Kevin Greenspon/Former Selves - Betrayed by the Angels/Apropos of Golden Dreams
(Bridgetown Records 2013)
"Captures the spirit of orchestral Gothic acts of the Reagan era"
An interview with Fritz Pape of Cincinnati ambient unit Zijnzijn Zijnzijn!. Topics covered include his new album, Wordwounder, Finnegan's Wake, and Swans' live presence.
Where did the name Zijnzijn Zijnzijn! come from?
The name Zijnzijn Zijnzijn! (zijn is Dutch for ‘to be’) comes from an excerpt of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The excerpt is used as the cover for the Demos release, as well as the back of the CD copies of Wordwounder. Me and a group of friends have been reading it out loud to each other (as it should be read!) for a year or two now, and far before I started Zijnzijn, I saw that little phrase and thought it’d be a neato band name. Turns out it is!
After looking up some of the other titles and names that appear on your bandcamp page, it seems to me that books have a great creative impact on you. In what way can literature impact ambient music? Is there a narrative to your music?
Books have a certain impact on me, as well as all forms of media that I end up consuming. I think ambient music is especially apt for being influenced by literature in a similar way that one might picture imagery from listening to a certain song. When there’s no lyrical content to the music it’s harder (though certainly not impossible) to conjure up images that follow some sort of narrative, so in that sense one could easily make a soundtrack to a piece of literature. I feel like that was a bit ramble-ey. That’s okay though. I don’t have a set narrative to my music, no – though I’m sort of working on a piece for an eventual Drone Not Drones (https://www.facebook.com/drone.not.drones?ref=br_tf) compilation that will sort-of have a narrative of a war zone experience. Or something like that. Probably going to be called Washington Irving since I just finished reading Catch-22.
I really like the sound of "Breathe In", the first track on your new album, Wordwounder. The other tracks seem primarily comprised of guitar and piano, so what instrumentwere you playing on that particular song?
Breathe In was the first song I recorded for what would eventually become Wordwounder. The main instrument on that is this old chord organ that I’ve had in my basement that all of my friends are scared to touch, since it looks sort of disease ridden. It’s not though, as far as I know. Back when I started this track I wanted to do a cassette release of chord organ – and eventually wind-instrument based, after I picked up an accordion for cheap on Craigslist – music, and it was going to be titled Breathe. I couldn’t work anything else out on either instrument at the time (still playing with them!), so I went away from that concept and just started working on an album.
How do you feel about the record as a whole? What bands influenced it? Where would you like to go from here? What do you hope listeners take from it?
I’m very much happy with how Wordwounder turned out. The four tracks are songs that I worked on for a number of months, which is a lot different from how I took on the Demos set (those I recorded pretty instantly after I figured them out). I wish there was less clipping and I wish it could have been recorded ‘professionally’, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m intensely proud of the music itself (and really happy that people are into it as much as I am!). Wordwounder was influenced by the usual bands that I’m generally influenced by – Swans, Glenn Branca, The Necks, GSY!BE, etc – as well as some extra influence by Philip Glass, especially on Light Shines Through Tinted Glass. I’m sure I’m influenced by lots and lots of bands and such, but those are the ones that I usually try to make myself sound like! I’m currently working on a super long piece(hopefully – I love long songs!) that will use bass and drums, as well as guitar. That piece (as cliché as it sounds) actually came to me in a dream over a year ago, before Zijnzijn was a thing. I pounded the general chord progression out on a keyboard and scribbled it down, and threw the paper in my desk. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and I think it’s time to do something with it. That one will be heavily influenced by Branca and Godspeed (especially in their use of movements in their music), with the Zijnzijn style all over it. Really exciting. On the topic of literary influences, I recently finished reading Atlas Shrugged (which I do suggest everybody read, if only to have your political beliefs reinforced – Objectivism is straight bullshit, but it made me think a lot!), and one of the characters (spoilers!) is a composer who disappears from his work after an old piece of his was heavily lauded by an audience who rejected it a number of years prior. He goes on later in the book about how his art (and Rand says, in extension, ALL art) should be treated as work, pure and simple. Work that one should take intense pride in (again, as all work should be according to Rand), but as work, and as a living, first and foremost. He talks about how he hated the audience that expected him to perform according to their needs, and their interpretations, where as the audience SHOULD be applauding what he, the composer, interpreted his music as. He didn’t see fans of his that took his work and molded it to their beliefs and ideas as real fans – he saw them simply as thieves. Of course, that’s total fucking bullshit! Like I said up there I don’t necessarily have a narrative to my music, and pretty much all of the songs I’ve put out came to be by me messing with my guitar until something good came out, haha! So when people take my music and interpret it as something – ANYthing – that fits their life and their journey, and makes the music make sense and become REAL to them, that’s totally fucking awesome. Anything that lets me connect with other people through my music is amazing, and sharing interpretations is just one of those ways. Fuck Ayn Rand, even though Fountainhead is super good. How does the Zijnzijn Zijnzijn experience translate to a live setting?
