025.5: Christopher David
An interview with Chris Donaldson for a special midweek issue. Plus: reviews of all 14 of his self-released albums.
|Aug 6, 2020||4|
Christopher David is a musician from Florida who has performed in various punk and hardcore bands throughout the past fifteen years. On top of this, he’s recorded solo music under the names City Medicine, Chris Donaldson, and Christopher David. His works under the Christopher David moniker are all self-released, limited-run CD-Rs that feature the sort of quiet music that Joshua Minsoo Kim refers to as “non-music,” which was discussed in The Wire (Issue 431) and in the first issue of Tone Glow. Joshua Minsoo Kim and Christopher David talked on the phone on July 31st to discuss his works under this name, his record labels Hologram and Drugged Conscience, his work as a nanny, and more.
[The first two minutes of this interview were corrupted and are lost, but Kim and David talked about David’s nannying experiences and how he and the family he worked with had disagreements regarding working during the pandemic. The remaining is what follows.]
Joshua Minsoo Kim: Oh geez.
Christopher David: The family didn’t want to do anything different. That came to an end in early April, the end of March I guess, and I’ve been at home with the kid ever since. My wife got a job shortly after, we’ve just been doing our thing. I’ve been a nanny for a long time, it’s a good gig—I miss those kids a lot.
How did you get into nannying? How did that happen?
Well, I’ve just been working with kids since I was 19. It started off with me getting a substitute teacher certificate because I was in a punk band and I just wanted to tour during summers and winter break—it seemed like the most feasible job I could come in and out of whenever I felt like it. Because of subbing I get into tutoring, and then from tutoring to nannying and I kind of stayed there because it was easy and the money was good. Yeah, that’s really about it.
What was it like being a nanny for the same group of kids for an extended number of years?
It was pretty crazy because my wife had worked for them for four years before that and it was seven for me, so I’ve been with the little girl since she was eight months old.
Oh, your wife was a nanny as well?
Yeah, just for a handful of families before that. She’s the one who got me into nannying—she said I should try it—and I ended up working for this family while she wanted to become an RN. I said, “These guys are gonna die when you leave, why don’t I just take over since I’ve had some nannying experience.”
It’s really intimate because you feel obligated to care for these kids as if they were your own, but you’re also an employee so you’re stuck in this position where you want to keep your job so you do exactly what the parents say. There’s this nagging feeling of knowing what’s right for them because you’re around them a lot more than the parents. It’s a really fucked up dynamic. I’m hoping I don’t have to do that again when it’s all over (laughter). It’s really personal, there’s no clocking in. And those kids are on my mind every day, even now.
Is there a specific time you remember aside from all this stuff with COVID where you wanted to do something for these kids that the parents disagreed with?
Yeah, these parents were really into the whole helicopter parenting thing. The day was just shot, man. I’d get there at 6 in the morning, get them ready for school, pick them up at 2, shuffle them around the city from 2:30 to 7 at night between piano and karate lessons and tutoring and all this shit. The kids never got to just be kids and, at some point, not having a personality or being alone with yourself is gonna affect you more than the education you have.
These kids never know how to spend their free time—they’re used to having something put in front of their face 24/7. You couldn’t put them out in the yard and let them dig a hole and pretend that the princess was there or something (laughter), they didn’t have that creative spark that boredom forces you to have. To their detriment, we’ve learned a lot about what we want to do with our kid.
Obviously your girl is only 10 months old, but are there things that you’re already doing or are keeping in mind for the future?
Well, this COVID thing has been kind of a blessing. Everything’s on fire right now, but I can spend every day with her, and she’s at a very vital age. Every day is new with this kid right now and I was on course to not be around for a lot of it because I was working 12 to 14 hour days with this other family. So I’m getting to spend quality time with her, to help her stand up, to feed her and make faces and to see her grow at a really cool age. That’s been cool.
When she’s older, we’ve got a lot of strong opinions on education and extracurricular stuff and friends and all this stuff. Everything happens for a reason. I’m glad that I did the nannying as long as I did, and am glad that things didn’t work out because it gave me insight into what to do with her.
Did the kids that you nannied like you?
I text the 11 year old most days. Have you ever heard of GamePigeon?
No, what’s that?
It’s like a little app on your phone and you can play chess and—
Oh yeah, that’s how you play 8 ball and stuff.
Yeah, I play mancala with the little girl most days, and she sent me a meme of a dog the other day. The boy is a teenager and he kind of does his own thing now. We were never close but me and the little girl—that was my girl, you know? I really care about her. And then there’s a third one who is only two years old so there’s only so much you can do about that. Me and the girl got along and I tried to be a strong presence in her life when she was dealing with stuff, health-wise and with anxiety or anything.
I’m excited for you in raising your own daughter, do you mind sharing her name? You don’t have to if you don’t want to.
Oh sure, it’s Adria. Adria Fay.
That’s a good name.
Fay was my mother-in-law’s name, and Adria is kind of a take on the Adriatic. My wife’s a romantic and I proposed to her in Croatia at the Adriatic Sea, so she wanted something to tie in there.
Whoa. You can’t just say that and not tell the story! What happened! Actually, let’s start at the beginning—how did you meet your wife?
We were friends in high school and we set each other up with people and sometime before college, both of us ended up single on Valentine’s Day and we went and saw Brokeback Mountain and cried a lot in the theater. We started dating shortly after that. We both grew up in Naples, which is a beach town in Florida.
What’s something that you love about your wife? You’ve known her a long time, but what sticks out?
Oh, her drive is insane. She’s a new mom, she just took on a really challenging case management career from home, she hustled and got it, she’s still making the kids food and working on a second job. I’m impressed with her drive—she can get anything done when she bothers with it, it’s crazy (laughter). She keeps choosing these really hard positions that help a lot of people and I admire her for it. I really wish I had the intellect to take something like that on. I could never work in the medical field—it’s beyond my pay grade. Humility is really important to me and I feel like RNs and NPs don’t get the praise that a doctor would despite putting in ten times the amount of work, so I admire her for that.
