Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
The process as I stated above is that all the work comes from small ink on paper drawings that I make. I explore an image over and over until I find how it works best. Sometimes that is all it needs to be and sometimes I have to take it to a large work, painting or paper or clay most recently. It is a process of finding an image through repetition. I love the xerox machine so I take my small works and copy them again and again, blowing them up, shrinking them down, cropping them, collaging and copying again. The paintings go through a much longer process of painting and erasing and I usually work on a few at one time at different stages of completion.
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
I make things too hard on myself. Making things harder than they need to be.
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
I do like to experiment. I just recently made my first clay pieces which was thrilling and now working on some new works with wood/clay.
What does the future hold for this work?
In the long run I have no idea. I never know what life it will live once I make it. But in the short term, I will have work in a group show, Roving Room, co-curated by Kelly Kaczynski and Cori Williams, that will be installed in the historic Habersham Mills May16th-July 31st and then I will be working towards my next solo show in NYC at Jeff Bailey Gallery.
Enhorabuena por el Premio Formentor de las Letras 2014. ¿Qué significa para ti obtener un galardón que también han recibido personajes tan importantes en la cultura como son Jorge Luis Borges y Samuel Beckett, entre otros?
A mediados de los sesenta, cuando yo era jovencísimo, leí a los entonces desconocidos –a escala internacional– Borges, Beckett y Gombrowicz gracias al premio Formentor. Los tres fueron influencias claves en mis comienzos. Y el premio, debido a esto, siempre fue una leyenda para mí.
En el discurso para la ceremonia de entrega, me apoyo en un aforismo de Kafka (“Hacer lo negativo aún nos será impuesto, lo positivo ya nos ha sido dado”) para sugerir que deberíamos insistir en la búsqueda del negativo de la escritura y completar así el concepto tan positivo de la literatura, ese que nos ha sido ya más que suficientemente dado a lo largo de la historia.
Tu nueva novela Kassel no invita a la lógica está directamente relacionada con tu participación en la exposición quinquenal de arte contemporáneo dOCUMENTA (13), celebrada en la ciudad alemana de Kassel. ¿Nos podrías contar cómo fue la experiencia?
Me invitaron a participar en la siempre vanguardista dOCUMENTA (13). Fue raro porque soy escritor, no me dedico exactamente al arte contemporáneo. Me desconcertó, pero al mismo tiempo viví muy bien la idea de haber sido invitado. Después de todo, aunque sin reflexionar demasiado sobre la cuestión, siempre me sentí vagamente vanguardista, tenía idealizada la idea de serlo… Entonces caí en la cuenta: era toda una oportunidad para averiguar qué significaba en verdad ser vanguardista.
La novela se abre con una frase impactante: “Cuanto más de vanguardia es un autor, menos puede permitir caer bajo ese calificativo”. ¿Puedes explicarnos esta paradoja?
Viene a decir que uno no es vanguardista porque lo diga él mismo; es más bien al contrario: debe huir de pensarse o de llamarse vanguardista si quiere serlo, porque el vanguardista nunca llega a un lugar estable, nunca llega a ser; en el momento en que es algo, se halla perdido.
Por otra parte, la dificultad contemporánea para ser vanguardista está en que la vanguardia quedó atrás. E incluso parece haber quedado atrás la literatura. Puede por tanto que una tarea nueva sea dejar de ser vanguardista y construir el negativo.
La tarea encomendada de escribir en un restaurante chino de las afueras de Kassel permite realizar una lectura de la ciudad en la que uno se encuentra. En este sentido, recuerda tu Tentativa de agotar la Plaza Rovira (1996), un trabajo de campo, inspirado a su vez en la Tentative d’épuisemente d’un lieu parisien de Perec (1975), que se basa en retratar a los transeúntes en un lugar determinado. ¿Crees que ambas experiencias comparten rasgos comunes?
Esas dos tareas se parecen mucho, en efecto, sólo que yo en Kassel me negué a llevar a cabo esa tarea porque ya la había hecho en la plaza Rovira, de Barcelona. Tendrían que haberme encomendado una tarea nueva. Por ejemplo, la de en verdad dejar de ser vanguardista y empezar a construir el negativo de la escritura.
