Chronic'Art/ Peace Warriors

by Maxime Guitton and Jedrek Zadorsky, May 2002 (Paris, France)

[I deleted some questions which were redundant with the same issues on other interviews, but the French version is intact.]
Rafael Toral

How do you succeed, as a musician, to always renew your language with such a limited material (no melody, no apparent structures, just sound, elongated and vibrating tones)?

Your question reveals a frame of mind which is different from mine. "Just sound" is "the" truly unlimited material. But you point to lack of melody and "apparent structures" as a limitation. It might be, for a musician whose approach to music is based on notes and structures. This is our classical tradition - we think of music in terms of melody, and when it's done we get a sound to serve it. Any sound will do, as long as the melody is there. Structures are also made to be filled with sounds afterwards. But there is a different approach to music - based on sound. For me (and many other musicians working today) sound is first, music comes as a result of sound. Melodies may happen or not. The music is inside and around the sounds, and cannot be conceptualised separated from them, as in a note based approach...

//What's the balance in your own work between composition and improvisation, be it in the studio or on stage?

I don't like perfect repetitions, so there's always an element of change, i keep a margin for taking decisions all the time. In studio i improvise the basic materials and everything that follows is meticulously composed. On stage i have some technological or structural guidelines along which i improvise, and in more inspired moments of good shape, i can improvise absolutely.

//There are a few brilliant guitar players around who are constantly pushing the boundaries of the way this so archetypal music instrument is still perceived. Oren Ambarchi, Kevin Drumm, Dean Roberts, C. Fennesz (not to mention the older generation’s maestro: Keith Rowe). Do you perceive yourself as being part of an international guitar- electronica musicians network? Which of the above-mentionned pairs/heirs/ "brothers in arms" of yours do you feel the most close to? On the other hand : who are your guitar heroes?

All of the above are my friends, i played with all of them except Oren. We have something in common, but we're all quite different too, and a feel equally distant to all of them. I've been a big fan of Kevin Shields for a long time. Now, i wouldn't call him a guitar hero, but Manuel Mota is becoming one of the most interesting guitarists in the world, in my opinion. He has this extremely rare quality of his approach being neither note-based nor sound-based, but both at the same time. He can instantly weave labirynthic textures using exclusively his hands, no effects...

//While composing, in what measure do you deliberately use this equipment where you could more easily use DSP and all these stuffs? I mean, at the time you were composing your first pieces, the electronic music was still demanding a high investment. Now that it has been popularised, you could easily choose to compose with a laptop. So, have you ever considered to do so?

Look, technology exists to help us do what we want. We're not here to serve technnology (although many people don't think about it), we don't need to use it just because it's available. Formerly, albums were about 40 minutes, the average length of an LP. Now they're 70 minutes. We're going to have audio releases on DVD soon, what now, are we going to make 4 hours of music everytime we want to release something???
And, you're right - just going for DSP would be too easy. Too easy is no fun.

//At a certain moment, did your musical choices and aesthetics start driving a new meaning, ie a certain kind of refusal, opposition to electronic equipment? To say it more clearly (!), does your music reflect, and has always been reflecting, more a genuine attachment to the guitar/analogic sound than a mere refusal of digital sound?

I just go where i want, and use the most appropriate tools i can. Refusal of digital sound??? I work on hard disc recording systems since 1993. It's just a tool.

//You used to be a resident @STEIM (June 1995) for "research on electronic circuits". Do you use any STEIM electronic devices as Kaffe Matthews does, for instance, with LiSa software? She played violin for a while and then ditched it more or less definitely in order to focus on her laptop-based soundscapes… Have you ever considered giving up the guitar?

I had a sort of residency at Steim, during that time i was deeply inspired by their "tradition" of modifying and custom-wiring all kinds of equipment. That was the first time i worked with modified electronic toys, which was much further explored on No Noise Reduction's "On Air", which in turn was the ground for the development of the Toyzone installation at the Sonic Boom exhibition in London...
I don't use any Steim equipment, they're quite MIDI-based and i never used midi at all. I never considered giving up the guitar, although it's very transparent that for some results i need the guitar and for some other results i don't. Sometimes i leave the guitar aside and pick it up again further down the road.

//Would you qualify your aesthetics as a "misleading" aesthetics, an aesthetics of dissimulation (in terms of producing unbelievable sounds only with guitars/analogic equipment)? Or do you think that your music embrace other dimensions that prevail on this one? I mean, do you consider that your music raises other relevant questions and goes beyond the analogic/digital issue, cannot be reduced to this lign of fracture?

