The Dance Of Noise [2018-02-26]The Rita will need no introduction to fans of HNW & the wider noise genre - as since 1996 the project has earned both respected & influence wide & far within the greater noise genre and it’s sub-genres. Behind the project is Canadian based Sam Mckinlay, though in 2016 long running Canadian harsh noise artist Arlo Doyle also began working with McKinlay, and via the project's large discography THE RITA has moved through various themes / obsession - going from horror / creature feature B movies, Giallo films & black-gloved killers, sharks & scuba divers, and in more recent years nylon tights, female feet & legs, women's make-up & the ballet. Sam kindly agreed to give M[m] an interview discussing his recent obsession with classical ballerina physicality, his recent tape box set release Toe Cleavage, & his influence & thoughts on today’s HNW/ static texturing scene.
M[m]:In recent years the work of The Rita has focused in more & more on themes like ballerina’s legs & feet, and women’s feet. What first got you fascinated in these themes?
Sam The classical ballet has been a massive accumulation of my past interests and obsessions that have driven my harsh noise and abrasive sound THE RITA works. For years, THE RITA has been focused on the abstraction and augmentation of the female form via nylon stockings and heavy makeup, slowly building momentum in the focus as I contemplated the ideologies behind the feminine aesthetics. Eventually I began developing the idea of 60s minimalism in the fine arts and it’s patterns that converse closely with the lines and contours of something like a Wolford nylon cat suit and how it draws lines around the female form, objectifies it visually. The classical ballerina is portrayed as something almost unreal, a virtually abstracted version of a woman; a theme that struck me profoundly as again, it represented an apex in female aesthetic, work and dedication worship.
"In my ballets, woman is first. Men are consorts. God made men to sing the praises of women. They are not equal to men: They are better."
- George Balanchine
“In the midst of these incredible, disciplined, beautiful, sophisticated creatures. It’s heaven.”
- Taylor Swift
Sam As I started reading and watching more of the classical ballet, I saw the past interests being extended upon dramatically as the ballet then expressed the nylon and leotard aesthetic into moving form, poise and mannerisms. The lurid stories of the Paris Opera Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet’s various connections with courtesan culture in the 19th century heightened the interest in the classical ballet and it’s development from the late 19th century into the 20th century, the various choreographer’s fascination with harem characters, the development of the tutu to expose the tights, the Pointe shoe, the culture around the dancers meeting affluent men after the performances; all details covered in amazing feminist text books on the classical ballet and it’s almost fetish driven proclivities masked and unmasked as high performing arts. So yes, the classical ballet and its almost utilitarian elements such as Pointe shoe manipulation, costuming and convertible tights I see as the apex drive for THE RITA; something that is so all consuming that it has literally taken over my life as I try to understand its tendencies and translate them into textural abrasive sound. Last year I even personally began Level 1 classical ballet workshops to physically experience the form, the gestures, the poise outside of the amazing artists I have been able to work with along the same themes such as Arlo Doyle, Olivia Burr, Kelly Davis, Kristin Hayter and Hannah Sarah Myrberg.
M[m]:You mention you taking part in a Level 1 classical ballet workshop - what did this entail, and where you personally dancing yourself?
Sam After the last few years of watching almost nothing else than the classical and neoclassical ballet I began to obviously become familiar with many of the male dancers and eventually would follow them as well as the ballerinas. Dancers such as Nicholas Le Riche, Manuel Legris, Daniel Hallberg and especially Karl Paquette and his amazing supporting role pantomime and expressions during the Paris Opera Ballet versions of Swan Lake and Paquita. The various positions, posture, expressions, pantomime, etc. became really consuming and for me the next natural step for me was to physically experience the forms myself. I went for it and participated in an 8 week (one session a week) Intro Ballet workshop last fall, buying the Sansha male ballet shoes for it and everything. I’m an ex-amateur/sponsored skateboarder and still skateboard and BMX when I can, so I thought my physicality would be fine, but the first class thrashed me with the irregular concentrated stretching, etc. The aches and pain were intense but also really invigorating, the following classes being much more smooth as my body got used to everything. I was sometimes pretty lost during the extended floor routines, being so used to finesse usually only in ‘single trick attacks’ on skateboards, but absolutely loved the poise, the mannerisms and the form with everything really becoming quite addicting. I’m definitely going back to do a workshop at least once a year as it’s now incredibly important to me in my working with other dancers and artists translating movement into sound.
