BY JUSTIN HARDISON
PHOTO BY BART NAGEL
For more info:
month will mark the second year anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist
attacks and it seems like an excellent chance to contemplate how
those events may have changed my own views on religious fanaticism,
the role of the U.S. government in international affairs as well
as how our policies effect the lives of millions. As a musician
and music/sound enthusiast, I remember how irrelevant my passion
for music felt as the scent of smoke and ash from the WTC was
blowing through our Brooklyn neighborhood for weeks afterwards.
A short time later, we witnessed the pop music and entertainment
industries banding together and performing concerts for the victims
of the attacks. Music fans found solace in their favorite songs.
The press wrote pieces on musicians and their responsibility to
bring love back into the world. However, few seemed to mention
the need for musicians to address the storm of emotions and ideals
that have surfaced post 9/11.
As you'll read in my interview, a Japanese writer in a previous
interview asked musician, sound artist and label owner, Terre
Thaemlitz about this need to replenish love and Thaemlitz challenged
the notion by pointing out how simplistic and foolish the concept
of "love" is. Everyone feels love and sometimes at the
root of hate you find love, oppression, and abuse. While President
Bush may see the world as good vs.evil and try to warn the American
public of evil doers, artists like Terre Thaemlitz are addressing
the complex nature of love, good, and violent confrontation.
Thaemlitz's new album, "Lovebomb" on Mille Plateux is
a sound collage work based around these ideas and detailed essay
in the linear notes offer personal views and reasoning behind
the selection of much of the source material.
I'm interested in finding out what inspired you to create an album
on the concept of love and why you decided to write the essay
you included with the album rather then leaving the interpretation
up to the listener? Well, written essays have been a part
of most of my projects for many years. I consider them a contributing
part of the entire project (as well as the graphics), and not
just an "explanation" of the music... although that
is a rather typical response simply because audio producers are
largely discouraged from discussing audio in clear or intelligible
ways. Liner notes are usually limited to lyrics (poems), with
occasional essays left to third-party music editors, etc... In
fact, you can see how the framing of your question positions my
text against the interpretation of the consumer as "listener,"
rather than identifying it as another communicative element of
the entire project intended for the consumer as "reader."
This is totally common—in fact, when I first started including
texts with my projects around 1997, I received tons of hate mail
from people accusing me of blocking their ability to interpret
the music "freely," etc... to which I always respond,
"If you don't like it, simply don't read it." But I
think what they were complaining about is total bullshit. Music
is never interpreted "freely." It is interpreted according
to our preconceptions about genres, the social groups which produce
and consume those genres, and any other number of things.
thing that is different about this project's text is that it was
planned as bilingual (English and Japanese) from the beginning.
Having only been living permanently in Japan for a little over
two years now, I am still facing many language challenges—this
shows in the heavy use of English samples in the audio. So with
this project I wanted to include transcriptions of all spoken
word samples for the Japanese audience—almost like a lyric
sheet. In the past I have tried to downplay the necessity for
a precise understanding of spoken word samples, in favor of a
more abstract exchange between what the listener might hear and
what they might read in an accompanying text. But, given my recent
experiences with gaps in understanding (even when things are clearly
spelled out for me), I thought it would be both helpful and fun
to include detailed notes, realizing clarity is still never really
also isn't my first project on the theme of love. In particular,
"Love For Sale: Taking Stock In Our Pride" was about
the commodification of Lesbian and Gay sexuality via the "Pink
economy," and the consumption of systems of romance. But,
as with most of my projects, there are a few simultaneous inspirations.
I think there is enough introspective music out there that it
makes no sense for me to dwell on the super-personal reasons for
making this album (but, gee, I'll bet you could never guess based
on the title!). The main start of this project, though, came out
of an interview I had just after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S.
A Japanese magazine was asking musicians to write about how we
needed music now more than ever to bring the world love, and my
response was basically the opposite—that the attacks showed
how totally empty, absurd and unfocused the rhetoric of love is
in the music community. I suggested that rather than songs of
love, we need songs of strategy - people trying to really generate
social dialogue rather than simply pandering platitudes to an
empty-headed mob... not to mention the dangers of nationalist
profiteering in the aftermath of such a tragedy, etc...
people flying those airplanes into buildings on 9/11 had true
love for their cause. I have no doubt about that. So... is love
really the answer?
