GAJOOB Interviews Alan Herrick of Auricular Records

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2 years ago
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How would you describe "soundart and difficult music"?
aherrick
@aherrick
2 years ago
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I started to use the term soundart myself back in about 1990. I used it specifically when describing my own musical project Nux Vomica. I would use the terms soundart and sound sculpture interchangeably. My use of the term stemmed from a difficulty in describing what we did musically, as well as what a few other artists in the same genre did. Ambient didn't cut it as newage had destroyed the term ambient at that time and dark ambient wasn't really a genre yet and just seemed sort of goofy sounding to me. I used to also describe what we did as "pretty horror movie music" to the totally un-initiated (parents and co-workers). Due to the fact that what we did, even in the studio, was completely improvised, we had fallen into a pattern of exploring a section of sounds, then slowly sculpting, molding and creating with those sounds. It was similar in discipline to painting a picture or sculpting with clay. Soundart seemed like a decent enough name so I used it frequently, not knowing if anyone else was or had been. I still enjoy using it to describe a specific type of audio works, specifically those that meander and evolve and build and use a sonic palette to evolve a piece into a rich landscape of sound.

Now...difficult music. I will admit that I began using that term A LOT after hearing Laurie Anderson use it. The cynicism and biting wit of the term made perfect sense to me and could be used to describe such a broad range of what I listened to. I was a teen when I first heard her use that term and it described perfectly that which had just started to intrigue me: Ligeti, Xenakis, Dumitrescu, Crumb, Partch, Ives, and Cage.

‘Good evening. Welcome to Difficult Listening Hour. The spot on your dial for that relentless and impenetrable sound of Difficult Music. So sit bolt upright in that straight-backed chair, button that top button, and get set.’ — Laurie Anderson, Difficult Listening Hour

Difficult music grew to be those pieces that were part tape loop, part screeching, bits pieces, scattered collections of audio bits, and found sounds. Difficult music is really anything that doesn't have its own genre and does not fall into the pretty little package of hummable tunes or whistleable ditties. To me the "difficult music" term was the easiest to use for music that was difficult to describe, difficult to initially understand, difficult to explain, reproduce or even score in a traditional sense. Difficult music is the music that is difficult for many people to listen to if they do not have the patience, or the fortitude, open-mindedness, or the ear.
updated by @aherrick: 02/23/15 04:41:46PM
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2 years ago
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How did Auricular Records begin?
aherrick
@aherrick
2 years ago
5 posts
Auricular Records grew out of our retail record shop in San Francisco way back when in the late 80's. We were running a shop focused on selling independant labels and a high concentration on experimental music. The store was a natural attraction to a lot of the artists who played experimental,noise, and free jazz music in the area. By the time the first anniversary of the record store rolled around we had managed to present quite a decent handful of in-store performances by local artists. On the weekend of that first anniversary we had invited almost every artist who came by the shop regularly to perform and had an incredible three days of live music occur. I decided that with such a rich scene happening at that time in San Francisco, it would be a great idea to find a way to document it as well as spread some of the music around and share, or preserve it. The initial plan was to release a small handful of compilations, each with a somewhat unique package, that featured artists from our small, yet growing scene within San Francisco.

The first release we did was an incredibly lo-fi live recording from a show at a warehouse in Oakland that featured The Molecules, Haters, Big City Orchestra and Nux Vomica. The cassette release was sealed up with a booklet between two 7" vinyl records that were sewn together with twine entitled Auricular Monthly Audio Magazine. We continued month to month producing more of the compilations, limiting each release to 100 copies and managed to continue to get local experimental artists to contribute tracks. Rather quickly we went from just doing the compilations to releasing titles by some of the individual artists. The label was more of a series of projects put together to "get the word out" or share the art being produced with the community the best we could. The store had attracted a family that created art together and eventually grew into a small little DIY label.
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2 years ago
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This was well before email, social media, etc. How exactly do you build and foster an active community like this? What's the essential dynamic? Do you think it was different then than now?
aherrick
@aherrick
2 years ago
5 posts
The biggest advantage in fostering the community was the record store in San Francisco. Due to the fact that the store specialized in experimental and independent music, we attracted many of the artists who created the music or were active in the DIY and mail art scene at the time. I feel very old saying things were different back then...but things were different back then. People made their way out to record stores to look for new releases as they came out, they went out to more live shows to seek not only entertainment but community and a connection with others who enjoyed the same thing they did. There are still elements of this today but it is at a much smaller level. More people live behind a screen now and utilize their computer or phone to seek out new entertainment and spend less time in the local music, video, and book shops, or cafes.


