Thursday, April 30, 2009

Non-Human Places : Metalux Interview by DNML

Went to the record store today and drooled over the 19 dollar KK Rampage / Metalux split.  I'm too broke to buy it (that's what I'm telling myself), but it made me want to share this interview that I did with one of my favorite "bands" Metalux.  If you don't know already, Metalux is a duo comprised of Jenny Graf and M.V. Carbon.  Currently, J. Graf is busy in Baltimore with her other band Harrius (who blew my puny mind when I saw them live), and makes films, and does a billion other things such as "the guitars project" (It would take too long to explain, so just go to and check it all out.)  Carbon is in NYC doing strange and beautiful solo stuff every day and taking time out to play with experimental heavies like Tony Conrad, Carlos Giffoni, and Richard Hoffman of Sightings among many others.  Oh and Metalux is recording a new record coming out.  If you find out when, let me know.

Note: I did this interview about a year ago for a zine called Wet Noise, that my pal Jail did.  The zine was about queer and non-male noise arts, so that's why I'm asking creepy questions about gender, and some of the info is slightly out of date. 

D: How did Metalux begin?

JG: Metalux already existed on a box, and maybe in a box.  It was pre-fabricated, but nobody knows about that.  Carbon and Bridgette (the first two members of Metalux) saw it while looking at a stopped frame of a film Carbon shot in Chicago.  There it was; a box, with the word Metalux.  It was lurking around in the industrial zones where all the strong weeds grow.  Bridgette played a hand-made instrument with a motorized unit that played a wire.  Carbon played cello, I started playing with them half a year later-drums with contact mics running through some pedals.

D:  What are you scheming as of late?

We are recording a new record that will be out sometime soon.  We also have some video projects in mind.  And we want to spend more time in the woods.

MVC:  Jenny is working on finishing up a movie called Proud Flesh.  We just got back from an amazing tour in the U.K.  Metalux is planning on touring again in the near future but we are still figuring that out right now.  I've been busy in NYC collaborating with Tony Conrad
on various projects and we have been recording a lot of material which we plan on sorting out this summer.  I have also been working with Luke Calzonetti (of Child Abuse ) on a project called Bad Faces.  I'm working with Carlos Giffoni on a project called Jackal Blade, and I have another project called Violent Raid which has a record out on Shinkyo.  I've been spending a lot of time painting, and as Jenny said we are trying to spend more time in the woods whenever possible.  I'm hoping to shed a couple of layers of city skin by the end of summer.

D:  Describe some elements of your collaboration process.  What process/techniques work for you? ...and how does collaboration change when you work with others (Weise, or Twig....etc.).

JG:  We don't have a fixed process of collaborating, although it feels very familiar.  It has mutated over the years since we started.

LIVE- we work together best without a lot of parameters.  Although we have also played from scores and a lot of people seem to like that especially when it means they can recognize a song from a recording.  We just toured with a large group throughout the UK:  Yellow Swans , Evan Parker ,C.Spencer Yeh, John Wiese, Paul Hession, John Edwards, Lee Stokoe (Culver) and we all played together for two 50-minute sets for 7 nights.  I think that experience made me learn more about my own interests and abilities as well as those of Carbon's.  People bring out different things in each other just as in conversation.  Have you ever listened in on a conversation a very close friend is having with someone?  I am usually surprised at what that friend is saying.  I think it is important to eavesdrop on friends once in awhile just to affirm that you don't know as much as you think you do about him/her.

UNLIVE- We sometimes pass things back and forth for editing or mastering/mixing.  Sometimes we record something and do nothing, but much of the time we like to create a splice somewhere.  Sometimes I feel like I am a weaver, weaving strands of sound together.  I enjoy the mixing and mastering process very much with Metalux.  One thing that is great with us is that we don't argue about how to approach something.  We are both willing to let go of an idea or to try something that doesn't feel "right" right away. 

I think we both enjoyed working with Twig and we might kidnap him again sometime.  He taught me a lot about how to keep robbers away from the touring car.  He showed me how to put a very dirty sock on top of a bowl or some other food container on the dashboard.  Robbers can't break into a car that has that in the window.  We wrote some really great song structures using Instant Music (TM), a commodore 64 program.  Twig played the songs by moving the cursor along with a joy stick, which is an interesting gesture to see on stage.

D:  Would you describe any elements of your music/selves as gendered in any particular way?

MVC:  I like to think the music comes from a non-human place.  When I perform I definitely don't feel human.  I like to feel like I'm coming from an unearthly place.  A lot of our songs are about environments, sensations, or abstract descriptions.  Things that don't possess gender in the English language.

