Wiring Dept. Sonic Youth on cover maybe summer 1986? copyright 2005w

RHYTHM AND NOISE - Interview with Naut Humon and Desmond Shea Interview by Eric Cope

EC: How would you describe Rhythm and Noise?

NH: I'd say it's fairly self-explanatory. That's why that title's been around for a long time. There are all these monikers that groups tried to come up with, but we just decided to make it descriptive of the sound.

EC: Just rhythm and noise. Do you use any vocals at all?

NH: Yeah, there's vocals. I mean, that sort of fluctuates from record to record. Sometimes things are more instrumental. It's a constantly shifting pattern that never stays in any one place. But we're primarily more concerned with tone color and timbre in terms of how noises and rhythms interlock. That's more the major focus rather than on the more traditional melodies and harmony, chords; even those are all supporting factors for compositions or de-composing.

EC: What kind of instruments do you use?

NH: Well, it's pretty much an aggregate of acoustic instruments and electronic machines. We don't try to emphasize particular line-ups, but attempt certain combinations separately or in tandem. May sometimes in our own evolvement we've been more electronic than acoustic. Actually the roots of the group originated in 1969. We started off in a theatre context rather than from a sound foundation. So, these theatre events necessitated sound tracks or visual accompaniment that would go along with narrative stories. And these events were much more of an audience-participatory environment as well as the spectator experience you find presently.

EC: But you have gone through a lot of changes since then?

NH: Yeah. I've been pretty much the only person who's survived through all the years. There've been various incarnations.

EC: Who was in the band originally?

NH: Well, then it wasn't called Rhythm and Noise. There was Cripple Destiny. Another group was Cellar M, which was actually more of a sonic organization that evolved out of the theatre exhibitions. That faction existed between '74 and '76. Previous to then and through that group, we were experimenting with what is now known as the "industrial noise" sound syndrome. We were trying it all over the Bay Area, in odd clubs everywhere; out in the desert, in abandoned brewery factories - numerous indoor and outdoor locations.

Back then, when there were no records or a "scene" to sort of justify it, we scared out all kinds of halls. We'd perform and there would be an unsuspecting crowd that would gradually be driven to reactionary responses to our barrages of dissonant rhythmic onslaughts wrought with extreme densities.

EC: They couldn't relate to it?

NH: Well, the listeners back then were mostly into the early ''70's rock conditioning that largely got away from "acid" free-form association. Since the latter 60's R&N personnel were scavenging sounds which later Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Cabaret Voltaire, Neubaten etc further characterized and released on vinyl.

Instead of putting out records like the industrial "cult" did, we stayed underground with the live format and worked on our own custom devices that we helped design and build. Back in 1974 Z'ev was also part of Cellar M. He had a completely different set-up then. He used racks of found metal that surrounded him along with extensive drum/gong apparati which meshed with violas and guitars, basses, customized synthesizers, pick axes and lots of power tools such as saws, drills, hammers and whatnot.

EC: You had vocals too?

NH: Yes. Absolutely. In fact, there's all sorts of tapes preserved from that era. We even played at noontime in downtown SF in '73.

DS: Doing as interview?

NH: Yeah. Some stuff. Anyway, at this Union Square gig they called the cops on us. Told us to shut down after half an hour because it was too loud. We also played the Intersection, Mills College, and all these educational establishments. They all thought we were crazy. It was really unnerving, unsettling, uneasy listening. That was the sonic aspect.

Also, since '71 we started working with video and film and integrating it with our audio contraptions.

EC: I saw you guys once and it was just films and tapes.

NH: No, we have never ever used just taped music. There might be some minor cassette use integrated with the actual data manipulations of "Vaudeo".

EC: I went to a show in Hunter's Point. You had this big booth...

NH: Oh yeah. That was all live. What was used then was a collation of different keyboards and computer and samplers, plus two turntables, tape recorders, drum boxes, mixers, short wave radios and other junk. This was contained in an airport terminal tower along with a sound traffic controller, who is a mixer, engineer, musician, and performer. That relates to the flexible nature of the band. There's never been a set list of specific personnel. It's always fluctuating.

EC: But you've been in all along.

NH: Well, someone to keep things going. Keep the thread from way back then to now. But the idea of this outfit is to keep things in a state of flux, perpetual motion. So the "members" dismember or stick around. Like when I met Desmond a couple of years ago when we did this Fort Mason gathering with Public Image. That was the first encounter when we were working with some other people. Now Nik Fault (visual director) and Z'ev are in Europe or have gone into hiding in the East Bay (laughs) without getting into that story.

EC: Desmond is with Rhythm and Noise now?

NH: Yeah, very much so.

EC: How do you come up with songs?

