According to Human Ear Music‘s info on “Demonstration Disc” (2017, CD/DL, HEM), the recent release by Jason Grier, “issues of labor theory, social practice, and sonic activism underly an abstract surface worked and re-worked toward a hallucinatory depth of field. Loud, decadent, irreverent, and cinematic, Demonstration Disc sounds like mashing down all the preset buttons on your sparkling-new, cosmic-avant-garde monster synth, with delectable aplomb.” Let’s get deeper into it, guided by the author himself.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Jason! How are you?
Jason Grier: Fine, thanks!
Chain D.L.K.: Can you introduce yourself to our readers in your own words?
Jason Grier: I’m Jason. I do sound, art, programming and other stuff. I run this label/collective thing called Human Ear Music, with artists like Ariel Pink, Julia Holter, and Michael Pisaro having been involved in it. Now it’s all about these different porous activities –not strictly music-related– that I do by myself and sometimes with others, like collaborations and mixing and production and mentorships and press campaigns that are pretty informal and more or less invisible, and artistic research and other ongoing projects like this Sound Library thing.
Chain D.L.K.: Demonstration Disc…first of all, what is it going to demonstrate?
Jason Grier: It’s packaged with my Sound Library, and if you download any collection of sounds that you want to use in your own music, then you should expect to have a demonstration of its capabilities; same deal here. And there are such things already, if I’m not mistaken, or more so in pre-internet times, this kind of “Stereo Test Disc.” I actually found a few of these in thrift stores and considered including rips of these test vinyls in the Library, and in the end, I did include one of them: a sampler vinyl of highlights of some nature sound library from the 1970’s. So there are layers of demonstration discs within demonstration discs, demonstrating libraries within libraries. Lastly, another difference is obviously that the Demonstration Disc also has abstract themes and concerns and a story arc. For example, it begins with this new year’s fireworks in Berlin and ends with anti-Trump demonstrations in NYC at the end of the same year; another sense of the word “demonstration.”
Chain D.L.K.: Can you explain the generative and aggregative process behind this disc?
Jason Grier: This Sound Library work was like a labor-performance in which my artistic labor was to collect and edit raw materials and avoid thinking about making an artwork in favor of meditating on aggregation and manual labor and labor-byproducts. And the generative aspect is first of all practical, because as the library got bigger, I could not keep mental track of all the sounds in it. I felt disoriented, like I didn’t know the library’s landscape anymore, and like there were some sounds which I knew were in there but never got the chance to hear for months. So I decided to build some kind of automated tool to help me skim through the library and find sounds. But this tool eventually became “Seurat,” and became more of an artistic collaborator. I’d let Seurat run all day, generating results from the library, and I would make small adjustments from time to time and choose various patterns that worked well together, and the “best” of those combinations became the album.
Chain D.L.K.: I saw that someone didn’t really understand the meaning of this record…and someone wrote that its main defect is that it lacks feeling…do you agree?
Jason Grier: Lol, what could be lacking in feeling in the gesture of offering a whole library of sounds to the people? Seriously, though, I did challenge myself to get the most cinematic and emotional feeling from this collection of sounds not intended specifically for me and from this robot (Seurat) that did not really share my thematic concerns. And I’ve played the Demonstration Disc for some people in private sessions and had some of them burst into tears ’cause they found it so emotional, and others kind of go, “Meh, this doesn’t make sense to me.” And the music even scared off a very very cute little dog one time, so I really can’t claim a decisive victory, more like a big range of responses that I learned a lot from. So, do I agree? Overall, no. I think it’s not that the Demonstration Disc lacks feeling, but that it lacks engagement, ’cause I put a lot of ideas forward in a short time, which is partly the product of it being a “Demonstration Disc,” and partly because I felt obligated to be able to press it on vinyl one day. In the future, I’d like to get rid of the obligation of this 40 minute time constraint and release additions to the library with just one or two sounds and an accompanying piece that goes deep into just a few sounds. And if you don’t understand the “meaning” of it, then that’s fine, you just don’t, but then that’s also on me to do more writing and teaching and interviews, I think, to get better at explaining what it is I’m doing.
