Wednesday, January 6, 1999

Questions for Robert Duckworth by Brad Breeck (Summer, 2002) 

1. Would you erase you desire for knowledge in favor of total contentment?

Are you implying that these two things are mutually exclusive? If so, proceed with caution! Although I’m no expert, I’m not sure if certain ancient Greek philos. (who shall remain nameless in order to protect the guilty) would agree with you, but not that that particularly matters in the first place. By the way, who was it that Feldman was quoting when he spoke of “the silence once broken . . .” anyway? So, for the purposes of answering this question in the spirit that it was posited . . . if this juicy contentment that you are dangling in front of my face were really, really real, obtainable and for all intents and purposes eternal (as it is said to be with hearts of children, true love, the afterlife, and all other things which in their timelessness are anti polar to those fleeting moments between orgasm and the onset of reality) then yes, I would hit the “erase” button with a smile on my face and not a care in the world . . . but I’d have everything backed up, just in case ignorance turned out to suck.

2. Is emotion relevant to art. (Was it ever? Was it more or less relevant in the past?)

We don’t not need emotion, and vice versa. Our current art-making gadgets and their uses seem to be getting more and more complex since that light-year jump that occurred when everyone switched over to computers not too long ago. But that doesn’t mean that because of things like the laptopper population explosion of late that a “logic-based” sound art or “process-based” music has to follow suit despite what “Ovalites” (I wish that “Ovalteen” wasn’t already taken! Sigh . . .) might tell you about what he says is REALLY going on behind their sounds, and even if that is what is inevitable, then it isn’t a given that we as humans have the mental fortitude to get our collective heads around this kind of aesthetics of rationalism via process. Have our brains finally outstripped our brains? I don’t mean the potential of our brains, it seems here like we have a long way to go. I just mean in practice. Of course, as attentive listeners, we can isolate processes from non-processes, and know that we are in their midst, but the relative value of saying that you know that this algorithm is now unfolding versus this one is negligible, just as it was with the permutations in serialisit thought. I should say however, that recently I’ve had an experience to the contrary. I was sitting at Bullet’s having drinks with Carl Stone and a Japanese computer programmer and laptopper recently. While Carl was occupied with expounding on the merits of tasty Mexican food in LA, the Japtopper was saying the he thought the the current algorithm being used by the VJs that night (who happened to be the much en vogue p[k]) totally sucked. While I agree that at least for me, putting things like this kind of info in the visual realm help me to deal with it better, I couldn’t really ever see myself using a term as blunt as that to judge them. Anyway, I think that we’ll always “need” emotion to supply the kinds of meaning that only emotion can. It isn’t that good at moonlighting, and should probably stick to it’s original job. But that doesn’t even mean that things are getting deeper in their meaning. I’m almost certain that things are getting lighter and lighter all of the time. At least they will if Momus has his way. Perhaps a respiring, soufle-like digital sublimity is our only hope? Save us, Tsujiko!

3. Is the the computer what the piano was? will this change?

The computer will become more and more like the piano wasn’t, but not vice versa. However this situation might completely reverse itself in the near future.

