by SCOTT THIESSEN
Crawling With Tarts have been making music in the experimental vein since 1983. The principal members are Suzanne Dycus-Gendreau and Michael Gendreau and often they work with guest musicians. They have an extensive discography. Most of their earlier material was released on numerous tapes, some of which were home made. Since 1993 CWT have released four CD's and one full-length record. Their current recording projects include a 7" for gyttja records.
Their music is based on a wide palette of sounds, many of which are newly created with homemade instruments, and some contain subtle sounds, often overlooked, like the sound of rocks rubbing together. Entire pieces have been composed with electrical motors or old records. Their compositions are created and edited by a process which has the structure "organized in some way...some illogical way more like. There's always one way to do it and a hundred ways not to do it."
The following interview was recorded on an unusually hot San Francisco afternoon while searching for a park or view of the city. Madeleine their 12 month old baby was along for a ride in her stroller.
What's the purpose or goal for Crawling With Tarts? Mic: Well...all it is, is the music that Suz and I make together basically...and whatever we do falls as Crawling With Tarts. That name came as just something we put on anything that we work on together.
So it's more than just music? Mic: Yea that's right. It is more of a style of working... because... we've done other things like where the two of us have worked with other people and sometimes that's within our normal style and sometimes not. It does sort of have some extra meaning to it. We will know if something that we are doing has the criteria of being something that we consider to be within the realm of the world of our music.
Right now it seems like you guys have a lot of releases which have pop songs and some other releases which are more experimental and do you guys have conflicts with that? Suz: No Mic: No, not really
What about audiences? Suz: I think it's more audiences. Mic: Some of the audiences has conflict with it. What is really interesting about it is that people who are into the experimental side of our work are most likely to be intolerant of other forms of music and I find that to be ironic. Suz: Exactly. Mic: Where as people who like the pop stuff are more frequently interested in hearing the experimental stuff. Suz: Right they're much more open. Mic: And that's a very weird thing to me, but it says something about these people, and of course I'm generalizing, who consider themselves to be adventurous listeners. Suz: It's true. Some of the people that are really into experimental music who when they hear the pop music they go, "Oh they do that! We only like this part of their music." But like we're not cool because we try to do whatever we want to do. Mic: The other thing that should be said about that is that actually we don't even make pop music anymore. We don't because we haven't had a good guitar for a long time and we don't have a piano, and most of those pop songs are old. The Madeleine CD is a compilation of old music.
Which were recorded a while ago? Mic: All were recorded a while ago, and Mayten's Throw, which has the most recent pop songs on it is also still at least four or five years old.
Some of those songs on Madeleine...I think the date was 1983 or '84. Mic: Yea one of them, one of them goes back to '83.
Which one? Mic: Maybe it was even '82. That was the first song that Suz and I ever wrote together and it's the last song on the CD, Wooden Donkeys. Suz: At that time we were still doing experimental music too. It seems we were always doing both. But it did end up that for the live shows...we never did pop songs for the live shows. Mic: That's right we don't do pop songs for live shows. Suz: We don't sing on stage.
Never ever? Mic: No. Suz: Once we sang Bobby Lavender but that's it. Mic: That's right we did it once, and it was at the request of the people who put on the show, but we're not very keen on it. Suz: Yea. Mic: Well Suz doesn't like to sing in public. Suz: No. I think that's a really weird thing to stand up and sing, and practice a song over and over again. Where when we play our experimental music it's fresh, it's current, (Mic: more ritualistic) it's made for that particular thing...where pop music is something you reoccur it and you do the same songs over and over again. It involves the ego in a different way I think.
Yea it does, it does. Suz: I don't know how to explain it. I don't mean to be negative on it because I really love pop music and I...we all grew up on it. But for me to get up on stage and sing is...
