the process and the thought of changing things to meet that expectation or not trying out other things is kept at bay. It’s an important part of the process, not rushing out tracks on to Soundcloud and into the storm of networked expectations.

 “Sometimes you're working and recording loads and then you realize only one is actually successful. I have times where I record everything I do and I feel like I have to put out everything I recorded. I have days where I just record and I think, wow, okay, actually I can release these just like that. I always have that thing, when I record stuff, I listen to the recording afterwards and if I keep listening, its a good sign. If I don't, it's a bad sign. If I can't stop listening to a recording for a few days it's like, okay, that was pretty good. If I just listen to it every now and then, it's like, 'mmmm', maybe not. So that's basically what I do, does it feel right? Do I wanna hear it or not? It's not really a strict rule. It's just a feeling. I wouldn't feel right just putting it out an hour after making it.”

Her aversion to sitting behind a computer may not be ideological and strict rules never impede on her sense of having fun and playing, but this whole way of living music is in everything she makes and does, stitching a consistent thread through it all. Just as the tracks themselves sound different because of the method she uses, she builds deep, real-life networks of people she knows which  are sometimes hidden from the worlds of Facebook and Soundcloud. “I'm interested in a network, but I feel like that kind of social networking doesn't work for me."

"I really like to be in contact with people by email or phone because I feel it's actually a deeper connection to people. Because you have to put a little bit more effort into writing an email instead of commenting on a Soundcloud track. I don't really think its necessary either.”

Next year she’s launching her own label, Return To Disorder, to release the music she loves from artists she meets on tour. “It's going to be pretty stripped down. I just want to release everything that I like and no matter what kind of genre it is, just things that I like.” The first release by UK band Children Of Lair, is a jangled swirl of dark psychedelia confirming Hauff’s desire to stray off the expected path for an electronic musician. Despite the cosmetic differences though, Children Of Lair shares with Hauff this channeling the roots of late night heady music that stretches from Warhol’s factory to the Berghain. Grounding this commitment is her desire to keep things personal using independent pressing plants and relying on the network of friends to help with mastering and spreading the word. “I think a big part of it is, you have to connect to people in real life, whatever that means. You kind of have to build your own network outside the given structure of how to network socially. It's longer lasting and it means more.

 The thing is that when I do things I just do them. I don't really think too much about them I just... do things and hope they turn out well or how I want them to be basically. I don't have a concept when I record stuff it just happened to be that’s the kind of set up I have here at home. It's the same with the label, there is no concept, I just want it to be what I like and I hope people are going to too and are going to get it. At the end of the day, if it's good music I don't care if it’s been made by someone with a computer or a synthesizer. I don't give a fucking shit about that. That's what I mean, I don't have that kind of ideology." 

"I just enjoy working with synthesizer the way I do. You can have that with a computer, and like I said, I think email is fucking great thing, it is very helpful. But stuff like Soundcloud or Facebook or whatever is just an addition. You need to do your work in the real life, whatever the real life is. And well, if you want to have a Facebook page that's fine you just have bare in mind you have to pay a price for Facebook as well and if you are willing to pay that price, it's your own decision. It's just additional. You don't need it to be successful.”

http://helena-hauff.com/

Dysfunction in the Simulacrum of Modular Youth:
Snickering Towards the Apocalypse

Text: DeForrest Brown | Art: Mark Sabb

“The consumer lives in a present made possible by the temporal compression of others.” 

- Douglas Rushkoff (Present Shock)

 

"Th[e] intimacy strewn with commodities yields entirely to advertising, and is entirely socialized as intimacy."

- Tiqqun (Theory of the Young-Girl)

 

The state of the present is clear: there is only total annihilation, feedback upon feedback upon feedback of faulty inventory. And at the end of the word, the items and experiences of history–the faulty inventory–are nothing but a vague and elastic goo that corrodes our established narrative. The future was always forecast to be a bundle of smiles, convenience and community; we were promised a world that was the ultimate summation of our efforts, but the banality of what actually manifested is devastatingly dull in comparison. 

When one deals in cybernetics, in the indelible (hyper-) state of being, the original limb falls off. The cybernetic condition is far more poetic than it is actual; it allows distance, complete disengagement from a fundamental real. With the advent of the internet and items that tether us to hypertextual boundlessness, came the mass discarding and discrediting of the Real. There is a wasteland of scrap context in the future-present, the infinite and extendable possibility of technology replaced with a barren and scorched heap of non-functional models.

