LEE RANALDO Interview
Review & Corregie (France)
- APART FROM SONIC YOUTH, WHO PROBABLY DON’T HAVE TO BE INTRODUCED ANYMORE, WHAT WERE YOUR FRIST MUSICAL EXPERIENCES ? YOUR FIRST MUSICAL MEMORIES ?
I grew up in a musical environment, my mother a pianist, and so there was always music and singing in my house growing up. American early 60s AM radio hits were big influences, and very early on came the Beatles which remain inspirational to this day.
- WHICH MUSICIANS, ARTISTS AND IN PARTICULAR GUITARISTS INFLUENCED YOU ? WHAT ASPECTS OF THEIR FORMAL AND CONCEPTUAL APPROACHES INFLUENCED YOU ?
Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, of course, Garcia and Weir and Jorma, Clapton, David Byrne, Ivan Julian and Robt Quine, Verlaine and Lloyd, Django Reinhart, Leo Kotke and John Fahey, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, J Mascis and Lou Barlow, Steven Malkmus, Liz Phair, Heino Keichi, Barbara Manning, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, Jim O’Rourke, Thurston, Kim, Les Paul.
- WHAT WAS GLENN BRANCA’S INFLUENCE IN YOUR WAY OF APPROACHING THE SOUND MATTER, AND ALSO ON THE SIMPLY TECHNICAL ANGLE OF GUITAR PLAYING ? HOW DID YOU GET ALONG TOGETHER ?
Glenn and I got along very well, in fact I was the only one in his early 6 piece band able to step out and almost ‘solo’—he knew that I understood where he was going with the ‘theatrical’ aspect of the music and he used me as a foil for where he wanted to push the music whilst he was conducting. I had done much playing in open tunings before meeting him, so that is not the aspect of working with him that I found ‘new’. Moreso it was the conceptual nature of the music he was doing, coupled with the dramatic effect he was trying to achieve (ie : large scale rock that had the effect of, say, Wagner symphonies or tone poems).
- WHAT WAS THE STATE OF MIND IN NEW YORK WHEN YOU GOT THERE ? DO YOU THINK THAT THIS CITY DEEPLY INFLUENCED YOUR APPROACH OF THE SONIC PHENOMENON ?
The city was a very powerful influence. When Thurston, Kim and I all came to NYC (late 70s, early 80s) the city was very hermetic, and a very powerful culture was brewing in the worlds of music and art, which interacted with each other. You had many artists working in various fields==painters forming bands, guitar players making sculptures, etc… It was a very high time when much great work was made. Many people were willing to experiment, try new things, and that was the character of the city which influenced us most. We wanted to become a part of that.
In spite of the art world’s rapid notoriety, there was something very insular about that time—things happening here then did not always translate outside the heady environment of the city. Certainly no bands from that time imagined being able to make records—there were no indie’ companies back than ; Branca’s was actually among the first around in NYC, alongside 99 records.
- AS WITH SONIC YOUTH, WHERE POP CULTURE INFLUENCES COULD BE HEARD, AS WELL AS NUMEROUS QUOTATIONS AND TWISTS OF AMERICAN CULTURAL AND COUNTER-CULTURAL REFERENCES, YOUR SOLO LPS USE AN AESTHETIC THAT’S CLOSE TO THE MINIMALISTIC AND BEAT POETRY. WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS HISTORY, THIS COUNTER-CULTURE FROM THE 50’S AND THE 60’S ?
I first read Kerouac at 18, directly after my first summer spent crossing the USA by car, to California and back. I immediately responded to the writing, and soon discovered Ginsburg, Corso, Diane DiPrima, WS Burroughs and other writers of that ilk. The energy of the writing, the tenderness which is often revealed, the spirituality as well as the excitement those writers expressed at living in the ‘modern age’ all spurred me on.
- IN A WAY, IMPROVISATION HAS ALWAYS BEEN AN IMPORTANT PART OF SONIC YOUTH’S MUSIC, AS WELL AS OF ROCK IN GENERAL (VELVET UNDERGROUND, GRATEFUL DEAD…). WHAT LED YOU TO IMPROVISATION ? I’M MAINLY THINKING ABOUT YOUR COLLABORATIONS WITH WILLIAM HOOKER, AND TODAY WITH DJS OR CHRISTIAN MARCLAY. WHAT ARISES YOUR INTEREST IN FREE IMPROVISATION ?
