terre thaemlitz | dj sprinkles | other aliases | image gallery
Terre Thaemlitz (1968) is an award winning multi-media producer, writer, public speaker, educator, audio remixer, DJ and owner of the Comatonse Recordings record label. Her work combines a critical look at identity politics - including gender, sexuality, class, linguistics, ethnicity and race - with an ongoing analysis of the socio-economics of commercial media production. He has released over 15 solo albums, as well as numerous 12-inch singles and video works. Her writings on music and culture have been published internationally in a number of books, academic journals and magazines. As a speaker and educator on issues of non-essentialist Transgenderism and Queerness, Thaemlitz has lectured and participated in panel discussions throughout Europe and Japan. As of January, 2001, he resides in Kawasaki, Japan.
Thaemlitz was born in Minnesota in 1968, and her family eventually relocated to Springfield, Missouri, which he considers her home town. Throughout his youth Thaemlitz was drawn toward electronic music as an antithesis to the oppressive rock and country culture around her. Thaemlitz moved to New York in 1986 to study at the Cooper Union School of Art, from which he received a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts (BFA) in 1990. During her studies he became disillusioned with the exclusionary politics of the visual arts industry, and began focussing on issues of cultural theory and identity politics. Surrounded by the musical subcultures of Manhattan's Lower East Side, Thaemlitz' longstanding interest in electronic music quickly led her to DJ-ing at activist benefits under the name "DJ Sprinkles. "In 1991 he became a resident DJ at the infamous mid-town transexual club Sally's II, where she performed three nights per week with transgendered legend Dorian Corey and others.
Thaemlitz became known for his unique intermixing of musical genres and moods, her parties dubbed "DJ Sprinkles' Deeperama "- an approach which predated the presence of "Chill Rooms "in New York. He was presented with an Underground Grammy Award for "Best DJ 1991" by Sally's House of Magic. Between 2003-2006, DJ Sprinkles' Deeperama became a resident party held on the second friday of every month at Club Module in Tokyo, and continues today through one-off engagements around the world. DJ Sprinkles' debut full-length album, "Midtown 120 Blues," was selected as "Best Album of 2009" by the influential online music site Resident Advisor.
Thaemlitz first began focusing on producing her own tracks in 1992, expanding on his concept of DJ-ing as a form of tape manipulation and collage. In 1993, Thaemlitz started her own record label Comatonse Recordings, which released primarily on custom colored and audiophile collector's vinyl. His first release "Comatonse.000, "featuring the tracks "Raw Through a Straw "and "Tranqulizer, "gained international recognition from such preeminent ambient producers as Mixmaster Morris (The Irresistible Force), The Orb and Bill Laswell. The majority of Comatonse Recordings releases are Thaemlitz' solo projects released under various aliases, fostering her unique "Fagjazz "sound which fuses deep house with ambient and improvisational jazz. One of these projects, "Superbonus, "was designated with an Honorary Mention in the 1999 ORF Prix Ars Electronica under the category of Digital Musics. However, Comatonse Recordings has also issued a number of cross-categorical releases by such producers as Erik Dahl (featuring the first compositions ever produced with Csound.ppc on the PowerMac platform, the software of which was ported by Dahl himself), Los Angeles audio activists Ultra-red, Simon Fischer Turner, Scanner, and the German improvisational ensemble Zeitkratzer (performing actual acoustic adaptations of Thaemlitz' digitally composed faux-acoustic digital compositions, nonetheless). To mark Comatonse Recordings' tenth anniversary in 2003, Thaemlitz released the free-of-charge limited edition compilation "Below Code," which celebrated "10 years of sub-UPC sales" with "a collection of audio without concern for distribution." The release features a variety of contributions by known and unknown audio producers ranging from simple home recordings to unlikely pop, Japanese punk and electroacoustic ambiance.
From 1993 to 1995, Thaemlitz held a multi-record deal with New York's Instinct Records, which released his first two full-length CDs, "Tranquilizer "and "Soil. "Both albums were received as works which challenged the boundaries of contemporary ambient music by incorporating socio-materialist themes that questioned conventional applications of music for transcendental escapism. On a technical level, "Soil "marked a notable increase in Thaemlitz' utilization of direct digital synthesis software techniques, and a reduction in traditional synthesizers and MIDI-based hardware.