 

Cyborgeoisie | Modular Youth

The “Cyborgeoisie” class proposed by Mask Magazine, a mass-diagnosis for our times and our youth, contains an air of “privilege”—privilege being an axiom through which one re-engineers reality for their needs. As a consequence, persons are reduced to modules, objects of commodity wielded while ushering the thoughtless “modular youth” of our times. To echo a previous writing on the concept of modular, wasteful youth, “We interact with specific modules of a person rather than the full human.” Modular youth rest on a praxis of desire, a stiff binary of "want" and "don't want" with the "I" situated as a both seller and consumer.


Privilege

Privilege is a base standard, a function of capital resources, operating in the same way that a consumer operates: "The customer is always right." Though “right” here suggest a sense of control, that the consumer has made a choice. What is actually the case is a sense of being moved by the very thing that they want. The consumer exists in a space unto himself or herself, created by and for themselves, which is modeled after artificial things. If the "artificial" is generative/Real/material, then examples of the inorganic/plastic would be the branded or memetic, where its reputation precedes the very object to which it hopes to refer.

 


Capital

Capital is very real and requires very material types of knowledge production. Capital is both an arrangement of material things and a social relationship. The extent to which it is immaterial is based on the degree to which it is speculative. Inside of this, the terms of privilege are hyper-specific, it is an axiomatic and mover. Capital-realism constructs a reality that is firmly bound to the production of goods and a reputation to surround it, and the Modular Youth rejects any alternative, buying into limited possibilities of the micro-narratives that attach themselves to meager objects produced cheaply and quickly, then deemed valuable. The point of being modular here is that the youth modulates between prescribed states to be sold a reality at will, and the capitalist reality thickens.


Inventory

Inventory is a catchall phrase, a complete log of all things that exist within a setting. A complete list of items determines an idea of what is present, what one has to offer. Inventory implies not only turnover for a business but, defines and solidifies what the Modular Youth has to offer. If their stock contain “natural,” “organic” goods this simply implies that the product is analogue and tied to the real, despite “organic” being a brand unto itself.  

There is nothing inherently wrong with “non-organic” things in a cybernetic context because the objects are still bound to being tool-like, held by and extending the reach of man. The inverse of an object is something that is completely unreal, i.e. fictitious, and thus unusable. These non-objects cannot interact with reality as we know it; the internet exists, a copy of it doesn't. A more specific example of this could be found in Baudrillard’s musings on the nature of the Simulacrum. He states “the real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models”–all quantifiable and mobilized–whereas the Simulacrum is a zone or substituted reality without reference or bounds. 


Strain

The idea of strain becomes so contentious when it's extended toward the elite. The cyborgeoise doesn't like to be told “no.” The nature of neo-materialism, speaks to a re-branding and purposing of art. The commodity precedes that of the object within the situation for the capital-realist, and the avant-garde is no longer a system of re-engineering the environment within which one acts for generative and ingenious results, but a way to sidestep boundaries in accordance to one's own rules, for one's own sake–we call this "creative freedom". 


Commodities

The deconstruction and re-engineering of “constructed situations” are the obvious ends to a society that's founded on commodity and icons (referents). Postmodernism only hyper-commodified the commodities by using endless references and in-genuine satires, and capital realism only put those abstractions to work. Along with the metaphysical, quasi-religeous, nature of the internet, we've been slingshot into a situation of desperately attempting to define what is real and who we are: Endless deconstruction and commoditization (of icons and goods) are strangling us. When the reality begins to separate from its original, only to be photocopied further and distributed the process of breakdown begins to occur. 

 

The Void

The slow dismantling of originals and context becomes bewildering. “If you look long enough into the void, the void begins to look back through you,” so goes the infamous Nietzsche quote. In context, the void is of our own making. Readymade readymades have appeared in the form of GIFs and memes, and with that the context for tangible, socially engaging art has dissolved into a unitary ambiance. The end of history, the concretely and deliberately constructed moment, is the end of the Real. 