From the earliest times when I began playing electric guitar, and even banging on a piano before that, it was always obvious that setting notes free into the air has a magical quality to it. Something special happens when tones ring out, made by one’s own hand. I always desires to make spontaneous creative tone pomes with others, as soon as I learned to play. Like building castles our of cloud vapor==you build them up and then they drift off to the stars.
- DOES IMPROVISING WITH THRUSTON MOORE MEAN SOMETHING FOR YOU OUT OF THE CONTEXT OF SONIC YOUTH ? HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO ESCAPE FROM YOUR RESPECTIVE STYLES, FROM THIS LANGUAGES YOU HAVE BOTH DEVELOPPED WITHIN SONIC YOUTH ? VINKO GLOBOKAR SAID THAT IMPROVISING ONLY MADE SENSE IF YOU PLAYED WITH A MUSICIAN YOU HAD NEVER PLAYED WITH BEFORE, OR ELSE YOU’RE JUST BUILDING A STYLE OF PLAYING BASED ON MEMORIES, ON WHAT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE, AND IN THIS CASE IT’S BETTER TO WRITE NEW MUSIC.
I think Vinko is taking the phrase as a ‘purist’ would, and I do not care to see it that way. Improvising is starting from no written or rehearsed script, but just PLAYING and letting the music dictate where one goes with it. With Thurston I have a long history of such playing—both in Sy and outside of the group. We have developed something of a common language, and sometimes utilize this. But it still does not prepare us well for that which happens when we step onto a stage together and PLAY ! Then the music takes over and it’s always different that we imagined it would be.
- KEITH ROWE SAID THAT DEREK BAILEY WAS STILL WORKING WITHIN THE OLD LANGUAGE OF GUITAR PLAYING, OPPOSING THE TECHNIQUES OF REHEARSED GUITAR TO HIS OWN PLAYING. YOU RARELY USE THOSE OBLIQUE METHODS YOURSELF, EXCEPT WHEN WORKING ON THE SOUND. (BAILEY VERY ACCURATELY SAID THAT IMPROVISATION IN ROCK IS EITHER COMPLETELY BASED ON THE BLUES OR COMES FROM ELECTRONIC MUSIC). HOW DO YOU VIEW THIS INSTRUMENT AND YOUR USE OF IT CONFRONTED WITH THIS REFLEXION, AND MORE GENERALLY WITH NEW TECHNOLOGIES ? DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STILL OPERATING WITHIN AND OLD FRAME OF LANGUAGE ? DO YOU THINK THAT THIS INSTRUMENT CAN STILL SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT THIS END OF CENTURY ?
I don’t really concern myself too much with these ideas of ‘language’ and frameworks. I say use everything at your disposal, and let the knowledge be your guide. That means, of course, to be aware of yr antecedents—your “old language”. In other words not to be trapped inside the language you use, to see it as one of many, and to understand the workings of as many as possible. To draw influence and inspiration from many points in space.
- ARE YOU INTERESTED IN NEW ELECTRONIC MUSIC (AS MADE BY MUSICIANS LIKE DJ SPOOKY, MIKA VAINIO, RYOJI IKEDA…), ALSO IN ITS MORE PLAYFUL SIDE, LIKE APHEX TWIN AND SQUAREPUSHER, OR EVEN ITS FESTIVE, MAINSTREAM, DANCE-FLOOR ORIENTED SIDE ?
Although I don’t listen to dance music too much, I have great respect and interest in the artists you mention, especially Aphex Twin and others (O’Rourke, Merzbow, Autechre, Thomas Koner, Oval, Microstoria, etc etc) . They are breathing new life into the contemporary music scene.
- DO YOU THINK THAT ROCK IS TODAY A OVERDATED COUNTER-CULTURE THAT DOESN’T WORK ANYMORE ? HAVE WE NOW ENTERED WHAT COULD BE CALLED THE TECHNOSPHERE, WITH NEW DEFINITIONS OF THE ROLE OF THE ARTIST AND HIS WORK, QUESTIONING THE CONCEPTS OF AURA, COPYRIGHT, WRITING (FOR INSTANCE DJ SPOOKY’S TEXTS) ? AN ALBUM LIKE « SCRIPTURES OF THE GOLDEN ETERNITY » SEEMS TO BE PRETTY CLOSE TO THE ILLBIANT AESTHETIC, OR TO SOME OF THE 70’S INDUSTRIAL MUSIC, LIKE THROBBING GRISTLE.