What was the engagement like in Croatia? Do you two travel a lot?
Yeah, up until this we got out as much as we could. We’d get cheaper apartments and save up, we wouldn’t eat out. We’ve been to Europe a couple of times, we’ve been to Japan, we went to Thailand and Cambodia in 2012, we went to Croatia in 2017 and then we got married in 2018. We went to Paris for our honeymoon right in time for the yellow vest riots so like everything was closed and every night you’d hear explosions and people screaming, it was pretty rough. I recorded a bunch of audio during the protests and all that ended up on the City Medicine tape all jumbled and crunched up and stuff.
So we went to Croatia just on a whim—I think one friend had been there. We wanted to go there and there’s a specific beach that juts out as a peninsula that doesn’t have the rest of the island on either side. It’s a beautiful beach and there are mountains overlooking it, and I proposed to her there. It was really cool because there was no one else around, it was just us two. I mean, it had been over ten years, it was overdue, but it felt right (laughter).
What made that moment feel right?
We were just young when we started so the amount of years didn’t even make sense. After five years I would’ve been 24 and that felt weird, so we did the thing where I moved over and we lived together. We clicked and there was no pressure anymore. After a couple years, our parents stopped bothering us about it and we kind of got to do what we wanted.
You know when the plot of a movie just clicks all of a sudden? I just woke up one day and was like, “Oh, that would be great,” so I bought a ring that day and brought it with me on that trip and surprised the fuck out of her. I mean, we were gonna live together forever and have a family either way.
You’ve been in different bands—Merkit, Sloane Peterson, White Moth—and have been on tour, did she ever come along with you?
Nah, it wasn’t really her bag. She likes her creature comforts and, you know, we’ve traveled a lot of places but a punk squat in Berlin is not her bag, and I can’t say it’s most people’s. So no, there was never any want on her end to come with us. And it was always just the band, we never even had people come do merch with us or something.
How did you start getting into the punk and hardcore scene?
Well, my dad bought me a Green Day tape when Dookie came out. He’s an avid spearfisherman and he has this nasally-ass voice like me and he was like (in the voice of his father), “All the guys at the docks sing all these songs and I thought you’d like it.” So, I jammed Dookie and I got my friends into Dookie and we listened to Dookie until we wanted to start a band. Everyone else played an instrument so I decided to do drums, and that’s kind of where it all took off. Every city’s got their own insular little punk scene going so I cut my teeth in Naples where there was a lot of weird shit going on and that was kind of it.
How old are you right now?
(laughs). I’m old in punk years but I’m young for anything else. I haven’t played drums for a punk band in a couple years now. The last time was on that tour in South America I was telling you about [via email]. It’s this band from down here in Miami called Antifaces—it’s a husband-and-wife duo and they’ve had a slew of drummers over the years. We were eating dinner in Argentina and they both kind of looked at me and said, “You’re not gonna be doing this when we get back, right?” and I was like “Yeah, there’s no way.” (laughs). I was gonna get married and eventually have a kid and didn’t wanna hold these guys back. They wanted to tour full time, they were already talking about doing Canada and a fest in Nashville and Portland when we got back and I was like, “Sorry, I can’t.”
You’ve mentioned in an email to me that you played with… Carlos?
That’s crazy. How’d you even know it was him?
When we went over there, we had this big Greyhound bus and it was us and four other Colombian bands. They knew everybody and when we got to… I think it was Medellín, they said we were playing with this guy’s new band and it was a Plasmatics cover band. It was really weird because they all looked really regular except for him, he was kind of this stout, long, gray-haired dude. And they had an electronic drum set which was even weirder, and it was at a sandwich shop (laughter). The whole thing was bizarre but he spoke almost no English so I just told him I liked his record.
That Herpes release is more in the punk/powerviolence realm so I liked it more but I wasn’t even really familiar with all that stuff until shortly before getting over there—it was all happenstance that it all fell into place. We were in a record store in Bogota and I found a copy of the Herpes 7-inch for not much so that was cool.
I wanted to ask about the different projects you have. Well, I guess—what’s your actual name?
It’s Chris Donaldson.
Oh so is David your middle name then?
Yeah it was just a giant list and his journal and some cell phone photos and a blurb about a new tape. I loved that whole thing—the emails, the tapes, it was all out of this world. That was my label, man. I wrote a lot of people based off those early tapes, like I reached out to Gabi [Losoncy] after hearing the Good Area tape, I reached out to Chris [Fratesi] after hearing the Gene Pick tape. I’ve since talked to Thomas DeAngelo from Melkings.
I actually flew Allen down here for a show at one point. No Intention played a one-off show in Miami and it was really good. He has a recording of that set somewhere and he refuses to cough it up. I’ve been trying to put it out for a long time (laughter). He said he might send it to Chocolate Monk so I’m just sitting on my hands waiting at this point. It was a good set.
It’s sad that Vitrine’s gone.
Yeah, especially since he had that final comp that’s on Discogs. Apparently there’s a master but I don’t think he has any intention of making it. Remnants is on there, there’s a lot of good stuff on there.
It’s nice to hear you say all this and to be able to connect the dots, like to just know that you were listening to these tapes and that’s what led to you working with some of these artists. In my mind, Vitrine is one of the most important labels of the last decade.
Yeah, some reissue label in twenty years will be talking about it. There will be a hype sticker that says, “Virtually unknown at the time!” I can just fucking see it right now with all the Vitrine stuff. His tastes were just really important, I didn’t know more than half of the stuff until it came out and he did this thing where he combined old artists with new artists and I think so much of that gets lost in today’s labels. Everyone just wants to do some archival release so they can pretend that they had really, really good taste. You’re rewriting history, you’re not taking a chance on anything good. It’s a bummer, but he did it really well.
