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Spectral Wall-making [2018-04-03]

Seattle Washington based Geisst (Geißt) create decidedly moody & creepy take on walled-noise- with their ghost & spirit themed releases. The project is one of sonic ventures of long time noise maker/ experimental artists Peter Keller- Condo Horro, Bacillus, Dirac Sea, PTRKLLR, & Unser Verhängnis.  Geisst started in early summer of 2017, and its first release was Unstable Spirits- a 3CDR set on Altar of Waste. This stood as one of my highlights of last year- with each of the ten tracks offering up fairly varied sounding selection of textures that perfectly blend together taut tension with unsettling/haunting mood. Peter kindly agreed to give M[m] a email interview.

M[m]: What was your first introduction to more extreme/ experimental music? And was there any one project or release that influenced Geisst’s blend of noise & creepy atmosphere?                                                                                                                                            Peter I first discovered things of the more experimental nature when I was in high school in the mid 1980's courtesy of a radio program on a nearby college radio station that played my first exposure to projects like Psychic TV, Nurse With Wound, Cabaret Voltaire, and the like. Then I came across even more extreme music through a 1986 cassette compilation from Tellus Audio Magazine called Power Electronics where I discovered acts like Controlled Bleeding, Merzbow, and Le Syndicat. Then came the beginning of the wave of US releases of other Japanoise artists like C.C.C.C., Masonna, and Incapacitants which I took an immediate shine to. Along with them I got into other classic noise acts like Con-Dom and Macronympha. It was projects like Macronympha and Incapacitants that inspired me to make my first forays into the creation of noise with my harsh noise project Bacillus in the mid-90s. Then it was the discovery a few years ago of projects like Vomir that influenced me to get into wall-oriented noise with projects like Condo Horro and Unser Verhaengnis. It was setting up to record for one of those projects that I discovered these sounds that I was not expecting, like there were ghosts in the machine, trying to communicate. But I can't say there's any one release that influenced the aesthetic of Geisst as it was purely unintentional, so how it ended up sounding was not the product of my active choices.

M[m]: Tell us a little bit about the origin of Geisst project? And how did you pick the projects name?                                                                                                                                 Peter Geisst came about entirely by accident. I had some gear set up in my basement and was trying out some things for another project and noticed there were a lot of anomalous sounds. It caught my attention as everything was sputtering and chattering like it had a mind of its own, so I decided to hit record and see what came out. During the recording I did not touch any knobs or buttons; what was captured was exactly as I heard it without any intervention by my part. There was no post-production editing. It was quite a rush, having had recorded something that I had absolutely had no hand in. In this case, I was going in as the assumed role of the creator, but it ended up that I was not the one doing the creating. Something otherworldly seemed to want to communicate with me.

Peter  The name Geisst/Geißt  is a variation on the word "Geist," which is German for "ghost" or "spirit." Knowing there are a few projects using that name already, I decided to double up on the "s" in the spelling, so I can use the eszett ("ß"); the use of the German word was a vague nod to the German spiritualists and mystics of the late 1800's like Jakob Böhme and Karl du Prel, the German as well being a reflection of my own background having been born and raised for a bit there.


M[m]: What set-up do you use for Geisst? And how has it developed/ changed over the two, coming on three releases you’ve released for the project?                                                        

Peter The set-up has been the same each time, just a simple synth/noise generator and plus an overdrive and a reverb pedal patched in to a mixer. It's hard to compare the aesthetic differences of each session and talk about how their development as each time they are unpredictable. I have ceded my own creative control, with my preconceived notions of what I think I want out of a creative recording session set aside. In this instance my own intentions, influences, and biases can't be examined because those simply had no play in the final result. 

M[m]: Unstable Spirits was the projects excellent debut release- which was originally put out as a three-disc CDR set on Altar of Waste. It’s quite daring to put out a first release as a three-disc set- was it originally planned this way, or did it just grow?                           