Nah. Yes. Maybe.
- YOU USE RECORDED TAPES, ANSWERING MACHINE VOICES THAT YOU MIX WITH YOUR GUITAR DRONES. ANOTHER IMPORTANT CHARACTERISTIC OF YOUR MUSIC IS THE USE OF THE LOOP AND THE DELAY, A VERY GEOLOGICAL, STRATIFIED APPROACH TO MUSIC (FOR INSTANCE, SEE YOUR DEDICATION TO ROBERT SMITHSON AND SOME OF YOUR TITLES : « BROKEN CIRCLE », « SPIRAL HILL », « NEW GROOVE LOOP »). THIS IDEA OF TRAVELLING, WANDERING THROUGH SOUND, IS VERY CLOSE TO PSYCHEDELIA, A PSYCHO-ACOUSTICAL APPROACH ? WHAT DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU’RE LISTENING TO LA MONTE YOUNG’S INFINITE PIECES OR TONY CONRAD’S MUSIC ?
I like the idea of music as landscape—another word for soundtrack—and often conceive of my music, or performances, to that end. I like the idea of being inside a specific soundscape which mutates or changes as you go, the aural equiv of a film. It takes a certain sense of patience from the audience to go with this concept (it’s diff fr ‘chill-out’ music, say) and am always pleased when an audience is willing to follow. I very much like the idea of films to accompany instrumental music as a means to focus the listening experience, too.
- ONE OF THE TRACKS ON « AMARILLO RAMP » IS ENTITLED « NON-SITE # 3 », A REFERENCE TO ROBERT SMITHSON’S EXHIBITION OF DIFFERENT MINERALS HE USED TO DISPLAY IN VARIOUS MUSEUMS. DO YOU MAKE A LINK BETWEEN THOSE NON-SITES AND THE RECORD, BETWEEN THE TIME OF THE COLLECTING OF THE STONES (THE CONCERT) AND THE EXHIBITION ?
Those works of Smithson are less about the display of minerals and more about a very modern sense of social displacement. The concert stands as execution of ideas. The creative process as the gathering of the stones. The recorded work as an interpretation of the evidence.
- YOUR REGULARLY WORK AROUND OR WITH DIFFERENT ARTISTS AND WRITERS (ALLAN GINSBERG, MIKE KELLEY, RAYMOND PETITBON…). WHAT ARE YOUR MOTIVES FOR THOSE PARTNERSHIPS ?
Enlightenment, the exchange of ideas, and new kicks.
- DID CONCRETE MUSIC AND PIERRE SCHAEFFER’S THEORIES INFLUENCE YOU WORK, AND HOW ? WERE YOU EVER TEMPTED TO CONSIDER THE STUDIO LIKE A CONCRETE SPACE ? WOULD YOU DEFINE YOUR MUSIC AS A SONIC LANDSCAPE ?
Certainly the ideas and works of the ‘musique concrete’ faction and especially those working with tape experiments have been very important and provacative works for me. Pierre Henri, Cage and Stockhausen, Ferrari, Varese, George Anthiel, and others. I consider the studio as multipurpose—sometimes a transcription tool, other times an instrument in its’ own right.
- YOU COULD BE CONSIDERED A PART OF TODAY’S SCENE WHERE GUITAR PLAYERS APPROACH SOUND IN TERMS OF SCULPTURE AND SPACE MORE THAN RHYTHM AND TIME, MUSICIANS LIKE ALAN LICHT, DONALD MILLER, SURFACE OF THE EARTH OR RAFAEL TORAL. HOW DO YOU APPROACH THE QUESTIONS OF RHYTHM AND SPACE ? THE QUESTION OF SOUND ?
A simple answer ?—I try to approach issues of music naturally, and let concepts evolve from the playing itself, using my own capabilities and knowledge of musics present and past.
