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mlat46: G.R.R.L.
Made Like A Tree Podcast Series

In Made Like a Tree, US, March 12 2011. Note: Although it's a bit unclear, this excellent podcast was made by the MLAT staff, and not by Terre.


[Kawasaki, Japan. March 12th, 2011] -- Terre Thaemlitz (who is behind G.R.R.L.) has had no shortage of guest appearance around the world's music blogs. She has had multiple appearances in prior interviews, reviews, academies, side-bar commentaries, symposiums, dissents, explorations, and even other podcast submissions. Those of us who have had a chance to chat with him are quite fond of Terre. This podcast/interview is simply taking a look at one of her projects that doesn't get as much attention as say, "DJ Sprinkles." The G.R.R.L. project does two primary things: by nature of its very name, it challenges the meaning of gender and the culture of gender roles ("what is a 'g.r.r.l' and what does it stand for?"), and it makes a stand against the economics and processes of the music industry. The tracks made under the G.R.R.L. guise are deliberately varied and are collectively unclassifiable (they're incapable of being pigeon-holed). Amongst the many genres available on G.R.R.L.'s self titled CD are "Techxotica & Electrocynicism," "Improvisational Lounge," and "Abstract Drum & Bass." In an industry that perpetually seeks to "define, package, and sell," G.R.R.L. refuses to join in - G.R.R.L. would not be that controllable desire you can own. The following is pretty straight-forward; a quality few words from Terre Thaemlitz in regards to elements surrounding the ideology of G.R.R.L., and a selection of some of her best tracks compiled into a podcast. Be sure to also check out the segment when Terrre spoke on NPR as well as when we interviewed her previously back in the early days of MLAT.

G.R.R.L. is one of the several projects under which you simultaneously produce music and project yourself before what you've identified as a mass cultural issue. Even though your projects (DJ Sprinkles, K-SHE, Terre Thaemlitz, Nue Wuss Fusion, et. al.) each have their own vantage point and varying degrees of concentration, they are all directed to and built upon a common set of values. Would you say that G.R.R.L. - under which you arguably release the most eclectic selection of your electronic productions - is the most eclectic ideologically? How would you single it out?

Actually, I would say the opposite - that G.R.R.L. is the least eclectic ideologically. It's a very literal take on the notion of multilayered and simultaneous identities. Although the tracks themselves may be very eclectic, the theme is quite singular... and that theme is "diversity." Not in the fluffy, liberal way where people fantasize about diversity devoid of domination, but diversity as we experience it within systems of domination. Schizophrenia, social disruption, cultural and industrial non-cooperation, confusion, loss of self...

Its no secret that "G.R.R.L." doesn't even stand for anything; that rather its simply a reference to the phasing ambiguity, divide, and elusiveness of gender (sexuality) and gender roles (culture) that we are perpetually bombarded with.

Yes, the project name "G.R.R.L." and the title of the first track "B.O.I." are simply meant to beg the question, "What does that stand for?" What do the terms "girl" and "boy" stand for socially, culturally, physically, etc.? It's as simple as that - again, very straight forward compared to some of my other projects. All of the other track titles also refer to some role we might take on in a given dance scene. Of course, when you cross genres like this, you become suspect to the people focussing exclusively in those genres. It's a kind of transgression that can be as socially alienating as sexual or gender transgression. I recall the first tracks I made were the more Techno tracks like "Gorilla" and "B.O.I.," and I let former Instinct labelmate Taylor Deupree listen. Taylor is a super sweet and good natured person, and I really wanted his honest reaction as a Techno producer, but he didn't know how to respond because they were produced in a way that he could not tell if I was "joking" or not. And if it was a joke, was I laughing with him or at him? I never did get any real feedback on the tracks themselves, but I certainly got an honest reaction in that sense. It really typified this connection between music and identity that I wished to bring to the fore. And like with other identities, "coming out" with Techno or other genres I did not usually work in - or even criticized and disliked - created similar tensions.

You've always been an outspoken critic of the music industry (and its distribution). The recent talks you've done with mnml sggs robustly captures the essence of your positions there. Would you classify the G.R.R.L. project as the artistic embodiment of your response to this industry - that juxtaposing G.R.R.L. productions (of which there are various styles) disables the project to be placed in a single category by dance music distribution or shops? On your website you note that "this [very] gesture played into your [own] larger interest in unveiling social processes behind the construction of social identities, and the cultural flow of identity-based information."

