Tone Glow 029: Asha Sheshadri
An interview with Asha Sheshadri + album downloads and our writers panel on Soundwalk Collective's 'Peradam' and Bill Nace & Graham Lambkin's 'The Dishwashers'
Asha Sheshadri is a multidiscplinary artist and musician who has done work in solo and collaborative settings, releasing music on labels such as Entr’acte, Digitalis, and Recital. Her newest album, No Longer a Soundtrack, is out soon on Anòmia and features features sound collage, field recordings, and text that’s both recited and presented via text-to-speech. Joshua Minsoo Kim and Sheshadri spoke over the phone on August 28th, 2020. They discussed the different places that Sheshadri has lived, the way in which she approaches art, her new album, and more.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hello!
Asha Sheshadri: Hello! You’re in Chicago, right?
I didn’t know if this was supposed to be 3:30 your time or 3:30 my time, but all good (laughs).
Is right now okay though?
Oh yeah, it’s totally fine.
How has your week been? It’s Friday now!
It’s felt congealed into one day, which is more or less how I feel about my weeks nowadays especially since I work a highly computer-oriented job at home during the daytime. I try to disrupt the day with small errands or adventures when possible. But often times breaks end up being these interludes of “lounging on couch, idle internet searches, stare at my cats.”
It’s a weird thing where breaks don’t really feel like breaks anymore because we’re all confined in our homes for the most part.
Yeah, absolutely. Especially when work fits pretty neatly into your domestic day-to-day. Prior to COVID, I worked in Manhattan around Gramercy Park and happened to drive through the area the other week. I tried to get a read on whether a few beloved lunch and after-work spots were still open given the degree to which the pandemic has pushed establishments off the cliff. Unfortunately, such was the case with a bar—more so an experience, than a bar—called McSwiggans. Almost always deserted, so dimly lit, and it had a TouchTunes machine that you would almost always have free rein over.
In this way, so many experiences have shuttered operations and there’s going to be a large-scale reconfiguration of the quotidian, of what exactly “breaks” and “downtime” will constitute.
You were born and raised in Southern California, correct?
I was born in Edison, New Jersey and raised in Southern California.
Ohh, okay. How long were you there for?
One month. Though from what has been relayed to me, I feel that that one month could have been formative.
Do you feel a kinship with Edison, New Jersey?
More of a curiosity than a kinship, though historically, I’ve felt a kinship with people who are from the same part of New Jersey, which is likely happenstance. I’m also always interested in areas with large Indian immigrant populations. I was in the area for work last year and managed to do a short driving tour based on my parents’ recollections of certain places. So that would be my biggest foray into my birthplace.
How long were you in California, and where in California were you?
I grew up in San Diego, which is south of LA and straddles the US-Mexico border. Have you been there?
I have not, but I’ve been around California because I have family who live in both NorCal and SoCal.
The reason I ask is because it’s a city of contradictions on many levels. It’s one of my favorite cities and a go-to word might be “bizarre.” San Diego has been “clickbait-idyllic” before clickbait even existed. If you consider the fabric of the city, there are swathes of experience—through beaches, canyons, cliffs, its proximity to Mexico—that are intoxicatingly beautiful. In counterpoint, there are latent (and not-so-latent) pockets of insidiousness. The city is a militarized metropolis, unabashedly conservative in large areas. There’s municipal corruption, anti-unionism, and virulent racism.
So, telling someone that I grew up there elicits the widest range of responses, depending on the individual and their associations. It’s fascinating and makes complete sense. Whatever movies you’ve seen with San Diego in the background are likely accurate to some degree. The CliffsNotes of my trajectory is: I moved to Boston for college, moved back to San Diego, moved to Philadelphia, and have been in New York for three years now.
What meanings do these different places hold for you? What does Philly mean to you? What does New York mean to you? What does Boston mean to you? Or do they not mean anything?
These places will always hold distinct meanings, but specific meanings will invariably fluctuate in their strength and make-up in relation to my current position. Sometimes my default response mode to space and place is fight or flight; “That place was so fucked up! That place was amazing” for systemic reasons, emotional reasons, or both. Sometimes this can then morph into nostalgia which can, in turn, flirt with danger.
For me, relocation has always been motivated by an urgency to reinvent the self. I don’t use the term “reinvent” in a unilateral, new-agey “glow-up” capacity. It can happen through fortuitous opportunity or it can be forced in order to adapt to unfortunate circumstances beyond your control. With that being said, these places have all been book-ended by reinvention. With regard to art-making it’s important to be mindful of and give expression to these shifts.
I like how these places signaled times when you reinvented yourself. What is the most recent iteration of you? Who is the most recent iteration of you? How have you most recently reinvented yourself?
There’s no recent version of myself that I can point to, like a specific software update that I underwent at a given point in time. I mean, I suppose I could, but it would feel reductive after the fact. Everyone is always changing on a very granular level.
As far as an external force or event that has triggered thinking about or acting differently? What I’ve been thinking about is how it’s important to think of art and material production as separately as possible. The production obviously needs to take place and timelines can also be useful. However, I think that imposing timelines on where and how work ultimately exists in the world can become dangerous quickly, much like the nostalgia I pointed toward earlier.
“Not giving a fuck” could be the crude, conversational way to describe this vantage point, but depending on delivery it might implicate an outward dismissiveness that I’m actively trying to work against. What I mean to scratch toward is that in recent times, I’ve tried to make strong efforts toward embracing patience. To respect the value within simple gestures and observations. Returning to the drawing board as many times as necessary, whether it’s through different modes of communication, perception of the world or though work itself—by work I mean labor in a very broad sense.
So to clarify, especially in the current climate, it’s important to be deliberate and rigorous about the where and how, but in terms of the when, it’s important to take breaks and make whatever adjustments you need to until the work can exist where it must. To not take yourself or your work with an incapacitating dose of seriousness that you recoil from failure of any sort.
Did you take things very seriously before?
Sure, which was paralyzing at times. The wake of the 2016 election, for example, marked an unfortunate linguistic turn that placed an onus on BIPOC to act as a collective poster child to raise awareness for “the othered.” While in the Whitney Independent Study program, I was privileged to participate in a seminar led by Gayatri Spivak. In her work she hits in the jugular the problematic ways in which Western culture functions to support its own economic and humanistic interests—artistic production is no exception to this. To hear her candor and razor-sharp sarcasm when talking about mediatization was so empowering for me. As artists, we all have the agency to simply step away from conversations we don’t want to be a part of, even if external pressures make it to seem otherwise. I’m always trying to study people who express themselves in a way that I admire and strive towards.
