Interviewed by Carlos M. Pozo
angbase issue # 4, 1999
1. The last full length release of your work I have is the emt disc from 1996 - I know you have released new works in compilations since then - but is there a reason why you have not released a full CD since then?
In the period of 1996-98 I had been concentrating more on live performance and less on recording. And so now I actually have several pieces which I am planning to move from the concert hall to the CD - look out for at least two new Carl Stone releases in 1999.
2. The web-site lists the "Over-Ring Under" CD-Rom game - could you describe this game for me? Is the music you composed available elsewhere or is it exclusive and made specifically for this item? Is this project, or multimedia projects like this and the "Incubator" performance the sort of thing you are interested in doing more of in the future, as opposed to just releasing regular audio CDs?
Over-Ring Under was a collaboration with Teckon, a Japanese animator, produced by Geodesic in Japan and released by Toshiba-EMI. It was one of the very first generation of CD-ROM titles, I remember that an executive from Toshiba told me at the time that there were only about 1000 CD-ROM players in the Japanese market at the time, so it was REALLY a young medium. It was not so much a game as an interactive exploratory environment with graphics and sound. As of today, none of the music that I composed for Over-Ring Under has found it's way into any other release.
As I just finished working on Incubator, it's natural that I am especially enthusiastic about it. 50 computers in a network proved to be a very interesting "instrument" and I learned a lot just in making a piece for that configuration. I would love to have a chance to use my acquired knowledge to make a second (or third) piece for a similar array.
3. What does your Bellagio residency entail? Are you teaching or lecturing? Are you going to perform live while you are in Italy?
I'm using my time here at Bellagio to go deeper into exploring some new techniques - both musical and programming - that I have been thinking about. The context in which I'm doing this is a kind of free-composition. Because it's neither a commission or an occasional work, such as music for dance or theater, I can work without restraint in terms of form, content etc. If some pieces actually come out of the residency and live on in live performance or recording I'll be glad, although that's not my particular goal.
This residency is sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and is taking place at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center that they maintain here on Lake Como in Italy. No teaching or lecturing is involved and no performing while I'm here - they rather frown on anything that takes one away from the intended purpose of "reflection, contemplation and study".
4. Were you present for the "Incubator" performance in Japan? The image of all those Imacs resting on their backs posted at your web-site was very intriguing - maybe even "disturbing".
Indeed yes, I was present for Incubator in Japan. Incidentally, there is documentation available on the web at:
http://www.iamas.ac.jp/~aka/incubator/index-e.htm (Project Description) http://www.iamas.ac.jp/~aka/incubator_dc/ (photos). Some people who attended also commented that they found my piece a bit disturbing, or at least disorienting, although not so much because of the placement of the iMacs but more from the content that was projected via their screens and speakers.
5. Re: your quote in the Wall Street Journal piece: "I'm working in the tradition of Rauschenberg and Warhol." "I use appropriated materials, but I rework them" I wonder if your choice of samples to work from, or appropriate, determines or influences the "meaning" of the final outcome? Or is the choice of samples random? Or are the samples chosen purely for their sound?
Good question - my choice of samples is rarely random, but there is no single reason for selecting my material. I may chose a sample because I am attracted to it - or it may be because I am repelled by it! And the meaning or cultural significance of any sample I choose cannot be denied, although the meaning is often a function of context.
6. Could you tell me a bit about the time in-between your leaving Cal Arts and the release of your "Woo Lake Oak" piece in 1983? Re: "Woo Lake Oak" - was this a cassette or an LP? Was it self released? I'm assuming you were based in LA at the time? Did you have any contact with the LAFMS people or other like-minded S. Cal based artists, composers, musicians?
I was indeed based in LA. After graduating CalArts, I did a brief stint as the host of Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW-fm, and got fired for programming Steve Reich. I soon found a more sympathetic environment at KPFK-fm, the Pacifica station in Los Angeles, and worked in the music department there from 1978-1981, serving as Music Director for much of that period. It was at KPFK that I developed a series of layering pieces, such as Sukothai, Unthaitled, and A Tip, as well as Woo LA Oak (which was realized in the studio of the California Institute of the Arts, who commissioned it for their 1980 Contemporary Music Festival). Woo Lae Oak was a studio work that was developed for the medium of radio, and existed as a reel-to-reel tape piece in its original form. Wizard Records issued it as an LP back in 1983.