Yes, absolutely. The album was released in 1997 - probably recorded in 1996, shortly after I was released from my Artist contract with Instinct Records. Of course, I had been focussing on producing Ambient at that time, and with "Soil" had all but abandoned rhythm. But when I put feelers out to different labels, they were all like, "We're doing Jungle now. Can you make some of that?" Or, "Make us some hard Techno stuff!" They totally didn't care what genres I preferred working in, or what genres they may have released in the past. It was all about sales and distribution, which is always very closed stylistically. If your glass is half full you might the market became "over specialized" instead of "closed," but there definitely was and is a real refusal to release or distribute materials that don't fit into the established genres. So I made G.R.R.L. with each track reflecting the flavors of the day. On the one hand, I was giving the labels/distributors/shops what they wanted. On the other hand, by combining them on a single disc it would be completely undistributable. The system was only set up to distribute projects conforming to a single genre. And that's exactly what happened - no surprises. [Laughs]

Let's talk a little bit about the G.R.R.L. album - its built off a vibrating cache of sensibility, the most (and primary) position being to "embrace [the movie] Space Jam as a powerful deconstruction of the cultural fabrication of desire, as exemplified by its lackluster appeal despite shameless over-financing and over-promotion." How seemingly random that must come off at first glance to those new to you, or at least to this project... Care to elaborate past what you've already touched on in the G.R.R.L.IFESTO?

First, I'm a big Bugs Bunny fan. I'm referring to the original Mel Blanc cartoons from the 1950's. Bugs is a true transgendered star, always switching genders or dressing in drag as the occasion requires. I've been known to start some lectures with a transgendered reading of "What's Opera Doc?" as a tale of transphobic and homophobic bashing, and the risks of coming out. But starting around 1980, there was a major cultural shift that I believe destroyed American animation both stylistically and ideologically. The shift was that all children's programming had to feature children talking to children. Adult or age-ambiguous characters (such as Bugs Bunny) became taboo, unless the adults were presented as oafs who know less than their children (Homer Simpson, etc.). Also, everything had to be ridiculously positivist. You don't tell children, "No!" The result was Muppet Babies, Tiny Tune Adventures, Elmo, etc. What this did was condition children of that generation (what was it, Generation X? I forget...) with an incredible sense of self-entitlement which, I believe, stemmed from this representational strategy in which children learned from children. It fostered the idea that they know everything themselves and are self-sustainable. This is, of course, problematic and leads to a very peculiar form of egotism. This childrens' world was a mirror of changes in the "adult world" under Reaganomics; cultural changes that were visually accompanied by animation becoming "3D." Traditionally flat graphics were suddenly rounded with gradational shading, etc. And today we have things like Dreamworks Animation with its over-the-top bulbous CG designs.

The interesting thing is that the visual arts have a long history in which illusionism and representational art is generally associated with conservative and spiritualist ideologies, whereas minimalism and arts that emphasize the physical nature of the materials themselves tend to be favored by materialists, constructivists, leftists, etc. So I find it more than coincidental that Reaganomics brought with it a cultural shift in representational strategies that dragged us all deeper into illusion, including graphic illusionism with shadows and the falsification of 3D images that lead us away from a more direct viewing of the object itself (the TV, the screen, the inks used to animate, etc.). So by the time "Space Jam" came out, the Warner Bros. studios were already long destroyed as far as I was concerned. Clearly, this bizarre packaging of more 3D Bugs Bunny teamed up with a basketball star was total post-80's corporate formula shit. As a fan of the old Bugs, I felt betrayed. [Laughs]

The billboards and posters and other advertising was inescapable. And to top it all off was the soundtrack, which actually featured the byline, "Music featured in and inspired by the motion picture..." I mean, who the fuck could be INSPIRED by Space Jam? What could it possibly inspire? R. Kelly's, "I Believe I Can Fly" is the benchmark, with all it's bombastic gospel choirs and over-production. And to think this overly sincere song is - at least as we are told - inspired by the "Space Jam" movie is culturally telling. It tells us about the depth of the construction of our emotions. If "I Believe I Can Fly" is the sound of the corporate and trite "Space Jam," what is the sound of ideological depth? (For me, clearly it was constructivism, minimalism, etc... the sonic equivalent of "flat graphics," but...) Are we capable anymore? Are we immune to sound now, as we are immune to flat forms or material representational strategies? Are we too deep in the machine? You could ask the same thing about today's House music made with high bit-depth software synths and Ableton... Sonically, this very richly produced House is to yesterday's House (think of how Todd Terry always recorded in mono) what 3D animation is to American animation of yesteryear. I really believe it's not just about advancements in technology, but that the means of representation reflect the larger ideological and cultural climate. They become natural to us - seem to be normal advancements - because of the way they reflect dominant representational strategies we are familiar and comfortable with. Our tools are signs of our indoctrination. How do we respond?