Your music occupies a space where a few seemingly conflicting aesthetics, styles and techniques intersect. Dance music and classical music, music played by hand and sequenced music, acoustic instruments and synthesized sound, high-brow culture and club culture – these pairs are commonly thought of as opposites. How conscious of this are you when you're making music?
This is probably something we thought about more in the past because when we actually met for the first time we already knew about each other’s backgrounds and our aim was to use mainly acoustic instruments. Then there came a moment when we realised we had a certain style that had come about and I guess from then on we didn't think about it that much. It's more that when we start our pieces – which are mainly improvisations in the beginning – we have the feeling that anything goes.
So for us it's more that we want to make use of this huge palette of technical possibilities, like using a grand piano, which is an instrument that has been developed over centuries to be what it is now and to use new techniques. We just find it really inspiring how the different ways of working can be combined and woven together.
Recently, we made a track for our own label and on that track I think there is one real hi-hat but the rest is just analogue synthesisers, so we didn't really intend to become a group whose trademark is to use only classical instruments. It was never really the case anyway since we’ve always also used analogue synthesizers – we like to contradict what we're known for.
n general, we think that what's expressed through the music is much more important than the means that we use. We ourselves are interested in all these different things – for us it's not a contradiction to make techno music at home and then go to a classical concert in the evenings. There's no contradiction in this and from all the different stuff we see every day, when we go out or when we check the web or go to concerts, all the influences come together by themselves and it's not so much a conscious decision to mix together some contradictory stuff.
I think nowadays a lot of interesting music is rather a hybrid.
In certain musical projects this 'hybrid' musical element is sometimes more on the surface.
Then it's cross-over.
Crossover, fusion – these are dirty words in some quarters.
Of course we reject these words like crossover and fusion for our music because when techniques or knowledge or whatever cultural achievements come together, it can happen on so many levels. I think with Brandt Brauer Frick we let them come together on a really detailed level in order to really let the different materials communicate.
So are you looking for elements that will contrast with each other in interesting ways? Or are you searching for commonalities between different eras and styles? I’m thinking in particular about how your music harkens back to the overlapping rhythm patterns of 1960s and 70s Minimal music, which was itself a kind of precursor to the loop-based nature of Techno.
For us so much was in the air anyway, and as you said we used the commonalities that are obvious. They are technically there, you just need to use them. Between a lot of music you have these common points that are there and you just need to make the connection. I'm not saying we are the first ones to make that connection between Minimal music and Techno, that would be absurd, but still sometimes we also use the contrast.
Recently, for our last tour, we bought some great analogue synths like the Roland Juno 106 and the SH-101, stuff like that. Especially the Juno has, I don't know, we just can't get enough of it. It's so crispy and this often creates a layer or element of the music that doesn't adhere to our usual style, but we really enjoy the contrast. And it's huge. What comes out of this thing is like a huge sound and you always have to cut some stuff away. And today most other people are adding bass frequencies to their synths and stuff, and here you really have to cut stuff away otherwise it's too much sound.
Q-Your music is very technologically based. How do you find the balance between technology and emotion? Do you feel that they sometimes contradict each other?
A-No. I come from a strong engineering background and for me there’s a lot of beauty in machines. There’s beautiful machines and not so beautiful machines, but if you look at an old clockwork or at a steam engine, or at an amazing supercomputer or some optic instruments, a great watch – all these things are really, really beautiful pieces of engineering and engineering is not just logic. There are so many artistic decisions to be made: which materials to choose, which colours to choose. You always have questions of design in there, too. A beautiful music instrument is as much a piece of engineering as a piece of art. For me, working with computers or technology is not just a rational process. I find this a very strange construction, this whole idea that technology has nothing to do with emotions – that’s not true. An organ pipe is technology, a guitar string is technology, a grand piano is technology, that’s all technology, research and science. Mixing colours for painting – that’s science, that’s chemistry. There’s so much science in art anyway. So we are constantly using science to create beauty, it’s a normal part of a process.
Q-The last two albums by Monolake were concept pieces based on your evolving novel having some post-apocalyptic and dystopian undertones. What is the status of the story at the moment? Are you going to publish it? And when can we expect the third part of the trilogy?
