Archive for the ‘Portraits’ Category

Portrait: Jon Clark

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Jon Clark is a visual artist living and working in Los Angeles. His work has appeared on several Not Not Fun releases, including the video for Matrix Metals and LA Vampires “So Unreal” (credited to Image Masters Unlimited, his collaboration with artist Spencer Longo). Clark’s practice spans comics, graphic design and video. The culmination of his efforts to date is Spectrum Hunter, a just released thirty minute film with a striking visual style that compliments its loose narrative about a cult of drug-addled video warriors who film their exploits for sale on the black market. Spectrum Hunter captures the timeless atmosphere of youth while leaving the menace of childhood intact.  It is a vital document of the dark, nostalgia-infected vibe that colors the work of Not Not Fun artists and associated blurry-VHS style travelers like James Ferraro.

Spectrum Hunter Trailer from Jon Clark on Vimeo.

Visitation Rites: In addition to the cover art and other visual ephemera you created for  the film there is a lot of original 80s and early 90s graphic art in the opening sequence. Can you talk a little bit about how this kind of art has influenced your own design work?

John Clark: With the bedroom scene, I was referencing the type of art and graphic design that inspired the aesthetic of the movie.  In reality, that is my real bedroom and I own everything on the walls.  The products, symbols, and advertising of the 80s/90s era are interesting to me because I first experienced them as a child.  When you are young, everything is mysterious and new – there is a permanent suspension of disbelief.  Encountering aesthetics in this mindset is profound. Browsing video stores as a child had a huge effect on my subconscious. Since I was not allowed to rent an R-rated movie, I would imagine what might be on them based solely on the cover art.  I did my best to illustrate this idea with the video store scene in Spectrum Hunter. As a kid, I wanted to interact with the mysterious characters and artwork represented on VHS boxes.  As an artist, I’ve found a way to create a world in which that is possible.

A close friend said she thinks the best modern example of Black Magic lies within the advertising industry.  There is something very seductive and powerful about package artwork and design.  When making props for Spectrum Hunter, though we referenced the graphic art of the 80s and 90s, I think the pieces that worked best went beyond that aesthetic.  Those pieces in particular had a haunted feel, familiar, yet dark and ambiguous.  Since completing Spectrum Hunter, I have continued to make cover artwork for a series of imagined media called the Night School Collection. With these pieces, I want to move beyond the 80s/90s aesthetic and put more emphasis on creating work that evokes the haunted feeling I mentioned earlier.  You can view them here.

VR: Can you talk about the names of characters in the games and the videos shown in Spectrum Hunter. Were these created specifically for the movie or were they a result of ideas and design concepts you’d been thinking about for a long time in different contexts?

JC: Both.  Text and language are a big part of my artistic practice.  I’m as much of a writer as I am a visual artist.  I have a ton of aliases and names for projects that don’t even exist yet.  When I used to play in bands I would always make up fake band names and include them on our fliers.  A lot of times, the impetus for a piece comes from a name or phrase I’ve come up with that is interesting or evocative to me.  Names can carry a lot of weight, especially when juxtaposed with imagery.  Rotten Robbie is the name of a gas station on the way to San Francisco.  Their sign has a cool font.  Poison House is something I saw written on a Pog.  To me, a Poison House is a futuristic version of a haunted house.  If Spectrum Hunters are inhabiting a building or mall, it’s a Poison House.  Night School is the name of the production company that puts out the Spectrum Hunter videos.  Mizuno is the name of an athletic company.  Heather, who played Mizuno, actually wears a Mizuno batting glove on her left hand in real life.  I like the name Shuttlecock because it sounds very regal but also funny and homoerotic.

VR: Can you tell me how actor Dian Bachar got involved?

JC: I love living in L.A. and being close to celebrities.  I also think the idea of a cameo is a symbolic gesture within the context of the film.  Celebrities carry the same sort of weight that logos and graphics do.  They are recognizable symbols of our culture.  Dian was roommates with a close friend of mine.  I am a big fan of Dian’s work and as we got to know each other, he became a fan of my work too.  I knew I wanted him to be in Spectrum Hunter before I even wrote it.  The other potential actor to play our Store Clerk was Jason Narvy, the guy who played Skull on Power Rangers.

VR: The mythology behind the Spectrum Hunter  isn’t gone into much detail in the film. Could you give a little background on your own idea/concept for the Spectrum Hunter universe?

JC: The Spectrum Hunters are a cult that inhabit deserted malls.  They use drugs (represented by Pogs) in order to gain tangible magic powers.  They build mazes and then kidnap people, forcing them to fight their way through the gauntlets they’ve constructed.  Surveillance cameras document these affairs and the subsequent videos are sold in clandestine locations.  They sell for astronomical sums of money since they are rare and illegal.  We made the Spectrum Hunters mysterious intentionally, but I still think their core motivations are apparent: the Spectrum Hunters inhabit deserted malls, they have real magic powers that most normal people don’t have access to, and they have a subculture with its own rituals and hierarchy.  Those are the things that motivate them to do what they do.

