Interview with Joules

Interview by Christopher S. Feltner
Two-Piece noise rock bands are NUMEROUS! That being said, Joules stand out. Largely improvisational but never repetitive. Sludgy, discordant, feedback ridden bass accompanied by varying rhythms with the occasional delay rich, looped vocal. As a bonus, Mark Hepp (bass) and Charles Ovett (drums/vocal) are complete sweethearts.

What IS "Joules?

Mark: Hahahaha well... Just two guys doing what they love. Its all our influences and tastes and throwing it all on the floor and making something happen. No egos, just a love of making sounds and having a good time.

Why don't I believe that's your REAL answer?

Charles: Hahahaha

This isn't Spin!

Mark: We toss out ideas and just go for it whether it be shirts or a noise album or anything really. Just two friends making noise rock really.

CharlesIt's true.

MarkNo egos, just handshakes and sweat. Loud amps and free jazz beats.

Mark, I met you when you played in a different two-piece last year, right?

MarkYessir. The upsidedown stars.

Why do you hate guitarists and/or vocalists?

MarkNo hate. That’s like asking why a painter prefers oils vs motor oil.

What about you Charles? What were you into before Joules?

CharlesMe? I was in another 2-piece called Battle Beast, and a grunge punk band called Harry Hunter. Also, solo projects called Death Rides A Horse and Prince Charles, Holyghostenema.

MarkI was in a 3-piece called Stronghold Crvsader, then Robot vs Rabbit before that.

You guys keep busy! I have seen you perform three or four times now, and each time has been a little different. Do you guys write, improvise, or a little of both?

MarkYeah a little bit of both. Kinda like krautrock and jazz; we have ideas and foundations. But, it's like driving; ya take the same road every day and it will never be the same. Ask a painter to recreate his picture exactly, can he do it?

The incorporation of vocals have been off-and-on in the times I've seen Joules. Is this something you think you'll do more of?

MarkMaybe, but at the same time ya have the possibility to make something new on an old foundation. Charles?

CharlesYes, of course! That's the only way I'll get close to being a front man.

You guys just finished several dates collaborating with Emotron. How'd this come about?

MarkThere was a resident artist in Charlotte named Andy the Doorbum, Emotron is friends with him...

CharlesI think Mark had a big hand in that. I was all for it.

MarkAndy was starting an art war in Charlotte. I had approached Andy about a possible collaboration, but he was busy with
his movement and we could never get up with each other. I had attended one of his evening events and started taking to Kyle (Emotron) about pictures I had taken of Andy. We struck up a friendship and had originally wanted Kyle to do a slow-motion video and then, it evolved into him performing with us. Found out he was leaving for Cali and just booked as many gigs as we could before he had to leave.

CharlesI played a few shows with him before in my last band. Good times!

MarkAnd, through our friendship with Kyle, we met the lovely Pants who sat in with us and Kyle with vocals and cymbal bashing. So, we four did some shows together before Kyle left and now we are evolving to use Pants as another member, another idea machine. She's done a few gigs with us now, and is openminded and bringing new ideas to the table that we never thought of. If for some reason she can't play, we just do what we do.

What all does Pants do? Vocals like Emotron? Something else?

MarkAt the moment, vocals.... Yeah ,similar but adding her own elements each time. She uses cymbals like Clang Quartet.
Various kitchen utensils with varying types of surfaces. She's big into sound textures.
Speaking of Clang Quartet... What is in the water in NC? Some of my most memorable shows have been in NC along with some of the most memorable people. There's a lot of creativity flowing through the state: Baptizer, Clang Quartet, YOU, NUSS, Three-Brained Robot, et al.

MarkI guess its no different than any city or scene. Like minded people who enjoy everyones company merging together in rallying support.

CharlesThere are a few others around that are really good. Ghost Trees is cool.

You guys have both mentioned Jazz when I've talked to you about inspiration. Any particular players?

CharlesMan, that's a loaded question. I grew up with a jazz musician that could play 13 instruments.

Who was this musician you grew up with?

CharlesHis name was CC Bankhead. Awesome musician but not healthy mentally.

Mark: My inspirations were more, sounds of the world, birds trains, natural ambient sounds... I hated pop music as a child and found punk rock in high school. That music blew open my mind and I have been searching for new things almost everyday since. We just gravitated towards a jazz foundation because that seemed natural?

What do you guys have coming up for the rest of the year? Any plans to record?

MarkThe rest of the year? Yeah, get new shirts, play more gigs, just have fun and make noise that comes natural. We record as much as we can with any device we have on hand: cameras, laptops, Kyle had a field recorder. We're always looking at new/used tools. "Hey lets try this!!!" And, we go get it.

CharlesLooking forward to the noise fest in St. Petersburg.

Interview with Jon Mueller

Interview by Christopher S. Feltner

Few artists have been more inspiring to me in recent times than Jon Mueller. His solo work is ace, as is the various collaborative projects Mueller is/was involved in. If you are already familiar, I hope you enjoy the read. If you are unfamiliar? Well, you are in for a treat!

You just brought the Death Blues project to a close recently. Why end it now? Did you accomplish all you wanted with it?

There was always an intended arc to it. It was a message, translated through various forms, and that message was relayed. My only regret for the project, potentially, is that there was not more severity to it. Having had some recent experiences, I realized how powerful the sentiment of limited time is, and I hope this message didn't get too lost amongst the music and other things.

What do you mean by "severity?"

The message might have been heavier, almost fearful, but not to erase awareness. Total absolute focus.

With a strong focus on being present, in the moment, do you believe that is something lacking in people these days; particularly, with everyone staring into a screen?

It affects me as well, and I talk to people about this often. Yet, here we are, nonetheless, staring at a screen. I think it's not so easy to judge this activity as completely useful or not. The answer is in each individual's use and how they see themselves changing in the process. How the experience of living this way affects them. Sometimes, staring at nature isn't as productive as emailing someone who is dealing with major issues and needs to just feel connected to something. The question is, how are we working on our face-to-face connections? Are those changing, improving, etc.?

