Thursday, January 7, 1999

32 Questions for Robert Duckworth May 23, 2002 by Roddy Schrock (while en route to Athens, GA from Oakland, CA) 

1. What do you call the kind of audio art that you make?

A kind of sonic masturbatriate whose owner’s manual I didn’t take the time to read (it was written in the wrong language anyway), whose batteries are now running low from overuse (going to grad school didn’t recharge them like I thought it would), and whose extra features (mostly just the cheapest of buzzers and flashing lights) I’m just now starting to figure out and enjoy. Who could ask for anything more?

2. What's in your CD player right now?

Well, my CD player isn’t really working anymore. I really have to pick up a new one soon in Akihabara. Of course I’ve always got something in my MD player, but the CD in my PwrBkG4 is much more interesting right now. That would be KARAKOE A CAPELLA (points for clever wordplay between Japanese and Italian) by HYPO, which rocks my socks (props to my former CalArts roommate Maddy Puckette of cutetheory), and which is selling like hot cakes over here in Japan. I’m also proud to say that there isn’t a speck of dust in there thanks to an immaculately tight-ass slot. I have Apple to thank for that. Now if they’ll just start making PowerBooks that don’t chip and flake. Oh wait, they already did . . . they were called Pizmos.

3. How, if at all, has living and working in Japan impacted your work?

I’d be getting off easy if Kenzaburo Oe and/or Roland Barthes (please do read his book "Empire of Signs") did little more more than just kick my ass for saying this, but I’ll take my chances in saying that I see “my” Japan (there seem to be as many versions of this country as there are non-Japanese in it, but naturally this “variety” of personal opinions can be boiled down to just a few archetypical ways of seeing things) as being kind of like a big "select-shop" (Is this a Japanese word? It has the ring of EngRish, but I can’t be sure . . .) where several arrays of the very “best” of the material goods that anyone could ever possibly want from the various cultures of other nations have been put on display, and are ripe for the picking, given that money is no object. For a nonmusical example: Tokyo . . . Well, here I'm in a much better position to find out about such atomy as say, the most hip place to eat a Chinese dinner in Paris (much to the surprise of Hypo) than I would be in any other part of the world (perhaps even more so than if I were in Paris itself)! So Japan has value for me in this somewhat peculiar way (and I should mention that my Japanese friends here are almost always surprised to hear me say this). Japan can tell me a lot about other countries, but not too much about itself, at least not directly. Perhaps it is just a sign that points in all directions? I'm not sure . . . I’m sure it wasn’t always like this. A long time ago, depending on the fickle attitudes of whoever was in power, Japan ONLY pointed inwardly, or perhaps ONLY pointed to say, China. Of course, this situation impacts my work in a very positive way. Because I’m living here, I'm probably more “up to date” on what’s going on in the world of the sound-art and pop-culture that I enjoy than I would be if I were living anywhere else. But to say that the impact is completely positive would be to tell a lie. This is a bit of a fine point, but I think that ultimately, the “non-Japanese” (note that this does NOT equal the “American” way) of getting info on things is more interesting, and produces more quirky results, because the individual who is interested in something (whatever it might be) has to really do more “footwork” for him/herself. So this person can’t depend on some neatly arranged, carefully presented “recommended course” and/or “if you like that one, maybe you should check these out to” kind of support. They wind up doing a lot of blind, almost random kind of searching, and this invariably makes the CD collections of my American friends (weather they are into the kind of music that I like or not), if not more complete, at least less . . . predictable. More adventurous perhaps? The other bonus is that this kind of self-directed gathering of info might cause folks to at least have to think for themselves more, since there really is no one there holding their hand every step of the way. It is a funny thing, but going back to the culture question, actually America is often touted as having homogenous cultural tendencies due to racial and cultural diversity, but this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, America is like a big cultural centrifuge, where everything that is different actually gets further separated. We use blenders to cook. What do we use centrifuges for, anyway? I’m genuinely convinced (as Cage was, that most of the problems that we face these days aren’t “musical” ones, but social ones. I would specify further by saying socioeconomic problems. Of course, I can't tell these things to the Bunka-Cho (Japanese Cultural Foundation), or they will demand that I give all of their fellowship money back. They just want to see white guys compose (and play) music for koto and computer or something like that. It is all about control.

4. Mark Applebaum claims to have written his best music while flying in an airplane. Have you experienced this phenomenon?

I don't doubt his claim, and I do admire Mark’s work, but personally, I can’t tell the difference between airplane and non-airplane inspired compositions on his part. No, I've never experienced the same thing. But I can tell you that the last time I flew from LA to Tokyo, the balding, married, middle-aged Japanese businessman and father of three sitting next to me, after chugging down a few beers, told me first about the cheap price of hookers in Sao Paulo (including an itemized “price list” of services). Then several hours later, after I developed a headache, he performed a little Buddhistic faith-healing on me by chanting loudly in ancient Japanese while maintaining a firm grasp on some kind of mojo in one hand, and my forehead in the other one. Of course, I've dates that turned out better than this, but I can't complain. I still have the barf-bag upon which he scrawled the words of his chant.