VR: Can you speak briefly about the music in the film – what your initial ideas for the score were and how you collaborated on the project?

JC: I wanted the score to mostly be comprised of early synthesis type music.  Music and sound cues similar to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, A Clockwork Orange, 70s/80s TV bumpers, pinball machines, and video games.  I initially wanted natural noises to be represented with synth noises in order to abstract the imagery another level (sonically).  There are some instances of this in the film, but not as many as I originally planned.  One example is when Robbie spins the flower on the honeycomb prop and it bleeps out an atonal synth arpeggiation.

When I hear music that inspires me, I automatically attach imagery to it in my head.  This often compels me to illustrate music through video.  I am a huge fan of house and techno.  The scenes in Spectrum Hunter that incorporate dance music were conceived of with that type of music in mind.  I wanted to illustrate techno in a way that is based on my personal relationship with it, that would resonate with people in a different way.  Even if one isn’t a fan of that type of music, I wanted to work with it in a more conceptual manner that would transcend taste and deal with this music as an idea.  When the Spectrum Hunters baptize Tyler in the opening scene, it was important that techno be playing in the background.  Techno is hypnotic, ritualistic future music and it fits in with the vibe of the Spectrum Hunter cult.  I grew up going to raves, DJing, and making techno.  The synaesthesic experiences I had at raves, where images, sound, and humanity combine to create an alternate reality, have had an immense effect on my artwork.  In many ways, Spectrum Hunter is a heavily abstracted movie about rave culture, or subcultures in general.  Before I knew what raves were, I’d often pick up rave flyers at the mall because they looked cool.  On the back side, they listed all the DJs who were performing.  The names lists blew me away.  Adam X, Frankie Bones, Stryfe, Shredder, Tin Man, The Hacker.  “Who are these Demi-gods?” I wondered.  It would be years before I would find out.  That experience inspired the Spectrum Hunter flier that keeps reappearing in the movie: Apple Knocker, China Doll, Body Bag, Puss in Boots, Double Dude, Confetti Skeleton…Hugh Know?

Words: Max Burke

Spectrum Hunter is now available on DVD

Portraits: Meg Baird

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Meg Baird is a singer-songwriter who first rose to prominence as part of storied psych-folk outfit Espers, a Philadelphia collective whose three full-lengths crystallized the sound of the more somber and sonically kaleidoscopic elements of the mid-aughts “Freak Folk” scene. Between Espers’ second and third records, Baird released Dear Companion, an understated but deeply affecting solo record consisting primarily of covers and traditional songs. Those who fell immediately under Meg’s spell had to wait an excruciating four years for the follow-up, Seasons on Earth, which arrived on Drag City this Fall. Some songs find Baird joined, variously, by Marc OrleansSteve Gunn, and Chris Forsyth on guitar. The focus on originals and the inclusion of other musicians expand the sound ever so slightly, though it’s still grounded in Meg’s signature playing style and voice. I spoke with Meg just before she played a show to celebrate the release at Brooklyn’s Union Pool.

VR: Your first solo LP, Dear Companion, was just your voice and guitar. What was the impetus to bring in additional players for this record?

Meg: It happened pretty organically. It was all people that I knew and it was like, “Oh, we should play together,” and then just following through. I didn’t know Marc [Orleans] too well at first but I’ve gotten to know him through D.Charles Speer & The Helix. Steve [Gunn], he actually lived in Philly, so I’ve known him for a long time.


Portraits: James Blackshaw: An Interview by Max Burke

Monday, November 15th, 2010

James Blackshaw. Photo by Lynda Smith

Guitarist and composer James Blackshaw is a singular force in underground music. From his earliest releases on standard-bearing labels like Digitalis and Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, to the expansive, stylistically diverse sound of his two most recent full-lengths for Michael Gira’s Young God Records, Blackshaw has simultaneously explored the sonic possibilities of the guitar and the outer reaches of his own considerable compositional talent. The result is a discography defined by Blackshaw’s virtuosic playing, with each record a finely focused exploration of a playing approach or atmosphere. Blackshaw has just release his latest,All Is Falling, and has embarked on a brief North American tour in between stints supporting Swans in Europe.

Blackshaw’s tourmates are the accomplished electronic and processed guitar duo Mountains, old friends who make for a solid double-bill for interested punters. “Generally a lot of people are really interested in both even if they didn’t know one or the other beforehand, it’s a good match. Its been a lot of fun and I enjoy watching their sets night after night which I can’t always say. Even if you like something, it can be hard to watch people play sets ever night. Its been really good, though.”