- WHAT IS YOUR CONCEPTION OF NOISE ? MANY MUSICIANS WHO I THINK HAVE A NOISE-IST APPROACH VERY VIOLENTLY REFUSE ANY COMPARISON BETWEEN THEIR MUSIC AND NOISE (IT SEEMS TO ME THAT SINCE CAGE, THE UNDERSTANDING OF THIS SONIC ELEMENT HAS CONSIDERABLY EVOLVED). WHY IS THERE THIS REFUSAL OF THIS RADICAL PART OF THE SONIC PHENOMENON ? PEOPLE USED TO CALL FREE-JAZZ NOISE AND, IN A WAY, WITHIN THE DOMINATING MUSICAL CODES OF THIS ERA, IT WAS NOISE. IN A WAY, AMPLIFICATION IS RELATED TO A CERTAIN SONIC PAIN, AN AGRESSION REMINDING THE URBAN NOISES. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THIS ?
I think most forward thinkers would refute the idea that ‘noise’ should be seperated from ‘music’ as phenomena. I prefer to think of ‘sound’ and ‘silence’ as the parameters, thereby laying equal any aural activity. What is ‘noise’ anyway ? A complex tonality, and therefore not really different from any other sounds on the musical landscape. Consonance/Disonance ; Tone/Anti-tone—it’s all good !
- HOW DO YOU VIEW JOHN FAHEY’S PROJECTS TO PRODUCE AMERICAN PRIMITIVE MUSIC RECORDS WITH REVENANT ? ABOUT THE RE-RELEASE OF BEEFHEART’S RECORDINGS ? ABOUT ASKING THE QUESTION OF THE HISTORY OF NORTH-AMERICAN POPULAR MUSIC ?
I think the music John and Revenant have been putting out is just fantastic, another example of why he matters so much as a guitarist and musical visionary, although I had some great problems with that Beefheart box…
- WERE YOU INFLUENCED BY BLUES GUITARISTS LIKE CHARLEY PATTON, BUKKA WHITE, LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS ? WHAT DOES THE AFRO-AMERICAN CULTURE MEAN TO YOU ? WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE TRANSITION FROM THE PERSONAL, SINGULAR STYLE OF PLAYING THAT WAS THE PRIMITIVE BLUES TO HIP HOP CULTURE’S SOUND MATTER AND REMODELLING OF THIS BLACK MEMORY ?
- THIS LEADS US TO THE SUBJECT OF TURNTABLISM, THE DEVIATION OF THE MEANS OF REPRODUCTION IN A PRODUCTIVE GESTURE, THE CRITICISM OF THE CULTURAL OBJECT, THE IDEA OF COPYRIGHT. JOHN OSWALD DID A GREAT WORK WITH YOUR RECORDS ON « DECONSTRUCT ». YOU HAVE REMIXED DIFFERENT BANDS (LIKE CAN). DO YOU THINK THAT REMIXING IS AN INTERESTING PRACTICE OR DO YOU CONSIDER IT IS MERELY THE RECYCLING OF AN OUT-OF-DATE MERCHANDISE ?
I think in the hands of an astute listener that the remix can be very interesting—it’s a lot like montage or collage, isn’t it ? In the right hands it can transform one art work into another, but too often it layers the remixers sensibility, without much sensitivity, over an existing work, and that’s boring.
Personally, I love the idea of using already existing material to create new work, but if the works created are only of interest in light of the source material, then they are failures.
- WHAT DID THE MEETING WITH THE JAJOUKA MUSICIANS DURING YOUR TRIP TO MOROCCO BRING TO YOUR MUSIC ? ARE YOU INTERESTED IN ETHNICAL MUSIC IN GENERAL ?
Yes, I am. I’ve a long standing interest in some musics, like African guitar stylings and Balinese gamelan, Carillon and bell playing, etc. Hanging w the Mater Musicians of Jajouka and playing with them was for me a first hand look at another way of approaching music. I had long been interested in the idea of ‘trance music’, and of course ‘drones’, and the way in which these guys were putting such ideas into natural practice was amazing ! Their music is, on the one hand, so different than ‘rock and roll’ (or whatever we play), and yet playing together with them was fairly natural and easy. Being around them allowed me to develop some ideas that I had been working on, as well as to imagine new avenues to explore.