you mind elaborating on your quote: "Love is...a redundant
construction of pacifying hysteria, a mandatory insult to appease
our senses. It's persuasive image of universality is its greatest
act of culturally invasive violence. A perverse mirror of the
cut." Just to explain for your readers, in the CD booklet
the transcriptions of spoken word samples for each track are followed
by a little smart-ass blurb in the spirit of the old Charlie Brown
"Happiness is..." books, and that stupid L.A. Times
cartoon "Love is..." (which Homer Simpson once aptly
summed up as "a story about two naked eight year olds who
are married"). This quote is from the last track, "Main
Theme From Lovebomb," so it is a kind of synopsis of the
basic idea of this quote, and "Lovebomb" in general,
is to question the notion of love (in particular, the Western
model) as universal (ex. the idea that love is a constant, from
culture to culture, person to person, era to era). The fact most
people accept the current Western model of love as universal is
an act of social wizardry... brainwashing, I would say. "It's
persuasive image of universality is its greatest act of culturally
invasive violence," is a reference to the "violence"
of this brainwashing, from the individual level to cross-cultural
conditioning via Hollywood, etc.
line is actually a slight rewrite of the notes to an earlier track,
"Anthropological Interventionism," which is about love
songs being a form of anthropology, and therefore subject to the
critiques of anthropological bias. That track's audio partly consists
of a "COPS" style domestic dispute, the key images being
hysteria and possessiveness (as opposed to more romantic love
song themes). "Love is a redundant construction of pacifying
hysteria, a mandatory insult to appease our senses" is in
reference to the way in which love relations facilitate or justify
this kind of behavior. Love forms the outlet for violence and
hysterics, justifying it via the family unit, love for one's religion
or nation, etc. This image of love is rather simplistic and insulting,
but culturally mandatory. Many cultures rely on this function
of love as a means of restricting certain forms of violence to
certain social spheres.
institutions such as marriage and coupleship rely on images of
love as a "bonding" device. However, I think love actually
serves as a fracturing device. Couples typically become increasingly
insular over time, alienated from friends and others. In this
way, the image of love as a force bringing people together is
a kind of "perverse mirror reflection" of a counter
reality, the social "cut" of the couple from society
kind of response have you had to the album? For myself, it really
made me think about the destructive results brought on by passion
and how we use love and compassion to justify a lot of terrible
political decisions. The responses I've received personally,
as well as those I've read, seem pretty good... but when was the
last time you went up to a friend and told them their project
sucked? Or took the time to write and publish a total slam on
a project you hated? Let's just say people love it! Ha, ha.
finished a full video translation of the album, which is released
through my personal label Comatonse Recordings. It's currently
only available on the web site (www.comatonse.com/releases/v002.html).
People who have never heard the album seem to like it a lot—especially
people who are not necessarily drawn to computer music in and
of itself. But there is a bit of a nice surprise reaction from
people who were familiar with album beforehand. Somewhat related
to your first question, I think images can challenge the consumer's
interpretations even more than text. So I tried to use images
that did not overpower the audio, and were not your typical CGI
computer music videos.
are you drawn more towards sound collage/experimental/political
forms of work as opposed to more traditional song writing? Would
you say it's your background in art and design or is this just
what you're working with at the moment. You've seemed to approach
a lot of different music genres over the years... Because
traditional song writing is boring. It's been done really well
by a lot of people for a really long time, and I am not interested
in spending the time it takes to acquire the skills involved to
write songs when the results would only be predictable in the
reasons for producing in a lot of different genres, from abstract
computer music to house music to computer-composed neo-expressionist
piano solos, is to show how music is simply about emulating signs—it
is not about originality or talent. It's just about regurgitation.
Computer music, too. The formula for genius, by the way, is simply
a proper combination of what people expect within a genre, combined
with a random dash of the opposite.
did you go about selecting source material for Lovebomb? What
kinds of elements were you looking for? In general, I wanted
to use a lot of "outdated" themes—apartheid, futurism,
lynchings in the South, the U.S. use of nuclear weapons against
Japan, etc... Part of this is a kind of contrast to the way love
is considered "timeless." It was also to diffuse the
narratives of those themes and keep them from becoming simple
"testimonials." For example, "Between Empathy And
Sympathy Is Time (Apartheid)" features an early, very clearly
spoken announcement from the African National Congress about the
need for retaliatory violence against Whites—it's phrased
in a rather strange, disturbing way, I thought. This track is
not about the literal message of the speaker (outdated as it is).
It is about most listeners starting with an unquestionable desire
to sympathize with the anti-apartheid cause... but over time,
i think the dark twists of the speaker's plans for acquiring weapons
and random retaliation make most listeners question their originally
unquestionable desire for alliance. It's ultimately about this
moment of questioning an unquestionable alliance—a doubt
in love, brought about by a sudden awareness of the potential
for violence. As with most tracks on the album, this theme could
be interpreted on a large-scale cultural level, or interpersonal
interested in how you were able to get the African National Conference
Spokesperson sample to follow the tune of "Loving You"?