Profile: Justin Plakas

A tap-dancing swamp monster sings a sludgy Quaaluded rendition of “I’m On Fire” wringing out every bit of creepiness that song, with it’s ominous cooing big bad wolf, “hey little girl is your daddy home”, has to offer. Like video evidence of something horrific and ritualistic, the performance drones on sleepwalking into a blunt nightmare.

“That's actually a hunting suit,” says artist Justin Plakas, “I was in the mountains of Tennessee, in between Chattanooga and Nashville, embedded in this really rural mountain community. There was an army navy store and they had these, ‘Ghillie’ suits they call them. They had one outside and it was on sale and I wanted to do something with it.”

Remixing, pulling from cultural influences and things happening in and around his studio is central to Plakas’ work. The plasticity of a certain America always in focus, never present, gets chopped up into a metaphysics of the ordinary.  

Billboards, golf courses, parking lots, a melting ice cream cone and a store for champions going out business become dividing/divining points between known and unknown realties. This is a secret world concealed behind masks and reams of fabric: a documentation of revelation and suppression. “It allows me to transform my position in the world,” says Plakas, “Its not always me but like a character I’m playing or characters in a story I’m making.”

Plakas’ characters develop opaque narratives from ordinary materials, depriving the viewer of a compass or landmarks. The world shifts on uneasy relationships allowing the strangeness of the everyday to collapse in unknowable metaphors of progress and excess.

 

In the digital collage series, A Better Tomorrow , the past and present fold over one another. Nostalgia or adolescent memories overlap in a world hidden in coded signs and rules materializing in bizarre and complex ways. We might have an idea about who's under the mask, about what these nostalgic images of our past represent, what their arrangement as graphic art signposts is saying and what the relation of rituals and objects mean but we don't know for sure. This language that's happening with an unknown purpose or strategy across image after image leads you to question what's happening behind everything.

“When I first started going through these old magazines and things I was hunting down, I was pulling these specific patterns out that I felt in some weird way were like, very modern as in they are things I'm seeing re-occurring in the fashion world now. In that way, they're kind of timeless, you know these stripes, these patterns that people seem to be drawn to, kind of in a cycle. I started to think about what makes something modern, what makes something feel vintage or antiquated. The fabric was just something I kept coming back to because fashion is always a good marker of time in some way.”

A Better Tomorrow skirts lines between design and fine art fluctuating between physical and graphic sensibilities. “You have to be careful because you don't want to make something that's just completely eye-candy. You want there to be some ideas behind it.” The twisted fabric overlays and geometric divisions flattened in digital space do create neat and easily accessible images perfect for spreading across the internet but this is part of the trick. These design cues speak the language of the now even as they delve a false past allowing Plakas to exploit our over-literate eyes and sucker us into a larger mythology of shared and sub-conscious social codes: a dream of the modern world called out to dance in the middle of the night.

Bryan Schnelle | 50|50 Studies

Bryan Schnelle’s work maps out relations of power and beauty. In the geometric 50|50 Studies, re-printed images of Renaissance and Byzantine art, religious icons and leaders are cut to glossy print ads and magazine covers.

Vessels of amber colored perfume pour over parted lips and draped jewels mixing with gold leaf and the pious eyes of saints. These priceless works of art shift among the most luxurious of products in grids of hedonism and desire, objectification and deification, questioning historical standards of aesthetic aspiration, commodification and value.

In Conversation: Mark Verbos | Verbos Electronics

Electronic music pioneer Mark Verbos makes tactile machines for tactile music built on a lifetime of working on and with sound. In January he launched Verbos Electronics engineering mass-market modular synthesizers with an emphasis on the interface and the very real human connection they have for artists. As an artist and designer, Verbos is deeply invested in the process of how art is made and the culture that grows around it.

New Ancestors: What is the philosophy behind the synths you make?

Mark Verbos: If there is a philosophy behind what I do, for me as a designer, I think that the synthesizer, the technology isn’t as important as the interface. The reason we use these things is because they are living things that we have in front of us that we reach out and touch. There’s a tactile interaction we have with them, they heat up, they get warm, we see what the settings are and we feel what the patches are.

N|A: That’s a good image, they do get warm and have a weight, it’s the kind of thing that really doesn’t make a difference to the sound but it is important because it affects the music you make, the choices you make in the moment.

