August 12, 2008

they say there is gold from the hills
hidden in the slums

Kurt Hentschlager and Ulf Langheinrich, Granular Synthesis, FELD 1, 2001

* 2007 interview of Dave Thomas (Rockets from the Tombs, Pere Ubu). excerpt:

Q: Before you started Rocket From The Tombs I understand that you worked, at least for a little while, as a rock journalist. How did you start doing that and how did that affect your decision to go on and make music?

Thomas: Accident and circumstance. In high school I was on a path to pursue a career in micro-biology. I was taking a college-level course. I had an intuitive affinity for it. At the end of my junior year I discovered that if I took an English class over the summer I could graduate from high school early. It was, however, too late to apply for college so that school year I audited classes at the college where my father taught. They had a good student paper. I got involved. I became editor within a few months. The next year I went to college for real. My fellow students seemed to be interested only in drinking and partying. I thought to myself, This is not Real Life. I dropped out after a couple months. I called my folks from the Mississippi. I hitchhiked across America.

On my return I got a job doing layout at a weekly entertainment paper called The Scene. Tuesday was layout night. With a bottle of vodka, a handful of exacto-blades, a light table and a waxer I worked from 6pm to 5am. I did great work. Those lines and columns were immaculate. The copy, however, was not. The bad writing and spelling mistakes bugged me. So I would cut up little pieces of print-outs and reconstruct the copy on the wax table. The publisher eventually decided to save us all alot of time and headache by making me copy editor. I started re-writing everyone’s copy. The publisher eventually decided to save us all alot of time and headache by making me a writer. I wrote music reviews, did band interviews and wrote the usual puff pieces when bands came into town. I had little initial interest in music but I quickly developed a number of ideas about How Things Should Be. A couple years of this followed. I became a minor local “celebrity.” Then one day I had an epiphany. I was interviewing a fellow named Jim Dandy from a band called Black Oak Arkansas at the hip celebrity hotel in town, Swingo’s. It hit me like a wall. I could think of no questions that I wanted, or needed, the answers to. I muddled through, went home and thought about it. I decided that if I was so smart I oughta do this music thing myself. So I did.

Q: The Pere Ubu website Ubu Projex is about as complete and thorough as any that I have ever seen from any band. What prompted the decision to make such an extensive catalogue of information available online? How involved are you with the content and maintenance of the site?

Thomas: It is MORE complete and MORE thorough and MORE interesting than any other band’s website. I produce the content and I am the webmaster. I aim to never have to say a word again. If I can answer everything on the website then I will be home and dry. As well it serves my goal of never having to say another word to my bandmates. I also think that how bands work is interesting. I think it should be documented. I have long wanted to publish our accounts on the site as well but there are some security and confidentiality issues to be dealt with so I’m not sure that will ever happen.

A musical question of sorts: I understand that you no longer use microphones for recording your vocals anymore, instead using speakers to capture your vocals. I understand this concept a little, using the magnetism of the speakers, but I don’t completely get how this works. Could you explain how exactly you do this and what prompted your decision to do this? I am also curious, what do you use for live performances then? Do you use a regular microphone for live shows or
>> do you have something that you bring with you on tour?

Thomas: A microphone and a speaker are technically very similar - close enough to be described as being identical. It doesn’t take much. Some load-balancing and a few simple tricks. I had for a long time complained to my engineer, Paul Hamann, that I didn’t like transience and pointless fidelity above and below the range that I was interested in. I also hated equalization. It is a cruelty perpetrated for the sake of convenience and the limitations of audio reproduction. I don’t bow to limitations. I attack them. All the equalization in the world can’t change the fundamental nature of a sound - it can only “torture” it. You can add or cut 12db of any frequency at any point in the spectrum and achieve nothing but abortion. You kill the soul of the sound. It is an egocentric pursuit at the expense of “righteousness.” Better that you bring the sound into the world as you want it to be. (I am waxing metaphorical here for the sake of brevity.) Paul took all this in over the years and came up with a solution.

Live I use standard-issue microphones. The live performance and the studio performance are only coincidentally related in that the same individuals are involved. Using my “hyper-naturalistic” techniques in concert are utterly impractical. A studio is a controlled environment. A concert stage is a chaotic environment. That’s as it should be. Many musicians try to make the concert stage into a controlled environment. They are amateurs ignorant of their craft.

* New York rock show alerts:

-- The Caribbean will be performing Wednesday evening at Glasslands in Brooklyn with Colorlist, and the Michael Blake Ensemble

-- Dean and Britta will be playing a set concentrating on of Galaxy 500 songs Thursday evening at The Zipper Factory in Manhattan

* "A synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the word you first thought of." -- Burt Bacharach


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