- HOW DID YOUR COLLABORATION WITH LOREN MAZZACANE CONNORS AND JEAN MARC MONTERA FOR THE RECORDING OF THE NZA / XERIC GO ? WHAT WAS THE IDEA AT THE START ?
The idea came from Marie-Pierre Bonniol to do a record in the Sonic Youth studio for the Numero Audio Zero label, in collaboration with Xeric. She set it up for Thurston, Loren and Jean-Marc, and as I was around also I played on the long piece with the three of them. Subsequently Jean-Marc has opened shows for SY in Europe, and recently both Thurston and I did performances with Loren in celebration of his 50th birthday.
- TODAY, YOU ARE PLAYING WITH CHRISTIAN WOLFF, A MUSICIAN WHO HAS BASED HIS WORK ON POLITICAL PRINCIPLES LIKE OPENESS OR INDERTEMINATION. DOES THIS COLLABORATION QUESTION YOUR OWN MUSICAL APPROACH ? HOW DO YOU WORK TOGETHER ? STARTING WITH WHICH IDEAS ?
Rather than question my own approach in many ways meeting and playing w Mr. Wolff has further ratified them. His work is built on a quest for new ideas and new ways of transmitting sound information, and so are mine/ours. I’d heard from Christian Marclay that Wolff has been performing again recently, and when the plans were being made for SYR4 : Goodbye 20th Century, I suggested we invite him down to play as we were planning to do two of his works, which we did. It worked out well, and it was especially interesting for we younger musicians to get the explanation of his scores first hand from him, personally. It made some aspects of his composing and intentions much clearer, and it was enlightening to see how he conceived of the pieces.
- WHICH WERE YOUR GREATEST COLLABORATIONS IN THE FIELD OF IMPROVISATION ? DID YOU PLAY WITH FREE-JAZZ MUSICIANS LIKE THURSTON MOORE OFTEN DOES ?
I don’t play as far and widely with others as Thurston likes to do, and it would be hard to choose ‘greatest collaborators’. There have been many very good gigs with William Hooker, and also with Michael Morley, Zeena Parkins, and, more recently, bagpipist David Watson.
- WHAT LED YOU TO WORK WITH MICHAEL MORLEY ?
Michael and I became friends on SY’s first trip to NZ, in the late eighties, and have stayed in touch and become close friends ever since. Shortly after that trip I sent him some of my writings, one of which became the lyrics for a Dead C song of the time, and we have been sharing ideas about music, painting and life ever since. He’s a splendid fellow and I regret we cannot see each other more frequently, although we stay in fairly close touch via the internet.
- YOU SOMETIMES ASK VERY EXPERIMENTAL MUSICIANS TO SUPPORT YOU : PEOPLE LIKE DAVID S. WARE WHO COMES FROM A VERY DIFFERENT MUSICAL UNIVERSE THAN WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE MIGHT EXPECT. WHAT ARE YOUR MOTIVES BEHIND THOSE CHOICES ? HOW DOES THE AUDIENCE REACT ? IN FRANCE YOU HAD JEAN MARC MONTERA, ERIK M. AND MICHEL DONEDA PLAYING WITH YOU. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF TODAY’S FRENCH SCENE ?
I have been very interested in the French scene since early contacts with Diety Guns and Sister Iodine—there seems to be lots of good music being made now. I’ve recently been in touch with Jean Franciose Pauvrous about a possible collaboration.
Choosing opening acts for shows has a lot to do with figuring out who will turn us on (and in turn, hopefully, our audience as well !). The idea is not to ‘upset’ the audience of throw something ‘weird’ at them for purposes of disruption, but oftem more likely because we ourselves would like to see someone perform, or if we think a certain artist’s work is important to be presented. We have faith that our audience in mostly open minded and will dig the acts we present, and in some cases discover something new.
- YOUR FIRST SOLO RECORDING WAS « FROM HERE TO INFINITY » ON SST, A VERY CONCEPTUAL RECORD BUILT ON SEVERAL LOCKED GROOVES LEADING TO INFINITY, AND A WITH VERY BEAUTIFUL ENGRAVING BY SAVAGE PENCIL SCARIFYING THE VINYL. WHY DID YOU RE-RELEASE IT ON CD, THEREFORE LOSING ALL THE BEAUTY OF THE CONCEPT ? ANOTHER THING THAT WAS INTERESTEING ABOUT THIS RECORD WAS THAT IT ASSOCIATED THE LISTENER TO THE LISTENING, LEADING HIM TO DECIDE FOR HIMSELF THE LENGTH OF THE PIECES, THE CHOICE OF THE GROOVES. THE LISTENER BECAME A DJ. IT WAS AN IDEAL RECORD FOR DJ.