Do you talk with him at all these days?
When I still had Facebook we would chat on there, and then he hung out for a couple days down here, and I just kind of never heard from him again. I text him maybe once a year since then, and I just say, “Hey what’s going on?” and he goes, “Hey I’m gonna send you the Good Area LP” (laughter) and it never happens. That’s the text I get in response every time. I think Tom told me he was living out in California or something, I don’t know. At some point you don’t want to be irritating to somebody about music so you just leave them alone. Vitrine is a great label for sure.
I definitely see a throughline from that to so many labels today, like with something like Regional Bears and everyone part of this quasi-scene.
That’s an astute observation. I really wanted to be on the Vitrine catalogue with City Medicine but he never asked, and then Regional Bears seemed to pick up the slack of that, where it was like old-and-new and everyone got to keep their own aesthetic and it was highly curated. A lot of noise artists just kind of do the rounds, you know what I mean? A new power electronics group could come out and I could predict their next five releases on five different labels, and that’s around for two years and then it’s gone. Those labels don’t feel like that, so to be part of Regional Bears was super exciting. And [label owner] Louis is awesome. He’s got a little kid too so we can talk about other stuff that’s not about music.
I respect the fact that he put out a new Yeast Culture tape.
Yeaaah, and I think he did Blackhumour?
But then he’s got Shots and me and Chris [Fratesi’s] new thing, which is cool.
It’s interesting how you brought up archival stuff. There are, of course, a lot of musicians who did a lot of great stuff decades ago but aren’t being asked to release new stuff unless they’re part of the hype machine.
Or, just, a label put out a Martin Rev record and put out five stinkers—they sucked and they still suck. They believed in that record at the time and took a chance, and it failed, but that’s life. You don’t get to cherry pick the one good record that made it or made sense later in life and then get to poo-poo on the other shit that didn’t work. Everyone wants to pretend like they didn’t listen to screamo in 2000. Just take your mistakes and your tastes and be honest about it. I don’t like strictly archival labels, it bums me out.
Oh man, you’re really against them.
I got a strong opinion. I want people to take risks.
Do you not feel like there are archival labels that are taking risks? I guess I’m thinking of labels who are releasing stuff that wasn’t previously released.
Oh sure, two come to mind. I’d say Bitter Lake, which is Adam from New York. They’re releasing some really out-there Japanese stuff and the Japanese part tends to sell itself, and the obscure element works for it too. But there’s no legacy of, like, C.Memi before this. He does his homework and he knows what he’s talking about and there’s no guarantee that just because it’s archival that it’s going to work.
Yeah, the only thing that I feel really had some buzz beforehand was Dendö Marionette.
The first one, yeah. And then it’s cool because the rest of these releases, while they’re old, he’s releasing an LP of a band who just had four comp tracks (laughter). That’s a lot of fucking work. Him and Matthias [Andersson] who does IDDB [I Dischi Del Barone], he has that thing, Fördämning Arkiv. That’s an archive label I can get behind too because I’ve never heard of that shit before now, pretty much. And it’s regional to where he’s at, almost elusively. And he’s doing a good job. So yeah, I take back what I said (laughs).
The thing is that people aren’t really talking about these labels either. IDDB has a nice little following but most everything happening in that whole Swedish scene right now is not getting a ton of attention.
I feel like whoever is buying it right now is the maximum number of people who will enjoy it (laughter). I definitely think a lot of people don’t know about it, but I don’t think they’re missing out. They’re definitely doing their own thing with their own labels and it’s very specific. They’re kind of trying to recreate a lot of private press shit that they’re into, down to the packaging too. Those guys go deep on all that record knowledge big time. And they’ve got that new shop now, Discreet, which is good.
Ha, one of my friends just visited their store today.
That’s in Gothenberg, right?
I’m not sure but I think so.
I’d like to visit. I went to Stockholm a few years back, a lot of good record stores over there. A killer punk store over there called Trash Palace that’s unreal. They intentionally didn’t put stuff on Discogs so it’s like walking into a candy shop. It’s crazy shit. For a weird little shop in Stockholm to have every essential New York hardcore record is cool. (laughter). They’re just sitting on a wall and it’s like, “What the fuck is this doing here? How is it still sitting here?” It was a badass shop for sure.
Let’s talk about your music. How did you decide to make these new albums under the name Christopher David?
Hold on, let me let the dogs in. (lets dogs in the house). I just had so much time between the City Medicine tapes because I get so anal about shit, just reworking and reworking and reworking and hate it two days later. Between how much I spent at work and the kid and figuring out a new career to have, and whether I have to go back to school… and I’m fixing this house we live in, everything’s old as fuck and broken.
I quickly saw myself not making music ever again, so I recorded that Fourteen Windows CD in one take and immediately walked the walkman over to the computer and burned it to a CD and went to Kinko’s 15 minutes later and made a lay out and said, “Okay, I can still do this.” I was just so excited about having fucking done it. I can regret it later if I feel like it, but it didn’t have to be perfect. Then I just kept on going with it, I made the Nippon Hialeah CD a few days later and got in the groove of trying to get it done as fast as possible and being the person who got to check it out for the first time when I was done with it, as if I ordered it from someone.
I like that. So did you not listen to these albums until you had everything made?
Maybe on the car ride to Kinko’s, which is only six or seven minutes away (laughter). I wanted to do stuff, I wanted to stay active. I really like the silent parts of a lot of the records I own—the whole thing just made sense to me. Does it make sense to you?
I mean, what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. It sounds like you were a perfectionist so these albums under the Christopher David name was an avenue for you to go against that impulse and have it be low-stress while finding a satisfaction in creating art.