I have talked to a lot of parents, recently, who talked about how their teenagers are now at the age of getting their driver's license, but their children seem uninterested. A common variable between them is that they all like to spend a lot of time on their phones and laptops.

I have a family member that is afraid to get their license as well. I mentioned that the more you do it, the more comfortable you'll get. It seems the negative potential is too real. It can't be deleted or ignored. It's too real. This, of course, is troubling, as driving is only one part of reality that holds this potential. Maybe it's an individual case, but if that's indicative of a generation, that will be an interesting social change.

It is also concerning that they only time that people seem to unite is after a tragic event. Maybe even more the fact that people come together in support and/or protest after these events, and passion seems so strong, then a month later, it begins to dissipate and people go back to their singular focus.

We are overwhelmed with information because we choose to be. It is only natural to seem to focus and react to singular things at a time. It seems 'normal' to do this. Imagine posting a link or statement about a different topic every minute for the entire day, with occasional themes emerging. That would seem schizophrenic, and surely people would unfollow, yet that's sort of how our brains really work. Maybe it will get to that point, and as we see the overwhelming input of all brains in real time, we will implode! I'm listening to Xenakis right now, which is the perfect soundtrack to this idea.

Something that may or may not be related to this is that I've seen and heard a lot of great art come out in the past five years. Technologies ability to make it easier to create art could be a good side-effect.
What drives your creative process? Is it the Human Condition, overall, or there certain elements that inspire you?

I would say that I'm more concerned with the Personal Condition, how certain things and experiences have affected me.

A lot of your work has a meditative and spiritual feel to it. You use a lot of symbols with your projects: the Death
Blues site, the circle and the ladder of Initiation, the masks of the Ensemble record...
Where does this interest come from?

Symbols generally have meaning, yet they are interpreted based on individual understanding. That is also the aim with my work.

So, would you say that your work is your personal journey in understanding, a journey created for the listener, or a joint experience? What do you hope someone gets from listening to one of your records, or seeing a live performance?

My hope is both a personal experience and a shared connection. It is not just about what I "do."

Your recent project, Initiation, is only available to experience live. What is the drive behind Initiation?

It addresses the 'focus' that we've talked about here, what 'records' mean to people and what the experience of them is and might be like.

Do you worry that only making this experience live-based will limit people's access to it vs adding a recorded, physical format?

That is actually part of the intent. Those that attend will have the record inside them, forever. Because of this, the record will partially be made by them, and they will only be able to share parts of it through their own ability to describe what it is to others.

Like how we used to share stories, pre-internet.

I'd say it happens more with the internet. But yes, a platform for a personal folklore, a tale of an experience that might be difficult, or easy, to understand and describe. I want to make things that encourage that.

You have a new solo record in the works, as well, right? Each of your records, rather solo or in collaboration, have covered so much ground in terms of different approaches, feels, and sound... Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?!haha

The solo recording session will likely be replaced with a different project now. So, at the moment, there might be too many ideas! But that isn't always the case. In fact, ideas are always abundant, but the ones worth materializing can sometimes be tricky to identify. After all, what is worth it? And how might one know? I'm trying to get better at answering those questions.

For me, I sift through ideas by refusing to follow any of them, at first. Certain ones will keep popping back up in my head, and those are the ones I pursue.

Exactly. I have the same experience. Maybe not 'refusal' but patience. I try not to jump at anything too quickly, but let it develop subconsciously.

"Patience" is a good term for it. Do you write your ideas down at all? I like to write things down, then I'll make changes to the notes over the next 6-10 months until I feel it's right to try them out.

I will sometimes write things out, when it seems there are specifics that will be difficult or too numerous to remember, and I fear forgetting them. Then, often, when I step away and revisit them later on, I realize that I've mentally rewritten a lot of it, and the written version seems so wrong. Ha! It's good though. I've reminded myself of many interesting things this way.

Before closing, who are some artists whose work is really inspiring you right now?

Recently, I've revisited my obsession with Alex Jordan after reading his biography. His House on the Rock was a lifetime achievement. The Shaker movement is a continuing source of interest and inspiration on many different levels. I've also been reading different books by Hazrat Inayat Khan, which inspired parts of INITIATION and seemed to speak to a greater perspective in general.

When your time is up, how do you hope people remember you as a person and artist?

That I contributed something meaningful.

Interview with Tag Cloud

Interview by Guillermo Pizarro

Tag Cloud was one of my first introductions into the DC Experimental Music scene. I grew fond of his first album “Named Entities” and got the chance to see him perform many times. With each performance he seemed to keep adding a subtle new element. I appreciated his focus to these subtleties, his sonic surgery allowed me to just let the sound take me away instead of visually focusing on the performance.

3 years later, Tag Cloud continues to inspire with this insight to his influences and process. I look forward to seeing where his sonic spelunking takes him. I think you’ll want to, too.

Let’s get the cliché question out of the way; how and when did you get your start in the wonderful world of experimental music? Were you always attracted to it, or did it just evolve to this stage?

It was a gradual process. I was always interested but got into it seriously later than a lot of my peers. Much of my education came from going to shows put on by Transparent Productions and the Electric Possible series here in DC in the 90s and oughts, and later on Sonic Circuits. The Circuits shows really made me want to do something of my own. I guess I spent a long time listening before I tried it. My thing was always going to be something experimental and drone oriented.

This is a kind of part II to the first question. I wasn’t around for all of Tag Cloud, if I remember correctly I came into the community around 2012. How did the early incarnation of Tag Cloud differ from your current work?

The early incarnation developed when I got a handheld recorder and started playing around with field
recordings. I didn't feel like it was the direction I wanted to go in, but it was an interesting exercise. There are a couple of recordings sitting around from then, but that's about it. It didn't click for me until I picked up some kit electronics and found the means to do what I really had in mind. Although, I'm still figuring that out, I never expected there would be a live element to it, but that turned out to be pretty enjoyable.

