In A Silent Way: interview of Kim Cascone by Mark Lo
I've been a big fan of Kim Cascone and his project PGR since the first album, Silence came out some years ago. That album contained some of the first sound collage works I'd ever heard, and I sat alone in the empty radio studio, transfixed by the sounds that filled the dingy room. It doesn't seem quite so novel to me now, but each successive release has been a n experience that brought new feelings of wonder.
Based in San Francisco, Kim is a master at creating works which conjure up varied images and sensations. Not surprising considering his endeavors in the world of film. Kim is also the force behind Silent Records, a label that's home to an increasing number of experimental recordings. By the time you read this, the new Zoviet France CD should be out (on Toronto's DOV entertainment label, but distributed in the U.S. by Silent), and a Pelican Daughters CD should be just around the corner. The Metro Techno compilation (licensed from the Shadow label, also from Toronto) is slated for Fall release, and a Hafler Trio project is also planned.
Kim hopes to begin recording his next effort in September, with a working title of Codes, Chemicals & Static. It should be cool. I conducted this interview by phone on 4/22/191.
F13: Mark Lo KC: Kim Cascone
F13: How and when did you begin recording as PGR?
KC: PGR started in 1984. I moved out here from New York City in 1983 and started a group called Language Lab, with a guy named Brian Kruse-Smith. It was basically an ensemble that was patterned after AMM. We all either constructed unorthodox instruments or played normal instruments in an orthodox manner.
We sort of discovered 'industrial' music by accident. We discovered the Re/Search Industrial Culture a handbook, and I had never heard of any of this stuff. We kind of both pored through it and became fascinated with the idea of crossing academic electronic music with a punk aesthetic. We formed PGR at that point, and played a concert shortly thereafter. That was our first outing and our first piece. And it went pretty well, so we decided to go into the studio and start recording pieces for a cassette, or whatever. We didn't know what form it was going to take.
At that point, Brian had gotten a job through the University of California, doing some sort of research on French music, so he had to move away. I met Reyvision about that time, and he and I worked together for about a year and a half. Then he dropped away, and I've been working on my own, inviting other people to work with me from time to time.
F13: How do you decide what musicians to work with?
KC: Whatever musicians I happen to feel an affinity with at the time. . . There's a musician [Larry Thrasher] I'm working with now who was in Thessalonians. He's been studying tabla for years, so we're working on some pieces around that. Basically, if I have an idea for a piece, I try to think of musicians who can get me certain sounds or play certain instruments. It's like using a palate of colors. The musicians are sort of the colors you can draw from. I have been working more solo lately. Now that I have a sampler and a sequencer, I find that a lot of my ideas have been centering around that technology rather than going into the studio with a bunch of musicians.
F13: So, when you do work with other people, you have some concept in mind, beforehand?
KC: All the pieces are basically composed in my mind's ear, so to speak. They're drawn out on paper, and I pass these graphic notation scores around, and try to explain what my vision is to the other musicians I'm working with. I don't want to constrict them, so I give them a certain amount of flexibility to invent or improvise as they go along.
F13: In what ways do you think your music has progressed over the years?
KC: Well, I started studying music in 1973 at the Berklee College of Music, and at the time, my musical consciousness was shaped by the minimalist composers. When I started playing with synthesizers and electronics, I built very minimalist sound tapestries, and I got going from that. I started doing a lot more harsh stuff in New York City, with the environment I was in -- listening to subways and traffic -- although I knew nothing about industrial music.
Then I developed the idea of a 'silent channel.' What it was was a process of communication where the person who was partaking in the event would call upon their own internal sounds, sights, or internal associations. They would call on their own emotional vocabulary to bring up thoughts and feelings. It's not something that a composer in necessarily trying to convey, but a process that happens when a person is listening to the music.
That whole process fascinated me, and I wanted to kind of play on that a little more, so I developed a whole philosophy -- after which Silent Records was named after. So the pieces on Fetish, for instance, draw heavily upon trying to work on the person who is listening to the music, so they'll experience it from within themselves.
F13: How about Cyclone? To me, that seems to be on of your most vivid works, in terms of the imagery that I get. I was wondering what some of the sound sources were.
KC: Well, it runs the gamut -- everything from guitar feedback to a recording I did of my wife's dance class. I used some samples from Koyanasqaatsi. I used some text from Alice In Wonderland.