I wanted to talk about your new album, No Longer a Soundtrack. What were the reasons you had for making it?
A couple of years ago, Arnau [Sala Saez] contacted me about making a recording for Anòmia. We have many close mutual friends, several of which he has collaborated with across varying projects. I’ve always thought highly about Anòmia and was happy to say yes.
I made most of the album that year with this concrete idea of its gestalt. However, I felt that there were stakes missing in this project and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what they were. Fortunately, there was little—actually, no pressure for me to work through this hastily. Arnau and I both have day jobs and a shared philosophy that work should develop on an organic platform without restraints, individually and collaboratively.
Some time elapsed like lightspeed for different reasons. The beginning of the year marked the alignment of time and resources in a way that I was able to revisit the material with focus. Through this focus I became keen on the idea of gutting and rearranging it entirely. I began to consider the work of artists like Glenn Ligon and Moyra Davey, thinking of iteration and the ongoing in relation to the character of my own work. Allowing ideas and elements within work to take on different forms over time until the end of the life cycle, so to speak.
What did the album sound like initially?
Well, it was rigid in a way that actually diluted what I wanted to say. The working title was Materials for a Soundtrack. I imagined the tracks to function sequentially, like a storyboard, but at the same time was trying to stray away from a fixed and imposed narrative. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that approach. But after years elapsed, I realized that it felt incomplete because I wasn’t drawing from anything outside the margins of the album.
So then I decided that the parameter would be the undoing of parameter. I rearranged what existed, incorporated new text, recordings (some dating back to many years prior), elements from videos and performances. Consequently, the title changed to No Longer a Soundtrack (laughter). The reference to cinema remains intact but the potential for interpretation is much wider.
You’re culling from a lot of things on these tracks. There are text sources, you have your own voice throughout the album. And with your musical career, you started off with electronic and ambient material, but then with Step of the Cat and Secretary of Sensation, you started doing stuff with your voice, be it with singing or recitation. What is the reason you’re utilizing your voice in the way you do now, having it processed or simply reciting text or using text-to-speech.
Well, I would say that the beginning of any type of musical career I’ve had would technically be studying piano. That didn’t extend beyond adolescence but I would be remiss not to acknowledge that because I occasionally do use piano in my work now. I think that if one is instilled with a type of music it will invariably linger, even nominally, whether it’s through an abstract interest in music theory, the way that you experience the work of others, or even just a sense of self-imposed flagellation when it comes to rigor. Have you read The Loser by Thomas Bernhard?
I haven’t, no.
I think the “earlier stuff” that you’re referring to would represent a time I was experimenting with non-verbal responses to things I had read or seen. Regardless of how that came across I was thinking more in terms of “affect” than “ambience.” It was during a very specific time period in the Northeast—specifically, New England—when it was exciting to be finding your footing. I was exposed to a lot of experimental and transgressive cinema for the first time. Art historical references as well. I brought up Moyra Davey earlier and I think that seeing her show at the Carpenter Center in 2008 was a true “a-ha” experience in that there’s no singular way to be an artist.
So, the albums you’re referring to marked a time in which I became interested in voice in terms of the speech act. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast reason I use my voice the way I do now, though I do want to point to a couple of specific predicates that for me, collapsed the personal political. Superior Viaduct released the soundtrack to Chris Marker’s La Jetee, and listening to that as a standalone recording sparked an infatuation with the voice-over. Hearing the Åke Hodell piece “Mr. Smith in Rhodesia” for the first time set my brain on fire; it’s propelled by a chorus between children and a schoolteacher, its cadence in praise of brutal racial oppression exerted by Ian Smith in Rhodesia, which is now Zambia and Zimbabwe. Years later, I was lucky enough to hear the piece presented at the Elizabeth Foundation in NY which I feel reinforced and reinvigorated “Patty Live June”on this recent album.
I use original and found texts, recordings, voice and text-to-speech not in any attempt to recontextualize a particular work or tradition. To “recontextualize” foregrounds a specific “context”; I prefer the term “import/export”, which to me, more accurately describes a personal and more importantly generative procedure.
Let’s do something specific then. With “Patty Live June” you were looking at transcriptions from Patty Hearst. What made you wanna utilize them?
Around 2017, I was particularly fixated on movie scripts and letters from the 1970s. I would find scanned PDFs of original scripts like The Conversation, a few Cassavetes films, print them out and mark them up. It was an interesting wormhole to find myself in. For example, Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence led me to thinking a lot about hysteria in the domestic sphere, which led me to reading about the origins of Stockholm syndrome, and I ultimately stumbled over the Patty Hearst letters and in response to them I made a sculpture.
In short, I find it to be such an interesting study of captivity because of its multivalence: psychology, materialism, class, language. I was also drawn to the huge archive of articles and photographs. Before I ever came to art I was interested in photographs. I would go to the library when I was really young and spend hours picking dates at random and looking at microfiche articles just for the photographs they would end up being.
So my redaction of the letters originally existed in a sculpture, then as a performance, now as a recording. I’m a firm believer in letting any interest stick around in your work for as long as it can.
I like how reciting text and using your voice helps you understand, well, anything that you’re approaching. Do you feel like you’ve learned anything about yourself in the process of doing this across No Longer a Soundtrack?
There weren’t any earth shattering realizations about myself. Definitely some gentle reminders about methodologies. It’s important to be patient and give the self a wide berth for “redos” of whatever necessary, particularly when it comes to language, because it’s so highly charged. With voice, there is equal gravity between the acts of pulling things apart and putting them back together, and this should be taken advantage of.
For instance, “Elephant Years” originally existed as two separate tracks but after revisitation, I felt them much more effective combined as one. They both utilize cut-up and generative techniques in the text and both concern the idea that pain can be incredibly specific and anonymous at once, but are both very different in affective qualities. Therein lies the narrative.
How important is it for your voice, for your identity to be presented and put out there? Do you care about yourself being known? You mentioned anonymity… I’m wondering, do you want people to know you through your art?