The vinyl version of this work was obviously the ‘real shit’, as it embodied concepts of tape loops which were very important to me at them time (and still today). Releasing it on CD was a way to further work with the sound material, creating a more ‘playable’ version of the tracks. At the time it seemed like LP records were going to vanish from the face of the earth, and I wanted the sounds of that record to remain !
Interestingly, the process of segueing all the pieces together laid the groundwork for my subsequent solo concerts of the time (actually the early ones were duos with the assisstance of Steve Shelley also performing), which consisted of live mixing of various sound materials (on hundreds of cassettes !) to create textural beds of sound not unlike those being created now, more than a decade later, by DJs with turntables and samplers… We were there first !
WHAT ARE THE CONCEPTS AND DESIRES BEHIND THE CREATION OF SYR ?
SYR is an evolving concept, built around our own music, but it will soon branch to include possibly some of our solo or separate collaborative stuff as well as the group stuff. This year we’ve done SYR4, recording modern ‘classical’ music from scores: John Cage, James Tenney, Pauline Oliveros, Yoko Ono, Christian Wolff, George Maciunas, and others, in an expanded ensemble including Jim O’Rourke, Willie Winant Takehisa Kosugi, Christian Wolff, and Christian Marclay.
We also have some other collaborative stuff we’ve been working on with the Icelandic ambient group Stillyupsteyypa which might come out at some point.
Having our own Sonic Studio has contributed to the labels existence—we’ve found much on tape that sounded good, and the desire to release some of this music, and cbreak free of the limitations of one album every year and a half, was the main impetus to found the label. This, music, is what we do, and we have been enjoying a relaxed version of the process since founding the studio — no more recording against the clock! So the luck of being able to explore sound-forms at a leisurely pace works to our mood right now, and having things on tape in hi-quality sound has led to the releases so far…
- IN PARALLEL WITH YOUR MUSICAL ACTIVITIES, YOU ARE ALSO WRITING POETRY. YOU HAVE PUBLISHED SEVERAL BOOKS OF YOUR POEMS AND RECORDED YOUR READINGS. DO YOU THINK THAT YOUR WORK IS A CONTINUATION OF THE BEAT SPIRIT (FROM KEROUAC TO ROBERT FRANK) ? IN THE SAME WAY AS YOUR MUSIC IS AN EVOCATION OF THE DISPLACEMENT, THE PICTURE OF THE LINE, THE SPACE, YOUR WRITING IS LINKED TO THE TRAVEL DIARY, THE WRITING DOWN OF IMPRESSIONS AND EVANESCENT IMAGES, GEOGRAPHICAL WANDERING. DO YOU THINK THERE IS THE NOSTALGIA OF THE MYTHICAL WEST, EASY RIDER, POINT BREAK ZERO OR THE FRONTIER IN YOUR WRITING ?
I think every person, in their own life, has a nostalgia for the times past when things were simpler and presumable ‘more free’. I am not a novelist, but rather a documentor of my own life and visions. At some point I realized that my own involvement with reading the personal journals of others, biography, personal cinema as poetry (as in the 50’s American avant garde of Brakhage, Joseph Cornell, Maya Deren, etc) had led to my choices as a writer, in terms of where I put my own energies. I have been writing all my life, but only in the last decade had it occurred to me to publish any of these writings outside of lyric sheets, and only then when a young, independent publisher named Sander Hicks asked me to compile some things did my first book (Road Movies) come out on his Soft Skull Press, which then led to others.