I did know some of the LAFMS people, and had even gone to art school with a couple of them. As for my own organization affiliation, I was one of the founding members and the first president of a Los Angeles musical collective called the Independent Composers Association (ICA). Some of the other founders included Lois Vierk, David Ocker, Carey Lovelace, William Hawley and Carson Kievman.
7. Can you tell me about the pieces on the "SHIBUCHO/DONG IL JANG" cassette? How and when were these pieces made? Re: the LA Weekly quote: "It was practically hip-hop, it was grand mixing, highbrow scratch" - were you influenced by hip-hop or scratching techniques in your work at the time?
Actually, no. Remember, Dong Il Jang was composed in 1982 and Shibucho in 1984. By '84 I had heard rumors of a guy named Grandmaster Flash, but hadn't heard any recordings or seen him live.
8. "Shing Kee" is one of my favorite of your compositions - I find it very trance-inducing and erotic, if I may say that - the way that vocal line slowly develops - beyond beautiful. Can you tell me about the construction of this piece - your intent, and maybe the sound source if that's not giving away too much?
Thanks, I'm glad you like it. No, there's no secret about the sound source in Shing Kee. The piece is entirely derived from a short sample of the Japanese pop singer Akiko Yano, singing Schubert ("The Linden Tree") in English. Formally, the piece is in two sections (plus introduction and coda). In the first section, the sample is introduced gradually into a repeating 5 second cycle of time. At the very beginning, just a few milliseconds are stretched to fill the 5 second cycle, so the amount of stretch is very extreme. As the piece progresses, more and more of the sample is inserted into the cycle, and so the amount of stretching decreases and eventually, when the length of the sample equals the length of the cycle, real time is achieved. At this moment, the piece moves to the second section, where the sample repeats simply, but is stretched farther and farther, to an almost absurd point wherein it seems to almost fall apart into its component sounds.
9. Can you describe the working process for "Monogatari"? This seems to me your most fragmented work - I find it difficult to find where your contributions fit in to the whole.
Monogatari was achieved as a kind of "mail-art" piece, where the master tapes were passed back and forth between Otomo Yoshihide and myself. Otomo gave the opening serve by sending me a piece, about 8 minutes in length, which is Track One on the disk. I sampled, deconstucted, re-constructed and added material to his track and then sent the results, which you can hear as Track Two, to him. And so back and forth we went, like a game of tennis, until the CD was completed.
10. I interviewed Terre Thaemlitz in the last issue of my zine - are you familiar with his works? In the interview he expresses his interest in the idea of computer synthesis as an extension of his interest in gender and queer issues/activism - do you see your work in music generated with computers as having a political or social dimension?
Not surprisingly, my perspective is different from Terre's, but like him I view my work with the computer technique of sampling in a broader context, where issues of politics, science and ethics conjoin. I agree with those who posit that the computer is not a simple and neutral tool but rather than a new medium that has made a tremendous impact on all facets of our lives, governing almost all information exchange. Just as the mechanical clock radically transformed western culture in the 14th Century, so the computer is restructuring our present sense of time in ways we have only begun to understand. Its value lies not just in its reproducibility but also in its malleability and intangibility, like memory itself. Although I haven't really thought about it in such terms before, I realize that like Terre, I am interested in the radical juxtaposition of disparate musical [or most precisely sonic] cultures, a kind of pre-op trans-modernism!
11. I read somewhere that you had peformed at the A-Musik shop in Cologne - have you had any contact with some of these laptop-wielding musicians operating in Europe these days - Farmer's Manual, Fennesz, Marcus Schmickler? It seems to me that sound-wise your late 80's early 90's work seems very congruent with what they are doing today - would you agree?
Yes, I would agree, although I think I approach issues of form and structure from a quite different point of view compared to them, soundwise we are often in similar territory. I like much of what I hear from Europe these days, especially Vienna and Cologne.
12. When did you visit Japan for the first time? You seem to be fascinated by Japanese culture - can you explain why? Has this fascination influenced your work?
Let's see... I first went to Japan in 1984, for a series of concerts in Tokyo and Yokohama. My visit was largely arranged by pianist Aki Takahashi, and it was there in Japan that we premiered Ho Ban, for piano and electronics, which I composed for her.
Actually, I didn't feel that my music and the Japanese audience completely "clicked" back then in 1984. But I returned four years later, with the sponsorship of the Asian Cultural Council, and lived in Tokyo for half a year. For whatever reason, things worked out and I have been fortunate to have had numerous invitations to return since then do work on projects, not only concerts but also installations, dance pieces, collaborations with traditional musicians, new media and other things. I guess I AM sort of fascinated by Japanese culture, insofar as *completely* understanding it has always seemed very much out of reach.