The first time I met you at Artomatic, I believe you might have been wearing an Earthride shirt or something doomy like that. Does Doom Metal or its more extreme cousins like Drone Metal and Funeral Doom play any role in shaping your sound? What are some of your other musical influences?

It probably was Earthride. I've seen them many times. It may not sound that much like it, but there is an influence of metal in there sometimes, in terms of tones and atmosphere at least.  As it evolves there's likely to be a little more. But, it's one component. I'm a huge fan of Pelt and Birchville Cat Motel, and I suppose I'm trying to find a space in that continuum. Flying Saucer Attack. Those three changed everything for me. Certainly krautrock, shoegaze, it's in there. I don't know that I would characterize what I do as straight noise music, but that's a definite influence. The scene in DC is important since it was so much of the inspiration for me to try it.

Outside of musical influences, what drives you?

Having a creative outlet is important, and there's a meditative and even a therapeutic aspect to this for me as well. I find collaborations really enjoyable. I've done quite a few in a short time: Lab Mice with Gary Rouzer; BLK TAG with James Adams and you, among others; Safe Fast & Effective with Dave Vosh and Keith Sinzinger; and a few more. I have a long way to go yet to get where I want to be, but that constant process of discovery is also something that keeps me going.

What are your main pieces of equipment that you use? Any particular additions you’d like to make?

The main components are the Drone Lab and Drone Commander, a couple of pieces of kit electronics with oscillators and various filters. Those get fed into a series of pedals. I also recently picked up an Arturia Microbrute. Nice little synth I'm still settling in with. Occasionally, I use an old Casio CZ-1000. And, every so often, the setup includes gongs, bowls, and/or shruti box. I would like a better harmonium one day. I got a cheap one that hasn't held up too well. I've looked into modular synths. It seems like it would be a logical progression.

What is your recording process like? Do you record at home?

Everything to date has been recorded and mixed in my living room, initially on a Tascam 8-track and now a Korg D3200 16-track. There is some additional editing/processing on my computer. I'm
entirely self-taught and working at it with each release. It's a somewhat limiting approach, recording at home, but I'm mostly happy with the results. I'm not at all opposed to a real studio/engineer at some point.

I envy that, and I have to say that you've done a great job. I've always enjoyed your recording quality. You show great restraint also, in that you don't over saturate the internet with recordings, despite having that at your fingertips. 

I’ve met some of the most interesting people with many different careers in the few years of doing this type of music. If you don’t mind my asking; what do you do for a living? (I’m pretty private myself and try not to reveal much about my personal life, so I understand if you prefer this not being out there).

I've worked in scientific publishing for 20+ years. I try and keep the two worlds separate. This can be hard to explain to coworkers with no frame of reference.

Very cool! It's definitely difficult. I try to keep the two worlds separate as well. They know I do something in "music," they're just not sure what. Some have asked for recordings or have asked to let them know when I'll be playing out. Maybe when the right event gets put together, I'll subject them to the wonder / horror. Maybe you and I should host an event meant only for unsuspecting family members and co-workers.

Are there any particular places you’d like to perform? Or if you could open up for anyone, who would it be?

The west coast would be cool. England, too. I've been fortunate to play some great places like An Die Musik in Baltimore and Goodbye Blue Monday (R.I.P.) in New York in a relatively short time but have not done anything that could be called touring yet. If I could open for anyone it'd be Pelt or Birchville Cat Motel.

I’m listening to 5-22-14 right now around the 16 minute mark. I just thought you’d like to know that the drone is synced up with blinking cursor.

Completely intentional. Glad you noticed.

You’ve recently released the wonderfully resonant “Overnight” cassette. In its own special way, I feel like this is one of the harsher releases that you’ve done. Especially in the title track, you sweep through some pretty high frequencies that just drill into your frontal cortex. Was this intentional? Head space wise, where were you?

Thanks. Agreed, the tape is a bit on the harsher, noisier side in places, though not entirely. I hesitated over this somewhat because it is a departure from the previous CDs. Much longer pieces, a little more demanding. I do think of "Candle" as being atmospheric in its own way. It's a single take, and the recording session was an intense experience. That and "5-22-14" were recorded during some rough times for my family. The other two tracks came a little later but are a product of pretty much the same mindset. I guess they are sort of unflinching in a lot of ways.

What’s next for Tag Cloud?

Proper album #3 some time. There are a couple more extended pieces in the works already that go in the direction of "Overnight" but are more "composed". Some shows outside DC again, maybe even a mini tour sometime. More collaborations with any luck.

Including our collaboration! Maybe that could be your soft exposure to a studio since I cannot seem to pull off DI recording like some of my other peers do. Looking forward to seeing where you go!

Anything you’d like to add?

Just thanks for the opportunity.

Interview with Kenny Eaton of Mystery Ton Studios

Interview by Guillermo Pizarro
There are a few personally known people in my artistic career that I owe a lot to. Kenny Eaton of Mystery Ton Studios is one of them. His willingness to take me in as a client has been an important factor in my growth as a sound artist, but when I sat and thought about it; and despite being one of his first clients, I realized that I didn't know as much as I would have liked about how he started up his career. I hope this interview will help attract a new branch of experimental artists who may be weary of recording studios to utilize his expertise and awesome gear. Plus, he's just a fun guy to spend the day with. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve when I know I'm due to be in, you will feel the same.

How did the studio itself and the name Mystery Ton come about? I actually never really thought about it until writing this interview. Sounds great though!

The name "Mystery Ton" is a play on words of my name, "Mister Eaton." I thought it was clever and stupid, but evocative so it stuck. The studio started as a way for me to record my own band, Time Columns, in an environment that was well equipped to capture traditional instruments like drums, bass, guitars, vocals, etc., but also provide an environment that was conducive to experimentation. I had always felt rushed and under pressure when experimenting in other studios with outside engineers, so I wanted to build a place that was completely open-minded and free of restraint but still got awesome drum tones and all the normal stuff like that.