4. Do you regret what traditional musical training you have? To what extent is your traditional musical training useful?

If you would have asked me that same question three years ago, I would have said something to the tune of deeply regretting my traditional (read: European and American high-modernist and experimentalist) musical training, but that was at the time probably because I was feeling bitter at the thought that I it might have all been a big waste. Recently, as of perhaps only a few weeks ago, I’ve had a sudden and refreshing change of heart. Actually, now I’m pleased as punch to have undergone the training that I have. On a personal level, I think that my training helps to give me my own kind of semi-complex, quasi-non-computer-centric way of regarding sound . . . something like my own “personality” if you will. But, if we decrease the magnification a bit, and take another look at things, it might be possible to say that on a more general level, that this is the potential acumen of our generation (I somehow sense a kind of kindred spirit that is shared between you, Roddy Schrock, myself and a few others that I’ve had the fortune to encounter.) At the same time we all take seriously (to varying degrees) both the “historical” music(s) that we’ve spent years studying (in terms of music theory, music history, and so on), and also the laptop stuff. It is just that some of us are more willing to admit it than others. I don’t know about other folks, but speaking for myself, Sylvano Bussotti gets me all hot and bothered. I mean, if (the artist formerly known as) Prince and Schoenberg had a love-child together and that kid became a composer, that composer’s “o-homodachi” would be definitely be Bussotti (and that’s why all parties involved should practice safe sex). He was a total fox (meow), had nice fashion, and had the tightest little schizoid scores of the 1960’s Italian Avant-Garde, and would make any boy looking for a homo-erotic Romantic Hero proud. (Please read Roddy Schrock’s charming little paper on Mr. Bussotti found on his webpage.) It is just that I’m not so sure if Kid 606 has the same reaction to his music . . . but I might not be giving him enough credit. In a decade or so, we might be viewed/view ourselves as “transitional figures” between the pre/post-laptop epochs. (When I say post-laptop, I mean that elusive time on the event horizon when both we and our audiences “get over” the fact that we are using what we are using to make sound. Personally, I can’t wait for the day when it sounds just as silly to say that one plays laptop music as it does to say that one plays piano music. Wait . . . does that sound silly or not? In a way, not date of birth, but degree of acclimation or lack thereof to the laptop thing is probably the deciding factor as to where and with what degree of accuracy someone can be placed on the pre/post-laptop continuum. Since I’m from a town in the South that no one has ever heard of, and since I spent most of my time running around like a savage in soybean fields shooting my friends with BB guns (perhaps not too different from the adolescence of the sons of noble chicken farmers in adjacent states . . .) instead of learning about computers and such like say, members of Cute Theory did, I’m obviously “behind” the learning curve. However, the way I see things now, that might be the best place to be, because you approach everything like it was from another planet. This sometimes leads to interesting and unique results. Foresight is imperative, but true detached perspective is vital. Of course, some of our “musical forefathers” have chosen different, less moderate paths. Take the elusive ex-patriot Carl Stone, for example. (Note that I mention his name so often only because I’ve spent no small amount of time during the past year or so trying to make him into the role model that he’d never want to be, and basically pestering him in general. We’ve even done a concert or two together.) He basically defined “early user” and has been a kind of “father” of laptop performance back in the day when computers were about as fast as my grandmother. Anyway, with Carl (although this is really a gross over generalization) it has been more or less a “Once you’ve had Mac, you’ll never go back” kind of thing, and I don’t blame him one bit. Sure, he served his time as most his generation did studying the American experimental music tradition at places like CalArts (Where they being trained in preparation for the post-Cagean American “rebuttal” of the European post-serial tendencies of non-West Coast places of higher learning which never really materialized? Perhaps, but things wound up with them just left them to their own devices), and with teachers (one who, as of Fall Semester 2002 didn’t know what a Quick Time file was! I know, I was in the room when he asked this question to a Freshman in my class.) who are as capable “high-modernist” thinkers as they are experimentalists. But he [Carl] unlike the teachers and their teachers (Cage, Mort) doesn’t really seem at all interested in any kind of long-range trajectory of composed or mediated interpolative or integrated thought between the digital and a acoustic music worlds. He seems quite pleased pleasing me by doing his amazing “It’s a Barbie World” remixes . . . but only in Amoeba records. In more “serious” venues in America, I wonder what tack he will take? Of course, I’m not sure about his reason for choosing this path, but it is all probably for the best. Anyway, I’ll be sure and ask him about this next time I see him. If I was pressed to venture an guess, however, I’d say that at the time, nothing was more necessary than “radical” (i.e. hardheaded in a beautiful way) computer using hard-liners. Carl seems to keep these partitions between his various modes of schizoid musical thinking. Kind of like Mark Applebaum. Perhaps now, thanks to Carl, we can just relax a bit and cruise on “collage” mode for a decade or so, freely mixing and matching anything and everything . . . someone like Hypo is doing this already. Sour grapes time. I think we truly have enough (and have had truly enough of) potbellied and poorly attired “serious” new media artists flailing about with PowerGloves hot-wired to their their PowerBooks, wishing that they looked half as good as even a tacky version of the bastard son of Jimi Hendrix from the planet Dune, and talking all the while about white “cerebral angst” and shit like that. Why the drama’s costume department and the new media departments at CalArts never coordinated a special exchange program to cure each other’s collective fashion woes is way beyond me, because of the relative proximity of these departments created by Disney’s “It’s a small world after all” architectural philosophy.

5. Do you interview yourself in the shower?

No, but ask me the “in the sento” version of this same question when you and I are in the Japanese sauna together with Roddy and Hypo, and you’ll get a different answer.

6. Have you ever repeatedly circled the block on which a person of your fancy lived?

Yes i have. It was in Paris last winter. her name was Kinuko (who happens to have just moved back to Japan), and she lived near Jussieu station, not too far from the gardens there. I spent about three hours in a holding pattern around her block in the freezing cold. It paid off big time. Actually, my current ex-girlfriend has accused me of having the potential to stalk her. I guess we’ll see about that.