MV: Exactly. As a musician you develop a relationship with your instrument over time. You learn to play that instrument in a very specific way, do things with it responding to its anomalies. For musicians, the relationship to the instrument can be overwhelming. A concert violinist might never have the violin leave his side. To me there has to be a human element in a piece of art for it to be worth paying attention to and the human element in a electronic music is how you interact with this thing while creating it.

N|A: Let’s draw that out a bit, what is the process of making electronic music like this?

MV: I’ve always felt that the process of making electronic music doesn’t have a song-writing phase, a sound design phase and a recording phase. The creating of the sound and the melody are intertwined so it’s always felt to me that my recording engineer hat wouldn’t come off as an artist. The whole process of electronic music is in a lot of ways an engineering music. There a lot of ways to think of the studio as an instrument and maybe one of the most famous examples was dub because it put the engineer in the position of being the creator. Somehow the hands on aspect of the interface with analogue synthesizers was always more relevant to me in this way.

N|A: Electronic music first emerged at the same time as dub, but for most people, dub, or maybe just Jamaican music in general, was all about being ‘down to earth’, ‘human’, ‘spiritual’ and electronic music was ‘cold and harsh’, which is similar things people complain about with new digital music.

MV: Every major turn in music has followed some kind of technological jump. With dub, there were a lot of creative tricks, things that were being done that nobody outside of that studio understood. So there was magic, someone like Lee Perry or Scientist, one of these dub guys actually had his own tricks where they get more and more communist about how music was made. I love this idea of sound systems having dub plates that no one else had so you had to go to that sound system because they had music no body else had. I love the idea of them making music that’s suited to the specific crowd and you can’t hear anywhere else. There is something deeply moving in that.

N|A: A secret garden.

When I was kid and just getting into music, I would go to bed at night thinking of all the ideas I had wishing there was more time I could spend doing it.

MV: I also genuinely don’t believe that anybody could listen to a finished record and tell me exactly what it was that made it, particularly now with so much being sophisticated emulations. So, really what’s behind the panel could be anything. That being said, obviously different things sound different and interact in different ways and we all have preferences about certain kinds of distortion and characteristics of sound so it does matter what the electronics are but the reason that I’m drawn to analogue synthesizers and not designing software is because of the physicality. If you’re living off of presets and tools that are open to anyone, that to me is what sets it apart from dub or early electronic music more than a sound thing, you need that secret language.

N|A: This isn’t really about any one way to do it then or analogue over digital?

MV: No, I don't think there is anything inherently more sincere about chasing the sound of a certain drum machine or certain kind of software. The people who are really successful as musicians or producers—the ones who get called visionary—are the ones that continue to adapt and find enthusiasm in all of the new variations and just keep adding to the tools they use. Someone like Brian Eno has been involved in this whole thing since the sixties and each step of the way he’s been able to see everything for what it was and grab onto the best parts of it. He also found ways to use things that didn't sound how everyone else used it which made a lot of his music stand the test of time in ways other people stuck on the novelty of new gear maybe couldn't grasp. I think there are good things to get from everything.

N|A: That's important because that's really about learning tools from the inside out, using what's available but not following the trends because they are invariably hated or simply kitsch down the road.

MV: As an instrument designer, I have to be able to look at any music making device and really without bias figure out what makes it special; what is the essence of this thing that makes it desirable. Analogue versus digital as an audio thing is meaningless. Again, the interface is everything. The way we feel when we work is more important than anything. We have to remember we are making instruments, music making devices for other people to be creative with so when I design I'm trying to empower someone else to make art. It should be intuitive to operate, it should be inspiring and make people want to go back and play with it again.

When I was kid and just getting into music, I would go to bed at night thinking of all the ideas I had wishing there was more time I could spend doing it. Or when I was at school, just wanting to get out and go make music because I was so excited to get on this equipment and do the Thing. That's what I want to inspire in people. Its very easy to make tools that are powerful and have every feature known to man but then forget about making them engaging, making them something you want to figure out and are desirable. To me, if your decisions are made by anything other than the human interaction then they're wrong. There are so many other decisions you could make but it really clutters up the process and has more to do with tools than instruments. 

N|A: That’s a good breakdown: instruments are inspiring, tools are efficient. A lot of design today is done in the name efficiency, which often complicates these other more ambiguous relationships you are talking about.