A-Currently, I’m working on a different project, but I didn’t forget to finish the trilogy. I don’t know when I’m going to do it, but I definitely plan to do it. The text exists, so I pretty much know how the third part is supposed to be. I’m not sure anymore if I will publish the big text. I decided it’s not good enough to be published as a whole, but it’s nice to have it for my own. At present, I’m just too much focused on my new work and I don’t know when I will find time to do the last piece of these three albums. But I want to do that, so someday it will appear.
Q-Could you tell us more about this new work?
A- It’s my Lumière project. A mad attempt to create a new type of audiovisual performance show based on using laser for the generation of moving images and deriving most of the sonic aspects from the very same processes that also create the visual side. I am working very hard on it, and it seems that this will keep me busy for the next few years. There is a lot to discover and I am just at the very beginning.
Tell us a bit about your musical background. What introduced you to digital audio production?
Music has always been central in my life. I have a classical background and training in violin, which I started at age 3. In my early teens I focused more on guitar and bass, played in industrial/noise bands. Around 16 I discovered raves and jungle/drum & bass and became obsessed, and found early heroes of mine who were musicians and artists through the form of being “producers.” This appealed to me and my lone-wolf ways. Creative compromising can be really deadly hard for me, which is what attracted me to digital audio production in the first place, but ultimately years later I’ve found it to be intensely rewarding.
Are those influences still relevant to your music?
Yeah, those influences are a deep part of me still.
You are often booked under 2 different monikers, Grenier and DJG. Can you describe the difference and why you chose to use two names?
I no longer take bookings under my “DJG” moniker. DJG (my initials) was the name I released my first records as, around 2007. It was all dubstep music, which at the time was something I was really excited about. Dubstep changed and I didn’t want to be narrowly boxed in to any one genre anymore, so I decided to change my name and just give myself a little more breathing room creatively.
How did this new album with Archie Pelago come to fruition?
I was introduced to Archie Pelago through friend and producer Distal, he played me a remix they had done of one of his songs and I was blown away. We got in touch and there was mutual interest in working together, so while I was on tour in NYC once I met up with them in Greg’s home in Brooklyn and we gelled right away and wrote two tracks together. That process was really fluid and fun, and I think we all recognized potential, so a few months later the guys flew out to San Francisco, where I was living at the time. We wrote the body of what became the album there in San Francisco, at a space I borrowed from my friend which was the basement of an art gallery on Haight St, a block down from where I lived.
The album is chock full of live instrumentalism. How did the recording process go down?
The Archie Pelago guys have a process of recording that was already fairly dialed in, which comprised mainly of live loop-based construction. They would in essence pick a foundation, either a sketch I had done or something from scratch, then pass the mic around so to speak, recording parts and building the compositions. This allowed all of us to contribute, either by playing parts or just offering different melodic ideas. It was fun and lively, those guys are so talented and capable, it was really easy in a lot of ways.
Dave Eggers: ‘You’ve said before that when you’re drawing, you’re taking on a role. That is, that there’s a persona, almost, that you’ve generated who is behind your work. But I wonder how you get to the place where you create. The drawings, at their best, I think, have a desperateness to them that I like to assume you’re only reaching after drinking heavily, or being depressed, or being alone at 4 am.’
David Shrigley: ‘Well, I’m quite disciplined and always totally sober. There’s a specific amount of caffeine and sugar and nutrition to get stuff done – you get to your forties and realize you’ve got to eat stuff otherwise you get really grumpy. There’s a certain zone that you get into that you’re kind of almost not really thinking anymore, but it just feels like it’s all pouring out of you like water out of a jug. But it’s not necessarily any good. Sometimes it’s terrible. So yeah, I do have those moments, but if I had a glass of wine, that’s it, game over. I’m going upstairs to watch CSI: Miami.'
DE: ‘I think, though, that the viewer gets the experience that you *are* having fun, and that’s fairly rare. It seems like a train of thought that actually reflects what goes through our minds — and that you’re not self-censoring. But you must edit.’
DS: ‘I throw a lot away. My attitude towards it is very free, because I know there’s only a one in four chance that I’ll keep the drawing in question. And at that point you’re not really worried too much about making a mess of it.’
DE: ‘But the mess of it is part of what works with what you do. The drawings are somehow funnier because of the awkwardness or the crudeness, and the crossings-out. You can’t improve upon how sort of perfect that mix is, between the text and these awkward figures, with their terrible hair, and their bones that don’t go in the right direction, the overlapping lines. Do you remember the moment when you arrived at your style?’