M[m]:You are often & justifiably quoted as one of the key figures to create the wall-noise genre. Can you tell us a little bit about how & when you first started to become interested in creating denser more walled noise and what do you see as important release / albums that influenced your move into this sound?
Sam In the early 1990s, like most of us first getting into harsh noise at that time, the first pure harsh noise work I heard was MERZBOW’s ‘Noisembryo’. It wasn’t long before going through various Relapse catalogs, Self Abuse Records catalogs, etc. led to finding out about ‘Americanoise’ which offered a heavier, crustier, dirtier tendency / frequency - like the sound of an avalanche of rocks vs. the cleaner sounds of feedback manipulation, energetic changes, ‘lasers’, etc. It seemed that projects such as SKIN CRIME, THE HATERS, MACRONYMPHA / OVMN, TAINT, Richard Ramirez, etc. worked more with extended textures and grinding then some of the ‘cleaner’ Japanese acts. When I finally got to hear DEAD BODY LOVE’s ‘Low-Fi Power Carnage’ though - that’s when everything went into a fully inspirational direction and I knew that I wanted to personally work with the same style of sounds. The fully concentrated, near sound art tendencies of the Italians that I was exposed to was the driving force behind THE RITA as the full LOVE for the certain crunching and crackling sounds I wanted to understand and be able to manipulate. In the early 2000s and after developing working relationships with acts such as THE CHERRY POINT, SEWER ELECTION, TRERIKSROSET, PEDESTRIAN DEPOSIT, OSCILLATING INNARDS, etc., there was a lot of dialogue in terms of technical harsh noise that featured lots of abrupt changes and violent shifts versus harsh noise like the INCAPACITANTS that featured more of a layered ‘wall’ of noise (The INCAPACITANTS, HIJOKAIDAN, MSBR and MONDE BRUITS I always saw outside of the tendencies of other fantastic, yet more technical, cleaner Japanese artists such as MERZBOW, PAIN JERK, etc.). The more the conversations persisted in discussions during shows / tours and emails, the more the term ‘wall of noise’ took shape and became a part of the language.
Sam Right now, the most important inspirational albums for me that tackle the minimalist themes of stripping and building abrasive texture are:
DEAD BODY LOVE - Low-Fi Power Carnage
IUGULA-THOR - Opera
MAUTHAUSEN ORCHESTRA - 2nd Movement
BRUNO COSSANO - Saffo’s Pleasures
DEATH SQUAD - Death Textures
PRURIENT - History of AIDS
TAINT - Victimology
BLACK LEATHER JESUS - A.N.T.I.
MARK SOLOTROFF / SSHE RETINA STIMULANTS - Excellent Manipulation of Tape Death
Sam I also constantly look toward amazing, although in terms of the discussion above seemingly ‘unrelated’ projects for inspiration with timing, drama in texture, shifting sound, etc. such as:
SICKNESS - I Have Become the Disease that Made Me
ATRAX MORGUE - Death-Orgasm Connector
ULTRA - Roman Holiday
KEIJI HAINO - Tenshi no Gijinka
and in more contemporary terms:
LINGUA IGNOTA - Let the Evil of His Own Lips Cover Him
M[m]:Over the years the HNW scene has grown & changed - what have been your thoughts about the growth of the scene, it's changes, and do you still think it’s personally relevant to you today?
Sam The aspect I still appreciate most about the ‘HNW’ scene is the fact that it still signifies the result of really LISTENING to harsh noise. For years in the 1990s, harsh noise was harsh noise to the layman. We all know that there’s defining aspects of the different harsh noise ‘genres’. I’m not going to recommend THE NEW BLOCKADERS to someone that hates the sounds of junk metal abuse, but I’ll recommend something like ATRAX MORGUE’s ‘Sickness Report’ If I know they like blistering raw synth work - and vice versa. Again, the original formula for ‘wall noise’ was simply harsh noise that was layered and didn’t feature many cuts and violent shifts, but an interesting element was the onslaught of unchanging and concentrated textures and the more contemporary HNW rules that govern them. To me and someone like Phil Blankenship, ‘wall noise’ was/is simply something like the INCAPACITANTS. Today, maybe thanks to more militant releases like TOTAL SLITTING OF THROATS and the VOMIR works, the sound is more parred down, minimal, and again, more concentrative. It’s like watching the minimalist paintings of Ad Reinhardt develop over the years eventually into his black paintings.