I basically built a fort for myself with all the toys that I like to make music with and eventually my friends would come record here, then their friends would come here and eventually, I quit my day job to work at the studio full-time to keep up with the demand. I'm very grateful for all the artists that have helped me get to this position.

What’s your musical background? In other words, when did you start playing? What drove you to music?

I grew up playing viola and hated it, then switched to bass guitar and eventually guitar. I completely regret falling out of touch with viola. It's such a beautiful sounding instrument when played well, but like most young people, I thought I was too cool for a classical instrument and wanted to play rock and roll. I started thinking musically when I was around 12 or 13 when I picked up bass guitar and fell in love with Jaco Pastorius' playing. I was really into jazz, progressive rock and classical music when I was young and that led me to studying composition at Peabody Conservatory my first year of college. I was also working on a second degree in Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, so I was completely burnt out by the end of that first year.

My stress levels were unreasonably high and it was affecting my health, so I decided to drop out of conservatory and focus on my JHU degree rather than take five years to finish both and probably lose all my sanity and money. I think art and music school is perfect for a select number of people, but for
everyone else, I think it's an easy way for educational institutions to make a lot of money off of impressionable youth. I was looking for my identity in life and I was academically gifted, so music school was the logical next step right? I learned a lot at Peabody, but it also taught me that nothing matters more to expressing yourself through music than your own inner voice. I feel the same way about Audio Engineering Schools. Ironically enough, spending most of my waking life studying about war and conflict for my other degree actually increased my musical output because at the end of the day I just wanted to unplug and create rather than read about how horribly human beings can treat one another. I still find war and security politics endlessly fascinating and a part of me wishes I continued down that path, but when I remember waking up from bad dreams about the subject matter I was studying, I remember that I made the right decision. I help people bring entirely new pieces of art to life every day, why would I consider doing anything else at this point?

What drove you to engineering? Was it out of necessity or something else you felt passionate about? Was it overwhelming to get the ball rolling?

I was always particularly drawn to engineering just because the musical ideas I wanted to execute usually involved a more sophisticated level of production. My bandmate growing up had a Pro Tools system set up in his basement and he recorded all of our band's demos, so I was exposed to engineering pretty early in my musical development. I was always the guy in the room suggesting weird ideas that most of the time didn't work, but I just wanted to try them because it was fun hearing all the pieces of sound play off of one another.

I eventually started buying gear to try all the experimental/overdub stuff on my own so that I wasn't wasting anyone's time and I was completely enthralled with engineering sound. It was definitely overwhelming to get the ball rolling. Opening a recording studio is a terrible investment these days. I broke down and wanted to quit on numerous occasions over the first year or two of opening the studio. There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders to produce good results for my clients when I was sitting behind a console and tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear. Since then, it's gotten a lot more fun.

What engineers or producers influence how you work?

I've always liked Rick Rubin's approach to working with artists as human beings and not just musical instruments. The actual "scientific" part of the recording process (i.e. acoustics, microphone placement, gear selection, instrument, etc.) is certainly important, but the signal chain falls apart if the performer isn't in the best physical, mental and spiritual condition to perform. Singers are a great example of this. I recently bought an original Neumann U47FET mic that cost $4,000 and plugged it into my vintage Neve 3104 worth $5000 into my Distressor worth $1000 into my converters worth $5000 and expected a day and night difference in vocal takes compared to my previous vocal mic that only cost $1000.

After a few sessions with different singers, I noticed some considerable improvements in overall color of the signal and how vocal tracks sat with the rest of the mix, but I very quickly realized that even with such an incredible signal chain, it was worthless if the singer wasn't performing that "oh my god that was special" take in front of it. I make it a point to ask my clients to get lots of sleep, eat well, practice their pieces and communicate to their family, bandmates and significant others about how important their recording session is and to ask them for their support before and after they hit the studio. The relationships I build with my clients is one of my favorite parts of this job. "Engineering" is critical to a good recording, but becoming a supportive and understanding force in the artist's life and their creative process is just as, if not more, important.

What have been some of your highlights in the studio? This could be clients, learning new techniques, etc.

I recently recorded Ron Holloway, who played with Warren Haynes, Susan Tedeschi, Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Scott-Heron, Root Boy Slim and other legendary musicians. It was an honor working with someone who had that kind of musical pedigree. He's a ridiculously good player too... Working with you (Guillermo Pizarro) and Christopher Feltner are always unique sessions because it's different every time and I have no idea what to expect most of the time. Watching Chris bring in a door from his car and stab it to pieces with a huge knife in front of a microphone in the live room was a trip. "A Tribute to Jack Dempsey" was an insane session too.

Your dream recording session? Living or dead, of course.

I would love to work with Steve Reich. Robert Fripp and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez would both be awesome artists to work with too.

You are in gear heaven and I don’t talk gear as much as I used to. Are there any particular pieces of equipment you’re eyeballing lately?

Most of my money is being spent on finishing acoustic treatment and creature comforts around the studio nowadays, so I probably won't be buying anything cool for a couple months. I've been wanting
to build out my Marshall collection more for a while just because they record well across so many genres. I'm always prowling for a JCM800 for a good price.

You recently recorded another peer of mine, Christopher S. Feltner and you mentioned how you love recording this type of stuff cause you can just throw the rulebook out of the window when recording us. I know what rules WE are breaking when we create, but from an engineering standpoint I have no idea. What rules are they? What challenges do you face when recording this type of music?

I wouldn't say you guys are breaking "rules" of engineering as much as "general guidelines," but maybe I'm getting into semantics (like a jerk). Generally, it's not a good idea to clip the master bus into digital distortion if you want a crisp and clean master. I remember multiple mixing sessions with you and Chris where we intentionally crushed the master bus into severe digital distortion because it sounded so gross. I would pretty much never do that with a non-experimental artist unless they specifically asked for something like that and even then, I would probably reach for a piece of analog gear for a more smooth, pleasing distortion. You both have a very good ear and digital distortion (while generally frowned upon) was exactly what those pieces called for.