Yeah, absolutely. I had this pet peeve with noise artists who would just pump out anything. I was being grumpy, I was like, “Why does this tape even have to exist?” And it’s like okay, six people really, really like it and it doesn’t have to be for everyone and it doesn’t have to be the very best—it can just be very cool. It was kind of an exercise to get myself out of this mindset, to do something different and break that pattern I was doing.
In that Grids CD that you put up online, I had a quote on there from an artist down here named Lynne Golob Gelfman that says, “How much you can control and how much you can let go.” I purposely spelled her name wrong so I could try and live with that mistake. Her stuff is really incredible but she passed away this year, I believe.
What was the window of time that you made the first ten albums?
I’d say three or four months for everything.
What about the newer four that came out?
They were all done at the same time, it’s just that COVID hit and I couldn’t get to Kinko’s (laughter). That was the only problem. I check my fucking time every day and it says I’ve spent eight hours on the goddamn phone so it was like “Fuck!” I got a lot of joy from going to Kinko’s with my headphones on and a bottle of water, just playing around with the machine for layouts—no computers, just kind of what I’d do for punk bands. Things got shut down and I didn’t want to get my daughter sick and everything. Finally I just said fuck it and did those last four layouts on the computer and had Kinko’s print them and the lady dropped them in my trunk so I didn’t have to go inside.
Do you see this endeavor as being a one-off thing? Do you think you’ll make more CDs?
As far as getting the perfectionism issue out, I’m not trying to think of the goal of it, and whether I’m gonna continue or revisit it. I’m not thinking about those terms. I’m just doing it until it isn’t fun and then move on. I’m not worried about it.
You mentioned all this stuff with noise artists putting out a ton of releases, how do you reconcile—
Me doing it? (laughs). I’ve just come around to it, I’ve just stopped being a pain in the ass about it. I’m just sad it took me so long to relax. I’m actively buying John Olson’s tapes with all his trash shoved in it and they’re fun for me now when they used to irritate me. So no, I’m not trying to say my shit doesn’t stink, I’ve come around to the concept of churning out whatever you want whenever you feel like it—it’s liberating.
Do you revisit these CDs at all?
Yeah, I keep a bunch in my car and it’s kind of nice in traffic. The fidelity is kind of low and I’ve gotta crank it in the car. I’ll forget something’s on and I’ll be turning and all of a sudden I’ll hear a click and I’ll be back into it.
I love when that experience happens, when you forget you’re actually listening to music. Also when it’s ambiguous when something is coming from the audio or something in the surrounding area.
I end up rewinding the CD a little bit to give more of my attention to it. And I also like artists who have done similar things before me. I hold my breath waiting for things to happen if I’m giving it my full attention. That Jon Dale Theatre CD is incredible.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that from start to finish, holding my breath so I don’t miss something. The idea that almost nothing is going on and it feels new every time I listen to it is so cool.
He told me how he made it but—
Don’t tell me! I don’t like process, I just like sound for sound. I like trying to figure it out in my head, and I might figure it out in my head next time and it’ll be something different. I don’t wanna know.
I don’t think he wanted people to know either. I don’t even remember what he said exactly.
Yeah, just in case you were gonna spoil it I had to stop you.
What’s an example of something besides the Jon Dale CD where you enjoyed figuring out the process.
As far as how they did it?
That or even what the sounds are sourced from.
Oh yeah. Shit, off the top of my head… I don’t know. I was listening to an Aaron Dilloway record today and I could tell it was obviously 8-track loops but I couldn’t tell if it was originally what was on the 8-track or if it was something he recorded on the 8-track, or if it was backwards or whatever it was. Shit, I don’t know. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head where figuring something out and found it intriguing.
I’ve been trading with Jeph Jerman a lot recently and his stuff I figure is just nature (laughter). He does such a good job with it. Also, I’m sort of a Luddite when it comes to electronics and gear—I don’t know what anyone’s even playing with in the first place. Most modular synth stuff or cut-up tape stuff I wouldn’t know what the fuck is going on in the first place. That might be kind of where my stuff falls into place anyway; I don’t know how to work most of this shit so I just record the sounds and the sounds around me (laughs). I’m a drummer, I didn’t get schooled in a lot of gear.
That makes a lot of sense. I played in a band in high school and I always regret that I never paid attention to all the technical stuff and gear they were working with because I was just trying to mess around on the drums.
Yeah, and at some point you only hear drums, you know? I like a lot of records but I can play the drums start to finish and I know where the drums are. People will be like, “How about that hook? How about that melody? Did you hear that cadence in the person’s voice?” For me I just hear the drums.
What kind of stuff were you guys making?
We were listening to a lot of stuff in that emo/pop-punk realm back then, and while we weren’t exactly making music quite like that there was definitely a lot of teenage angst and sappy stuff.
Yeah for sure. My first band in freshman year or whenever, everyone was just listening to Thursday’s Full Collapse. The entire town had a ripped black shirt and jelly bracelets and were crying and stuff, so I’ve been there (laughter). You don’t do drums anymore?
Nah. I don’t really have a desire to make music. I’m definitely way more interested in listening and researching and thinking about music. And I like explaining things, which I guess is why I’m a teacher. I asked Jon Abbey if I could make something for the AMPLIFY 2020 festival he’s got going on and he said he’d be down. I have an idea for what I wanna do but this was like three months ago that I asked. Every now and then he’ll ask me if it’s coming, and I’ll be like… “It’ll come.” (laughs).
Yeah, it’ll come when it comes (laughs). I’ve been keeping up with that Bandcamp, Vanessa [Rosseto] is so good.
Oh, that’s right, you did a CD for her!
Yup, you & i are earth.
Always looking forward to stuff she’s putting out.