M[m]:Late last year you released one of your most lengthy & elaborate releases- the seven tape boxset Toe Cleavage. Tell us a little bit about how this release first came about? and It’s themes?
Sam I’ve been very lucky to have labels like Urashima, Self Abuse, Dadadrumming, Old Europa Cafe, Total Black, Troniks, etc. enthusiastic to take on major projects and when Cristiano Renzoni from Urashima brought up the idea of doing a new laser etched wooden 7 tape box set for his label I went straight to work contemplating and challenging myself with how I can translate something so specific as a woman’s visible toe cleavage in a ballet flat or Pointe shoe into textural abrasive sound work. One of the primary inspirations for the work is the DVD and VHS cover for the 1994 Paris Opera Ballet production of ‘La Bayadere’. The cover features a photo of ballerinas from the corps de ballet lined up during a sequence from the famous ‘Kingdom of the Shades’ act. The third ballerina in the line up from the foreground has a small issue with her tights right above the Vamp of the Pointe shoe. It looks like the tights have either torn away from the toes or the convertible hole of the tights has crept onto the top of the foot exposing the top of her foot, inevitably close to the ‘toe cleavage’. The image has inspired me for some time, and the certain ballet has a special place for me as it’s the first classical ballet I ever purchased on video. I discussed the ideologies and the themes behind the design of expensive designer ‘ballet flats’ that are directly inspired by the design of a ballerina’s Pointe shoes with recording artist Kristin Hayter (LINGUA IGNOTA). Kristin had a key role in the access, documentation, and audio recording of trying on various pairs of designer ballet flats all the while providing the key insight into the feminine design of the shoes. Visual artist and dancer Olivia Burr also provided sounds and visuals, but of demi-pointe shoe work in a dance studio providing a series of driven aesthetics and audio that also understood the direction of the work immensely.
The rest of the release is made up of related samples, and sound sources that sew together the idea of the Pointe shoe or demi-pointe shoe and its influence on the design of the ballet flat or even the stiletto. I tried to as many references to walking and running properly in Pointe shoes to parallel the simple walking and recreational use of designer ‘ballet flats’. The release also includes an extensive booklet that features imagery directly related to the samples and Kristin Hayter and Olivia Burr’s work. I had the opportunity to also include one of my drawings of a ballerina’s foot (for the first time), related verse by Joe Lombardo and the whole release is capped off with Jason Campbell’s amazing thematically explanatory liner notes.
M[m]: Over what period of time does the work on Toe Cleavage come from?
Sam Although some of the imagery in the booklet is from my earlier archives, the concise dates of the tape set from the conception to it’s release date were 6/27/17 to 11/01/17.
M[m]:The looking & packing for the Toe Cleavage is very classy & distinctive with it’s carved wooden box design, the many inlays & poster, and of course the pink cassette. Who came up with the boxes look/ design?
Sam The design of the release is very much the work of Cristiano Renzoni of Urashima. I got to design the laser etched image on the top of the box, the imagery in the booklet, the poster and decided the colour of the tapes, but again - much of the credit to the overall package design has to go to Cristiano.
M[m]: How do you feel the way you approach & create your work has changed over the years?
Sam Just like in the duration of my BFA with painting, installation and landscape works, I’ve noticed that 90% of my audio work lately is the preparatory planning, the notes, the studying, and the readings that inform the eventual execution of the recording.
Working with Arlo Doyle of the Canadian harsh noise project BURROW OWL steadily throughout the year of 2016 was incredibly important to the project as Arlo’s input and participation always kept and keeps THE RITA conscious of various thematic tendencies and how they can be articulated in different stages of recorded and onstage storytelling, mannerisms, etc. Arlo acts a member of THE RITA less frequently, but they are definitely included when specific projects arise. Working with women artists has become an important and regular aspect of my work with various THE RITA sound work live and otherwise as the input and the inspiration is always incredibly important to the proper development, validation and outcome of the various projects. One thing I’m finally taking a stab at this year is choreography as I delve deeper into the world of the dance studio and the neo-classical ballet. Right now, I’m in the early stages of development with Vancouver performance artist, dancer and musician Kelly Davis as we contemplate human movement to THE RITA’s spacial crunching and crackling textural sound. I’m excited to see what she helps me come up with in the vein of a more vicious Kenneth MacMillan piece or the like. Ultimately I’d like THE RITA performances to eventually be less live manipulation of gear and more pantomime oriented with myself included less and less on stage.