JG:  Here are certain kinds of gestures, actions or sounds that if performed in front of people (most people, it seems) it is like wearing a gender neutral the white sheet that most ghosts used to wear.  When a performer wears this ghost tarp, it is difficult for the listeners and players to enter into the sound/performance in a definite way.  Gender has so much to do with how people identify with every experience.  When I make music I think of myself as a creature.  Carbon and I are highly sensitized to each other.  We can feel each other subtly shift modes without looking or talking (and even in the silence before and between playing)  and because we do that we are able to symbiotically perform that way.  Again, this is why I call myself a creature when I make music in Metalux.  I don't think there is such a thing as gender neutral, but it is fun to pretend that it exists.  I think there are just so many different ways of being that it is impossible to categorize.  Gender is in the eye of the beholder anyway, but if one wants to call oneself more male or more female, or a creature, on should feel free.

I feel lucky to work with Carbon because she and I don't pin things down and kill them in order to gain understanding.  In fact,,one thing that I think is at the root of our approach is that for the first 6 months of practice, Bridgette Wilson (the first Metalux bassist), Carbon and I didn't talk about the music at all.  We would meet at Bridgette's loft, drink coffee or something and then play for 3 hours or so.  Then we would just disperse.  It all just seemed like an illusion of a practice.  Having just moved from NYC to Chicago, I thought maybe it was some weird Midwestern thing not to talk about what we played.  And I do think that is partly it.  Chicago wasn't fixated on defining itself in the same way NYC and East Coast places was, so people weren't spending tons of time analyzing things verbally.  Most of my epiphanyt moments watching people perform (or act) happen when people stop being people and also stop playing their assigned gender roles.  What is interesting is when they become vessels for something else, for a thought.  I find that more sexually/spiritually stimulating anyway.

Some people who influenced me in this way are:  Aileen Wuornos, Tina Turner (the first female pop icon I related to), Linda Montano (the first artist I related to), Prince (my first concert), Ohm Kalsoum (the Egyptian singer), Augusta Graf (my grandmother) and also various people I have known personally. 

D:  What color is your house?

JG: Inside? Coral (between orange and pink)

MVC:  I live at West Nile, a large warehouse space below the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn.  The walls are stacked high with white cinder blocks.  The ceiling is vaulted corrugated metal, which does wonders for acoustics.  Our kitchen is a stage and we frequently host performances.

D:  Who have you been into lately?

JG:  I live in The greatest City in America! At least that's what the bus stop benches say in Baltimore.  There are people doing things here that I don't think are happening anywhere else, and if they are, great!.  More important, is the context in which things happen.  I am totally down with the style of happenings here.  In backyards, in alleys, in basements, in bedrooms, and very little middle man ning.  A lot of collaborative living, filming, working as well.  I will tell you mostly about Baltimore stuff happening since it is less likely that it gets out into the mainliner veins of the media industry.

D: names?

JG:  Have you ever heard any of Blaster Al Ackerman's stories on cd or vinyl?  You can hear tracks on Ehse .  Ehse is a Baltimore label and everything on there is capable of blowing your mind (depending on the way the wind is blowing).  I like Leprachaun Catering and Trockenesis and Little Howling Wolf for a start.  Twig, Caleb and Chiara Giovando just started a label called enleseries.  A person can custom order sides of a record from a catalog of about 20 different artists.  The records are hand-cut using a lathe so each one sounds slightly different.  You can hear the grooves which is really lovely and creates nuanced variety in each disc.  Metalux has a track on there but there are so many great musicians that you may or my not know of who have tracks there.  I like the Beastmaster and the Hans Grusel tracks a lot. 

There are people making films here too.  Catherine Pancake just finished Black Diamonds, a film about strip mining in W. Virginia.  It is a very powerful documentary  that she dedicated very many years putting together.  She has traveled a bit with it and included the W. Virginia women activists as speakers.  But I have very much respect for Dan Conrad who has invented many different instruments since the 70's.  He has these incredible light boxes that shift shape and color, one of which he plays as a color instrument.  I played with him several times and it is an amazing experience. is his website and he just finished a dvd documentation of the lightboxes.  He happens to be Tony Conrad's brother too.

MVC:  When I see live music, I am really interested in the approach.  I feel like there are so many connotations that can come along with particular instruments and I like to see people who are successful at diminishing stereotypes.  Sometimes I feel like the approach for the audience needs to change too.  I am surprised that after all these years the tradition for watching a band is to stand or sit facing them.  Some of my favorite performances that I've seen in the last year have been Keiji Heino w/ Thurston Moore, Audrey Chen, Zeena Parkins , Phil Niblock , Spencer Yeh, Little Howling Wolf, Radio Shock , Imaginary People, Fashi Mello, Sightings, No Neck Blues Band, Z's, Exceptor, IdM Theftable, Carlos Giffoni, Susie Ibarra , and Robert Ashley's Concrete.  This week I have been listening to stuff by Nam June Paik, AMM, Subotnik, Ariel Pink, Grace Jones, Television, Yoko Ono, and Christian Marclay.

hope you like it.


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