"Time" had originally been recorded back in 1984 with Reyvision, and the master tape was lost. it had survived a fire at the ATA Gallery where Reyvision was living at the time. And when he moved out of the gallery after the fire, I had no idea what had happened to the tape. All I had was a partially erased version on cassette to recreate the whole thing from. And then I added some other movements to it. When Reyvision moved to L.A., about a year ago, he found the master tape. It's in this singed box and looks real industrial. I have it now, but I haven't listened to it.
F13: You're not that prolific in terms of releases. Is this because you limit your output to what you feel is your best work, or do you just not create a lot of music?
KC: Well, I'm not sure how to answer that, what 'prolific' means in terms of the number of releases per year...
F13: Well, with some artists, it seems like every issue they send me two or three things. Some of the cassette people...
KC: Oh. Well, that's much easier. If I was working in the cassette medium, I could definitely release a lot of stuff. I've gotten a lot of flak for not working in that medium, because there's this real die-hard cassette underground. They love cassettes, and I don't share that at all. I only release things on CD or vinyl. And I think that makes it tougher, because there aren't many people at this level who could kick out a CD from me every year. I know I couldn't right now.
F13: You're talking from a financial standpoint?
KC: Yeah, mostly. Not because of the cost of manufacturing a CD -- that's not the problem -- but just incurring the cost of studio time. For me, right now, to put aside $500 to $1000 to go into the studio and record pieces I think are of CD quality is just not feasible.
F13: That's in contrast to people who do their stuff at home...
KC: Right. I'd like to do more stuff at home, but I'd have to buy a DAT recorder and I'd like to get another McIntosh, get more memory for my sampler -- that sort of thing.
But, not to get defensive, I just release what I need to release. I don't release everything I do, of course. A lot of what I do is just works in progress, or works that lead up to other works, or refining a certain technique.
F13: Maybe you're a little more careful, the way artists used to do a series of rough sketches...
KC: Yeah. I don't think I'm consciously very careful, but I do discriminate against pieces I don't think are ready for public consumption. There are certain things I do that are, like you say, sketches or studies.
F13: How about some of the techniques you use in your music? You use terms like extraction, reinvestment, and imbrication. Exactly what are those?
KC: Well, over the past ten years, I've stumbled upon certain personal techniques. The first was a technique I call 'extraction.' It's basically a happy accident I came across when I was patching some digital outboard processing gear and I mispatched something. I couldn't figure out where the sound was coming from, but I was getting this great big wash of sound that kind of had a life of its own. It took me awhile to figure out what I had done, but basically I was listening to a guitar track through four or five effects. But what I was hearing was not guitars, it was birds, people talking. Very interesting Rorschach things started happening. I started to investigate this technique, and I recorded the only real piece that's been released to date, which was "In the Shadow Of The Lion's cage" on The Flickering of Sowing Time. It's just two tracks of guitar, basically.
F13: You said you were sort of frustrated by the technique...
KC: Actually, there is another extraction I released on the U.P.D. compilation Constructive Music 1990 called Briny Diseases of Aimless Gas." That was an extraction on Reyvision's voice. But I felt that if I headed truly into the whole realm of extraction, it could be viewed as being too easy to create a whole album full of extractions. So I decided maybe I would leave it, and come back to it later. There is a piece by a clarinetist [Beth Custer] with the Clubfoot Orchestra here in San Francisco, of her just improvising in the studio. I think that was the one that discouraged me from continuing on with it.
'Reinvestment' is basically the idea that after a field of sounds has been extracted from a source, I use whatever I think I hear, and I put it back in. So if I hear birds, I'll pull some CD sound effects or field recordings and just sneak them in subliminally to reinforce the idea of birds. Or trains, or whatever I hear psychoacoustically.
'Imbrication' is a fancy way of saying 'overlapping different sort of autonomous event, musical passages, timbres of sound.' What I was trying to do is create a new narrative by layering solo pieces that had nothing to do with each other.
F13: They're very descriptive terms. You can almost imagine, just from the words, the thought behind them.
KC: Uh-huh. Actually, 'imbrication' happened...I love to read the dictionary, and came across this word 'imbrication' and sort of felt like it defined the process I had been going through.
Typed by Cheryl Vega 5-30-95