All of my songs are written and recorded live, using loopers and delay and etc. Even Breathe In was recorded live in one take, with what really ended up being a stroke of luck with microphones and a mixer. So in that sense the Zijnzijn live experience is sort of similar to the Zijnzijn listening experience – though I certainly like to think they’re different. Personally I love performing live; when I’m able to get through a whole 20-30 minutes of music without many problems (lately I’ve been playing Metamorphosis and Ash Floats From Fire), I get an intensely elated feeling that’s totally indescribable – hopefully others get something similar! Also, when listening to the album at home it might be harder to play it at a loud volume, as I like to have it. So when I play live I try to play loud – not ear bleedingly loud, but loud enough to allow myself and the audience to be fully enveloped in the sound. Especially the last part of Ash Floats From Fire – a pure, crashing ocean of sound that totally fills up the venue. I love it. People seem to love it too. The set up of the shows are minimal, as it is at home when I’m recording – just my guitar, amp and pedals. I used a piano and my friend played cymbals as well when I played Light Shines Through Tinted Glass (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAr33Aed4DY ) at the library a bit ago. That was a bit of a feat, but I’m glad it worked out well! What non-experimental bands do you enjoy?
Menomena is one of my favorite not-so experimental bands. I picked up their debut, I Am The Fun Blame Monster when I was, like, 14, and it totally opened my ears to all sorts of music that weren’t the Beatles and Pink Floyd. The Dear Hunter are fucking incredible as well. The whole Midwest emo revival scene that’s been going on a few years is great too. Dads is a good band from that, as well as The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (the music is awesome, too!). TWIABP put out an album a month or two that is absolutely phenomenal. Like, mind-bogglingly phenomenal. I dig on folk-ey stuff too. There’s this group Seryn who does the whole Mumford and Sons bang-on-a-drum-with-bluegrass-instruments thing MUCH MUCH better. Actually I don’t even want to compare them to Mumford and Sons but they’re relatively similar enough. Seriously though Seryn is a perfect band. I could probably go on more, but that’s what I’ve been listening to lately. And the new Owen album. And the new Portgual. The Man album. Yeah. Woo! Best show you've recently attended.
The best show I recently attended – and possibly the best show I’ve ever been to – was Swans. Mother. Fucking. Swans. They played at the new Southgate Revival, which I’d never been to before. Really awesome venue. This was the first time I’d seen Swans (they’re seriously and unabashedly my all time favorite band – Soundtracks for the Blind changed my fucking life), and it was everything I ever dreamed a Swans show could be, and more. When I talked about playing a live show and having myself and the audience be enveloped in the sound, Swans do that to the absolute extreme. I was totally hypnotized and fixated on Gira’s flailing, holy-spirit-containing body. Absolutely incredible. I can only hope and dream that Zijnzijn gets to a point where I can play such a hypnotizing, tribal set of music. That’s kinda what I’m trying to do with the year old song, actually! I say possibly the best show because last summer I went to New York and saw Philip Glass’s Einstein On The Beach performed. It was equally as hypnotizing and fixating, though with much different music than Swans, of course. Tears were streaming down my face when Train 1 started. So amazing.
Lost Trail and Proud Father
August 7 2013
Cincinnati Public Library
It's not the first place you'd expect to catch premiere experimental artists live but, surprisingly, when it comes to the stranger side of music, there's no better place in the area to get your fix than the Cincinnati Public Library. Each Wednesday at seven, between the Fiction and CD shelves, one can take in one or usually more drone, ambient or noise music sets for free. Yesterday happened to be my first experience with the Experimental Music at The Library program, and it certainly won't be my last.
