© t thaemlitz/comatonse recordings
In Groove (DE), November/December 2013, Issue 145. Unpublished complete English interview included at bottom of page.
Download Full List: GROOVE145_beste_alben_web.pdf
24. Midtown 120 Blues
DJ Sprinkles (alias Terre Thaemlitz) über Midtown 120 Blues
Terre, kannst du dich an die Zeit erinnern, in der du Midtown 120 Blues aufgenommen hast?
Das Album ist in etwa sechs Monaten zwischen 2007 und 2008 entstanden. Mule Musique hatte zuvor bereits die You? Again?-Compilation mit einigen vergriffenen Comatonse-Platten herausgebracht und mich nach einer LP gefragt. Doch ich war nicht wirklich überzeugt, dass ihnen das Ergebnis überhaupt gefallen würde, da sie zuvor einige meiner Remixe ablehnten. Neben stilistischen Bedenken gab es auch inhaltliche Fragen, da sie den ganzen Queer- und Transgender-Kontext und die kritische Botschaft des Albums nicht begriffen.
Hast du mit dem Erfolg des Albums gerechnet?
Für mich war es einfach nur ein weiteres Album. Seit 1993 veröffentliche ich Musik, meist recht unbeachtet, besonders außerhalb von Japan. Ich habe nicht damit gerechnet, dass Midtown 120 Blues etwas daran ändern würde, doch ich habe unterschätzt, welch gute Pressearbeit Mule im Ausland leistet. Ich denke nicht, dass so viel Wind um das Album gemacht wurde, weil meine Produktionen auf einmal so viel besser waren. Nein, Midtown 120 Blues ist genauso schlecht wie alles, was ich zuvor gemacht habe. Glaubst du, dass du durch Midtown 120 Blues viele neue Hörer gewonnen hast? Vielleicht, obwohl ich nicht glaube, dass mehr Hörer auch immer etwas Gutes sein müssen. Ich versuche nie dem Mainstream zu gefallen oder meine Sprache zu zügeln, wenn ich Themen wie Gender, Sexualität, Migration, Klassen, Ethnizität und so weiter anspreche, was dazu beiträgt, dass viele neue Zuhörer schnell wieder das Interesse verlieren. Das einzige Publikum, das wirklich zählt, sind die Leute, die auf meine Projekte aufmerksam werden, weil sie selbst mit den Problemen zu kämpfen haben, auf die ich mich konzentriere.
Unpublished complete English interview:
1. Can you remember the time you've recorded "Midtown 120 Blues"; was it produced in a couple of weeks during focused work? What kept you busy during that time and how would you describe this time (the time when you produced the album) of your life today?
It's definitely not what I would consider the album of my life. I think the "Lovebomb" video release, "Soulnessless," or even K-S.H.E "Routes not Roots" are much more developed and effective in their delivery of messages. Although "Midtown 120 Blues" has gotten broader reception, I think the responses to those other projects have been more engaging for me.
"Midtown 120 Blues" was produced over several months in 2007 and 2008. I'd say it took about six months of pretty focussed work. I started the album shortly after I had managed to get my old electroacoustic releases on Mille Plateaux removed from unauthorized distribution on iTunes, Juno, eMusic and a bunch of other major online distributors - a process which had taken several years. Within that context, one of the main reasons I decided to do "Midtown..." for Mule was because I knew they had proper online distribution, and I wanted to see if it was actually possible for labels such as them to have an album removed from online distribution after the contract was up - or would it once again mean years of trouble to get it removed? It was a real experiment, and I was more concerned about that question of removal from online distribution than about any possible boost in sales by having it sold online. (The answer was yes, it's possible for labels to get things removed from distribution, but it still seems to take a few requests.) Of course, for an album like "Midtown...," sales have never matched the album's online hype, and I think it's pretty likely that more people have an illegal download than an official copy. I mean, I have had fans write me about how they love the album, and then close with a line about how they hope to buy a real copy some day. Why would you say that? Just keep it to yourself... [Laughs]
Anyway, previous to "Midtown 120 Blues," Mule had put out the "You? Again?" compilation of some of my out-of-print vinyl releases on Comatonse, and asked me to do an album for them, but I was not convinced they would care for the results. I consider them a techno label, really, and I had previously done some remix work for them that they rejected. Beyond stylistic concerns, there were also content issues. Mule wasn't open to my including text, let alone bi-lingual text for the domestic Japanese market. It should have had a much longer booklet. They even questioned the aesthetics of titles like "Deep Into the Bowel of House." They clearly didn't get the whole queer and transgendered content, nor my critical approach to production. It was like a throwback to the days of my first albums on Instinct Records, and their prohibitions on content as well. It was kind of a tragic comedy, really. I found myself arguing for stuff that I hadn't argued for in many years. And conversely the label was utterly confused and thought I was just being a pissy artist. I also wanted them to hire more explicitly queer remixers, hopefully from the NY scene, but that didn't happen. That's the climate we produce in. I think a lot of people have missed how the critical message of the album was not simply a blanket questioning of the house marketplace, but of my own participation in that market, as well as Mule's. We were all targets within the album's argument. So in that way I had approached the album's production with the same self-reflective critique found in my Mille Plateaux albums.