Do you think there is anyone in the experimental scene right now who hasn't grown up on pop music? Suz: Well... Mic: Heh that's a good point. I think the answer is probably no. I'd have to think about it more, but I doubt it. There could be, maybe their mother or father was a professor in music or something. It's like...who could have avoided popular culture...there's no way. Suz: Who didn't grow up in suburbia who's a punk. Mic: Well no...no a lot of people grew up in the country... Suz: You know in the eighties all the punks were like oh suburbia sucks. it's like...they all live there...
That's why they know it sucks. Suz: Exactly...but everybody grew up on pop music. Mic: I think maybe that's a good point. The point being that some people just reject, completely, that thing that they grew up with, you know that stuff they heard on the radio when they were eleven, as being a bad influence on them. And I think to a large extent it was a bad influence on us too, but we...you know we always wanted to grapple with it and understand what that influence was. It's an important part of everybody's psychology. And...uh...some people won't agree with... Suz: It's okay to say you don't like things because it's not scientific about...there are things I don't like. I don't like the smell of tar on the roof and every time there's the neighbor to have tar on his roof...oh God. I had to leave the house today 'cause I don't like the smell. Mic: Our neighbors put manure on their lawn the other day.
That's a bonus. How much of your work do you think is based on folk music? Mic: A large part of it. Not on any specific folk music but we consider it to be a folk music of our own particular milieu. Suz: Yea I think of the folk music is much more prevalent in like the living rural part of our lives... Mic: Yea I think, I think what is meant by that question is that...is...is when you take music from your environment, you take music and base it on the way you live and the way things are around you...and I think that, to a large extent, determines the kind of music you make. Suz: That's true. Mic: You know not in the sense of traditional folk music like...or music indigenous to various other cultures. I don't think were influenced by that...I think that we consider our music to be indigenous to our own culture...our reflection of the way society is, in a variety of ways.
Do you think that a lot of that comes from making your own instruments? Mic: Yea...yea...definitely because there's an exploration in it...you know when you make something and put sounds in it those...and you find the sounds that you like, that sort of determines the content anyway. But also the formal structures are probably based more on a cultural...reality. Suz: That's true...[obscured]...and sounds that kind of go together differently. It's true.
Mic: At heart the music probably has a strong element of influence from society but there's always this exploratory aspect of it that we want to take...say that that's the formal aspect of music: having some reflection from our cultural milieu, but the elemental aspect is...is exploratory, it's one of finding new sounds that haven't...that we think haven't been used...and working with new ideas and new sounds...and trying to build something from nothing. Something that hasn't been done before. That's kind of the elemental aspect of it. Suz: Exactly, you know what it is like to pick up like a farfisa, or even a guitar or something and you plug it into this and then you plug it into that and you go "Oh it's that sound again." At least when you're building instruments you can go "Oh I've never heard this before, it's a new sound!" Do you know what it's like?
...Yea. Suz: Some things are predictable and some things happen unpredictably, and it's the unpredictable part that blends with the other. Like if I'm playing something and Michael is playing something we can make it start working together...that's really exciting. And that can happen with guitar, bass, and drums too, I don't mean to say it won't but some things are more predictable in music like the sound of a piano or the sound of bongos. You know what that's going to sound like you can just distort it in certain ways to make it sound different but when you put a weird motor inside of a little can and you put some marbles in there or you put like something else in there and all of a sudden it starts sounding kind of weird, and then it degenerates. It starts it's own thing and it starts breaking down.
So sound is the main essential point of most of your music? The sound aspect. Suz: Now it's more sound than music at least for me it is. Mic: I think so...yea.
What do you mean by sound vs. music? Suz: Well...when I think of music I think more of...um...well you know that's funny our sound-forms have a lot of shape and so does music so I don't know if it's right to say that sound is so much more different than music. It just starts out...it probably starts out the same as building music, songs. Mic: Well music is a language and I think we're not using that language we're just using...we're building new languages for each piece. You know, when you talk about music you're probably talking about working within a formal structure that exists.
Suz: But you know what we were talking about last night. The motors do have a form and we do work in very strict forms. Mic: No, I know...no the pieces that we make are very...organized. But um...but they are not organized in a normal...language, that other people use. The language is determined by the piece...and the sounds we have found for it.