As far as challenges I face as an engineer working with you and Chris, I'm constantly riding input and output gain on preamps/compressors while recording just because the volume of the signal being recorded varies DRAMATICALLY even between takes. Engineers should aim to optimize the signal to noise ratio while recording just so when it comes time to mix, you're not dealing with tracks that have barely any volume/gain. You also want to avoid digital clipping (most of the time). When a drummer comes in, I set up the microphones and after we get everything placed/tuned/eq'ed/compressed correctly, we focus on getting the take we need. With you and Chris, one take might be through an SVT 8x10 with fuzz and sub octave, while the next take might be a whispered track building into a scream. I've done weird stuff during your sessions like putting a Subkick microphone on a bass amp that I would never do with a normal bass guitar. You guys keep me on my toes.

Tell me about Time Columns, where are you guys at on the new album?

We're finished recording drums, bass and about 60% of guitars. We still have to finish clean guitars, acoustic guitars, vocals, piano, synth, effects and auxiliary percussion. It's a slow process just because I'm always working on between 5-10 records with my clients at any given time and it's hard to get in the right headspace for my own music when I already spend 80-100 hours a week working on other projects. I'm completely satisfied with how everything is sounding so far, so it makes me feel better when I step back and realize that we've been recording this album for a year now. The songwriting and production has grown considerably since our last release. I am very excited to show people this when it's done.

Has running a studio full time helped the creativity / writing process for Time Columns?

Definitely. Producing lots of different styles of music has helped cut my teeth as far as songwriting goes. Our writing process is extremely fast nowadays and I'm sure we'll start recording the next album as soon as this one is sent off to mastering. We're sitting on a lot of material and the process of writing, recording, mixing and releasing our own albums will only get more efficient from here.

What is in store for Mystery Ton this year? Any plans to expand?

My main focus lately has been on making the studio more comfortable for people to relax in. I replaced all the furniture with nice leather couches and set up the green room with a big TV for clients to watch movies or play video games while someone else is tracking. I'll be at my current location for a couple more years, but yes, I have plans to expand into a larger facility that offers bands a place to live while recording. Baby steps!

I think that covers everything! Anything else you’d like to add that I might have missed?

Thank you for the interview! If anybody reading this is interested in working together, feel free to email me at mysterytonstudios [at]

Interview with Gerritt Wittmer

Subtlety is not a common virtue among many sound, and performance, artists these days. Making use of droning and/or ambient sound can add dynamics, but it isn't necessarily a use of subtlety.

Gerritt Wittmer's recorded output, and performances, are a perfect example of how subtlety can make a shudderingly peaked sound more powerful, as well as creating a dynamic tension and vibe through silence, and minimal use of sound, that soaks into your bones like a cold, damp Winter day. This is not hyperbole. This is truth.

I read a description of your new solo album, Making Real, that states: "Making Real, an exercise in creating reality." Another quote from you: "The first step in understanding what's real is accepting that nothing is." What IS real?

Unfortunately I can not answer that for you, only you can.

The artwork for Making Real, and Portions of Hell, is fascinating in that it seems to conceal as much as it reveals. Do you mind going into some of the thought behind the artwork of these two releases?

The artwork for both of those is an extension of each record. Both are a story that require contemplation. Neither is well suited for casual listening. Listening to those records is like reading a book, and the printed art is another piece to the puzzle.

How did you get started into experimenting with sound? Did you start out playing in bands beforehand?

Yes, played in bands when I was younger, punk etc…Went to school for audio engineering, began experimenting, found others etc...

It seems like a lot of sound artists I've talked to started out in rock-based music. Why do you think this is? Why didn't you just stick with music?

Well, that was so long ago for me, I remember it being very appealing to be able to work by myself, and I just fell in love with the sound. It seemed more pure for me, much more like art that one could
Gerritt Wittmer and Paul Knowles
create at their own pace. No rehearsals, no dealing with other peoples problems. Maybe it wasn't so much a choice of either/or but one of practical means and falling in love.

Your earlier work, in my opinion, dealt with harsher layers of sound. Whereas, Portions of Hell, Heartbeat, Making Real, and some of your collaboration albums show a considerable amount of restraint. One thing that sticks out to me through your albums, and, also, the artists you release through Misanthropic Agenda, is the amount of texture in the sounds. Mood and texture is always present. Is this true? And, what types of sounds do you personally enjoy?

Yes, of course mood and texture mean a lot. My work has changed focus drastically. Pretty much the "Gerritt" material is mostly maximal harsh. I have since developed a new understanding and excitement for performance which also extends to my current recorded material. With my current solo material I don't approach anything casually. I agonize over thoughts and details, everything is highly composed. 
I personally like production, timing and flow. When it comes to sound.

If were talking music, traditional song stuff, I'm pretty far out there. I listen to a wide gamut of music from various time periods. I'm really opinionated on what I like, and I think everything I enjoy has this same unsaid quality to it, that could bind it all together, of course in a mad mans mind.

Speaking of performance, you're live performances make strong use if performance art aesthetics. Who are some performing artists you enjoy, and, perhaps, who inspired you to pursue this avenue?

When I started exploring performance art with my own work, I definitely had an outsiders perspective. It just seemed natural for me, what I was doing and how it flowed with my concepts and ideals. If any inspiration was there it was more from film then other performance artist.

I have always wanted to be a director and make films. But for whatever reasons never did. I think my performances are my films. I create scenes, and narratives, and the records are extension of this too. I am making films that are captured in memories of minds rather than physically on film. Im not good at the list thing, I will say I have been inspired by some of David Lynch's work.

So, you enjoy being able to work alone without limitations. How does the duo of Names, and your collaborations with Paul Knowles play into this independence?