I enjoy the process, and have always turned to literature for inspiration, adventure and information. For the last few years I have been working with the translator of both Ginsburg and Burroughs on French translations of my work for a French edition which may or may not still happen. It was supposed to be published by Herve Binet’s Editions 23 imprint, and the translations are now done, but it has been a long time since I heard from him—anyone with an interest should contact me thru R&C…
- WHAT LINKS DO YOU ESTABLISH BETWEEN LITERATURE AND MUSIC ? AMERICAN LITERATURE (APART FROM BURROUGHS) STILL VERY MUCH USES TRADITIONAL WRITING TECHNIQUES, LIKE STORY-TELLING, DIARY WRITING, DESPITE ITS VERY CLOSE LINK WITH ORALITY (THE PUBLIC READING SCENE), RATHER THAN USING AN ABSTRACT MUSICALITY AS FOUND IN SONIC POETRY, THE LETTRISTS AND DADA. ROCK’N ROLL COULD HAVE BEEN JUST THAT (AWOPBOPALOOBOP ALOPBAMBOOM). DO YOU THINK ABOUT SENSE AND SONORITY, MUSICALITY AND RYTHMS IN WRITING ?
- WHAT WRITERS ARE YOU READING TODAY ? WHO DO YOU THINK PROPOSE A NEW FORMULATION OF AMERICA ? DO YOU SEE A CONTINUITY (I DON’T MEAN A TRADITION) OF THE BEAT SPIRIT IN THE WORKS OF SOME YOUNG AUTHORS ? DO YOU THINK ANY OF THEM GO FARTHER THAN THE LITERARY PROGRESSES ALREADY MADE BY GINSBERG, CORSO OR BURROUGHS ?
What writers, whose plays, what music ? Who is your favorite tennis star ? Are any of them Beats still standing ? I propose that we each propose a new formulation of America, each write our own laws, each live according to our own society of one.
- DO THE NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND THE SEMANTICAL DECONSTRUCTION THEY PROPOSE PLAY A PART IN YOUR WRITING ? AS IT DOES IN THE WORK OF BURROUGHS, OF COURSE, BUT ALSO WILLIAM GADDIS, BRET ESTON ELLIS, KATHY ACKER…
I admire them and I admire the jump cut of the cinema most of all.
- DO YOU THINK THAT THE GIORNO SYSTEM POETRY PLAYS AN IMPORTANT PART IN THE DIFFUSION OF THIS LITERATURE IN THE ROCK SCENE ? AND PATTI SMITH ?
Certainly I think musicians like Patti have led many to literature via rock music. With Giorno the situation is more difficult to assess, as his efforts remain on the fringes of the scene. I’m not sure if he’s bringing rockers to literature or drawing literary types back into music. What I mean is that they are less populist than those of someone like Patti Smith.
- DO YOU DO READINGS IN LITERARY CAFES WITHOUT USING BACKGROUND TAPES, WITH ONLY THE SIMPLE NAKEDNESS OF THE LANGUAGE, JUST GIVING BODY TO THE TEXT ? ISN’T THERE A RISK THAT MUSIC IN THIS CONTEXT BECOMES A MERE SOUND ILLUSTRATION, A MOOD ?
Yes, I have done readings without backing—it’s exhillarating and naked, but I am generally more interested in the combination of words/texts with musical moods and also films (usually by Leah Singer)—it is more difficult, more challenging, and generally more up my alley than only naked readings, although they are very gratifying to do in the right context. I don’t mind the idea of music as background sound illustration to read over, anyway. In fact I usually prefer it if I have the choice.
- WHAT IS THE SITUATION TODAY FOR EXPERIMENTAL, IMPROVISED OR ELECTRO-ACOUSTICAL MUSIC IN NEW YORK ? WHO ARE THE YOUNG MUSICIANS IN THIS CITY WHO SEEM INTERESTING TO YOU NOW ?
There are young folk all over the city just crawling with squeeks and squawks and short wave radios ready to provide music they’re grabbing out of the air via the microwaves which are all around us and beam said sounds straight into our cranial microchips, once said chips are ready. I say : who needs more wavelengths of information up there ?
WHAT ARE YOUR PROJECTS ?
Upcoming projects are many and varied : I am working on new music for release, including two trio projects : one LP with Christian Marclay and Thurston Moore, and another with Christian and William Hooker. I also have an ‘archival’ release set for 2000 : New Winter Generations: 1983, which consists of tape manipulation process pieces created in 1983. Jim O’Rourke and I have been putting stuff together on time off from work on the next SY LP, and that may see release as well…
On the literary front, I am completing the layout and design for a new book, Moroccan Journal, which is a full length book collaboration with Leah Singer, and will include photos and texts by us both regarding travels in Morocco and musical encounters there. Due in Spring 2000.
