CURD DUCA: EASY LISTENING

Discography:

"Easy Listening #1-#3", Self Produced, Vienna, 1992, 1993, 1994

"Easy Listening #4", Normal Records, Germany, 1995

"Easy Listening #5", Normal, Germany 1997

"Elevator #1-3", Mille Plateaux, Germany, 1998, 1999, 2000

"Switched on Wagner", Mille Plateaux 1996

plus vinyl:

"8 Oder 9"

"8 Oder 9 führen durch die ruinen ihrer musik"
(trans: "8 Oder 9's guide through the ruins of their music"), LP (1983) self-published

"Grausamer Süden" (Cruel South), CD (1985) self-published

"Steinerne Hunde" (Stone Dogs), CD (1987) self-published

"Auch Wenn Es Seltsam Klingen Mag:"

"Auch Wenn Es Seltsam Klingen Mag...", cassette (1984) self-published

CURD DUCA
by bart plantenga

Curd Duca's music belies a strange tension: indeed easy to listen to but also impossible to ignore. At once lavish and parsimonious, synthetic and soulful, a casual precision. Music that could easily and subliminally destabilize the shopping routines of post-Prozac mallrat clusters because CD's wonderful trancy loopiness is short and abrupt so that it rudely interrupts the gelatinous slide into stupor-mode. What he does best is open the door to aural paradise and then shut it before you can say "AHHH". This forces your attention; you can't use the music, which loops tightly between cuts as a way out of your own daily mishaps. You remain at the edge of your listening chair. "Elevator #3" contains 48 cuts, some as short as 6 seconds.

Curd works out of his Vienna garret-home as fifth-world liberated terra incognita. There, in his livingroom cum studio surrounded by stuff and clutter and arcane filing systems, he performs electronic sound bytology, memory-specific prosthetic meldings of music through hybridization and synthesis. He also spends some 6 months per year in South Beach, Florida for health reasons, where he continues his bytological clonings and remains a million miles away from the glitzy over-hyped Hollywood-meets-Muscle-Beach scene.

He's played in bands since age 12. Once performed in a 20-piece accordion orchestra as a kid. In 1992, he joined a 1-show-only ZZ Top cover band - "beards and everything". But more significantly, he helped produce a cassette with Auch Wenn Es Seltsam Klingen Mag (trans: Even Though It May Sound Strange) and 3 discs with 8 Oder 9, which was a conceptual band that might rehearse once in a while and play out maybe once a year. One of 8 Oder 9's striking cuts is "Frauen Singen Im Radio" which sounds like disembodied women's voices singing inside a radio.

WTM [April 2000 interview]: What did you do in these 2 ensembles?

CD: In both groups I played accordion, guitar, percussion, piano, toy instruments, and sang occasionally... we switched instruments a lot. In AWESKM I also wrote approximately half of the material... we also improvised a lot (in the spirit of the New York noise underground of the time). In 8 Oder 9 there was one main songwriter and one "avantgardistic/conceptual" writer/conductor... my role was more arranging and improvising.

Back in a 1995 interview on my radio show, Wreck This Mess on WFMU [NY/NJ] I asked CD, "8 or 9 what?"

CD: 8 or 9 nothing, really. It doesn't even refer to the number of members because all of the members that were ever in this group add up to 15 or even more … I think it just sounds good. You couldn't say 7 or 8, it just doesn't sound right.

Back then they were busy trying to recover cassette tapes full of hiss and noise from old sessions to slap together as an aural history of the band, hence the latter two 8 Oder 9 discs.

CD: Most of the time we didn't consciously record our sessions. That was against our philosophy at the time. There just happened to be a cassette recorder around once in a while.

WTM: What was that philosophy? Spontaneity?

CD: Yeah, the moment counts and you shouldn't even try to capture it.

WTM: And what did or does a band like 8 Oder 9 do in Austria? Did you rehearse in Vienna? Somebody's garage or barn?

CD: We're all from different parts of the country and we didn't have much time to rehearse or get together. It's like 3 times a year. And once a year we performed. And we were certainly not part of any scene. It's like a group of artists who communicate with each other long distance.

WTM: Where'd you play back then? Weddings, haha.

CD: No weddings … so far hehehe. Openings at galleries and in art contexts, the Museum of Modern Art [Vienna], some art festival … very rare occasions, in fact.