I believe that it’s actually not possible on a phenomenological level. I am interested in anonymity in a theoretical sense but I don’t make any concerted efforts when it comes to myself. I think that my work can get pretty referential—internally and externally—and it requires some degree of patience and perhaps some daydreaming from a recipient; so as far as what I want goes, my biggest hope would be for those who choose to engage with my work thoughtfully and critically feel rewarded in doing so, on the most basic of levels. People who do know me know that I’m not really a fixed quantity, nor is my work.
Because they get you! They get you beyond this PR’d version of you.
Yeah, and there’s also implicit care and trust involved, whether it’s someone I know closely or someone I don’t know at all who makes the decision to take time with my work.
Purchase No Longer a Soundtrack at Bandcamp.
Every issue, Tone Glow provides download links to older, obscure albums that we believe deserve highlighting. Each download will be accompanied by a brief description of the album. Artists and labels can contact Tone Glow if you would like to see download links removed.
Larry Wendt / Nicolas Collins - Slowscan Vol. 3
Slowscan is the most important label that I only realized was important about a month after I learned it existed. A Dutch label run by Jan van Toorn that specializes in archival releases of sound poetry, Fluxus, and electroacoustic music, it’s a really easy label to know absolutely nothing about despite that it’s been releasing sound art documents since 1983. Distribution of these releases is extremely limited; I don’t know of any place to get these releases besides the Slowscan Discogs listings, where Van Toorn lists copies of everything he has himself. The releases also exclusively exist on vinyl and cassette in this age of digital distribution being commonplace, even the ones coming out in 2020. I have no clue how Slowscan stuff was distributed before Discogs existed. I don’t know most of these releases, and I can’t get most of them either. Still, they’re reissues of even rarer legacy material and an important record of little known experimental music and sound art.
Slowscan Vol. 3, one of the few releases from the label I’ve had the pleasure of hearing, is a split cassette with works by Larry Wendt and Nicolas Collins. Larry Wendt, a Californian artist that was a little-known pioneer of marrying poetry with computer electronics, has three pieces on side A of the cassette. Wendt’s pieces feature a focus on reading strange, subtly humorous stories with live manipulations applied to his voice. I’m particularly enamored with “Modem,” a cautionary tale of dealing with computer software and hardware in the early ’80s. There’s a wobbly effect applied to his voice and a backdrop of what sounds like a quiet radio broadcast that makes the piece feel like an eerie horror story worthy of a dramatic retelling by The Crypt Keeper.
The entire side B is taken up by the massive “Devil Music,” a performance piece by Nicolas Collins. It’s made up of a patchwork of one-second samples from radio broadcasts collected from surfing stations and loading the recordings into an early portable sampler (the Electro-Harmonix 16 Second Digital Delay). Influenced by the techniques of hip-hop DJs, Collins smashes slices of voices speaking a variety of different languages with barely-identifiable snippets of songs and jingles to make music that almost feels rhythm-driven, and other times like a cacophonous dirge that’s truly deserving of its title. Alvin Lucier, of whom Collins was a student at Wesleyan University, also seems to be a touchstone.
Early experimental music and sound art is hard to learn about, hard to come by, and often hard to hear. Slowscan is important because it makes things a little easier—just not that much easier. —Shy Thompson
Lily Greenham - Lingual Music (Paradigm Discs, 2007)
Lily Greenham has been a footnote in many people’s stories. A Danish multi-disciplinary artist, she moved to Vienna and worked with the Wiener Gruppe of writers and poets, then to Paris for a stint with the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel, then to London where she collaborated with Paddy Kingsland of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. These groups reflect her wide interests, from sound poetry to optical art to early electronic music. All three of these groups would go on to gain prominence in the history of literature, art, and recorded sound, but Greenham’s name has rarely been listed among their contributors.
Of course, Greenham’s longtime obscurity has more to do with the endemic sexism also experienced by female artists like Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire than her own vagaries. It’s difficult to determine if Greenham’s self-definition as an outsider (see the track “Outsider” here) was in response to, or in anticipation of, the lack of credit she received from her peers. It’s telling, perhaps, that we’re introduced to her here not through her own work but through her more famous male counterpart: the disc begins with Greenham announcing “Sound poetry. This is an Englishman, Bob Cobbing” before performing his piece “ABC in Sound.” Her performance is masterful and compelling, with her studied timing and enunciation—“Grey-green. GANG-rene. GAN-G-L-I-A. GRINNNNNNNNN”—drawing laughs from the crowd. Still, sound poetry as a genre is connected from the outset with Cobbing, not with Greenham.
Frankly, he can keep it. Through the rest of the compilation, Greenham’s own pieces stretch far outside sound poetry, showing off a range that defies easy categorical description. At times she builds upon Steve Reich’s tape works to create psychedelic constructions made of glottal stops and extended vowel sounds (“Pre-Eminence,” “Polar Polaris”); at others she anticipates the complete electronic dysphasia of Autechre’s vocal treatments (“7 Consonants in Space”). And though voice is her primary source of sound, she is more a musician than a poet in the way she abstracts her vocal recordings into complex compositions that stand on their own even when stripped of linguistic meaning (“Circulation”). Lily Greenham deserves to be as well-known as Oram and Derbyshire, and this reissue from Paradigm is a key document in the recovery of her work and her reputation. —Matthew Blackwell
Textile Orchestra - For the Boss (Beta-lactam Ring, 2009)
When I first came across the Textile Orchestra, I was hoping its name signified the use of actual fabric materials—ever since hearing releases like Kelly Ruth’s Forms and Andrea Borghi’s Tistre, I’ve been fascinated by the possibilities and implications of their use in abstract music. In reality, I’m almost certain the moniker comes from the members’ close association with French label Textile, who have been releasing a variety of noisy, creative improvised music since the early aughts. Three of the four musicians in the Orchestra have appeared on the imprint as a part of several different projects—Bobby Moo (Alexandre Bellenger and Arnaud Rivière) and Rats (Dan Warburton)—while Aaron Moore of Volcano the Bear fame doesn’t seem to have been directly involved with the label. However, the project and its specific lineup were formed via the request of the late Textile boss Benoit Sonnette, yielding two recordings: AAA (2011) by the Textile Trio (Bellenger, Moore, and Rivière) and For the Boss (2009), no doubt named in dedication to Sonnette.