I'm interested in some of the software you are currently using
in your work? That
was done using an unreleased UNIX-based software suite called
PV Nation, developed by Christopher Penrose, a computer music
professor. That particular process is called "Co-depend,"
which crosses two audio files but is a bit different from vocoding.
In vocoding, you run one "master" file through another
"target" file. In codepending, both files contribute
as sources and filters to the output file. There is no hierarchy
that track there is no actual timing relation between the spoken
word and the song - the song just runs throughout.
notice you have an interest in a little bit of everything from
design, to the label, illustration, HIV/AIDs education, transgender
issues, writing...You must be very busy! Yeah, I work entirely
alone, so I keep busy... but mostly with administration bullshit—email,
postal mail... and unfortunately being busy has nothing to do
with earning a living! Media production is all about building
visibility around yourself and hoping somebody will occasionally
ask you to do something for pay. My situation is the same as a
lot of people's... unfortunately, music is the thing I spend the
least time on. I haven't been able to work on a project for a
did you move to Tokyo from California? Well, there are a lot
of reasons. A big one was that my work was increasingly split
between Germany and Japan. Most Europeans are more familiar with
my computer music, but in Japan I was considered more of a deephouse
producer and DJ. This is because of my Comatonse Recordings label,
which focuses on a mix of jazz, ambient and dance music, and has
only really been distributed in Japan. So it made sense for me
to be either in Europe or Japan. For my work, I like Japan better
than Europe because most of my projects are somehow about the
relationship between music and commerce (as opposed to art and
subsidy), and in Japan things are much more related to commerce
than subsidy. More personally speaking, I like Japan because there
are few guns and drugs—things which have plagued the places
I have lived in America, from the rural to the urban. I was 32
when I first moved here, and I went through a kind of shock at
feeling safe—truly safe—for the first time in my life.
That is not to say foreigners do not face discrimination or other
troubles in Japan—they can be fierce—but it was my first
time to really live with a sense of physical safety. It blew my
mind. Changed my life.
has daily and creative life changed for you since the move?
Language is the biggest change. I'm really a dumb-fuck mono linguistic
American when it comes to language, and cannot sit down to study.
I knew a little Japanese before moving here, but not much... like,
I could ask a question, but was totally unequipped to deal with
any answer someone might give me! I guess I'm doing okay, though...
for someone who has only been here for as long as I have. My computer
OS is in Japanese, as well as many of my applications and email.
That has helped a lot. Also, speaking daily with my partner and
What's ahead for Comatonse? This is actually the 10th anniversary
of Comatonse Recordings! I am preparing a special anniversary
compilation called, "Below Code." Aside from being a
bit of self-deprecating humor, the title is a reference to the
fact that Comatonse sales have always been "below radar"
and none of our releases have ever had a UPC code. The distribution
I have received has been through Japanese house distributors,
which has limited the kinds of music I can release.
avoid these kinds of distribution issues, "Below Code"
will be limited to 250 copies, all of which will be given away
for free. The contributing artists will each get 10 copies—that
will leave around 100 for me to give away. I will put information
on the web site about it when the time comes (maybe November?).
Unfortunately, for the copies available through the web site,
it looks like I'll have to ask people to cover the cost of shipping
from Japan. I haven't quite figured this out yet.
Code" features a large range of music from friends and family,
pro and amateur. Some of the better known contributors include
SND, Haco, Scanner, Simon Fisher Turner, and Jane Dowe. It also
has some stuff from my mom and dad, a Japanese promoter I work
with who formed a punk band, a track from a misguided rock demo
I received but love, and a writer friend of mine who arranged
for a special congratulatory message from Lou Ferrigno, the original
Incredible Hulk! I'm really excited about it all.
business frustrations with the music industry are increasingly
leading me toward music that is "non-releasable," by
which I mean home performances, non-professionals, non-recorded
music. Home keyboards with no MIDI or line outputs. Things that
happen everywhere, but remain undocumented... because the money's
about the same! Ha, ha! Oh, wait, that's not funny at all...
on visiting the U.S. anytime soon? Maybe a personal visit
with the family and friends, but no performances or anything soon.
I might perform in Canada at the Vancouver New Music Festival
in 2005... that would be my first N.American performance since
1997. Kind of a bummer. I never did get much work in the U.S....
but, at the same time, I'm glad as fuck to be out of that shit-hole.
Whether Japan really works out or not, having left for this short
time I hope to never permanently live in the U.S. again. After
leaving the country I was finally able to accept how unhappy I
had been there. My investment over the years in issues of cultural
criticism, education and activism were obviously related to coping
with that unhappiness, and I think I'll always have an undercurrent
of nihilism wherever I live, but in the end it was really socially
unhealthy for me. I'm glad to have the opportunity to experience
something different, and am trying to cherish it.