Mark Gunderson Interview (1994)
This interview, reprinted from Vivisect Magazine July 1994, was sent to us by Mark gunderson and published on homemademusic.com.
The following is an interview conducted via mail and printed in the July 1994 issue (#13) of Vivisect, a magazine from Melbourne Australia reporting on all sorts of interest music. It's actually the letter I sent them which I expected them to retype, but I guess they were lazy... heh. By reading this WWWeb version you'll miss out on the fancy-pants typesetting; your loss. For more information or maybe a back-issue, write them at P.O. Box, 13047, Law Courts P.O., Melbourne, Austrialia, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello! My apologies for the delayed response. I wanted to make sure I had the moment to respond to everything fully. First off: Thanks for the order and especially for the chance to be in your zine! I'm not sure if I've seen it before, but it somehow seems vaguely familiar. I keep a file of my zines though yours wasn't in it. So, let's not waste any time and get right into it.
Can you describe some of the techniques you used in compiling Gunderphonics?
Although I have a sampling keyboard and can do some things with my Amiga, this was done almost exclusively with a cheap (US$150) dual tape deck and a 4-track. It's getting harder to find tape decks that can do editing like this, because most tape decks these days have the "soft-touch" (solenoid) controls, which keep you from making accurate edits... another art lost to technology and consumer convenience. The only piece on Gunderphonics that required anything more was "Whole Lotta Royalty Payments" (the Led Zepplin cut-up); the "Stairway to Heaven" section required the ability of my sampler.
A side-note: "Whole Lotta..." was born from that single "Stairway.." section, which came to me as an "audio vision" while skiing. True story.
Do you experiment a lot with various techniques of making music?
Well, I try to... heh. Nowdays I haven't had the time and boredom to do that as much, but I nasty feeling in my stomach if I think I'm repeating myself. I'd rather not rehash the ground I've trod on before. Obviously there's only so far you can go with this philosophy, but I do my best. A fun little project I've had going for a while is to take all the pieces from my Buddha Bleach cassette and rework and manipulate them into completely different pieces... musical anagrams, if you will. It's an interesting test to see how you can end up with something totally different from the same raw materials.
An good example was with a piece called "Kill Me" which was a standard sample-heavy dance track. One day I was poking around on my Amiga and stumbled across the sample file. I played the file with a utility which didn't realize what rate to play them back at, and spewed out an obnoxious flatulence which was actually the samples played at about one-fortieth the speed. I patched the mistake through some effects and voila, dance track becomes Controlled Bleeding-style noisefest! Mistakes are wonderful things.
How do you go about writing a song? ..
Ahhh, the perenniel question.
Well, the easy answer is, you don't; the song writes itself -- but, that's like saying guns don't kill people, bullets do. Everyone has their own methods and guidance, spiritual or otherwise. At least as The Evolution Control Committee, I can safely say that God has nothing to do with it.
I like to think that The Committee's pieces vary wildly and widely in style and genre. Half the pieces have lyrics, half don't. Some are sequenced on MIDI, some aren't. Some are tape edits, some are pop songs, some are soundscapes, some are cheezy lounge versions of grunge songs; you get the idea. Each have their own motivation; their own unique reason for creation.
It might be easier if I just cited some examples. A lot of people ask me about "Rebel Without A Pause (Whipped Cream Mix)", the prolix title for that Public Enemy/Herb Alpert mix. Many people don't realize that many rap EPs include vocal only tracks for DJs to work with. One day I got to thinking, "Well, what would it sound like with something it wasn't meant to be with, like a rhumba beat or Martin Denny?" At the time, I had also just started my collection of Herb Alpert's "Whipped Cream and Other Delights" albums; I had seen so many in the thrift stores that I decided I had to join 'em since I couldn't beat 'em. I tried mixing PE with one track from Whipped Cream; wasn't quite the right speed, so I tried another track. That one fit... to a fucking TEE. It was uncanny, right down to the speed which was exactly identical between the two.
