Interview Date: February 9, 2012 @1pm EDT
Special Guest: Leafcutter John is an artist, an electronics tinkerer and a musician who is always thinking up new ways of exploring sound. He has brought out a list of incredible albums like “Microcontact” [Planet-Mu] ,“The Housebound Spirit” [Planet-Mu], “The Forest And The Sea” [Staubgold], and Tunis [Tsuku Boshi] as well as worked with the jazz band Polar Bear (with Seb Rochford) on their album “Peepers” [Leaf Label]. He has a website where he describes some fascinating projects that he has worked on like “Making your own Acoustic Guitar,” “Soundtrap 2,” “M-Log controller,” “Growing your own Contact Mic,” “How to make Laser Microphones, “ “Light Controlled Music,” and much more.
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Are you a Painter, or a Musician?
Musicians, painters, actors, social activists – the line blurs sometimes, and sometimes it is forced upon us. It’s forced upon us to accept that success in one area necessarily means ability in another. Sadly, it seems that one of the first steps towards building your musical aspirations is to launch your modelling career. I think the industry is losing sight of something.
There’s a long list of names you should be familiar with that cross the boundaries and put their name in more than one category of “artist”: Brian Eno, Bob Dylan, Johnny Depp, Miles Davis, Ron Wood, David Bowie, Tony Bennett, David Byrne, Scarlett Johansson, Grace Slick, Joni Mitchell, Marilyn Manson, Ringo Starr, Donna Summer, Zooey Deschanel, and the list could go on. A lot of these people make a good deal of money with their “side project” while others–those who aren’t famous–can’t break into the market despite ability or merit. What the people listed above have to their advantage, above others, is the lifestyle, leisure, wealth, and dedicated fan-base to afford their second career to be profitable, or at least allows them to be able to continue their “hobby” even if it isn’t profitable. They have that, plus an established interest in creating works of art.
I recently heard a literary agent speaking about William S. Burroughs, stating that his position in the upper class and opposition to it, as well as others in the upper class, was the driving force to create profound and shocking work. Apparently, his theory goes, it takes a much more focused and impassioned effort to break away from the privileged and polite society; I guess, because the lower classes are already mired in the filth and familiar with it, it wouldn’t be profound and shocking from them. Charles Bukowski punches a big hole in his theory. Plus, you don’t have to be a member of a particular class to revolt against it.
There are more holes in this agent’s theory though; for example, it says nothing of natural ability and inclination. I’m no expert literary agent, but I think that Burroughs was going to be a counter-culture homo-erotic heroin user no matter to which class fate had destined him, and not, after being educated at Harvard, did Burroughs decide he had to become all this, perhaps to even get married and shoot his wife for the proper angle to sell his work. His position in the upper-class may have contributed to his writing; his wealth afforded him time to ruminate and get it down. I think it was more that time, desire, and creativity, and not his revolt on the constraints that led to profound work. Perhaps time to create being most important. If this isn’t becoming apparent, let me relate the story from my university paper from the English major who took a job as a field-hand for a work term to gain insight to complete his thesis on the nobility of farm labour: he found himself too tired to write after a day of work, and his fingers too sore to type or hold a pen even when he forced himself to stay awake. Bourgeoisie, meet Proletariat. He had all the desire to create, but farm labour and the hard transition from poet to labourer robbed him of all his time and energy in which to create. And to quote Burroughs, “Death needs time like a junkie needs junk . . . Death needs time for what it kills to grow in . . .” And I suppose no one will like this, but the relationship is artists are like death–that is, they need time to create in.
But it takes more than time to create. Although, to be fair, some of these boundary-crossing established artists simply do have drive and integrity. Some have even fostered their inspiration to create by attending art-school, before they got famous. Eno, Wood, Bowie, and Byrne are ones who started in art-school and have continued to create fine art, aside from their musical career. And while some artists are pushed upon us to accept their venture in another field, and there is an automatic reaction to being forced to accept something. Automatic rejection. The other belief is that you can be one thing, no more. “Being a famous musician does not mean you can paint!” But to dismiss all their work as just some artist’s or agent’s push to brand a name and make money would be an error and lose something valuable: Great work from a skilled artist.
However, there are those who simply have a calling to create despite not having the lifestyle and opportunity laid out before them. For their benefit, let’s call them artists. The integrity and impetus to create; the merit of the work, the integrity of the drive. This is the divide–those who have a desire to create, and those who create because they have the idle time, wads of cash, and a blind fan-base willing to spend money on anything with their name attached to it. What we’re talking about here is the application of the creative impetus in different areas verses a marketable talent. That marketable talent may be creating in desire when they bounce their ta-ta’s for the camera, and some may be great at doing that, but let’s be aware of what it is. The divide goes along the same lines as appreciating art verses being a fan (fanatic.)
On one side of the divide is Leafcutter John; one who simply has the drive to create. To get to know him better, listen to the podcast; for now, let’s continue to focus on the good, the bad, and the ugly in the art world. Jason mentioned art critic, Robert Hughes, in the podcast; he’s a great place to start to hone your perception. But don’t follow him blindly either; foster your own taste and develop it. And do this not only with fine art, but with music as well. It’s not always easy; most of us are brought up in society and in our social cliques to like what’s approved of by the group. It’s everywhere. It’s the status quo. It’s hard to snap out of, but believe me, if you don’t already know, it’s a much more rewarding experience to develop your taste, understand what’s got integrity and discover it for yourself rather than to have some program, media outlet, or radio chain tell you what you should be buying. There’s much greater appreciation in liking something because you like it, and not because you think someone else will like it. It’s a gift. We’re doing this for you. There’s a huge reward in this. It leads to crate digging; it’s an acquired compulsive disorder, we hope we’ve started you down the right path.
As for Leafcutter John, I can’t say enough about him. Judge for yourself, of course, but I think he’s remarkable. Just give him more time.
-Guthrie Alan Corwin
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A friend of mine who is an avid Aleister Crowley reader and fan told me about this recent release by guitarist Jimmy Page. “Lucifer Rising” is an album done by Jimmy Page for a movie about Aleister Crowley back in the early 70’s; Page, who in a long line of fans of Crowley has put out a limited edition of the record that is sure to be a collector’s item for all those Led Zeppelin and/or Occultist fans. Check it out here: http://www.lashtal.com/nuke/Article1581.phtmlLanding My Spaceship with Leafcutter John
Public Radio International’s To the Best of Our Knowledge. I usually love this show, and strangely, this week’s podcast is especially pertinent:
Why do people embrace the experimental visual art of Mark Rothko but avoid the experimental music of Karlheinz Stockhausen? That’s the question that David Stubbs explores in his book, “Fear of Music.” Also, Wesley Stace talks about his new novel which focuses on the relationship between a music critic and a young composer.
Here’s something that bridges the gap of vinyl and art nicely,
The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl Organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.