Rational Rhetoric Notwithstanding [2005-06-01]Certainly one of the most interesting musical anomalies in recent times to rise from the ether that is the experimental electronic underground is Irr.App.(Ext). This surrealism influenced San Francisco based act is fronted by the multi-talented Matt Waldron, who like fellow travellers Steve Stapleton, Andrew McKenzie, and David Tibet also produces a fine line in highly personal fantastical artwork. The bands moniker is not some bizarre computer script short hand, it is in fact an abbreviation of Irrational Appendage (Extending) a metaphor for their working and recording practices. They have a number of available releases, Ozeanische Gefuhle on Helen Scarsdale, and The dust pincher appliances on Crouton, to name but two.
Their most recent release is a collaboration with Nurse with wound on their triple LP/CD set Angry Eelectric Finger. Matt Waldron has also just returned from a series of shows with NWW in Vienna. I caught up with him just before he set off for more shows in Toronto
m[m] Firstly how was your trip to Vienna and the shows?
M.Waldron It was a great experience, but it could hardly have been otherwise. Steven, Colin and Diana are all people whose company I enjoy a great deal, and Andrew Liles (who I hadn't met before) turned out to be a really lovely guy as well. We didn't have a chance to get together and work things out ahead of time, so what the actual outcome of the performances would be was as much of a mystery for us as for the audiences - particularly the first show, of course - but working with such agreeable people kept it from becoming any kind of an ordeal. And Walter, Reinhard and our other Austrian hosts made the whole visit very easy and enjoyable.
m[m] Without the chance to work things out beforehand was it always the intention to do a show based at least partly on improvisation? Is that an approach you prefer in the live setting?
M.Waldron The Vienna performances were based on the album 'Salt Marie Celeste', so they weren't entirely improvised: there was a basic mood and structure derived from that album that everyone followed. The specific development of this structure was improvised, however, and so each show was noticeably different from the others. Andrew, Diana and myself were brought in to add our own unique details to the mix, as well as to make the performances more of a live event than the quadrophonic playback that Colin and Steve had presented in Copenhagen, and I think all of us modified our input based on what did or didn't work in the previous show. I had planned ahead of time to alter the sequence - and a few of the specifics - of what I was doing for each set, as I had thought that many of the audience members would be there for multiple shows; this turned out to be less true than I expected, but no matter. I know Diana's contribution changed quite a bit between the first and last set, and her more aggressive approach during the final show single-handedly made it the best of the three. After the first show, Steve and Colin made a decision to let the various elements unfold much more gradually, and I think this also made the two Saturday performances more interesting.
My approach to irr. live performances has been vaguely similar to this, in that I set up a basic structure and sequence of events within which the specific elements are improvised. This is partly a matter of choice - it's more interesting to me to keep things somewhat open - but even more due to the people I've been working with: most of them have little musical or performance experience, and none of them have any time for rehearsal. If I don't keep things general then they end up coming across as clumsy and under-rehearsed. Anything specific has to be very simple. I've tried to compensate for this by making things as visually interesting as possible, but I'm very eager to start adding some more complex compositional elements.
m[m] Touching briefly on your past, how did you come to begin recording and who were your musical influences?
M.Waldron My first big influences were the so-called 'progressive' groups like King Crimson, Yes and early Genesis - I was a horrible prog-snob up into my early twenties. The most important single influence on me at the time was Robert Fripp, and I still think this was a good thing: his attitudes about fame and the record industry helped me to get over the unhealthy celebrity worship that is cultivated so strongly in States (as I'm sure it is in most other parts of the world), and his willingness to work in genres outside of the 'progressive' ghetto forced me to expand my own tastes. My most important influence arrived in the late 80s, though, when Nurse With Wound broke everything wide open for me: I don't imagine anything will have such an enormous impact again. Any style or combination of styles, source material and method of working was shown to be fair game. It was NWW that inspired me to begin experimenting with sounds myself in 1988, clumsily layering tracks on a cheap portable tape player with a dubbing microphone input, the end results ending up in 'stereo' only because the older layers would drift to the right as a result of a poorly-aligned recording head. Tiny snippets of these recording are still occasionally insinuated into my present-day output. With the help of my friend Richard Faulhaber, I finally moved on to proper multi-track recording around 1990.
m[m] Much of your website is taken up by galleries of your artwork, clearly non-musical art plays a big role in your life, and some of your works are used as sleeve art for your releases. Is your music informed by your artworks and visa-versa? And where do you find your inspiration for these fantastical works?