I guess this just says that things often are a result of circumstance, so the more circumstances you can through yourself into, the better. Although I never did it, I always liked Tom Ellard's (Severed Heads) suggestion that everyone delete all of their sample disks. It forces you to build your world all over again, from scratch. Me, I'm a curiosity seeker... I buy too many things from thrift stores and explore abandoned buildings and poke my nose into anything that piques my curiosity, which is nearly anything. It all becomes the things that drive me, and they are usually driving in different di- rections. I end up like anyone would -- with my head on one side of town and my pancreas on the other.
Did you receive formal training in music or have you taught yourself?
I took 10 years of piano but taught myself the synth and sampler usage, and a lot of people don't realize that electronic keyboards are different animals from acoustic ones. I'm very glad I had my piano lessons, because that allows me to simply work with the electronic operation/programming of the keyboards rather than learning how to play them at the same time. In spite of this, I purposefully chose not to go into music school because I didn't want the influence on my music. All the music schools I heard about, you had to choose between jazz or classical... what a ripoff! At the time, I hated both. Nowdays, I only have seen occasional elements of each that I like. Some people say that you should go through with it so you have your technical training for performing the music you really want to do, and while I agree with that to some degree, it leaves out processes like tape cut-ups and sound manipulation. I get the idea that I might have better luck finding a more experimental musical program now than back then (10 years ago) just because I know where to look. I would consider it, because I also know now that there's a big history of some very interesting music that I've only just begun to learn about.
What are your opinions of "academic" experimental music...
Ooooooh, don't get me started, Sean! That was one big reason I didn't go to music school too; academic electronic music. What a load. Wax Trax! and techno are to our world of music what "Publish or Perish" is to the academic world. Endless MIDI output from a fractal-based algorithmic computer program, published not because it sounds good but because it's the latest hip technique. To give credit, I can appreciate academia's exploration into new sound techniques, but so often their usage of these techniques is drier than milquetoast. There are exceptions to this, such as John Oswald. I have a great appreciation for his work, as should be evident from the title of Gunderphonics. His work strikes me with a balance between academia and the real world... between brain and body. It makes me think and smile at the same time.
What sort of music do you enjoy listening to yourself?
I always love reading other people's answers to this question. I lot of people think I must listen to The Residents and Frank Zappa, and I really haven't seriously listened to either. Predictably, I like John Oswald, Negativland, and Coil, but just as much as I like Raymond Scott and Cab Calloway. I listen to rap a lot. I listen to The Blitzoids, Glenn Miller, Biosphere, Big Black, Good Cue Sign, sound effects CDs, punk rock, polka, and patriotic. I listen to christian music and I listen to satanic music. I listen to easy listening and I listen to hard listening. I listen to noise and I listen to silence. I listen to spoken word and I listen to music. I listen to industrial and I listen to industrial.
These are some of my fa-a-a-avourite things...
What are some of the best sounds you've heard?
Wow, great question! I love hearing a section of dialogue in a movie after having first heard it in an industrial song. I love hearing a CD skip, especially if it's on a radio. I love hearing the needle play the recordless turntable. I love hearing old men talk. Glass breaking. Bells. Screaming. The best percussion sound I've heard was the gunshot that killed Lee Harvey Oswald. BBC announcers. Answering machine messages. I love the inflection in my old significant other's voice when she said, "I want to kiss you." I love the inflection missing from a computer's voice. I love juvenille farty sounds.
Write about anything else...
Although Gunderphonics pays respects to John Oswald, a lot of the pieces on the tape were done before I'd heard of Oswald. The pieces were made from a period of about 1990 to 1993 and just never found a home elsewhere. One reason I like CDs skipping so much is because I did a performance of it, which will eventually be released as Compact Disctructions.
Speaking of performances, I've been working on a system where two slide machines are synchronized to a backing tape, which is normally how I perform things. The result is a sort of poor man's multimedia show, where the slides can work with the music instead of just being eye candy behind it. The cost is maybe $120 for each slide machine and $75 for the controller; not bad compared to $3,000+ for a video projector, not to mention for video editing equipment. Anyone interested in trying this is welcome to contact me for details; for that matter, I welcome any and all contact! I especially prefer electronic mail contact.
Okay, that ends my big babble-fest; hopefully you can pick and choose sections to accomodate your needs...I figure it's best for you to have too much material to choose from rather than too little. Thanks again for the interview; they're always fun to do!