Some of the recent releases by Marc Kate (the self-released “Despairer” and the more recent “Deface” – you can check them on Marc’s bandcamp Failing Forms together with other older releases – as well as a forthcoming release on Yann Novak‘s imprint Dragon’s Eye, whimsically titled “As If We Were Never Here”), which landed on my desk, managed to grab my aural attention. Hailing from San Francisco, I found out that this producer and composer, “originally trained as a filmmaker and visual artist” – according to the words of his biography – explored many different styles before digging into the current style and its underlying theme (or non-theme). I’ll give Marc the floor to explain it to us.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Marc! How are you?
Marc Kate: Pretty well, thanks. It’s a strange time to be alive. Thankfully, my life is far from the worst of it.
Chain D.L.K.: As usual, can you introduce yourself to our reader(s) in your own words?
Marc Kate: I’m a Canadian electronic musician who has been living in California for most of my life. I also have two podcasts: Why We Listen, which is conversations about music and sound, and Scary Thoughts: Horror/Philosophy/Culture. Which is described pretty well in the title, I think, though we mostly focus on horror movies from the last few decades.
Chain D.L.K.: While checking some info about you in the archives, I found out that I should have heard something from you as Never Knows… Is Marc Kate another alias?
Marc Kate: Marc Kate is the name on my passport. I’d always used aliases until I started making this very personal, intimate (but sometimes aggressive) music, so I decided to use my “real” name.
Chain D.L.K.: Silencefiction is a really nice choice for a moniker…by the way, can you tell us something about these…aliases? Side-projects?
Marc Kate: Thanks! Though I have to confess, I took it from an old Dumb Type track title. When I was producing as Silencefiction, I was DJing and producing techno. But the through-line between Silencefiction, Never Knows and my current work is an abstracted approach to identity. I think my music has always had ideas of asserting one’s identity versus sublimating one’s desires at its core.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you remember the moment when you were seduced by sound to the point that you decided to get deeper into it?
Marc Kate: I was pursuing an MFA when I realized I was spending more time in record stores than in my studio producing work. For a while, I’d convinced myself that the record store was my studio, but then I recognized that, rather than make art about music, I should just make music. However, I still draw from my training during those years and create work from a conceptual foundation. The medium has changed, but the strategy remains.
Despairer – cover artwork
Chain D.L.K.: I was listening to one of your more recent releases, Despairer, and the cover artwork was close to my sound system. A friend came to my place and exclaimed: “What the fuck is this?” I guess his eye was caught by the cover artwork…imagine you could have appeared like a ghost in that situation…your reply?
Marc Kate: Again, back to these ideas of identity, I’m fascinated by this moment when we’re all clamoring for clicks, trying to claim attention for ourselves, constantly reifying our preferred identities in the public world. Yet, the only answer to the question “why?” is for vanity or lolz. So, when thinking of how to present my music, I like the juxtaposition of presenting a personality, but remaining hidden. Rather than hiding behind a pseudonym and some minimalist graphics, I use my name and a photo of myself, but maligned, abstracted.
Chain D.L.K.: I noticed a focus on your face in cover artwork…there are more or less deformed portraits of yourself on them. Why such a focus? Is there a relation to the listenable part of the release?
Marc Kate: I like the way in which the Surrealists approached the human body – altering it as a metaphor for the subjective, inner world. All of these images are collaborations with the artist Jonathan Solo. He has incredible vision.
Deface – cover artwork
Chain D.L.K.: While typing these questions, I’m listening to the second track of Deface…it’s filling the sonic sphere as wisps of smoke/mist…somehow disquieting, but very entrancing…what did you have in mind while making this track?
Marc Kate: That whole album was created with very specific parameters: I wanted to create an entire album of “beautiful”, meditative music, but using only the most extreme, “evil”, racist, barbaric music as source material. If you google “national socialist black metal” you can get a sense of what I was using as my palette of sounds. I then subjected their tracks to all manner of processing to extract harmonic content, so these wisps of floating sound are a sort of neutralization of hate speech.