The “orchestra” identifier, in this context, is both accurate and irreverent. The four artists—Moore on percussion, Rivière on electronics, Bellenger on turntables, and Warburton on vocals and violin—work up a cacophonous racket that often sounds like the work of an ensemble three or four times their size, making use of a wide dynamic range and a spacious recording setup to create a formidably gargantuan sonic scope. Anxious string stutters, sporadic drum set convulsions, and jarring electronic interjections steadily coalesce into colorful maelstroms of lush chaos, placing the listener at the epicenter of a harrowing storm where moments of respite are rare and, honestly, not really missed.
Tension, whether it snakes through the empty space between spare, disjointed interplay or surges amidst a dense patchwork of beautifully clashing textures, is the name of the game on For the Boss; even at its most unhinged heights, it threatens to tip further into bedlam. This ever-present instability is a direct consequence of the unabashed freedom with which these improvisations were approached, all of the seemingly never-ending currents of brashly dissonant noise constantly feeding into each other, exacerbating the others’ most abrasive elements until a discordant mess is all that remains.
For the Boss is an album that I can’t imagine listening to at any volume other than “way too loud”; part, or perhaps even most, of its arcane charm originates in its constant, stubborn hovering just on the edge of intolerability. This takes various forms—one’s face screws up in discomfort and even pain at the piercing, jagged sine tones in “The Beginning of the End,” then in humored confusion at the whimsical transparency-flapping sounds and unprocessed tornado siren amidst the pandemonium of “The End of the Beginning”—but in every case the effect is invariably one of increased appreciation. For me, the ambitious CD does nothing but gain from its endless idiosyncrasies, qualities probably quite unappealing to many; but if you’re still reading this, I’d wager you’re already sold on it. —Jack Davidson
Every issue, Tone Glow has a panel of writers share brief thoughts on an album and assign it a score between 0 and 10. This section of the website is inspired by The Singles Jukebox.
Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith - Peradam (Bella Union, 2020)
Press Release info: Peradam takes as its entry point René Daumal’s early 1940s novel Mount Analogue: a Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing, in which the French writer, critic and poet mapped a metaphysical journey to “the ultimate symbolic mountain” in search of meaning. In it, Daumal introduced the idea of the “peradam”, a rare, crystalline stone – harbouring profound truths – that is only visible to seekers on a true spiritual path.
Peradam arrives as “the final stone”, says Soundwalk Collective’s Stephan Crasneanscki, in The Perfect Vision, a triptych of albums that evoke and explore the sainted spaces of thought and creativity opened by the three French writers and poets. After albums devoted to Antonin Artaud (The Peyote Dance) and Arthur Rimbaud (Mummer Love), Peradam expands on “the living space”, says Smith, that Daumal left for future seekers to enter and create out of.
Daumal’s spiritual quests ranged wide and deep. Part-influenced by Rimbaud, he also identified with the Pataphysicians, followers of the avant-garde absurdist Alfred Jarry. Daumal experimented with hallucinogens to the detriment of his health, though he would later transfer his passions to the purity of work as he nurtured a fascination with Hindu philosophies and taught himself Sanskrit; Peradam features some of his translations. While Daumal embraced the idea of self-abnegation as the key to internal awakening, he was also drawn to the syntheses of Eastern/Western thought in Greek-Armenian philosopher GI Gurdjieff’s teachings. Daumal’s greatest works include the novels A Night of Serious Drinking and Mount Analogue, which – though unfinished at the time of his death from TB at 36 in 1944 – inspired psychedelic magus Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain as well as the creative journeys undertaken by Soundwalk Collective and Patti Smith.
Purchase Peradam at Bandcamp.
Nenet: Tucked away in Manhattan’s upper west side is the Nicholas Roerich Museum. Roerich, a Russian born artist later settled in New York City, was a talented painter, writer, philosopher, and a dedicated explorer. The museum, a three-story house on 107th Street, is a quiet mirage of artwork that depict vast lavender-blue landscapes. On the first floor, a narrow gallery of photographs shows Roerich and his wife, Helena, staring back inquisitively, weirdly alive through the wooden framed prints. Roerich, like many other westerners, set eyes on a seemingly impossible expedition: the search for Shambala. In Tibetan, Buddhist and Hinduist traditions, Shambala is believed to be a perfect place that exists between the physical and the spiritual plane: an everlasting legend that transcends cultures, tying the esoteric and the occult. Although it is unlikely the untrained would be able to access Shambala, the concept continues to appeal to those who seek. Cosmic mountain, Golgotha, Mecca, Mount Athos—as long as there is the belief in a place that could open a symbolic door towards higher consciousness, humans will search for Shambala. In the case of Roerich, his search yielded a body of work that itself has become a destination for spiritual seekers.
Like the Nicholas Roerich Museum, writer and musician Patti Smith is a New York gem (albeit a better-known one). Smith needs no introduction: she is a legend in her own right, an untouchable part of American rock ‘n roll. She continues to gift the world with well-crafted memoirs containing pictures of sacred graves, still-lifes with chairs, written conversations with hotel signs that appear as faithful as her growls in 1975’s “Free Money” and her gentle croon in the beatific romance of 1988’s “Frederick.” 2020 finds Smith contributing to Peradam, a sprawling collection of electronics, spoken word, and musique concrète from EU-based artists Soundwalk Collective. With a project as ambitious as “Peradam,” one immediately wonders: does the music reflect the learning? In other words, have we reached the mountain?
Peradam, in its giant conceptual search, falls short of its purpose. Carried by Smith, the music works merely as a shy tapestry, a background soundscape from where Smith—a magical performer—weaves the tales that offer the listener a chance to reach “a quest in metaphysical sound.” Undoubtedly, a lot of research and care has been put into this project. Field recordings, ambient music, explorations in sound: Peradam is a meditative collage that is strong in its ability to work as a veil—a conduit object that can lead us toward whatever is next in our search. For the musicians in Soundwalk Collective, this project might have been their personal Shambala. However, like many objects d’art peddled in our world, it might not take the rest of us higher.