I saw a post on Facebook about Lost Trail and Proud Father appearing at the library and, remembering that they'd soon be putting out a split tape on the Swan City Sounds label, decided to get an early glimpse of what might be contained in that plastic shell. When I arrived, Proud Father (aka Sebastian Figueroa) was setting up an array of effects pedals, tape machines and other musical gadgets serving a purpose that I can only guess at. While I waited for the show to begin, I was able to ask Zachary Corsa (Lost Trail) some questions about their current tour and their upcoming cassette. You'll be able to read that interview at the end of this review. I also got the chance to speak with Steve Kemple, who formed and currently organizes the library's Experimental Music program, and found out that Duane Pitre, whom I interviewed a couple of months ago, would be performing on the 14th. I'll be sure to try to make it to that show, as Pitre is one of my current favorite minimalist composers.
New Orleans' Proud Father was the first act to perform, a guitar-based drone project. His set was complemented by a short film projected behind him featuring mainly WWII-era footage. Looking through the glass wall the show took place in front of, I felt that the people and cars acted as another, auxiliary element of movement bordering the projector screen. Can one unknowingly become a performance artist? Many elements of movement were also evident in Proud Father's music. At times, there was a sense of chaos conveyed, as organic, watery field recordings were smashed and distorted beneath a downpour of noise. Just as quickly as the noise flooded the speakers with a calming harshness, it had the tendency to dissipate, giving way to light, highly delayed guitar notes. Figueroa even sang in what I believe was a foreign language during one of these bridges of sparsity, which was probably the set's most memorable moment. Proud Father vaguely recalls Godspeed You! Black Emperor and I could imagine it being accessible even to those who aren't noise fans.
Lost Trail (pic taken by Steve Kemple)
I was already a little familiar with Lost Trail's work through the tapes he's put out on Sunup Recordings, but I hadn't heard a him play a live set yet so I was rather excited to see how his sound translates to the stage. Unlike Proud Father, Lost Trail kept his table relatively clear, limiting himself to a few tape recorders and an amplifier. His set was centered around a lo-fi sampling of rather minimalist piano. While that recording played unaltered for much of the set, Lost Trail used the other decks to set the music in whirring motion sending sparks of harsh, crackling noise through his amplifier. At times, you could get a glimpse of the original samples; I remember a Daniel Johnston-esque chord organ recurring more than a few times. He was even able to scratch tapes like a DJ would records, creating some scattered moments of percussion. Lost Trail demonstrates the effects of introducing slight dissonance to fragile beauty, and it's fascinating to experience.
Interview with Lost Trail
Me: You're a few weeks into the tour, right?
Lost Trail (Zachary): We're about halfway through, it's been about three weeks.
Me: Which of the shows you've played so far was your favorite, and how's the tour generally been?
Lost Trail: Actually, it's been one of the better tours I think I've had, financially and interest wise. I think my favorite show probably was Buffalo. Really good people. I've never been to Buffalo, it's a nice town. Good turnout, really nice people there. Good food, good city.
Me: Where are you most excited to perform?
Lost Trail: Well, I was most excited to play Silent Bar in New York, that's done now, so probably Detroit, just because I've always had good shows in Detroit and it's good for photography since it's always falling apart. I always like going to Detroit for that. Detroit, yeah and I'm also excited to go back home and play some shows in NC too.
Me: So there's a new split in the works between Proud Father and Lost Trail. What should we expect from the tape?
Lost Trail: This stuff is a little different than the guitar drone stuff I usually do. The piece that's on the split is kind of what I'm playing on tour. It's just... it's described in the notes as four notes of an antique piano through 9 half-broken tape machines. So, that's pretty much what I've been doing on this tour is playing loops of this piano through falling apart tape machines. My half of the split is just 16 minutes of that. Sebastian's stuff is very experimental noise stuff, [laughs], and it's already out so check it out.
Me: One last one... Out of all the tapes you've put out so far, which do you think you're the most pleased with?
Lost Trail: Um, there was a tape that came out on Felt Cat, which was a label in Iowa. It's no longer around, unfortunately. It was called October Mountain. That seems to be the one people like the most, and it's a wide breadth of styles. A bit all over the place. But it's the one I enjoy most. I'm kind of working on a sequel to it, so stay tuned for that.
Listen to music by both bands below: