Spiggot magazine

Interview by Michael Bundy, Aug. 1998

Did you ever or do you ever play the guitar in a more traditional manner?


Of course you have to start somewhere… I played Beatles songs when i was 12 but i didn’t think of myself as a musician until much later, when i was already very focused on sound. Sound is the source of music to me and not the other way around, so when i plug in the guitar i use it as a generator, and try to come up with answers to questions like, “how can a string be set into vibration?” and “once a string is vibrating, what can be done with its sound?”. On the other hand, i don’t see the guitar as an instrument i play. What i play is an electronic instrument made of several equipments and the guitar is just a part of it. I see this as a synthesizer, a device for creating new sounds. Synths are made of generators, controllers and modifiers and so is my “instrument”. The guitar is a generator.

On the back of CHASING SONIC BOOMS it quotes you saying “Portugal kills creative musicians”. Did you have a hard time finding an audience there?

Six copies of Wave Field is what its distributing company sold during the first three months of the original release. This could give you an idea. Anyway i think Portugal isn’t much different from other countries, it only has the disadvantage of being too small – there’s not enough people interested to create a sense of community, a functional “scene”. To make it worse, this country suffers from the habit of being kept in deep ignorance for decades by a fascist regime. It’s been a free country for 24 years now, but people still have this conformist mentality. It’ll improve with new generations, i guess, it’s changing for better.

How has that differed in different countries?

Other countries have different cultural habits. In countries like Germany or Holland, people won’t be as easily satisfied with cheap entertainment as they are here. The openness of a country depends a lot on its cultural history, some have happier histories than others. Portugal has a rich one, but for this century i find it quite a bit sad. Curiously, the country i’m most linked to and where i’m best accepted is the United States.

Could you talk about your forthcoming release on Perdition Plastics, “Aeriola Frequency”? How does it fit into your musical evolution, both technically and esthetically?

It’s the natural successor to “Wave Field”, based on a piece called “Cyclorama Lift”. The move from “Wave Field” to “Aeriola Frequency” is from ground to air, from weight to lightness, from standing to floating. The continuity link is the focus on resonance. In “Wave Field”, resonance comes from the guitar world. In “Cyclorama Lift” it comes from… outer space! Just kidding… This piece deals with pure electronic resonance. It’s played with an empty circuit, basically a feedback delay loop. There’s no input, the loop is constantly nourishing and digesting itself. David Toop wrote something beautiful about it: “Like qualities of air, sounds meet and become each other”.

Are these pieces mapped out or is there a lot of improvisation involved? I know through my experience with electronics that things such as “feedback delay loops” have an ability to be a bit unruly. Are your electronics completely controlled or is there an element of chance involved, an opportunity for chaos?

What is mapped is the circuit, that is the essence of the piece along with its performance, which is of course not written at all. I keep a certain amount of control, but it naturally behaves in quite an unpredictable way. I don’t call “improvisation” to the performance of an electronic piece with its own rules, no matter how much randomness you deal with. I love the disjunction between gestures and their effects in electronic music, sometimes to extremes (like playing with instruments that might not work or do something unexpected). We’re talking about ANALOG electronics, no memories, presets or midis at all, just wires and knobs.

How is your approach different (if at all) in a live setting? Do you improvise more?

I think improvising is the only thing i do on stage. At home i usually do a world of editing and mixing before anything is done. Aeriola Frequency is basically unedited, it’s mostly “live to tape”.

Could you talk about your forthcoming release on Jim O’Rourke’s new label, Moikai?

It’s Phill Niblock’s “Guitar Too, For Four”. My favorite Niblock piece ever and a big statement about electric guitar. It surely rocks!!! It’s an overwhelming and incredibly immersive experience.

How was working with Phill Niblock?

Phill is a wonderful person a great friend of mine. He helped me a lot in this country. He has a simple way of working, being quite strong about two or three esential points and remaining open about the rest. We didn’t work that much, since all i had to do was record some tones for him to work on later. He usually takes these tones into the computer and does the editing and tuning work according to his score. The original tones for the piece were originally recorded by Robert Poss, Susan Stenger, David First and myself. Later, after all Phill’s work, a finished mix was done and at this point he invited both Jim O’Rourke and me to do a version each by adding four live tracks to the tape, and Jim invited Kevin Drumm to join him. I never heard their version, but i can say mine is discrete. I loved the original mix so much that i preferred it without my added tracks. I had a hard time blending everything together, but now it’s well balanced and more colorful.

You said that the album contains two different versions of the same piece written by Phill Niblock for guitar, one by Jim O’Rourke and Kevin Drumm, and one by yourself. What are the main differences in the two interpretations?

See answer above…

Are you working on any other collaborative projects right now?

No, but in December i’ll play on a three-day festival in Cologne with people from Mego. I’m very excited about that.

Are you still working in “No Noise Reduction”?

No Noise Reduction is a way of challenging ourselves and it’s always on our minds (Paulo Feliciano and me), but we can actually spend years with no output. We did a record called “On Air”, live radio broadcasts with lots of circuit bending done to electronic toys and toy guitar amps. Bill Meyer described it as “a riot in a home for retired sci-fi movie robots”.

On “Wave Field” you included the instructions to “play very soft or very loud”, which changes the feel of the album immensely. Why did you include these instructions?

It actually becomes something different played loud, not the ambient music i thought i had done. A very physical, intense, hypnotizing stream of electricity. When i discovered this, while listening to the final mixes, i was standing and couldn’t move, i had to go somewhere and had to wait until the piece was over…

You also list all of the effects and instruments used on the album. Why did you choose to include that information?

I like to give some information about the materials i use, i think this type of information carries some cultural background with it. Tells you a bit about where the music comes from. Anyway, i wouldn’t try to describe the process of creating the sound, that’d be too complex.

What music have you been listening to recently?

This very moment i’m listening to an early Chet Baker record. I’ve also been listening to Bestie Boys’ “Hello Nasty”, Lithops (Jan St Werner), Alec Empire and A thousand leaves… I’ve been enjoying more and more listening to the environment sounds and playing no music. A lot of other times i’m working on my own music, so i can’t listen to any other…