Nick Zanca: René Daumal worked on his hypnotizing Le Mont Analogue until the day of his sudden tubercular death at the age of 36, leaving his manuscript to hang on the comma of an incomplete sentence. Since then, the unfinished novel and the story of its expedition’s ascent has become a worn-out surrealist source material for works by several artists from Jodorowsky to Zorn in pursuit of pataphysics. Arguably, the most understated of these can be found in a record of Italian minimalist compositions produced by Franco Battiato in 1979—the side-length title track of Prati Bagnati Del Monte Analogo is a hot-spring bath of synthesizers and close-mic’d piano, serving as a lush and pleasant non-verbal soundtrack to the view from the mountain’s presumptive summit, never saying more than it must. As its composer Francesco Messina wrote in its original liner notes: “The climb has to start somewhere. Mountain lovers know that even the meadows of the accessible slopes are not easy to reach without effort… however, if the tour is to continue from here, it is necessary to have, step by step, a gradual awareness of the path. Tourists, being those of Venice or those moving within ourselves, always end up losing the way.”
Here, the lack of awareness and compass is painfully obvious seconds after the start of labeled-to-death “punk poet laureate’s” first narration, which hovers far too high in the mix above a soup of those same outdated, global “worldbeat” clichés that even Peter Gabriel has managed to move on from—tablas and tamboras pinned to one corner, balafons and shamanic chants in the other. The result would be doomed to become the non-highlight of a Pure Moods compilation that one skips to arrive at Enya or Enigma were it not released thirty years too late, which is to genuinely ask, what year are we in, and who is the intended audience here? Any untapped potential in the “sound map” format of the rather unremarkable North Indian field recordings the collective has assembled is ultimately usurped by Smith’s distracting deadpan, regurgitating Daumal excerpts seemingly at random detached from the sounds surrounding it. Like most of Patti Smith’s post-Group work, this record smacks of insincere cultural mush and a breed of literary boasting bound for Barnes & Noble; to borrow from her best, everything about this record makes me want to start crashing my head against a locker and start laughing hysterically.
Raphael Helfand: I wish I was more surprised that Patti Smith played a part in something this bad. Her track record, musically at least, has been pretty dismal this millennium, but every time something comes out with her name on it, I wonder if it will be a return to form. I can confidently say that Peradam is the worst thing she’s ever been attached to. It’s quite possibly the worst album ever made. The confused pseudophilosophy, the essentialist hippie nonsense, and the maddening instrumentation—wind that’s somehow more special because it was recorded on a very tall mountain, rocks somehow more authentically rocky because they were found in a dangerous canyon, sitar noodling that sits just far enough back in the mix that you can’t really hear it but high up enough to still gnaw at your ears—create the perfect storm of bullshit to ruin a pleasant afternoon. The culmination of all this ego stroking is the final track, “The Rat,” on which Smith tells a convoluted story about killing a rat that ate wasps carrying disease, thereby letting these wasps (and their diseases) loose on the world, over the course of eight torturous minutes. I wish I could forget this music ever happened to me and remember Patti Smith as the punk visionary who glared out across the 68th Street subway tracks so ominously almost half a century ago. Maybe in the future I’ll get the memory of this album surgically removed from my brain, but till then, I’ll sit in awe of the sheer magnitude of its self-indulgence.
Gil Sansón: A familiar sense of trepidation accompanies me as I listen to this record. Orientalism and its many pitfalls are so common with this type of project that I approach it with caution, and I’m also ready to dismiss it as yet another example of white privilege and entitlement: pick a few Eastern instruments, add a beat and a voiceover by a famous artist and you have a textbook case of a genre that was once considered edgy but nowadays is hard to defend. We’re a long way from the ’90s and those all-star casts featured in Hector Zazou’s records, some done with impeccable taste (which is part of the problem—the designer approach works fine in some areas but has the effect of neutering folk musics), but ultimately lacking in grit and the real flavor of the original.
So how does this record in particular fare within this context? The good taste element is there. This is no Buddha Bar, but the producers should relinquish any pretense of authenticity. True, Smith’s delivery is hypnotic and the excesses of the ’90s are absent, but during most of the album, I’m expecting wind chimes to rear their ugly head: I could never truly get behind this. The field recordings are a bit too precious, too perfect, like in a theme park or a tourist attraction, and I would like to hear not the impression of a foreigner, but what the locals hear every day. It feels like they’re trying to sell me something other than music.
There are tracks that don’t really seduce me but feel somehow successful in what they’re attempting to achieve, like in “Spiritual Death,” but still, the reverb on the voice renders it into an illustration. The whole thing seems tailored for those already sold on Tibetan philosophy, but it’s also stuck in the trappings of the paraphernalia rather than the essence of it. Interestingly, though she’s not featured as the main attraction, Charlotte Gainsburg is the most effective in her delivery as Smith has a ponderousness that feels forced. The track that features both is perhaps the most successful in that it has a nice buildup and hints at the process of meditation.
I keep thinking that the basic concept is flawed from the onset and that there’s no way even the most talented speaker (someone like Harry Dean Stanton? Werner Herzog? Arundhati Roy?) could make it float. So it’s less a bad record that a concept doomed from the start. Of course, I assume that enough people will dig it, and it’s likely that it was designed with these people in mind. And I’m quite sympathetic to the philosophy, in fact, but I feel like I’m being lectured at an introductory course. “Music for yoga salons in LA” is a more accurate portrait of the traditions supposedly being honored.
Sunik Kim: I can’t believe people are still doing this. This is truly the music of my nightmares. Cross and multi-‘cultural’ collaborations, if approached respectfully and executed well (extra emphasis here), can yield great results and push things forward; but have some fucking self-awareness! Does anyone really care about Stephan Crasneanscki and Simone Merli’s ‘spiritual journey’ across the Orient? Do we, in 2020, need to hear New Age shlock poetry from Patti Smith (??) or Charlotte Gainsbourg (???)? Without denying that the guest musicians on here—Tenzin Choegyal, Anoushka Shankar, Dhan Singh Rana—are fully a part of the creative process and not simply hapless props, Peradam still sounds like a bunch of annoying white people crashed open mic night. For all the press copy’s talk of a ‘metaphysical journey’ to ‘the ultimate symbolic mountain,’ this sounds like just another chapter in the endless journey into the white interior, an infinitely expandable psychological material that continues to fuel the most self-absorbed, meaningless, nihilistic art being made today.
