His brand new album, “Thwis”, includes some sessions with talented NY-based vocalist and musician Carolyn Honeychild Coleman as well as an interesting (and definitively not derivative) declension of dub whose soft kicks and amazing electronic intertwining kept the dub flavour unadulterated without relinquishing sonorities oscillating between mystical flames and urban “opticality”. After listening to the album, we had an interesting chat with Gregor Asch, better known as Dj Olive, one of the most visionary and proactive DJ’s and turntablist of the East Side. While speaking about “Thwis” we retraced his interesting musical and artistic path with some nice anecdotes. If you missed some stages, I can’t but recommend to look for them while enjoying this new warm future dub journey, which has been released on his label The Agriculture.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Gregor. Do I disturb? First of all, how are you?
Dj Olive: I’m very happy to have “Thwis” finally released after so long. It’s been an incredible journey. “Thwis feels like a piece of me yet apart from me. Like with my 2-year-old son I try to let the music lead me.
Chain D.L.K.: How many times have you been asked about the meaning of the word “illbient”? How many different replies have you given? 🙂
Dj Olive: What’s illbient? 🙂 I think I have a distant memory of a joke I said at a party once. Sometimes people don’t realize how sarcastic us newyorkers can be. 🙂
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s retrace your musical history a little bit… your parents made ethnographic films and documentaries, if I remember correctly… would you say that they influenced your artistic and musical “consciousness” in a way or another?
Dj Olive: Most defiantly. Living in Trinidad for a while when I was 5 opened my mind to a world of rhythms. Moving to Australia when I was 13 changed my life forever. Surviving public high school there was my defining moment.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you remember the very first record you bought in a record shop?
Dj Olive: “Honey” by the Ohio Players. Love Rollercoaster! My grand pa was at the record shop with me. I made him get it for me if I promised not to show grandma the cover. I was 8 or 9.
Chain D.L.K.: How do you remember the years of Lalalandia Entertainment Research Corporation and the early ambient events in Brooklyn and Manhattan? Any relevant differences between past and present times?
Dj Olive: It’s rare to see events with multiple rooms of different sounds these days. It’s as if all those crazy warehouse parties never happened and we’re living a bad reality show where laptop artists are put in the centre of a rock stage with canned lights pointed at them and given a crap vocal PA with a blown horn while the retro coyote ugly bar pimps booze. We made some of the most futuristic omnisensorial technorganic environments of the decentertainment movement. I will never forget those wonderful days of magic in Williamsburg around 90-93. The “entrepreneurial self” that was dominating the Manhattan world view at the time (East Village galleries of the 80’s/ Soho Corporate ) combined with a dogged clinging to the conventional boundaries that separate the arts was the frame-work for the experiments in decentertainment and omnisensorialism which took place in the vacant store fronts and warehouses of Williamsburg and Greenpoint Brooklyn. Not unlike parts of Berlin at that time, the lines between art and entertainment, between industrial design and ritual, raw experimentation and pure organic electronic, smell and touch, solo and collective, blurred away. I still dream of that technorganic circus!
Chain D.L.K.: Any particular episode with Christian Marclay’s turntable trio you will never forget?
Dj Olive: He gave me “record without a cover” at sound check before a gig. It’s just blank grooves on a white vinyl. It was so new and heavy and beautiful I said “thanks” and slipped it into a spare 12″ sleeve I had on the table. Christian looked shocked, grabbed it back and ripped it out of the sleeve saying “you can’t have it if you do that!”! Record without a cover! 🙂 Once on tour in Europe he gave me two copies of a brown 7″ whispering into my ear with a conspiratorial look “this is pure illbient”. When I listened to it the only sounds on the record were farts. I have made many folks laugh with this record. Juggling two copies is a hoot at the right moment. Once on tour with Uri Caine we had an awful sound check after a murderous all day journey on the train. The band was tired and hungry. The sound-man had killed our ears blasting a cdr of Led Zeppelin covers (his band) while testing the sound-system. There was a huge organ built into the wall of some German Philharmonic space I can’t remember which, Koln? I got out my Marclay fart record and Uri ran up the steps to the organ and while we goof improvised the band howled with laughter. I think the only one in the whole place not laughing was the guy playing Led Zeppelin covers! The thing about that record is it’s so great to have the sound of farts with no threat of smell. It was after playing with christian at the Pompidou Centre in Paris that I first met Luc and Brunhild Ferrari which marked the beginning of a wonderful and deep collaboration. Christian also premiered my first vinyl score “Composition 11” in ’97 and I hope to put out the recording of his interpretation, which is incredible!
Chain D.L.K.: When you collaborated with Uri Caine, did also approach classical music. Was it difficult for you to face this quite different kind of music?