You almost need to find a whole new way of transcribing for each piece? Mic: Well we do that. Yea we write the scores. But...kind of like...in this exploration we find new sounds then we compose with the sounds and we may use some formal aspects which are not unusual, but they're not very apparent sometimes because the sound sources are unusual.
If there is talking in some of your pieces is that mostly sound oriented too or is actually what the words are? Mic: Yea...I know this question and this is an important question. The question is...is the...is the textual component as important as the sonic element? Right?
Yea. Mic: Is the literal meaning of the sample as important as the sound of the sample? And I think...Suz will give her own answer...but I think that we are using it as the sound rather than the literal meaning. 'Cause were not trying to recycle things, or to recontextualize old meanings. Suz: Exactly.
Mic: I think we're really interested in...the sort of sonic communication itself, which is more complex and carries more information than verbal communication. You know like if we take some conversation, it's just the sound of the language rather than the words being spoken...to directly answer your question.
And we've done things like taken whole...we have a piece, "Flat Leaves and Mandrills" which is about 25 minutes long or 20 minutes and throughout the whole piece it's based on a conversation...a taped conversation that Suz and I were having, or...no actually...it was Suz and Scott I think. Anyway it's wholly based on a conversation. But the conversation isn't meant to be heard, in fact it usually isn't heard, but the forms and the rhythms of the speech and all that to a large extent determine the other sounds we added later.
So it started out with that conversation at the base, but the literal conversation was completely suppressed by the end of it. The rhythm of the conversation and the form of the conversation is retained...and that's interesting to us. You're highlighting a part of the conversation that's not usually heard or is not usually paid attention to...it's always heard I mean but it's not easily cognated. That's more interesting to us than to blatantly say a thing...[obscured]...more subtle. At least this is our intention.
Mic: I don't know where we are? Oh is that way to the fire department playground? Suz: Uh huh. Mic: Let's go over there, that's a nice view. Really, over here? Suz: I thought so.
We must be close to Safeway or something...here's the...just kind of dumped off the shopping carts here. Either that or they got rolled down this hill. Mic: Is that tape deck still working? Yea it's got some tape left on it. Mic: The light still on?
Yea...um do you think your music has gotten more hypnotic in a way? as far as working with just sound instead of meaning? Suz: I don't know; some of the stuff we did a long long time ago is hypnotic, so... Mic: Maybe the live pieces though, that's generally true of, because if you think back along the latest live pieces...I think...that's because we are working in larger forms...you know Suz?...kind of like we're taking...making these large scale pieces...longer pieces based on simpler elements...maybe that's why they are more hypnotic.
Suz: They are hypnotic because after the show people come up and they said "Oh...you really...it changed the way I came in. You...you know...you got me kind of off track or something." [obscured]...That's a neat thing that happens with music, or theatre, or anything else, like...That's the part I like...because...you know when you play it you can't experience it that way. Mic: Oh wait, we're on Diamond. Suz: Do you know what I mean? When you play the music you can't get lost in the hypnotic part. Because you...
Miss the changes? Suz: ...you miss the changes...you know what I mean you've been playing rock music.
Yea. Suz: So usually when I hear it back I'm surprised..."Oh is that what it sounds like?"
Yea. Suz: You know we also repeat. We like certain kinds of repetition...repetition starts creating trance in a certain way.
So we've made a wrong turn? Mic: Maybe we wanted to go up there. Where is that fire department? Is it up there? Suz: No, I really think... Mic: See where we are? Suz: This is the way the bus comes down...sschoom...It is down there. Mic: Sure? Suz: It's kind of our neighborhood.
When you guys build your own instruments...um...and it seems like every....are you more interested in manual sounds than electronic sounds? I mean electronic sounds, I mean things which...like a synthesizer? Suz: More so in this last piece...it was purely... Mic: Mechanical? Suz: Mechanical.