In March of 1996 Thaemlitz completed her multi-record deal with Instinct and established himself as an independent producer working with such labels as Caipirinha Productions (US), Daisyworld (Japan), and most notably Mille Plateaux (Germany). In critical response to a music marketplace which attempted to pigeon hole artists, Thaemlitz deliberately sought to produce in a variety of unexpected genres. For example, her 1997 anthology of electronic dance music "G.R.R.L.," self-released on Comatonse Recordings, critiqued the rigid separatism between dance genres and subcultures by juxtaposing tracks of various styles so that the CD itself could not be properly placed in a single category by dance music distributors or shops. This gesture reflected Thaemlitz' larger interest in unveiling social processes behind the construction of social identities, and the cultural flow of identity-based information.
1997 also marked the beginning of the Rubato Series (Germany: Mille Plateaux), which features emotive, neo-expressionist piano solos covering legendary techno-pop bands of the '70s. The three installments featured music by Kraftwerk, Gary Numan and Devo respectively. Each release of the Rubato series was accompanied by a text outlining Thaemlitz' rather personal feminist and transgendered analysis of each artist, including a critique of their larger cultural importance as well as their personal influences upon Thaemlitz' youth. The irony of the Rubato Series is that their emotive piano renditions (more than once characterized as "virtuoso "by members of the music press) are computer composed.
Meanwhile, Thaemlitz continued to pursue his primary interest in direct digital synthesis through "Couture Cosmetique: Transgendered Electroacoustique Symptomatic of the Need for a Cultural Makeover (...or, What's Behind All That Foundation?) "(Japan: Daisyworld Discs, US: Caipirinha Productions, 1997). Thaemlitz' first album produced entirely through direct digital synthesis, "Couture Cosmetique's "accompanying text presented a landmark analysis of the interrelationship between non-essentialist transgenderism and electroacoustic audio production techniques, citing both as methodologies which use "sampling" (audio or image-based) as a means to appropriate and recontextualize cultural signifiers. The album also saw Thaemlitz produce her first video work for the track, "Silent Passability (Ride to the Countryside)," which was filmed in upstate New York and featured appearances by transgendered performers Darienne Lake, Aggy Dune, Pandora Box and Heather Sky. Originally produced for the U.S. MTV electronic music program "Amp," the finished video was rejected as "too ambient for broadcast."
All of these varied activities are connected by a common thread: by crossing musical genres and blurring the lines between human performance and digital composition, Thaemlitz hopes to complicate notions of music's "universality" by approching different genres as systems of representation, the signifiers of which may be engaged at will and without the rigorous training typically associated with such specializations.
Thaemlitz underwent the first of two major relocations of his studio and record label in December of 1997, when she left New York for Oakland, California. It was during these years in Oakland from 1997 through the end of 2000 that Thaemlitz released a number of major electroacoustic works through the theoretical-minded German label Mille Plateaux. It is notable that each album presented a a different cultural theme, and was realized through distinct software processes which lent themselves to the expression of the theme at hand. The results were as sonically varied as the themes themselves. "Means from and End" (1998) hypothesized various strategies for producing political audio, all the while torn between romantic and dismissive critiques of Marxist discourse. "Love for Sale: Taking Stock in Our Pride" (1999) presented an in-depth analysis of the emergence of the "Pink Economy" and the ensuing commodification of Lesbian and Gay identities, one "prideful" result of which was the institutionalization of Lesbian and Gay biases against non-traditional Queer and transgendered identities that fail to conform to the molds of dominant Lesbian and Gay imagery. "Interstices" (2000) used Thaemlitz' own digital techniques of "Systolic Composition" and "Framing" to investigate the interstices (or gaps) between genders, sexual orientations, and other identity constructs; individual tracks focused on such themes as intersexual birth, surgical gender reassignment, sex acts, peer pressure, and transexual job opportunities.
Thaemlitz underwent his second major relocation in January 2001, when she moved to his current residence in Kawasaki, Japan. Shortly thereafter, she was commissioned by the Sheffield arts organization Lovebytes and the National Arts Council of England to produce a partial video adaptation of "Interstices." As with "Silent Passability," Thaemlitz personally did all writing, filming and editing. The "Interstices" video also opened up new performance possibilities, and although Thaemlitz' video work is primarily intended for home viewing, video work has since become an integral part of her computer music performances.
