Friday, October 31, 2008
There is a difference between a musician and a performer. True, there are times when the two can manifest in the same person, but I have seen many musicians who are not performers. I didn't fully come to this realization until I saw Emperor X (aka Chad Matheny) perform last May. Chad is an amazing performer, full of energy and excitement, who rallies the crowd to sing and dance as he runs around with his mini guitar and portable amp. He just happens to be a great musician as well.
Chad's first album was released ten years ago, and his style combines aggressive folk music and electronics. At one time a relentless performer, Chad now stays closer to home, but the quality of his music and performances continues to improve. His latest album, The Blythe Archives Volume One, was released by Burnt Toast Vinyl, and as you will find out he has many more projects in the works.
Recently, Chad was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Orange Alert (OA): You have built up the reputation of a traveling ministerial of sorts, consistently on tour. What is it about live performances the you enjoy so much? Do you feel that you are slowing down?
Chad Matheny (CM): As flattering as that reputation sounds, I'm sad to say that the notion that I'm constantly on tour isn't accurate. I toured far more in 2004-2006 than I have in 2007 and 2008. As gas prices soared and my financial situation deteriorated after I financed several releases and promotional campaigns on my personal credit, I simply couldn't afford to leave town as much as I used to.
I diligently searched for and landed a job that let me get out of town whenever I wanted within reason; I drastically reduced my living expenses; most of all, I rethought how I was going about the business aspect of being a performer. Nowadays, if I'm on the road for an extended period of time it's usually at the grace of a close friend of mine who's willing to drive and play with me, or of another band who's kind enough to pack me in the van and take me along for a few dates.
These new austerity measures caused a slowdown in the reckless quantity of shows, and forced me to concentrate more both on making money at the shows I did play -- at least enough to pay for the trip and pay myself a living wage -- and, more importantly, on the quality of shows I played. It's much more satisfying to play a well-thought-out five day string of dates at which people can appreciate what I'm doing than it is to play thirty booze bars in a row for $20 a night, sleeping next to a gas refinery at a truck stop and waking up in the van covered in sweat and weird rashes.
In 2007 and 2008 most of my touring has been strictly fiscally responsible -- me, by myself, using public transportation, often on short mini-tours of ridiculous dates that don't pay anything that I deeply want to play, anchored by higher-paying college/university/gallery concerts that I also deeply want to play. My performance equipment nowadays consists of only with what I can carry. It's a dream lifestyle for me, and I feel very lucky to be able to support it by playing music. On the average I'm playing concerts anywhere in North America between six and ten weeks out of a year, and that's what I hope to sustain for the rest of my life. It's less than the marathon pace I was running in 2004-2006, and that's fine with me, because I find myself happier, more productive, more able to absorb each place that I visit, less burned out when I am out playing shows, and less stressed about money when I'm not. My job also frees me from having to think about money as much as I otherwise would, and allows me to do ridiculous things I couldn't otherwise afford.
There's a lot to laud in the dedicated lifestyle of a roving troubadour, and in doses it's certainly something I endorse. For example: a few months ago, after playing music on a whim for two drunk youth pastors at a Huddle House in Sandee, SC, I walked across six miles of forest with all of my gear and played songs and recorded the sound of power poles in a state park and made a music video with paper airplanes. That's the kind of thing I live for. But I don't live up to the mantle of the minstrel. A minstrel does that and nothing else. I'm out there for maybe 25% of my life, and the rest of the time I'm staying in and recording/composing/reading/researching. I'm less of a consistently possessed artist, and more of a dedicated researcher who's been lucky enough to have the knack of turning the possessed artist button on and off at will, for better or for worse.
To answer your question about live performances:
Recording/synthesizing audio material and playing music for a live audience are profoundly different art forms. So many times we see great bands at shows opening up for the act we came to see, unknown bands so great that we're inspired to buy their recording, and when we get home their recorded material disappoints. So many times we've loved an act's recordings and shown up to see them play and left feeling empty because of an uninspired performance. I think most musicians are aware of this, and it's a harsh reality to face, especially for a solo performer like myself touring with a backpack's worth of gear trying to do live justice to recordings that often have 16 tracks or more of overdubs and washes of effects. For me, the fun lies in taking the compositions that underlay the recordings and starting from scratch with the material at hand, re-arranging things, changing keys, deleting or adding whole sections, etc. The performance process done well translates the underlying composition into something fragile and human and temporal and overwhelming in the same way that the recording process done well translates the underlying composition into something massive and physical and eternal and overwhelming. I think a good performance is one that makes this process, and the effort it demands from the individuals involved, clearly visible to the audience.
In more concrete language:
I often think about music before recording technology. I think about Vienna and the stories about how, during the classical era, performance of difficult pieces and improvisation and composition were pursuits of common people, like watching television is for most Westerners today. I think about the fact that many of the great composers were also virtuoso performers and improvisers: Bach, Buxtehude (who Bach walked hundreds of miles to see perform!), Mozart, and Rachmaninoff, just to name the first four that come to mind. If the human being is capable of this kind of greatness, and if in Vienna in the classical era even the common man approached it, then I think I'm doing any audience I may have a disservice if all I do is spend hours and hours splicing together fragments of audio and manipulating them into something I could never even approach doing live, and show up at a concert weighed down by technology and its expectations and cave by playing along to a single audio track. I think that's capitulating to technology, not using it. I think I'm doing my job as a recordist/performer when I think about the underlying nut of each song as the source of what is generated, and follow it as a loose guide in the creation of the performance, neither letting it dominate and playing a failed duplicate of a recording or ignoring it and playing something else entirely. It's hard, and I think an audience can see this effort when it happens, and I think they call it a performer "getting into it." It's something I aspire towards.