I've been meaning to write a proper text about this shift in animation and kids characters for years, actually, but never got around to it yet. I touch on it a little in the text, "Introduction to Nuisance."

If G.R.R.L. were a band, who would be in it? Or is there only one G.R.R.L. out there?

Well, Chiu-Fen Chen, who did the screaming on, "China Doll (Kill All Who Call Me)," is a member for sure. And my younger brother, who was living with me at the time, is an honorary member for putting up with the recording sessions of that screaming. [Laughs] I guess Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan are members, too. The members would have to be as eclectic and illogical as the tracks.

Economics will obviously never fail to exist in the development of projects - business (ie - the label end), cultural (ie - the music and/or ideological end), or otherwise. Even though you wouldn't describe yourself as an optimist, could you at least project a reasonable solution (or goal) for the operation/development of music projects (culturally specific or globally), now or in the near future? How would you logistically treat this industry if you could seriously influence it?

It's never about "getting beyond economics." That kind of thinking is a problem, and we can see it's absolutely a part of music, art and other media production when we say things like, "a real artist just does what they love." Well, what I love is conditioned by my experiences and education, which is conditioned by economics. There is no "pureness" to anything we do. And I'm also totally uninterested in "solutions," because my imagination is also enslaved to desires operating in relation to my oppressions and dominations. I'm only interested in trying to understand those inescapable processes of domination that mutilate us daily - make their invisible workings visible, for myself and hopefully a few others. It's not about where we go from here. There are enough people working on that, anyway. For me, it's more urgent to just catch up with how we got here, and what the fuck we are actually doing.

As for the music industry... It's a pointless question, but... I would dismantle it. Shops, distributors, labels, festivals, symphonies, concert halls, clubs, churches, shopping malls. I would take the music out of all of them, and watch for how sounds would begin to function differently in other aspects of societies. I'm not saying things would be "better," but it would be a change.

Since you now can have a say in these things, who do you see G.R.R.L. as bearing/adopting/raising as their offspring?

Hmm, procreation metaphors. I hate those. Pass. [Laughs] G.R.R.L. is all about zero population growth. Okay, switching subject away from audio, overpopulation is a horrific problem. And culturally, I am disgusted by the egocentrism behind child rearing, especially the ownership of people. There is an incredible arrogance and selfishness behind the notion that one must leave one's own DNA behind, and that other forms of relating to children are "unnatural." Adoption systems need to be radically overhauled - not only in terms of who can adopt, but what role adoption has in society generally. Here in Japan it's really bad - they don't have the legal structures around adoption. It's more like "children not raised by their parents," but the parents remain legally in the picture, so people are afraid to adopt because they worry about the birth parents showing up at any moment. Of course, Japan is all about blood-line, so there you go... But even in countries like the US, where blood is not what makes one American, adoption still remains something suspect in the minds of most people - "will the adopted child murder the adoptive parents?" And when adopted children do display social problems, people act like it must be because they have bad DNA, "well, who knows what their parents were like..." That is fucked up. Clearly above all other influences it is the social privilege around genetic family structures - within which adopted children find themselves being raised - that is at fault. My family has a long history of adoption. Actually, we don't even have a blood connection to the Thaemlitz name. My great-great grandfather was adopted into the Thaemlitz family in the late 1800's. If I ever wanted a child (which I don't), I would adopt (which I can't - I would never be approved on both economic and ideological grounds). Genetic selection, artificial insemination, and all that stuff is problematic on so many levels. But before you even get into the huge moral ramifications of genetic selection, it seems overpopulation is a very real, material reason for people to get their baby panics under control. Think. Prepare. Drop the ego. Your DNA is nothing special. Your baby will not look like a computer morphed blend of the cutest parts of you and your lover. And remember, you live in a country with the privilege of legal abortion - if you are not ready, or believe you cannot handle the burden, or simply don't want to inflict this crap world on another human being, use that right.