MV: A lot of times there are layers of interface, which seemingly simplify the experience but are actually complications that remove you from that moment and if what you want is that moment more than the outcome, then it’s a problem.  For me, the process of how we use something connects us to the experience of those specific sounds and ideas, because really as an artist, what should be important to you is the process not what you’re going to get from it when it’s finished. It’s about making the process more creative more enjoyable for you.

N|A: What I like about what you’re saying is that we get hung up too much on the idea of sound or the style, your focus is far more on the artist in the studio and how the studio functions for her or him.

MV: Definitely. When you’re using Live for instance, you loop material and stretch it and move it around so you’re no longer confined to the way it was in the analogue studio. If that’s your process, that’s your process but for me I need to have that interaction outside the screen. This comparison of getting your hands dirty versus digital methods, I don’t mean that one process is better than the other but that developing or continuing these other processes is still valuable.

I also don’t think it’s nostalgic if it’s for a process or a device that’s from before your time. It’s something else. It’s not like the kids who are buying my synthesizers grew up using them and it was taken away and now they are seeking out reclaiming something they lost. It’s not about getting back to something, they are getting into to for the first time now, its happening now. These sounds and these machines, using them in the way they are designed still has visionary possibilities.

N|A: But you can’t get away from being accused of being nostalgic, even just buying a vinyl record carries that accusation.

MV: When you unpack it though, more often then not these accusations come from people trying to sell you things and foster that desire for the new. And really what that comes down to is a specific kind of desire for getting more stuff, not creating deeper relationships to what you have in front of you. What makes a physical record worthwhile, as a piece of art, is just a different thing than streaming music and it that has a different value.

This is the same thing as when instruments changed to having memories and not having control over the individual parameters. There are a lot of advantages to that, being able to save torturous patches and call them up. Prog-rock bands had to lug ten keyboards on stage. Now you can just have one and have a new preset for each song. But when if you want to be a more experimental musician, using these instruments and have that freedom to mess with it and see where it takes you, as soon as you take away the control over those parameters, the inspiration to really challenge everything fades pretty quickly.

N|A: So, there's a balance then between what some might think of as tortuous controls and things that are really simple to use but maybe get stuck where you last left them?

MV: Most people never re-program the sounds. If you're making a painting and you start with the same basic sketch on the canvas, most likely your paintings aren't really going to change too much. The tendency is to just click through the pre-sets and see what happens. Forcing yourself to build it from scratch each time, you're opening yourself up to unexpected directions. It's just a different way of working; of wanting to work. I just offer the suggestion that the process of making the melody or whatever and the process of creating the sound are intertwined. If you start with a blank slate you are committed to always changing and never doing the same thing twice.

N|A: In this sense, you're kind of flipping the script. The newer ways of working where you start with presets and grids actually kind of keep you stuck to the past. These older instrument designs, force you to move forward. 

MV: I'm trying to make it so you're drawn to that idea. The essence of the instrument is dealing with what it means and forcing you to ask yourself what the building blocks actually are. 

N|A: Right, you could go fishing with radar and find the fish right away or you can go fly fishing. Getting there is half the fun, as they say.

MV: If you like painting with oils and everybody says don’t bother, you can get an app for that, this doesn’t make your desire less valid. It’s still a perfectly valid way to make art. It's easy to forget though that the ‘customer’ isn't as deeply wrapped up in it as you are. As a designer it's easy to lose track of that but at the same time, how we design has an effect on how people create. In that way you're actually designing behavior. 

N|A: Right, and there's a very real conversation to be had well beyond music as to the way technology affects human behavior both positively and negatively. We all like to think that we're in control all the time and the machines are neutral, but of course the machines we use change our desire. Those machines are made by humans with specific ideologies and we change to fit those desires.

MV:  Clearly there is more money to be made in software but I would very much hate letting the market decide what I should do. There are always going to more people who want the quick and easy route. I would rather make what I believe in and have it fail than cave on what I believe in. That's probably just being raised in underground music skeptical of the mainstream. It just doesn't seem like the pay-off for selling out is good enough. 

N|A: This brings us to the state of the industry, or really, the sate of underground music. The economics of it and whether there really is any point in thinking about musicians as being a profession. As someone who has worked as a sound engineer recording through analogue and into the digital era you’ve come up through a lot of different waves. How do you view the roll of music and artists not necessarily looking to play the pop game but wanting to be the kind of experimental artists you’re talking about who grow and discover processes over a long period of time like you did?

