Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Interview with Steve Boyle

Steve Boyle, photo from Locally Toned

If you have a quick conversation with Steve Boyle, you're bound to walk away with leads on a few obscure records, a bit of Pittsburgh's underground culture history, and a self-effacing punchline that tweaks your worldview. He brings his screwball vibe (for once, he won't be hurling commentary MST3K-style from the second row) and 25+ years of exploring outsider sounds to Crucible Sound #5, this Thursday September 12th at Modernformations. 

Can you start by giving me a musical resumé, including groups you've been a part of, solo works, and recordings you've released?

Spring–Summer 1987: Death Barbecue (Syracuse, NY). We were a three-piece band: guitar (David), bass/vocals (Matt), drums (myself). We missed out on our one show (at a strip club in downtown Syracuse, with Porcelain Forehead) because the other two members attended the NYS Pensic War.

1995–96: Guitar/vocals in Swob, one 7" released. Swob disbanded in the late spring.

Dead At Twenty-Four
Summer 1996: I was asked to join Dead At Twenty-Four, who had played their first show with Swob earlier in the year. This was my ticket into the Rickety universe — in addition to DA24, I played drums in The Viragos and the Dirty Faces. Recordings include tracks on The Rickety Sampler 7", volumes 1 & 2 of of the Rickety Boombox Sampler (both are available for download), and Blast Off, Motherfucker!. A very loose and open community, lots of collaborations and ad-hoc groupings, just because. See also Anita Fix—I appear on "Run For Joy".

Jefferson Presents... flyer from 2001
1999–2009: Live soundtrack collaborations/improvisations with filmmaker/educator Adam Abrams. He'd make a film, let me know how long it was but tell me nothing else about it, and my contribution was sound. Tape, contact mics, objects, shortwave radio, live mixing, etc. We'd do this each month as part of Jefferson Presents..., a 'micro-cinema' that Adam helped found along with two other filmmakers, Gordon Nelson and Jim Mueller.

1999–2001, 2003/5: Collaborations with Michael Pestel, Taketeru Kudo (2001); guest lecturer for Michael's Sound Art class at Chatham College.

1998–2003: Member, The Pittsburgh Free Music Co. Free, 'non-idiomatic' improv. Started by Greg Pierce and Mike Johnsen (who were inspired by Todd Whitman). Greg and Mike would sometimes improvise as part of their microcinema, Orgone Cinema (an influence/motivator on the Jefferson presents... people). Open-invite improvisation nights at The Last Call Gallery--locals invited to play, sometimes performers passing through Pittsburgh would show up. Dave Shim, Mark Tierney, Hyla Willis, Edgar-Um Bucholtz, Matt Weiner, Margaret Cox, many many others. "Pay no money, just attention."

2005–present: Collaborator with/contributor to Fuck Telecorps, Edgar-Um's project. Percussion, 'electronics', computer, theatre, etc. Appear on "Hard On/Off Hearong."

2007/8: A couple of shows with Margaret Cox. Hopefully more soon. Contributed one track to Circuits Of Steel II.

1996–present: Host, 'Radio Free Radio', WRCT, 88.3 FM—noise, contemporary composition, dada junk spew, anything audible. Music related, though I wouldn't call it "performance".

Editor's note: Steve failed to mention this 2012 live collaboration with Brown Angel:

I really loved Dead at Twenty-Four. How did improvisation figure into that band? 

Songs may stretch out, someone may take the helm and veer off in another direction, deviate from the setlist, so on. We were all interested in experimenting within the structure of the song/band/mood/evening, interested in experimenting with the audience/band dynamic, experimenting with relationships within the band. I had no parts which were written or scored, so I could/would go off when/where I felt the tug. Most songs would have sounds that I preferred to play at certain/specific points, but atmosphere/mood/interpersonal dynamics might inspire me to adopt a different tack. The Rickety people were all chaos hippies, and I got into it. A favorite response to/comment on our sound came from Mike Johnsen: "You're watching a rock band, and suddenly an airplane lands on the stage."

What prompted the shift from playing guitar and drumming in rock bands (albeit highly experimental rock bands) to making soundtracks with more of an electroacoustic free improvisation mindset? Did you just get bored with working inside the rock and roll idiom or had you been playing around with other processes all along?

It was where I found myself — all the rock bands I had joined were either broken up or I had quit them, and the steadiest influence was Wednesday night improvisation sets. Also, I had a couple of years dj-ing at WRCT with intense exposure to/complete immersion in noise, contemporary composition, and free jazz/free improv. I'm not bored with rock or any other music, things to learn from and think about all over the place. Adventures, surprises and lessons in every band/group I've played in/with.

You've got an encyclopedic knowledge of all kinds of experimental music recordings. How do you balance that practice of listening and dj-ing with the practice of music-making? In other words, how do you avoid having your own music become a goulash of the sounds you're hearing every week when you put together the radio show? 

Listening is good but it's passive. Experience, activity, going out and playing, is what is really useful and where your sound/sounds come from. I couldn't sound like Pauline Oliveros or Lowell Cross if I tried. Different people, different experiences, different times. I only play what I know whenever I know/believe in it. Regarding goulash, my wife makes delicious goulash, and not just on Saturdays. 

"Don't hesitate, do it, do it right now." –Sten Hansen

Listen to Steve's show, Radio Free Radio, every Saturday from 6 to 8pm on WRCT 88.3 FM. "Mutations, speech, prosthetics, audio."

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