Listening to noise music is a visceral experience. Its piranha teeth treble and monstrous, soul-shattering bass make yr reptile brain run and hide, bringing on a focused clarity, a determined calm. Noise music also often has a physical quality, like some contact mic’ing a cinderblock, the sonic architect sculpting subatomic slivers of microsounds. Noise albums are often a document of these funky art sound rituals. It has a homespun quality, often times endearlingly cheap, what we like to call a ‘shitty noise record’.
Of the millions and millions of xeroxed, hand-stitched, bound in aluminum documents existent, there is the disembodied sense of a human hand, tweaking the mixers to sculpt the air, to try and tame the raging machines. You can see where they have pasted the covers, or the tape run backwards. Listening to Arvo Zylo‘s music, you get the sense that he loves handmade things. His fingers are in every element of the production. He promotes his own material. He makes the records and record sleeves himself. he sends off mutant transmissions into the aether with his Delirious Insomniac Freeform Radio program, where he spews his own underground noise, and helps spread the gospel of other sewer-dwelling mutants. Listening to and looking at his creations, they are uniquely personal and utterly sincere. He seems like a person with a curious mind, who wants to see how things will sound. He has a refreshing, old school industrial vibe to his sensibilities, working with influential noise artists like Boyd Rice and GX-Jupiter Larsen from The Haters. You can practically visualize the sparking machines, the tinny radios belching static. His experience and craftsmanship, as well as a history in the visual arts, allow him to properly place artifacts in the sound field, yet he never stops moving forward and trying new things, and he’s not afraid to fail.
Over the span of several thought-provoking e-mails, Arvo Zylo and Chain D.L.K. Discuss his background, what makes good noise music, post-industrial folk music, the inevitable philosophical discourse, and getting paid to review records wrapped in toilet paper.
Many thanks go out to Mr. Fingers, for taking the time to answer our questions.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you feel like living in the city has something to do with yr fondness for noise? Is it something you embrace, or is it something you are inoculating yourself against?
Arvo Zylo: I think it’s great that noise is like a post industrial form of folk music to some degree. People may have carried around banjos or ukuleles and played music on their back porch or where ever, now they can and perhaps are starting to carry around a suitcase full of pedals or in the case of GX-Jupitter Larsen, a box with a modified, battery operated noise maker inside of it, or Tim Drage going around with a cart of amplified portable noise. Andy Ortmann rides around on his modified dirt bike with a miniature amplifier. I think people are slowly starting to find the drum circles and sing alongs to be culturally irrelevant or at least less practical in the context of overstimulating technology and bling shit all over the place.
Living in the city probably does have something to do with my fondness for noise. I live between two hospitals within a 6 block radius, so I hear lots of ambulances all of the time. I recently finished work on a composition of ambulance sounds, in the context of layering and looping, sometimes they sound like an accordion or a flute or something. And I ride the “L” trains on a regular basis. I like the sounds of speeding, screeching trains a lot. My floors are very thin and my neighbors can hear everything I do, so sometimes I play 5 radios at once or a locked groove at full volume and so forth, because I like it and because it gives me an element of privacy. Sometimes my neighbor plays his acoustic guitar and I put my belt sanders in a pile off sheet metal, mounted on a scaffolding frame or a metal tool box and just let it go until the sanders go out. I tell him this is my form of “jamming”, that there are certain tones I am looking for, and it’s true.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you get into it (making noise) in the first place?
Arvo Zylo: Around 1999 I was considering myself a visual artist, I had received a number of awards and I had been commissioned to do a number of pieces, and it was all I was ever interested in all of my life up to that point. I also had a drum kit that I never had that much chance to practice, my family was divorced with split custody and collectively moved around a lot from house to apartment and so forth, I lived somewhere new every year. But I would have a beat going and wish I could take it and loop it and play over it, instead of learning how to play. After high school I went to an art school, and one of the classes I took was Figure Drawing. Now when I was a kid I used to write and draw with both hands at the same time, 2 crayons at the same time or when one hand got tired, the other hand kept going with the crayon. The teachers constantly complained about my handwriting being messy and my parents eventually made me choose a hand, so I write and draw with my left hand and I do everything else with my right hand. I also write or draw in a way that people have found to be strange in the past. My handwriting is still insanely messy. So my Figure Drawing teacher kept riding me telling me that I’m doing it wrong. I kept telling him “this is a drawing of a nude model, it is not any different from anyone else’s drawing of a nude model except for maybe minor stylistic things”.