Mic: I think we tend to be most interested in sounds that haven't been made before...and right now a lot of people make electronic sounds because it is really easy to do...a lot of people...it is really easy to get a synthesizer...or what else?...sometimes we've actually built electronic instruments and used those, but I think we're mostly emphasizing trying to get a sound that hasn't been made before, a non-obvious sound, that seems to be more important to us and so we've been using mechanical sounds a lot lately. In fact picking up the...the refuse of past technological cultures like the old turntables and the old motors and using those just because they're discarded and people aren't using them. It's not the mode of making music these days so...for us that's more interesting.
Suz: Right. Mic: I think...I think...well...not only......there are two aspects to it. One, those things are easy to get a hold of and are cheap and we can find them and use them, and we don't risk any kind of (Suz: breakdown) investment if we destroy something. Suz: We hate it when our instruments break. We can't replace them.
Mic: The other thing is what I was just saying it is a new...you know it is something that isn't being explored as much. But yea, we don't have money for computer instruments or...I don't know if we did we might...we'd probably use them at least for editing things, but... Not so much for the sounds you get out of them?
Mic: Yea ...I mean... Suz: No I think... Mic: We're just using what we've got, basically and... Suz: Yea we don't claim to be the masters at creating instruments, because when we were in Portugal we went to a little museum and we saw these weird instruments in glass cases...The sad thing about that museum was that you couldn't play the music, you couldn't hear what sound they made. So then we went home and made some instruments like what we thought they'd be like. Do you know what I mean?
You had no idea what they really sounded like. Suz: Right. Then we thought...to have an instrument museum that you can't hear the...you can't hear the...they just stood there. You know what I mean? (Yea) It's kind of like going to the natural history museum and seeing the animals stuffed, and you can't see the real animals move.
Mic: I don't think it has anything to do with a particular need to use a particular kind of instrument in fact if anything we just tend to use what we have around the house and that's just what we have at the moment.
Some of your pieces seem really intimate as far as they don't seem as...they could be common things taken for granted and then you explore the sounds that they make. You know they are not uncommon things. Like you used...I've seen you use window weights, um is it... Suz: The thing is about the music that you see is always what...someone says, "can you do this show," then we go downstairs and, say, my landlord took out the window weights that day, so they're sitting there and we wonder what they sound like. We've said this before; it is always current to when, what we create, since it is going to be created for that specific show, it depends what we have at hand at the moment, you know what I mean...or what actually inspires it to be sitting there.
It's in the present. Suz: It's in the present. Mic: The core of our music is more of an idea or a concept of elementalism and form...and the instruments that we use to make it are less important I think. The philosophical center is the most important part of it.
Is some of it appreciating some of these sounds that are taken for granted? Mic: Yea I think so. Although not in a nostalgic or a preservationist sense, But in a sense of discovery...an exploratory sense... appreciating something that you've found.
Suz: That's like something that happened the time we were... [obscured]...and all of a sudden Feferone, our cat, got this little instrument or dingle or something and started pushing it all over the living room and it was all quiet and it started resonating through the room and I thought, "Wow! what a great sound!" so the next time you go, "OK, lets try to do that Feferone sound." Do you know what I mean?
Did it work? Suz: Yea! we used it on Ideomotors. Mic: The first one on the Sarajevo Center Metal Doors CD uses that sound.
????????????(maybe the pause button was pushed?)???????
Suz: Whatever we find...you know...whatever records we've kind of picked up. Mic: That's right...just to emphasize again it doesn't have to do with nostalgia, finding these old recordings and wanting people to hear the old recordings, it has to do with the form, the noise that's on them...it's...they're convenient things that are around to make a very rich sound with. Something that is also elemental but also...very controllable. Suz: ...Controllable. You always think that you find things. You always end up with people giving you things.
Do you think people think you guys are nostalgic? Mic: I don't know...I don't know...