You released one of her CDs too, on Hologram.
Yeah, Rocinante. With me and technology, that album was only digital so I asked her if she wanted to release it on CD so I made a bunch on Hologram. I think that was the only release that ever sold out within a reasonable out of time, without me trading most of them away or something. She’s got a lot of dedicated people paying attention to her.
That was 2005 so I was 18 or 19.
What motivated you to start up a label? What got you doing that at so young?
I was in a punk band at Fort Myers and every other member of the band had a label except for me so I felt left out (laughter). There was a band from Miami that was coming over to Fort Myers where I lived at the time, and they were like, “Hey this label was supposed to do a tape for us and they just kind of fucked off and they gave us all the blank tapes and the master back, do you know anyone who could do it?” And I was like, “Yeah, I can do it,” so they brought everything over with them and I made a layout at Kinko’s and it just took off from there.
Playing in a band, you meet a lot of other bands and you meet them at the demo stage and it’s just like, “Perfect, what’s next?” It ended up getting more serious but I always tried to keep doing little tapes and fun, intricate shit that I liked. Merchandise and shoppers all kind of blew up at the time so I had to keep up with the demand of that. It was both worlds for a little bit.
I thought it was really cool how you released that Thou cassette box.
That one was a fucking undertaking, I cut out all those J-cards out by hand. I was sitting in the woods filling bottles with Brazilian pepper seeds, it was ridiculous. It ended up coming out real cool. It was fun but it was like four months of solid work just putting it together.
That’s so intense. I already hate just packing and shipping records.
Oh no, I live for that. Even the little Hologram stuff is fucking dumb and complicated. It’s just a jacket but I print them out and then I score them all by hand, I stamp em and glue em. It all takes a long time still but I like that part, it’s just finding the time for it.
I would love to do a digital-only label but things unfortunately feel more official when you have a physical product.
Yeah, it does. It’s a shame and it’s a big waste of resources and time and money. The idea that someone from Singapore can listen to a record right after it being uploading to Bandcamp is incredible, it takes all these boundaries down. And I understand how dumb physical stuff is in this age but like holding a paper book, there are certain feelings there.
For sure, and actually investing the time and energy to have a physical product also helps you feel closer and prouder of the work you’re releasing. There’s an intimacy there.
That’s what my hesitation was with doing digital for the Christopher David stuff. Half of it is just folding the textured paper and seeing the red stamp. That’s half of it for me. I’m not trying to be a pain in the ass; I feel like you’re missing a big part of it by not holding it in front of you and playing with it.
I wanted to ask about your album The World is Not a Stage—there’s someone speaking on there.
Yeah, that’s a buddy of mine, Michael Dean. He’s an old record dealer from around here. He ran a place called Yardbird in the ’80s and ’90s in Miami and he’s just a really interesting guy. He has incredible taste and he always calls to talk about music but he starts off by asking how my kid is and I like that. He read an old postcard that I got from a friend in the early 2000s that I liked a lot. His voice has always been comforting when we hung out. He recorded it on his cell phone and just sent it to me, and that’s the only recording he’s ever been on so that’s cool.
Do you have any favorites out of the 14 CDs you’ve made?
I like Tall & Headed Towards Light a lot. And I like Relta, if only because it’s got a mischievous photo of my wife when she was in high school smoking a bowl behind an alley (laughter). I found that in a crate of photos and I was like “Dude, let me use this please” and she said no problem. I like the font a lot, I pulled that from a Yusef Lateef record. I like those ones sonically as well. Tall & Headed Towards Light felt calm—it was recorded in my house—and it was recorded a few weeks after she was born. It was like a rare moment of quiet where people were just doing their own things in their room, just clicked record on my recorder and got it.
That’s super nice. I was wondering, is there a specific reason that these are under Christopher David? Like, what’s the difference you see between a Christopher David project versus a Christopher Donaldson project versus a City Medicine project.
Just aesthetically, when I’m done with it, it’s just what feels right. All the City Medicine tapes vary sonically as well. It’s a gut reaction whenever I’m done. The new City Medicine tape is also more frantic and cut up and there’s a lot going on—I don’t think I’d do something with that much going on with a Christopher David CD. I don’t know why I wouldn’t, but it makes sense to me.
Is there anything you wanted to talk about that we didn’t talk about?
No, I didn’t even know how you were gonna come up with anything to ask me (laughs). I thought it was gonna be really hard to talk about how I put nothing on a CD, but you were really engaging, I appreciate it. This was my first interview ever! I did an interview for Drugged Conscience when it just started, some French blog contacted me and had a ton of questions. I answered them very thoroughly but they never published it.
Bummer, do you still have the answers?
Maybe in my sent emails somewhere.
You can contact Christopher David and purchase his CDs on Discogs.
Christopher David has self-released 14 albums. Below, find blurbs on every single one of them. The first seven are by Joshua Minsoo Kim, the next seven are by Shy Thompson.
Christopher David - Relta (self-released, 2020)
Some of the few noticeable sounds that exist on Relta appear within its first and last seconds—likely a result of Christopher David moving his hand while pressing the record button. There’s little here, and as one of his quietest releases, Relta forces you to make a decision: Do I crank up the volume to hear every possible noise, or do I keep it at a level that replicates being in the space he recorded this music?
I opted for the former, which led me to ponder the way in which I often approach pieces this quiet. Generally speaking, I’m a musical hedonist—I don’t want for any sound to go unnoticed. But with this is a concomitant unwillingness to simply embrace silence for what it is, or to allow sounds that are buried in the noise floor to simply be buried. Such is the paradoxical nature of listening to quiet music and approaching it after learning of John Cage et al.: silence ceases to be silence, silence becomes sound. Which, for someone as analytical as me, means that I’ve been cursed—silence always has to be or do something to me.
