With BRANDON LABELLE
moving to Los Angeles in March 2002 from the East Coast, NYC-metro area,
I was immediately pulled towards certain spaces that function here for
inter-media zones, especially combining sound-art, new media, and all
convergences of new technologies and people…places like the Electronic
Orphanage in Chinatown, Beyond Baroque in Venice, even galleries at SCI-ARC
(the architecture school).
* We first met at KUNSTRADIO where you were doing a project recording sounds of the city of Vienna w/ contact mics, and walking in an ode to the Situationists' model of the derive...Darting in and out of subway stations and falling susceptible to the effects of the city upon you, but the project was to some extent a study in tenderness.. What do you think the role of tenderness and susceptibility play in today's contemporary electronic music scene, especially in relation to letting oneself be open to other cultures, musics, questions, etc.? Is it becoming a hegemony of the machine?
BL: Tenderness was this idea of “impressionability”—that the body was both impressed by its exterior, and that itself makes an impression on the outside world. Tenderness formed a kind of model, or vocabulary for proposing such a dynamic as a “conversation” that is both physical (bodily, material) and something intimate—tenderness being a condition for the exchange of affection. As you seem to imply, tenderness can operate as an opening in the exchange of difference—in this way, maybe it borders on empathy, as a condition for susceptibility, vulnerability, and interaction. In terms of sound practice, at this moment, I was thinking a lot about working with found objects and found sound: so, in this way I was negotiating between myself (as subject) and that which exists around me (surrounding space). This of course brings up both a certain kind of “empowerment” (overcoming alienation, resituating the lines of behavior) as well as “anxiety”, for this necessarily means one confronts the social environment. Tenderness was an attempt to suggest a way to empowerment, and through anxiety.
* The discourse you're engaging in is very interesting, especially in the non-musical elements involved (the writing, using found sounds..). How much do you think you're picking up where John Cage left off and where do you want to go w/ things (in the sense of taking music/discourses places)?
I think in many ways Cage looms as a kind of specter—will there
come a point when he just isn’t relevant anymore? Not that this
is essential, for certainly on some level I find myself interested and
compelled by his example, and can understand Lucier’s [Alvin, musician
from the mid-late 20th century concerned w/ the visual representation
of sound] comment that the situation in the 60s (in terms of cultural
experimentation) was in a sense made possible by John Cage. Yet, at the
same time in reading some of his writings, and in looking/listening to
his work, it feels outside the scope of my own—that is, I can’t
get past the overly-romanticized and transcendental claims about sound
and listening he proffers (which is probably a left-over from Modernism).
Of course, he is a complex figure, and this is juxtaposed with more pragmatic,
revolutionary and materialist concerns, which I feel more personally attached
to (such complexity also prefigures Post-modernity).
* What do you mean by "sound is about everything but sound"? Are there specific examples of others artists/situations that relate to this? Are you familiar w/ Jacques Attali (attali.com) and his arguments about music being society's sound track...where do you see this situation going currently?
BL: Well, this is obviously meant to push a certain polemic: between the notion of sound referring only to itself (non-representational) and sound as referential (meaning). On the whole, it seems this divides various camps, one such example would be something like musique concrete and acoustic ecology, for we can see musique concrete’s insistence on the “sound object” as the antithesis to acoustic ecology’s emphasis on the “context” from which sounds originate (environments). In general, I appreciate the opportunity which the non-representational platform offers—to move towards an “operational” viewpoint of sound’s function as pure event, beyond signifying codes which may in the end only leave us traumatized by meaning. Yet, at the same time, what I value in a sense is to apply this notion—rather than leave us dangling on the edge of non-representation, in the euphoria of the “ecstasy of communication”, to somehow stage a confrontation with sound and the very processes of signification—for outside sound (and this space we call “electronic and experimental music”) as individuals we still exist very much within language, the codes of power, relations, etc. So, the idea that “sound is about everything but sound” is about confronting the real—that the real may in turn benefit from the philosophy and practice of sonic attitudes, I think may be its ultimate space of operation.
* On the question of Napster/Audiogalaxy, and peer-to-peer networks, it seems like they're both filled up with shared music by people.. Many of them have been picked dry of samples, DSP'ed, re-combined, and mashed up. Frequencies have been synthesized and combined, so what's left? How much relevance does a sample hold when it can all be gotten for free on peer-to-peer networks for free?
To just pick up on your last point, I’d say that a sample has no
relevance in and of itself as an original item because by nature sampling
sabotages the whole notion of “originality”. (Though I also
feel like this in turn may be an old view of sampling, for the term seems
to become less and less distinct as an idea or practice…while I
keep holding on to some notion of “taking from existing music, etc.”)
Things like Napster I think are a kind of wake up call for the music industry
to something that has been happening, within more experimental circles,
for a long time. This goes back to the notion of “propriety”,
which I feel, quite gratefully, seems non-existent in the more “experimental”
circles—not that there isn’t a sense of intellectual territory
(certainly there is), but that this is not connected to a form of profit
by which propriety would be necessary. Rather, intellectual territory
is more about ideas as expressed in material or sonic form, which garner
a certain respect or cultural currency.
