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Terre Thaemlitz: Deep Thoughts (Video Interview)
Red Bull Music Academy Workshop, February 11 2010
- Todd Burns

In Red Bull Music Adademy (Austria), February 11 2010. Terre's note: Sorry, Spuds, I don't know why I said Devo was from Idaho, when I know they were from Ohio! Just one of those mix-up moments...!


Terre Thaemlitz
Comatonse, Mule Musiq, Kawasaki, USA
Interviewed by Todd Burns (Editor, Resident Advisor) in London.

Keeping things outside the box will be Comatonse's ambassador of sound and scale, Terre Thaemlitz. He's been versing the masses on what 'diverse' means in a 20-year career of near-continual invention and re-invention, with releases on Bill Laswell's Subharmonic, Harry Hosono's Daisyworld Discs, and many more. It is as much about the message as the medium with Thaemlitz. Exploring gender, sexuality, queer culture, class and race, and most recently, on the acclaimed Midtown 120 Blues for Mule, taking a wry look at house music itself, (s)he challenges listeners every bit as much as entertains them - creating a landmark album in the process. 'A kidder with a serious cause,' says XLR8R, which is pretty much on the money, honey.

Session Transcript:
(Terre's Note: There are a few errors and omissions.)

RBMA: I am sitting next to, by way of introduction, Mister Terre Thaemlitz, and he is an experimental ambient producer, house music producer, other assorted genre producer, which we will go into. Every single genre and every single of the many projects that you do, that might actually take very long, but either way, please help me in welcoming Terre Thaemlitz (applause). A couple of days ago we talked to Trevor Jackson here and he talks about how every ten years or so he got quite pissed off and he would start a new project. One of the things that you talk a decent amount about is pessimism and how you use it to create some of your work. I wonder if you could sort of start from there as a foreground for what we will go into later.

Terre Thaemlitz: Sure. I think, especially when you're working in media, and particularly in music, there is so much pressure to always try and feel positive and energetic about what you are doing. And in a way, even if this is all you do to survive, it still never qualifies as work in most people's minds. If you explain that you are working in audio, or you say the accidental word "musician", then you are screwed, right? If you try and talk critically or have a complaint about something, or if you are not totally happy about things, then people are always coming back with: "At least you're doing what you love." And you say: "How the fuck do you know?" For me, in terms of a labour practice, in terms of audio production as labour, in terms of how our products and our media gets distributed, for me, I tend to focus on studio production, but also doing DJ gigs or performances and stuff. Of course, these are also supported by these massive infrastructures of venues and clubs and all these things, so there is no point when we are just making sound in outer space devoid of context, we are always somehow within some sort of operative economy. I think for me, all of this optimism around self-potential and self-realisation kind of clouds the way that we think about our relationships to production. I think this is something that is within a problem of capitalism in general, first world, the ?if you try hard enough you can succeed'-type of ideology. I think music in particular has this kind of real naive willingness to fall prey to this kind of illusion, which is one of the reasons why I prefer to work in audio. It is kind of a critical gesture to try and find a place where these things are the least addressed and then use that as a model of: "Hey, this is why society is so fucked up."

RBMA: So throughout the lecture we will be playing some influences and things that are jumping-off points for discussion, and I think one of the major groups in the United States when you were growing up that was talking about some of these things was Devo.

(music: Devo - Through Being Cool)

Terre Thaemlitz: These are the key lyrics: "If you live in a small town, you might meet a dozen or two / young alien types who step out and declare we're through being cool."

RBMA: You grew up in Springfield, Missouri, correct? Were there other aliens that you met in this town?

Terre Thaemlitz: There was one other spud. Devo fans were called spuds because Devo were from Ohio so going on with the potato theme. There was one other spud and his name was Joe Faggo. It's so great to just have "fag" in your name already, right? So we instantly bonded. To me, Devo was really important, especially around the time of New Traditionalists , they were focusing on electronic production. I think it is a little bit difficult for some Europeans to understand the way that rock and electronic music and country and all these things work differently in the United States, which is so anti-electronic. For me, as someone who had bad experiences with dominant culture and wanted to distance myself from that, then electronic music was just one way of finding something else.

RBMA: So Devo were one of the first bands that was available to you when you were living in Missouri because, I think also in America, especially back then, distribution of records, you can only find something like Devo if it was available to you and if you could find it.

Terre Thaemlitz: This is also one of the ironies of being a techno pop fan, or somebody who has these kind of record collections of what we consider to be obscure electro pop music from the ?70s and ?80s and stuff, when in fact, the only reason it fell into our hands was because it was on Warner Bros or some sort of major label. There is always this kind of question in my mind about what else was going on that never made it to any vinyl. It is not like, then there was Devo and they got signed on to a major label, there were many, many things going on as you can imagine. I always kind of wonder what those things are that never got documented and what would be interesting about them. Anyway, before living in Springfield I lived in a suburb of a suburb of St Paul, Minnesota, and that was the ?70s roller disco era. The roller discos was when I really got a lot of my musical influences, as far as dance music and stuff. Of course, Whip It would be like a big roller disco hit. The kind of important thing about Devo and what separated them from European and Japanese techno pop acts was that, for example, Kraftwerk, they would have this reference to futurism. Even YMO and Ryuichi Skamoto always made reference to futurism and stuff, this ideal or utopia, some idea of electronic music reflecting some future dream or something. Devo was really about simply being a misfit in the moment. In this way, I think one of the few people from Europe, who in my mind stand out in this way, would be Klaus Nomi. I read an interview and when people try to frame him as ?next wave', he said: "It's not next wave, it is now wave." This resistance to dreams and resistance to the future is really about positioning oneself in the present and I think Devo was really very much about this, very much about the difficulties of not being able to conform, rather than the promise of constructing your own future.

RBMA: You eventually did an album where you took Devo songs and did your own interpretations of them on the piano. You also did Kraftwerk and Gary Numan as well. Why those three acts?