WTM: Austria [pre-Vienna scene!] doesn't strike me as the hub of things happening. Waltzes, OK, maybe echo via yodeling … Is that why you feel so comfortable with echo, reverb … because of the mountains?

CD: That's true, I love echo, I love reverb … Yea, it certainly has to do with yodeling but that's not the part of culture I have been involved with … when I was young and rock and roll came around, European music wasn't considered cool.

WTM: European music?

CD: Like French pop music, like songs we used to sing at school and marching music or classical music or beer drinking music.

WTM: I periodically sense a folksy or mountainy influence on your discs…

CD: I think it took me quite a while for me to recognize these roots, the "uncool" music like folk music. And I think it was at a point when I was fed up with, or getting tired of, rock music when I started to take elements from folk music and viewed them in a more abstract way and cleaned them of their usual context … I really don't know what I would be doing if there wasn't the computer technology - I have NO idea...


Luckily there was the prosthetic software that allowed him to set down on tape what was scattered around inside him. In 1992, he set down to noodling in his lonesome and he came up with "Easy Listening #1" which was a kind of character study of sound - many loops of simple water drips, simple sounds basically presented as themselves. He was getting introduced to sound in a non-performance mode and familiarizing himself with new emerging sound software. It became a situation of total immersion, self-hypnosis. "Easy Listening #2" took those blips and drips and began to form them into what might be considered songs or compositions.

"Easy Listening #3" was self-released in 1994 and includes some of his early best material including "Moon Bossa" and the dastardly "Manson Chainsaw". "Manson Chainsaw" is an aural portrait of "morbid romanticism" where an innocent beach party is invaded by Charles Manson-ites wielding chainsaws. Through the use of a note or 2 from - if I remember - the Beachboys' "Good Vibrations" and the sound of a chainsaw - he mixes a perfect aural cocktail for the souring of innocence at the instant the Beachboys befriend Manson. Also includes the incredibly effective "Hypno Traffic" which perfectly evokes the modern meditative mantra of passing traffic.

"Easy Listening #4 and #5" continues in the vein of #1-3, "computer-aided music" which explores and de-re-composes beloved tunes that may have enchanted the most nostalgic record bins of our collective minds into tart synaptical instants. "I hear echoes of children's music, fairy tale recordings, Austrian operettas and folkmusik, classical orchestras, TV show soundtracks, marching bands, strange electric organs from old Czech cartoons...all sunken to the subconscious with a layer of modern culture on top", - he explained. This was before he had a record deal and he was self-producing his "Easy Listening" series. After "EL #3" I quickly became aware that he is that not-so-rare-anymore soulful Teuton (Can, Kraftwerk, Mouse on Mars, Kruder & Dorfmeister) who is able to put his hands on a piece of chrome and make it radiate with warmth.

Throughout "Easy Listening #1&#5" he has dredged poignant sentiments up out of the grooves of scratchy jazz, schmaltzy waltzes and ersatz exotica. Into this he weaves found sounds (water, highway traffic, electronic birds) as rhythm to stir up sedimentary preconceptions and proffers new acoustical strategies - logical, exuberant, lovely sound; music-in-the-progress of being made music about music. Some of the song titles on "Easy Listening #4" are mere cagey hints [which almost always give very little away] of their purloined sources, old scratchy mellow jazz wax such as "Bird", "Monk", "Nelson", "Greco", "Grant", "Tristano" but here his indebtedness to jazz is front and center.

"Easy Listening #5" includes some excellent uses of exotica and relaxed jazz samples predating - as does his earlier recordings - which anticipates the reappropriation / reappreciation of exotica/muzak/easy listening and lounge that came with Combustible Edison, Dmitri From Paris, and Tipsy [and countless others]. But in Curd's hands they are forcibly yanked from their kind of imagistic plastic palm movie set surroundings and streamlined, sharpened, and recontextualized.

It is Aphex Twin meets Martin Denny on "Bam Boo", John Oswald (Plunderphonics) meets Jackie Gleason on "Poker", or Negativland commissioned to do the ad soundtrack for a crumbling paradise motel on a sinking tropical isle. Or Eno as Quasimodo on "Bell". A Peter Gunn ("gunn") sample in a Moulinex offers whimsical explorations of sound and memory that remind us of the Kraftwerk maxim: machines may indeed have soul (or at least a number of composition-divided-by-whimsy-times-funk settings).