Well, working with Jesse (Names) or Paul (GW&PK) has been great. Both are great friends that I am lucky to have and I fill privileged to have been able to cultivate such valuable working relationships with them. They are great examples of people that I can not only work with, but fully collaborate with
on the highest levels and really come up with something unique, well outside of the realms of what I would do If I was working alone. Its good to work alone, but when you find the right people, a special kind of magic can happen and the rewards of this are certainly worth the risks.

You mentioned Jesse Jackson's background, but I don't know anything about Paul. How'd you guys start working together?

Paul Knowles and I have been friends for years. We meet at our job and share many common interests. I had seen Paul perform onstage in various theater productions and was always impressed. He is a naturally gifted artist whose work runs a wide array. From acting and comedy to ceramics, screen printing, and painting.

The GW & PK project just sort of organically came to birth from Paul and I hanging out, and discussing ideas about metaphysics and sound and performance. I think we are both good at helping each other cultivate one another's ideas and bring them to fruition. The work I have done with Paul has been some of my most rewarding. We have been discussing and planning getting back together again to work on new performances, hopefully in 2014.

Most of your albums are self-released through your imprint, Misanthropic Agenda. Was this due to the labels namesake (a hatred/dislike of humankind and society), or something else?

Most are self released because I want my releases to be of high quality, and most of the time its just easier doing it yourself. I don't like getting caught up in business. I am no commodity, so its best I try not to be something I'm not with other peoples time and money.

In a scene so obsessed with cassette culture, you stand out with your preference for CD format over tapes. Why do you prefer CD to tape?

Honestly, CD sounds so much better than all the tapes I hear. Don't get me wrong, I love analog, and have a ridiculous amount of records. I love vinyl. and I understand why cassette is so appealing, you can make them at home etc… But sound wise, with very few exceptions they almost always fall short for me. Possibly if we lived a world where people could dupe 3 inch tape at home, I would probably enjoy that.

Names completely took me by surprise! I have had tried to describe Names to do different people, but I find myself at a loss. It is definitely a very different sound to what you've done with other projects. How did Names come to be?

I'm very excited about Names. Its my first real return to music and song writing in more than a decade. Names is a duo, myself and Jesse Jackson. I have know Jesse for years, he has been in lots a great bands. (Flaspar, Liars (live guitar), and Sissy Spacek) We are close friends and can work really well
together, thats not easy for me. We both wanted to start a band, and there you go!

Names is about us, how we feel about most current music (bored to death). We don't care if people like us, we don't follow rules, we don't subscribe to a genre or style. None of that is for us. 
We are hoping to finish our first full length soon, and have a remix record of our first single LMAB almost finished. Currently looking for interested open minded labels, ahem.

What releases do you have in the works for next year of your work, and through Misanthropic Agenda?

Lets see, Names will be releasing a book/dvd/CD set called Weak in Vegas, documenting the 7 nights of shows we played in Las Vegas in October.
 The Names full length and LMAB remixes single should come out as well.
 December 31st is the release date for a 2 disc set from Seers, my project with Pete Swanson.
 There will be a release from my live and studio collaboration with Francisco Meirino and Romain Perrot.
 A highly anticipated full length CD from Francisco Meirino.
 And, maybe another solo release from myself?
 Plus a few other things that may or may not happen.

Interview with Maja S. K. Ratkje

I had never heard of Maja S. K. Ratkje until about three months ago while coming across a recorded collaboration with vocal tormentor, Joachim Montessuis, entitled, "Janus," through Montessuis' brilliant Erratum label. More info on "Janus" is available in SEVEN1878's Best of 2013 list.
On "Janus," so many voices, vocal sounds, etc were present that it was hard to make out which contributions were from Maja, and which were Joachim's.

Looking into Ratkje's work, I discovered an artist who has been working on her craft (in various disciplines) for 20+ years. Her work is amazing, and I am always baffled that such a talent remains relatively unknown in the US amidst all of our chest beating over who knows about one obscure artist or another. So, for the uninitiated, here's a brief look into Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje.

I watched a documentary on electronic music on YouTube where you said that music is about communication and sharing something. What is it that you wish to communicate and share?

Curious to know where this is on YouTube… Can't recall any interview with me there. Anyway, I am of course talking to those who are not perhaps used to avant-garde music and mistake it for being non-communicative and self-indulgent. Well, I can agree that a lot of new music is giving a good reason for people to think those ways, but I feel an urge to emphasize that what I create is meant for sharing and is an attempt to reach out to people, and hopefully move or change minds. But the 'communication' is anyways two-ways. My art is a result as well of how I perceive my surroundings, and the messages I get from people, directly or indirectly. You can say that art is a response to life, and that good art should raise the inconceivable questions to life.

I first heard of you in Lasse Marhaug's Personal Best zine but never actually took the time to
look into your work until I heard the excerpt of your recent collaboration with Joachim Montessuis (Janus). Since then, I have listed to your first solo album, Voice, and two others: Adventura Anatomica and River Mouth Echoes. You are such an amazing artist, yet I have only recently heard any of your work. However, outside of the US, you have achieved so much. Give us a little background into the origin of your work, please.

I have worked as a freelancer for almost 20 years. I have done a lot of stuff in the US as well. I strongly recommend you to check out my website at There is a solid timeline-biography there as well.

What I can say is that performing and composing has been present my whole life, and is equally important. And that it wasn't until I hear avant-garde music (jazz, contemporary, electronic) that I really wanted to devote my life to it. I see no purpose reproducing or fulfilling exterior mainstream demands, historical or "contemporary." My music is often considered on the edge or between art-forms or genres, but I see no reason to fulfill expectations or traditions in any art-form or genre. But it happens naturally, it's not a decision to be on the fringe of things. Sometimes it really pisses me off.