DS: ‘I’ve always drawn in that way. It’s not the kind of drawing where you’re trying to get their eyes in the right place, you’re just trying to tell somebody something as directly as possible. It’s non-drawing, in a way. It’s somewhere between handwriting and drawing. But then again there are also certain rules to what I do, like I’m not allowed to re-draw or anything and it just is what it is.’
DE: ‘Between the casualness of the work, and the fact that it’s funny – these are art-world no-nos.’
DS: ‘I know a lot of people still don’t see my work as serious, because it’s funny. But then again, I’ve come to realise that the opposite of seriousness is not humour. The opposite of seriousness is incompetence. It’s somebody who isn’t really engaged with what they’re doing. And the opposite of humour is maybe sadness.'
Each World Cup win seems to have a singular meaning for Brazilians’ conception of themselves and their future. Let’s go through each victory, one at a time. Give me your thoughts on the impact they had on the concept of Brazilianness. Let’s start with 1958.
In 1958, playwright Nelson Rodrigues says, “at last we can kick the mongrel dog complex.” By this, he means that 1958 delivered on the promise of the 1950 World Cup, which in turn delivered on the promise of previous efforts. Going back, the 1938 World Cup is the key moment: Brazil goes into the tournament with a mixed-race team for the first time. Their two stars are black and they dazzle the world with fantastic football. Gilberto Freyre, the sociologist, writer, and historian, condenses the meaning of this event for Brazil, when he says that Brazilians have sweetened and rounded the angular game invented and played by the Europeans. Everything that is good about Brazilian football can be traced to our mulatto quality, our mixed ethnic European and African heritage — our trickery, our bravado, our inspiration, our spontaneity. For the first time, Brazil — and certainly Brazilian elites — celebrated the country’s mixed ethnic ancestry, celebrated its African roots, the mix and the diversity that Brazil had become. All that was delivered on in 1950, when Brazil first hosted the World Cup.
Not a happy result.
No, they lose the final to Uruguay, 2-1, in front of a quarter of a million people. It’s a national shame and disaster. Indeed, the black players are scapegoated. Winning in Sweden in 1958, with a very mixed race team, with Garrincha, with Pelé, sets the seal on the idea that had been dented in 1950, that Brazil can be proud of its uniqueness, which produces this artistic, flamboyant, musical football.
1962 only drives the point home. The tournament is played in Chile. The great thing about 1962 is that it gives the spotlight to Garrincha — Pelé is injured in the tournament. The moment that I will treasure from 1962 is in the final against the Czechs. You can see Garrincha sometimes just standing on the ball, offering the Czechs to take it off him, only to spirit it away in a fantastic display of dribbling — the kind of which we probably won’t see again at a world cup. That seals the deal in 1962; it’s the highpoint of a period of great, great confidence in Brazil. Kubitschek has been in power, Brasilia has been built, and the country has undergone an incredible spurt of economic growth and urbanization under a democratic framework.
We’ll skip over 1966, though I know that can be hard for an Englishman. Let’s go to 1970.
Brazil’s 1970 campaign, when they win for the third time, is pretty much universally acclaimed as the greatest display of artistic football the world has ever seen. They win the final against Italy 4–1, with a spectacular series of goals. That’s the gold standard. The irony and the tragedy of 1970 is that it occurs under the military’s watch. By then, the Brazilian junta has been in power for six years, and has taken a close interest in football, having rather disdained it when they took power in the early 1960s. By 1970, they understand that they need to back this horse, indeed that it’s one of the main legitimating tools available to them — their vision of Grande Brazil. The victorious team flies into Brasilia, where they are celebrated by the president and his cabinet. It’s the only day in the 20-year history of the military junta, that the presidential palace is open to the people. However, as a consequence of this, having discovered and tasted the extraordinary ideological power of footballing success, the military try to reshape football in their own image. And that’s the tragedy of 1970, that it should force the pace of that process. Over the next 10 to 15 years, Brazilian football is deformed and malformed, both in how it’s played and how it’s organized. It becomes a much more physical and much more aggressive game because military style training and an obsession with fitness become the expected norm. Furthermore, the military’s lawlessness and violence contributes to an awful lot of violence in and around football over the last 30 years. 1970 is bittersweet; it’s a truly amazing artistic occasion that ends up poisoning Brazilian football.