Terre Thaemlitz: There were three albums in that series called the Rubato series. It was basically taking techno pop icons that had influenced me when I was growing up, and trying to think through how they actually did influence me, not only musically, but thematically and that sort of thing. And to me, I am dressed as a boy now, but I am transgender identified and dressing as a man or dressing as a woman are both equally grotesque. So the issue of gender and transgenderism and also sexuality and queerness were of interest to me, how they fit into this kind of music and stuff. For the Devo project, the titles in the series are puns on the artist titles, so instead of Oh No! It's Devo it's called Oh No! It's Rubato and I did a cover that also parodies the Oh No It's Devo album cover and stuff. In that one I was talking very much about how Devo had started out as being very verbal about their anti-corporate position. The hypocrisy and ironies of being a very successful band were within this situation that they really were against. And then, of course, they then made the transition into commercial, television commercial soundtracks, and these more commercial things, or the Rugrats soundtrack or animation soundtracks and stuff like this. Certainly, this was really a kind of theme that I tried to pick up on in the text. On the one hand trying to revive them in a way, try to re-infuse meaning into these albums that are basically been robbed of meaning in a sense by the way they develop their careers afterwards. Then also thinking about gender. You could say Kraftwerk had this homoerotic man machine world going on, almost exclusive of women. Gary Numan had the kind of post-glam rock gender play and sexuality play and: "Was he gay or straight or both or neither?" And then Devo's performance of heterosexuality also found parody of dominant cultures, such as sexual forms. Devo very much had this kind of performance of heterosexuality, but it was very much also the kind of parody of dominant culture, sexual norms, so that was also the kind of point where sexual critique kind of came into it and trying to analyse and give some due credit to the type of analysis and sarcasm and irony that they put into their hetero, sexist- infected lyrics.

RBMA: Let's play a Gary Numan track and we will talk a little bit about that.

(music: Gary Numan - Conversation )

So this is Conversation from The Pleasure Principle. Was The Pleasure Principle the first Gary Numan album that you bought?

Terre Thaemlitz: The Pleasure Principle was the very first Gary Numan album that I ever owned. It is also kind of funny that the way I kind of bought it was that I didn't have enough money, so I peeled off a sales sticker from another record and put it on to that, which was the usual way I bought records back in elementary and junior high school. Of course, the title itself is The Pleasure Principle, so I am sure the psychoanalysts would have something to say about thievery to buy this album called The Pleasure Principle. For me, this track Conversation, I think it was maybe one of the few songs at the time, that rather than having this pop format, it was over seven minutes and it had this very repetitive synth bassline and stuff going on. For me, it is a prototype to a kind of house music or something.

RBMA: With this track, obviously, you were a big fan of the lyrics, as you told me in an e-mail before. You borrowed and stole the lyrics.

Terre Thaemlitz: I totally plagiarised his lyrics and entered them into a poetry contest and won and these sort of things. The idea of originality has never been important to me, it has always been about referentiality. Sometimes when you're young, of course, and doing things, for me, when I was growing up and doing a lot of gender fuck or crazy styles, or seeking out music that nobody else would listen to, or nobody else would even tolerate being in the same room as when I was playing it, when you lack a certain type of language that comes across as if you re just trying to be unique or whatever. But to me, it was always about some reaction to something else, and attempts to present a space for something other than what people were pushing on me at the time. I think Gary Numan is an interesting case. Of course, in the UK he was everywhere and I'm sure had a lot of fandom. In the United States, other than Cars, nobody knew really who he was or what he did or anything. It was really a totally different kind of listening experience, I think, in that kind of sense. I think his music is often reviewed in this way, which is about being cold and robotic and electronic, but when you listen to it, especially now that I produce music and know a little bit more about how sounds work and how they are made and stuff like this, it is totally a rock band. It is not relying on sequencers as much as you would think, he has live bass and live drums and these sorts of things. So it is really different from something like Kraftwerk, although when I was growing up I couldn't really make those distinctions.

RBMA: With the Gary Numan stuff you talked a little bit about this idea of him being a guilty pleasure now and everyone sort of grows out of this phase.

Terre Thaemlitz: There is definitely a kind of shame about being a Numanoid, right? Especially after he made it clear he was a supporter of Margaret Thatcher and other sorts of stuff and it was like: "What the fuck?" But that was also one of the reasons why I decided to do a Replica Rubato album, piano solos of Gary Numan's works, because I had this massive vinyl collection that had cost me a fortune to buy in the US. I never played it but I couldn't possibly sell it, it was this cornerstone of experience for me. I think doing the piano solo project around him was one way of trying to figure out what exactly was the psychology going on, feeling compelled to preserve this collection, but at the same time not being able to discuss it or being able to talk openly about it and stuff like that. I think it is about this idea of shame and it is a recurrent theme in my own writing and my own work around issues of gender and sexuality. Gary Numan is very much a poser, he is very much coming in late and in the same way this is also the generation that I grew up with, growing up was reflections. It is post-Iggy Pop, so I didn't have to worry about trying to be original. It was simply about regurgitation and recycling and positioning oneself in relation to images and I think this is very much how society works. If you liberate yourself from the desire for originality and the desire for creativity and stuff, you really start breaking things down into signifiers and relationships, social relationships, then that really opens up music to a different level of communication, which is maybe very different from a cathartic communication. To me, I'm much more interested in how music functions as a medium that actually reflects specific context and environments and social relationships, identity relationships.

RBMA: I guess, that's a nice segue into when you moved to New York and first started listening to house music in New York and you eventually became a DJ. There is a very specific context to the DJing that you did in the early days when you first started?