Dj Olive: Not with Uri. He asked me to be wild and myself. I was to be a kind of sonic cinematic envelope that grounded the performance in a contemporary time post jazz solo. In other words I was to fuck with that moment when the solo ends and the audience feels they should clap or that space at the end of a song. Uri wanted me to play sonic sabotage against any clapping except at the end of the set. It is where I get to make people laugh. At the Munich Opera House during a very quiet piano solo someone deep in the audience on some balcony, a woman’s voice coughed gently. Then the drummer Ralph Peterson coughed into his hand, then the monitor man on stage coughed… all the while the audience and band acted like non of this extra sound was in the mix. Out of politeness we mentally mix that stuff right of the mix. As Uri played quietly on I dug as fast as I could for the record in my mind’s eye. It took about 4 seconds to get it cued. I waited for the sequence… she coughed again, Ralph coughed just as the sound man coughed, and I dropped my cough into the mix… I didn’t scratch it I just let it drop, two coughs, Ralph looked at me sharply as the monitor man visibly blushed in the low light. Trumpeter Ralph Alessi broke out into a deep laugh and Uri rocked with laughter as he played on. The audience then started laughing followed immediately by some booing that was drowned out by the whole place laughing loudly including Ralph Peterson. I was greatly relieved because I had done it without thinking. It was the obvious thing to do, my Brooklyn warehouses training had taken over. Uri played through the song with a big chuckling smile. Uri’s energy changes classical music not the other way round.
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s speak about your new album…what about its birth? How much time did you need to finish it?
Dj Olive: “Thwis” was born out of a bunch of live gigs in NYC and Montreal in ’08. I had written a lot of lyrics while on the road so I asked Carolyn Honeychild Coleman to collaborate on some tracks and play a few live gigs, however during this process my Canadian partner got pregnant. We moved to a small town in the Canadian rocky mountains on a big lake. Suddenly I had my hands full with a newborn and honeychild was far away in Brooklyn. I started volunteering at the local coop radio station which is like a squatters club house. In the winter nights of 2010 I would slip into studio C at the radio station and work in till 5am and then walk home in the snow. It was in those late night sessions that THWIS was composed. Woodshed sessions far from my home in Brooklyn. I had recorded a few times with Honeychild in my Brooklyn studio in ’09 and managed to get three tracks finished with her vocals. After a few false starts the stars aligned for this record to finally hit the streets.
Chain D.L.K.: “Thwis” features the collaboration of Carolyn Honeychild Coleman… I imagine it’s really funny to collaborate with her, isn’t it? Any bizarre anecdote during the recording of the album?
Dj Olive: Carolyn had been singing into a big old quality condenser mic a good 10 inches away from her. I had headphones on and was in the control room listening intently. My buddy Dennis sneaked in and screamed some punk lyrics into the mic like it was a 58! That was it for my ears on that session!
Chain D.L.K.: I could repeat the words by some anonymous guy in the beginning of “Song That Knows Your Name” in order to comment on your last album: “It Sounds Good”! But speaking of that song, what can you tell us about the final “lithany”? Is it some archaic hopi dialect or what?
Dj Olive: First guy is Dennis! The archaic Hopi dialect is actually Cambodian!
Chain D.L.K.: According to one equation which has been used to describe your album, it might be considered the sum (or better the mix) of Smokers Delight, Rhythm and Sound and Boards Of Canada, but I might dare to reformulate it by adding Knights Of The Occasional Table, Zion Train, Banco De Gaia or Alpha & Omega… any other additions in your own words?
Dj Olive: “Acid techno with lovers rock with soul concrete” haaa haaa soul concrete!
Chain D.L.K.: There’s supposedly a strong connection between “Thwis” and Bodega as well as with stuff by We™ (particularly with some stuff that has some chilling dosage of the great As Is)… is there any possibility of a come back as We™ for the pleasure of younger listeners who missed it?
Dj Olive: Lloop is in Vienna and Once11 is in Montevideo and I’m in the mountains. We want to of course and have talked about the “blue” album for years as well as the Wemixes, We™ remixes, We ™ project for The Agriculture which has yet to be realized. I hope so!
Chain D.L.K.: The Kokanee you mentioned in the title of a song (the one I liked the most)… the beer or the bay?
Dj Olive: The Glacier just up the road. Best snowboarding in the world. Beer is awful. Like someone pissed into a 1/4 filled Kölsch glass then froze it, set it in the sun and froze it a few dozen times. Not drinkable.
Chain D.L.K.: In a few different moments of the album, there are some animal cries… have you used any field recordings or pre-recorded stuff?
Dj Olive: I love field recordings and have been working with them for years… but some of those animal noises come from a very old and loved sm10 🙂
Chain D.L.K.: Is there any song you particularly love on “Thwis”? Why?
Dj Olive: I was trying to create what my old painting teacher described to me once as “capturing a sense of time and place”. I think I got that for the record and that makes me really happy. The tracks individually make sense when understood in context with each other… you know the way records used to be… Though I do realize that most folks listen to tracks in play lists and rarely listen to an entire album anymore, I wanted to make a record that was not a collection of tracks but more like a book. An impression. I feel I had a huge growing experience in my life and “Thwis” is a reflection of that.
Chain D.L.K.: “Thwis” comes out on your label The Agriculture, which I have been following for a long time for the impressive quality of the artists and musicians which enriched your catalogue (Dj Wally – if I remember well, he coined the term ill-hop, didn’t he? -, Once11, Sub Dub and so on). Any forthcoming releases or projects on The Agriculture?
Dj Olive: The Agriculture has many things cooking… that blue We™ record I hope! Just to mention one…
visit Dj Olive on the web at: djolive.com