–Hablar sobre música no es nada sencillo. –Y especialmente en este momento, en el que estoy hablando contigo en esta especie de ítaloportuñol: ya no sé si parlo, falo o hablo. Espero que se entienda algo de lo que digo. No lo sé. En fin, volviendo al libro, para mí escribirlo fue una forma de hablar sobre aquellas personalidades musicales que fueron importantes para mí, que me enseñaron muchísimo sobre música. El título del libro debería haber sido Encuentros con músicos notables, como ese Encuentros con hombres notables que escribió George Gurdjieff.
–El título de la novela se parece más al de un paper científico... –¿Síndrome de Brontolo? En Italia, Brontolo es el enano de Blancanieves, ése que siempre está enojado y nervioso, siempre cree que el mundo lo maltrata. Creo que ustedes lo llaman Gruñón, ¿no? Habla un poco de esa gente que siempre se lamenta sobre todo lo que pasa, gente que se regodea en su mala suerte.
–También tenés un programa de radio y otro de televisión, pero antes de contarme de qué se tratan, decime cuándo dormís. –Por ahora el día tiene 24 horas y duermo cuando considero que ya pasé mucho tiempo despierto, pero ¿has visto que ahora hubo una gran elección en la Unión Europea? Como yo creo que cuando estos políticos europeos se reúnen son capaces de hacer cualquier cosa, incluso de ir en contra de las leyes de la física, me ilusiono pensando que tal vez encuentren la forma de alargar los días o alargar la vida de uno. Bueno, en realidad, la única esperanza que tengo acerca de sus decisiones políticas es la de que alarguen los días, que cada día pase a tener 35 horas así puedo hacer más cosas. Pero yendo a los programas, el de tele va por la segunda edición, y viene teniendo mucho éxito. Se llama Sostiene Bollani . Tiene una parte didáctica, en la que se habla de música, se muestran instrumentos y se trata de acercar a la gente a un mundo que resulta un poco lejano. No había programas así en la tele italiana. El de radio era un programa delirante que hacía con otros músicos. Hablábamos sobre música que no existía. Se llamaba Dr. Djembe . Una cosa totalmente impredecible.
–Hablando de cuestiones impredecibles, ¿qué programa harás en el Coliseo? –Ah, eso sí que no lo sé. Cuando toco solo me gusta que el concierto sea totalmente improvisado. No decido la lista de temas previamente porque adoro hacer el concierto junto con el público.
–¿Junto con el público? ¿Aceptarás hacer lo que te propongan, un programa “a pedido”? –No particularmente. Con lo de “hacer el concierto junto con el público” quiero decir que dejo que el repertorio surja en base a lo que suceda en el teatro, con ese piano particular y, fundamentalmente, con la energía que recibo del público. Todo el concierto se construye alrededor de lo que sucede en el momento, con la reacción del oyente.
–¿La energía del público es palpable en una sala tan grande como la del Coliseo, con esas luces que te darán en la cara, que te encandilarán? –Sí, siempre se palpa esa energía. Me acuerdo especialmente de la energía de la gente en el show que hicimos con Enrico Rava, la primera vez que toqué en Buenos Aires. Hacía mucho tiempo –creo que más de 20 años– que Enrico no pasaba por Argentina. Y, claro, él también estaba muy conmovido. Para mí fue muy impresionante sentir toda esa energía.
–¿Alguna vez sentiste que el público tenía una carga negativa? –No diría negativa pero sí neutra, que creo que es aún peor que la energía negativa o, por lo pronto, la que menos me gusta. Prefiero, antes que la neutralidad, que la gente tenga una energía completamente negativa, algún tipo de vibración. En algunos lugares, no sé por qué razón, el público se comporta como si no estuviera escuchando, como si nunca hubiera llegado a la sala.
For anyone who doesn’t know, who are Smallpeople? We are Smallpeople- Dionne aka Just von Ahlefeld and Julius Steinhoff from Hamburg. Together we are running the Smallville record store and - label plus we are djing and throwing Smallville parties in Hamburg and various other cities..