Terre Thaemlitz: In 1986 I finished high school and I ran to New York to escape, expecting some sort of moment of social acceptance or catharsis or something that small towns in the Midwest wouldn't allow. Of course, this doesn't exist, right? At the time I lived in the East Village, I lived on 6th and [Avenue] B in Manhattan so it was kind of near the Dance Tracks record store, the legendary house music shop of the East Village. At that time, it was really a shop that was incredibly difficult to enter. This was before you had listening stations or where people could take the records and listen to them themselves. You had to ask this DJ God-type guy behind a huge lifted platform if he could play something for you to hear, and he would look at the label and be like: "Ugh, don't get that, get this!" So it was incredibly difficult to select music in that sort of environmen. Also, I was someone who didn't have money and I was someone who had a really fussy ear, so I was like this guy's worst nightmare. I would come in and asked them to play ten records and I would walk out without buying a single thing and I would be back next week, like: "This asshole again." But anyway, to me this was a new type of electronic music, the kind of house music that was coming out of the lower East side of New York, and also a lot of good music coming out of New Jersey at that time.

RBMA: Do you remember where you first heard it? Obviously, in Missouri...

Terre Thaemlitz: I heard it in the stores. When I moved to Manhattan it was this weird moment where house music hadn't quite consolidated itself as a genre, so you would have JM Silk's I Can't Turn Around and then LL Cool J's Rock The Bells, everything was truly mixed. Especially in New York you had this mix between hip hop and what we would consider more straight house music and stuff like this. The dancefloors were much more cross over. I guess, in England you had this, too, you had the Coldcut remix of Eric B & Rakim or something like this, in a dancefloor environment but it would be totally hip hop, a 106 or 108 bpm kind of track. It was this very weird moment. For me, I like these moments where you have an idea, like: "This is house music," but it is not so commercially defined yet, like this kind of moment. Then it gets more and more into the specialty shops and stuff and you try and figure out what records you like and actually figure out what is being made and stuff. It is really interesting and I ended up having this huge record collection. My roommates were getting really pissed because it was taking up the whole of my living room. It was this typical New York thing, where you can't afford shelves, so it is in milk crates you stole from a deli or something like this. They thought they were being clever by saying: "You either do something with them or sell them." So I went out and bought two turntables and a mixer and took up more space in the living room and started making mixtapes. At the time, I was involved in ACT UP New York, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, AIDS awareness type groups, trying to get socialised healthcare and things like that in the US at the time, and also involved an activist groups around gender and sexuality issues and women's reproductive rights and these sorts of things. Anyway, my mixtapes then started getting used in the gay pride parades and stuff on some of the floats, and specifically on the Asia-Pacific Islander caucus, and also I started DJing some of the benefits for them. From that I started getting gigs, first at this really tragic rice bar on 59th Street called Club 59. A rice bar is an Asian fetish gay bar type of thing, so you had Asian bottoms and white tops and this totally fucked up racist dynamic. All they wanted to hear was Dead Or Alive. Their normal soundtrack was a loop of a videotape of a Dead Or Alive concert and that was on all the time, so then I came in with these non-major label, slower deep house things it didn't go over very well. After that I got a kind of regular gig at Sally's 2, which was a kind of transgender sex worker club on 43rd Street at the Carter Hotel at the time and that was late '90. Then, into 91 I got fired from that for not playing major label stuff.

RBMA: But you did get a Grammy as the best DJ, right?

Terre Thaemlitz: I got the Sally's 2 Grammy award for the best DJ in 91, then a month later I was fired.

RBMA: You wouldn't play Gloria Estefan?

Terre Thaemlitz: At that time it was all about Lisa Stansfield, Gloria Estefan, Whitney Houston and that bitch Madonna, all that sort of stuff. I just really had no interest in playing any of that.

RBMA: Should we play the Moby track?

Terre Thaemlitz: Sure.

RBMA: This is Moby's Time Signature, it's from the compilation...

(music: Moby - Time Signature)

Terre Thaemlitz: No, no, no, it is better to say it is from the first edition of the Go EP. There was a lot of different things to talk about from this EP, actually. For me, this is the first edition of the Go EP by Moby, the pinnacle of New York deep house at the time, and also this really interesting moment where right after that, you had this series of remix EPs. One was like this Twin Peaks sound remix thing and other ones were more techno and stuff. Those remixes I really had zero interest in, but this first EP, I guess this is about 92, that was when from this EP to the remixes the moment where house and techno became consolidated as genres in New York. So he moved to the techno side or the marketing was as such. To me, in New York it was also the way that techno functioned and house functioned, they had very different dynamics around sexuality and race and these sorts of things. Techno was basically like the heterosexual white boy club thing and house was more the Puerto Rican, African-American scene stuff. Within the drag community as well, transgender communities, you also had the club very divided between which girls would be at which clubs and what music was being played and stuff like that.

RBMA: So it is even further subdivided after that?

Terre Thaemlitz: Edelweiss was the white tranny club and Sally's was the Puerto Rican and Afro-American club. Then you had the clubs down in the East Village, which were more like the kind of stage show queen type stuff, distancing themselves from the sex workers and stuff like this, a lot of internal politics and dynamics going on.

RBMA: How did you find yourself playing at the Puerto Rican, African-American club?

Terre Thaemlitz: Just by chance. Somebody told me that they had an opening there, but, of course, there was diversity. Sally herself was white, Jimmy, this other guy, who owned the club was a white guy, but most of the queens in the house were Puerto Rican and Latino and African-American. So there was this mix and then somebody told me they wanted a new DJ there because the current DJ they had was like a 16-year old Puerto Rican homophobic kid, who was really only playing hip hop music. His comment when he heard I got hired there was: "Thank God, I can't wait to get away from these fucking fags." I think this is also really important for people to realise, when they think back about the history of house music in clubs, and they want to romanticise the unity and community of the scenes, it is really important to me that people don't get too romantic about it because all of this stuff about community is really an afterthought. With hindsight you filter and remember the good times and stuff, but actually the dynamics, and again, this is going back to dynamics of employment, dynamics of how we enter into economic relationships with these communities as well. Like: "What does it mean that the main DJ before me was this totally homophobic kid playing hip hop and stuff?" So this is all kind of things that were also part of that scene and that also has to do with the Johns that would be at the club. When you hear it as a tranny bar you also think of all the drag queens, but of course, it is being supported by the ... at Sally's it was supported by the Johns, who were basically heterosexual identified and we didn't have the downlow term around then, but it was basically people who would be having sex with trannies. But if you insinuated that they were gay, they would totally beat the shit out of you. This is also very much a part of going back to the Gary Numan thing of shame and hypocrisy and complexity, which is very much a part of how I prefer to deal with this kind of complexity, rather than putting myself in some sort of bubble of pride or something, where we pretend that these dynamics in society don't exist.