When handling the CD’s packaging, the silence on this record develops into something stronger than anticipated. The layout is crucial because the title is left partially obscured on the cover—this encourages you to unfold the linen paper nesting the disc. When you do, the one skeleton that appears in the top-right corner finds five more skeletons near it, and the largely black rectangle at the bottom reveals itself to be a photo of a woman. The silence consequently takes on a cryptic quality—it makes me feel like I’m in a dark cellar feeling a mixture of despair, listlessness, and fright.
Across Relta’s 22 minutes, we hear the low hum of machinery, the plop of a water droplet, and a brief moment of nondescript shuffling. There’s a peculiar mystical nature to them, due in part to how there’s little sound here in the first place—the intimacy of such noises is magnified. But more importantly, with the sense that the silence here is foreboding, these scraps of noise are a reminder of the real. Their ordinariness is a comfort; it prevents the silence from entombing you. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Christopher David - Tall & Headed Towards Light (self-released, 2019)
Open the packaging of Tall & Headed Towards Light and one finds a sentence that reads, “Recorded so everyone knows.” It’s a peculiar message that makes one interpret the cover’s inky splotches as a signpost for a mystery needing to be solved. Accompanying the text is a timestamp and a photo of David with his dog. In conjunction with the title, these elements feel like clues leading to the truth behind David’s fictional murder.
The album’s first track features constant ticking—the sort of diegetic sound a movie scene would highlight right before an intense moment—and in the background there’s the sound of a woman (presumably David’s wife) talking on the phone. After a while, we hear her chopping food with a knife—the murder weapon, perhaps?
The second track is shorter, far more homogenous and uneventful, as if little more than the direct recording of an empty room. There’s a sense here that this track is the aftermath of the event: David’s body motionless, his murderer now gone, and silence poignantly contrasting the relative liveliness of the previous track. Most brilliant is how the existence of two tracks feels purposeful—jumping from the first to the next is like moving from scene to scene, though here the actual murder is only implied from the cut. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Christopher David - The World is Not a Stage (self-released, 2019)
Given the title, one will put on The World is Not a Stage while thinking of Shakespeare and the inevitability of death. As such, the stately organ, graceful chimes, and rushing wind that define the album’s first half make one think of a dignified and peaceful sea burial. When the music fades, we hear the sound of someone named Michael Dean reciting poetic text. He mentions windows, which in this case feels representative of a portal between life and its cessation.
Dean speaks of his home (“No twin mattress,” “I want to make a little area there with my rug”), and reflects on the small but noticeable things that define his every day (“Late every morning, the sun eats up my bed when it peaks over the apartment buildings across the street). But as much as he’s establishing a sense of domesticity here, there’s a sense of remove. I get the impression of someone who’s died and, as a spirit, is now reflecting on the life they had.
Near the end of the album, Dean states, “You can see how big my room is.” He follows that up with words that—for the first time on the record—are left unaccompanied by any sound: “It’s unnecessary, and kind of beautiful, in its own way.” He’s talking about the excessive size of his room, but he could just as well be expressing gratitude for life: We didn’t need to be here, but we are—experiencing it is its own privilege. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Christopher David - Gathering the Fruit the Tree Has Discarded (self-released, 2020)
Within seconds, Gathering the Fruit the Tree Has Discarded reminds one of The World is Not a Stage because of its prominent drone and field recordings. One feels like they’re standing on a pier, plaintively reminiscing while looking out into the foggy Atlantic. Out of any album in David’s discography, Gathering provides the most familiar listening experience to the average experimental music fan. Its persistent drone—which lasts the entirety of the album’s 30 minutes—is dense, the sounds of rain and machinery and children hiding underneath.
There’s repetition of these sounds, with a particularly charming squawk appearing periodically. This regularity creates a slow and vague rhythm to the track, allowing for a calming and meditative listen despite the enormity of its atmosphere. Given that Gathering is the longest album David’s made under this name, it’s apt that it provides an immense serenity. Listening to it feels like being immersed in nature, completely removed from society. It’s here where you can reflect on the beauty of the world, of an existence so small but very much your own. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Christopher David - Take Off into the Sea (self-released, 2019)
What to expect of the only Christopher David CD that finds the artist himself adorning the cover? Would it be more personal? More intimate? When unfolding the packaging, you see three more faces: Mowgli and Kaa from The Jungle Book (1967), and Picasso’s Portrait of Joseph-Michel Ginoux (1888). Next to these is a note that the recording took place at the same time as the Iranian internet blackouts last year, and next to that are poems from Rabindranath Tagore with numerous words blacked out with a permanent marker.
Admittedly, I have no idea what any of this could mean, or if any of it needs to. This short 11-minute album features sparse sounds of cabinets closing and vehicles passing by in the distance, of creaking wood and breathing. Of all the albums in David’s discography, Take Off into the Sea is the one that asks least of me: I put it on, hear the quotidian noises of a room, and simply let it be. There’s no adjusting of volume, no anticipation for sounds, no hyperawareness of every little gesture. For a brief moment, I’m content on my own little island, somewhere far away from everything else happening in the world—the title advertises this experience well. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Christopher David - First Day (self-released, 2020)
The three tracks that make up First Day feature the typical sounds that crop up in David’s works—indistinct voices, rustling in the background, dripping water—but the defining feature of this album is an unending, air-y drone. It continues without end, and when we move from one track to the next, the sound of David handling his recording device is ultimately what signals the switch. The transition from the first to second track is particularly noticeable because the drone’s tone changes dramatically—it feels dense. There’s a stronger physicality to it as well, with a faint rumbling that appears to give the sense of something subtly going wrong. It’s easy to miss, but look carefully through the packaging of First Day and you’ll find a small sentence that reads, “I don’t know how to fix it.” One wonders if a ventilation system has broken and David’s just recording the aftermath of his failed attempts at fixing it. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Christopher David - Lost in Neon Time (self-released, 2020)
Lost in Neon Time features twenty minutes of the same speckled buzzing—it sounds like a fan’s turned on and streamers are flittering about. While other bits are sporadically heard, they’re little ever more than the sound of one walking around the space. My immediate reaction to this album is to the monolithic noise that defines it. It’s neither dense or busy enough to become completely immersed in—I wouldn’t describe this as ambient or drone—but it’s also not quiet enough to ignore, the experience somewhat akin to hearing Michael Pisaro’s Ricefall (2).