Chain D.L.K.: Some experiments are not totally new, but I’d like to ask why you broke that R’n’B/soul song on track number 4?
Jason Grier: That’s my favorite 7-inch single of all time. A private-press gem from the 80’s sometime, a forgotten artifact which I had heard rips of on a blog a long time ago and sought after for a long time, and finally stumbled upon last year. I just needed to pay homage to it. And as the Seurat device was originally intended to make uniform textures out of drone-like sounds, I wanted to work in opposition to the drone and use recognizable source material as a basis, and see if I could still get a drone-like instance of this song by multiplying tiny bits of it.
Chain D.L.K.: Two minutes of fireworks in track number 2…why?
Jason Grier: Berlin’s new years are really intense and hard to describe to people who’ve never been through it before, so there’s a documentary aspect to this choice, and as a sound clip, it’s pretty useful I’d hope, in other people’s music. On a personal level, I’m attracted to it as a sonic photograph, and the flat sound for a short duration mimics the surface of a snapshot, in my mind. (In which case, it’s a double-exposure, because it’s Berlin’s New Year’s Eve in 2017 superimposed onto Berlin’s New Year’s Eve in 2016.) I should say… I’m not sure where I stand on field recording experiences and the idea of audio photographs and audio documentaries and such –that is something I’m trying to deal with in Sound Library 2, which I’m working on now– but there’s this Roland Barthes quote that gives me direction: “[A photograph] is a prophecy in reverse: like Cassandra, but eyes fixed on the past.” Anyways, I digress…
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the source of that vocal puzzle in number 5? …And why that epilogue?
Jason Grier: This is “sonic detritus,” which is just a collection of stuff that gets edited out when you make a sample library or an album. I saved these trimmed-off bits as separate audio files: People commenting on their performances, apologizing for mistakes, saying “ok go” or “fuck I messed up” or laughing at themselves and the situation, or whatever. Mixed in are sounds of the actual studio architecture in decay: A squeaking door, dirty switches and fraying cables, humming amps and a turntable with the ground wires torn out, and some crumbling insulation materials flapping in the wind. The epilogue is a hissing EMI-type compressor, which I asked to be recorded and amplified with no input.
Chain D.L.K.: I saw many amazing comments in the code you deployed in GitHub… if I remember well, one of them referred to vomiting pets…am I wrong? A source of inspiration for some part of your sound library?
Jason Grier: I think you were seeing my scribbles! Or? I decided at some point that it would be interesting to put all my embarrassing half-finished lyrics and bad poems and whatnot all into version control. At least then I could see how things change over time. But then I felt embarrassed and took them down. But now I feel happy that you found them! Maybe I’ll post them again. (By the way, actually, the library has moved off GitHub to http://hem.rocks, ’cause the storage fees were so high.)
Chain D.L.K.: Track number 6…a sort of tribute to Cage?
Jason Grier: Yes, I guess so, but Cage made various manipulations to make pianos sound this way, while this piano, I just found it in this state, while I was a guest at a lavish wedding and not thinking about music much at all at that moment. But maybe that’s still a Cagean situation, though I’d like to think that certain familial/cultural/political situations exceed and tuck themselves away from this perspective. Anyways, the piano sounded like it did because nobody had repaired it in decades. It was literally rotting inside, like not “prepared” inside, but all going to dust inside. So there’s, at once, a tribute to Cage in this recording, but also like a Marxist critique of Cage, kinda, ;). Like, nature was really taking its course on this piano, though it still could make a few sounds, and the fact that it made sounds at all was a contingency of materiality and human service labor and nature’s unhindered influences over history, rather than a contingency of perception and belief and effect, though these two contingencies are never properly separable.
Chain D.L.K.: Track number 7…a patchwork of…what?