There's also this nasty notion that is blamed (unfairly!) on punk rock that insists one doesn't have to be a good musician to play music. That's ludicrous. Punk, and maybe rock in general, expanded our notion of what good musicianship is, and placed a bit more emphasis on style and content and spiritualism and individuality. I think too many artists mistake this freedom as a license to ignore the live domain entirely, or worse, as a license to suck, or worst of all as a license to not practice. For some artists (techno, ambient, etc.) that exists almost entirely in the domain of lush, technological audio, "live" means being played by a DJ at a club or live-composing on a laptop, and that attitude is appropriate and exciting. But for singer/songwriters it's a dereliction of duty.
OA: My favorite part of your performance here in May was the way you got the audience involved. Do you feel like that is an important part your shows?
CM: Audiences are bored. That's nothing new -- watching performances is an inherently boring act most of the time. I think interactivity is one of many ways to snap people out of their yawning and get them to shift their perceptions and join the music for a few minutes. The experience of being absorbed in a musical event is so wonderful that people will put up with hours and hours of boring performances and appreciate what they can in them just for the chance of getting to be there when something powerful like that happens. There are plenty of other more and less subtle techniques for getting people to pay attention and join you in the sounds, but I think there is something special about directly involving a crowd. It's just plain fun to sing along! Why not? It feels anarchic and full of possibility for everyone involved. And, if you want to get highbrow about it, the performer can think about the crowd as an instrument to be played and write parts specifically for them.
There are a LOT of people doing this right now, foremost among them I guess would be Jason Anderson, so I think it just must be in the early 21st century water. Maybe it's a consequence of the Internet and crowdsourcing and blogs and all that -- the notion that we're all [insert specialization here].
That said, I think there are good sing-a-longs and bad ones, so it's not like it's a magic bullet if you're having a bad show. I've tried the crowd participation on a night I was sucking and it bombed, just like everything else.
OA: I was also fascinated by the equipment that you used, the small portable amp and taped up microphone, tape player, etc. Does the equipment player a role in your sound?
CM: The equipment one chooses during recording is responsible for the sound of the finished work. Unless you're improvising, performances aren't the same kind of ground-up act of creative synthesis. People are more forgiving about things like timbre and so forth, so it's probably not as important. I think that it's far more personal. The kinds of objects that a performer feels comfortable with, and knows how to manipulate, are the kinds of objects they should use in performance. For bonus points, the recording and the performance are imbued with a special kind of unity if the same or similar equipment is used for both.
A lot of my thinking goes toward analogue media, electromechanical (as opposed to digital) sound filtering and synthesis, and the power of portability. I think that's reflected in the kinds of equipment I tend to take with me when I play concerts. Almost all the amps I use, for example, are battery powered, partly because I like the idea that if the power went out I'd still be able to play a show. I also like to be self-contained and stay as uninvolved from the house PA as is feasible, for the same reason. This also frees me from awkwardness if I disagree with a well-intentioned sound engineer on some aesthetic issues.
All of the above notwithstanding, I think the most important determining factor of what I choose to perform on is: "Will it fit in my carry-on baggage?"
OA: With all of the tour the must not be a lot of time for recording. Do you enjoy recording? Is there a new album in the works?
CM: I have plenty of time for recording. Way too much, even. I enjoy it so much that I rarely finish anything because I keep moving on and recording new idea after new idea. I'm only traveling at most two or three months out of the year, so there's plenty of time to record. And I tend to bring portable recording gear with me when I tour too, so a lot gets done even when I'm away.
There are several new releases forthcoming. I don't have solid release dates for any of them, but here's a rough outline:
1) The Blythe Archives, Vol. II (late '08 hopefully)
2) Tranvia Geosincrona/Tranvia Lunar (Spanish-language E.P., late '08 or early '09)
3) A split 7" with my friend Ben Horowitz a.k.a. Porches
4) a few comps, on one of which I'll be covering a Twelve Hour Turn song!
5) The Blyteh Archives Vol. III (sometime in the future)
6) The Blythe Archives Vol IV (sometime in the future)
7) whatever comes after the Blythe Archives series
OA: Your most recent album was released by Burnt Toast Vinyl. What was your experience like with BTV? How did you get involved with them?
CM: Scott Hatch runs BTV. He's a great guy, and we've been friends for a little over two years now, at least as much as dudes who live in separate cities and talk a few times a year can be friends. He offered to include me in his nifty series of one-sided LPs after attending a performance in Philadelphia. I've met some cool people through Scott, and he has a lot of great bands on his roster.
(if you look closely you will see me in this video!)
OA: Coffee? You seemed to have a ton of energy is coffee the source? Where have you found the best cup?
CM: I hate coffee! I might drink green tea once or twice a week, if at all. I think the source of energy I have when performing is the insane nervousness I feel.
OA: What was the last great book you have read?
CM: Hmmmmm.../To Have or to Be/ by Erich Fromm, I guess.
For more information on Emperor X please visit his website.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
When a writer hands over their novel or collection to a publisher no matter the existing relationship there is a great deal of faith involved. As the writer creates characters and dialog and storylines, they also envision what the novel will look like as a whole. They typically know exactly what the cover and spine and photo on the back will look like. The publisher adds a whole new set of ideas, and an established vision for their press. They add their brand and sensibility to the project, and many times the writer is wondering what happened.
Pittsburg's Che Elias has found a solution to this issue, and he publishes his own books. With the artistic direction of Michael Hafftka, Che has published nine books (both novels and poetry collections) before the age of 30. All but one of his books have been published through Six Gallery Press of which he is co-editor. His latest novel, West Virginia, is a dark and twist glance into a world of paranoia. A world filled with fear and pain and confusion, a world contained in a room built with words. A room that is the author, the reader, and all you will ever know or see.
Recently, Che was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Orange Alert (OA): Your latest novel, West Virginia, was released this month. What can you tell us about your novel?
