Interview with Joke Lanz (Sudden Infant)

Joke Lanz is a brilliant artist, period.  Trying to write an introduction that does Lanz justice is proving difficult.  Where to start?  Lanz brings an incredible amount of physicality into every performance piece he creates.  His body is truly an instrument.

There really isn't anything to say.  If you are already familiar, hopefully this interview will give you a little more insight.  If this is your first exposure to the vast mental space of Joke, then you're in for a treat!

Why "Sudden Infant?"  The only phrasing I can think of that has "Sudden Infant" involved is "Sudden Infant Death Syndrome."

Yes, you're right.  When my son was on his way to become an earth citizen, I was not only thinking of a name for him...  I was also thinking of a name for my performance and music project.  I read a lot about SIDS, when newborn babies die in their sleep without any clear reason.  This term got stuck in my head, and I decided to use the first half of it for my project.  That was in 1989.

Can you give me some background into your development as an artist?  Did you begin with more traditional music?

Before I started SI, I played in a Punk/Hardcore band called, Jaywalker.  We used tape collages and mixed them with drums, guitar and bass.  We were influenced by Joy Division, Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Throbbing Gristle and Butthole Surfers.  I left the band after three years in early 1989 to focus on my family and my new project, Sudden Infant.  Personally, I've always been into Punk, Fluxus, Actionism, Industrial and Noise.  Bands like Suicide, The Cramps, Birthday Party, TG, Cabaret Voltaire, Einsturzende Newbauten and Whitehouse have been important to me.  But, also French singer, Jacques Brel, was a great inspiration.

What exactly is Fluxus and Actionism?

Fluxus and Actionism are two art forms/movements from the 60's.  The use of physical bodies and different artistic media became the main forces of both art forms.  Happenings, art performances with visuals, Dadaistic elements and experimental provocative noise music.  Some of the main artists were:  Joseph Beuys, Wolf Vostell, La Monte Young, John Cage, Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Valie Export, etc.

In particular, Actionism had a huge impact on Schimpfluch and my own work with Sudden Infant.

After listening to several of your releases, it seems like your voice is your main instrument, unless I'm mistaken.  With so many sound/noise artists going the route of fancy oscillating synths, pedals, and the like, why your voice?

Yes, the energy and diversity of a human voice has always had a big fascination on me.  You can put so much emotional and personal power into a voice; you can hardly find it in other instruments.  I like to reduce myself in order to create a maximum output.

On "Dark Sperm," your use of the turntable as a noise instrument is incredibly intriguing to me since I have always had a love of Hip Hop DJs who use creative means of scratching, etc.  Even though it makes perfect sense hearing you use this as an abrasive instrument, I never really thought of this method.  How did you get into turntablism?

I love vinyl records.  They're like small creatures and they have a lot to say.  I started using turntables when I did Psychic Rally (1989-1994), a monthly radio show on a station in Zurich.  Together with Rudolf (R&G) we played and manipulated records, tapes and cds, and used our voices in cut-up style to place our comments during the show.  It was a big noisy collage!

During the 90's, I developed my unique way of playing turntables and it became my second foothold next to Sudden Infant.  I play a lot of improv shows as a turntablist, i.e. with Shelley Hirsch, Christian Weber, Ignaz Schick, just to name a few.

Aside from performing at shows as Sudden Infant, what are some other types of performances that you have done?  You've done some installations at art galleries, right?

As mentioned, I perform as a turntablist.  I play duos with Shelley Hirsch (vocals), Christian Weber (double bass), Christian Wolfarth (percussion), Jorge Sanchez-Chiong (turntables).  Yes, I have had some exhibitions at art galleries with installations, and also with my paintings.

I imagine that you perform mostly in front of crowds used to experimentalism.  How often do you/have you found yourself performing in front of an orthodox music crowd?  How have the reactions been?

I just performed in a small town in the South of Germany.  A very conservative place, and these people never ever saw anything close to Noise or Experimental Music.  The reaction of the crowd was very interesting.  After my show, they started to ask me questions, and they came on stage to look at my equipment.  They were very much fascinated about my expressive performance although they couldn't really understand it.  But, I think it's important also to perform in front of an orthodox audience who is not familiar with this kind of music/art.

You recently had a biography, of sorts, published about you:  "Noise In My Head."  How did this come about?  I have never read a book specifically written about a sound/noise artist.

Lasse Marhaug wanted to release a SI retrospective CD-Box on his Pica Disk label.  But, there was already a 4xLP retrospective out on Berlin-based label Hronir.  When we bumped into each other in Los Angeles in early 2010, we were talking about it again.  Suddenly, I had this idea of a book.  You know I have boxes full of pictures, drawings, texts, flyers, etc...  And, I thought, "Why not a book?"

Lasse was completely enthusiastic.  And, we are both totally happy with the result.  Lasse did a great job putting everything together.

What do you do for a living, if you don't mind me asking?

I try to make a living with my music.  Next to SI, I play a lot of turntable shows, and I also write music for theatre, radio plays and dance pieces.

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