RBMA: You explored a lot of these issues on the last record, which was released in 2008, 2009, the album as DJ Sprinkles, Midtown 120 Blues. I guess, let's talk about where you got the name DJ Sprinkles first, for all of the people who don't know.

Terre Thaemlitz: The Sprinkles name was because at the time, if you were a DJ, you had to have a macho DJ name, like Ice or Lightning or Lionheart or whatever, so I wanted something that was just totally pussy. At the same time I was living in the East Village, and like I said earlier, I was involved in women's reproductive rights stuff and that kind of thing, and Annie Sprinkle was doing her kind of feminist sex show type stuff nearby. I forgot the name of this kind of church, which was converted into a performance space on 10th, I think. So half in tribute and half parody of Annie Sprinkle, and also golden showers and this sort of thing. And also, there was this really ridiculous cake commercial on TV at the time, which was for Pillsbury or Betty Crocker or something like that, a cake mix that came with the frosting and these little candy sprinkles. And the announcer in this totally nerdy voice is going: "With sprinkles in the mix," so it was this totally lame DJ shout out, "?sprinkles in the mix." So I thought, ?Yes, OK, DJ Sprinkles is totally pussy and on'.

RBMA: And you have been doing records in that name for a long time, basically the largest project was a record last year. Why do you think it was time when you were creating it a couple of years ago to take this full length look back at this scene?

Terre Thaemlitz: The DJ Sprinkles Midtown 120 Blues album is specifically a continuation of some of the themes from the very first DJ Sprinkles EP, which was called Sloppy 42nds. I'll see if I can remember the name, the upper title was "Sloppy 42nds'" and the subtitle was: "A Tribute to the Trans-gender Sex Worker Clubs Destroyed by Walt Disney's buyout of Times Square." It was dealing with this theme of how in the mid-90s Disney did buy the whole 42nd Street district and rezoned it and got rid of all of the sex shops, ?cleaned up the city and stuff. Of course, a lot of the places where people would go to hang out and have certain types of relationships were gone and they moved out of the city and stuff, and communities themselves that occupied those spaces had to go elsewhere and find other spaces. When that happened, that was also kind of when my connection to DJing in New York also fell apart. To me, when Mule Musiq was interested in me doing a full length dance album for them - and for me this is still where my mind goes back to - I felt this was a kind of a moment where, for me, this was like the defining moment for house music, this kind of collapse. I wanted to kind of do some of that and investigate in that and present that in a time now where that sort of contextualisation of the music is totally gone. Now, like I was saying earlier, if in the ?80s you said: "Oh, it is a house club," they could have been playing hip hop or all kinds of other things. Now if you say: "It is a house club," you say: "What kind of house?" You get even more specific and you know exactly what tracks are going to be played and which producers and stuff like this. I produced it in 2006, 2007, that was when I was working in the studio, and at that time a lot of German producers were making references back to the recordings and sounds of American deep house from the early 90s. At that time it was working a lot with Kompakt and the Innervisions guys, getting a lot of remixes done and stuff by German producers, so for me, this is kind of like also a commentary on the label that I was working with as well. Are you even allowed to re-interject these sorts of issues into the marketplace at this time? Of course, it was difficult, I was only allowed a two panel CD spread to try and get the text in there and I like to include text and things with my CDs because I feel music is really like poetry. I mean it in a negative sense, it falls prey to vagary really easily, so if you want to actually have your music have a message - and I do believe messages go beyond simply just the lyrics, it goes into the types of sounds selected, the historical references of those sounds etc. - sometimes you need a little aid to go with that. I like to have text and images and things with my big book lists and stuff with my releases. This is also very difficult to get record labels to do, especially house labels, where they have specific distribution deals and where they only work with the specific manufacturing package formats or something. So to get two panels of four-point text into this booklet...

RBMA: Especially Mule, it is distributed around the world, so we were talking that you wanted to get them translated into different languages so that people can understand this.

Terre Thaemlitz: I have been in Japan for nine years now. Since I moved to Japan I have tried to have all of my projects bilingual, Japanese and English. But Mule is a Japanese label that likes to have more of a European image to it, so for them to have Japanese in the release was totally uncool, but this was really important for me as well. Also, most of my DJing has taken place in Japan, as opposed to Europe, where I have done electro acoustic work and lecturing and that sort of thing. To me, it was very important that the Japanese audience, which was the audience that has supported my DJing more than anybody, that they had access to the content that I was trying to convey. So I had two panels to put English and Japanese in there.

RBMA: Let's just play a little bit of a remix of a European house producer, one of the tracks on your record, this is Grand Central remixed by the Motor City Drum Ensemble.

(music: DJ Sprinkles - Grand Central / Motor City Drum Ensemble remix)

Terre Thaemlitz: I like these kind of intros that are really made for mixing. There's enough beats to really cross over.

RBMA: One of the things I want to talk about with your DJing style, is that you often, unlike a lot of DJs these days, are pretty vigilant about tracks playing out almost their entire length, there is mixing, but there is a minimal amount of mixing. I don't know much about the basis of that, the idea behind that, is it that you want the entirety of the message to be heard or because you love...?