NH: You should ask him. He should be in this interview too. Come over and speak for a while.

EC: How do you come up with songs?

DS: On the last record...

NH: Chasm's Accord

DS: Naut suggests some of the initial ideas.

NH: They all got mutated. (Laughs)

DS: It was a whole process of mutation and evolved ideas. Things gradually take shape. A person will add a part, suggest a concept. Someone will take the initiative to achieve a certain effect.

EC: Do you see yourselves as more of a band than before?

NH: We've gone through different stages which I haven't gone over in detail at all. The theatre events, the sound installations. And then when we went into a vaudeo stage using live audio-video interaction like a live film with real-time music attached. Nowadays it's strictly sound operation, sans visuals for the time being though those can be thrown back into other frameworks at any time. Nik's in Europe now, shooting some new material to be shown at a later period when he returns after a year or two. So times continue on. Right now I wouldn't really say it's just a band. It will always vary.

DS: That's the whole gist of it - the stasis of change.

EC: Are you planning to tour?

NH: We just got off a jaunt with a Ralph Records summer fiasco tour.

DS: We went to Minneapolis, Cleveland...

NH: A bunch of cities around the United States.

EC: How were those shows?

NH: They were weird. We had pretty positive response considering we were on a bill with two other groups who were a lot different from us. It was a label tour. It wasn't an excursion that we put together ourselves. All the promoters wanted us to return. It was like just getting our fingers wet.

EC: I heard you're going to tour with Trial.

DS: That's later.

NH: We're planning it now. We're trying out some gigs here in town. We did one at the LAB recently.

EC: How was that?

NH: A decent warm-up. Did you see that?

DS: Went really well considering the difficulties...

NH: In doing your own show without a promoter. We did it on seven days notice. We went around and papered up a bunch of posters. We're going to do others at larger venues soon. We want to take an evening with the two groups, but also include other aspects during the night. We found in going across America that the afterhours MTV/radio interlock has deluged the consumer mind.

DS: The disco phenomenon has subverted all other interests. No one cares about live music.

NH: They do, but not as much as before. It's mainly in the eyes of a lot of entrepreneurs.

DS: It's a certain way for them to make easy money. Hire a DJ and stick up a video screen and sell booze.

NH: They can make their own singles bar and have all the latest hits.

DS: It's easy for both the promoters and the audience.

NH: And you find that in a lot of big cities they close down all the bands at 10:00 or 11:00 so that the deluge of young college folks and all their friends of their ilk can come in and watch television like they do at home.. but they've got a bigger, better stereo to romp to.

EC: Do you feel that it will change?

NH: I'd say that any area - films, concerts, afterhours, etc. - can be subverted to some extent. If we were to try to attack that as we attempted to do one time last October when we were working with Diamanda Galas at a show she did South of Market. We did a program jockey environment - it's sort of like a combination of your DJ and your VJ. You'd send in all this information or data feeds from different "grandmasters" around the room into one control mixing board with processing on it.

DS: So 5 people across the room were DJ's and someone else was playing music from videos, and we're all mixing it at once.

NH: It was just a different way of dealing with a whole scratch aesthetic and attempting another step.

DS: People couldn't tell where what was coming from. It aroused some interest.

NH: That was our way of dealing with this sort of late-night deal which these clubs are doing not just in urban centers, but also in all the suburbs, mid-western towns...

What's been happening as a result of MTV, how it really seeped into the culture. What it's done to the perceptions of people.

DS: It's the same concept that people just want to do what's easy and quick. People want to watch. They don't have to think.

NH: People find it much easier when they get off work or their studies to go and just be entertained and deal with what is familiar. What's more unfamiliar or more adventuresome requires too much contemplation. They don't want to go out and confront; they'd usually rather be pacified, entertained, and forget. I think the current culture reflects that a lot, whereas in Europe, I think there's some deviation, despite the "Solid Gold" world we live in. Video has visualized music and put even more emphasis on the image; costumes and haircuts.

DS: It has penetrated into this homogenized boring thing - despite the decent videos...a rarity!

EC: Do you think it will change?

DS: It has to alter because in any medium a person develops it and takes it a step further.

NH: Take a look at the last four decades and how the pendulum has swung through different tableaux, entertainment cycles, etc. Still, what we're dealing with here are tools. The interlink between the medias.

Now you have all this homogeneous stuff coming in, do a hit song is also a movie which is also part of a video. This is all a concentrated campaign. I think this trend will continue into the future. There'll be some alternate directions, but I think we're getting lock into certain patterns of thought. It's like what happened to the film industry which is related to the radio industry. Why earlier films are better, there were more personalities involved, the acting was better. Now the music industry has discovered the formula...

Typed by Cheryl Vega 6-23-95