5. Can you sleep on an airplane?

Like a baby! I even drool all over the place, just like when I’m sleeping at home. What about you, Roddy?

6. Is there anything that is not a fad?

Humans and their neologistic pre-occupations. Worse than a fad, but slightly better than a curse . . . which puts it in the ballpark with the best of American fast-food.

69858 | posted by glitchslaptko at 6:30 | 0 comments

32 Questions for Robert Duckworth May 23, 2002 by Roddy Schrock (while en route to Athens, GA from Oakland, CA) Pt. 2 [edit]

7. Do you feel there is a useful distinction to be made between acoustic and electronic music?

Only one useful one? Sure! Perhaps the most didactic one has already been made by Stockhausen in his late 50’s masterpiece KONTAKTE. Here, the distinction something like trying to prove that a possible "seamless" (or at least imperceptible) spectrum of transitions can be composed between the "opposites" of electronic and acoustic palettes, using serial thought as the increment-generator. That this kind of work might be the high-water mark for the thought of this period should go without saying, but . . . Of course, there are a host of things being demonstrated in KONTAKTE besides just the morphology of musical time, but I think the important thing to keep in mind here is that, as to your question, some very definite distinctions/approaches/methods have already been established. It might simply be the case that a large number of people working in the medium might not be aware of the precedents, or if they are, how to implement them . . . but the real truth is probably that most folks just don't care about this kind of thing anymore. There are different issues at stake now. And then there is the problem of all of this not amounting to much anyway anymore, because the importance of this problem's solution has been outstripped by the fact that the focus now is not on the content (of the information) but the quality of the container (the net, computers, and other systems of moving and storing information). And why shouldn’t it be on this? That famous saying by Fuller (you know the one) has finally been overturned, and mostly by the proponents of Cute Formalism. Yes, I'm one of them too now, thanks to Momus. By the way, I’m sure guys like Boulez (I’m not sure about someone like Karlheinz Essl) must have no small amount of contempt for what I imagine they might view as this “Dark Age” of pop-computer music, where kids (listen to me, I’m not all that old yet, but perhaps I might be a little bitter as well, because I spent a lot of time in my early 20’s studying this) do not really seem to understand the situation that lead the origin of the tools (Max/MSP) that they freely use. Of course, in the case of this program, it was first developed by European research centers (IRCAM) in order to help “solve” (of course, they never were solved, but some very interesting ideas were postulated) some of the serious compositional problems (how to extend the idea of total serialism into the electronic realm, interactivity, and so on) that were being puzzled over in the 50’s and 60’s in the acoustic and electro-acoustic compositions of the European high-modernist composers. I was reading somewhere on the Cycling ‘74 web page interviews section recently that someone was rejoicing this . . . misappropriation. I don't. My feelings are somewhat more mixed I guess. These days, I'm into kids who have read and understood old-skool books like "Die Reihe" but have choosen to ignore them anyway, and just be laptop rock stars. A kind of enlightened new-music punk aesthetic.

8. Do you believe in the power of the internet?

Yes I do, I do, I DO believe, brother Schrock! Hallelujah!!! Out foul demons, OUT!

9. What is the worst thing, aesthetically speaking or otherwise, that a sound artist can do?

To believe that those viscous looking fire-breathing dragons drawn on the "uncharted" corners of the spurious little map of the musical world that The Wire is trying to snooker us with (that one with the West in the center) are real, and be convinced not to venture there, or beyond, out of fear.

10. Is it important to have opinions about things?

Maybe . . . I don’t know. What do you think?

11. Is it important for laptop musicians to provide visual stimuli for the audience?

Yes. Otherwise, after a few hundred thousand years, audience members will evolve permanently shut eyes due to a complete lack of visual stimulation, and then it won't matter that guys like me aren't sexier than guys like HYPO . . . but that might not be an totally bad situation. Oh wait! On second thought, I mean no, it isn't important! By that time, our computers will be hard wired to the brain, and we won't need our physical organs to convert this kind of information into electrical signals anyway. Check out this page for more info, and be the first kid on your block to obsolete your own eyes!

12. What is your favorite film?

That one where Western Boy meets Eastern Girl and . . .

69857 | posted by glitchslaptko at 6:29 | 0 comments

32 Questions for Robert Duckworth May 23, 2002 by Roddy Schrock (while en route to Athens, GA from Oakland, CA) Pt. 3 [edit]

13. What are the advantages, if any, of being geographically and culturally positioned in Japan?

I have ringside seats for impending seismic activity that will destroy Harajuku, the coolest city in the world, dealing the crepe industry a blow from which it may never recover.

14. What is the thing that you are most afraid of?

Failing to sound sufficiently aloof while being interviewed.

15. What is your favorite airline?

JAL, because I can see the pretty stewardesses that are on my JAL calendar that I have at home in the flesh at last. But unlike my “at-home” environment, my conversations with them are not nearly as stimulating, are limited to things like beverages, in-flight movies, and duty-free shopping.