Peter I had originally only released it as a digital release that would've only taken up just one disc. After I had posted it online, Altar of Waste approached me and asked to put it out as a physical release. I knew that the label had a penchant for releasing multiple disc sets, so I suggested expanding it to a three-disc set -- as I had many other recordings -- to which there was enthusiastic agreement. It was subsequently released in a very limited edition, which sold out in a matter of days. 

M[m]: Over what period of time where the tracks on Unstable Spirits recorded?                                   

Peter All of the tracks were recorded in one night in a single session during a full Scorpio moon. Once I noticed what was happening, I kept recording on and off for hours throughout the night until I ran out of space on my portable recorder. It was not until later that I had noticed that it had been a full moon. After that, I held other sessions during full moons back in my basement, and I was able to reconnect with whatever was there.


M[m]: I know Unstable Spirits sold-out fairly fast, and got a very positive response from the scene. Is there any thought about reissuing the CD set?
Peter I'll leave it up to Altar of Waste whether they would like to undertake a resissue. Few labels are willing to undertake a hand-assembled three-disc set to begin with, and I feel fortunate to have had such a level of interest in my work right from the start, and I am an appreciative that they agreed to the expanded version. If they ultimately decide not to pursue it, I am willing to entertain other offers.


M[m]: How often do you do a Geisst session, and do you record everything you create?
Peter To date there have been four Geisst sessions, the first one documented on "Unstable Spirits," the second one on "Vocatique Sunt," and the last two will appear on an upcoming double cassette "Electroplasmic Veiling." During the duration of each session I hit Record and Stop whenever I get any communications, so I try to record everything that I receive. 

M[m]: Why do you only record with Geisst under a full Scorpio moon?
Peter  That first session which ultimately became "Unstable Spirits" just so happened to be under a full moon, a Scorpio moon in that instance. It was not by design, much like the recordings themselves. After finding out after the fact, I decided that recording again under a full moon would be auspicious, which did turn out to be favorable to me. One happened as well under a lunar eclipse on the full moon, so that event appeared to have yielded some good recordings as well.

M[m]: I believe you’ve now played Geisst in a live setting- can you tell us where/ when these where? How long was your set? And where they recorded?                                          

Peter Yes, there was one public session this past July at an art gallery/bar here in Seattle called Vermillion. It was in an old building, in the back bar area which had a good feeling for being able to connect with whatever happened to be around. The session lasted a little less than 15 minutes, and has been documented on the cassette version of the compilation "Seasons of Decay" on the Austrian label Fall Into Void Recs. After I had set up and turned everything on, there were some pure tones emanating for a few minutes, then everything came to life. Afterwards a couple people commented that they had felt a presence in the room.

M[m]: Any thoughts of doing another live set with Geisst?

Peter Perhaps. It's a gamble whether I can pull it off on demand; there's no guarantee I can capture something on the spot, I just happened to have gotten lucky during the first event. And I would have to ensure the venue is conducive to such an event; the last one was in a old building in a storied neighborhood so there was definitely some history surrounding it. The next event has just as much of a chance of nothing happening at all, it's as uncertain as any seance.
M[m]: there’s shortly going to be a third Geisst release- can you tell us a little bit more about what to expect?                                                                                                                    Peter This will be a double-cassette release out on Fall Into Void Recs, compiled over two recent sessions, both during full moons, one of which also occurred during a lunar eclipse. The last session in particular, documented on one of the cassettes, yielded results that are a little more ambient than previous sessions.

M[m]: You mention the upcoming release will see you going down a more ambient route- is this something you want to explore more with a project?
Peter It's not really a question of me wanting to see any particular outcome, it's not in my control. That was just how that particular session ended up being, there's no saying how it's going to be the next time. We shall have to wait and see, it'll be just as much a surprise for me as anyone else. 

