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Deathbed Rattles [2011-07-27]

Ryan Woodhall is not only member of the infamous New York based Power Electronics outfit Halflings, the disturbing sound collage group Yellow Tears and the collaborative duo Throat (with Margaret Chardiet/Pharmakon), but also runs his own solo project Hands Rendered Useless. Furthermore, he is the man behind the labels Accretion Disk (now defunct) and City Mortuary. Ryan kindly permitted to shed some light onto his activities through this interview.

m[m] Introduction first... what led you to create experimental music, where are your inspirations?
Ryan When I was young I would be obsessed with one band at a time. First Billy Joel, then Weird Al, then Marilyn Manson.. .When I got into punk and hardcore, around the age of 12, I became really interested in going to shows and collecting music. I learned how to play a lot of instruments growing up and I played bass in a few punk bands.

Ryan While in High School I started to get noise and extreme music, especially Swans, Wolf Eyes, and Whitehouse. Those bands really inspired me to work with unconventional means and pursue sound as an extension of myself... I still feel like I owe Weird Al, Billy Joel, and Marilyn Manson even if it doesn't always come through in my sound - But I think there are points where those influences come through loud and clear..

 

m[m] How did you come up with the artist name, is there any profound meaning behind it ?
Ryan The name doesn't have any firm of profound meaning, I chose it because its meaning can be specific and ambiguous... They were first used as lyrics for another project, a phrase from a song I wrote about the biology of death. Hands Rendered Useless now makes me think of a disconnection between the brain, body, and outside world.

m[m] You already did harsh noise and Power Electronics in Halflings and Yellow Tears. Why did you establish your own project, which does not overly differ in genre ? Where is the main difference to the aforementioned projects ?
Ryan I think that when you start a band you need a reference point in terms of sound or genre. Over time, the process and product of each project should become distinct... With the different projects, there’s different conceptual frameworks or approaches to the sound and aesthetic. I think each band's sound has become less genre-specific, I don't think about them as 'noise bands' like I did when we first started working with harsh sounds. When working with experimental sound there are so many more musical possibilities... For me, sound does not need to be so genre-specific.

Ryan Working alone is a completely different experience from being in a band with others. Ideas don’t have to be communicated in the same way as in a band. Coming up with ideas and working with sound in Hands Rendered Useless is an introverted experience. With a band, the music has to be communicated in terms other than performance (IE discussion or written)... Ideas have to be shared. By myself, I am creating without that type of communication.

Ryan In a band, there are more performers to execute complex material and it is more visually stimulating live. So when I play by myself I have to try and compensate for those differences.


m[m] How do you record your stuff ? Do you rather use analogue equipment or digital ? How often do you record and how much material did you actually scratch because it was „inferior“ ?
Ryan I record digitally with both analogue and digital equipment employing a lot of different techniques. I've used many acoustics in my work as well, such as drums, room tones, air conditioning, etc.,

Ryan Typically, I am working towards a specific record and I’ll have specific instrumentation ideas in mind. I'll have structure and sound ideas for different songs, and it's a process of getting it all to fit together. Sometimes I achieve this by composing beforehand and then doing everything in real time with my live equipment, sometimes I will do the opposite and work with a library of improvised sound, structuring sounds together on the computer to meet the needs of the song.

Ryan My first two 3" CDR releases as Hands Rendered Useless were both 1-shot improvisational recordings with minimal edits. I then started working with longer pieces... creating defined sections and then editing them together to make a fluid construct. When doing Deathbed Visions, I was working with a massive amount of material. The basis of the structures for each of the 4 sides were segments of old and nostalgic material, and I composed and recorded around those sections. I scratched a lot of material in the process but also used a lot of 'scratched material' from past improvisational recordings.


m[m] Please tell us about your live shows. How much pre-recorded material do you use ? Do you perform „track lists“ and is there any improvisation? Do you have any funny, creepy or totally fucked up story that occured during a live show to share ?
Ryan I typically perform sections or tracks from my recordings, trying to use as little straight playback as possible. I've performed the full band parts of Deathbed Visions live with a drummer and guitar player and have had accompaniment on newer pieces from Mists of Lace.

Ryan All the insane live moments happen with my other bands! Hands Rendered Useless shows are typically boring so no stories there : )... Some of my favorite Hands Rendered Useless moments include playing in total darkness, using fire in the intense heat of summer, getting into a fist fight with a sound guy, collaborating with Pharmakon on our 2008 tour.

 

m[m] Let's talk about your recent work. Older HRU works are almost ear-splitting at times, they also have some quieter moments, but in overall I'd say your older works are much more stressful to the ears than your tapeset called „Deathbed Visions“. The beginning of „Deathbed Visions“ starts off with a pleasant surprise, like Noise Rock, or I even dare to say like Post Rock, with drums, calm ambience and powerful, melancholic guitars and bass. Is that an actual recording of a session with other musicians ? Please give us some details.

Ryan I played all of the instruments during those sessions.. I took music lessons for 6 instruments at different points while growing up. When I was 16, I began recording my solo music under the name 'I Am A Forest'... I used my mom's digital 8 track (she's a musician as well) and recorded in my basement every night after school. Those tracks were really blown out and heavy instrumentals very influenced by Constellation Records, Swans, and whatever else I was listening to at the time.. Those recordings were reused on Deathbed Visions; The intro instrumental in An Hour Glass in Sand (what you mentioned), the climax of Three Weeks After the Funeral, and the melodies in the The Silver Cord were all from my first solo release in 2005 under the 'I am A Forest' moniker.

