dave dp phillips long story short
fields of re/search: existences and behaviourisms humanimalistically. works that oppose the omnipresent restriction and reduction of life and living, that activate primordial shared emotions otherwise hidden under the debris of civilization, inviting rumination, encouraging intervention, endorsing catharsis, liberating, cleansing. therapeutical stimulation is acknowledged. sonic activism, ritual protest music, humanimalism
methods: audio de/construction, composition, sonic rituals, psycho-acoustics and performance
tools: voice, body, fieldrecordings, electronics, objects, video
reason for this interview: his recent release “to death” (7th July 2021, Misanthropic Agenda)
enjoy the reading!
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Dave! How are you doing?
Dave Phillips: Quite alright. I moved house earlier a month ago, I’m settling in…
Chain D.L.K.: I heard you recent ‘to death’ and I honestly think it’s a listening that I would likewise honestly recommend in this historical stage… but before focusing on it, even if those well-informed readers of our zine, whose memory has not been reset yet, don’t really need any introduction, how would you introduce yourself, your sound art and its direction(s)?
Dave Phillips: Puh. Well. My music is rather free, abstract, “cinematic”, and personal. It sounds more organic than it does electronic. What I seek in sound/music is altered states of consciousness, states of trance and liberation, cathartic and purging kind of highs, some sort of elevation. Sound for me is communication, so I like it to have some sort of narrative, intentionality, something shared. I’m interested in the effect of sound as much as its aesthetic form. Sonically I’m inspired by contemporary (classical) composition, the sounds of insects, traditional music, improvisation/free music, bass music, as much as the energy of radical punk and metal. Literature is a big inspiration too. My sound work is often accompanied by topical contexts that touch on environmental and existential issues but are more driven by the interconnectedness of things, the thing that some call chaos, this enormous ecosystem that we are a part of, the kind of free life that is uncontrollable and beyond our systems of control or scientific measurement or language. I call my music “ritual protest music” – I protest against the reduction and restriction of life – I describe my way of approaching sound as “sonic activism”. Uhm, long “introduction” but there you go…. just open ears…
Chain D.L.K.: The last outputs I vividly remember of yours, who reached somehow my desk (I often don’t know how or why some sonic entities reach my desk, besides the fact someone delivers them to my mailbox), has been a super limited split with Emerge on Nazlo, that was a tribute to Dmitry Vasilyev. Have you ever met him? Which tracks did he leave in your memory?
Dave Phillips: I met Dmitry Vasilyev a bunch of times. The last time was in September 2018 when Dmitry had organized a tour for me and emerge in Russia. We met in Sevastopol before embarking on a tour together. The day before our tour began, we went swimming in the Black Sea and Dmitry drowned. The tape you speak of is a reaction to that tragic loss. Dmitry’s enthusiasm for and energy invested in experimental music was amazing…
Chain D.L.K.: I have to amend… There’s also a CD from Attenuation titled ‘Post Homo Sapiens’, but I honestly haven’t unfolded it yet… What a shame! Can I get excused for that? What should I expect?
Dave Phillips: Of course! Post Homo Sapiens imagines a world where insects and plants rule.
Chain D.L.K.: I enjoyed the reading of some of your texts (ref: https://www.davephillips.ch/texts), the last of which includes many interesting and praiseworthy ecologist thoughts and reflections, but it dates back to 2015. Are you writing some new text for the recent evolution of human history?
Dave Phillips: “For the recent evolution of human history”, haha. Besides writing, I collect and present texts too, and my texts sometimes take from articles and books that touch me. For the “sixth mass extinction” LP (2019) I collected a bunch of articles that together offer a picture of how humans are doing in terms of coexistence with other beings on this planet. It’s probably no surprise that we’re not faring very well – what we seem to be good at though is causing mass extinction and destruction. Said articles were accompanied by a profound text by professor Jem Bendell on “navigating climate tragedy”. For an upcoming split with sist en 343 called “thinking future coexistence,” I used a text by Charles Eisenstein on what happened since corona blessed us – this should be out in the autumn. I am supposed to write something for an upcoming compilation, but I haven’t got there yet…
Chain D.L.K.: So let’s go back (or forward) to ‘to death’. I remember the words of a Tibetan monk on this subject, who said that we have to notice that when a baby comes to life cries, and we smile, when a person comes to death (let’s say so) sometimes has a smiling expression on his/her face, while we cry. Is this somehow ironic viewpoint close to the meaning of death you were referring to on your last release?
Dave Phillips: Yes, very much so! Accompanying my father on his last journey was a profound experience that demystified death to an extent where it mostly wasn’t this “horrible thing” that people often seem to associate with it, but something quite different…. somehow magical, often peaceful and serene – my father was smiling a lot as he lay dying – and also somewhat unbiased, more to do with “life (in all its stages) never fails to amaze me”, where often opposing angles together make the whole.
Chain D.L.K.: I think that most of the weirdest consequences of this likewise weird pandemic crisis can be interpreted by using the filter of human fear of death. How did this situation influence your ‘to death’?
Dave Phillips: I was living in such intense reality bubbles at the time of the pandemic that the pandemic itself seemed to be happening on a side-stage, it didn’t seem to have that much impact on me. In hindsight, though, I realize it played into my perception more than I acknowledged. It affected my perception of the world. The slow dying of my father seemed to go hand in hand with the dying of something that somehow defines us as humans, as we grow more and more separate and distanced from one another and from purpose and freedom – as we have from the “natural world” at large, a separation that we are imposing on us more and more. That’s a slow dying. I mean, the empire is failing and falling, it will crash, no doubt, it’s just a question of when and how. And it sure won’t be pretty. People, please remove your filters!
Chain D.L.K.: I also enjoyed the fact that in the title, there seems a first part missing. You can expect an ‘Hymn to death’, an ‘Ode to death’ or even a ‘Yell to death’! But it’s as it is… just ‘to death’! How did you draw inspiration for it? I read it was somehow related to your father’s last moments (of course you have my deepest sympathy).
Dave Phillips: Thank you. Yes, it’s mainly inspired by my father’s illness, which was devastating and my being his carer for the last 15 months of his life. I witnessed his person being eaten away by disease – in a way, he was gone before death gave him peace. At the same time, I found myself in a role that made sense on so many levels, and somehow I managed to pull it through – I’m so glad I did. Taking care of the old is like taking care of the young, is like education, is like a purpose in life – outsourcing that to a paid service or a job or some system is missing out on profound experiences, on things essential, maybe on things that define us as animals or mammals or tribal beings. Something that teaches more than schools or universities can, but also demands more. So really it’s more about the journey, the path, the story of accompanying someone all the way “to death” and all that it sets free. My father’s wish was to die at home, and I’m glad that my siblings and I made that wish come true.
But this journey also leads to other related topics. There are many readings of the title. The ode/hymn “to death” is certainly in there, probably poking at the wish to demystify death as the huge taboo that it still is. the title also addresses what we’re doing to planetary life – to plants and other animals. Thus, also what we’re doing to ourselves: when I view my father’s disease in a global context, it’s a common cause – nowadays. The main causes of death in our times show us how sick our allegedly “civilized” way of life makes many of us. So much human waste. We are “civilized to death”. And then there’s what this is all doing to us emotionally and existentially – areas where many of us seem more dead than alive, where we merely function and follow rules. The slow death of human potential through our educational systems and through our imposed “normality” is part of that. The death of freedom through total control of life, as per recent events. I mean, life IS uncertain – that’s the exciting part, isn’t it? All our puny attempts to create “safety and security” are laughable if they weren’t so devastating in what they actually do to us – but we’re like animals born in captivity. Our established political and economic systems seem rather dead too – I mean, an economy that functions linearly is just grossly inadequate for a world and lives that happen in cycles. So there are many paths and pointers “to death”. I can also turn it around: if death is the only certainty in life, then a tribute to death is a celebration of life!
Chain D.L.K.: What are the reversed words in the opening ‘A Cycle Completed’ to say?
Dave Phillips: The tone matters more than the words. What do you hear?
Chain D.L.K.: Death is maybe the aspect of existence that keeps the strongest taboos still on. Do you agree with such a statement of not?
Dave Phillips: Yes, that’s also why I wanted to make an album that demystifies that, that steers us away from this taboo, from this conditioned denial or shame, this refusal to face all aspects of existence. I wanted to describe death as what it is, part of a cycle as natural as birth, something to encounter and to know, not something to primarily fear. On the contrary, I feel the awareness of death is one of the driving forces of life, it brings out deep emotions which frankly make me feel very alive. Death the experience has many beautiful aspects to it, at least in my experience. To reduce death – or this album – to just something “dark and scary” is merely scratching the surface – it’s looking away. If we could include death in the bigger picture as something normal, we may enjoy more freedom in our lives…
Chain D.L.K.: That piercing scary and somehow beastly scream on “To Death We All Go, The Sooner The Better”… how did you grab it, if it can be said?
Dave Phillips: I often start a recording based on notes I made or impulses, ideas about sonics, and sentiments. The tape starts running and… I try to put these sentiments into sound, and then… often things happen, I get carried away…. I go places, I enter different states of being, it’s like I travel like I’m somewhere else. Then sometime later, thump, I land again, it’s like I’ve returned from far… and sometimes it even translates onto tape ;o)
Like this album. I didn’t plan to do something about this particular topic, or about my father. I had a bunch of ideas noted, things I wanted to work into, but nothing like “to death”. Then I started recording. It was like a trance. It just poured out of me. The basic recordings happened within about ten days, basic structures of pieces were completed the following week. When I started listening back to what I had done, I was surprised. Then I realized what it’s about…
Chain D.L.K.: Paraphrasing and quoting the title of one of my favorite tracks of the album, what’s the real catastrophe you wanted to represent or maybe exorcize?
Dave Phillips: “The real catastrophe is that humanity continues”. It refers to the coronavirus and a reason why it might’ve appeared. I mean, we humans have vastly overpopulated this planet, and we are a very sick civilization, we’ve taken a couple of wrong turns too many, and we’re destroying not only our home but also that of all other inhabitants and them with it. It’s time we became extinct, or at least drastically reduced in numbers. We, humans, are the catastrophe… haha… it’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, my sense of humor, though I reckon part of me means it ;o)
Chain D.L.K.: Is there any moment of ‘to death’ that you want to keep deliberately indecipherable?
Dave Phillips: Honestly, I try to be transparent with all that I do. My intentions, sentiments, feelings, it’s all there really. I don’t try to be cryptic or mysterious. On the other hand, it’s very subjective – I’ve put things out into the world that I thought were obvious and then find myself surprised by very different interpretations. So in this work, there are wordings, for example, that are only my own words for this particular moment, this context, they are subjective and not telling in terms of a narrative, so they needn’t be clear, they are only relevant in terms of opening spaces, it’s your own words or sentiments that take you through those spaces, and that’s fine.
Chain D.L.K.: Any plan to lend or adapt ‘to death’ for other forms of art (theatre or video art maybe)?
Dave Phillips: Not for now. The way this album poured out of me, the way it happened, this format is quite right for now. Emotionally, I’m quite elsewhere now anyway, also thanks to having this album happen.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?
Dave Phillips: Always :o) I’m currently finalizing two pieces for a 7″ for a young Portland label, and a comp track, but there are other pots cooking too…