M.Waldron I've been drawing and painting since the age of six or seven; audio is a much more recent development for me. At this point it's all the same really - just different tools - and the things that influence my graphic output also influence my recordings: organic forms, chance, strange juxtapositions, my own base urges, etc. I've become less and less interested in making elaborate plans ahead of time, and prefer now to just allow things to naturally evolve.
m[m] You have previously talked about Surrealisms influence on your work, and your use of their famous technique Automatism. Listening to your music, particularly Ozeanische Gefuhle I am reminded of the bizarre forms and landscapes in the paintings of Yves Tanguy. Do you have a particular surrealist that you take special influence from?
M.Waldron The Surrealists (in the sense of the actual, historical movement) that I've been most inspired by are Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy (ding!), Kay Sage, Leonora Carrington and Hans Bellmer. Contemporary Surrealist practitioners that have swelled the juice in my grapefruit are Mr. Stapleton (of course), Jan Svankmajer, William Davison, Jim Woodring and Christoph Heemann. An equally important name for me to mention is Kim Rifredi, a cousin of Richard Faulhaber's whose brilliant assemblage pieces were an enormous influence during the early 90s. Sadly. I don't think she is active in this area anymore; from what I understand, she has moved on to embalming corpses.
m[m] Talking now about your recording methods, how do you go about composing new materials, do you prefer to start with a theme and develop a sonic counterpart or allow experiments with sound itself to guide the process?
M.Waldron I sometimes have a general idea about the mood of a piece when I start, but I'll ultimately allow the material to evolve in whatever direction it seems to want to go. I have an audio archive of field recordings, experiments, and instrumental sessions to which I'm constantly adding, and usually I'll pull a few things out of this and see if they fit together, record something new if a specific element is indicated, splice it to a half-finished piece that I wasn't able to resolve at an earlier time, etc... Right now I'm starting to compile material for a series of pieces with specific source themes (for example, a track composed entirely of train-derived sources, or mechanical sources, or bathroom vent sources) just to see what will happen. More likely than not, these will end up as something entirely different. Such processes are useful as a starting point, but I'm never married to them.
m[m] Composing using elements of train sounds was an approach that the French Musique concrete pioneer Pierre Schaeffer once used. Does the academic side of Musique Concrete / Electro-acoustic music interest you, or are you more inclined towards the philosophical, intangible approach.
M.Waldron Academia doesn't interest me in the least: to me it is creative death. I wouldn't say that I'm most interested in the intangible approach either. The most important aspect to me is the act of doing, of interacting with materials to see what happens. Any 'tradition' of doing things - academic or otherwise - can occasionally lead to interesting results, and I'm willing to explore different ways of working, but to allow such things to dominate your thinking and habits is a serious mistake, in my opinion. Creative activity (play) is an essential part of human well-being, and far too often it is strangled by unnecessary conventions.
m[m] In your recent article in the Wire you talk about your preference for field recordings over synthesized material. What sort of field recordings interest you most and how do you go about finding and collecting them?
M.Waldron At the moment, I'm using a minidisc recorder with a stereo microphone to gather my field recordings. I live near a national park, and am in close proximity to a number of natural environments, so a lot of my sources come from places of that kind. I always bring the recorder with me when I'm travelling, and will whip it out whenever a particularly interesting bathroom vent or drunk person or malfunctioning public address system presents itself. All kinds of sources interest me.
m[m] You recently collaborated with Nurse with Wound on the Angry Eelectric finger set, how did you come to be involved in this?
M.Waldron I've been harassing Steve for several years now, and he's been a remarkably good sport about it. Rather than telling me to piss off and mind my own business, he's taken the more diplomatic approach of inviting me to occasionally contribute to various of his projects - the first being some illustrations for the inner sleeves of the Automating 1 & 2 reissues, followed by the release of the accidental, 'malfunction mix' of 'Chance Meeting'. With 'Angry Eelectric Finger', it came up during one of our phone conversations that he had just finished a recording session (later released as the 'Zero Mix') that he felt might be in its final form, but also appeared to have room for embellishment, and would I be interested in having a crack at it? He said he was going to give it to a few other people as well, and then probably assemble the best bits of the different versions into the final album. As it turned out, of course, he liked them all well enough to release each outcome in its entirety. I had some misgivings about my version at the time of release, as I didn't approach it as a remix at all (the full 'remix' idea didn't really come up until after I had already finished my bit, several months earlier than the other two), but rather with this idea of a mostly-completed work that needed a bit of added detail; after listening to all three versions in sequence, however, I've discovered that I'm actually very happy with the results and no longer regard it as the runt of litter.
m[m] Angry Eelectric finger was first released as a limited edition Vinyl with the Zero mix as a bonus for people who purchased all three versions. There has been a bit of controversy (at least as much there ever is on message boards) regarding these kinds of limited/exclusive editions or art versions, many going for high prices then being sold for even more excessive amounts on E-bay. What is your opinion on these sorts of releases and their value to the artist and collector?
