Interview with DaveX, director of the Southern Illinois Noise Summit & host of Sounds Like Radio
DaveX is a busy man. He hosts a weekly experimental radio show called It’s Too Damn Early on WDBX in Carbondale, Illinois. He runs the popular experimental music blog Startling Moniker. He is the founder of the micro-label Naked Arrival. Starting April 4th, he’ll be hosting ANOTHER experimental radio show called Sounds Like Radio on the long-reaching WSIU at Southern Illinois University. As if that isn’t enough, he’s also the brainchild behind the second annual Southern Illinois Noise Summit, a festival of noise, avant-garde, and experimental bands set to take place April 18th at the Carterville Civic Center in Carterville, Illinois. And yet, he managed to find the time to answer some questions from his former ~ORE~ co-host and college friend, me. Here’s the Theatre Intangible interview:
T: Tell me about your new show. How will it differ from Its Too Damn Early?
D: Sounds Like Radio will be heard each Sunday morning, from 3-5 a.m., starting April 4th. Like It’s Too Damn Early, it is a program of experimental music, but I’m intending to present more academically-oriented works than I would ordinarily play. This extra two hours is basically going to let me focus much more deeply on the areas of experimental music that I already air by splitting them up somewhat. I’m sure there will always be some crossover, but I’m already starting to identify albums mentally with one of my shows or the other. “Sounds Like Radio” is pre-recorded, so some of my randomness in programming will have to go out the window– but I’m hoping that what I lose will be offset by the ability to present more complex shows. I’m actually very happy to have adopt a new method, I wouldn’t have wanted to do the same thing twice.
T: Southern Illinois had no experimental scene to speak of when we started ~ORE~ in 1998. How have things changed in the last 12 years? What part have you played?
D: I still doubt we have enough going on to claim in as a “scene,” but that might just be my discomfort with the word. Mostly what’s important now is that people who are interested in odd sorts of music and art are more likely to be talking to one another than in years past. I think my WDBX broadcast It’s Too Damn Early has played a significant part in accomplishing this, but there’s definitely a lot of credit to be shared for where we’re at. Once you have good communication going– and not just “top down” communication from radio hosts or promoters, but from from one artist to another, it’s pretty hard to kill the sense that things are moving forward.
T: I distinctly remember the first time I ever heard the phrase “circuit-bending” was out of your mouth in the late 90’s. To demonstrate, you pulled apart an old toy keyboard, stuck your fingers on the circuit board, and created otherworldly sounds. Since then, circuit-bending has become an underground phenomenon. You had a real dissatisfaction with the world around you (a trait which some didn’t quite know how to take, if I remember correctly.) But it disguised an almost-boyhood sense of wonderment for the hidden, the untried, and the mundane things that others took for granted. What is it about your personality that leads you to the bizarre, the difficult, and the innovative?
D: Well, I certainly didn’t invent circuit-bending– and I know YOU’RE aware of that, but I’ve got to make sure your readers do as well. Do some digging, and you’ll find Reed Ghazala in that particular nexus. It’s worth your time! But yeah, you nailed me. If I was dissatisfied, it was because I kept waiting around for other folks to see all these incredible things that are off to the side of our normal path. I’ve been called “easily amused” more than a few times, which also seems appropriate. The world is just full up with amazing things! But in regards to circuit-bending, I think what was most appealing to me was that it was a convenient concept for a lot of my own scattered ideas to group around. Sort of like mental kitty litter, with clumping action. For me, circuit-bending was a physical incarnation of how I’d always looked at things– broken into their elements, free of a designer’s impetus, raw. So I took circuit-bending and applied it to everything; like I said, it helped me think about other ideas more clearly. Try it with anything! Look at my auto-art with the Wordle program. That’s basically circuit-bending, if you take it outside a circuit. I’m using various online software to do something it wasn’t designed for at all, just breaking it apart into the elements I find useful. It might be that circuit-bending is just folks getting back to our tool-making caveman roots.
T: You released a do-it-yourself cd-r of experimental works back in the late 90’s called Electric Kitten Vomit at a time when cd-r releases evoked impressions of amateurishness. Nowadays, cd-r releases almost seem like badges of honor, handmade curios, and prizes to be collected. Can you talk a little bit about EKV and the works you’ve made since?