Jason Grier: First, it’s me practicing overtone singing sweeps, which, when chopped, simply sound like enunciated vowels. Then there’s a Sound Library pack called “Record Endings” in which I recorded the needle bouncing against the center-label of a variety of records. There are some other random cameos of sounds that appear in other tracks, but maybe get lost in the density of the other tracks; for example, the sax player chanting some mantras into the instrument while also playing notes on it. Just cameo appearances from the whole album in a more sparse mix compared to the other tracks.
Chain D.L.K.: Any really odd source in any of the 10 tracks?
Jason Grier: There was a drunken street-fight during one of the recordings of fireworks. I can’t tell what he’s saying, but with the Seurat treatment, it comes out as “AH – ÜH, AH – ÜH”.
Chain D.L.K.: How do you relate Demonstration Disc to your past releases?
Jason Grier: The Sound Library and Demonstration Disc are basically doing what my previous album “Unbekannte” was trying to do, which is to be this undetermined (or under-determined) aggregation of sounds and documents of experimental situations, and to kind of shed the whole album-making protocol, or at least, to see the album as a fragment of a documentation of some experimental situation or research activity and not the main thing. This is not a revolution, historically speaking, I think but it was revolutionary to me and an artistic awakening for me. “Unbekannte” itself was like a break with the past, and there’s no relation to anything I did before in past releases, which were trying to be albums without the labor/economic/process-oriented frame. But there was, in Unbekannte, more harmony with many other things I’ve been into in the past, like art, research, engineering, economics, and critical theory, and in Demonstration Disc, this is really starting to come together a lot better for me.
Chain D.L.K.: Is there any analogy of Demonstration Disc with the writings of some situationists? Any link to other fields of human knowledge beyond computer sciences?
Jason Grier: Situationists, no, at least I don’t think so, but maybe they left a mark on me. Beyond this open source and software culture aspect –which is mainly a feature of the deployment of the work– the overall motivation was to ask and to think about Artistic Labor and Artistic Research, two fields of knowledge that were getting attention, or at least that I was getting exposed to in the time when I was making the Sound Library and the Demonstration Disc. Harun Farocki (particularly the “Labor in a Single Shot” finale at HKW), Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s “Intellectual and Manual Labor” and Roland Barthes’ “Camera Lucida” were in my mind a lot.
Chain D.L.K.: Are there any ways of labeling contemporary music that you really reject for your own stuff?
Jason Grier: This question makes me think of Christian Wolff’s works called “Peace March,” and I ask myself why not just call this work “experimental sociology,” or “affective activism,” or something like that. One label which I find at least relatively/partially fitting to what I do at the moment is “Research,” because of the real effect that doing research has on the researcher and the reader in terms of heightened awareness and coming to terms with the context (sociopolitical, economic, etc.) of the activity of making the music. And my label for –though not disparagingly– a lot of work that identifies strongly as music is: “music as such.” Like work in which hearing and listening and somatic effect and the logistics of composing and producing these effects are pretty much what the work mainly does and is concerned with. And I think “music as such” is a part of what I’m doing, but not all of it. So, in general, I just reject the label “music.” At the same time, I don’t have anything against any particular labeling of my work on a practical level. I mean, even though labels like “experimental” and “avant-garde” are clumsy and potentially sociopolitically problematic, they do get you somewhere, at least, if you’re just initially trying to choose what work(s) of art to spend your time with.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to try to bring DDisc on a live stage? If yes, how?
Jason Grier: The Sound Library has already been a part of my live sets from like 2012 onwards. I prefer to play long, say 2 hours at least, or even 8 hours sometimes, and in this time I can really get warmed up and explore the Library more fully. Demonstration Disc in this form is more like installation art than theater. Unfortunately, this means I don’t find gigs so often where they let me play for that long, and the 20- 40-minute stage gigs are more difficult to do what I really want to do; to really dig into all these raw materials.
visit Human Ear Music on the web at: hem.rocks