7. Is there anything to "get" in art?

Yes, but only just one thing to get, I'm afraid. I’ve taken the liberty of including it below so that this issue can be settled once and for all. There is another world There is a better world Well, there must be Well, there must be Well, there must be Well, there must be Well ... Bye bye Bye bye Bye ...

8. Are you more or less attracted to art with "meaning" built in?

If you suspect an implied "meaning" in a piece of art do you usually attempt to extract it or bypass it in favor of your own? If that “built in” meaning is Superflat, then I don’t have a problem, and tend to warm up to such art quickly. If I suspect implied non-Superflat meaning, I usually attempt to extract it in relation to how I imagine it might be most popularly extracted, and then I usually go ahead and find my own meaning anyway.

9. Is ego necessary for creation? Is there a shortage of ego in American culture, other cultures?

No. At their worst (best?) we humans seems to be able to switch to auto-Darwin mode and knock boots. then fuck-love instinct becomes create becomes reproduce becomes copy becomes tedious genome trope. Is that creation? I’m not sure . . . but at least you can now copyright it (both in AV and DNA forms). I’m sure our DNA will get better protection on the internet than our MP3 files did. oh, i can’t wait until some clever joker comes up with a DNApster. (Can I get a copyright on that?) That will rock. But i guess i didn’t really answer the question. In music? Sure, we need ego . . . don’t late that Cage guy and his acolytes spade or neuter your ego and musical free will to the point where you become a flaccid zen-esque composer in need of “compositional Viagra” (this term either comes from Roddy Schrock or John Harvey, I can’t remember which). I say insert more of yourself (meow) into everything that you do. Give post-cage wannabes a facial shot of your compositional love, baby! Is there a shortage of ego in American culture? No, but there is a shortage of people willing to embrace this plentiful, burly American ego . . . even in the land of the free, and the home of the Brave. Strange . . .OK, basically what I'm saying is fuck microsound.

10. Is there a parallel to the black and white film (in 2002) in music (in 2002)?

I don’t know. Momus talks a lot about “low-res” thought on his webpage. This might be related.

11. What is you favorite brand of clothing?

A Bathing Ape, hands down.

12. The word "avant-" implies a link to modernism in my mind. Am I wrong making this connection? If I am not wrong in making this connection, isn't avant-pop some kind of contradiction?

You are not wrong, dear Brad, but be careful! Things aren’t so simple. Sometimes the word “avant” is used in music just as a clothing designer might use a splash of the latest hue or a strip of some fresh new fabric. They just want to use it for that “splash” that “sensation” that “zing” baby, and nothing more. This is a different kind of thing altogether, I think. And no, it is not a contradiction. It is more of a paradox. But just like the hokey-pokey, that’s what it is all about! Just like the word “Technoise” that everyone can’t seem to get enough of here in Japan. Ask me one day about why that beautiful paradox has me fascinated.

13. Markus Trayle-Hausen suggested to me in a recent e-mail that avant-pop and academia are no longer mutually exclusive. Do you agree with this? I suggest that the above may be true, but more importantly, sound-art is now a part of the pop world . . . do you agree with this?

Mark isn’t wrong, but he isn’t really right either. It is less inaccurate to say that they aren’t really mutually inclusive. Let’s be honest, avant-pop has it WAY over academia, and not the other way around. Avant-pop is selling albums, getting talked about in the media, selling tickets to shows, finally figuring out that it pays to have a good graphic design sense, and so on. Academia isn’t, wants to, and knows that it can’t, and has almost given up even trying. It now seems like it is trying to co-opt the Avant-pop world. Sleezy bastards. But sometimes this can all be reduced to a marketing ploy. Mr. So-and-so (in the guise of quasi-academia) can play for a $10 suggested donation in the Bay Area (and for even less in LA) and have most of his best friends show up and chip in a few bucks. Or, he can play in Tokyo (in avant-pop mode) and pack the house at 3500 yen per pop (which is admittedly a medium-priced show here). He knows that quite well. And by the way, where is he living now? No contest.

14. Are you interested in questions related to music, or do sociopolitical/cultural questions more catch your fancy?

I think you answered this one for Roddy, but perhaps i'll get another answer. I’m more interested in the latter than the former, and this is the way that is has been for about 3 years or so.

15. Is the sampler a different instrument from the computer?

Different? Well, it can be safely said that it is subsumed by the computer.

