“It’s not punk. It’s not art. It’s not even music. And it’s definitely not a haircut.”
Maine based noise musician Matt Anderson celebrates 25 years of Crank Sturgeon with his 150th release.
You released 150 records in about a decade and a half, so what’s the value of a record, to you? How do you look at a release? Is a record a statement? Or is it a way of documenting your own work, like a kind of audio diary? Is making records like building your own library?
Actually, I’ve been doing Crank Sturgeon a little bit longer than that — as of this writing (July 2017) Crank turns 25 years old!
But, birthdays aside, I agree with you in that recordings have value, although I find that some recordings age better than others. In other words, I don’t get upset if I listen to an old release and realize that it totally sucks. Noise is noise: some of it is research, some of it is “epic,” some of it is of-the-moment. It’s really all of the above, too — document, statement, diary, et cetera. Recording is also a habit of collecting, where all the filing cabinets (full of microcassettes, tapes, and hard drives) seem to reverberate an obsessive person’s voyage, or a stoic quasi-scientific narrative experiment. This is where I deviate from applying terms of value. Part of my process is simply to keep a personal log going, both visual and aural. Combining all of these moments over a decade or two comes off like a babbling library — some of it’s cool, some of it’s total bullshit — but it’s not there to be judged. It’s just what I excrete: an echo of processes, discoveries, and amusement.
Do you think your recordings give the full picture of what you do? Because I’m a big fan of your performances, with the costumes and the objects you bring with you. Or do you see recording and performing as two completely different things?
It’s neither the full picture nor are these entirely different & unrelated things. Performing is about going into a place of physical extremes, especially when I’m on tour. I want to create cool sounds and have costumes / microphones / physical stamina that can endure a month of shows. On the other hand, when I’m recording in the comfort of my own home studio, it’s all about exploration and tinkering. This is a different type of creature versus playing a show, as I’m not under the pressure of time or an audience. That said, what I learn in the studio — playing around, fucking up tape recorders or soldering things together wrong — can come full circle and bring a lightness to the live show. So maybe this is where the recording process intersects with performances, by opening up the valves and letting experimentation happen. The costumes take on this quality, too. My favorite fish masks in recent years were built while on tour, using discarded catalogues or tourist brochures. I guess I just love to string rubbish together and allow that collision — all the weirdo juxtapositions, found objects and sounds — to play out. In this sense, immediacy, being engaged, and most importantly, letting loose, are integral parts of both recording and performance. Everything is related in the end, as it’s all from my hands and brain.
Do you see your performances as a continuation of Fluxus and Dadaism? Or even Viennese Actionism? Do you see what you do as noise? As junk noise? As experimental?
I have loads of book on all of that stuff. While I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from these particular avant garde moments or movements, I don’t see the point in attaching my name to something that I had nothing to do with in its inception. Yes, there are elements in Crank Sturgeon that one might attribute to Dada, but that’s where it stops.
However, I do see what I do as noise. Noise is different; it’s not some movement started by some guy somewhere that has now become co-opted by historians, museum curators, or graphic design agencies. Also, noise-people (and anti-art folks, I should add) have always given me a warm welcome — more so than other genres or scenes — so that’s really my base. Plus, the noise community is all-embracing and not some fucking brand. It’s not punk. It’s not art. It’s not even music. And it’s definitely not a haircut. It’s performances with leaf-blowers, ten hour laptop drones, fields full of bugs, skipping CD players, construction sites, creaking doors, distortion pedal orgies, or simply hollering with some freakers in a culvert alongside a highway. Noise scares people, not because it’s volumetric, but because it cannot be accurately formatted, compartmentalized, or appropriated. I like that.
Who are the artists you feel the most related to, from your own generation and from before you?
I feel blessed. The artists I relate to the most are also my friends and occasional collaborators: Patrick Corrigan, id m theft able, Olivier DiPlacido, Bonnie Kane, Fritz Welch, Michael Barthel, Andrea Pensado, Al Margolis, Ludo Mich, the Post Neo Absurdists, Jim Leftwich, GX Jupiterr-Larsen. It’s so cool to be a part of this community, and the list goes on!
In terms of previous generations, I’ve been living in the woods for the past five years, and so Pauline Oliveros has become staple reading while I’m out on my walks — Thoreau, too, for that matter. And, one day, I’ll finally get past page 20 of Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake.” Perhaps my most profound inspiration for performance ideas is Wile E. Coyote. But that vacillates too… there’s also Kurt Schwitters, Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Allan Kaprow, Lloyd Khan, Brian Eno, and Roman Signer.
Your concerts are often short, sometimes even just ten or 15 minutes or so. Why is that? Do you think you would lose tension if they would take longer? Which role does time play in your performances?
I have performed longer than ten minutes — in upwards of three hours — but I think that in the context of a noise festival, it’s better (and nicer) to do something short.
Is contrast one of the main ways for you to create tension in your work? And by that I mainly mean the contrast between noise and silence?
Creating contrasts — using silence, volume, et cetera — is more of an accident than a method. I’m not interested in creating tension but rather a physical impression; for example, building something before your eyes or letting some ridiculous story or effort unfold. Using sound as a texture is very important, but then again, so isn’t engaging an audience directly — making eye contact, letting them in on the joke. My shit is so riddled with accidents that perhaps what you might interpret as tension is actually me — improvising my way out of something that isn’t working!
One thing that almost always returns in your performances and on your records is the use of a contact mic. Why do you prefer working with contact mics? What fascinates you about contact mics? Why did you decide to make your own contact mics, instead of buying them?
Contact microphones are my instrument of choice — without a doubt! I love the idea of having a physical relationship, a “closeness” for lack of a better word, with sound. The contact mic is perfectly suited for this. It’s also a process of discovery; obtaining the sounds that are revealed when one presses a mic to a surface. So, whether I’m using a contact mic, homemade condenser mic, a wire-spool transducer, or jamming an earbud into a nostril, it’s all sort of the same in the end — coaxing sound from a source and marveling at the results. In terms of building these devices, I prefer my homemade microphones over commercially available ones. They’re tougher. Plus, if I ever break one, I know how to repair or replace it. It’s a good skill to have.