Ultimately, it really just feels like lying on your couch during a sweltering heat wave. It’s an album that captures the restlessness and lethargy of hot summer afternoons, of desperately trying to stay cool. There's humor in the packaging: unfold the paper and you’ll find the cover's grisly skeleton figure juxtaposed with a photo of David and his daughter on the floor. Summer heat will make you wish you’re dead. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Christopher David - Nippon Hialeah (self-released, 2019)
I love a good mystery. There’s something immensely thrilling to me about engaging with a cryptic object, trying to figure out why in the world it exists. Nearly a decade ago, when I first moved to Spokane, I paid my first visit to a local bookstore where I ended up becoming a regular. A stack of white paperback books in a dark corner of the store caught my eye.
There was nothing printed on the cover nor the spine; there was no author, publisher, or date to be found on any of the pages within. The first page of the book went straight into it, with a line that read: “I hated school. I hated work. I hated boredom. I had no interests. I had a happy childhood.” I asked the employee behind the desk about it, and they didn't know anything about the book or where it came from. I bought it. The receipt is marking the page where I stopped reading, about nine-tenths of the way thorough; it says I purchased it on the 11th of November, 2011, for $5.44.
It was okay. Despite that I didn't even finish it for reasons I can no longer remember, it's my favorite experience with a book—but not my favorite book; that distinction is important. It’s an autobiographical account of the author stumbling through life in a series of tragic stories presented non-chronologically, and I enjoyed every minute of trying to fit these scattered narratives together like a jigsaw puzzle. I never learned the author's name, but I felt satisfied with understanding enough about them to know why they wrote this book.
The story didn’t particularly speak to me, but the way it was told is what fascinated me: simple, personal, unfiltered language. This book didn't seem to exist for any particular purpose, or have an underlying narrative. It didn't care about getting your attention or standing out among everything else in that store; it just happened to be there at the same time I was. It was a chance meeting. I read some stories that were told for the sake of being told, and it sated my curiosity. I got to know the author, and that was enough.
Nine years later, having stumbled upon the now-deleted Christopher David page of the Careful Catalog storefront, I felt a similar pull from some mysterious artifacts that didn't even seem to be trying to get my attention. With a short blurb about these discs written by Dan Gilmore, what he said about them basically amounted to: “I have nothing to say about them. They’re effectively all the same, but I like them anyway.” There were no descriptions of what each disc sounded like, and really, nothing at all besides cover images and track lengths. I had to know. I bought seven of the original batch of ten—three were sold out already.
When they came in the mail, Nippon Hialeah was the one on top of the stack. I unfolded the paper wrapped around the disc to see that the front features a drawing of a pig and some Japanese postage stamps, and turning the print over reveals a strange photo of a person doing god-knows-what with a huge stack of bricks in the foreground. The letters “NIPHIA” were scrawled over a Memorex CD-R with thick marker. The music was quiet—really quiet. Laying these seven curiosities across my table to see them all at once, I was feeling once again like I had the pieces of a puzzle before me. These things were made to be made, and it was up to me to draw my own conclusions. —Shy Thompson
Christopher David - Fourteen Windows (self-released, 2019)
Fourteen Windows was the first Christopher David album to make a particularly strong impression on me: that impression was frustration. Not because I disliked the music or that anything was wrong with it, but because the CD-R wouldn’t rip or play properly. I dedicated the evening I got the discs in the mail to ripping them all in EAC, and Fourteen Windows was the third or fourth one I popped into my drive.
The process went painfully slow, and would abort at around sixty-five percent completion every time. I tried listening to it by playing it in a CD player, and it would go silent around the ten minute mark. Given the unusual nature of these albums, I considered for a moment that it was intentional and maybe I needed to chill out. Then again, it was also burned on a CompUSA branded CD-R, an entity that shuttered most of its stores in 2006 and ceased to exist by 2012. Maybe I was just overthinking it.
Chris moved his operations to Discogs after a while, so I sent him a friendly message asking for a replacement and to get the three discs I was missing, if he still had any left. He kindly obliged, and that decoded a small piece of the mystery for me: these are not objects made in the pursuit of perfection—they just are what they are, warts and all. The replacement disc I got was a Memorex brand and didn’t have a drawing on the face of the label like the original, but it did rip properly. I wouldn’t consider disposing of that original disc, though; it taught me something about Chris, but it also taught me something about myself—I’m even willing to accept an unplayable CD as an artistic liberty.