His "pieces are not parodies because there is too much fondness and sentimental value in them". He clarifies: "I'm mesmerized sometimes in a drug-induced-like state of nerdy fascination, letting go of all inhibitions like good taste, good intentions, the hipness factor, and indulging in "false" sentiments with my mind wide awake". These involuntary twitches, ur-dancebeats, and mnemonic chops which determine the (un)making of his (re)music must emerge from some interstitial region located between what is heard and how it is remembered. Regardless, his unbridled sonic enthusiasms will continue to take him into the inspirational hidden ecstasy of recuperated sound.

There is a warped and wonderfully evocative quality which makes the "Digitalanalog Mood Music" on his latest cds, "Elevator #1-3" on Mille Plateaux warmer than run-of-the-mall, bachelor pOd and retro-martini, faux leisure musics of the moment because his choices are not predicated on demographical considerations. Any one of the "Elevator" series is an excellent introduction into the dapper madcapped world of post-nostalgic pata-modernism.


Continuation of recent interview [April 2000] with Curd Duca:

WTM: Your "Elevator #3" seems different from previous "Easy Listenings" and "Elevators". Is that because you have gone fishing a little further for samples?

CD: Yes, maybe a little bit... but I think the main difference is the processing (sound and thought)... more sophisticated DSP programs... also my thinking is getting more advanced...

WTM: What do you mean by "more advanced"?

CD: I have attained a certain freedom in listening (to my own half-finished tracks or raw materials, or other music) which results in being more radical in taste and implementation... being able to work with shreds of sound and make them coherent...

WTM: It is at once more beautiful with the addition of some unsampled Astrid Gilberto-esque vocals [as if she's singing in a heaven made out of some immense goldfish bowl] but also more confrontational…

CD: Carin is amazing, isn't she?

WTM: Carin Feldschmid's voice is a very nice development. It offers a kind of ethereal anchor to the new disc. Lot's of noise and dissonance balanced by this heavenly sultry voice… But who is she? What is your relationship?

CD: A singer from Munich...

WTM: But your sounds also seem simultaneously more confrontational with the inclusion of noises that are usually excluded from recordings but have in the past few years come to make up an entire new repertoire of sounds - radio signals, blips, scratches, bleeps, moans etc. to create music, even songs with just these components. A lot of people have found these "organic" sounds to be a perfect antidote to over-used synthesizer sounds and effects etc. It is almost like these scratches and blips and surface noise are a return to organic sources. Is this how you see it?

CD: I've used scratches and clicks for quite some time... since "Easy Listening #4", even before... it came very naturally... the clicks and crackle that were part of the samples. And I often did not correct digital glitches in some loops because they added something... my work process is very hands-on. With faster computers I can "play" with the cursor on-screen and coax all kinds of weird noises from some of these DSp programs. The trick is how to select from this variety and to integrate the results... to make them make sense ...

WTM: I realize that is why I liked your stuff. And now there are musical units like Pole who make entire albums of Kraftwerk like material out of scratches-pops-blips... To me you seem to work like some chemist/pharmacist or alchemist who has his little shelves of little labeled bottles of sound spices ready to blend...

CD: As an alchemist, I use things that others would overlook... I think I'm good at seeing what's there and evoking its qualities. When I was a kid, I had a chemistry kit and a little lab in the back of our house. I saw myself as a serious researcher... I still conduct experiments... I set certain parameters and then I react to what the computer gives back to me. First and foremost I listen... then I edit or make changes for a new try...

WTM: Really, I really feel this hobby-chemistry-set feel in your music sometimes. You have also furthered the use of a skipping CD - DJ Spooky also uses this to disarming effect on the latest "Wreck This Mess #2" compilation from Radio Libertaire in Paris and Noise Museum. There is something very distressing to a person presenting music that must move or pacify the crowd when a CD starts skipping and now you don't know if it is skipping or intended, music or mayhem - so to use it as music is quite what Stravinski would have done...

CD: If the fracturing is balanced it can result in a quiet state... an oscillation... analogous to Cubism where you have various standpoints simultaneously...

WTM: Where/when do you work best?

CD: a) in a cultural vacuum... I don't need much stimulus...

b) In the morning (fast/effective) and in the evening (inventive/intuitive).

WTM: What is YOUR reason to keep your cuts so short?