D: That particular CDR was pretty amateurish, as I recall. Still, it had a lot of heart, and I’m happy I put it out there. Electric Kitten Vomit was pure experimental music. Just my unfiltered creative efforts, almost like proto-art, or primitive work. As a listener, I have a good appreciation for this sort of thing, but it’s harder to be objective when it’s your own work. I’m looking forward to seeing it on Mutant Sounds someday; I’m sure it will have some overblown description, which will tickle me pink. The funny thing is how much of an afterlife these little CDRs have. You run into people who’ve heard it, or find one staring out at you from a thrift store shelf. I think of them as little crumbs, but I’m not certain where they lead.
T: Tell me some of your favorite memories of hosting It’s Too Damn Early for the past 9 years. Any particular favorite in-studio improvs?
D: One of my favorite shows so far was an in-studio performance by saxophonist Randall Hall. In addition to some marvelous work with processed saxophone, Hall took the time to demonstrate some extended techniques with his instrument, even soliciting ideas from us for how to prepare the bell. I wish more people could have up-close encounters with music like this– music is almost totally a pre-packaged experience for people now; I suspect that our collective appreciation and understanding of sound suffers due to this remove.
The first annual Noise Summit was a pretty big deal for me. Fifteen musicians and a handful of half-stack amps, drums, pedal gardens… all crammed into the front room at WDBX. It’s not a very large space to begin with. I also enjoy my odd, latenight callers. We have a love/hate relationship– we love to hate each other. I get drunk-dialed at least once every show, and they’re usually a riot. Requests for Primus, complaints about dance-ability, genuine concern for my mental well-being. But some of these people keep calling back, so I know they’re listening, and I accept them as part of what makes It’s Too Damn Early what it is. I hosted two separate teams of ghost-hunters live on the air, performed live mixes with sounds mic’ed up around the nighttime neighborhood, and recorded albums live on-air as well. There’s really too many neat things that have happened to begin numbering them. When I look back through my STARTLING MONIIKER blog, I run into stuff I’d forgotten about. Dan Godston playing trumpet with two birds flying around the room; doing a whole show with a single jambox during the master control remodeling; or just the many early mornings I spent alone, blowing my mind with some obscure LP, watching the sun rise through the window.
T: Who is one of your favorite avant-garde artists from the old guard, and what lesson can modern day musicians learn from him/her?
D: I bet she wouldn’t appreciate the “old” tag, but I’m going with Joan LaBarbara. I love her work; everything I’ve heard from her just resounds with her own joy at doing what she loves, and having fun doing it. I won’t set up a complete dichotomy between generations of musicians on this issue, but I will say that I think that this sense of joy should be apparent in anyone worth listening to.
T: Who are some of the modern avant-garde/experimental artists that really excite you?
D: Let’s just pick three, or we’ll be here all day playing “memory.” Right now; I’ll say Frank Rothkamm, Bryan Day, and Tom Nunn. Day and Nunn both build instruments, and I suppose one could include Rothkamm in that category if virtual instruments or programming thereof is accepted. But again, it’s their total devotion to what they’re doing that excites me. I’m also usually happy to find that they’re all quite good at exploring ideas and sounds that just don’t seem to exist anywhere else. It also helps that each seems to have a terrific ability to fully grasp what they reach for– particularly Rothkamm, whose command of music is simply astounding. Oh! And George Korein. He’s as full of ideas as I am, and also talks a mile a minute. A kindred spirit! This video sums it up.
T: What about on the local scene?
D: No question here. Karthik Kakarala. He’s got a zillion side projects, but I suspect that they’re all slowly converging on a single “ground zero” target. With any luck, it will be a Karthik vs. Karthik split LP. Another Southern Illinoisian of note is Courtney Cox, who records the occasional tape as Trash Ant. I’m firmly convinced that his stuff is genius, but I’d be damned if I can completely explain why.
T: How long have you been blogging on Startling Moniker and where does it fit within the larger experimental community?