2. Did you expect the massive positive feedback and success of the album - or was it more like "just another lp" for you?
Just another LP, really. But that doesn't mean I didn't approach the project seriously. I had been self-releasing house EP's since 1993, all of which were largely unknown outside of Japan, so I was used to my house releases not getting any attention abroad. In 2006 I put out a full length house album as K-S.H.E, "Routes not Roots," which also flew totally under radar (until it was re-issued by Skylax in 2010, basically riding on post-"Midtown..." hype). So during production I was expecting the same anonymity. I honestly didn't realize how well Mule's press engine worked in Europe, because their image here in Japan was not so big at the time. Honestly, I think the fact "Midtown..." got the degree of buzz that it did was mostly because it was released through a label with proper distribution and promotion. It's precisely "how things work." I don't think the buzz was about some jump in the quality of my productions. I think "Midtown..." is as bad as everything else I've done.
3. Do you think that "Midtown 120 Blues" opened the doors to your music/backcatalog for a completly new listenership?
Maybe, although I am not convinced broader listenership is always a meaningful or good thing. But I'm also not too worried about it, since most listeners - especially clubbers - are fickle and quickly lose interest. I always try my best not to dilute language or make mainstream appeals when discussing rather specific issues of gender, sexuality, migration, class, race, ethnicity, etc. - which also helps a lot of people in that new listenership quickly lose interest. For me, the only audience that really matters are those people who stumble upon my projects because they themselves are actively struggling with the issues I tend to focus on. And, by the very nature of cultural dominations, they - we - are always going to be a subset of the broader "consumer audience" that record labels and distributors are concerned with. I understand that when labels mis-promote or over-promote something, they are just doing their job as sales people. Similarly, I see it as my job to actively interfere with those standard marketing strategies - to publicly and privatley interfere with my own movement within, and subjugation to capitalism. In a way, that is my actual "project." Releasing albums is just a means of cultural activation for that larger project.
4. Why has the album never been released as a classic double/triple vinyl album? Were there any economic (or other) reasons for that?
Economic, for sure. It's an 80 minute album. If you want to master it right for club use, that probably means triple or quadruple vinyl. Then packaging costs.... At that price factor, it would cost a fortune and I doubt you could move 200 copies. In any case, Mule's system is to put out a CD album, then a series of singles with remixes by people they expect can move numbers. As a label, I think they usually count on the remix sales to help cover the cost of album production. For "Midtown..." they put out three vinyl EP's, containing both original tracks and remixes, which I think is substantial. I honestly don't know why people bitch about the lack of vinyl for the "Midtown...." project.
5. We just heard that you don't want the album to be rereleased on vinyl - is that true? If so, why?
It's not that I explicitly don't want it released on vinyl. It's just that I don't think it makes sense. Not only because of vinyl's time constraints, but because of the quality of the actual recordings themselves. They contain a lot of spatialization techniques and spectral ranges that do not transfer well to vinyl. Especially because I do a lot of panning with low frequencies. Most people don't realize vinyl is preferably cut with the bass frequencies in central mono. Also, due to the recordings' lack of audio compression, the cutting level on vinyl would appear quite soft, which means vinyl's signal to noise ratio is blown. That means louder static. Meanwhile, the CD is basically the direct master recordings. As a collector, or even just a regular consumer, why wouldn't you prefer a copy of the masters?