There is no analog / digital issue ! ! !
That is simply a discussion that serves technology! It is totally void of importance! Thechnology exists to serve *us*, remember, not the opposite! There is no line of fracture, that is completely imaginary, an industrial illusion. An artist is not even remotely worried about that level of questions.

//The Portuguese underground musical scene is very poorly documented in France. Except a few names such as Carlos Zingaro, Nuno Rebelo or Manuel Mota, it's a little bit hard to have a clear idea of what is happening in Portugal. Could you draw a quick picture of the 'milieu'? How would you qualify the activity of the Portuguese musical scene? Isn't there a problem of distribution?

I think portuguese musicians' weakest point is that most are happy about making music situated on a national scale instead of on a global scale. So it might be ok locally, but becomes pale when compared to its equivalents in the rest of the world. But there are a few portuguese musicians who do serious work on a global reference. The most important are Sei Miguel and Manuel Mota.

//Are there any Portuguese musicians, such as Nuno Rebelo, who had a great influence on your early works (I think of Sand Precision precisely on your Tomlab release) and kept on inspiring you since then?

Nuno Rebelo was extremely important in my very early days. He introduced me to more advanced musical practices and composers.

//Could you say a few words on Sei Miguei? I know you are truly emphatic and enthousiast about him (I don't know this person).

Sei Miguel is an incredibly intelligent jazz composer, with an extremely advanced knowledge of the culture he works in. He's an impeccable trumpet player and directs variable formations performing his pieces with always surprising and uncommon textures and timbres. You can expect to find trumpet, trombone, guitar or percussion in his ensembles, but you may as well be surprised with cello, theremin and strange objects.

//I guess that at certain point, you must have been frustrated not being integrated, properly distributed, ignored by artists you were respecting. You seem now to be part of a cosmopolit network, with a strong artistic relation with Jim O'Rourke, be it for playing together, working together on someone else's album, releasing your discs on his label, etc. How did you get in touch with other foreign pioneering artists, such as Christian Fennesz, the MIMEO crew, the Sonic Youth?

I spent some 10 years working in relative isolation, but i knew it was part of the process, i didn't allow myself to be frustrated. I was invited as a guest to participate in a Mimeo concert in Cologne, and at the end of that concert it was decided that the people who played would become Mimeo's fixed line-up. Sonic Youth i met in Lisbon, when they came to play for the first time in 93 and requested that the support band were Tina and The top Ten, who were friends of mine and whose record i produced.

//I have always wondered if the title Chasing Sonic Booms was directly alluding/refering to Mr Sonic Boom ? If it is so: was it ironic? or, on the contrary, are you a fan? or at least familiar with his work? I think that especially his E.A.R. project could be quite appealing to you & somehow pretty close to what your drone-music infatuation is about.

The title "Chasing Sonic Booms" is a metaphor to live improvisation. But there's a funny story behind it. One day i was visiting Alvin Lucier and i went to his bathroom, where i found an old issue of Science News. There was an Sr-71 ("Blackbird") aircraft on the cover, and the cover title was "Chasing Sonic Booms". It referred to an article about how these planes were being used by NASA to research on supersonic aircraft design, in order to reduce their shockwave (also known as "sonic boom") and thus allow for supersonic commercial flights over continental routes.
So it has absolutely nothing to do with Pete Kember, whose Spacemen 3 songs i really love, although i'm not impressed by E.A.R..


//Are there still any musicians, improvisors (or not) left that you are willing to work with?

I still hope to do something with one of Mimeo's most interesting musicians, Jérome Noetinger, he had this idea sometime ago. A plan is also on standby for long for recording with Iceland guitarist Hilmar Jensson (featured in "Strings and Stings 2"). I look forward to a new meeting with Manuel Mota. And, of course, i can't wait to return to regular collaboration with master Sei Miguel.

//Do you still practice sound art installations for art galleries and museums?

Yes, and i intend to develop more work in those forms.

//What's your stance on the sound installations that current electonic artists such as Mika Vainio, CM von Hausswolff, Carsten Nicolai, Ryoji Ikeda, Farmersmanual, etc., present for art exhibitions? Were your own installations close to theirs? And generally speaking, what's your opinion on this current trend, this generation of non-academic musicians that succeed in drawing attention of the contemporary art galaxy?

In Portugal it's difficult to have access to this type of work. I met Pan Sonic and Ryoji at the Sonic Boom exhibition. My installations are different from theirs because they're usually interactive and have an unpredictable and generative behavior. My (abstract) opinion on this so-called sound art trend is that we can expect a lot of uninteresting work mixed with a lot of great stuff. It's good.