Terre Thaemlitz: I think when people produce tracks they produce them with a structure in mind, even if that structure is very simple or basic. And for me, I like allowing these changes to happen. I just like the idea of letting the dancefloor have a moment that goes beyond one or two minutes. Also, I'm not that skilled as a DJ to be the kind of person who is really flying different records on every 30 seconds. Sometimes I see these guys and I think, ?You're not getting paid enough to work that hard'. But also, I think it has to do with the fact that when I was a DJ at Sally's I used to DJ six hours. I was the only DJ there and I would DJ six hours usually every night, so when you have six hours to fill it is a good idea to let records play. Also, as a producer myself, too, I produced tracks in the ten minute range and sometimes longer. I really like this idea of when tracks can go on and on and you don't have to worry about... sometimes you just get into the feel of it. That to me is usually about five minutes in that you really get to feel a track and then it fades out. And a house track that fades out, I'm sorry, but it is totally unacceptable. No house track should ever fade out, OK? Put a fucking ending on your song. A lot of times when records do that I take the track and make my own edit of it, so that it goes for ten minutes and I don't have to worry about rushing to make a perfect mix on the fly. My DJing has become filled with my own kind of secret weapon mixes that also extend tracks from maybe two or three minutes and turn them into something like 10 of 12.

RBMA: You mentioned you almost only regularly do DJ gigs in Japan now and I guess the name of the party is Deep-o-Rama?

Terre Thaemlitz: Deep-o-Rama is actually the name from when I first started releasing mix tapes in the ?80s, that was the name I used back then. I had a residency at Club Module in Tokyo for about three years running a Deep-o-Rama party monthly or bimonthly. That is not happening right now but I still do things like the Deep-o-Rama and also Deepa-Licious in Kyoto.

RBMA: How is it different from one -off parties? I saw you recently played Berghain in Berlin, for example?

Terre Thaemlitz: The Japanese audience is very different at these kind of events. These are not going to be very big events, you are going to get maybe between 40 and 80 people tops and they're usually people who are fans of the particular style of deep house and they listen. Usually, their record collections are better than mine, so in that way it is very freeing to be playing for people who are really familiar and listening to things, and if you can find tracks that actually surprise them, then for me that is really fun. I like to mix in a lot of different styles and, of course, it could be disco or something, but also I try to mix bits of electronic country music or things that people wouldn't expect to even exist, kind of psychedelic country rock or something like this, which can really have a house component to it. If everyone knows the reference points for the house music, the vinyl records, then in that mindset you're allowed to go and play all different styles and people keep dancing. In Europe, I think, if you play a lot of those things, people get pissed off and come up to the booth and tell me to play something harder, this kind of thing. In Japan people are really patient and like to figure out why is this being played right now and actually work with it. I like that. The point of estrangement for me, and I don't know if this is so much about Japan or if it is about the way clubs work these days in general, but the sexuality component is gone. In the ?80s and 90s in New York, the clubs were about cruising and hooking up, that sort of thing. That also can create an environment where people won't listen to music, they just want the music to facilitate a different kind of relationship. So this is a really radical shift in the role of the music within the club itself, where the music has become more important than the relationships between the dancers or the desired relationships. Nowadays, they will dance without looking at each other, really, they look at the DJ booth. This is really shocking and I think this has to do with the shift in how the DJ functioned, a shift that happened in the mid-90s. And around ambient music as well, because you had this movement of ambient and The Orb were these sort of guys who were doing DJing that was very much on the one hand saying: "Yes, we are doing the style of DJing to get away from performativity, and to get away from the kind of rock iconography of what it is to be an artist in front of people and going for anonymity and the kind of ambience of a John Cage moment," or something where you are trying to shift peoples focus towards the environment. This was a very anti-performative gesture, but then after three or four years, you had The Orb onstage with a drummer and bassist and it is like: "What the fuck," right? You had the illbient scene in New York, which was this collective scene and was also very much about anonymity, and out of that you had DJ Spooky plucked out of that and this kind of DJ stardom thing that came out of all of this music that was supposed to be initially subversive to the sort of artistic gesture. And that to me was a real kind of betrayal and a real kind of depressing thing to witness.

RBMA: One of the last things I wanted to touch on specifically with the DJ Sprinkles stuff is really the way you recorded Midtown 120 Blues. There was no compression on it, correct?

Terre Thaemlitz: Unless there is compression in the samples, if somebody made something with compression that I had sampled.

RBMA: In a club context it is murder because every track is so much quieter than everything else.

Terre Thaemlitz: And this is something that is also true of all the vinyl that comes out on my Comatonse label has never been compressed or anything like this. This presents a lot of issues when you're cutting the vinyl itself. Because on the one hand, the reason I don't like to use compression is because it eliminates the quiet passages. In the music I produce there are quiet passages, it is not all heart thumping type of stuff and when you get rid of that delicacy, to me, it is like you're missing something. I guess because I grew up with ?70s vinyl I like this style, like the pre-compression engineering. If I were to compare an original vinyl version of some Chicago album from 1972 and then get the remastered version, the remastered one is totally unlistenable because it is all punched up in the high tones and there is no nuance to it any more. So I produced this album, like I normally do, with no compression. And also, I don't have this engineering background, even if I had the compressor, I wouldn't know what to do with it. I just tried to get a sound balance that sounds good on my particular home system and then maybe I will play it on a few other crappy speakers that I have around the house to see what you can hear. Usually, you can't hear much and I figure, ?OK, these people will be fucked if they have a stereo like that', and then I put it out anyway. In a club environment, for example in Berlin, I played out the Grand Central track and the first three minutes everybody's ears had to readjust, it sounded muffled and dirty and didn't have any energy and this is also OK. I don't feel like I always have to make people dance. If I look at the audience and they are really hyped up at this moment, and I should really play something else to feed into that, I don't have that sense. Maybe that is because I never had the sense of pop music either, but I don't have this mob sense. I don't have the drama button. I just have drama. If I try to do that, I totally fuck up anyway. So it's better if I just stick with it and let those mistake moments happen, too, and let those tracks play out as well because eventually it might take seven minutes for people's ears to readjust but they kind of come around and figure it out. I like that process.