I also have a fascination with New Age music. Music that is, at its core (usually), functional for meditation, relaxation, mystical purposes. I wanted to participate in that spectrum of intentions, but using the music of hate as its source. I wanted to see how far from the source material I could take things, how much erasure was possible.
Chain D.L.K.: Deface seems to be based on a perpetual amalgamation of slight dissonances and seemingly innocuous mists of pure frequencies… Someone could have labeled it as ‘introspective’… Would you say its spark is mostly introspective? If so, can you give us some clues?
Marc Kate: The primary objective when making “Deface” was to remove the edges of the source material, conceptually and literally.
Technically, to do this at its extreme means not only getting rid of harsh distortion, but also overtones, the part of sound that creates depth and richness. So what you’re left with is a lot of sine waves, pure, clean tones without many overtones. That kind of pure sound, when it drifts around, gets pretty eerie. It doesn’t appear so much in nature, so it has an uncanny quality to it. That’s what a Theremin is. And I can’t think of anything much eerier than a Theremin.
Chain D.L.K.: Other reviewers might label your sound by a word that was maybe coined in the 90s, with reference to some ambient releases: ‘isolationist’… Would you agree? If so, is there something related to the contemporary human (or just artist’s) condition that you tried to translate into sound?
Marc Kate: I love a lot of the music that was lumped together as “isolationist” in the 90’s. I could easily trace a historical progression from those artists’ work to mine – minimal, intimate. But where I believe I differ is that I insist on some sort of “emotional weight”. I mean, not to be too simplistic, but almost all my music of the last many years is minor key chord progressions. A traditional approach I can’t seem to shake. I’m always exploring new sounds, new forms of synthesis, trying to discover some new sound, but I keep coming back to the minor key.
If there’s anything that concerns me with the contemporary human condition and music, it’s that current music doesn’t strike me as being much of a reflection of current culture. We’re currently obsessed with retro sounds, emulation, modeling, “classics”, reboots and reissues. I believe we do so at a peril. Music used to be engaged with culture as a harbinger of the moment. Now it is pining for the past.
I’m not positing my work as being the solution to this issue, but I’m definitely concerned with pushing these ideas forward.
Chain D.L.K.: There’s a strong political reflection surrounding your recent releases…would you explain it here?
Marc Kate: I feel a deep kinship for that moment in Western Philosophy when the Existentialists were reconciling concerns of Being and meaning. But also, “fuck Nazis”. I really don’t know that formalist music is an efficient way to roll out political ideas. Actually, no – it’s definitely inefficient. I have an ongoing struggle: believing in the power of music and art, but knowing that it’s not the same as activism and legislation.
As If We Were Never Here – cover artwork
Chain D.L.K.: By chance, I also received a release of yours on Dragon’s Eye in my box… Any word about it before I (and I guess some readers of these words) listen to it?
Marc Kate: As If We Were Never Here is a collection of four tracks, fairly blown-out and droning. Calling them “Power Ambient” is pretty accurate. I’ve been using the static nature of drone music to explore states of being and listening, but for this new album, I focused more on non-states and non-being. I think we’re very stuck in a nihilist moment, especially in the US. So I’ve been lost in this fantasy: what if we just took ourselves out of the equation? Sort of post-Anthropocene without the drama of an apocalypse.
Chain D.L.K.: Any other work in progress?
Marc Kate: I’m about to leave for a short tour, going strictly modular synth. I’m excited to discover how a box of limited possibilities forces my hand. When you play live with hardware, everybody wants to talk about your gear, whether they’re mystified by the blinking lights, or they’re also into modular and want to talk about modules. My capacity for nerding-out tends to be limited, but I really do love the tools of synthesis and the possibilities they introduce.
visit Marc Kate on the web at: www.marckate.com