Eventually he kept nagging me and I just told him that if I wanted to take someone’s opinion I will get it from someone who didn’t settle for a teaching job. I hated the factory mind state of art school, to just pump out successful commercial artists by this god given formula implemented by uninteresting, dispassionate teachers. I think in the same week, I happened to do acid that worked for the first time. The other times it was just a body high or it was a dud. My friend and I sat in his basement. We had been in a band and we had resigned to getting me to learn how to play keys, programmed stuff, and drum machines, since I could never find anywhere to practice drums. He put the drum machine and the synth versions of the Elektribe series in front of me, and he put the mushroom cloud montage at the end of Dr. Strangelove on repeat on his DVD player somehow, and I went at it for it must’ve been 8 hours straight. I thought I was making industrial dance music, I had no point of reference for experimental music, I listened to KMFDM, Atari Teenage Riot, and a bunch of punk and metal. I thought that Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson were the most experimental people in the world. I hadn’t listened to Einsturzende Neubauten, Coil, or Foetus yet, in the case of Coil and Foetus it was because a friend heard some cassette recording of mine and said I would like this stuff. I thought that I was making practical music, that DJs at clubs would play it, but it was the most insane shit in the world.
Anyhow, ever since that experience I have rarely looked back to visual art, and I only like art that is challenging, I couldn’t care less about someone being able to replicate a photograph with a paintbrush. And I hate talking about drug trips but there was an experience of synaesthesia and it’s something I get with everything I like, movies, paintings, sounds etc. Colors fly out of everything I like. Everybody can look at me like I’m a whack job now, but it’s true. Around 2003 I had already been recording for 3 years, and Aphex Twin and Einsturzende Neubauten were still mostly my points of reference, but I hardly ever thought I sounded like them. I discovered Wolf Eyes and Merzbow around then. In 2008 I compiled a locked groove record. I went around on myspace listening to experimental stuff and asking people to send me tracks. This is how I discovered Sudden Infant, ANAKRID, Black Leather Jesus, Cock ESP, and the “underground” mail order scene as it were. Before that I was just buying noise at shows and record stores, asking them to special order stuff and whatnot.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you have occult/metaphysical/philosophical intentions behind the music that you make?
Arvo Zylo: There are occult intentions behind everything that I do, but this is in the context of me currently believing that it is part of an inward transformation process, a transformation of the mind state and how that projects itself into the world. It has nothing to do with other people, I don’t want to pull strings on other people with cosmic mojo, I have read very few occult books. I don’t record to put love spells on women or anything, I don’t try to invoke any demi gods when I record. When I start to work on something, the idea takes on a mind of its own and it sort of decides on its own when it is finished, and this is not genius talk, it’s just how things go for me. You can call it automatic writing or scrying or whatever but it is a process that could be considered meditative in effect, and at least somewhat spiritual in the sense that I am creating something that goes out into the world, gets misinterpreted, insulted, praised, or ignored and returned to me. And as a result of following through with these ideas, I get more ideas, and sometimes I have no idea where these ideas came from. This is something that I like, and I don’t care if it’s original or innovative, I meddle with something until it has some kind of animal mystery to me, mystical or not, it’s like playing tug of war on a feedback loop with aliens.
Chain D.L.K.: I feel like if more people were aware of the roots of a medium, in this case 20th century classical music, musique concrete and the avant garde, they would take pride in it, they would champion it. I mean, would you say Varese is ‘just noise’? Or Scriabin? Or Stockhausen? Those were serious dudes, they changed the ways people listened to the world around them, introduced sampling as a viable method, opened up the western classical tradition to the zen flow, a la john cage. East and west, left and right hemisphere, there’s so much territory to be explored, its ludicrous that people feel like things are played out.
Arvo Zylo: For me this goes back to the concept of honor, and to me there is no formula for honor. You can be stylish and still be honorable, you can have substance and still be honorable, you can not really say anything and still be honorable. You can have all of these things and not be honorable. You can certainly have a “maverick arrogance” and not be honorable. Honor is something that is lost and not gained, and it’s not up to anyone else to decide what is honorable. Whatever you are experiencing right now is going to change, you decide what is honorable and whether that action is going to still be honorable in 20 years. I sure as hell don’t care about becoming a historian in order to make someone else happy with what I do. I agree there’s a lot more territory to be explored, that in itself is the challenge, to challenge yourself and maybe, as a result, other people. The place where ideas come from is not a narrow place. The question is, why haven’t you shown this new territory to other people? We’re all self-conscious and murmuring about something, some of us are more thoughtful than others. Noise is great because it fosters a rejection of morals and idealism to some degree, but that doesn’t mean that there are a bunch of little Nietzsches running around. You can’t be like someone else, and you can’t especially be like what someone else wanted people to perceive of them, you can’t impersonate originality. And to hell with Nietzsche anyway, you probably wouldn’t want to live like he lived, and he probably would have wanted you to throw him out the window. I looked up a passage from Nietzsche, I think you’ll like it.
“No longer raise up your arm against them [the “flies of the marketplace,”]. Numberless are they, and it is not your lot to shoo flies. Numberless are the small and miserable creatures; and many a proud building has perished of raindrops and weeds.”
Chain D.L.K.: Do you get into 20th century classical music?
Arvo Zylo: I like Shostakovich. I like Richard Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration” a lot. And there is finally something about this online! Airs to Charm A Lizard! I have been hearing this late at night on the classical station for years, and I have never found it online until now! Anyhow, I listen to the classical station a lot at home, not usually without another radio going as well, but I know I do like Wagner, Korsakov, and Beethoven a lot more than the shit that they play on that station that is 20th century or contemporary. I sort of lean towards soundtracks when I’m trying to get that.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you listen to much rock ‘n roll/metal/punk?
Arvo Zylo: I’m really into what is going on with lo-fi cassette tape black metal and punk. I basically listen to Wm. Berger’s My Castle of Quiet in order to get my fix of that though. I like Raspberry Bulbs and Dark Tribe a lot. There’s a guy in Chicago named Mac Blackout I like, he went from doing punk to sort of branching out into solo 4 track recordings that border on (probably accidental) dark wave and glam rock, but still feel like a punk record. I still like Slayer, The Shitlickers, Genocide SS, Los Decayes, GG Allin – stuff like that – but like hip hop, that stuff comes from a kind of juvenile mind state and as a result I only want to listen to it when I want to break stuff or beat someone up, so not every day anymore.
Chain D.L.K.: Anything recently that you’ve been digging?
Arvo Zylo: I just got a package with some new Nundata material, and I can’t wait to hear it. I like the analog one-take works of John Boyle – a guy that came out of nowhere and into my mail box at the station. I just wrote a review of the Dissecting Table tape on Danvers State, I’m really into that tape. I’ve always liked what Death Factory is doing, and he has a new thing out on No Visible Scars. I was going to release it but I said it was too long. I’m an asshole. I think it’s excellent though. Michael Esposito and Francisco Meirino just did a CD that is great. There’s a CD by Elainie Lillios that is really good, that came to me at the radio station without prior correspondence and I’m really glad to have discovered it that way. The only contemporary stuff that I really listen to is experimental, otherwise I get what I want from other people’s’ radio shows, or I listen to old stuff.
Chain D.L.K.: What were some movies, books, and paintings that informed the music that you make?
Arvo Zylo: Tough to say. In the conventional sense of the word, I failed at doing what I set out to do in most of the recordings I’ve done, they took shape and changed the rules that I set in the first place. I also think with the level of insomnia I experienced and the amount I drank, it made the idea of being “informed” by something somewhat problematic. However, I can say that “The Woman Chaser” both the book and the movie informed me in a profound way. Tetsuo was another one. Oscar Wilde, Charles Bukowski, Jackie Gleason, Edgar Allan Poe, Hunter Thompson, Anton LaVey, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Max Ernst, Dali, Christopher Ilth, Yasutoshi Yoshida, Steven Stapleton, Karel Teige, Fellini, Fritz Lang, Gaspar Noe, definitely informed me to various degrees, a lot of times in the abstract tone that they set. A lot of this stuff I haven’t revisited in years, but it has informed me.
Anton LaVey wrote “if you don’t know anything about music, get a sequencer”, and this was right around when my friend bought a sequencer, then I bought one, and I still don’t know anything about music but I enjoy it. A lot of this was when I was younger. I disagree with Steven Leyba on a lot of things, but I like his attitude towards his work, and so I guess I am informed by that. I think that people stop being terribly impressionable in the way that they initially understood themselves to be impressionable after they become 25. For the last 7 years or so I am informed by the last thing I have done, I don’t find myself seeing opportunities in other people’s’ work, unless I am listening to sound effects records. This is mainly because I have come to find a certain tedium in experiencing something with the intent to write about it or incorporate it into my radio show, I think I’ve gotten to a point where the radio show is also like an idea and it takes on a mind of its own, so I can separate it from my every day life.
Chain D.L.K.: Have any background with goth?
Arvo Zylo: I find that gothic oriented people are often the most unpretentious and friendly people to talk to, as far as my experience in Chicago goes. But I especially like people who don’t fit the mold, and it’s one thing to dress gothic, and it’s another thing to be intrinsically interested in all things dark, macabre, and strange, and just happen to be wearing black. I used to go to plenty of gothic nights and I have plenty of gothic friends, but I’m more interested in it as a cultural phenomenon rather than a musical phenomenon, I don’t like Morissey or Wumpscutt or most of the other stuff that is happening at goth clubs musically. I like Bondage as a transcendent means, and I like to go to these play parties and watch people who I thought normally listened to techno and wore shiny shirts get their asses whipped by one of my dominatrix friends. Bondage for me would need to be coming from an incredibly witty woman, I have no interest in some booby girl calling me a dirty little boy, especially when she probably squeals like a Catholic girl in bed. I need it to be more cerebral. A friend of mine used to run a DJ night were he would play Merzbow for me while another friend was whipping me with chains and that was good.
Chain D.L.K.: How old are you?
Arvo Zylo: As soon as I turned 30, I felt like everything became automatic.
Chain D.L.K.: What do you do to pay the bills?
Arvo Zylo: I do a few different things and I’m not offended by the question but I always like to keep that kind of stuff outside of a creative context. I like that I never have any dreams about the work that I do and I would like to keep it that way.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the most successful you’ve been with your art, so far?
Arvo Zylo: Finishing something is success enough. The act of finishing what you started is reward enough. I can’t finish something in one night. I don’t have a portfolio because I have given away most of the visual work that I have done. For some reason, when I am done with a piece of art, I don’t care much for keeping it. Even if it represents a proud moment, I’m just not attached to it. I would say that a moment of success was to paint a picture of a woman, have it be realistic, and then have it end up looking exactly like a woman I ended up meeting and being in a relationship with later. All through school I received awards and was commissioned to do work, but I don’t care about that. Even in grade school, kids gave me money to make a comic book, and I hand colored ever xerox copy of it for them. I don’t look at art galleries as any kind of dignified resting place for a piece of work, nor do I look at someone’s home as one. For some reason though, with recordings it’s like I have to keep promoting it in order for it to feel finished. I can’t be satisfied with some disc or some file that I have completed, I needed it to echo out into the world before I am done with it.
visit the artist on the web at: nopartofit.blogspot.com