Ryan Deathbed Visions was built up around those sections. The tape set is very much about imagining the end of your life and looking back with nostalgia at the defining and important moments in your life... That is why I chose my first recordings - creating that first EP was a defining moment in my musical trajectory, evolved into what I am doing now.

 

m[m] The lyrics to "Deathbed Visions" seem very gloomy, if not even depressive. Where did you take the inspirations from ? Did you have any near-death experience ? How do you imagine death ? Do you believe in any „afterlife“ or „beyond“ ?

Ryan Well those lyrics and the song titles reference different perspectives on death, not necessarily my own... I'm interested in trying to empathize with other's perspectives through music. I was exploring beliefs in a more general afterlife, the potential of nothing after death, specific religious beliefs, etc. A major theme is how people’s beliefs in an afterlife determine their earthly choices and often lead to restraint or denial of gratification...

Ryan I’ve never had a near-death experience but I became very interested in them after reading At the Hour of Death, a study of deathbed visions done by Dr. Karlis Osis. I'm very influenced by the books I read on the toilet.

Ryan I do not really imagine what happens after the hallucinatory shutting down of the body during death. I respect what religious beliefs others may hold, after all the thought of nothing after life is too much for most people to handle. Personally, I don’t believe in life after death or nothing after death... We'll see what happens!

Ryan I took a course in Neuroscience in College and became extremely interested in the biology of the brain. It's impossible to imagine the disappearance of your consciousness... I am very interested in the idea of consciousness and how it may be destroyed, dispersed, or transformed after our biological systems shut down. When I was young, the idea of eternity, a never-ending consciousness terrified me. That really led me to question my ideas on afterlife.

m[m] You've also just put out a new C12 called „Mists Of Lace“. Please tell us about it – what can we expect sound and aesthetics – wise ?
Ryan Mists of Lace is kind of a single for the upcoming CD Infinity Epitome. The tracks are extremely thick, dark, and psychedelic.. The names of the pieces, Mists of Lace and Contact Through the Veil reference reality-bending experiences, I'm not talking strictly drug experiences but natural psychedelic experiences such as falling asleep and DMT-emissions during near death experiences. It's about being grounded in reality but catching a glimpse of another side.

Ryan Deathbed Visions utilizes dynamic and contrast to move the pieces, Mists of Lace is more about creating thick bands of sound that change slowly over time with extreme subtlety; Many sounds living and dying together. I think the ideas I’m exploring are embeded in the sound, rather than just referenced through song titles or lyrics; On Mists of Lace, there are layers of sound, such as manipulated voices and room tones, that help contextualize the piece and tie together the ideas.


m[m] Imagine you sit in a zeppelin, with a huge speaker attached to it and fly across your hometown. You are allowed to blast one track/song through the speaker. Which would it be ?
Ryan Where Evil Dwells by Wiseblood (or, the cover version by Fear Factory). The song is pretty silly but very appropriate. It was written about Ricky Kasso, a teenager who killed another kid in the woods of my hometown of Northport, NY. Northport is a nice suburban town on Long Island, so it was a huge deal that this brutal murder happened. He apparently chanted "Say you love Satan" as he stabbed him repeatedly, so the murder is considered a satanic killing and has a large cult following... In reality, Ricky Kasso was just a drug addict who killed his fellow student over drugs. But is is very true that 'evil dwells' in even the most sterile suburbs.

 


m[m] Tell us about the Noise – scene in New York, especially in the area you're from. Which are the artists we should keep our eyes on ? Which artists did impress you the most ?
Ryan The scene is pretty strange here. There are a lot of people involved in different facets of the scene here: noise composition, synth improv, academic noise, etc. There are a lot of people interested in experimental music in NY, but it's incredibly disconnected. It's rare that all of the different facets of the scene congregate at one event.

Ryan I've been operating the Red Light District with a few other people for about 3 years, it's been the only venue consistently hosting strictly-experimental music shows in New York in the 6+ years I've been involved in the noise scene here. Another venue, Port d'Or, popped up about a year or two ago, they put on some great shows too. It's very hard to get shows at legit venues in New York because there's a serious excess of live music here.

Ryan Some of the newer and great artists from New York: Kama Rupa, Vellum, Stroma, KP, Dustbelt, Embarker, Martial Cantarel, Alberich, De Trop, Grey Market, Buckshot Facelift, Boytoyz, Self Avoiding Walk.

 

m[m] What do you think about Noise nowadays in general ? Is it stagnating ? Are you annoyed by the listeners ? I am asking because many people think Noise has more and more become a „hipster-thing“.
Ryan I do think noise and sub-genres of noise have become more codified in the last 10 years or so... which makes it something less marginalized, and more accessible, but also more strict. I think there is a lot of garbage in noise, but it's like that with every type of music. In terms of noise, I am interested in people pushing boundaries and making people question what genre even is.

 

Thanks to the readers and Sascha for conducting this interview. You can visit me at http://www.darkmattermusicbox.tumblr.com/, or email citymortuary@gmail.com to get in touch & to be added to the mailing list for City Mortuary (and Hands Rendered Useless) updates. Check out http://www.rockawayredlight.blogspot.com/ for upcoming shows and archives for the Red Light District. Find out more about Yellow Tears at http://www.yellowtears.com/ .

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