Che Elias (CE): I wrote the novel about some experiences I had growing up in West Virginia in the 1980s, the book deals with themes of betrayal and reconciliation --I worked a lot of stan brakhage in there-in my descriptions--I'm a big fan of his and most of the book was composed with avant garde cinema as the inspiration--
OA: There are many well placed illustrations in West Virginia. How does your process work with Michael Haffka?
CE: I basically present him with a text, his partner reads it aloud to him then he illustrates it, he usually does this very fast --we've been working together two years now, he really liked my book The Pagan Ellipsis -and i liked his Book conscious unconscious -so we decided to collaborate after talking on the phone a few times -we've become good friends, but we've never actually met in person.
OA: As the half of the team behind Six Gallery Press, what is your vision the press?
CE: To do books that no one else really can, ones people wouldn't see financially viable which includes a lot of the books i get from people, i just feel larger presses -don't touch a book as we know unless it has best seller written on it, my vision at first was to just do experimental fiction, but now i will do anything that's good.
OA: What do you look for in a submission to the press?
CE: I look more so at the person who submitted, it if i can work with them and if they seem honest and if they are willing to put some work into it to.
OA: You have publish several of your own novels, do you have any reservations at all about publishing your own work?
CE: No I've done all of my books except one with Six Gallery Press.... I feel that no one else Could really do them plus i want totally creative control -it's really important in these books especially my early ones, on the recent ones of i have michael hafftka, and ryan bernhardt working on them... the books I've done with ryan vs the ones with micheal is an interesting thing they both have a different approach and it presents my work in a different light -I hope to continue Self Publishing So to Speak And working with them.
OA: What are your thoughts on the phrase "experimental fiction"?
CE: Well Thomas Pynchon William H Gass William Gaddis and William T Vollmann are Four of my favorite Writers they inspired me and made me want to Become a writer -originally, my favorite writers now are pretty much friends of mine Micheal S Begnal and Dana Killmeyer, Whose Books I've published --experimental fiction is interesting But there's a strong divide cause a lot of Bad writers do sloppy work that they Try to Pass off as experimental --They just seem lazy, I think Dana Killmeyer's Novel Paradise Or The Part That Dies is the best experimental piece I've read in a long time, it's experimental in its sparseness and emotionally upfront prose--it's a book anyone could understand but not something a mainstream press could deal with For it's emotional intenseness I'm proud to do books like that with Six Gallery Press.
OA: How do you feel about print on demand services as opposed to traditional off-set printing? Does 6GP utilize POD?
CE: I really had some reservations when I first did and I thought -why can't these books be off set, but then I decided for the money we save it's just another book We can do -- So We do a print run now and place books with Small Press Distribution, but I like POD -which we use on books that we aren't sure that we can move right away, although off set at this point seems preferred by many people, I do prefer POD, I guess I'd have a lot of books laying around my house if not.
OA: What's next for Che Elias and Six Gallery Press?
CE: I am doing a book called Love Poems, it's a sequel to my book death poems, also working a Seven Part series Titled Goal B it's a nihilist and prankster who i met in WV years ago Kind of about his life story each book uses a different style of writing -s o to speak, As far as Six GP goes michael hafftka has a strong vision and I feel i have one too, i guess to keep doing books that are off the beaten path and getting them out there, more libraries are getting our books now thanks to the deal micheal has with spd -and I'm happy that people are submitting books all the time - so just to keep going and get more books to people and dare i say it - institutions.
OA: Coffee? If yes, where can you find the best cup in your area?
CE: Yes, The crazy Mocha In Oakland but now it has about ten locations, so just look for a crazy mocha if you are in pgh.
OA: What type of music do you listen to and who are a few of your favorites?
CE: Many Kinds My personal favorite right now is jandek i just saw him play live a few nights ago it was amazing, but i really like Cat Power , Lou Reed, van dyke Parks, and Richard thompson to name a few .
OA: Is The Abacus really 658 pages?
CE: Yes it really is, it's a long book and I lost the originally draft when I was moving from place to place a few years back, and had to totally rewrite it from memory --I hope you like it how it is.
For more information on Che Elias and Six Gallery Press please visit their website.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
One of the most accessible and immediate forms of art is the art book. It is easily transferred and stored, but more importantly it gives the artist space to explore a theme or concept or image. In an art book the artists vision becomes a more fluent narrative then on canvas. Don't get me wrong, artist can tell stories on canvas, but when challenged with the legacy and structure of a book the story may be vastly different.
Chicago's Joseph Lappie is a product of Colombia's unique Interdisciplinary Book & Paper Arts program, and a fine artist in any format. Yet, his love of books and his training in binding and publishing has brought forth a collection of art books that is diverse and extremely inventive. These books are the ultimate form of mixed media, and each tells its own story. They are a connector between art and literature and should valued on both levels equally. Joseph recently won the Grand Prize at the 2008 Seoul International Book Arts Fair with his book The Articifer Arisen, The Articifer Fallen, and just won Best-In-Show at the Weisman Award Exhibition here in Chicago.
Recently, Joseph was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Orange Alert (OA): How did you first become interested in art books?
Joseph Lappie (JL): My first solid introduction of using the book format as art came in 1999 or 2000. I noticed printmakers at my undergraduate university making small editions of prints and collecting them in a concertina or pamphlet. It always seemed like an effective way to create a narrative and an easy way to display and distribute one’s work. After I graduated I moved out to Portland, Oregon and got a job at Powell’s bookstore. There I was introduced to more examples of livre d'artiste’s, zines, inventive small press publishing's, and artist’s books. At the time I didn’t have a studio so I began experimenting with things I could do in my apartment: binding, small prints, digital work. It was just a tiny step before I connected them all together. Before I knew it I had created what I would consider to be my first, and worst, artist’s book. I made an edition of 25 in a horrible little binding and managed to sell all of them in a month. It helped that they sold for dirt cheap. Anyway, I continued to study binding on my own and began making small books of etchings. I hesitate to call them artist’s books because there is no narrative, page flow or connectivity in the prints other then technique, but they were certainly prints in a book. It allowed me to express myself artistically in a new format. To make my work accessible in a more democratic medium. Somewhere along the line I realized that I wanted to expand my ability by learning letterpress and papermaking and advanced binding. I decided the best way for me to do that was to continue on towards graduate school.
OA: Why books as opposed to a more traditional mixed media format?
JL: Artist’s Books are a traditional mixed media. They’ve been around for arguably hundreds of years and use a wide array of interdisciplinary mediums: binding, printmaking, papermaking, text, drawing, painting, sculptural elements and more recently video, audio and installation. They are an amalgamation of art practice. I think they possess a still untapped potential. Here is an art form that is so personal, so intimate that often only one viewer can experience it at a time. It demands your active engagement. This is something traditional art, painting or sculpture, doesn’t necessarily offer. They often present a more passive interaction of just one sense, sight. This isn’t meant as a criticism just a difference. Artist’s books intertwine text and image and narrative in a way that makes you spend time with it to understand it fully. It engages sight and touch and occasionally sound, smell and even taste. (There is a yearly international Edible Books exhibit) I think of it as a time-based art. You as the viewer are responsible for how you read or look at the book, when you turn the pages, and the digestion of the information. You hold it. It’s tactile and has heft and presence. If it is a multiple then there is a democratic appeal to an artist’s book. It allows for the piece to be more affordable and therefore more accessible to the public. A book is something everyone can understand. The content within may be a different story, but the mode in which one delivers the content is unpretentious and familiar.
There is also this interest in the continuation, building up and defining of an art genre. I believe that Artist’s Books have so much to offer viewers if they can accept them as a legitimate art-form. Unfortunately I think that Artist’s Books are still often relegated to the Craft world. There are actually a lot of artists who make artist’s books, but they are often only seen in special collections of libraries, at Artist’s Book fairs and exhibitions or in the hands of a few private collectors. The books that do make it to larger exhibitions spaces are often called sculptural works or book-like objects. An artistic life goal of mine is to see artist’s books become more visually present in institutions and to have their “artistic worth” be parallel to paintings and sculptures and photographs. One way of doing this is to get them out of the vitrines. Showing a book in a vitrine, where a viewer cannot touch the book nor can they read or view any page other then the one a curator has decided upon is like looking at a painting that is predominantly covered by a large black cloth. How are we supposed to appreciate this type of work when we cannot interact with it in the way it was meant to be. It diminishes the form. Another way to develop the legitimacy of an artist’s book is, as an artist, to present one’s bookwork alongside one’s 2d or 3d work. To make them connect in content and concept and to always call it what it is.
OA: Most the books are created in a limited run of 15 to 25. Have you thought about getting them published or distributed on a larger scale?
JL: It is certainly an idea that I entertain. I should point out that two of my books, How To Be A Man In Five Easy Steps and God’s Country were made in slightly larger editions of 125-150. In regards to republishing works that I have already created I would not want to sacrifice the integrity of an existing piece, particularly one that is letter-pressed or hand-printed just so it can be present in a mainstream environment. If I want to have a high print run and a greater distribution, assuming a publishing house would be interested, I would have created the book for that market, made it so that every aspect of this particular piece of art was meant to be seen in that style of printed reproduction, playing to the benefits of the technique and medium. I would be doing a disservice to myself and to the viewer otherwise. They all have their positive and negative aspects: one-of-a-kinds, small edition hand-made work, and large scale or mass-produced books.
OA: What do you think would be lost if say Five Thoughts on Sincerity was printed by a major publishing house?
JL: I think several aesthetic elements would be lost from that book. First you would lose the texture created through the act of letterpress, The type would be sitting on the paper as opposed to slightly indented into the paper. Secondly, the woodblock printing would lose some of its quality because it would most likely be on a paper that doesn’t accentuate the medium. It would lose its handmade quality. I feel secure in my craft and my ability to bind a solid book, but there is always something, something spot on or slightly off (typically only to me). The little inconsistencies always beat machine-perfection. Always. Finally and at the risk of sounding fetishistic, I think a lot of people appreciate holding a well-made object that was printed and bound by hand. It provides another avenue of connection and adds personal value to the piece. There’s the issue of paper quality, how the pop-ups are made and the loss of the smell of ink. These all may seem minor as a viewer, but the fact that the book was designed with these elements in consideration makes them major to me.
OA: You recently won the Seoul International Book Fair with The Articifer Arisen, The Articifer Fallen. What that experience like?
JL: Winning that award was a slightly surreal experience. I sent it to the fair without any expectations and, due to translation issues, wasn't really sure when it was being judged or against what (or even for sure IF). Then I started receiving congratulations from a few Korean friends. I had heard nothing but second and third hand information about what was happening and vague (occasionally unbelievable) whisperings of what I won in the process. Not being able to speak or read Korean I could not find any physical or online information (in English) confirming the award. It took several weeks to get an email from the coordinator finally confirming it. I briefly thought it was a mistake. It wasn't though. The award money also created a small amount of confusion. It was presented as 2,000,000 Won (Korean currency). I knew there was an extreme conversion rate, but in my fanciful dreams I had just made my salary for the year. It wasn’t quite THAT much, more like a months rent and bills than a years salary. I was excited although there was a wait to receive the prize money and with the depreciating dollar I was getting worried as the sum slowly decreased. They also gave me a trophy that blows any trophy I have ever received out of the water. It’s a real honor to know that something I worked so hard on was so widely appreciated in Seoul. It makes me feel I am doing the right thing. Winning this award had blossomed into a relationship with an organization called Artist Book Seoul who has been showcasing my work in S. Korea and recently in Frankfurt, Germany. Their interest encourages me to further develop an international base for my books.
OA: Did you travel over there for the book fair?
JL: No, I didn’t get the opportunity to go. I would love to travel to Seoul one day but as most things do it all comes down to cost unfortunately, not desire.
OA: How to Be a Man in Five Easy Steps looks like a lot of fun, have you received any feed back on that release?
JL: I received a lot of great feedback from the book. It is meant to be firmly tongue in cheek and I somehow managed to succeed in doing that. I don't see it as controversial because it isn't taking itself seriously and, to my knowledge, no one has seen it as anything other than what it is, goofy and irreverent, just like many gender stereotypes. Actually I'm re-editioning the book and turning it into a, long time coming, series. It's sequels will be How To Fight Like A Man in Five Easy Steps, How To Make Love Like A Man in Five Easy Steps, How To Die Like A Man in Five Easy Steps and How to Come Back as A Man in Five Easy Steps.
OA: How did that book come about, and why superheroes?
JL: The physicality of the book came because I wanted to learn how to work an old AB Dick offset machine. They're these little crappy offset printers that give you horrible registration in a hard to intentionally mimic way. I love it for its quirks. I was also experimenting with simple and quick binding techniques. I wanted to make an interesting one-pager (a book that consists of only one sheet of paper, cut and folded to create 8 pages) The content came from the desire create something lighthearted that mocks male gender roles and our cultural push to be all-man. I think it is a serious issue in the world, but felt like tackling it seriously may come across as too proselytizing. This is a large part of why I chose to work with superheroes. All of the heroes I manipulate in the book are obsolete public domain characters (although some are recently experiencing a resurgence in nostalegic popularity.) I love comic books and particularly that era, all golden age 40's characters. We see an archetype thrown out, some snazzy spandex thrown on, a (mainly) male character beating the living crap out of or more often killing their enemies (no talking or emoting or sympathizing) and then returning to their beautiful, unsuspecting and often victimized girlfriend, their self-created millionaire lifestyles and their scientifically unexplainable origins. Can I find more material for my premise of being a MAN? Maybe, but not easily. Besides it was a safe bet since these characters, and their color schemes, were designed to be printed four-color offset. I should note that the sequels will contain imagery from other sources such as karate manuals and 70's sex technique books. I'm looking for the epitome of "manliness" and that's where I seem to find them.
OA: What was your experience at Columbia like?
JL: I was very lucky to go through the program when I did. I received my Masters In Interdisciplinary Book & Paper Arts and did so during a time of general change and upheaval. Regardless of where the future of the program leads or where it sat in the past, my tenure there was filled with an amazing amount of push, connections, growth, frustrations, realizations, and understandings. The facilities are one of the best, if not the best, in an academic environment in the nation and I was able to work with professors and professionals who not only knew the techniques (papermaking, binding, printing, etc...) but could utilize those skills into creating thought-provoking and engaging art works. I came to Columbia to expand my medium base. I came to think in a more mature way, to acknowledge the importance of craft in relation to the importance of concept and context. My instructors and peers were vital in this. My fellow classmates and I (for the 3 years we were together) were a devoted bunch of artists who were not afraid to fight for what we wanted. As a group we demanded a lot from the Program (and the school) and rewarded them with exceptional work and activities. We created an organization (Pulp, Ink & Thread) that allowed for a safe forum to address student concerns in a unified manner; we reached out to other Graduate programs in order to begin creating a national web of "book & paper" artists who can interact with each other post-schooling; we involved the community in our studies through workshops and demonstrations; we continue to work to legitimize a field that is often relegated to fairs and "Book Arts" shows, big C craft talk and is often treated as a "lesser than" art genre. I am proud to be part of a graduating class of forward thinking individuals who want to make better art in a better environment. That being said Colleges and Universities are businesses and even when best intentions are involved they don't always involve the current students. It can be a hard realization. There is bureaucracy and a lot of quiet dealings that as a graduate student I became acutely aware of. I think change can initially lead to a sense of distrust and unhappiness and there was certainly some of that present. The good news is that change (hopefully) leads to a better environment and greater learning. It's kind of like politics. No one is every completely happy, you just have to weigh the benefits and during my tenure at Columbia I was greatly benefited. (Except for the student loans.)
OA: What was one thing you were able to take away from your time there?
JL: An amazing eyeball for Points and Picas.
OA: What's next for Joseph Lappie?
JL: Right now I have more pies than fingers to put them in, but that’s how I work. The big looming event is a solo exhibition entitled "Before There Was Us and Them There Was We." at the Believe Inn on November 22nd. It’s going to be a show predominantly of large drawings, medium prints and small paintings, but I am trying to squeeze a book or two in. It is a themed show of (hopefully) all new work so I don't want to push anything that doesn't fit. I have some books returning from Frankfurt, Germany and Marseille, France. New York poet Steven Karl and I are working on a book of poems and illustrations that interact visually and contextually with each other. We hope to have it finished up and printed by early 2009. Hobart Literary Journal has kindly asked me to work on a series of themed Broadsides tentatively set to start seeing the light of day come spring. The collaborative press, Chimera Press, co-founded by fellow artist Brandon Graham and myself is working hard on getting an Artist's Book that pictorially investigates corruption through greed and the corruption of environment back on its feet. Brandon, Stephen Desantis, Kirstin Demer and I are working on the creation of an Artist's Book organization out of Chicago named Artist-Book-Co-Op. We hope to become a presence that informs viewers, collectors and artists of contemporary artist’s books and the artists that create them. Our website is in development and we’ll have a physical presence at art conferences next year. Most importantly to me I have begun working on my new book tentatively titled " The Antediluvian". It's only in the concept phase, but I am ecstatic about making a book to top Articifer. I'll be teaching a Lithography workshop this Spring and will be participating in demos for the 2009 Southern Graphics Conference. Having spent the last three years in an academic setting I am also trying to be more active in the gallery and alternative space scene. I would really like to spend a year or two and just get my work experienced by as many people as possible. I’m still trying to figure out how to successfully network though. All of this plus one full-time and one part-time job, two cats, and a very understanding partner keeps me on my creative toes.