If I look back to determine what the essential dynamic was for us, it would probably have to be live performances. Whether it was live in-store performances by local or visiting artists or showcases in local clubs that we sponsored, the performances were essential in getting people to gather. Providing an outlet for performance also helped bring more artists to the doorstep. Part of providing the space and performances for artists and community also meant that you had to promote and this meant walking all over town and plastering flyers on utility poles and bulletin boards. We were also lucky enough to have connections to the local folks who did radio shows to help with promotion. Local stations like KUSF, KALX, and KZSU were always happy to promote our events and the DJs who produced local radio shows that featured experimental music were critical. dAS (UB Radio network and KZSC), John Gullak (KPFA and No Other Radio), Les Scurry and Bill Christman (a.k.a. Lucifer Sam and the Minister of The Hellfire Club on KFJC) and Mr. Hate (KFJC and Radio Free Hatred), and many others at local stations were all vital pieces in fostering the community. They had been supporting the experimental community long before we showed up on the scene.

Is it different now? Yes, it is. While the Internet has created a global community and communication has broadened our horizons and given us access to a world and wealth of information, I often feel that broad scope has created an almost overwhelming amount of media to consume and subsequent de-personalization of the content. This is a curse and a blessing. The need to look to one another and share in communal hunting and gathering of new media, experiences and entertainment, has been replaced in large by a cornucopia from which knowledge and content seemingly flow and the human connection is diminished to 144 character summaries of projects, philosophies, and manifestos. I do not want to sound like I am anti-internet or everything is terrible now - quite the contrary. Most new artists on Auricular have found me through the internet and I have forged some remarkable collaborative relationships with others I may have never met otherwise. However, I do not think the volume of truly personal interactions and the depth and quality is equivalent in as many cases.
updated by @aherrick: 02/23/15 04:38:27PM
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2 years ago
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What serves to make these kinds of performances successful? If I wanted to start such a thing in Salt Lake City, what would be your advice regarding the shows themselves?
aherrick
@aherrick
2 years ago
5 posts
I can only speak for what worked 25 years ago. Recently, I have found it very difficult to attract more than 30 people to a show whereas in the past we could manage 200+. We really made sure to get support from local radio and pushed whenever we could with local press and hoped they would pick up and write about the shows. Many independent press outlets have been disappearing more and more lately as people move towards getting their news and information in top 10 lists off the internet.

We did make it a point to really mix the bill up as much as we could. Providing as much variety in the alternative/experimental genres helped a lot. If I had a noise band, a free jazz band, a drone act, and an ambient act odds are I might pull 4x the crowd than if I just had a noise bands. I wish we had kept up promoting shows over the years but there was a span of time in the 90's that really made it difficult and i had to focus on things like rent, food and family. Money was tight, spaces were difficult to get into, and not many people had the expendable cash to go out as much. Keeping the shows affordable was a huge factor as well. If we could keep the show as inexpensive as possible and not focus on making money beyond paying the bands a little something and selling through merchandise for a little extra that would help.
updated by @aherrick: 02/25/15 05:50:18AM
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2 years ago
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You had many well-known noize and soundart/performance art artists doing shows at the Auricular store. Tell us about some of them. The Haters filling the store with hay, toilets?
aherrick
@aherrick
2 years ago
5 posts
Oh yes - there were many memorable in-store performances. One of the first that occurred was Ron Anderson of the Molecules, prior to the formation of the Molecules. That performance spilled out onto the street eventually and definitely drew some attention. Lisa Suckdog & Costes was a very early performance. I don;t have to really tell much about that - suffice it to say it rode the fine line between uncomfortable and possibly requiring a series of permits we did not possess. Haters filling the entire store with bales of hay, shredded mattresses, broken toilets, couches and televisions playing static was a very memorable day. The performance lasted an entire afternoon. It evolved from shredding and pulling apart to resting and watching state, back to shredding. It was a Haters performance and probably the longest one I remember experiencing. I would have to check with GX to see if he has ever done one longer.

Some of my favorite shows were always the anniversary parties. We would put up a signup sheet and any performer could come in and sign up to play but you got paired up with other performers. This resulted in some pretty unusual combinations and sounds.

We also had some pretty memorable events in the store with Daevid Allen, Merzbow, Hafler Trio, Phauss, Bilting Karkowski, KK Null, Pain Teens, Big City Orchestra, Amber Asylum, Low Flying Aircraft. It really was a fantastic time.

My all time favorite show would have to be the Seemen though. If you saw the Seemen during the late 80's or early 90's you got a special treat. Kal would breath fire - shows included pyrotechnics and special effects, special effects, projections, video and much more. The Seemen had started to grind away in classic form and during the set had filled the store with smoke using a lawn fogger (with Pina Colada scented smoke) Smoke was pouring out the front door of the store. Lights were flashing, TVs were playing video, noise wasting noisy and Kal had just set a small upturned bucket a blaze to begin his ire breathing routine and firemen in full fire fighting great stormed in the door ready to fight the blaze someone had reported. It was so perfect it actually seems like part of the show. Kal immediately began interacting with them in a wonderful improv moment as the blast out the small fire on the bucket with a fire extinguisher. One firefighter tried to communicate something overrated nose to me but I just nodded and they went away and the show kept going. This was when i realized purchased a video camera to try to document some of what was happening would probably be a very good idea.
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2 years ago
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Yes, I see you've got many videos, old and new, on your Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/herrickalan. In your mind, what is the point to a soundart performance? Where is the artist taking the audience? Is there necessarily a statement being made? Are these even the right questions?

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