And Smallpeople have just finished a full length: ‘Salty Days’, is it a major departure from previous material? Not really. Salty days was created in a long-term process, so we didn’t lock ourselves in the studio for 2 weeks and that was it.. more like many sessions.. there has been more hardware involved in the process of our salty days album than in the records before as we’ve got more machines now..
How would you describe its predominant sound? We’d make it easy and say it’s deep house music.. it’s not always easy to categorise these days- but maybe it’s also not necessary..
Did you find the transition from EP to full length difficult and did your approach differ? As it is no concept album we wouldn’t say it was much more difficult. we collected all these tracks over a long time, the hardest work was to rearrange some old tracks and put them into the context of the new ones.
Can you take us through this approach, your production set-up and how you usually develop your ideas? It’s always nice to do music together - the approach is just to meet in the studio, sit down and make music.. we never really tend to try something that we think of before - it’s more like a development within a jam-session.
Theo Parrish identifies himself as a vinyl purist in a pretty uncompromising fashion as seen in his recent Slices interview. What are your views on the divide between digital/analogue in relation to the format of Smallville’s releases and (more broadly) your methods of music production? As we love vinyl and run a record store, vinyl is still and will be by far the most important medium for us. We play vinyl and we produce music for vinyl. We don’t want our music to be released digital only. But we also sell Smallville releases digitally, as we know that in some parts of the world it’s simply not possible to go to a record store and buy your records or even get them shipped to you.
Do you feel that ‘Salty Days’ adheres to any kind of formula in terms of what full lengths are usually like in terms of the electronic/dance music sphere? We wouldn’t say there is a classical form of doing a dance album, everyone may have his own way of approaching this task. In the end we had the opportunity to choose between a great extent of music and tracks that made it’s way onto the record we felt probably made sense together.
Was it a self-conscious decision to release a full length now, considering the success of the Christopher Rau (Asper Clouds) and Moomin (The Story About You) LP’s; did you feel the time was right? The idea was actually initiated by Jus-Ed from Underground Quality who heard quite a lot of tracks a long time ago after we sent him a demo for the smallpeople record on underground quality. He told us why not do an album so we liked the idea. Actually some of the tracks on the salty days album were already done at that time, but in older versions- like „the loon’s groove“ or „move with your vision“. So the plan was there quite long time ago, probably even before the other albums came out- but then we just wanted to take our time and we never saw a need to rush things at all, like we never do at smallville.. There’s something quite distinct about Smallpeople and Smallville releases, but were there any major influences on ‘Salty Days’; producers/records you were listening to that may have had an impact? Actually all kinds of music that we’ve exploring within the last 10 years has it’s part on the album, but there was no plan to create this and that sound..
There seems to be a minimalist aesthetic in terms of the Smallpeople work and the Smallville material more generally, with Stefan Marx’s artwork a fitting accompaniment to each release, were there any precedents for this minimalism, anything in particular that you think may have influenced it? Maybe there is some childish and probably naive way of approaching things in life which connects our sound and the style of Stefan Marx. We build our own little niche within the movement..
Moving onto Smallville, for anyone who doesn’t know, who comprises the Smallville family? We are a bunch of people that are around the shop regularly. It’s also really kind of a hang-out, so that’s why there are so many people.. Lawrence, who is also one of the founders of Smallville, also has his room in the back of Smallville with records and some instruments and stuff, that’s also the warehouse of Dial, Laid and Smallville. We’ve recorded the Underground Quality radio show in there when Jus-Ed was around and sometimes do a little session. Stefan Marx is also a very important part, he is drawing all the Smallville covers and posters and he does everything on the visual side- which is obviously very important for Smallville,. Jacques Bon is running the little Paris branch of Smallville, that was never really planned but more just happened- and it’s great! and then there are some more friends, who work for the store but also come to chill or buy records- like Richard von der Schulenburg aka RVDS, he runs his own imprint it’s, Tilman Tausendfreund and akaak, who run the klingtsogut party series, tilman also produces nice music, together with christopher rau but also solo- recently with a remix for Reilg, Wiebke aka Elin, who runs a party series called Dear, Christopher Rau, who hangs out here a lot and who is also an Important part of the musical side. Christian aka blessing but also Chriso aka Krosse Krabbe or Moni aka Bobbie and Axel aka Akaak and everyone who is hanging here as well.. and a big shout to Stella, too who is now living in berlin, but opened the shop with us in 2005.