RBMA: Moving to some of the other music you do, you said: "If I had a compressor in front of me, I wouldn't know what to do with it." What is your musical training, your background? Before you were first starting to create tracks, you had none, right?

Terre Thaemlitz: It is all anti-musical. My first musical memory is being two-years old and my parents were trying to start me in the Suzuki method for violin and I remember standing on a black box holding a violin by its neck in one hand and my father holding my hands over the strings, and just screaming. And they said: "OK, come back when you're five." Throughout elementary school I was pushed to do violin lessons but I never studied enough, I never learned how to read music, I just hated it. The only way that I got to quit violin was when I was 13 going into junior high. My dad was the one pushing the violin stuff and I said: "I can't do it any more. I want drums or I want a synthesiser or something like this." Although if I did have drums or a synthesizer, I am sure I would not be producing music today either. He said: "You can quit the orchestra if you join the band." I said: "Great, there are drums in the band, right?" But I wasn't allowed to pick my instruments, we had to go to the band instructor and ask what they needed. And they needed trombones. So I got this totally fucked, dented, rusty trombone that was just the nastiest. I mean, it was so nasty, it was cool but I have to admit this trombone was fucked up. In that situation there were four trombones there and I was always going between third and fourth seat because me and the other person rotating those seats were the two people who just never practised ever. Totally no interest. If anything, it was kind of like anti-music training. I didn't want anything to do with it. I hated band music, hated orchestral music, so when I first started making electronic music it was very much a reaction against that kind of musicology. I also felt that a lot of the electronic music that I liked, even a group like Kraftwerk, we know were very classically trained and professionally trained and they also have this other krautrock background. But at the same time what they did was also something that was going against the rock guitar, this kind of singular star moment. Kraftwerk functioned as a unit, didn't function so much as one person stepping forward, not that you could detect from the records, but I like this anonymity and anti-authorship idea. For me, that was my background, just getting away from all that, so my very first release ever, which was the Raw Through A Straw 12", which had this crazy piano going on, which was only the black keys, because if you play only the black keys together, it sounds pretty good, right? So this piano playing, which set the tone for most music I do, is that there is a very fine line between genius and stupidity. So if you are stubborn enough with no talent, somebody somewhere is going to think you're talented. This is very much how I approach music. It is not about having something inside that you are trying to get out, it is really more about the relationships that we build around certain sounds. For example, Henrik was talking earlier about this kind of moment, where onstage he and Bugge have a moment where they connect, and also an audience might connect to this moment, which is true, we have these kinds of moments, but what the audience is is not people everywhere. We might be able to pick up on that moment that they're talking about, but my mother couldn't or my father couldn't, my grandparents sure couldn't, a lot of the people around me who like different styles of music couldn't pick up on that moment. I think this is also something that we need to keep in mind and use to inform what we do. It's really easy to get lazy and think that music is universal and everybody can feel the vibe, but if that were the case, then we wouldn't have all these different genres of music and we wouldn't each and everyone of us be able to say: "To be honest, I don't like that style of music." And we can all do this, so universality is not in the formula. It is part of the language that we are fed to think about sound and I think this has a kind of danger to it and that is something that I try to clarify and work with in my projects.

RBMA: I think this might be a nice gateway to talk about Ultra-Red and some of the stuff they are doing this track is called Can You Feel What Time Is (It). This is basically a remix of Can You Feel It.

(music: Ultrared - Can You Feel What Time Is (It))

Terre Thaemlitz: It's based on samples of Can You Feel It and also an Diamanda Galas sample saying something like "What time is it?" And that is from a larger project that is called The Silence Is Broken that was a mass of recordings over a ten-year period from various activist work that they had done around HIV and AIDS issues. Part of the theme of this work was about the idea that, of course, the connection between gay communities and HIV and AIDS issues and house music, they have a very special history. In a way, we have become numb to these things, so by invoking this phrase Can You Feel It to this kind of context and history and issues that we have become numb to, that was kind of the metaphor that they were going for. In a way, it is a different aesthetic angle but it is similar to what I was going for with the DJ Sprinkles album as well.

RBMA: In the same way that they are using samples, obviously you have used samples and changed what people are saying to different things and basically used other recorded work as a way to critique that work you sampled. One of the interesting things, I think, about the stuff that you do is that with sampling it is never a non-political act, it is always another level you have to be thinking about when you are like: "OK, I hear that, now why?"

Terre Thaemlitz: Even when people only want to think about the sound, even when people say: "Hey, I don't care about all that thematic stuff, I only want to make music. I am only into the sound of it." The minute that gets presented to an audience, or the minute that it gets distributed through a record label, the minute that it enters into some sort of social or economic relationship, then even if you step back and say: "Look, I don't want anything to do with content I just want to jam," the media you produced is functioning in political ways, in social ways. If you don't clarify your own context, or if you don't have any interest in that, then the content of the work becomes the overall content of the industry that is distributing it. It functions as a tool. We function as tools, what I do functions as tools within this marketplace, but I think that it is different if you have an active interest in trying to clarify your position in relation to that marketplace from which there is no escape, or from which we are all being put into hypocritical situations.

RBMA: To that end, obviously, you have worked with other labels, talked quite a bit about the Mule relationship, but a lot of the stuff that you have released has been through your own label. Is that simply because you don't trust other people to be able to present it in a way that you want?

