The Culture Club - Interview
About The Culture Club - interview answers given to 3D World magazine in 2007.
5 years of research, 6 months of procrastinating and 9 months of furious writing, during which time I became an almost complete recluse and my kitchen table disappeared under a pile of paper.
I tried ordering the chapters in a more ‘chronological’ way, but wasn’t really happy with it. In the end, I just cut up some little pieces of paper with things written on them like ‘futurism’, ‘loops’, ‘artaud’ and ‘prince’ and moved them around on the carpet at my house until the sequence started to feel good. In a lot of cases, I wasn’t even sure if the two things had much to do with each other, but a lot of the fun of writing the book came from the realisation that in almost every case, they did. I like the flow of the book, because it reminds me a bit of a DJ set, or playing songs for someone off your ipod. You might not even know why you chose to play that song after the one that preceded it, but chances are, if you look hard enough – there’s a reason.
I do think it’s often overlooked, or if it’s mentioned it’s only ever in passing, so I liked the idea of bringing those connections into sharper focus with the book. But I also feel very strongly that rock and dance music have taken those ideas from the European avant-garde and made them a part of people’s everyday lives in a way that the Modernists never really did. For example, while I’ve tried to show in the book the way the Futurist composer Luigi Russolo anticipated, in many ways, the music of Public Enemy, The Chemical Brothers and Diplo – I also know who I’d rather listen to! John Cage was making music with turntables years before Elvis Presley picked up a guitar, but the difference between a bunch of curious but confused people tuning in to Cage’s Imaginary Landscape and a couple of thousand punters jumping up and down to Kid Koala at the Meredith Music Festival is enormous.
A lot of it came from the radio segment, but the segment is very short, so I really enjoyed the opportunity I had with the book to stretch out a bit and dig a bit deeper into the histories of all these artists and movements. Also, radio’s very ephemeral – you do it and it’s gone, and next week you do something else. But I’ve been feeling for a few years that it would be great to put all of these stories together in one volume and see if they told a bigger story – and I really think they do.
I’ve tried to chart the history of noise in music, which goes back to the Futurists in 1910, and Russolo’s frustrated attempts to bring the racket of modern life into the concert hall. From there, the book moves on to Pierre Schaeffer’s discovery of the loop or ‘closed groove’ in 1948, a discovery that led him to realise that it was now within a composer’s means to treat any kind of noise or sound as music. What’s amazing to me is that this is an idea that many of us now take entirely for granted. Claude Von Stroke’s The Whistler or Dizzee Rascal’s Fix Up have almost no actual music in them as a person from 1948 would understand the term, but because we listen to loops all the time now, we’ve all become little Pierre Schaeffers. We still listen for melody, but we also listen for noise, and enjoy noise in a ‘musical’ way.
Brad and I had a number of ‘Crafternoons’, sitting at the lunch table at triple j, cutting pictures out of photocopies from art books and old Rolling Stone magazines and generally making a mess with scissors, glue and textas. A lot of these improvisations found their way into finished pictures, but a lot of them are just Brad’s unique take on the ideas in the book. My favourite, I think is the one he did for the chapter on John Cage’s 4’33”. How do you make a picture of a silence? Brad came up with this great image of a white cube surrounded by a bunch of wiggly lines of noise. It perfectly sums up the idea of the piece as a frame, a quiet space in which sounds will inevitably happen.
Well, I liked finding out that the ideas of the French painter Marcel Duchamp could be used to explain hip-hop and dance music production for people who think it’s not proper music. A lot of people take the line that because dance music is made with machines, loops and, most troublesome of all, bits of other people’s music, the dance music producer is not a real artist. But Duchamp realised in 1913 that the experience of art has almost nothing to do with the intentions of the artist or how much work the artist puts into his work. He set out to prove the point by trying to exhibit a store-bought porcelain urinal in an art show. Duchamp was having a go at a peculiarly European idea of genius and individual self-expression, which a lot of people (myself included, I have to admit) are still pretty strongly attached to.
I suppose I’d love it if this book got people thinking and talking about art in a different way – not as something that just goes on at blockbuster shows in big galleries or gets written about in obscure academic journals, but as something with the power to change everyday life – even if it’s only in small ways. A month or so ago I was reading through this great book of Yoko Ono artworks called ‘Grapefruit’. There’s a thing in there called pea piece – all you have to do in order to realise the work is to take a bag of peas with you and leave a pea wherever you go. It’s a great thing to do – it gets you looking at your surroundings in an entirely fresh way, it changes your relationship to the people around you (by which I mean they’ll think you’ve lost your mind – but that’s ok), and you feel like you’re doing something really naughty and subversive even though you’re just leaving peas around the place. It only cost me the price of a bag of peas, and I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun in a nightclub.