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.