Ian Maleney talks quality control, DIY culture & delusions of innovation with John Wiese, ahead of his performances in Cork & Dublin this weekend.
It would be fair to say that John Wiese is one of the central figures in what we call the modern noise scene. As a solo artist and as part of endless other projects, his uncompromising approach and intense artistic personality has spread itself through the contemporary scene since the late 90s after he moved from St. Louis, Missouri to the busier streets of Los Angeles, California.
Since then he was worked in the most prolific manner, from countless solo releases to playing and touring with luminaries like Wolf Eyes, Sunn O))), Merzbow and C. Spencer Yeh. His ongoing projects include LHD and Sissy Spacek. Alongside his newest album, Seven of Wands, last year saw the release of his 100th 7-inch record – the locked-groove, noise-looping Exhausted Spectral Incantation – and an exhibition of these records in the Family Gallery in LA.
Where did the idea for the exhibition of all your 7-inch records come from?
It took a while for the 100th to come around. In 2005 I had this idea to make a 7-inch that was a single lock-groove of full frequency sound. It made sense with what we were doing with LHD at the time, but then I thought maybe it would make a better landmark, and I counted up the 7-inches I’d done up to that point and realized that 100 was not too far away. I guess it took about six more years. I made a monograph documenting all of them, and Family in Los Angeles held the first exhibition, so it was kind of an exhibition and book release. When I came to Europe this year, Bill Kouligas helped arrange a show at The Taut And Tame in Berlin. It’s amazing how small 100 records actually looks! I think I’m already up to about 108 7-inches now, so maybe the 200 show will be more impressive.
Some of those seven-inches were issued in very small numbers, some in much larger. Does it make much difference to you either way? What personal benefits (if any) do you find in allowing work to be pressed in editions of single/double figures? Do you have cause to intentionally make things rare like that?
It’s not a desire to make things rare, but it’s just practical reality that not everything can be released in a wide edition and promoted and distributed to it’s fullest potential. I’ve always tried to avoid letting quality dictate edition—I think that’s a really terrible way to go, I see so many people do it. It’s not only ridiculous to release work you know is inferior, but why make those interested curse you when they finally get it after paying good money 20 years later? All work should hold quality, but if some are more “local” than others, I think that’s fine. I like when you go somewhere and you get things you can only get in that place. Hunting is half the fun anyway.
You’ve been involved in the noise community for quite a while now and I was wondering if you saw any over-arching trends or shifts in the artistic world that you personally inhabit? It may be that the overall trend has been the growing impossibility of such things existing but I would love to know what you think.
It seems like the biggest booms in the scene were in the mid-90s and mid-2000s. I think a lot of listeners are becoming more and more sophisticated and it’s being reflected. As time moves on, people stick around and inevitably check out more and more and start to develop a much more refined palette. Which isn’t a comment on what that content is, but you can clearly see that a lot of people in the scene are lifers, and so after a while the mediocre stuff starts inevitably getting deeper.
That’s a pretty commonly held opinion of things. Why do you think the scene, as such, had such peaks at those times?
In the 90s I feel like it was a matter of crossover, but in the 00s I think the experimental scene transcended into more of a common culture. People that grew up in that time seem to have experienced experimental music more on a level of independent music, more as if it was just the popular music of the time, and less to do with the history and overall trajectory of it.
That’s interesting. Would you think that maybe the mid-00s was about the time we could first really shut out the traditional mainstream and live within those marginal scenes as if they were popular music of the day? Some might say that process of extreme filtering and immersion perhaps has now gone too far, as curation somewhat replaces criticism in many circles.
Yes, that’s what I’m saying. For myself, I have deeply immersed myself in DIY culture since I was very young, so I would not be the most unbiased person to ask, but I would have to say that I’ve seen indication of this, of people that have more or less treated experimental music as the “popular music of the day” as you succinctly put it, and not necessarily for what it is—or rather, creating a new reality of what it can be considered. Which isn’t necessarily good or bad, but it’s an interesting development. Or maybe it was, as I think most of those people have already moved on to something “post”.
Much has been made recently of the integration of noise and techno music, with people claiming artists from both genres are blurring the lines of each others’ styles (Kick drums in noise works, noise and non-structural elements in club music). You seem to be outside of this somewhat. Is this something you’re aware of and if so, how much interest do you have in it? Why do you think the idea has become quite widespread over the last few years?
There’s always been a connection to experimental or “outsider” scenes and more conventional ones. Frequently the more interesting “mainstream” factions will champion experimental artists or work, which I can almost see as a kind of patronage and in some ways is helpful, and in other ways is not. In the best light they do what they can to help out the marginal work and I think that’s ultimately a good thing.
What’s really sad is when things go the opposite way, when people pretend that they’re co-opting the mainstream and presenting it to an experimental audience, usually because it’s not good enough to exist in it’s own world, and ends up being an enormous insult to everyone forced to endure these miserable attempts at making something more “accessible”, whether the motivation is money, illusion of popularity, or sheer delusion of innovation.
You’ve talked about the idea of DIY and punk in the past and, in this day and age, it seems like it’s becoming more difficult to tell the wood from the trees in terms of distribution, labels, promoters and who’s running what and in who’s interest. Do you think that noise artists can operate outside of that grey area between corporate and independent?
When I first started releasing records, the primary distribution was through trading, and I think that would be a welcome return in this climate. Success is entirely relative, and I think the entire anxiety of “music distribution'” is easily solved by the realism of just making good work and sharing it with your peers.
John Wiese plays The Triskel Arts Centre in Cork on Saturday 31st March with Wolfbait, First Blood Part II & Wolflinge, and The Joinery in Dublin on Sunday 1st April, where he’ll be joined by Toymonger, Withering Zithering & Be Honest.