OA: What was the last great book you have read?
JL: Right now I am finishing part One of Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God Series entitled Primitive Mythology. I’ve actually read the series out of order, having read book three and four first. This first volume is great. It postulates not only on why religion (myth) began but also connects disparate cultures through their sacred stories. I find it fascinating to read about an 8000-year-old society’s mystical beliefs and how they are frightenly similar to contemporary religious (and cultural) thought. Some of the ideas are horrifying and yet…similar. The other book I just read was The Crying of Lot 49. It is an early novel of Thomas Pynchon’s and supposedly his most accessible. The basic premise, a woman searching for the truth about an alternate postal service and the conspiracies it evokes, doesn’t seem too exciting at first, but the beautiful and humorous play on language, the creation of a fake Jacobean revenge play and inclusion of something called a Maxwell’s Demon makes it truly fascinating. Reading it got me excited to tackle Gravity’s Rainbow. I know you only asked for one, but I also have to mention the best fiction book I have read in a long while; “The Children’s Hospital” by Chris Adrian. Just go out and buy it. It’s beautiful and horrible and epic and full of awesomeness.
OA: What type of music do you listen to and who are a few of your favorites?
JL: I’m not really good at quantifying types of music, when I do it just sounds pathetic so I’ll just say I am aurally eclectic. My musical favorites change frequently, but currently I have been spending a lot of time with the Cloud Cult, Marnie Stern, the Books, Yo La Tango, Peaches and Regina Spektor. I do have a few time-honored albums that I can listen to at any given point which would logically make them all-time favorites: Menomena’s “I am the Fun Blame Monster”, Radiohead’s “OK Computer” or “Kid A”, They Might Be Giants’ “Flood”, Bob Dylans’s “The Free-Wheelin Bob Dylan” Cat Stevens’ “Greatest Hits”, and DJ Danger Mouse’s “Grey Album”. I love them all. As a side note, I don’t actually listen to music while I make art. I can, but I prefer silence. I think it’s because I’ll sing (or mumble) along and blurting out lyrics seems to increases my “error margin” exponentially. With binding and printing I try to minimize that.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Tim Hall Full Of It (Undie Press, Oct. 14th, 2008)
When I first heard the title of Tim's second novel, Full Of It, I thought it may be dealing with the current election. Yet, when I saw the subtitle, The Birth, Death, and Life of an Underground Newspaper, I knew the truth. Actually, the very first time I met Tim Hall, he was carrying this large hardcover book under his arm, it was multi-colored and in a crude typewriter font. He explained the premise and I was intrigued. Several months later I started receiving mysterious cds on my front step. It was an audio version of Full Of It told three chapters at a time with sound effects and a different voice for each character. It was captivating, I couldn't wait for the next installment of this journey through the struggle to remain together and creative.
Full Of It takes a look at the business side of creativity. A group of friends and acquaintances come together to start a newspaper, but the hierarchy begins to bleed the passion, and soon whose name is listed where and whose story runs when begins to transcend the overall product and value of the paper. As much as it is about struggles for control, it is also about the path of friendships, romances, high and lows, and the trials and errors of a young writer in a big city. Through it all he learns a valuable lesson, there is nothing more treasured than friendship, but everything can change at any time.
Super XX Man Vol. XII:: There'll Be Diamonds (Tender Loving Empire Oct. 21st, 2008)
There are hundreds, if not thousands of albums released every week. There are a couple of factors that will set one apart from another when they are both sitting on the shelf or in the stack on my desk. If you don't have instant name recognition then there has to be some quality in design or presentation that sets your album apart. An image by a well-known artist or something shocking or some how appealing will go a long way. You could also play with packaging bright colors, folding cardboard, boxes, plastic whatever you do has to draw people to your album regardless of the style or sound.
What I look for is a package that shows the band and the label really care about the look and feel of the album. One of my favorite labels for this very reason is Portland's Tender Loving Empire. Their latest release, Super XX Man's There'll Be Diamonds, feels and looks like a work of art. Each copy is Hand Screenprinted with art by Brian Oster giving the album a very unique look and feel. It honestly made me want to listen to this album first just because of its cover. Super XX Man is the product of Scott Garred, this album is actually his 12th full-length album, and it is filled with one of my favorite types of songs, the upbeat song about saddness, hurt, and depression. Perfected by Morrissey, Garred sings about medication, crazy co-works, relationship problems, and more. His voice is calm and steady, lush and intimate. It is a wonderful compliment to the detailed packaging and any record collection.
Listen to: Medication (mp3)
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Aether is the alias from San Antonio producer Diego Chavez. On November 25th, Diego will release an tightly packed collection of beats called Artifacts on the Exponential Label. Launching the album with the beautifully down tempo "Forgive Me", which appeared on the collection Wait til the Ice Melts earlier this year, he sets the mood and pace early. As tranquil and detailed as the cover of Artifacts is, Diego's tracks are even more finite and enjoyable. A classic chill album from the hot electronic scene in Texas.
Listen to: Lykke Li - Little Bit (Aether Mix) (mp3)
There seems to so many bands right now combining thick and funky electronic beats with confusing and lazy lyrics right now, but why not it is a winning combination. Four Texans called Honey Claws have joined the ranks with a mostly electronic, mostly funky, 14-track hip-hop epic. The self-titled album (which is out now) makes you want to dance and lay on the couch all at the same time.
Listen to: Shout Out (mp3)
Listen to: Song For The Winter Sun (mp3)
Stage 1: 1. Avoid babies by leaping over them 2. Collect cash
Stage 2: 1. Buy milk 2. Drop milk bottles down to babies 3. Be glad that the babies are fed.