MV: During my rise to being a musician there were a lot of roadblocks that involved money and access. There was a time when only a select group of people had a computer. Now your grandmother is on the internet. I remember when I went to Eastern Europe as a techno DJ, it was the beginning of a scene from Slovakia and the Czech Republic making techno records and I imagined them having like the studio that guys in Chicago had in 1986, really outdated, cheap and whatever they could get in a pawn shop. It didn’t occur to me that actually no, that’s too expensive, they have like a 386 PC that was out of date and software that they stole and did everything on a computer. Somewhere between the 90’s and whatever you call that next decade, somewhere in the 2000 shift it no longer was a privilege to have a computer in the same way and it became cheaper to have the computer music software, because you could pirate the software, and then you could have a studio for free, versus having to buy even the cheapest gear.

N|A: That’s really empowering, at that point, electronic music really does become accessible and a new kind of folk music.

MV: A hundred years ago you have a piano in the corner of the house and when it was time to listen to music someone in the family sat down and played the songs. Then when recorded music became available, listening to music became putting on a record or listening to the radio or whatever and music evolved into this arc where we ultimately have ended up back at, ‘why would I want to listen to someone else’s music I’ll just make it myself?’ This is really putting Garage Band in the same place that the piano in corner of the family house. It’s back to people would rather make their own music in a recreational way. Maybe the weird thing isn’t that people don’t buy records anymore, maybe the weird thing is that they ever did.

N|A: And still, more people consume pre-recorded music than ever before. This is all the really amazing part of what’s happened in music that one hand it has really inspired a culture of creators but on the other hand you still have so much power amassing under huge corporations. Only now it’s not major labels but Google and Facebook and companies that aren’t really what we think if as being in the music industry. How do we reconcile these utopian ideals for creators with these larger exploitive empires when the money still isn’t tricking down to sustain real independent voices?

MV: Part of that is that we as participants in this culture have to be more selective about what we support and also about what opportunities we take on or what things we get involved in. As it is now, our desperation rules everything. I imagine, maybe I’m wrong, there was a time when these cult artists had more power and the option of saying, ‘no, we won’t have our music in your ad’ because there was a whole independent system to help them. People who really believed in certain labels and were invested in the culture.

N|A: That’s an important point but we shouldn’t be overly nostalgic for or romanticize a ‘golden age’ of indie rock which was still heavily limited by both sexism and racism.

MV: You’re absolutely right. It’s not about going back to something; it’s about taking the best aspects and thinking about the future. The best among the independents acted as patrons to artists, took risks those artists couldn’t even when that art didn’t necessarily have an audience or wasn’t fashionable.

The music industry hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s turned into Taylor Swift who can sell millions and millions of records and fan collection-wise, branding wise, endorsement-wise can be more successful than anybody has ever been. Small bands end up playing the same game and there just isn’t enough money to go around.

N|A: Brands, corporations and advertisers are really filling this role of financial support you’re talking about.

MV: And that comes at a cost. The other option is you’re in a van playing shows for eight people in between updating your Kickstarter campaign and if you get sick or you get old enough to worry about these things maybe that’s the end of your music career. And what about the people who don’t ever go on the road? You’re not going to be able to take a break and live off the work you did even if people are still consuming it, which a lot of musicians were actually able to do. There isn’t a lot of action in the middle. But, at every moment, even if what is happening is patently insincere, in the end the sincerity will rise to the top. The special things will rise to the top. I like to hope anyway.

 

 

 

 

Profile: Norvis Jr.

Nelson-Mandela K. Nance, a.k.a. Norvis Jr., makes art informed by the detritus of digital culture. He experiments building on degraded and cracked sounds looking for how to better himself through music and evolve on waves of virtue and dedication. “Lately, I’ve been thinking about darkness,” Norvis Jr. offers causally, “not wanting to indulge in darkness, but going there to better understand the light.” His EP’s, released with a steady flow on Soundcloud every few months map out extended riffs on psycho-drama politics, social networks and romance circulating with a hazy effortlessness and woozy grace.

“There are times when I'll think, man this sounds bad and I'll just keep pushing trying to make it better and then, parallel I'll be thinking really about my life and man, I'm taking bad situations and making them better. So when I'm in a situation like that and trying to see where it goes, that's when the better situations happen.”