As for the music contained within, there’s a lot of loud shuffling and rifling of things. There’s some dub reggae playing through his speakers that comes in and out of focus over the course of the track. I kind of want to ask Chris what he was listening to. I think I will. —Shy Thompson
Christopher David - Grids (self-released, 2020)
Of all the Christopher David discs, Grids is the one that feels the most accessible to me. It’s absurdly quiet and barely eventful in a similar way to most of the rest of them, but there are touchstones that remind me of other music that I like. It’s possible that I’m off the mark here, but the work has a very “composed” feel to it. The sounds of small objects being gently manipulated immediately reminds me of Jeph Jerman or Rie Nakajima. I can’t tell if Chris is aiming to “make music” here or if he’s simply just doing whatever, but Grids genuinely sounds quite beautiful. Unfolding the artwork reveals fancy looking pottery on the front, and some stones that look like they belong in a museum on the inside. Along with some text that reads “still life with meditation,” one gets the impression that Grids is meant to be a more uniquely relaxing experience than the rest; this is the one I find myself listening to the most. —Shy Thompson
Christopher David - Scissortail (self-released, 2019)
Scissortail sounds the most like what I expected these releases to sound like before I heard any of them. It feels the most quintessentially Christopher David, and that is certainly not a bad thing. The packaging elements seem the most disconnected, giving it the mystical, indecipherable feel that drew me to listening to these in the first place. There are some strange white and black outlines of human figures on the front that make me think of chalk outlines. Folding out the page reveals some textured splotches, and two panels of a Peanuts comic strip where Woodstock is captured in an action shot whizzing through the air. The inside bears a photo of Christopher David in—I don’t know—a cave or something. A quote under the photo reads “Balancing out this Xanax I took earlier with this latte, you ignoring me??” It’s all a bit weird, but I’m into it.
The musical content of this one seems premeditated—rather than the incidental feeling of most of the other releases—though not carefully planned the way I feel Grids might have been. The first track adheres closely to my expectations, consisting mostly of passive ambient noise and the occasional tap of the microphone. The transition to the next track jolted me right out of the relaxed state the first one had put me in when I heard the (comparatively) loud sound of a running shower. Chris goes into the bathroom, slams the door behind him, and proceeds to start playing what sounds to me like a kalimba while leaving the water running. My most immediate point of reference here is the spontaneous “doing stuff” ethos of Shots, whom I raved about in a previous issue. It’s a pleasant juxtaposition of sounds, but I can’t help worrying about all the water he’s wasting as the shower runs all the way through the third track. —Shy Thompson
Christopher David - Finding Birds in Mexico (self-released, 2019)
I love birds. To the right of me, I keep a stack of books about birds at my desk: The World of Birds, Birds of Washington State, National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest, Cavity-Nesting Birds of North American Forests. There’s a bird feeder by my small garden out back, though the only visitors it usually gets are pesky squirrels. The one time it was used by a hummingbird, I was high off that moment for days.
I’m not sure if this recording is really taking place in Mexico or just Christopher David’s back porch, but it’s certainly accurate to the feeling of birdwatching—you’d better enjoy the atmosphere, because you’re probably not going to be seeing many birds. There are a lot of pleasant sounds to be heard: the clattering of wind chimes, the rolling of stones, a door sliding open and closed, and the whisper of the wind against the recording device. Noticeably absent from the recording, however, is anything easily recognizable as birdsong. That might be what those sounds near the end are, but hey, I never claimed to be an expert. I mostly like those field guides for the pictures. —Shy Thompson
Christopher David - Christopher David (self-released, 2020)
The eponymously titled Christopher David is the most unusual disc of the bunch. It’s the shortest recording, clocking in at just over eight minutes. Its packaging is the only one not to feature any art or photographs; it is completely blank save for one stamp on the inside reading “Christopher David.” It’s the only self-titled release, and also the only one to bear a unique track title: “Strange Fruit.” The release appeared on Discogs on the 10th of June—during the height of media coverage of the protests in response to the death of George Floyd—but I felt weird asking Chris about it, so I waited for a while; after he listed three more releases, I asked about buying the whole set.
I felt reasonably sure this was meant to be a show of solidarity for the protesters, but I felt even more certain after being able to listen to it. The noise floor is pretty high on this one, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on in it. There are sounds that happen here and there, but unlike most of what you hear in a Christopher David recording, what’s here seems almost entirely incidental. It reads to me like a moment of silence. It’s also, of course, named after one of the most famous protest songs ever written, penned at a time when lynchings of Black Americans rose to an alarming degree in the late 1930s. I went to a protest in my city just ten days before I saw the Discogs page go up, and it was a relief to see that one of the artists that has been providing me bright spots in one of the most hellish time periods I’ve lived through was showing a gesture of support. Not that I was expecting the worst, but I’ve been let down by a lot of people I believed in lately. It’s appreciated. —Shy Thompson
Christopher David - Pan Am (self-released, 2020)
Coming from the most recent round of Christopher David releases, Pan Am seems to offer the most clues about who he is as a person. The front of the foldout features a photo of a tattered hat, presumably something he owned in his days as a hardcore punk drummer; the text on the front of it is a little too punk to read, and is decorated with a couple of buttons—including one that reads "DROPDEAD." There are a couple of photos of his wife and daughter on the inside. Taken outside after an evening out for Thai, according to Chris, the baby girl rests her head on her mother's shoulder, sleeping peacefully. The packaging for most of these albums are a bit cool and mysterious, but this one's just cute.
Pan Am has three tracks, most of which consist of long stretches of silence with a high noise floor. The second track is the longest and has the most identifiable sound. Some birds can be heard chirping near the end of the track; this is clearly an indoor recording, which suggests there's probably a window open. It sounds like a kitchen, to my ears. Some shuffling and footsteps can be heard around the eight minute mark, and a conversation begins around the ninth. "She's sleeping?" a woman's voice can be heard asking, to which Chris replies "Yeah." He and his wife have a conversation about car insurance in hushed voices, as not to wake up the baby. Something about a fifty dollar credit? I tried not to listen too closely because it feels a little like eavesdropping. She can be heard saying her brother needs to be tested for COVID at the very end of the track; hopefully he doesn't have it. This release might be my favorite. It feels like I've been invited into their home, and I'm enjoying the presence of a happy family. Thanks for having me over. —Shy Thompson
Still from Diwan (Werner Nekes, 1974)
Thank you for reading our special midweek issue of Tone Glow. Take some time to embrace the sounds of your immediate surroundings.
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