* This idea is interesting, are there specifics where it is being exhibited....I suppose in other words, what would you consider the "beyond-Oval" to be of our 21st Century, considering that Popp/Oval are, even though quite recent, still about 10 years old in the concept?
I have no interest in making prophesies about where we are going, or what
is the latest and greatest developments. This is because essentially I
am a passive body, which is why listening appeals to me, for as we know,
both passivity and listening are ways of being highly active without subscribing
to the function of power. Yet, passivity also distrusts the notion of
progress… In many ways I continue to think about McLuhan (which
means you shouldn’t trust my sense of the now, since McLuhan is
quite “old” stuff…)—in so far as a lot of his
ideas seem only now to be realized, or made manifest. That we can read
McLuhan and gain insight into a present which is 40 years beyond his moment
of writing, should only reveal the degree to which ideas become fashionable,
and fashion becomes ideology—and ultimately, culture proceeds in
* There's a great quote from Kodwo Eshun, the author of MORE BRILLIANT THAN THE SUN: SONIC FICTIONS, quoting Stockhausen as saying that we can "create wholly new species of being from the simplest platform of DNA..it is an atomic age. This is the same in music." Instead of going into programs like MAX/MSP and sampling and fragmenting things further, you're opting for a more humane, tactile, organic sort of musical atomics: small contact mic as particle-board, etc. What kinds of phrases and questions are you trying to bring up in relation to this practice, and do you see the roles of artist and scientist merging further? (I'm thinking of projects that artists like Carsten Nicolai of Raster-Noton have been working on..)?
I don’t necessarily feel connected to any notion of “agenda”
around the question of “tools” or technology—that I
use contact mics, instead of a computer, doesn’t necessarily hold
any personal weight or agency for me, as a sign of a certain agenda. Though
I can see how this may be read as a commitment to some notion of the tactile
as founded on physical exertion, etc. That the tactile appears as part
of my practice, as a concern, I feel is made more apparent in the works
rather than the means by which the work is created. In other words, the
tools aren’t necessarily where I want attention to rest (though
they may appear as indicators of the work). I’m certainly interested
in “tactility” more as a relation to materiality, which I
find something like an overtly “electronic” practice often
overwhelms—I probably gravitate to contact mics because they simply
do the job, and they do it in such a way that corresponds to my understanding
of tactility, and performativity.
*This is a wonderful thought, but could you just explain more about who Derrick de Kerckhove is and how the digital really pushes tactility to the foreground? Are there speciific examples of projects you've worked on that has worked off of this idea of music/tactility as "phrases"?
Derrick de Kerckhove is a media professor at University of Toronto. He
was a student of McLuhan (he is also the Director of the McLuhan program
in Culture and Technology), and worked directly with him, in writing and
translating his works. His notion of tactility is based a lot on McLuhan’s
understanding of “electronic technologies” as restructuring
society according to “the whole body” rather than a “fragmented
body.” In this way I think he moves away from an overly psychologized
body—this may hark back to our early thoughts on meaning and trauma—where
one is divided as a subject (between self and other, body and mind, soul
and sense); in contrast, de Kerckhove recognizes a shift in experience
and paradigm: network technologies bring the body into an “immersive”
sensorial environment in which meaning doesn’t necessarily operate
through language (here, we move toward the acoustical as non-representational),
but rather, we interact in a field of events in which meaning is operational.
* You write about 'becoming-social' in certain areas, and how music acts in this regard, as well as 'social space'...are you observing/considering the possibility of sampling an entire city, or tracing the city and its vicissitudes (similar to the way the flaneur of Baudelaire's time did) as source material to be amplified? What kinds of new responsibilities emerge from this predicament for the young sound/media artist?
I feel both aligned with something like the tradition of flaneury, and
also critical of it; so, there is definitely a mixed relation. That is,
something like the legacy of walking as a form of agency I find involved
with, and yet, this absolutely requires some form of contemporary update:
for where can such a legacy take us? The question of “social space”
increasingly rises to the forefront of my concern and practice, and increasingly
I’m interested in working in such a way that engages with questions
of social space, and in a way, tries to align itself with the social,
as a kind of model for practice itself—complex, self-organized,
difficult, intimate, and anarchic: this of course takes me into what can
be called “contextual practice”.
* If through the Internet entirely new sound worlds/programs (freeware, 8-bit tracking programs, Max/Msp, etc.) are opened up for sounds to be sampled, processed, recorded, and reproduced quite easily, what new challenges arise for creating new subjectivities, musical genres, etc..through this?
Well, I think in this regard, though not to hammer away at this point,
we move toward the “social”—for network technologies
I think operate increasingly as social spaces whereby identities play
out in the formation of connective exchanges that sustain themselves over
time, and also, determine their own self-organizing laws, through practical
and fantastical drives. This certainly poses challenges, as well as opportunities,
which I think cross over both aesthetical and philosophical proposals—what
I think needs to potentially happen is an increasingly dissolved model
of the singular artist in order to promote more collaborative forms of
practice, for it seems the very connectivity of current society should
point the way to a shift in artistic attitudes about the artist in his
or her studio, and the world outside.