Interview with Soft Pieces

At the 2009 Artomatic festival in Washington, DC, there were many great performers at the Sonic Circuits showcase that day.  However, the one stuck out to me the most was Soft Pieces (Zach Mason).  He wore a solid black, form fitting cloth mask over his head with no shirt on.  While he made an incredible atmosphere of thick noise and sound creation/destruction, a group of people drew on his octopus tattooed back.  It was audibly and visually entrancing.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Zach, and share stages/floors with him over the past few years.  So, it was inevitable that an interview with him was to end up on this blog.

You record and perform under the name, Soft Pieces.  What is the meaning behind this name?

I've never been good at focusing on one thing at a time.  The name came from a series of sculptures I did maybe 10 years ago.  They were wood, covered with paper mache, painted pink.  They looked - to, at least - like giant pieces of Bazooka gum and I ended up calling them "The Soft Pieces."  Around that same time, I was going through a long spell not playing live.  So, when a friend who booked shows asked if I wanted to be on a bill, I needed a stage name.  I wanted something new and Soft Pieces seemed like a good fit because of all that it can convey - vulnerability, modularity, etc.

I have heard several recordings of yours which tend to range from quiet, shifting ambience to harsher, repetitive noise, to more abstract sound manipulation.  How do you describe your sound, and presentation to someone unfamiliar with what you do?

That's a good question!  I'm really lucky to have a lot of supportive friends who are interested in what I do, but only a few of them would actively seek out noise music by other people.  So...this isn't exactly answering your question.  I always think of other people as part of the recording and performing processes.  Not in a self-censorship way, but in a none-of-us-exist-in-a-vacuum way.  This stuff, the Soft Pieces stuff, is being explicitly created to be shared with other people, right?  There's other audio stuff or visual stuff that I do that I don't share, or I only share with a specific group of people.  But, this is meant for everyone.

There are moments or passages that might try the patience people, but I'm always hoping that people will trust me not to do anything at their expense.  Do you know what I mean?  I take that record/listener and performance/audience relationship very seriously.

And, I really believe in the power of sound.  I really feel like there's an inherent excitement in sound and if it's shaped right, it doesn't matter what kind of sound it is, there's something there, in the sound, for anyone who's able to take a moment and listen.

Live, you are definitely one of my favorites to watch perform.  I love the mix of performance art with what you do.  Have you always tried to incorporate this into your performances, or did you start out more basic?

Thanks!  I started out like most people; I was in bands in high school and right after.  When the last band I was in...we were all going to move to a new city together, I backed out at the last minute.  When that ended, I still wanted to find a way to make music with a lot going on, and do it in a live, dynamic way.  It started out much more repetitive and noodly than it is, now.  I was mainly playing bass over guitar drones and arpeggiated synthesizers.  Even when I eventually got away from that model and the music was almost exclusively improvised, it felt really safe and unfulfilling.  For me, playing music in a very sedentary, hunched over a bass guitar or synthesizer or whatever.

I don't get nervous about that, at all.  And, I get nervous about pretty much every other aspect of day-to-day life.  So, not being nervous feels unnatural, I guess?  I always want to be a little afraid that things won't work.  That's part of it.

The other part of it gets back to what I said about earning trust.  I want people to enjoy and remember my performances.  That's really important to me.  I want it to be something that they, hopefully, haven't seen or heard before.  And, that even if it's not their normal thing...the music's too atonal...they opt out of participating in the interactive bits...I hope that they have a unique experience.  And, I want to explicitly say that I've played for a lot of really patient and curious audiences who gave me a lot of room to move, in a creative sense; and that's huge.

How do you decide what approach, sonically and visually, to go with for each performance?

My brain constantly makes associations.  So, even if it doesn't make sense to anyone else, the sounds at a specific show absolutely go with the visuals at that me.  I can't always explain it, and I don't usually want to explain it, honestly.  Like, I'm very much against naming my tracks, at the moment.  I feel weird telling people THIS IS WHAT THIS IS ABOUT; THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT, RIGHT NOW, AS YOU HEAR THIS.

So, while I always know why one thing goes with another - there's always a meaning, to me - I hope that other people can find what those things mean, together, to them.

Have you ever had an audience member react negatively to a performance?

This is pretty much a guarantee of future violence, but, no, I've been very lucky.  I am actively trying to bring a collaborative, instead of combative, mode to the shows, so hopefully that comes through.  Although, now that I've said that, I feel like the woman you know, who had a nightmare about me kidnapping her and wrapping her in a Slinky...that qualifies as a negative reaction, right?

What do you have lined up as far as recordings/performances?  And, where's the best place for people to look to find out more about you?

I just released a CD-R by Beruhrung - - my collab with Gary Rouzer of Nine Strings, Amplified Textures, etc.  Really proud of that record.  The best place for information is  I've got a huge backlog of live Soft Pieces recordings - audio and video - that I need to get online.  Look for that, soon.

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