Sunday, June 9, 2013

Interview with RJ Myato

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Photo © R Magnelli, from Skull Valley

Besides hosting dozens of outer-limits shows as part of the recently-deceased Roup House, RJ Myato has self-released a veritable landslide of harsh noise, drone, and musique concrète-influenced material on the NNNCO and Kill Collector Culture labels. He's able to balance the overwhelming physicality of his sounds with a thoughtful approach, a deep understanding of historical precedents, and a refreshing awareness of the context he's working in. He'll be improvising with feedback systems as part of Crucible Sound #2 on June 13th at Modernformations.

As someone who's vigorously supported experimental music in Pittsburgh over the last several years by performing, booking shows, and running a label, how would you describe the community's overall awareness of improvised music? 

That's a difficult question to answer for several reasons. One is because I probably don't have that much contact with people who are involved in music but not "aware" of people improvising in Pittsburgh. I think anyone who's into the more experimental or DIY arena of music here is probably aware of improvised music via noise, drone, psych, etc. and those are the people that I know, mainly. Another reason is that I think improvisation as a practice is widespread but maybe music that is freely improvised isn't. There are lots of people who are pretty popular who practice improvisation within whatever it is they do, like Gangwish or Dean Cercone or other people, but they're not thought of as "improvisers" maybe and aren't playing in a non-idiomatic/"free" way. So I'd say that the core group of people who are playing and listening to totally improvised music is very small but improvisation as a practice within other kinds of music is there to maybe open up the arena a bit more for things like Crucible Sound.

How does improvisation as a practice fit into the idiom you're working in (namely noise music)? 

Generally my live performances are fully improvised and in fact I only solidify the specific setup I'm using the day before or day of a gig. Recording is about the same. I rarely "practice" other than to just make sure my stuff works in a basic way. That said more and more I'm interested in the line of what "noise" is in a theoretical way and the sense of "noise music" as a kind of non-academic DIY "experimental music" subgenre like is like other subgenres of music, and so the question of improvisation and it's place becomes interesting.

In my playing I guess there's a spectrum where I have more or less control of the situation and it's hard to say where improvisation begins and automatic or process composition or something ends. Sometimes I play noise — maybe with a feedback loops or contact mic'd objects or whatever — and I'm super involved in the activity of actually "playing" and lots of things happen, and that feels like improvisation. On the other hand if I want to make "wall noise" and in doing so I play a cassette tape through effects and record it on another cassette tape and the final result is my piece, and I didn't touch anything the whole time once the eq was set and so on, is that an improvisation? So when I'm working with harsh noise wall, or computer automated cutups or something like that, to make recordings, it's hard to say that I'm improvising. And I think recording is where I do the most sort of pure and extreme things that are most purely "noise," and live performance is different because you have an audience there and you're engaging them in some way, at least for me, so I tend to go for agitation of the audience whereas in recording I'm basically communicating with people who already know the score.

I think the issue is that "improvisation" relies pretty strongly on a concept of human agency and active decision-making that maybe at its extremes noise tries to erase. Even in playing noise live the concept is to be all fucked up and act crazy and scummy and not like you are at work, whereas in "free improv" having a clear head and reacting to things in a considered aesthetic manner is maybe more valued. Certainly people are "in the moment" and have feelings of ecstacy in traditionally improvised music, I certainly do and I love that, but I think there's possibly a distinction to be made.

I don't know how well this will hold up when I think about it tomorrow but in a sense you could see "free improvisation" as a kind of utopian music at its heart — free people interacting in a very highly social way, spontaneously contributing to a collective creative act, etc. — and there is some music that is considered "noise music" that acts in the same way (LAFMS maybe, etc.). And then on the other hand what you might consider "noise" at its furthest theoretical extreme the opposite of that, in the way that harsh noise wall in the Vomir style is totally inhuman, asocial, actively nihilistic, etc. And certainly I think there is room for both in celebrating the best aspects of being a human in civilization while recognizing the sort of precarious material reality we live in.

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