The 2003 album "Lovebomb/Ai No Bakudan" was his final project for Mille Plateaux, quietly released on the eve of their bankruptcy due to the collapse of Germany's key electronic music distributor EFA. Despite the unceremonious circumstances of the album's release, it was a personal landmark for Thaemlitz in terms of technique and scope of theme. "Lovebomb/Ai No Bakudan" presented a bi-lingual English/Japanese analysis of love as a cultural mechanism which enables otherwise unacceptable acts of violence, as demonstrated by domestic violence, a terrorist's love for her cause and America's vengeful love of freedom. Digitally processed spoken word samples narrate various scenerios of global violence - from a posthumous association between the roots of Italian Futurism and the 1906 lynching of three black men in Thaemlitz's home town, to the social abuses and neglect emburdened by Japanese society on the last lingering survivors of atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to Thaemlitz's personal queer-bashing traumas. The video component, released independently on Comatonse Recordings, presented Thaemlitz' most ambitious video production to date, with a full visual adaptation of the entire album plus alternate videos for two tracks contributed by New York videographer Caspar Stracke.
In the wake of Mille Plateaux's collapse, and an absence of politically likeminded labels through which to release Thaemlitz' by then trademark socially themed computer music projects, she began exploring other audio project formats. One such format was the electroacoustic radio drama. Always concerned with the way in which the themes of computer music often get lost in the 'poetics' of instrumental music - the frustration of which fueled both his profuse liner notes and text-heavy video works - the radio drama format allowd Thaemlitz to work more openly with voices in both narrative and documentary form. The widely acclaimed "Trans-Sister Radio" combined storytelling, comedy sketches, interviews and secretly recorded interviews with airline staff to portray various transgendered identities and ways of life, particularly in relation to issues of travel and migration. Originally developed as a radio drama for the German broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk HR2 (premiere Nov.14 2004, selected by HR2 for submission to the Karl Sczuka Preis), the project was released in 2005 as a CD co-issued by the Portuguese labels Grain of Sound and Base Recordings. Like most of Thaemlitz' post-Mille Plateaux projects, in both theme and approach the project falls between identities and categories; between man and woman; between fake, facts and pure fiction; between drama, electroacoustic and pop; between stand-up comedy, autobiography and sociological field research. These boundaries were pushed even further in "The Laurence Rassel Show," a project written and produced in collaboration with the pioneer cyberfeminist Laurence Rassel which investigated the overlaps and gaps between feminist and transgendered concepts of authorship, anonimity, visibility and invisibility. Originally commissioned as a follow-up to "Trans-Sister Radio" only to be cancelled due to content issues (primarilty feminism's lack of 'sex-appeal' compared to the more 'exotic' marketability of transgenderism), the project was self-released in 2007 on CD and 12-inch vinyl by Comatonse Recordings and Constant vzw (constantvzw.com), and archived for free download as part of the "Articles of Incorporation" series by Public Record (publicrec.org).
Simultaneously, Thaemlitz continued working as a house DJ in Japan and producing "fagjazz" dance projects including the 2006 Comatonse Recordings release "Routes not Roots," released under the alias Kami-Sakunobe House Explosion (K-S.H.E). Filling an 80 minute CD, and supported by three vinyl 12-inch EP's, "Routes not Roots" used the framework of a house album to investigate the larger transgender and queer dynamics surrounding the construction of the house genre. Incorporating large amounts of spoken word samples and original radio drama sketches, "Routes not Roots" was in many ways a more raw and uncensored precursor to DJ Sprinkles' "Midtown 120 Blues" (Japan: Mule Musiq, 2008). "Routes not Roots" was re-issued by the French label Skylax in 2011.