Peradam instantly reminded me of Eliane Radigue’s Mila’s Journey Inspired by a Dream, featuring narration by Robert Ashley. Separately, these are two artists I respect and admire, but Ashley’s neurotic narration over Radigue’s ‘spiritual’ drone was simply too much—the spell was instantly broken, and all the lumpy imperfections of each artists’ musical and philosophical approach stood out to me, irreversibly, in blinding detail. Something about Soundwalk Collective couching all of this mediocrity in the language of a meaningful spiritual quest—a physical one too, involving the members’ implied bravery in traversing ‘dangerous’ (in Smith’s words) alien lands—is repellant and repulsive; I'm glad Peradam is the end of this trilogy, and would have been gladder if it never existed at all.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: Peradam is such an unmitigated disaster on both a conceptual and sonic level that it retroactively paints Soundwalk Collective’s discography as fraudulent, contemptible, and undoubtedly staid. Their previous works were fine, but it’s become increasingly clear that every album now begins and ends with a dubiously interesting and ostensibly respectable conceit: they take recordings in the “world’s most prestigious conservatories,” they cull material from Jean-Luc Godard’s archives, they soundtrack a Nan Goldin installation that deals with the Women’s March on Versailles.
Much like the aforementioned albums, Peradam largely fails because of an underdeveloped handling of its source material. Here, Soundwalk Collective’s Simone Merli and Stephan Crasneanscki draw from René Daumal’s Mount Analogue and connect it to various spiritual musics. But while artists like Anoushka Shankar and Tenzin Choegyal are present, the overarching result is of a Western dilution of the real thing. The reality is this: the field recordings are uninteresting as field recordings, Patti Smith’s poetry is tepid, and anything that’s non-white (the Tibetan drums, the sitar) takes on an ancillary role—whiteness is ultimately foregrounded.
Of course, the music could’ve been interesting, depicting a metaphysical journey in a way that didn’t succumb to hokey, banal, and offensive takes on musics not their own, but why would Merli and Crasneanscki know better? They’ve made a career out of wielding their privilege and access to churn out records that are flashy but superficial. Worst of all is how Shankar, Choegyal, and Dhan Singh Rana (whose name doesn’t appear on the album cover) feel like nothing more than tools Merli and Crasneanscki acquired to bolster their white mediocrity. Never has their posturing as a “collective” felt more disingenuous.
Mark Cutler: I don’t think the album’s as bad as all that. It’s conceptually overburdened, yes, and weirdly orientalist. Setting aside the uncomfortable premise of utilising Tibetan traditional music and instruments as a tribute to a French writer, there are some nice field recordings sprinkled here and there, particularly on “Dawn in Rishikesh.” Tenzin Choegyal does some nice percussive work on “Spiritual Death,” which also features some of Patti Smith’s okayer poetry, taking the form of a kind of guided meditation before it unravels into clang-dee-clangs.
Okay, maybe I do think the album’s as bad as all that. Turning back to those Tibetan instruments: they are put to unspeakably bland use here. Imagine you’re watching a ’90s sitcom in which the main character walks into a ~whacky~ store selling crystals or herbal medicines, with crimson walls and bead curtains and generic, vaguely Eastern sitar music playing. This is that music. It is not just aggressively bland, it’s insulting to the cultures to which Stephan Crasneanscki and Simone Merli wish to pay ode, insofar as the individuality of those cultures are lost. In freely lifting and mixing elements from various regions of Nepal, Tibet and India, Crasneanscki and Merli fail to convey any sense of these places, presenting us instead with a murky, ‘pan-Asian’ soup.
The best parts of this are the aforementioned field recordings, which are blessedly devoid of what the Soundwalk Collective consider ‘music,’ and when Smith reads more-or-less direct quotes from Daumal’s fabulous, unfinished novel. Generally, the further she strays from Daumal’s text, the worse it gets. Smith is not normally a bad poet. One of my most treasured books is her 1972 book Seventh Heaven, published three full years before she recorded and released her landmark debut album Horses. But her writing here has none of the ferocity or angularity that made her a star in both the literary and rock scenes of ’70s New York City. Instead, these platitudes feel both refried and half-baked, as though lifted from some soiled old book written by an American author on the ~Eastern spirituality~ of countries he hasn’t visited.
That’s the thing about it—it’s not all bad, it just seems so out-of-its-time: from the instrumentation to the opaque monologues to the thousand words of stoner philosophising which you basically need to read in order to understand anything this album is trying to do. It feels more like the kind of album people would have thought was a good idea forty years ago, long before this kind of tepid, inoffensive ‘Eastern-y’ music clogged the speakers and CD trays of every Starbucks in the country, long before vague appeals to ‘sacred’ Tibetan rituals and writings graced the walls and websites of a million yoga studios. Forty years ago, it would have been merely an oddity which, in time, would likely become an embarrassment for its makers. Today, it is almost a work of genuine harm.
Samuel McLemore: Deeply unpleasant both to listen to and think about, Peradam is one of the most truly misguided records to be released in recent memory. From the perspective of the casual listener, it’s completely interminable: thinly produced, clichéd soundscapes are dominated by Patti Smith, who alternates between monotonously-quoted spiritual platitudes and recitations of bad poetry. Highly touted guest stars are used solely to further atmosphere and are thus given nothing to do except make their presence known. The occasional lapse into traditional song (album closer “The Rat”) is so painful and embarrassing that the less said, the better.
But let’s not judge this under the wrong rubric—Soundwalk Collective have made their aims clear. Their goal is not to compose the typical sort of record designed to be listened to and enjoyed; instead, they practice a hybrid form, a cross between conceptual sound art, field-recorded ethnographic essay, and poetry. In all of these possible forms, Peradam is an abject failure. As sound art it is boring and unambitious, working with material already well covered by others; as ethnography it is a sheer embarrassment with nothing to offer but orientalist assertions about “spaces where you can still feel a sacred presence.” As poetry or spiritual guidance it is just truly bad. (“I am the cock crowing in the milk of dawn. Drink it.”)
The problem with their sound art is the same problem with their poetry and ethnography. To quote Patti Smith: “People can go out to Central Park and record the wind, but we have wind from the top of sacred mountains, we have the sound of stones from the most dangerous parts of the Copper Canyon in Mexico.” To make what is perhaps an obvious point, a recording of the wind on a sacred mountain sounds the same as a recording of the wind anywhere. This kind of self-satisfied, essentializing attitude towards their source material has not only convinced them of its importance, but blinded them from ever improving upon it in any meaningful way. Emphasizing the story over the sonics is fine if you actually have a good story, but if all you did was go on vacation while thinking about a book you liked then that’s kinda boring. Pretension, we all remember, is what happens when ambition has overreached its ability to support itself. With Peredam, it’s not that Soundwalk Collective and Patti Smith have reached too far, but they’ve gone in the wrong direction entirely.