Matisyahu is not the typical artist that I like to feature, and when I received this ep I didn't think I would be mentioning it. However, Matisyahu really exceeded my expectation on this album. Maybe they were set low, but still these four tracks present a great deal of potential for Yahu next full-length album. On October 21, Matisyahu will release his newest EP, Shattered, via Epic Records. The four-song EP features tracks from his new full-length album, Light, to be released in early 2009.
Listen to: Smash Lies (mp3)
No I wasn't one of the lucky 2500 who purchased the edition of Copper Blue with the metal copper sleeve with each of the 2,500 copies containing a one-of-a-kind Polaroid photo taken by one of the three band members. However, that didn't stop me from completely falling in love with the debut album from Bob Mould and company. Now I haven't listened to Sugar in ages, but for some reason (Mr. Obama) the some "Changes" has been running through my head lately.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
1. Pillars and Tongues: This is music explores you while you try to imagine how it was created. This Chicago trio is making some of the most inventive music in town. Their latest album Protection was released by a local label on October 14th. Listen to: Hall of Bliss (mp3)
3. Gladshot: Debbie Andrews and Mike Bixwell make sugary pop music. This New York duo released their latest album Burn Up & Shine on October 14th. Listen to: All I Want is You (mp3)
1. Live Young by Jennifer Gravely: This one was a tough one, but the subject matter was well handled. I love Fiction at Work, btw. The "Boss!" button rocks!
2. Scratches of Hope by Aimee Wilkinson: "One of these days she will win back all the sacrifices she gave throughout her life. "
3. Different from Dickinson by Eleanor Ellis: "and I sat there, quivering like underdone jello"
4. Yakaterina Golubeva by Jac Jemc: Almost as fascinating as her stories are tales of her rejections detailed on her blog.
5. The Little Mogul by Thomas Sullivan: This draws upon the huge amount of loss associated with gain.
6. Spilled Milk by Joanne Faries: A child's memories of his Grandmother.
7. Norm MacDonald by Ellen Kennedy: "Norm Macdonald walks into a Gamestop. Norm Macdonald buys himself a Nintendo DS Lite."
1. Bust Down the Door and Eat All The Chickens (Issue 8) by Bradley Sands
2. Poketo makes the best looking wallets, check out their latest series.
1. Lee Kelly makes a mean crossword puzzle... check one out here CMJ preview crossword.
2. KJFF's interview with Tim Hall author of Full of It
3. Check out Postcard.fm: Send an audio postcard to a friend.
1. XLR8R talks with E*Rock
2. Ian Anderson and One for the Team plays for Spin
3. Check out the Latest from Mr. Lif
4. Spywatchers by Icy Demons courtesy Babel Music
5. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Seth Brau
6. I Saw The Bright Shinies (mp3) by The Octopus Project
Friday, October 24, 2008
Nick Butcher (NB): Bee removal was a natural culmination of my previous audio and visual work.I became increasingly interested in simplifying things...widdleing them down to their "purest" components. While there is a great deal of layering of sound sources involved I tried to keep things more minimal and more raw...focusing on repetition and texture as the driving force. Hopefully coercing the listener to sit inside the sounds. Then using slight changes in melody or texture to move the songs forward. I love melody. So its always there in some form. But, yeah. this record requires patience. These are not the kind of melodies that are gonna beat you over the head. It can work as background music, sure.....but if you really listen, I think it offers more of a narrative and depth. As much so as traditional pop song... just parred down. I find this middle ground facinating. How far can you push the format until it falls apart?
OA: How was the decision made to only release it on vinyl (icy white vinyl!)?
NB: I was looking at my music collection, which is mostly cds and I thought to myself...will I have these in 5 years? 10 years? Its funny how that pieces of plastic went from being cutting edge technology and actually feeling like that to pure throwaway junk. pile them up with old cell phones and toner cartridges... I wanted to make something people would feel guilty about throwing away! Staying power I guess....I chose white because it suited the artwork. It also just looks sonice...fortuantely/unfortunately, white vinyl has the most surface noise of any of the colored vinyls........so Its adds a new texture to the music...which I think is kind of neat.
OA: Just like your first album, Bee Removal is being released through Hometapes. What has your experience been like with them?
NB: Hometapes have been good to me. Even though their focus has shifted more towards real deal bands they've managed to save a place for me at the table.
NB: I think there is definitely a look to our work. Its been really fun working together...Because Nadine and I have similar tastes but different styles. Since starting Sonnenzimmer, we've begun to collaborate a lot more on projects and I'm really proud of the work we've done. The fusion of our two styles has become a style of its own.....very much akin to what we did individually, yet stronger. We lean towards minimal, painterly design with an emphasis on strong typography.
OA: I read that you haven't had a lot of time to work on your personal paintings, but I really enjoy the work on your site. Do you see yourself continuing to build your personal profile? How is the approach different to a personal piece as opposed to your professional work with Sonnerzimmer?
NB: Thanks a lot! For the past two years Nadine and I have been pushing really hard to get Sonnenzimmer off the ground. Putting together a print shop and getting a business off the ground is a ton of work and its taken both of our full attention. There are always sacrifices involved in devoting yourself to something...So yeah, I haven't made many paintings or much music over these couple of years. That said, we're both starting to carve out time for art now and it feels great! There isn't a fine line between my personal work and the work I do with Sonnenzimmer. They both spill into each other and are influenced by each other...The only real difference is that Sonnenzimmer stuff usually has a band name on it.
NB: Who knows. I've started a handful of new paintings for a show that Nadine and I are doing at Lula here in Chicago. That opens in February. I'm in the beginning stages of making some new music. I've reconfiguring my recording setup... I want to get some nicer mics and stuff. I also hope to collaborate more with other musicians here in the city and abroad. I want to approach my next recordings differently... maybe in the role of an"arranger"... utilizing the talents of friends (real musicians) to make something different than what I can do on my own. Who knows, it might still sound like a broken tape deck...but it will be a different broken tape deck.
NB: The "drums" on the title track "Bee Removal" were built out of a recording of a spinning quarter.