Recent supporting slots for Swans have found receptive audiences in Europe and the UK, “Swans have quite a diverse fan base but I was concerned that a big chunk of people – if it’s not super loud they’d be like “What the hell is this folky shit?” – you know, this nerd up on stage. But they went really well. Generally speaking, it seemed like a lot of people who went to see Swans ‘got it,’ which is as much as I can ask.” Not all UK shows have gone as well throughout Blackshaw’s career, however. “I think UK audiences cans be really tough. I think I can say that as one of us. For years and years, truthfully, I didn’t massively enjoy playing London for example. Its gotten a lot better, I think people have become more receptive and interested in what I’m dong. I’m from London and I love London and I like Londoners but we’re not always the warmest people.”

The Wave Goes On Forever: Neu!’s Michael Rother on Hallogallo 2010

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Michael Rother at ATP 2010. Photo by Tim Bugbee

From Harmonia to Neu!, early Kraftwerk to his solo recordings, Michael Rother is a living legend in the world of experimental music. After Harmonia, his project with Cluster‘s Hans Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, made its final live appearance last year, Rother resurrected the music of Neu! in a living tribute called “Hallogallo 2010”. Formerly a duo with the late Klaus Dinger, the group now consists of Rother on guitar and electronics, bassist Aaron Mullan (longtime Sonic Youth sound engineer and guitarist/vocalist in the band Tall Firs) and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, who has also recently appeared in Pete Nolan’s Spectre Folk project.

Live, the Hallogallo experience is a combination of grooving uplift — provided by Mullan and Shelley’s expert rhythm work — and maximalist processed guitar maneuvers by Mr. Rother. Rother has a long association and appreciation for All Tomorrow’s Parties, and has participated in ATP events on three continents. “I like the ATP family. I’m friends with quite a few of the organizers and it’s great to see their faces again everywhere. I’ve seen them in the UK, America, and Australia. They have a good selection of music and [the festival] has a very pleasant feel.”

Although music is at the heart of ATP, the event is distinguished by its diverse selection of extracurricular activities. “I was too late to baseball, I haven’t played cards yet, but we played tennis yesterday,” explains Aaron Mullan. “Hard court, it’s good. Not too many people [at ATP] are actually good at sports.” Despite his renowned sound-mixing abilities and longtime association with Sonic Youth, Mullan is such a modest guy that we wonder how he was drafted into Rother’s Neu!-reviving supergroup.

Positive Energy, Negative Realities and Blowing It the Fuck Out: An Interview with Greg Fox

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Greg Fox is an incredibly busy Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist who participates in the groups Teeth Mountain, Guardian Alien, Liturgy, and his solo project GDFX (among others), and runs the Infinite Limbs record label. Guardian Alien performed at the second day of NY Eye & Ear, and their mesmerizing set of processed vocals, explosive percussion, and expert Japan Banjo playing had me itching to pick Greg’s brain on a number of issues. Topics discussed include Blues Control, the amoral New York Post, and Fox’s upcoming July 4th blowout at Shea Stadium.

Max Burke: Tell me about the genesis of the GDFX project – how it came to be, and where it is currently.


Low-End Theory: An Interview with Source of Yellow

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Source of Yellow are a (mostly) Brooklyn-based trio who play a tightly focused strain of experimental music with a concentration and passion atypical of many improv units. The group consists of Nawi Avila, Nick Hasty, and Peter Kerlin. As the opening group on day two of the NY Eye & Ear Fest, they effectively roused me from my early afternoon stupor with a blistering set that barely topped 15 minutes. The group has just self-released their debut on vinyl and I got to speak with them about the challenges and rewards of putting out your own record, the pleasures of Charleton Heston’s The Omega Man, and their own personal low-end theory.

Max Burke: How long have you guys been together?

Peter Kerlin: Two years. Nawi and I had been in another band called The Holy Childhood and then I stopped playing music for a while and then I met Nick in this graduate program we were in; he was a student of mine, and we started playing. Nawi and I were fantasizing about having a band that would be all low-end — Nawi playing baritone sax, me playing bass…

Nawi Avila: …low-end in competing waves.

The Sun Araw Zone: An Interview with Cameron Stallones

Friday, April 30th, 2010

I would describe the experience of doing an interview with Cameron Stallones of Sun Araw as both thrilling and nerve-racking. Thrilling in that you’re likely to end up with something really thought-provoking and surprising. Nerve-racking because considering how much care Stallones puts into his output, I knew that I really had to bring my A-game. After several hours of bleeding over questions, several spirited email exchanges, and much anticipation, I am at last able to present to you the interview you see here, along with the track “The Stakeout: Reprise” off of ON PATROL, Sun Araw’s latest album. I don’t know about you, but I think this song could be the soundtrack to the buddy cop movie that exists somewhere in my subconscious.