It's hard to tell how you are interpreted. Mic: ...Yea I really have no idea. I wouldn't think so__I was basing that answer more on your question__but I really don't...I guess I'd be surprised if someone thought that. Suz: Nostalgia meaning...like what? Like in love with an idea that was before? Mic: Like trying to uphold an older form of music. Suz: Well that's interesting so you can be current and nostalgic at the same time...there must be a name for that, huh?
It's happening in all sorts of things do you know what I mean? Mic: Yea, I know, I know...since the basic idea is exploration I don't think it has anything to do with...I mean we do have...we've always brought historical aspects into our music even when it wasn't so obvious like with those old records. we've always studied history and been fascinated by some particular era and brought that stuff into the music. Suz: But it's totally distorted by our current thoughts because of course we can't live in the past...
Mic: It's more of a source to make modern...to create new music with rather than some sort of attachment to an historical aspect. But there's a....yea...I mean, history is rich with sources. There was a lot of...there's just...It's interesting because sometimes it...points to something we've all been through...and yet that's not what it's being used for...I always like it when there are those peripheral consciousnesses or whatever of some...of something.
Suz: You know we're not really that contrived, that premeditated when we go and make a piece...you know what I mean? You don't really think heavily on it too much. Do you know what I mean? Mic: You mean logically, but I think there's a subconscious goal. (Suz: True.) There is a subconscious thing that...that...we use to decide whether or not we accept a noise as being a valuable noise for us. Suz: That's true, we do have a big...um...discriminatory panel. Mic: We're very critical subconsciously.
Are there a lot of recordings that you guys have gone and done and then have thrown out? Mic: Oh yea definitely. But a lot of the time we just don't record until we're ready. I mean recently anyway. Now we just record when...basically we record after we've performed a piece live. So...but yea, in times when we've worked on recording first, it's been that way. There's...where we've thrown...we have hours...for every tape we've put out there's hours of stuff...thrown away.
Suz: Up there...that's where that tire is that looks over the city. Mic: This is a foreign area for me... I have no idea where we are. Mic: It says "not a through street" right there, Suz. Suz: Yea if we don't go that way then we won't be able to get past there with the Buggy. Which one's the...is it called Diamond Park, or? There's one that's really really nice. Mic: Glen Park? No it's small, it's really small I've just come across it by accident. Suz: That's the one I was trying to find.
Mic: I think...the thing is that I was worried about what you've just said that we don't go into it with that...that much premeditation because...you don't want to make it sound like...it's not thought about... Suz: No, no I didn't mean to make it seem like it's not thought about...It's just that we'll hear...[obscured]... Mic: I think the problem is that a lot of music is made without much thought or structure (physical or otherwise)...and that's what bugs me.
Oh yea this fact that almost all your pieces are structured...it seems like though there is some free reign on the musicians whether it's you two or other people in it. Mic: Yea that's right.
It has to do with the problem of unstructured improv. Mic: It has to do with wanting to solve certain problems with the music and wanting to present it...to have a piece accurately represent what we want it to represent. You know and there are a lot of experiments that go into making...going into being able to set up that structure. But uh...and maybe that's what Suz meant.
I mean when we go in to start working on the piece we just go down and we start hammering on things and...we make noises and say, "that's bad because of this," and then you try it another way...until we come up with this whole series of sounds that we like and so there's that experimental unconsciousness and unprepared aspect of setting up all the noises, but when it gets down to setting up the form we apply much more...I wouldn't say logic, but it's organized in some way...some illogical way more like. There's always one way to do it and a hundred ways not to do it. Sometimes it's hard to say why...you know...why a particular decision is made. But, ...[obscured]...
Suz: ...Church Street?
On Sarajevo Center Metal Doors you have those charts which everyone has to follow, which is a score, but the time is relative isn't it? Mic: That's right.
The musicians can interpret time on those scores which can vary widely. Mic: That's right. It's just an index...there are relative times but they are index numbers and they don't refer to...to...what do you call it?...sidereal time or whatever it is. The time that refers to the amount of time that it takes for the planet to go around in circles. Mic: Not sidereal time...what is it? Terrestrial time...it only refers to terrestrial time indirectly.