16. if you were offered a role in a big time shitty movie would you take it?

Yes of course. no contest.

17. What is your favorite magazine?

These days, I’m into reading “Espresso”. The current issue (no. 11) features articles on no frame, uplink factory, minamo, Tim Barnes, cubicmusic, off site, Tanabe Masae, salon by marbletron, gendai heights, a documentary on ton-poo and tons of other stuff. The most important part is that is has more words than pictures, and what pictures it does have are in black and white. It is very austere.

18. Is the novel dead? What a dumb question.

In our country? Sure! Why not? No one really reads anymore anyway. And the attention spans don’t fit the novel’s trajectory of drama anymore. I think people in America really read for a period of like 150 years or something. Now we do other things. (You should compare figures on consumption of printed media in America to the rest of the world, with a special focus on Japan.) Thank god that we don’t have I-mode yet. Then IQs would plummet across the boards. But that might be the best thing. Perhaps the nations of the earth are all evolving into these quasi-organ-like things. America can just be big and dumb and ironic and be the brawn of the world. Japan can be cute and tiny and smart and hyper-(un)real and let its various economic suitors protect it.

19. I suggest that on one or more level Robert Duckworth is to the history of the European musical tradition as Momus is to the history of European literary tradition.

Ahhh . . . Is this a “better to have loved and lost . . . “ kind of question? Anyway, if by your statement you mean former acolyte now turncoat, how can i disagree? Bartender! A round of aesthetic cloak & dagger for all of the good people here. That’s me in the corner trying to disinfect this nasty little brain of mine with a bottle of absinthe. I have Roddy to thank for this vice.

20. If Cornelius asked you play drums on his tour, would you?

Yes, of course! And with plenty of super-crazy twirls, stick flashes and splash cymbal choking action between every goddamn eighth note to boot!

21. Fashion? Short answer: Everything that Momus says about Tokyo and Osaka fashion is true . . . more or less, and should be fervently adhered to. Longer answer: This is a really big problem, and naturally there weren’t any classes even in the CalArts catalogue that looked like they’d be of any use in addressing this, the hubris of most new media composers (excepting Atau Tanaka and a few others). The fact that most of my peers at CalArts are going around (in a very serious way) and sticking that most weighted of words (composition) at the end of the words “new” and “media” (which have all of the gravity and depth of a freshly baked soufflé) is in and of itself somewhat suspect. There seems to be no hope for these types, let alone their fashion sense. Anyway, my own little atomy of problems is that I haven’t found a way to feel at-ease wearing the fashion that I’ve come to love wearing in Japan (ala such mags as Mens’ Egg and Fine Boys) in Los Angeles unless I’m in Little Tokyo. People (yourself included, Brad) have mistaken me for a Londoner (imagine that) or worse, and needless to say I’ll not stand for such badmouthing. Of course at this point i’m not really based in Los Angeles anymore, since I’ve more or less fled CalArts for Meguro-ku, which is regrettable because all of the cool American fashion is dirt cheap there, at least twice as cheap as Japan. So what I’ve found myself doing these days is “scouting” fashion mags in Tokyo, making a wish list, and then buying everything up when I return to the states. I mean, why pay $200 for a pair of Vans in Tokyo if you know better? Plus who has my size here? On the student budget tip, there are actually a few not-too-expensive ways of getting your hands on some cool clothing in Tokyo outside of shoplifting. Anyone can get bargin-basement quasi-minimal, Chinese neo-Socialist digs at MUJI. (Watch for the big end of the season sales, and don’t worry about the L sizes selling out. Japanese men are too waifish for that to ever happen.) And for those more flamboyant, Jeans Mate (any clothing store that quotes Walt Whitman on their adds has to be worth shopping at) and UNI-QLO (I’m trying to get Carl Stone a sponsorship deal with them, because I often see him sporting one of their orange hoodies) offer nice “street-esque fashion” I think . . . However, you have to keep in mind that in contrast to street fashion in America, Japanese street-fashion doesn’t come with bullet holes (read: danger) and other such unsavories, and the thinking that goes behind the latest look in Tokyo street fashion in no doubt affected accordingly. “Street” is successfully referenced, but they thankfully refrain from including the unkempt parts. In other words, if he were so inclined, a seemingly straight, 30 something year-old Japanese guitar-playing, laptop-weilding graduate student of French Literature now living on the West Coast, attending a famous arts college, might be inclined to wear something as splashing as a skintight, nipple and ribcage-outline revealing, pink B-52’s t-shirt, and not have anyone (non-Japanese excepted) bat an eye. If nothing else, this must be the unequivocal proof that Evil is indeed at work in the world. Oh, and on a related subject, one must keep in mind that “used” clothing stores in Japan are some of the most outrageously priced places to shop, so there will be no solace found there for the cheap bastard in you. As more of an experiment than anything else, at the beginning of the summer when I arrived in Japan, I brought with me a box full of fun t-shirts that I got at a Salvation Army in Albany, GA for about 50 cent per shirt. I set up a little stall near Yoyoji Park and sold them all in one afternoon at about 1500 yen per shirt. The profit I reaped was of course just a cheap thrill, certainly nothing more than instant gratification. I have no intention of going into the business of upscale used clothing retail, but while I was blowing all of the cash on all-you-can-drink beer in Shinjuku, I got this sinking feeling that somehow it was all a bit queer, and upon returning home, I didn’t sleep well that night. On the high fashion side of things, I’ve really been into a brand for women called I.S. Sunao Kuahara I think that the girl who dresses in I.S. can be the girl who undresses for me anytime. For men’s high fashion, I prefer A Bathing Ape, Junya Watanabe’s Comme des Garcons, Adidas by Yohji Yamamoto (only $450 for a designer pair of sneakers), Vans, Campers, white trash trinkets, Edwin jeans, watches by Hermes, Evisu jeans, t-shirts by PLEDGE, Paul Smith, X-LARGE, vintage Levi’s, bags by Porter and Harvest Label, and so on. In fashion, as with music I regret to say that I have been educated beyond my intelligence (read: programmed to want beyond my means). I’m trying to remedy this. I should mention at this point that for all interested readers, there is a fashion links section on my webpage, but it is embarrassingly out of season.