Free floating melodies weave in and out gut slung beats and bass-lines bending and warping around the brittle sound of early video games. “It’s not nostalgia,” he says, “it’s more, how do I make something that still involves and feels like something lush using cracked software and cheap gear?”

As a kid, Norvis Jr. was inspired by how attainable the sounds of those games were. The composers aiming for the grandiose and cinematic with imperfect tools, shot for the stars on limited soundcards and ended up someplace all there own.

“So, how do I have something that feels like an 808, that involves the same patterns but is made with whatever limited tools I have? If I stick to the tools I have, so, if all I have is this stolen version of Ableton, and not too many extra plug-ins, let me make something that sounds more than this.”

At times the vibe is karaoke from planet 9, some weirdo galactic outpost decked out in whiskey soaked ashtrays, a disco ball down three mirrors and dj lights swiveling off beat. It’s four in the morning; a soulful voice croons low-bit jazz evoking intimate worlds of futurist introspection glitched-out and splintered. Underling this worn out and weary façade however, is a methodical and complicated sense of harmony, melody and rhythm. This is no accident and speaks to a childhood well steeped in music and art.

Growing up in Dallas the son of an actress and photographer, Norvis Jr. played saxophone and went to a performing arts high school to study singing. Art was always around and discussed, his brothers a filmmaker and musician; it’s a talented brood inspiring and challenging one another. At an early age he learned to play drums from his jazz musician uncle and through his father learned Djemba and Dundun. 

“I didn't go into the religious aspects but I did go into the function of it on a historical level. So, I understood what these drums were used for specifically, and then what time period they were made and then re-made as a novelty in an American space. Because that's really interesting when instruments are made nostalgic. There was a time when the 808 was nostalgic in rap but now it’s everywhere. So it went from being this new thing to being nostalgic and now being present and current.”

Simultaneously raised to be comfortable inside digital audio workstations, using the laptop as an instrument to be performed on and much as a tool to create through came natural to him. The laptop  transformed into folk instrument for creating devastated Rn’B.

“An instrument is just a part of the tool box that's independent of the contextualization of its understanding, so like slavery brought instruments like the banjo into America and you see how those instruments were used by other people to make something totally different. You have these people who have no understanding of these tools so they have to use it to say something they are used to and understand. It becomes a new thing then. It’s a tool that has its own history to a certain people but not the understanding that these new people have. Over time, that new style becomes solidified as its own thing and maybe remembered more than the original. And it can happen for a lot of reasons, migration; it also happens as a result of time passing, it happens because of mishandled knowledge.”

Part of Norvis Jr.’s evolution is his constant output. His Soundcloud brims with new ideas and constant updates. Tracks come out as distorted covers one day emerging as fully formed originals later, sketches, interludes re-configured beats and scraps of inquiries and textured processes filter out in a stream of conscious meditation. EP's arrive expanding certain lyric strains into mini-concept records, a defined attitude world-building and drawing the listener in deeper. 

“A big reason why certain things sound the way they do is because some people are told, ‘oh, that's what that goes with,’ like reading from a recipe book. Really what you have is something totally different because you didn't read the fine print.” All of this is a deep investigation into states of self and a restlessness desire to find a place where a young artist and grow and learn.

“I don't act like I'm not a narcissist because I am, but I hate how narcissistic everyone else is. You can't have your cake and eat it too.  That narcissistic culture of always wanting to look at yourself, the image of who you desire yourself to be and so much of it is that, it just is that, it's unnecessary commercialism of the self.”

Alert in his restlessness, Norvis Jr. dreams big plotting multi-media iterations of his music that push and blur lines between code and real, music and theater, light and dark.

“When I’m focused I'm aware of my feelings, attuned to wondering how the song works and how it is making those feelings happen as opposed to doing what is expected. That’s the same as being force-fed something, being told this is what it is and this is how I should react to it. Things that are made often focus too much on the surface instead of just making something new, that's just a problem across all the art disciplines. That's the last thing you should be thinking about. Instead of focusing on what you want to make, you’re stuck in some other conversation, you're keeping that thing from ever existing, hiding yourself from the world. The world needs you whoever you are, to evolve into a better place.”

 

 

http://norvisjunior.bandcamp.com/

https://soundcloud.com/norvisjr