I even consider genres to be something male defined, that females tend to not fit into art categories in the same predictable way, or not even wanting to claim the "ownership" to new trends or styles. Well, this is just a loose speculation, coming as a result of just having written a book on the female situation in the avant-garde in Norway. (When I use the term 'avant-garde', it's not a genre, it is a term simply describing the forefront of all genres: avant-garde jazz, avant-garde rock, avant-garde film etc. We don't use the term avant-garde before contemporary or noise, but should perhaps start using it as those terms are getting old and established and predictable as well?)

Of the three albums of yours that I mentioned, Voice resonated the most with me, as vocal experimentation is something that I have great interest in. There's such a feeling of freedom and zero inhibition present! How were you feeling going into recording your first solo, vocal work?

This is 10 years ago so you should have asked me then! Voice was a needed and natural manifestation of my vocal work at that time, and also for me, a statement that I was serious about performing, not only composing. (I studied composition at the State Academy of Music in Oslo, and the performing part was not encouraged, even though I found plenty of space to perform and keep that part up, especially by forming the group SPUNK with three other musicians, that meant a lot). I wouldn't have ended up as a pure composer anyway, but a solo album is definitely something that gives you a nice wake-up on your own choices and aesthetics. A good thing to do early in one's career. Now, the record is re-released, eventually, on vinyl from the label Rune Grammofon.

River Mouth Echoes was released on John Zorn's Tzadik label. This release featured a lot more
instrumentation, and an almost avant method of classical composition. How did you and Zorn cross paths? Why did you choose to add more instrumentation to this release?

I have composed for instruments since the beginning. And I love writing scores as well! This is why I studied composition! I have written a lot of works for different ensembles, many times on commissions,
and sometimes out of my own interest. It's only a very few scored pieces I contribute to as a performer myself. River Mouth Echoes is the only disc featuring some of my composed work (not me as a performer in focus).

Zorn knew about my work, and was curious that my scored pieces were not collected in any portrait release. So, he contacted me and I sent him lots of recordings and scores, and the he decided out from that material what would fit on an album on Tzadik. I had to make some new recordings of course of some of the pieces, for example the title piece was not recorded, and that is written for a quartet of viola da gambas, a pre-baroque instrument not used in modern orchestras. It was a huge process, but I am very happy for this and the result. I can see that it confuses some people that I am doing both performance work with the voice and on the other hand I can write a score for a chamber music group. However, in my world, it all connects of course.

Your new collaboration with Joachim Montessuis seems like a perfect union. Joachim almost seems like your male counterpart! How did this collaboration come about?

Joachim and I met at a festival in Netherlands, was it 2004? Anyway, we have been in touch since, and he was co-organizing a concert with me in Paris at Les Voutes, that is funnily enough the still most seen bootleg on me on YouTube. With Joachim, as you say, I think I have found someone really close to my own aesthetics when it comes to using the voice with electronics. Voice and noise is such a beautiful and strong combination. And trying out our duo has been a new territory for me. I have done voice and electronic duo with Jaap Blonk previously, but that has been more in the free improv domain, with Joachim it's much closed to the expression I normally go into in my own solo concerts. I am very proud of JANUS, our first vinyl album. And we should play together more as well.

Your work has been featured in so many different platforms over the years. I feel like European countries have a much greater appreciation, and willingness to support, unusual art forms compared to the US. Do you find this to be true as well?

I think this has two sides. On one hand, the experimental, not institutionalized art has better conditions in Europe, so that's why you can have more people like me, not needing to agree on the conformity of the big institutions (universities, orchestras, opera etc). It is possible, but not lucrative of course, to move on the outskirts of conformity. First of all because there is art support for this un-institutionalized art as well. Not much, but by giving some random support to artists, venues, festivals, the scene can exist and also it generates of course much more than what is given in the first place. And not only by connecting to the society in different ways, or employing staff, but also by contributing continuously to mainstream art. And anyone can see that, that the avant-garde is needed in a society who wants to call itself a "cultural nation", or civilized perhaps.

The situation is very different from country to country. Political winds shift, and for example in Norway now, we have a new right government which thinks that art has to be sponsored by private companies, even though there has been a long tradition of supporting free art in our country. Oil companies in Norway sponsor a lot of art and culture, and they make contracts with their artists that they cannot change image or even band members without consulting the oil company. Oil companies are in high gear with public relation all the time we are actually moving out from the oil age, and when no other, apart from the oil companies themselves and those who make money on the industry, are eager to support the industry. When the world knows that we have to let 80% of the known oil resorces in the ground, it takes a lot of cultural PR to keep the facade for the oil industry. Their dirty money creates a big dilemma for many artists, and which has moved me to start a network for artists against oil sponsorship: Stopp oljesponsing av norsk kulturliv

But the situation in US is not so different. I feel that the audience there is very much devoted and interested. The whole avant-garde scene is held up by the audience alone, which is pretty impressive! I see real love and devotion in for extreme, experimental and/or radical art in the US which is sometimes harder to spot in Europe where people are taking art more for granted. But the art world needs support in order to exist, and to develop as an artist you simply can't have two full-time jobs on the side. All sorts of people are needed (not only those who can afford it by external reasons) for the avant-garde to move on.

Voice, electronics, and instrumentation are all tools you make use. Do you have a preferred method among these three? Are you able to communicate more through one over the other, or does each allow you to express different things?

I like expressing myself through different art medias. Sometimes I deliberately try to create unknown situations, and that triggers my creativity. As long as I get ideas, I can keep composing and performing. I feel that I am in a continuous move, always on the search for tools and new combinations. Sound is essential for me, more than concept I think, and the creation of rooms, making hybrid concert forms with direction, light, visual art, something that cannot be easily documented, that has been the most interesting works the last years. I can mention works like "Gare du Nord", "Crepuscular Hour", "Putin's Case", "ROM", "Birds & Traces", "Engebøfjellet…" etc.

Who are five artists that you believe that people should look into?

Lili Boulanger
Cecilie Ore
Laurie Spiegel
Bjørn Fongaard
Else Marie Pade

What do you have planned for 2014?

