Interview with Violet

Violet (aka Jeff Surak) is a busy man.  He performs solo and in various of combinations with other sound artists, promotes monthly (at least) events under the Sonic Circuits banner, runs experimental imprint, Zeromoon, and hosts the annual Sonic Circuits Festival over the course of a week.

Exactly how many projects are you involved in; both recording and/or performance?

I've been involved in many.  Currently, the only active projects are my solo work under the moniker, Violet, and my occasional trio with Janel & Anthony.  Violet has been around since 2002, and arose from the ashes of a duo project that I was in called, V.  Violet is composed and improvised at the same time.  Whereas, Janel & Anthony & Violet is total fuck-it-all pure improvisation.

Each year, you run the Sonic Circuits Festival, and promote several shows under the SC banner throughout.  How did Sonic Circuits get started?  Was it just you, or a collective of people?

Sonic Circuits was started by the American Composers Forum as a touring festival concept to each of their local chapters.  The DC chapter did the first one in August 2002, and I was invited to perform at it...and I did my first solo performance ever after years of performing in a group of some form.  The ACF supported the festival for a few years, then stopped the program, but the DC chapter kept doing it each year.  I got involved with organizing in 2005 and then took over the helm.  It's always been managed by a group of people, and now more people are involved, but I pretend to be the director/programmer/head honcho.  Doing shows year round didn't start until Summer 2008, and they quickly proved to be real popular, so I've kept doing that as well.

How has Sonic Circuits grown from the initial concept/idea?

Originally, it was focused on electronic music, and the festival grew and shrank over the years.  When I got involved I expanded it to cover all forms of experimental music, whatever they may be.

When did you first begin to explore experimental music?  What was your first exposure to it?

I listened to "weird" stuff ever since I was a little kid, and began playing with tape recorders when I was 7.  I released my first tape when I was 15.  My taste was highly refined at a very early age, and I still listen to the same stuff.  I never had that awkward pop music phase that people tend to go through before they discover real music.  For me, it was Zappa, Beefheart, The Residents, Varese, Black Sabbath right from the get go, and then other obscure stuff as time went on.  I pretty much researched stuff at the local library and listened to psychedelic rock records and read all the rock books in search of the weirder stuff...and one reference would lead to another.

What do you get from abstract/avant forms of music and sound that you don't get from traditional music?

I think avant forms of music explore other aspects of sound beyond the tyranny of melodies that you can hum and beats that you can dance to that control popular music.  So, it's a hell of a lot more interesting and better for you as well.

You have lived in other countries, correct?  How did you come about living in the places you have?  What are some of the differences that stick out to you most about living, and performing, in other countries versus in the US?

I studied abroad so that's really how that happened.  And, in case of my time in Russia, I hung out there for quite a while as well.  In general, there is more support for experimental music in Europe, in terms of funding and audience, and more women involved as well.  Venues are better, and it seems like every little village has their own festival.  Of course, there are regional differences...

How do you manage to bring in such a wide array of performers from other countries?  By "manage," I really mean AFFORD!

It's all voodoo and Kabuki dancing.  Really it all depends on each case.  When there is an opportunity to present a particular artist, I try to take advantage of it.

Tell us a little bit about the Zeromoon label you run.

Zeromoon began by chance in 2000, it was really supposed to be a website just to archive all my old work since the 1980s, and somehow I ended up putting out a CD-R of new stuff, and then it snowballed from there.  Now, there are over 100+ releases of archival and new material from a variety of folks, most of it free to download in FLAC and MP3 formats.

Put on your promoter hat.  What does this year's Sonic Circuits Festival have in store for us?  Dates/times/website(s)?

It's all on the website

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