Well, you're talking to someone who literally has to struggle not to cry in toy stores because the gender divide between toys for "girls" and "boys" strikes me as so oppressive... And when parents talk about how the children display natural tendencies about manhood or womanhood while playing with those toys - devastating.

You know, we spoke about the functions of optimism a bit in our last conversation, and your questions here are also leaning toward big solutions, big ideas, what would I do if I had the power, etc... And I know that is also how a lot of people tend to read my texts or interviews - as though they think I think everyone should think like I think. But it's important to emphasize that I am not talking about how to fix the world, or espousing philosophies that I feel everyone should adapt, because those presumptions would be too self-dilusional and symptomatic of the processes of cultural domination to which I am trying to critically respond. Totalizing vision is precisely what I am in resistance to. Particularly when we are in a very small community, gathered around very minor forms of media, it strikes me as the greatest trick of dominant systems that we continue to think in grandiose terms. How can we learn to think small, but precise? To think in terms that reflect our abilities? How can we develop ideas that do not rely on mass acceptance, and (very importantly) do not aspire to mass implementation? Any world vision can only lead to facism. So I am really talking about rethinking oneself within systems of domination from which there is no escape. Since it is a given that we, as individuals and little communities, have extremely little ability to enact large scale changes upon those systems of domination, what we are left with is thinking about resistance and unexpected movements within our limited abilities, approved or unapproved. One part of this is teaching oneself to think critically in unpopular and non-populist terms - if only to help ourselves see the ways dominant culture conditions our thoughts. And like I said, divesting thoughts of the desire for mass acceptance is also critical. It's an important step toward realism - such as the reality of the scope of computer music or House music in a rock'n'roll country. Once we understand our limitations, socially and subjectively, we also understand the terms of our behaviors, their scope, and we can begin acting more boldly in our private spheres. And in doing this, globalizing and far-reaching questions about "what is to be done with the world" fall to the wayside as we become increasingly focused on what is simply no longer tolerable here and now.

When I hear House music at the shopping mall it is not a sign of dominant culture's acceptance of "our" ideals. It is a sign of co-optation. And if that co-optation, which has already occurred, does not affect how we produce within that genre - if we choose to continue to produce at all - then we would just be total tools. I am simply about asking, "can we be anything else within these cultural processes?" And if the answer is, "no," then I wish to help others see that as well, so that even if things continue as they are, it continues more consciously and without the pretense of music being free, universal, blah-blah-blah. Just becoming conscious of things gradually does away with a lot of problems, since certain twists of power no longer become bearable once we feel them on a conscious level, and that leads to people turning away, which creates changes of a sort. ...That's about as much optimism as you can get out of me. [Laughs]

-->Download a copy of this podcast.

  1. Terre Thaemlitz - There Was a Girl / There Was a Boy Declaramation [Mille Plateaux]
  2. Terre Thaemlitz - Taking Stock in Our Pride [Mille Plateaux]
  3. Terre Thaemlitz - G.R.R.L. : Face (Extended Dub Edit) [Comatonse]
  4. Terre Thaemlitz - Double Secret [Comatonse]
  5. Terre Thaemlitz - Chugga : Theme From Buck Rogers Light Rope Dance (500 Year Orbit Mix) [Comatonse]
  6. Zeitkratzer & Terre Thaemlitz - Down Town Kami-Sakunobe [Zeitkratzer Records]
  7. Terre Thaemlitz - Commodité Sexuelle [Mille Plateaux]
  8. DJ Sprinkles - Brenda's $20 Dilemma [Mule Musiq]
  9. DJ Sprinkles - Ball'r (Madonna Free Zone) [Mule Musiq]
10. Terre Thaemlitz - Chugga : Theme From Buck Rogers Light Rope Dance (Deep Space Probe Mix) [Comatonse]
11. Terre Thaemlitz - Systole.009 [Mille Plateaux]
12. Terre Thaemlitz - Residual Expectation [Caipirinha Productions]
13. Terre Thaemlitz - Resistance to Change - 4. Transformative Nostaligia [Mille Plateaux]
14. DJ Sprinkles - Midtown 120 Blues [Mule Musiq]
15. DJ Sprinkles - Grand Cental Station. Pt. II (72hrs. By Rail From Missouri) [Mule Musiq]