Tons of concerts, in Europe, in US, and some composing, a new piece for orchestra - my first orchestra commission from Norway. Trying to keep up my activities at my website.

Interview with Guillermo Pizarro

Guillermo Pizarro is one of the best upcoming talents in experimental music and sound. Over the past two years, I have had the pleasure of watching him go from a (primarily) guitar-based drone artist to expanding into more adventurous sound exploration. He's gone from a quiet, inward performer to someone whose live presence has become increasingly captivating for those witness to both his use of a wall of sound, and a wall of silence, in the right doses.

I have had the privilege of having Guillermo as a tour-mate twice this year. There are few (literally) people that I can stand to travel with for an extension of hours/days/weeks. Mr. Pizarro is one of those few.

It is my pleasure to introduce, Guillermo Pizarro.

Before you got in to experimental music, what types of music had you played?

I was mostly involved in the metal scene. The main band I was a part of was a progressive death metal type of band with some world music and drone elements that started to sneak their way into our sound, especially towards the end.

What was your first exposure to experimentalism?

I used to be a member of the Guitar World forums and I remember one of the posters there had mentioned Merzbow, sunn O))) and Xasthur. Those names just stuck out to me, especially the O))) symbol. I wanted to know what their deal was. I didn't like any of it at first, but it definitely made an impression. I remembered Merzbow because of how much I disliked it. Why would anyone listen to that? For me though, sunn O))) made it all click and helped close the gap between metal and experimentalism.

From the first recordings I heard of yours, to recent work and have definitely changed up your methods. Guitar-based drone to manipulating objects, voice, and blasts of noise... What has motivated this progression, and what drives you, creatively?

I think a combination of striving for that personal growth and being around my peers has helped with that progression. Like most, I take a little bit of all my influences and mix it up in a pot to make my own.

I'm very driven by my surroundings and personal experiences. Some people really dislike a small town and complain that there is nothing to do, and sometimes they are right; there isn't much to do, but I like to be proactive about it and try to get something happening instead of complaining. I love the sleepy little town that I live in and I think it's responsible for a big part in my sound.

So, why bother with experimental sound? Why not just join a metal or hardcore band like everyone else around your locale?

It's just not in me. When I was in a metal band it felt so forced and unnatural. The other guys in the
band did great though. I started feeling what they probably felt when I started experimenting. I had found the voice I wanted to work with and craft.

How does your current pursuit allow you to better express yourself?

Hmmm… this is tough to word. The sound and emotion I'm trying to convey just matches. It allows me to go to that state of mind needed for me to express myself without sounding forced. I might not like the final product, but it would be less cringe inducing than trying to write a metal song about it.

Do you see yourself creating/performing in the experimental realm, exclusively, years down the road?

Yes and no. I think I'll always be involved in the experimental realm, but I don't see myself being exclusive to it. That's a little too final. I'd love to eventually take what skills I'll hopefully pick up and apply it to some weird, experimental folk type of setting. I'm a huge Tom Waits fan and even though he's a direct influence on me now, I'd love to further apply that influence into something new.

This year, you released Glasswerks. But, only half of it is made up of glass manipulation, right? Talk a little about the release?

This is true, only the title track is made up of glass, but I thought it was the strongest of the 2. The "werks" part of Glasswerks is supposed to represent anything metallic going on in the recordings, which both tracks have.

Recording for Glasswerks started in November of 2012 and ended in April of 2013, two sessions. It was my first time recording anything in many years. Kenny from Mystery Ton Studios had just opened up shop and was looking for clientele, so I jumped at the opportunity. I knew Kenny's band; Time Columns dabbled in some experimentalism and psychedelic sounds so I thought it would be a good match. I really think that studio is a big part of my sound, he provides a lot of tools at my disposal that I wouldn't have otherwise along with a warm, homey environment that I like when creating.

As for the release itself, I was going through some uncertain and confusing times in my personal life. I think the 1st track is representative of that. Turmoil mixed with some serene, unworried sections. The title track to me represents the breaking and the birth of something new.

You started touring as a solo artist this year. What has it been like performing these pieces live? How has the responses been?

It's definitely different live, I usually record my pieces in a way where I can't perform them the same way in a live setting, but I like that. It creates another challenge for me and it still gives the performance that unique "one time only" feel of an improv piece.

I think the response has been great the majority of the nights. It's always nice when the audience can sense that these pieces are conceptual and not just thrown together. In the end though, I'm my worst critic and I'm always looking for ways of improving.

I know you've been recording a good bit this year. What can we expect of the new material, and when can we expect it?

Shorter, concise pieces without losing their density and power is my goal for this new material. Spoken sections will also be incorporated, nothing too manipulated. I have been recording a lot, but so far I only have a short EP of Zack Kouns material for his 365 songs project and a 2nd full length. Some of those Kouns songs will most likely make it on to a split that I owe SEVEN1878. The 2nd full length will also have a DVD to go with it of a short film that my cousin, Diego Tipacti has been working on for months now. I'm shooting for a spring 2014 release and that will probably be it for major releases for that year as I don't want to over saturate my discography.

What is the next step for you, artistically?

I've barely made a dent in what I have to say in the experimental/noise genre, I'll definitely continue down that route and challenge myself. The spoken stuff is still very, very new to me and there is so much room for improvement. Other than solo work, I still see myself continuing guitar experimentation
BLK TAG by Basha Teez
with Arterial. Arterial has definitely been a liberating project for me in that I'm able to focus solely on the guitar, but I still have the satisfaction of using other methods for solo material.

There is the occasional BLK TAG (Chris Videll & James S. Adams)  performances that I take part in as well. That's a fun outlet for me, too. I usually utilize guitar for BLK TAG and I'm able to satisfy my drone hunger through them.

There is also a bit of talk about collaboration between Gleb Kanasevich and I. I don't have much information on that yet other than modified clarinet will be utilized with a healthy dose of noise. I can promise that it'll be a wild trip.