M[m]: Have you had a supernatural experience personally?                                                                Peter Oddly enough, other than in the case of this project, not in the classical sense where I can point to and say that was a spectral presence. But I did have a friend with psychic abilities tell me that I have a guardian spirit, so perhaps I've been protected from other paranormal activity. But in a sense I have been connecting with another realm; in many of my other projects and in my visual art, improvisation plays a key part in what I do. And in improvisational art, one can train their mind to push past the surface ego part of their mind and delve in much deeper, connecting with something either deep within themselves or linking with the creative currents of energy outside them. The mind is a good conduit for communicating within these otherworldy realms if people allow themselves to do so.

M[m]: when was the last time you were truly scared? Be if a horror film, or otherwise?
Peter I would have to think about that. I tend not to be truly scared when watching horror films. Sometimes I get into bouts of existential dread and anxiety, but I think the last time that I can remember where I was fearful for my life was when I was wading out on a beach and I had my back to the water. A huge wave came crashing in over me and knocked me off my feet and pulled me under, and I thought I was going to drown. It's those scenarios that I am most fearful, films don't scare me as much because I always know in the back of my mind that I am not in any real danger.

M[m]: The Geisst project clearly relies on unsettling atmospherics as part of its make-up. Please discuss say five or so atmospheric records (from any genre) that had an impact on you?
Peter I'll do one better--my very first memory as a child had to do with perceptions of sound and atmosphere. I can remember being at home and hearing the sounds of motorcycles off in the distance, with their droning metallic sounds, and how the pitch and character changed as the landscape of buildings shaped the sound as they drove by. I can remember seeing the bars of my crib as this otherworldy industrial drone reverbed past me. And I remembered how thunderstorms both scared and fascinated me as a toddler. I would cower behind the couch but kept ducking my head out as I was in awe of the huge vast booms despite my being terrified. So at a very early age unsettling atmospheric sounds made a lasting imprint on me. As far as music, here are some that had an impact on me early on:

Jeff Greinke - Cities In Fog: This was an album that I first heard back in 1986 or so, a seminal dark ambient work before there was the label "dark ambient."
Ghostly apparitions and otherworldy creatures inhabit a world of dissonant drones. A haunting work from an under-appreciated ambient artist, who was one of the first
artists I saw perform in Seattle when I moved there in 1997.

David Sylvian/Holger Czukay - Plight and Premonition: one of the first dark atmospheric albums I bought, back in 1988, on cassette, based purely on my instinct that this would be something I would be into, my having not yet known the members were from Japan and Can, respectively. Together on this album they created some truly unsettled atmospheres, like a possessed chamber orchestra in an abandoned railway station.

Brian Eno - On Land: another seminal work that I heard early on, with an earthy but eerie moodiness, like being aware of all the spiritual currents rushing by you in a windswept countryside. This darkness was very soothing, I would fall asleep to it every night during a period of my life where I had trouble falling asleep.

Nurse with Wound/Whitehouse - 150 Murderous Passions: a perfect combination of the psychedelic nightmare collage of Nurse with Wound and the sustained terror of Whitehouse, this is still truly harrowing listening as it was when I got it on a whim back in 1989 having had only a brief exposure to NWW and none yet to Whitehouse. Upon my further investigation over the years, NWW and Whitehouse continued to deliver unsettling atmospheres.

Throbbing Gristle - 20 Jazz Funk Greats: another early exposure that was as influential in shaping my appreciation of dark, noisy, and disturbing music as their reputation warranted. Their bleak cacophony and extended journies into the underbelly of humanity was and still is gloriously unsettling for me now as it was when I first heard them in the late 80's.

Thanks to Peter for his time and effort with the interview. Sadly Unstable Spirits is now out of print in its physical form, but can be downloaded from Geisst’s bandcamp. The projects second release Vocatique Sunt(on Stockholm based Ominous Recordings) is still available - in both it’s physical C60 cassette form, or as a digital download. The Geisst’s bandcamp is here, and it’s facebook page is here

Photo credits: main menu pic live shot by Craig Luckenbach, first in interview pic P Keller, second in interview pic by Robert Schaaf, and last in interview pic by P Keller, of the cellar where all of Geisst work is recorded.

Roger Batty
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