CD: a) I am very impatient when it comes to music (and art and films)...

b) I don't like redundancy... 98% of all music is WAY too long...

c) I like surprises...

d) The transition from one to the next is important... some tracks are the background for others... the impression has to be fresh... the previous tracks being still present... like with food... some tastes play off of each other well...

f) The only thing that I have taken to heart from the 80s: never be boring. A little aside: what I don't understand is why is most music so long? I always thought we live in the information age where time is precious and attention spans are short and people are used to fast cuts and bursts of information... and what do we see? Music titles are longer than in the 50s... they go on and on and most of them hold no surprises...

WTM: Let me just offer a short possible explanation. It is precisely BECAUSE attention spans have shortened and our ability to find expansive periods of time [we have to purchase vacations, anti-stress courses, meditation…] for DEEP breathing, for contemplation, for digressing is becoming a losing battle in the war of psychic and employment globalization and the 24-hour economy. It has grown more difficult [and the public sphere is shrinking and being privatized but at the same time it is getting noisier and more crowded] so that some musicians rather than ape the hyper flitting across gleaming surfaces maybe want to be a counter-friction to it. Maybe they want to offer meditative removes from this speed-is-sexy syndrome and offer a musical park, like a sigh of noises, like a drone that is a sabot thrown into the assembly line gears. I like dub because it tends to be the opposite of our culture - it is slow and is not afraid of the scary silences that so many people seem to be afraid of. In silences and expansiveness comes the ability to delve deeper and question the perpetual ride on the over-hyped speedy glitzy surface present. Only my humble opinion...

CD: Makes sense... so there is only the present moment... is this a Buddhist achievement? I don't know... this has its merits but somehow I like the process of change... I get saturated quickly...

WTM: And so, are you still working on your Hitler speeches disc. It seems perfect timing for "your" Austria. It could be called "From Hitler to Haider".

CD: It's very ironic... when I did it I had no idea... I consider it finished... Staalplat didn't want it... so it's just sitting on my hard drive... Haider is not as sonically inspiring and emblematic...

WTM: There must be some label out there willing to deal with it. There are lots of other labels. Try Ant-Zen / Hymen or Prikosnovenie or Noise Museum or … So, are your Hitler plunderings going to happen?

CD: I'm not sure if it is a good idea now after the developments in Austria... last year it would have been perfect...

WTM: I'd like to know just a little about the original "reason" for this plundering at this/that time.

CD: Two years ago I was preparing for a workshop I was giving at the School of Poetry in Vienna, sound sample poetry to illustrate some possibilities. I came up with this... but its something I've wanted to do for a long time... in order to study the material, to condense and expose it, to suggest a different way of listening... to ridicule it...

WTM: I think if no one will release it, it should be a private release. Perhaps my short story "Hitler's Dog" about Hitler's last days told from his dog's point of view could be the accompanying booklet. Maybe call it "Hitler's Dog".

CD: The last track is even called "Hitler's Dogs" (Hitler barking times 6)... it would be great... my concern is about the timing... now it seems like an afterthought... I'm not sure... maybe I should try these labels...

WTM: Anyway, is inventing / putting these pieces together fun or do you NEED to do them?

CD: Both... mostly fun and interesting, especially at the beginning. The final production phases (fine-tuning and finding the perfect running order and transitions) can be a drag...

WTM: How do you know your pieces are finished?

CD: When things fall into place... mostly they do... in some cases immediately... sometimes it requires more effort...

WTM: Who do you listen to in your leisure time?

CD: I hardly ever listen to music anymore. If I do, it's current stuff that I get from Mille Plateaux or musician/friends... sometimes I search out stuff on the internet... I am mostly digesting...

• bart plantenga: Amsterdam-born, U.S.-bred DJ, journalist and novelist. He has been a DJ for 14 years in Paris, NY and now Amsterdam. He is the author of many radio / music / culture articles as well as a short story collection, "WIGGLING WISHBONE: Stories of Pata-sexual Speculation". His novel "CONFESSIONS OF A BEER MYSTIC" will be published in 2000.
Contact: Zeilstraat 23 / II • 1075 SB Amsterdam • the Netherlands • ninplant@xs4all.nlwfmu.org/~bart

radio: Wreck This Mess on Radio 100 [99.3FM] Fridays 23.00-24.00 Amsterdam time + Live webcast www.desk.nl/~dfm and on Radio Patapoe [97.2FM] Mondays 17.30-19.00 Amsterdam time

E-mail: cduca@t0.or.at
Curd Duca Online: www.t0.or.at/~cduca/

Mille Plateaux: www.mille-plateaux.net/mp/