Bill Nace & Graham Lambkin - The Dishwashers (Open Mouth, 2020)
Press Release info: Bill Nace and Graham Lambkin first played together in Fall 2018, in Kentucky, behind plastic. In that performance, they sometimes played the same instrument at the same time. Time passed, then they recorded this album in Fall 2019, in London. I was told that an acoustic guitar, a cymbal and tapes were used in the recording and I have no reason to doubt that. There are also voices, birds, a room, the outside world...; a bow is used. Bill & Graham both deal in different kinds of tension & discomfort and while this album is both like & unlike what I’ve heard from either of them, it is somewhat remarkably laid-back.
Though there are separate and distinct tracks, they flow into each other organically. Not without some jagged interruptions - in fact, many of the tracks *announce* themselves with a sudden cough, squeak or scrape - but the field recording aspects (passing cars, a siren, some banter) act as a leitmotif holding things together, adding a casual ambiance that *almost* invites a casual listen. But it is deceptive in that way. It is not a hermetic recording. As much as it doesn’t exclude the sounds of the outside world, it also lies open to interpretation. Themes recur just enough to create a connective tissue that frames some of the more seemingly disparate elements. Brief fragments of conversation invite the mind to try to understand and create its own narrative; a pizzicato, modal folksong played on guitar, then played back on tape at the end of Side A has a reprise midway through Side B; hints of ancient music are bowed or chanted... This is not a tapestry without thread, but you’ve also got to bring some of your own. —Greg Kelley
Purchase The Dishwashers at the Open Mouth website.
Jack Davidson: Despite being just one state north, I was unable to attend Kentucky’s Cropped Out fest in 2018. From what I understand, I missed out on a lot, but no set at the festival was documented and praised the way Bill Nace and Graham Lambkin’s was. You can read about it here; the review captures well the general attitude toward the performance I saw from pretty much everyone who posted about it: baffled appreciation, wary admiration, confused but fervent reverence. Shrouded in a cocoon of plastic wrap, the new duo embarked on a scrabbling romp of droning cacophony via mainly bowed, struck, and otherwise abused guitars along with some auxiliary ephemera—Old Weird America, perhaps.
Recently, it has been Lambkin’s more esoteric and elusive work in capturing the sublimity of everyday interaction and presence—best illustrated in his legendary release with partner Áine O’Dwyer, Green Ways, as well as Chance Meeting, the The Wolf Has Come Down from the North / Soppy Syrup 7”, and Live in the Batcave with Joe McPhee—that have been densely shrouded in obstinate obscurity, but on The Dishwashers, his debut LP with Nace, this artful filter is applied to the same instrumental experiments and (more) musical interactions that the duo explored in their Cropped Out set.
Unsurprisingly, the lens of the album is a bit offset from what you might expect of a simple guitar duet record; through deliberately minimal editing, we also hear snatches of skeptical laughter, physical movements of the performers that reveal the presence of the recording device, bassy intrusions of wind gusts and passersby. In this way, each humbly beautiful section of plucky folk interplay or delicate, fragile bowing both rises from and falls back into the comfortable mundanity of the two musicians and friends simply spending time together, crafting a work that owes as much of its magnetism to the slightly sloppy sonic architecture at the forefront as to the scaffolding and other unrefined infrastructure still perceptible beneath. “Street Metals” is by far my favorite, a seven-minute stitching of impure sound capture, clattering objects, and other imperfections into a breathtaking stretch of meditative metallic cymbal drone. Something about The Dishwashers prevents me from comfortably considering it alongside heavyweight classics like Green Ways and Live in the Batcave, but on its own it’s a singular and endlessly curious work of art.
Nick Zanca: By now, it’s safe to say that the common thread tying all of Graham Lambkin’s collaborations together is an indistinguishability—whether he’s subverting silence with Wandelweiser linchpins or getting turnt with one of free music’s most playful and provocative minds, almost all of the distinctions between the sound organizer and his unexpected sparring partners dissolve. My addiction to the amorphous synergy that appears in its place relies on an attempt to single out who contributes each element; unless speech is at stake, it’s usually a guessing game I’ll never win—not that I would want to.
This time, he points his recorder at guitarist Bill Nace; together, they steer their primitive fleet through a murky medley of arco vibrations and subtle scrapes, unafraid of leaving the window open to let the outside world in. The scattered sections that evade tonality in favor of object-based improv feel like a tip of the hat to Lambkin acolytes like Shots or Gabi Losoncy; I imagine he’s been listening carefully and learning from the evolution of the “non-music” idiom he helped develop. I also hear the same textural flux and flow that serves as the foundation for Alvin Curran’s concrète classics—surely those vocal drones that pop up early on Side B felt familiar. Between the bird calls and passing cars, you can hear an unmistakable sonic bond forming between these two. Here’s to hoping the documents keep coming and we don’t run out of plates to clean.
Shy Thompson: Graham Lambkin is an artist that manages to surprise me every time he comes out with something new, despite that I have been a fan of his work for the better part of a decade. It’s not that I forget that he’s capable of incredible things; my favorite of his works are things I’ve heard again and again. It’s also not that he is radically evolving; his approach to making music in his solo career has always been simple: bring the music out from whatever is around him. What surprises me about his work is that approach is endlessly effective. You can hear that he has a process; Salmon Run, Amateur Doubles, and Live in the Batcave all sound like something Lambkin had a hand in—but none of them sound remotely the same. His style comes through, no matter what the music sounds like or how different it sounds to anything else I’ve ever heard.
Lambkin has a long list of collaborators, and nearly every work that’s billed to him and someone else confirms my theory: he’s not only deftly effective in bringing his own style out of anything that can make a noise—instruments, objects, voices, and even ambient sound—but also everyone he works with. Sirisongs with Mark Harwood? Unmistakably Graham Lambkin. Green Ways with Áine O'Dwyer? Undoubtedly Graham Lambkin. Community, with a long list of collaborators? Unequivocally Graham Lambkin. The artists he works with leave their own mark on all of these records, of course, but he has an amazing ability to bring a playful, inquisitive spirit out of other artists in a way that only Graham Lambkin can. This collaboration with Bill Nace is no different. I don’t know much about Nace and can’t say for certain which sounds apart from the guitar belong to him, he’s clearly playing by Lambkin’s rules more than Lambkin is playing by his. The Dishwashers is another in a long list of works that surprised me because Graham Lambkin found himself in some things, and also someone.