M.Waldron This is a good question, and I'm still wrestling with it. I'd prefer to have my releases widely available to everyone who wants them, at a price that isn't beyond the means of poor working slobs like myself. The other side to the issue, though, is that it is very hard to make a living off of this kind of music, and the special editions go a long way towards making it more possible. The most limited release I've put out so far is Their Little Bones..., a handmade box with tiny bone assemblages and hand-printed inserts that was available between 1999 and 2000; due to the labour-intensive nature of the release I only made 80, but I gave them out for free to anyone who wanted one for as long as my source of the necessary materials lasted. This was a deliberate reaction against the greed and dishonesty I had to face in putting together my first CD (An Uncertain Animal...), and a way of getting around the repulsive side that comes out in many people's personalities whenever money is involved. I'm not sure I could feasably attempt something like that again. I'm hoping to start making a real living off of my creative output in the next few years, and I can see that some higher-priced 'special editions' will have to figure into it - although I certainly think it's important not to go overboard with these things, and when you do them to put some real effort and care into their creation. To answer the last part of your question, I think such collectable editions are only as valuable as people can be tricked into believing they are. There's an underlying social problem indicated here that I won't get into (I can hear the sighs of relief), other than to point out that a society that perpetually compels its populace to fleece their neighbours in order to keep up with the cost of living is ultimately doomed.
m[m] Continuing with the NWW connection, you created your own version of their 80s album Insect and Individual silenced. As im sure you know Stapleton has more than a little animosity towards this record, what is it that inspired you to produce your own version and do you still have plans to release it?
M.Waldron My version of 'Insect' was created back in 1996, several years before I had contact of any kind with Steve. It was inspired by an interview with David Tibet concerning his reissue of the Sand album, in which he mentioned that, prior to tracking down the actual recordings, he and John Balance had contemplated re-creating the entire album from scratch. This idea intrigued me, and I decided to attempt it with my own favourite long-lost release. I rarely managed to follow through with such ambitious ideas back then, but in this instance I forced myself to do it: I started work and kept at it until it was done three days later, with only a few hours of sleep to recharge at the end of each day. The recording was done on an extremely primitive portable 4-track, and the final mixdown was a complicated (for me, anyhow) orchestration of all the bits and pieces played back between the 4-track, various cassette players and a CD player, ultimately mastered onto DAT. I had a long list indexing when all the cuts, fades and cues needed to happen, and if I screwed up anywhere in the middle (which happened several times) I was forced to start over from the beginning - partcularly challenging with the 24-minute-long first track.
The recording remained completely unheard by other living creatures until 1999, at which time my friend Howard Forbes asked to hear it; this prompted me to create some artwork and put together a CDR edition of 10 to give to friends, two of these being David Tibet (whom I had met in 1996, and corresponded with since around 1990) and Chrsitoph Heemann (whom I was just starting to get to know). I passed along copies to them while attending the Current 93/Heemann concerts in New York in 1999, and asked if they thought it was a good idea for me to send a copy to Steve - as you point out, he is not very well-disposed towards the original version, so I was a bit dubious about sending him my stained-rubber-bands-and-spit facsimile. They encouraged me to do it, and I think it was this that ultimately prompted Steve to get in touch with me. He apparently enjoyed my version, and later offered to put it out on United Dairies: a project that World Serpent very efficiently kept non-existent during the three years prior to their collapse. At the moment, I don't know if or when it will be released. UD was my dream-home for it, and, with so much time having passed now, I'm not convinced there is any point releasing it through another label.
m[m] You have said that one of the major influences on you at the moment are the philosophys of Wilhelm Reich, and indeed the previously mentioned Ozeanische Gefuhle album was inspired by his writings. What is it about his ideas that attract you and how has it affected your music?
M.Waldron Discovering Reich was really a life-saving experience for me. As opposed to the countless ideas about living I had been exposed to while growing up that forced you to make an enormous suspension of your disbelief in order to seem credible, or manufactured a tone of being profound without having any practical application, Reich threw aside rhetoric and abstract conceits in favour of really seeking how and why life functions.