M[m]:How did you first become aware of Arlo Doyle & their work, and what led them to become the second (though now more sporadic) member of The Rita?
Sam I have known Arlo and their work for over 10 years. I always really appreciated Arlo's work with their solo project BURROW OWL as outside of their concentrated recordings, their live shows were always very well calculated documents of escalating, shifting feedback manipulation and a keen understanding of tense stage 'drama' as they moved about the audience sometimes utilizing bodies in the audience as sound sources with various contact mic's rigged to their hands. I collaborated live with BURROW OWL a few times over the years in Vancouver and the results were always great as their use of mics, stage presence and timing was something I could really trust and work alongside. In 2016 I asked Arlo if they would like to be a part of THE RITA and we did some incredible recorded work such as the Urashima 'Lilac Fairy' double LP, the Old Europa Cafe 'Diamond Pointe' lathe cut LP and some heavy live shows such as the XI Congresso Post Industriale in Italy and the Incubate Festival in Holland. Arlo concentrated again more on their solo BURROW OWL work into 2017 and played some well received shows up and down the West Coast including Los Angeles. As far as THE RITA, they most recently appear on the OEC 'Medora' CD and the upcoming 'Letestu' 7".
M[m]: Over the last few years there has been a growth in feet & leg fetish themed walled noise, and for a period of time Italian label Signora Ward Records exclusively released work within this sub-genre. Your work with The Rita is clearly an influence on this- what are your thoughts on the popularity of this sub-genre of HNW, and are there any projects you’ve enjoyed from this sub-genre?
Sam It’s been interesting seeing especially specific obsessions taking root in the ‘HNW’ genre. The different labels like Petite Soles and Signora Ward that have really embraced the nylon and foot worship have been nothing but really great in their reaching out and telling me that THE RITA was a big influence and plus, I’ve worked with both labels, so there’s definitely not any bad blood. The sincerity of both labels is profound as well, so that’s been great to watch develop. More than anything is made me analyze the tendencies and attraction to the aforementioned themes, trying to find patterns in the aesthetics and the deconstruction of the themes and how they might influence two harsh noise artists who may not know each other even exist. I’d think about some of the first texts and influences on the ‘HNW movement’ that describe artists such as Richard Serra and Ad Reinhardt; their use of blocks of black colour in sculpture and painting versus the black contoured lines of women’s nylons, leotards, cat suits. Both the fine arts and the nylon fashion designers articulating minimalist shape - be it landscape, painting and installation paralleled with contemplating the female form. My favourite projects that have come directly out of the sub-genre would have to be SHE WALKS CROOKED, GINGER CORTES, NAUGHTY, CRONACA NERA.
M[m]: I hear you’ll be in Europe again this year- is there any chance of any UK dates?
Sam Micheal Nine/MK9 and Kate Rissiek/RUSALKA are touring Europe throughout the month of November and I plan to join them for the Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia stretch. Unfortunately I have no plans for the UK yet this year.
M[m]: What’s next for The Rita?
Sam I am especially excited about a 7” tribute to Agnes Letestu as she is easily my favourite ballerina. A 7” based on source sounds from the incredible ballet dancer Elisa Toro Franky also featuring related verse by Joe Lombardo. A split cassette with AntiChildLeague. A split 7” with Philosophers of Darkness. Working with field recordings and source sounds from Arlo Doyle. I remixed some Zola Jesus raw material and it is featured as a cassette included with the limited edition version of the upcoming Zola Jesus: Okovi: Additions LP.
Choreography, working with neoclassical ballet related costume, shark attack romanticism, etc. - lots of interesting projects.
Thanks to Sam for his time & effort with the interview. The Toe Cleavage is still available Urashima- head over here to listen to samples & buy direct. For all things Rita related head over to here
Photo Credits: menu pic Torment is Flesh Festival [photo – Eren Guney ], First in interview pic Sam in front of a Calzedonia billboard in Marseille [photo - Gordon Ashwsorth], second in interview pic the male dancer picture is Karl Paquette, third in interview pic cover of Toe Cleavage, forth in interview Sam at a nylon vending machine in Bologna [photo - Arlo Doyle]. Roger Batty