Terre Thaemlitz: It is kind of funny that a lot of the things that came out as 12"s on my label were things that other people actually asked me to produce. I think two of three of the EPs on my label were things that Joe Clausell asked me to produce, and then when he heard it he didn't like it, so I did it on my own label. This sort of situation is typical where I would produce something and then maybe try and shop it around a little bit, but if nobody was biting, then I would try and put it out on my own. I always had very complicated relationships with distributors, though, because I just do not trust distributors at all. Every time that I have given them product to try and sell the way that the distributor situation works is, a) they never sell anything, and b) the returns never come back, c) the payments don't come. It's like, distributors, in a way, especially in the 90s and things, they really relied on this continual supply of records from people who were just willing to get their stuff out there. Continually providing them with content in the same way that people provide content to MySpace and all these sorts of things for free. When on the Internet, of course, they're making royalties from advertising and all these sorts of things. In terms of the distributors and stuff it was always the people who had the most to lose financially, the people in the most tenuous situation, they would get the least back. For me, it just doesn't make sense to produce music in that way and it still doesn't, so if I can't get a distributor to pre-order and prepay for a release, then I would take that prepayment to manufacture it, then I won't release it. It is like, if I can't sell it myself, and I can't find a distributor who is willing to work under conditions that allow me to support myself, to sustain what I do, then it is really OK to walk away from it. I think that is something that people have to come to define in their own lives: at what point are you willing to walk away from things? I don't mean this in any sort of heroic way and I'm not saying this is going to help your career by getting more of your own identity and people know what to get from you. It is totally a death wish to do this sort of thing, but I think as a person, at least for me, it is important to be able to walk away from things, even if it means getting hurt a little bit, it's OK.

RBMA: Speaking about distributors and not being able to put out things in the way that you want, two releases on your label recently, one's coming up, are rather interesting examples of what we can do nowadays taking advantage of formats. One is Dead Stock Archive, which you put out, I guess, and was commercially released early last year, can you talk a little bit about what that is?

Terre Thaemlitz: The actual dead stock archive is a room in my apartment that holds all the unsold records that I have ever produced. Over the years I had a series of problems with major online distributors, like iTunes and Juno and eMusic and stuff selling my albums without contracts with me. And when I would write to them and to say I was the owner of the works and asking them to get them taken down or who uploaded them, who they were paying royalties to or whatever, totally no response. It took me years to get these things offline, and it was finally in 2008 when the last of it finally came down off of Juno. I don't like the idea of putting my content back into these bastard sites. So I didn't want to come up with an online solution but instead with an offline solution to how people could have access to my catalogue. But I also wanted to get away from this idea of the way that this online distribution works, where people are just looking to get more for their money, get a quick download and more and more content for less and less. Now you have not only the CD length, which is twice as much as the length of a vinyl record, but then you also have the digital exclusive tracks and ?blah, blah and blah, blah'. DJ mixes and podcasts and stuff, like the podcast that Resident Advisor finally pulled out of me after asking for a couple of years. So anyway, Dead Stock Archive, I wanted to create an offline alternative to these things and also have an economic relationship that people have to this archive and it isn't an easy transactions or something. It has a big sticker price, I guess there are 600 or 700 tracks on it and I sell it for ?220. So if you break it down into 39 cents a track, but that is a massive bite for anybody and you can guess how well it has been selling. The idea of this is that the type of music I do, which is not the type of thing that gets majorly distributed and which makes no sense to be majorly distributed, it is really about trying to encourage an economic relationship with the listeners that is about sponsorship and about taking a kind of different economic relationship to the production of what you're listening to. This is not something that people can easily step into economically or psychologically in terms of consumer relations and stuff, but for me, it was more important that I try and make the catalogue available, but make it available in a way that will not necessarily be about sales or be about replication. It just seems like with the Internet everyone is so hyped up about the idea of having access, access, access, but we know that is not really how the Internet works. It is white noise and we have to filter this out to find what we want. Even though we have billions of tracks online, when we look for music online we don't start with a billion tracks, we go to a specific site or we have producers we are looking for in the same way that we would go into a record store and start being selective and stuff. So I think this is an illusion to get away from and to me, the Dead Stock Archive was a kind of offline reaction to that kind of consumer spontaneity and also to the distributor.

RBMA: And talking a little bit about the idea of digital and exclusives and all of that, providing free content, more and more content, but you are getting paid the same or less, I think the project that is coming up is also a reaction to that. It is called Soullessness?

Terre Thaemlitz: Soullessness is more of an electro acoustic computer music project that is more on the lines of the things that I have done with the Mille Plateux label or things under my Terre Thaemlitz name. I think the cornerstone of that album is a 30-hour piano solo called Meditation On Wage Labour And The Death Of The Album, and the reason why it is 30 hours long is because it is about this idea that the album as a format has always followed the time limitations of the media of the day. So, for example, an album up until the advent of a CD would have been a vinyl record holding about 36 minutes of audio at good quality. This is why when you get an old CD and you put it in and you think there is only 35 minutes of music on this, but at that time when that album was made it was an album. Then with CDs it instantly went up to about 60 minutes and you had the pressure of filling up the whole 80 minutes of the album, and now with the mp3 era you have the CD, plus usually the online includes the digital exclusive stuff and we as producers we are encouraged to produce more and more and more content. At the same time our advances and royalty rates are either stagnant or going down, so this kind of creates a labour crisis, I believe, in the music industry. In thinking about mp3's there is this way that we think about mp3 as a convenient download of small files, but it also presents something that was until now totally impossible. At this point there is a 4 GB file limit with the fat 32 system requirements, where 4 GB is usually the file limit you can open on a Mac or PC machine. But with kbps it is about 30 hours so I wanted to explore what a full-length mp3 album would be if we explored the mp3 as the new time duration that sets the standard for albums. Theoretically, the standard length for all albums from here on out should be 30 hours. So I did this one piece and all of my other piano solo albums were very much computer creations and I don't have piano training, but this piece was actually recorded at York University, where they have this really amazingly beautiful Fazioli grand piano. They had invited me to do a computer music project, but in my usual kind of antagonistic way, rather than using their computer music department to help me generate sounds, I thought, ?Well, let me use them in a way that is not related to generating sounds, more about generating the files'. So I did this acoustic piano recording over a series of about four or five nights, recording sessions averaging between 4 to 8 hours at a time. Then we compressed them into one single mp3 file and that will be put on a data DVD-Rom along with other tracks because a 30-hour album just isn't long enough, you still need bonus materials, right? There's also a video DVD and I'm working on video stuff for that, it's along the lines of the Lovebomb video and PDF files with text, which will probably be about 150 pages long. So all this is really trying to blow the top off of what an album can be. And also, to create a listener relationship to it, where even if you let that piano solo play and play, what people will get through it all and in what way will they do it? Trying to really push people to have a different relationship to the commodity and so this is the album that I am working that moment.