It's a tragedy that he didn't have the resources and support to explore his ideas further. His discoveries put forward in 'The Mass Psychology of Fascism', for example, are as important now as they ever have been: the well-being of entire populations continues to be compromised in favour of wholly-invented abstractions (corporations, governments, organised religions, cultural traditions, etc), and this isn't merely a result of ill-intentioned leadership, but also due to the training of these populations to act (even explicitly) in a manner contrary to their best interests. Rather than the energy wasted on pointless conflicts such as 'Republican vs. Democrat' or 'Christianity vs. Islam' or 'Communism vs. Capitalism' or any other combinations from the endless list of artifical divisions, we should follow Reich's lead and get busy finding out what human beings fundamentally need to be healthy and happy, and then get busy finding a way of providing it. There is no mystery why so many authoritarian groups (the Fascists, the Communists, the Socialists, and finally the U.S. Government) persecuted Reich: if his investigations into collective and individual behaviour were developed into actual social programs, the whole authoritarian-based structure of civilisation would disintegrate.
People who are taught to be self-sufficient, open-minded and well-adjusted don't march in step, don't accept what they are told without question, and don't act contrary to the best interests of their communities. Whether such a change is even possible anymore is something I am sceptical about, smothered as we are by our compulsive-consumer, celebrity-worshipping, flag-waving attitudes. Having said that, however, it is important to recognise that these attitudes exist for a reason, and are used to replace important physical and emotional human needs that are being denied.
As the ideas explored by Reich have influenced the entirety of my thinking, they've also certainly influenced my creative output, but not in any straightforward cause-and-effect manner that I could explain. And anyhow, I believe I've surpassed my alotted quota of hypens.
m[m] I have read from your site that you have had quite a run of bad luck in getting records released. Is that just down to the unreliable nature of small independent labels? What does it mean to you to have a label like Beta Lactam Ring records (who seem to be rapidly filling the gap left by Worldserpent) actively pushing for records to be released?
M.Waldron I think this is the nature of the 'entertainment industry' (or whatever you prefer to call it) at any level. You are always going to have to deal with predatory and/or unreliable people in some context. World Serpent - a business that was not particularly large, but certainly one of the better established in the 'experimental' field - is a perfect example of this. For 10 years they kept the entire (and extensive) catalogues of worthy projects like Nurse With Wound and Current 93 in print, so they can't be wholly condemned; they were frequently dishonest and unreliable with their royalties (according to several reports I've heard, and my own minor encounter with them certainly confirms the first part of this), so they can't be praised too highly either - but would any other label have done as much and behaved any better? Most likely not. After years of horrible luck, it's definitely a welcome change to find people who offer to release a record and then actually manage to follow through. My dealings with Jim Haynes (who released Ozeanische Gefuehle on The Helen Scarsdale Agency) and Jon Mueller (who released Dust Pincher Appliances on Crouton) have been an enormous improvement on my past experiences. Chris McBeth at Beta Lactam Ring has been very easy to work with as well, but I haven't actually had anything released on his label yet, so there's not much more I can say about it yet. I think ultimately, though, I have to credit my change of fortunes (perhaps entirely) to Steve Stapleton: if he hadn't been willing to lower his long coattails in my direction, I'm sure I'd still be ineffectually clawing about at the bottom of my obscure little pit.
m[m] Finally what are your current plans? new releases, maybe some more shows in Europe?
M.Waldron In June, the Perekluchenie album should be released by Beta Lactam Ring Records; an installment for Paul Bradley's DroneWorks series should also be ready by that time, and my part of a split release with Panicsville has just been completed. A sister record to Ozeanische Gefuehle - which will be called Cosmic Superimposition, after one of Reich's books - is also finally finished, and will most likely be self-released in a month or so. I'm still collecting sources for an extensive collaborative project, each track of which will be created using material given to me by a different musician/soundworker that I have met in person. And I'm going to make one last push to have Radiant Black Future (an album I completed back in 1999) properly released either this or next year before I give up on it.
As for live shows, the next irr. app. (ext.) performance will take place in Toronto (my birth town) on June 1st in collaboration with the surrealist performance group Songs of the New Erotics. After that, a joint performance with Jim Haynes will be taking place in San Francisco on June 12th. Hopefully, some more Nurse With Wound-related events will be happening later in the year, and a show supporting The Hafler Trio, Colin Potter, and Andrew Liles (also in San Francisco) is scheduled for the end of August. I'd love to do some irr. shows in Europe, but I have to come up with something that is both portable and interesting. Laptops are not for me.
Irr.app.(ext) website - www.holocenesound.org/irrDuncan Simpson