D: I think I’ve been blogging since November of 2006. You’ll have to do the math on that. Right now, I’m mostly using STARTLING MONIKER as an addendum to my broadcasts. You could think of it as the “required reading” for all the shows. Naturally, there’s some local promotion that makes its way in, and the occasional review. I’ve been back-and-forth on reviews for some time now, but I think I’ve mostly given them up. If I’m playing an album, it’s worth picking up, okay? I’d much rather read a well-written critique of an album any day, personally, but I don’t have enough time to write these in a regular manner. Caleb Dupree does a great job with these at Classical-Drone … and of course, there’s Paris Transatlantic … I’m not certain how STARTLING MONIKER fits into the overall community, to be honest. Hopefully, I’m bringing some awareness of Southern Illinois and small-town experimental art to the bigger cities.
T: Tell me a little bit about your micro-label Naked Arrival.
D: There have been 3 releases, the last of which is an ongoing free cassette release of “Mystery Tapes,” cassettes that feature random ITDE programming and improv sessions. These are all unique, but cannot be ordered directly. Instead, I am leaving them in various places slowly over the course of the next couple years.
T: You released a recording by your daughter. What’s that all about? Do you see that same mix of impatience and fascination in your kids?
D: The Style City CDR is my daughter’s first release. It’s free online, but also available in a trades-only edition of 10. She surprised me with some minimal synth drone recordings; about half of which is paired with lyrics about sickness, death, and giant robots. I knew that it had to have a proper release, so we worked up a really nice package for it. I helped with burning the discs and assembling the packages, but she was in full control of every artistic decision. For anyone who digs outsider art, this is a good disc to look into.
She also has a track on Dictaphonia vol.6, as “Golden Roses”.
I think all kids are pretty much a mixture of impatience and fascination. It’s adults who tend to lose these qualities.
T: This is your second year putting on the Southern Illinois Noise Summit? What’s different about this year?
D: Last year, I promised a bigger venue, which I have delivered– we’re going to be at the Carterville Civic Center on April 18th, at noon. It’s still free, but now you don’t have to cram in a tiny room with a bunch of sweaty people and sit on an amp.
T: What do you look for in players for the summit?
D: I’m looking for a balance of things. On the one hand, Southern Illinois is growing it’s own experimental music from seed. So I can’t be as picky as someone who’s organizing a festival in New York, or San Francisco. It’s appropriate to accept a certain level of artistic growth, and not worry overmuch about the overall professionalism of the artist or band. The Noise Summit is as much a concert as it is a chance for us to inspire and inform each other, and also the audience. So I’m looking for people who want to explore these outer edges of music, not just folks who already have a pedigree. If there’s someone down here who’s never played out, but just spent the last few weeks recording tapes backward in their closet and banging a mic around, I want them here– performing or not. We can all be inspired by one another, and I think we all have something worthwhile to share. Come, and bring your curiosity with you!
T: When the summit is over this year, by what criteria will you define it a success or failure?
D: I will declare it a failure if, at any point in time, a new-age drum circle breaks out.
Electric Kitten Vomit – Self-titled
Electric Kitten Vomit – The Avant-garde Revolts
DaveX – The Only Motion Is Returning
DaveX – The Resurrection of Body and Song
DaveX – Tenex
DaveX – Improv For Folded Signals
DaveX – Gimmie More (Chopped and Screwed Media Defender Remix) http://www.mediafire.com/?6edxtmes5y0
Theatre Intangible Podcast Volume 4 – The Sound of Teeth
~OrE~ Prefab Audio Extrapolations – Various, appears throughout
Microcassetor 2 – Ekevee – Improv with Audience
Ekevee – Improv with Pearlcorder
Eld Rich Palmer Off-Line – Electric Kitten Vomit – Track 1
Eld Rich Palmer Off-Line – Electric Kitten Vomit – Track 2
Southern Illinois Noise Summit, 2009 – DaveX – Solo (part 1 of full comp) (part 2)
Southern Illinois Noise Summit, 2009 – DaveX – w/Karthik Kakarala
Dictaphonia vol. 1 – DaveX – Keeping My Hand In
Dictaphonia vol. 4 – DaveX – Wire/Recorder
Mystery Tapes – Series of 41 Randomly-released tapes, appears throughout
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