13. Your answer to my question #1 said: "look out for at least two new Carl Stone releases in 1999" - can you give me more details? Which live pieces, and from where? What labels will these releases be on?
Well, I can certainly give details about the one that is well on its way - its a release of dance music I composed, in collaboration with the Japanese butoh artist Akira Kasai. It's called EXUSIAI and is scheduled to be issued sometime in May '99 on the New Tone label out of Italy. Available at finer CD shops everywhere, as well as via my web site.
14. Any chance one of your "acid karaoke" performances might make it onto a CD? Are the "acid karaoke" performances exclusive collaborations with Min Xiao-Fen, or have you collaborated with other singers as well?
ACID KARAOKE was conceived with the great MIN Xiao-Fen in mind, and I have never done it with anyone else. Xiao-Fen is, in addition to being a world-class pipa player, a karaoke champion who has won numerous international prizes. But I have however extended the "ACID " concept into other realms. I am currently developing a project, ACID GIDAYU, in collaboration with the traditional Japanese musician Yumiko Tanaka. Gidayu is a traditional Japanese form of storytelling and theater, related to Kabuki and Bunraku.
15. You said you "got fired for programming Steve Reich" at KCRW - could you elaborate on that? Have you kept up with Steve Reich's work through the years? What do you make of his current music and status? There's a Reich remixed disc out there now - have not heard it yet, have you?
Well, my programming Steve Reich on KCRW was kind of the last straw, I remember the program director screaming at me: "You broadcast 90 minutes of drumming?! Are you out of your mind??" She was of course referring to Reich's seminal work "Drumming". Funny thing, they had encouraged me to be "eclectic" in my programming, and for two weeks I offered up a rather wide range, everything from Machaut to chant from Burundi to Misha Mengleberg - none of which they liked very much.
16. Do you have a problem with the term "computer music"? Or "laptop music", which I've started to see recently?
No problem at all. In fact, as I am working on some dance music using laptops, I'm calling it Laptop Dancing (tm).
17. You're going to be in Italy for some time - what did you bring with you equipment-wise? When you've gone on tour in Europe or Japan in the past, what do you usually bring along?
Just my laptop!!! Well, that hasn't always been the case, but that's all I have had in Italy and for my last tour in Japan. Before that I was using a laptop plus a sampler and some other miscellaneous gear. Now, with fast machines like the Apple G3 Powerbook and software like Max/MSP, it's more than possible to do pare everything down to one piece of gear, which has long been my desire.
18. Can I ask what you are listening to currently? Do you buy much new music? You sort of sidestepped the question about Reich's current work I asked earlier - have you heard the Reich remix disc? Any thoughts on remixes, and has anyone ever asked you to remix something? Would you be interested?
A lot of people send me their CDs and so when I came back from Europe I found about twenty-five different titles in my mailbox. In electronic music, I am intrigued by some of the things from Staalplaat / Soleilmoon and I really like the latest from Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M. Maybe I can expand on this answer in a few days after I listen to more of what I've received. But anyway, much of my discretionary listening is given over to so-called "world music" - lately a lot of traditional music from Korea, Cambodia and Burma. I just ordered the Reich remix disc, as I haven't heard it yet, it came out while I was disporting myself on Lake Como.
From time to time someone suggests a remix project. I am scheduled to do one for Ulan Bator, the French band, it should be out in the fall.
19. There is a symposium I have linked to at my website - a discussion between François-Bernard Mâche, Iannis Xenakis, Paul Lansky, and Roger Reynolds. During a discussion about the use of computers, Mâche says "If you are fascinated by the computer, you may stop composing." I guess I'm wondering if you see the computer as just a tool, as the composers above do, or if you see it as "something else" - or if the "composed on a computer" vs. "not composed on a computer" argument has any relevance to your work. my framework for this is my field of work (architecture) where the debate over "computer designed work" and "hand-drafted work" is still quite strong - and a computer rendered model can provoke negative reactions.
That's very interesting. Because I think of the computer as both a tool AND an _instrument_, I think about Mâche's statement from several angles. In one way I understand and agree. My music, usually classified as computer music, is not about computers, but what it IS about can only be expressed by using computers. But I suppose to become a truly "expert" / "virtuoso" composer for computers you MUST become fascinated, in the same way I presume that Chopin was fascinated by the piano. But the terrible trap lies in the fact that the computer (and by that I mean not only the hardware but the software tools as well) evolves constantly and at an exponential rate. It could easily be one's life work just to chase virtuosity by the tail. I suspect Mache may have had this in mind, although I should read the interview to be sure.