NB: "Off the Wall: Robert Rauschenberg and the Artworld of Our Time" by Calvin Tomkins
It's a really great account of not only Rauschenberg but the folks who were around him at the time.... John Cage, Jackson Pollack, De Kooning, etc....
Thursday, October 23, 2008
While preparing to ask Washington writer Doug Milam a few questions I read back through the broadside, "A Little Money Down", that he had published by THE2NDHAND back in February. It felt more frantic, more necessary, more immediate this time around. It could be that everything feels more frantic, or it could just be the sign of a well-written story. The story follows the thoughts and actions of a criminal trying to make it in the "real" world, and as the line between fiction and reality blur the results are fatal. What caught me off guard was a series of ad slogans in the middle of story, and it only twisted further away from reality from that point. It was like a release of built up pressure and tension and stress.
Orange Alert (OA): Your recent broadside for the2ndhand, "A Little Money Down" is an incredible look a where the mind can go when forced, and easily the body follows. Does it seem more relevant now then when it was published back in February?
Doug Milam (DM): Thanks. More relevant...well, 'no' in the sense of personal experience. I'm not in as precarious of a position, economically. Yet, 'yes' in that increasingly there is a mental pressure to change my position, for my own health, and so move on, but not toward anything precipitous.
OA: In a preface to all of your political blog entries you mention that your next book is loosely focused on politics. What can you tell us about your upcoming novel?
DM: I have a didactic streak, for good or ill. Initially it was going to be a work of nonfiction, as a new challenge: a study of non-violent programs, one political, one religious, and their potential convergence. But I realized quite quickly that it would take far more research than I can invest in currently with a full-time job and so on. So my other sketch is a letter from father to son with plenty of socio-political content, but fiction all the same.
OA: How much research do you typically do before you sit down to write?
DM: In the case of fiction, not very much, in specific. There's an adage that computer programmers like to be lazy so as not to needlessly replicate algorithmic tedium. While I'm not a programmer, I've enjoyed trying to make this an analogy: not to spend hours and hours hunched over the minutiae of how a hospital really operates. In Still The Confusion, for instance, it's all imagination when the kid is lying in the hospital. I just wasn't going to visit any wards or talk to doctors to get the atmosphere. I think there's a definite place for realism, but it can also devolve into a kind of informational onanism. It's bad enough that I have a trivial mind... That said, I love to read nonfiction, so I'm absorbing fact and interpretation rather frequently. How that plays out as I write is part of the adventure.
OA: Your first collection, Still The Confusion, was published by Trafford. What was your experience like with them, and have you looked into publishers for your next book?
DM: It was a good experience with Trafford. But I had help, as well. A friend kindly arranged the contract by getting other friends to commit to chipping in for a copy, and all I had to do was set the layout myself and send them a Postscript file. The downside was that at the time I used Microsoft Word to typeset the text, which was a hassle. I wish I had known LaTeX instead.
OA: The cover of Still the Confusion is simple and straightforward. Was this by design? How much input did you have, and how important do feel the cover of a book is?
DM: It was by design, yes. I had full input. I was on a green kick, not in the environmental sense, but green was (and is) my favorite color and I wanted to 'brand' myself, much in the way that the White Stripes used red and white to arrest the viewer. Looking back, I'd do it over in black and white, because I don't like how the white text bleeds on a green background. I feel the cover of a book is very important. On the one hand, taking it seriously provides an amusing subversion of the admonition not to judge a book by it's cover, especially when clearly books are marketed a great deal on how their covers look, how large or small the author's photo is, how sexy or serious or absurd he or she looks, what fonts are hip, etc. And then to make the cover simple, boring even, is a further amusement in this regard. On the other hand, it's simply my own taste. Personally I like minimalism. I like how many of the small, academic presses style their covers. Take the Crofts Classics edition of Plato's Republic. It's ridiculously dull, from a fashionable point of view. The text on the white cover is not even black, it's brown. But man, what a text within! The cover should get out of the way. But, I will say that there are fine covers which are in full style, like the hardbound 'blue version' Hitchens's No One Left To Lie To, from Verso. Very germane to the humor within.
OA: What's next for Doug Milam?
DM: A treatise on covers! Seriously, I hope to see my long poem on Chicago forthcoming in 2009. I'd like to get my EP mastered. I recorded five songs a while back but I'm rather tentative about performing them in public, and so I haven't bothered to finalize it. I'll continue to write experimentally and see what interests me.
OA: Coffee? Washington is known for their coffee, where do you go for a cup?
DM: Oh, and I thought I was a coffee aficionado until I moved here. Once I discovered the French press, I was a changed man. I prefer to drink coffee black now, whereas before I had to alter it with cream and sugar. But I digress. The best here is to be found at The Black Drop, and at the Mount Bakery if you like a good mocha. But mostly I make it at home, with beans roasted right here in town by Moka Joe. It's so fresh, so buttery smooth...damn.
OA: What type of music do you listen? I know you're not all that close to Seattle, but the Northwest in general has produced tons of quality music. Do you listen to KEXP? Who are a few of your favorite bands?
DM: I don't listen to KEXP. I rarely listen to the radio here, although now and then I'll tune in to one of the public radio stations, KUOW or KZAZ. Favorite bands...The Stone Roses made a timeless, incomparable album of mood and place (their first). Digable Planets: amazing wordsmiths with premier grooves. I don't keep up with the current scene, although Neko Case is great. Mostly though I prefer old reggae and jazz.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The sound of Australia's C.W. Stoneking is from a different era. He captures the essence of 1920's Hokum Blues, which is also name of his debut album. On his second tour through the states we were able capture a few incredible images. Listen to: Bad Luck Everywhere I Go (mp3)
Ernest Gonzalez - Lullaby
Pit Er Pat - High Time
+/- - Xs On Your Eyes
The Sea and Cake - Car Alarm