22. Songwriting?

It is all about Takeko Minekawa. Takeko, you are on my list. (Sorry for stealing that line from you, Brad.) And I just have to take the opportunity to say right here that meeting Tsujiko Noriko didn’t do that much for me, it did EVERYTHING for me.

23. Do you, Robert Duckworth, want and/or need people (whoever they are. who are they?) to appreciate and/or enjoy the things you create?

Quid pro quo, Doctor: Yes, I do. They are people just like me, only born at different times in different countries with different names and likes and dislikes and personalities and hobbies and shoe-sizes and things like that. Our ex-girlfriends are the same, though.

24. Is the single-medium artist useless, irrelevant, boring, etc.?...dying?

I’m not sure what you mean by “single-medium artist” actually. I’m sure they are exactly all of these things at the same time. No, I know a better word: quaint.

25. Ask yourself a question here:

[BLANK] is the [BLANK] of [BLANK]? And when asked such a question, I’d have to reply with the utmost care, of course.

26. In the story "Alice in Wonderland" what character would you be?

If my personality and the personalities of the various characters of that movie were compared for best possible matches, then I would probably be cast as Dinah, the stupid cat that doesn’t follow Alice down the rabbit hole.

27. If you didn't have access to a computer, how would you make music?

I know that by being a drummer and also from studying Cage’s thinking on my own and with James Tenney that with a pair of drumsticks, a bit of aleatoric-shenanagins, and a cheerful upper-lip, I can just hit shit with sticks, make deep and interesting sounds, and become one with the universe. (Don’t get me wrong, I really do have the deepest and most humble of dis/respect for Cage.) Anyway, I’m sure that there will be musical/sound-art life (for me at least) after the “impending world energy crisis” renders our future PwrBk G11s expensive and useless little boxes with cheap ass, flakey paint jobs in 100 years. Oh wait, by that time, Apple might have finally gotten things right in the design department . . . oh never mind.

28. Does the success of big time pop stars piss you off?

Of course that depends on who the particular star is, but generally speaking . . . in America it does piss me off (because the situation is simple), but in Japan it doesn’t (because the situation is complex, and I’ll always take a complex situation hands-down over a simple one). Let me explain . . . read this article and just humor me by doing a little conceptual Judo by substituting “over-the-hill but big in Japan American pop star” for “gaijin geeks” and I think it will fully articulate my reasoning. (Special thanks to Metropolis for playing the host to my parasitic thoughts.)

29 Do you think that any of these questions are relevant to what you do?

Yes, some of them are. Way to go Brad! A more interesting question would be to ask what is the ratio of questions that were relevant to what I do compared to the answers that were relevant to these questions. But now my brain hurts . . .

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