16. What does "Pop" mean to you?

Wasn't he like the third member of the Rice Crispies gang or something? (By the way, big points and triple word score for the coolest non-microsound, microsound-sounding webpage address on the net.)

17. What is the role of pop music in modern society?

The role of the protagonist.

18. Why did you decide to make computer music in light of your previous training in more, for lack of a better word, traditional forms of music composition?

Because despite my best efforts, I would never find a satisfactory way to send e-mail and download porn with a grand piano, leading my composition teacher and I to an ideological impasse out of which we simply could not navigate. Of course, I should really be talking about laying the yolk of my compositionally mandated European burdens down by the river Jordan, but because of that loafer look that I just can’t master, I can’t.

19. What is your favorite food?

Okonomiyaki cooked Hiroshima style!!! But these days, I'm making a move to monjyayaki. In fact, if you go to a place called "The Monjyayaki" within walking distance from Hino station in Tokyo, you can order a special kind of monjyayaki that the kind owner of that establishment allowed me to create by mixing my favorite fixins. It may be ordered by simply asking for the Robert special. I’m not joking.

69856 | posted by glitchslaptko at 6:29 | 0 comments

32 Questions for Robert Duckworth May 23, 2002 by Roddy Schrock (while en route to Athens, GA from Oakland, CA) Pt. 4 [edit]

20. What is your favorite color?

When I was living in Athens (Georgia), and under the influence of The Flagpole, it was brown. These days I'm making a move to purples and greys. I'm sure this is all the fault of fader by headz. My reasons for this change will be made clear in the liner notes to my upcoming album, which is slated for release in Japan before the Tog & Hypo tour begins later this year.

21. Do you enjoy the music of Philip Glass?

I like the early, lean-and-mean 70’s stuff better than the later, more bloated operatic stuff (I feel exactly the same about Elvis, minus 10 years, now that I think about it). Of course Etsuko beat me to the punch yet again when she approached Mr. Glass after the American premiere of Monsters of Grace with her 3-D specks still in hand, and told him "Way to go, Phil!" My sentiments regarding his work in general can be said to be in the spirit of this statement, except that if I would have actually had the balls to approach him in this manner, I guess I would have wished to go ahead and finish the exchange off with a big high-five there at the end.

22. What role does sound art play, globally speaking, in modern society?

The role of the antagonist.

23. What is the most exciting sonic experience you've had recently? I went to the Nicolai Carsten exhibit at the Watarium in Tokyo with Sawako the other day. That was nice.

24. What are you learning at the California Institute of the Arts?

The glaring need for immediate and serious aesthetic triage in the field of sound art studies and aesthetics in America. I paid $30,000 a year just for Band-Aids and a smile. I want my money back.

25 . What is the best thing about having grown up in the southern United States?

Sweet, peach iced-tea.

26. Who is your favorite actor or actress?

These days my favorite “gaitare” (not really and actor) is Thane Camus.

27. Does acoustic music have a future?

No, because all their base are belong to us.

28. What is attractive to you about improvised music?

I’ve had the idea recently that the demand for improvised art forms seems to function in direct proportion to the increasing amount of leisure time that humans in Western cultures enjoy. This is somewhat counterintuitive, because you’d think that with as much free time as we have (I’m a student, so I guess I have more free time than most folks), we’d spend more and more of our newly gained free time making “objects” of sound (in other words, fixed sound works). But contrary to this, it seems like the more time that we have, the less time that we want to spend “bothering” with fixed forms. Improvisational forms which permute possible outcomes of systems seem to be increasingly in demand. One might imagine that when there are more people with more free time to enjoy more kinds of arts, the need arises for a new means of production that can keep up with the increased demand for “entertainment”/sound-art (the difference is now completely blurred, with categories like “avant-pop” and such). Everything is made to order in real time, allowing the artists to produce more. But this kind of thinking is perilous, to say the least, but might be attractive to those who contemplate on music in a kind of Marxist way. Are you listening, Tadashi? In America, people use things like escalators and people-movers (those things at airports and malls in America) to save them from physical exertion (i.e. they simply stand on them, and allow themselves to be "moved"). Japanese people use them to increase their speed and power of locomotion by walking up them while they use them. This idea might be related . . . and it might not be. I’m tired, and not making any sense at the moment. Can I have another glass of wine (only 350 yen per gRass, nice price), please?

29. In your aesthetic judgment, what importance does the notion of "fad" have?

Does it carry with it a pejorative connotation? Here the “fad” is the ideal state for any object that is marketed, or consumed. In America it is not . . . or at least Americans seem to have a problem admitting that it is, especially at art schools. In my aesthetic judgment, I think fads are way cool, and I’m totally into them for sure!

30. What is the worst thing about having grown up in the southern United States?

Gnats and racism, in reverse order.

31. What, for you, is the single most interesting current trend in electronic sound art?

The japtop scene (see my upcoming articles) and technoise materialism. Whoops, I said two.

32. What do you want to be doing when you're 37 years old?

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