Between June 6-16, 2008, Thaemlitz recorded the first "full-length MP3 album" (4GB, FAT32 compliant, approx. 30 hours at 320kbps) in England at York University's Sir Jack Lyons Music Research Centre. That file - to be released in MiniSD format on Comatonse Recordings with supporting PDF and video documents - is an edit of a 31 hour piano solo recorded in sittings averaging 4 to 6 hours in length. The title of this epically impractical piece is "Meditation on Wage Labour and the Death of the Album," referencing how in the era of MP3 downloads, the historical link between performance duration and media format duration has been severed. The album as a format is dead in the wake of single-track downloads. Simultaneously, record labels demand that audio producers produce albums that fill the longer media formats while paying lower advances and royalties. The duration of live performances of "Meditation..." is a minimum of 81 minutes, so as to preclude a recording from fitting onto a conventional audio CD. Pushing the concept of album duration even further, Thaemlitz is also producing over an hour's worth of video and computer music, all of which will be collected under the project name "Soulnessless." Despite production delays related to independent production without sponsorship, Thaemlitz hopes to release the project before the end of 2011.
On a related theme of MP3 digital download culture, Thaemlitz released a not-for-download complete collected works archive in February 2009 under the title, "Dead Stock Archive." This two-disc DVD-ROM set features 8.54GB of audio data - over 700 titles - in 320kbps MP3 format. The "Dead Stock Archive." was issued as an offline alternative to unauthorized downloads of Thaemlitz' projects sold for years by major online distributors including iTunes, e-Music and Juno Download. The hard-copy format of this MP3 release draws attention to the cultural need for alternative data distribution methods, resistance to corporate global databases, and a declaration of the need for continued "ethical piracy" and sampling in the face of copyright control campaigns pushed by companies who themselves pirated Thaemlitz' audio for no reason other than profit (a faulty premise on their part to be sure).
In addition to her solo work, over the years Thaemlitz has collaborated with a variety of producers on a wide range of projects. Perhaps his first noteworthy audio collaboration was in 1989 with John Consigli, a like-minded Cooper Union student with whom Thaemlitz produced a variety of "culture jamming "projects, including the unauthorized installation of beeping devices at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) which were designed to disrupt the sterility of the gallery viewing format. Thaemlitz' next audio collaboration was not until 1995, when he was invited by long-time experimentalist and bassist Bill Laswell to produce a collaborative album. Released under the project name "Web" on Subharmonic Records, the album fused Thaemlitz' use of digital sound generation methods with Laswell's analogue tape-based production methods. In 1998, Thaemlitz collaborated with Jane Dowe, a music journalist and producer affiliated with major U.S. university computer music programs, to produce "Institutional Collaborative." This album was Thaemlitz' first collaboration with another completely computer-synthesis based producer, and explored their mutual relationships to an economically ambivalent Ambient marketplace, representations of the music press, and academia. Other collaborations have included the off-center pop vocal tracks "China Doll (Kill All Who Call Me)" with Chiu-Fen Chen, and "Sometimes a Girl Loves a Boy" with Hanayo; as well as assisting Zeitkratzer in their acoustic reworkings of selections from the Comatonse catalog. In 2002, Thaemlitz formed a "band" called Yesterday's Heroes with Japanese improvisationalist and ex-After Dinner member Haco. Their debut album "1979," released in the fall of 2003 by the French bedroom label La Louche Qui Fait Deborder le Vase, featured a range of takes on '80s techno-pop.
Thaemlitz has also produced remixes in a number of genres for such producers as Laswell's legendary music collaborative Material (Axiom Records), Haruomi Hosono (the founder of YMO, Sony Records), The Golden Palominos, William S. Burroughs, impressionist composer Claude Debussy, Yoshihiro Hanno, Kim Cascone, Nobukazu Takemura, and others, all of which have received high praise from DJ's, musicians and press alike.
Thaemlitz has been featured in articles and reviews in magazines from around the world including Spin, The Wire, Artbyte, MTV On-Line, Billboard, New Music Review, CMJ, N.M.E., Alternative Press, The Village Voice, Keyboard, DeBug, Spex, Blow-up, Fader by Headz, Sound & Recording Japan, and Sound & Recording Korea.
As a speaker and educator on issues of non-essentialist Transgenderism and Queerness, Thaemlitz has lectured and participated in panel discussions at a wide variety of academic and non-academic institutions as well as independent venues throughout Europe and Japan.
An endless sprawl of information regarding Thaemlitz' various releases and activities is catalogued online at his award-winning, self-produced website comatonse.com, which includes a large selection of her own writings, as well as press interviews, articles and reviews.