Samantha Cornwell: I know that you do all of your own album art work for Sun Araw, and seem to have a pretty clear vision of how you want your music to be represented visually. How do you feel this aesthetic unity effects the Sun Araw experience and sets it apart from other musical projects that you are familiar with? Have you applied a similar rigor to previous musical projects of your own?

Cameron Stallones: I want the zones to flow all the way through, start to finish, eyes to ears, brainpan to inner visions. That’s really powerful and important to me. I just can’t help but get stoked about the object-creation side of it anyhow, such a heavy scene! Not to mention the ability to physically realize for others the inner-zones that you’ve been dwelling in so long while recording. Thankfully, in most of the other bands I’ve been in, people have been down and had similar goals. In Magic Lantern the artwork is always a collab, but those dudes like getting down into it, making something really thorough. I guess those are complicated ways of saying I can be super picky, though. But a lot of the bands I idolize are those that were super singular in their aesthetic visions as well as their music. I just see it as preparing the way for the jams, folding them in love.

Portraits: Future Perfect: Back To The Future The Ride

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Back To The Future The Ride, s/t free mini-l.p. on Deathbomb Arc

It seems an almost weekly occurrence in the music world: a luminary of the punk/avant-garde/whatever scene invents a pseudonym and starts a meditative side project that can be lazily tagged “drone” or “synth” or “ambient.” It’s easy to become quite jaded with all of this cerebral material. Just a few years ago, going noise was the most cynical move in the book; most of the strivers figured out there wasn’t any money in it and moved along. Next-wave artists who have channeled the kind of introspection that five years ago would almost certainly have been plowed into contact mics and redundant delay pedals have started picking up vintage keyboards and “going deep” on a seemingly endless stream of cassette labels and collector-baiting ultra-limited vinyl editions, while many noise veterans have hitched their wagon to the inexplicable but lucrative goth dance craze.

Entering the fray is Brian Miller, Los Angeles underground scene stalwart, Deathbomb Arc label-runner, and founder of the late, lamented forward- thinking punk collective Rose for Bohdan. He used to run around with legendary improv unit Gang Wizard, and currently heads up the stunning four-drummer revue Foot Village. Bottom line: he’s been making Los Angeles cool for well over a decade. Oh yeah, his cat has a blog too. I’ve known Brian for a long time. Full disclaimer: I used to intern at Deathbomb Arc in the mid-00’s, which at that point he was still running out of his parent’s Burbank garage – an effortlessly punk setup. When I heard he was doing a new project, and already had three releases planned, I was excited but a bit skeptical. The solo drone/ambient project under an ironic moniker schtick seemed a bit too trite for Miller, a musical lifer who has toured all over the world and seen many a hyped scene come and go.

Suburban Tours, In Austin: An Interview with Rangers’ Joe Knight

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Aerial view of Dallas, TX, Joe Knight’s hometown

One of the things I was really looking forward to at SXSW was sitting down for a chat with some of the artists I had been following for a long time but had only had the opportunity of corresponding with over the internet. Rangers‘ Joe Knight, who released a stunning record of “pop songs” on Olde English Spelling Bee earlier this year, was high on my list. Sadly, the interview I had planned to conduct out with him out there never came to be. It was such a hectic week for both of us that somehow we only managed to say a quick hello as he and the other members of the SXSW Rangers “band” — which had convened for the first time in Austin that week — were lugging their gear out of the backyard where the Micro-Pixel-Rites showcase was hosted. Fortunately, we were able to catch up on the information super highway when we both got home.

Last week was a big week for Rangers, marking not only your first appearance at SXSW, but also some of your first live appearances period. How would you describe the whole SXSW experience? Anything weird or unusual happen?

Dunno. It was a lot of fun. I guess it was random how it came about. I’m from Texas and have been to SXSW a bunch and I was tentativley planning to go just for fun and to catch up with some friends from back home. Then I started to get some offers to play shows, so I started to throw the idea around with my friend Peter and we were trying to think of the best way to swing it. We had some friends who were down to go and ready to practice; we practiced a bit and that was that. We had a great time.

After the Post Rock: Mountains, Tape, and Tim Hecker at the Unsound Festival in New York

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

MountainsMountains, Live at Le Poisson Rouge, Unsound Festival, February 10, 2010.

The first major snowstorm of 2010 in New York City occasioned one of the most noteworthy nights of the Unsound Festival. The festival, which originated in Poland and is making its stateside debut this year, is a two-week series of concerts, film screenings, talks, and other special events in Manhattan with a focus on experimental dance and electronic music. Tonight’s concert took place at Le Poisson Rouge, a relatively new downtown venue that seeks to bring classical and experimental music to the beer-swilling masses in a club setting. LPR is relatively small with an impressive sound system suited to avant garde musics, which often hinge on subtle gestures and deep listening for success.