Vanessa Ague: The ability of music to transport us to other dimensions has long been touted as one of its most endearing qualities. It’s also an undoubtedly overplayed discussion topic. But there’s something particularly enticing about an album when it successfully carries you through glimmers of transient instants. With The Dishwashers, guitarist Bill Nace and multidisciplinary artist Graham Lambkin catch the ephemeral, creating an atmosphere that feels like the hazy stillness of a summer afternoon by using a mix of natural and industrial field recordings, simple melodies, and relaxed improvisations.
The Dishwashers is an unexpected turn for both artists: Bill Nace’s recently-released record, Both, hovers in the world of dark, electric improvisations, and it’s nearly impossible to predict what Graham Lambkin will do next due to his wide-ranging history of chameleonic artistic pursuits. Here, they drop us into a breezy afternoon jam session. A field recording of cars rushing by, winds billowing, and birds chirping lies beneath ethereal, unornamented acoustic guitar melodies. The textural layering feels gentle, until sudden bursts of noise appear, ebbing and flowing between crunchy bowed guitar and squeaky doors clattering. We’re dropped into a moment in time; the recording captures the essence of a relaxed demo session, where musicians stop and chat between takes. This music is made of fleeting snapshots in time, moments stitched together into a sparkling collage of sound. It’s the subdued momentum of The Dishwashers that makes it the kind of sound project that sticks around in your body and your mind.
Gil Sansón: I have to admit I wasn’t aware of Bill Nace before this record, but Lambkin has been a constant presence for a number of years, more often than not always delivering interesting and engaging takes that sit somewhere between experimental music, non-music, performance art and the more remote fringes of indie rock. Playing with expectations of what music is and should be plays a large role in Lambkin’s work ever since his early days with The Shadow Ring, and in that sense there are no surprises here: many of the sounds seem to be made out of instruments that Lambkin makes on the spot. There are also lo-fi voice recordings and Nace’s guitar, which delights in this grey area between music and non-music. This is not the type of recording you play in the background and let it wash over you—it requires engagement and imagination on the listener’s part as one travels with the artists along different places and moments.
The investment pays off: focusing on the non-musical aspects paradoxically brings to the fore the artists’ high level of musicality, their ability to extract magic out of the haphazard, their seemingly shambolic approach to sound making. When the more traditional guitar playing from Nace takes center stage, it’s already been put into a context deprived of in a normal guitar record, so it doesn’t sound different from what came before or what’s coming next. It’s just a sound: like that of a coffee machine, or a swing in a playground.
The title itself points at this low-brow approach, Lambkin and Nace delighting in amateurism and the joy of creating without high ambition. And yet, they strike gold for the very same reason, giving the impression of two artists stumbling upon moments of sonic magic, the kind that would elude them if they went about things more “professionally.” This art by way of artlessness stays with the listener long after the record’s finished.
Sunik Kim: I almost forgot I was listening to this; I think, in this case, that's a good thing. As much as I dogmatically seek out what I believe to be True Music, music with force and vitality, music that often dictates, because of its intensity, when and how it should be experienced, there’s something to be said about music that the listener can freely fold, drape over, wrap around their own stream of life. My first listen to The Dishwashers was unremarkable; its light rattles and squeaks were overpowered by the jackhammers next door—I was ready to dismiss it altogether. But when I came back to it to write this blurb, I happened to have my iTunes volume set higher than usual: the music opened up, the jackhammers became another element in the ensemble, the swelling, screeching drones materialized and evaporated like sunshowers. Music like this feels, at its core, generous: rather than a message in a bottle, a rousing speech, a direct, if removed, transmission from artist to listener, it’s simply a gift, to do with what we will—no strings attached, no stakes, it’s finished and life goes on.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: It’s hard to discern when the tracks on The Dishwashers begin or end—these songs develop so naturally, so gracefully, that they take on a transportive quality; by the time the album gets raucous, it’s as charming as the simple guitar melodies and faint traffic sounds that precede it. The coziness is palpable: with its unhurried pacing and homespun atmospheres, this album feels like sitting on your front porch on a warm afternoon, unbothered by the worries and stresses that could readily crowd your mind. The other day, I listened to the Sundays’s “Goodbye” and felt such a strong pang of nostalgia that only The Dishwashers could sate. “Give me an easy life and a peaceful death,” goes the Sundays song. Lambkin and Nace let me feel like such a thing is possible.
Mark Cutler: The Dishwashers is, from start to finish, just a wonderful experience. Experimental music, by its nature, tends to convey a certain austerity. To make an album that is both experimental and inviting is a tremendous achievement. Lambkin and Nace are no strangers to the more cerebral, genuinely challenging fringes of experimental music, but together, they have made a record which sounds surprisingly like home.
This afternoon, I played the record in the car as we drove home from a weekend in the Poconos. The bird cries made me remember my home in Australia, where, each morning, the birds began calling as early as four in the morning, and lasted until after nine. When I woke up early, I could listen as the air filled with chirps of magpies, lorikeets, miners, crows, and more species I couldn’t identify. I was still thinking about this as the music gradually shifted to more domestic sounds of water dripping, bodies shuffling, and food frying—at which point my boyfriend remarked that the album reminded him of breakfasts at his grandparents’ house in Mexico. I think it speaks to the album’s success at establishing a mood of intimacy and comfort that it caused us both to cast our minds back to the sleepy mornings of our childhoods, continents apart.
Even as the record shifts to more explicitly musical passages, this feeling of homeyness persists. There is some scratchy violin by someone who either is or is pretending to be quite an amateur. At one point, we hear someone (presumably Nace) strum out some simple but pleasant chords on a guitar. Then, the music stops, and we hear it again, but recorded, playing perhaps from a laptop speaker. In another context, this gesture could be read in a dry, meta-textual way, as a reflexive revealing of the artificial nature of the bla bla bla. But here, it just feels like a wink from the players, and an invitation further into their world.
Still from Paranoia (1967, Adriaan Ditvoorst)
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