Pacific Standard Time? Mic: Yea right but uh...they're exactly as you said: they are relative so...that piece can be played very fast or...I mean it could be ten minutes long or it could be two hours long depending on the multiplier...how you convert from the relative time to the terrestrial time. So in other words, the structure is like...the structure adheres to a sort of linear...it's a linear structure and you can stretch it out to whatever length you want. And I think that we have found by sort of playing it naturally that forty minutes is just about right for that piece. It's...hard to play...if you played it any shorter or much shorter it starts to lose its coherence and become more chaotic and if you play it any longer it just starts to become...uh...too obvious. The structure becomes too simple. So that's...so it does have an ideal time.
Is that always played with the same musicians? Mic: Well it was. We haven't played it since, although I've been thinking I'd like to have somebody else, like four other musicians play it.
Suz: ...and interpret it. Mic: But yea it has only been played by the same musicians so far. And it was written with those musicians in mind because they were people that I knew could handle that sort of score, creatively. My original thought was that it is not something you could give to anybody. Well actually...now I think I'd like to hear other people play it, people who I don't select.
Suz: This is the little park I've always wanted to take Buggy to but it's always been so uphill. Mic: Eh...I don't even know where we are. Suz: We're at this weird little...park.
I think this is the one that I've seen. Suz: Can we go and sit down and rest for a little bit? Or do you guys want to keep walking?
I'd like to sit down. It'd be nice. Suz: It looks like a nice little park. Yea this is the park that I've seen once and I've never found it. It has an Alpine feel to it.
Mic: You know that piece is different than most of the other pieces that we've done and the reason why is because it was something that I wrote. So it doesn't have Suz' input in it, which is unfortunate. Suz: Thank you. It's still under the Crawling With Tarts name? Mic: Well it is because it sounds like Crawling With Tarts. You know...it uses a kind of...well it's what we were doing as Crawling With Tarts at the time. Has Suz always played with it? Played on it? Mic: Oh, yea. Suz: I always played on it...and came up with all my own sounds and stuff like that but Michael...
As far as composition it was... Mic: Compositionally it's unusual for us because it was...for one thing it was composed before any sounds were made. It is an ideal structure that was made before any sounds were made. And that's unusual for us; Suz and I make the sounds first and then compose the structure latter.
The sounds are first then? Suz: The sounds are always first. Mic: Because we want to know the elements we're working with. It's like...the problem with it is...someone said to me last night after the show...that the form of that piece sounded like a "Beethoven form".
Suz: Really? Mic: Yea, and the thing...the advantage that Beethoven had was that he knew all of the sounds. He had all the sounds of the orchestral instruments memorized. Right. So all he...you know it was easy for him to compose a sonata because he knew what all those sounds were going to sound like ahead of time. Well that's what we don't have that's why...that's what I meant about us not using usual languages so we have to develop a language and that means developing the sounds.
So we develop the sounds, create a new language, and then we can compose the piece.
Oh okay. Suz: Oh! Look at these slides!
Oh wow, they're different sizes. Suz: I bet this one's great.
Look at those cliffs you could climb. Suz: This is sort of a neat place. Mic: As long as the big kids don't throw rocks off the cliffs.
I know. Suz: Oh yea the big kids get rowdy. Look where someone spray-painted the wall. Oh there's a pelican...see that pelican thing that's Buggy's favorite. Oh I'm sorry...
Mic: There was one other point to make too but I can't remember. But I think that was the important part. Suz: ...got structure? Form? Mic: We got the sounds before the structure...usually...which is our usual way...and was...to make Sarajevo I was using certain mathematical constructions to develop this form, and when I was finished it was a form that I liked so that we wanted to make some music out of it. That's unusual for us. It's more academic than we are.
Suz: Where are we Madeleine? Madeleine: weahhwehwwe! Suz: Playyyground...playyyground!
ASP - Crawling With Tarts: Post Office Box 24908 Oakland CA 94623 USA.