I have been finally realizing ideas for ‘sound sculptures’ this year, and two are now making the rounds : I have a ‘video gtr sculpture’, Hwy Song, which has just come back from exhibition in Copenhagen and will be included in the ‘Sonic Boom’ show at the Hayward Gallery in London in April 2000. Another, El Oido (“The Ear”), a condensed ‘sound box’ version of a recent installation work, is currently on exhibition as part of the permanent collection of the Vedute Foundation in Amsterdam, and slated to come to NYC sometime in the autumn of 2000.
COULD YOU GIVE US YOUR BIBLIOGRAPHY ?
JRNLS80s. Soft Skull Press, 12/1998.
Journals loosely tracing the rise of Sonic Youth through the Eighties.
Moroccan Journal: Jajouka excerpt. Ring Tarigh Press, 1997.
Chapbook, text by Ranaldo /photos by Singer, from longer Moroccan book to follow.
Bookstore. Hozomeen Press, 1995.
longer selections, also with photos (color/B+W) by Leah Singer.
Road Movies. Soft Skull Press, 1994.
poems and journals, with photos (B+W) by Leah Singer.
DIRTY WINDOWS. CD. Barooni/Atavistic. April 99. spoken word and music.
AMARILLO RAMP (for Robert Smithson). CD Starlight Furniture, USA. 1998. solo guitar, etc
CLOUDS–Ranaldo/Hooker/O’Rourke/Gebbia—VICTORIAVILLE CONCERT, MAY 1997. CD. Victo, Dec 1997. Live Victoriaville festival concert also featuring Jim O’Rourke and Gianni Gebbia.
THE GIFT OF TONGUES. With William Hooker and Zeena Parkins. CD. Knitting Factory Works, 1996.
EAST JESUS: SOME RECORDINGS: 1981-91. CD. Blast First/WIRE magazine, 1994; Atavistic May 95.
SCRIPTURES OF THE GOLDEN ETERNITY. CD/LP. Drunken Fish/Father Yod, 1994-5.
ENVISIONING: Lee Ranaldo/William Hooker. CD. Knitting Factory Works, 1995.
BROKEN CIRCLE/SPIRAL HILL. CD/7”. Starlight Furniture Company, 1995.
GATE: BOSTON & NYC. MICHAEL MORLEY, LEE RANALDO, ZEENA PARKINS. CD. Poon Village, 1995.
FROM HERE TO INFINITY. real time re-edit for cassette/CD release. SST/Blast First records. June 1988.
FROM HERE TO INFINITY. locked-groove record. SST/Blast First records. June 1987.
Feb 16 2000
Dear Lee Ranaldo,
I read the translation to your interview, it’s okay. It’ll be out next
month, we’ll send you three copies at this time. I’m sorry than you don’t answer to the question on blues influence and on the relationship between music and litterary, but it’s your choice, it’s okay. About my questions to the young writers, I don’t ask your writer prefered, your tennisman prefered, it’s not that sort of questions, I mean it’s interresting than you open french readers on new writers in usa (since Ginsberg, Burroughs and more recently Kathy Acker, there is nothing really inteestng who arrived here, just palimpseste writing, things like Auster or Banks).
Thanks a lot for your contribution, your patience and your kindness.
i wish i couldve answered each one but it was a formidable interview–i wasn’t ready for it! a hard one! some of my answers i was trying for another kind of poetry, not gereral ‘honest’ answers. it wasn’t about the tennisplayer, it was about THE FOCUS… casting the vision sideways… trying to move around the question to say something about the question and the task of answering the question. my blues hero, yr blues hero HERO is HERO and archetype.
I’m still reading Ginsberg, still reading Paul Bowles, and mostly currently reading non-fiction (a history of Africa, that sort of thing…) and otherwise my own writing, i’m in a period of looking at my words and right now not many others are getting in. but they will. soon. i’ve been editing our Moroccan Journal’ book, it’s been taking time. And doing visual art–i coulda talked about that for hours…
i don’t remember my bluesman memory, music is all rolling into one heap of pictures to be juxtaposed at will…
Rokk on, can’t wait to see.
consider this the addendum…