In 2013, the eloquently understated and understatedly eloquent Jesse Goin (writer-curator-advocate for introspective extremes of musical experimentalism) invited EKG to perform on his Crow with No Mouth series. The following is a micro-interview he conducted as promotion in advance of the concert.
Please give your perspective on the distinctions – positive and problematic – between the experience of your concert performances and the experience of your recorded works.
The process Ernst and I have gravitated towards over the years is slow, contemplative, and painstaking – in rehearsing and recording, we wind up excising at least as much as we retain. It’s also a hybrid process, in which the distinctions between ‘composition’ and ‘improvisation’ are entirely (and intentionally) porous. It gets an order of magnitude messier with our released recordings, which are heavily edited constructions. We’ve chosen our tools in large part precisely because of their precariousness and instability, and our preference for potential over kinetic energy. ‘Mistakes’ are a huge part of the point; but in recordings, we get to choose some over others and deploy them at will.
That’s not at all to say that our concerts are unimproved versions of the sort of material that winds up on our CDs. I’d like to think there’s an intensified aspect of shared discovery – a real-time, communal contemplation – that’s quite different from the concerns underlying any recording (which inevitably becomes a ‘composition,’ with the dubious honor of sitting outside of time). I honestly consider it a rather sensuous endeavor – we’re savoring as ‘audients,’ simultaneously with the ‘audience,’ sounds in a room that are in all truth only barely under our control.
How would you state your primary motivation/animus for making the music you make?
I’ve had to give this a lot of thought because of the somewhat ridiculous variety of my music making. The through-line I’ve found that connects EKG with all of the work I do voluntarily (more on the mercenary angle below) is a preoccupation with the social aspects of music. In one sense, this manifests in my obsession with alleged boundaries of genre, style, and practice (with all of the subcultural codings they so often imply). But there’s a philosophical, political dimension as well: I’m interested in making music that can serve as a laboratory for, and model of, ideal forms of communicative interaction. I deeply value collaboration, collectivism, plasticity, uncertainty, and accident; while all good music thrives only when performed with attention, intention, and spontaneity, I try to push these qualities to the foreground. I think of these elements as the real material that melody, timbre, rhythm etc. are employed to realize rather than the other way around.
What artist(s), from any media, might those familiar with your music be surprised to read is/are crucial to you?
Extramusical: Donald Barthelme, Borges, George Saunders, Thomas Pynchon.
Intramusical: I’m not sure how surprising these are other than being only tangentially related to EKG’s aesthetics; but let me attempt a list, not of ‘favorites’ necessarily, but of artists whose work proved personally foundational, revelatory, and/or pivotal (for a variety of reasons), in roughly the order they were received throughout my childhood, youth, and schooling: Bach, Ives, Stravinsky, Depeche Mode, Dead Kennedys, Skinny Puppy, Einsturzende Neubauten, Bartok, John Zorn, Ruins, the Ex, Peter Brotzmann, Evan Parker, Dog Faced Hermans, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Anthony Braxton, Messaien, Rova, Splatter Trio, Art Ensemble of Chicago…
(There’s also lots of exhaustive, self-indulgent contextualizing fun to be had in these two Dusted Magazine features.)
What do you do, as J.J. Gittes asked in Chinatown, “to make ends meet?”, outside of music? Is there a significant link between your day job and your music, outside of paying bills?
I feel unreasonably lucky that my day job IS music – there’s a wide gamut, but most of my income (such as it is) comes from freelancing as a classical oboist, subbing with regional orchestras and playing loads of educational concerts with two woodwind quintets. While there are plenty of gigs that I’m not particularly invested in creatively (and that occasionally verge on the soul-crushing), they all lie on a continuum, they all have something to teach me when I remain mindful, and they all engage my craft and keep up my chops. I’ve been extremely grateful in the past few years that, on balance, more and more of this (paying) work has been tipping towards ‘New Music’ – even, occasionally, my own.
And, lest we forget (or permit the discourse to continue to be yanked out of our hands and into the fortified cul de sacs of pettiness and rage): many, many ends are met collectively, outside the marketplace. I have the good fortune to be entangled in a strong social support network, with an amazing wife (yes, with a job of her own), a loving family, and a relentlessly creative and supportive community.
Please respond to this quote:
“There’s nothing we really need to do that isn’t dangerous. Eighth Street artists knew this years ago, and constantly spoke of risk. But what’s meant by risk?” -John Cage, Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)
I’m not entirely sure of where Cage is going with this. I will admit to skepticism that any art can ever be, in and of itself, truly dangerous. I’m suspicious of that notion as self-congratulatory, self-deceptive and irresponsible – it raises the hoary old Romantic specter of the alleged ethical superiority of the ‘Tortured Genius.’
That said, I do believe that the process of art making (and, under ideal circumstances, sharing) is particularly well suited to serve as an analogue – a lightning rod and framing device – for matters that are in fact both risky and crucial: prioritizing creativity over consumption, charting an escape from the Spectacle, practicing harm reduction, pursuing Right Action… Certainly not the only means to such ends, and probably not the best – but better than many, and the one to which I’ve tethered my life, for better or worse.