There's no question that the term "computer-music" can evoke negative responses. Most people don't realize how ubiquitous the computer has become in music of all styles. Computer based MIDI systems are at the heart of more than 95% of popular music production today. ALL music, even that which we think of as being "analogue" like classical or folk music, have come to depend on the computer at one point or another in the production chain. John Cage said that a symphony played on an LP was electronic music. All digital instruments, samplers, CD players, and DAT machines are computers. Is not that same symphony, played on CD, now computer music?
20. Now that you're back in San Francisco - how did your Italian stay go? Was it a worthwhile experience as far as your work goes?
Yes it was. I didn't have any particular project to complete, and so I could work freely. I used the time to go deeper into study of some software such as MSP, - perhaps I was a bit fascinated! - and in the course of that I created a number of studies which may or may not coalesce into one or more pieces for public consumption.
21. Could you explain how the "Incubator" piece worked? 50 computers playing music in a network sounds like a challenge - was each computer functioning as a speaker? Or was each Imac plugged into a larger sound system and mixed? (sorry if my question makes no sense)
Your question makes perfect sense. The 50 computers were arrayed in a gridlike pattern on the floor of a gallery space, interconnected by network cables. In my piece, the network provides cueing and synchronization. The sounds were produced by each iMac's own internal speakers and were not otherwise mixed or amplified. By the way, 50 iMacs in one room can make quite a racket.
Incidentally, I used the computers not only as sound producing agents but also to display graphics and dynamic text.
22. In your description of "Incubator" you said: "I used the computers not only as sound producing agents but also to display graphics and dynamic text" - do you normally provide a graphic backdrop for your performance (computer generated, video, or otherwise) and if so do you create these graphics yourself? Have you done any of the cover designs for your releases? There were some graphics at the New Tone "Kamiya Bar" site that were not on the CD booklet - did you generate/design those?
Normally I do NOT provide a graphic backdrop in my live performances, but there are some exceptions. The most recent example is my piece Guelaguetza, which can either be performed as a solo without graphics or with a video backdrop, consisting of appropriated visuals from Korean karaoke laserdisks.
But in addition to my live performance work I have made a number of installation pieces which use sound and graphics, and in these cases the graphics are indeed designed by myself. And yes, the graphics in the Kamiya Bar section of my site, such as you will find at http://www.sukothai.com/KB.thanks.html or http://www.sukothai.com/KB.desc.html are self-designed as well.
23. In your music, and in your answers to my questions, you've displayed a pretty good sense of humor - I wonder if you ever consciously work humor into your work, and if you have an opinion on what place humor plays in the development of your pieces.
I am interested in ironical relationships and sometimes these can be pretty funny. My piece Sukothai from 1979 has a "punch line", but as I listen to it now twenty years later I rather regret the overtness. To me the essence of humor is amazement, and I am likewise interested in amazement in music, so perhaps this is where the two interesect, even unconsciously.
24. You said you mostly listen to "world music" - does their influence play into your compositions? Or do you try and avoid their influence?
I never seek or avoid the influence of any music. I just let the things I listen to get into my strange brain and whatever happens happens.
25. Do you think there is a difference in music, or attitudes, between American composers of your generation and your European or Japanese contemporaries? Are you aware of yourself as an "American" when you've performed overseas?
I'm not sure what that means these days as I think there has been a great globalization of music due to mass media. I almost never think about it myself, but sometimes I have been told by people (always in other countries) that my music sounds very American. When I press people to explain such a comment they usually say something of about individualism.
26. What inspires you to produce new works? If you received a commision to do a piece tomorrow, what ideas or techniques have you been toying with recently that could be developed into a new work?
These days I am experimenting with the techniques of re-synthesis and convolution. So when I get that commission tomorrow - and believe me, I'll be checking my mailbox - those will surely be the one's that I will use.
Carl Stone discography:
"Exusiai" (1999) New Tone Records fy 7016 CD
"Kamiya Bar" (1995) New Tone Records NT 6739-2 CD
"Monogatari: Amino Argot" w/ Otomo Yoshihide (1994) Trigram TR-P 908 CD
"Mom's" (1992) New Albion 049 CD
"Four Pieces" (1989) EAM Discs 201 CD
"Woo Lae Oak" Woo Lae Oak (1983) Wizard 224 LP
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