RBMA: I think it's time to open it up to questions. Should have done that a long time ago.

Participant: What advice do you have for women that are looking to feel sexually active without being embarrassed or what is your advice against discrimination in general?

Terre Thaemlitz: As I said, for myself my own gender identifier is as transgender that, but at the same time I'm not interested in hormone therapy or surgical transitioning. I am interested in transgender as a form of critiquing gender relationships. The same with my sexuality, I identify as pan-sexually queer, my relationship to the heterosexual and homosexual binaries, I really feel it is an ideological front. I don't think people's sexuality is that rigid, otherwise we wouldn't have Olivia Newton-John in the world. To me the question is really about how to be comfortable or how to have pride, but our happiness doesn't rely on pride in the way that we are taught that it should. Also, I think when it comes to issues of sexuality and gender expression and stuff, deviance also plays a part and what is deviant is also something shameful, usually, so for me there is a kind of complexity, trying to analyse in oneself maybe, what are the things that are gratifying, that rely on connection of deviance? And what are the things that are gratifying to a person that rely on a programmed model of acceptance of something? Then these are the spaces where people can then find a way of talking about these issues in a way that is constructive for themselves. I don't know if this is making sense or not. On the one hand there is this desire, especially if you are involved in activism, there is these ideals about community and most activism around these sorts of issues focused on concepts of legislation. In this era legislation also follows humanist models that tend to go along the ?I can't help it'-idea, it is a biological essentialism that is like: "Oh, you were born a woman? Well, you couldn't help that so we will give you rights." "Oh, you were born black? We will give you rights." "You were born gay? OK." "You're transgender? OK, you qualify for rights." But where in all of this do we get to a point where we are legislating on our capacity for respect and choice? These are totally absent from that legislative strategy, so while on the one hand we might involve ourselves in types of political work that are about a kind of legislative right, I think it is also important to have a parallel involvement in tearing down and destroying that in a way that is about complexity and real respect as opposed to simply saying: "Oh my god! Who would want to be a woman, you poor dear we will give you rights." It is specialising this kind of system, the democratic humanist system, it is totally patronising. That is also why I think the pride, the whole pride movements, there is really something suspect about it.

RBMA: Do you feel like music is a really good way of transmitting these messages?

Terre Thaemlitz: No. My interest in music, like I hinted at earlier, is that as an industry. For example, I actually come from a fine arts and visual arts background, where when I was studying in college I was very into constructivism and the kind of rejection of futurism. The future is more associated with fascism, constructivism was associated with socialism and totally different aesthetics and socio-political frameworks. There were all these texts and things written between 1910 and 1920 that thoroughly deconstructed and critiqued and analysed the art industry that was then the collectorship industry was emerging. In a way, that is completely relevant today and where most people in the visual arts world are totally familiar with these arguments, but it hasn't changed a fucking thing, they just don't fucking care. To me this is too idiotic and frustrating to deal with and in thinking about the way in which in the arts you had all this discourse but it didn't amount to anything then at the same time on the pop level. Culturally, you had music where people were still believing in heart and soul and things coming from within and wanting to express yourself and all these things that were also falling under the critiques that existed in the art world but never reached the music world. So for me, music was even more backwards than the visual arts, but at the same time it had much more mass appeal and this for me was like an interesting paradigm or crisis in a way. If I am really interested in these issues, where is the place where these issues are the most desperately needed? And also, the least likely to be heard and least likely to be tolerated in a way. So that's how I came to music, not because of its openness but because of its conservatism.

Participant: I am just a bit curious, where can I find the electronic country music that you mentioned before?

Terre Thaemlitz: One of my favourite electronic country musicians is Michael Nesmith from The Monkees and to me this would qualify as electronic. You have things like Tex Ritter's recordings of rye whiskey, often with his yodelling the microphones were very poor and would distort the sound in a way that it became an electronic frequency of sorts. Another example, I forget the name of this guy, there's this one song called You Only Want Me In The Summertime, early ?60s country, and it is totally a house beat. It is totally four on the floor, so I will re-edit these tracks longer because these tracks are usually only two or three minutes long, and if it is three minutes, you're lucky. In that time the length of the vinyl, the 7"s, tracks were about two and a half minutes long. So I edit it into a five or seven minutes and then try and play it like that. But something like a really pivotal and influential track on me, and also for my piano playing and all this sort of stuff, would be Writing Wrongs by Michael Nesmith from The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees album, which sounds like an incredibly sarcastic reference, but I'm being totally serious. This is a brilliant album where each of The Monkees went into the studio separately to produce different tracks on this album and the Michael Nesmith stuff, really, it's really strong and amazing and psychedelic country. Of course, he was very seminal to the whole country rock movement.

Participant: I wanted to go back to something you said early on in the lecture, where you said you are not interested in originality. I ask because I have a dear friend back home and we have bitter arguments only about this. He uses the exact same words that you did and I normally have the last word, I say you are a wanker, you don't know what you're talking about, so I do want to understand.

Terre Thaemlitz: The way that individuality functions, it functions within relation to a very specific western historical narrative. That, of course, led into the whole humanist approach and it is also very tied into our economic relationships under capitalism. Even the way capitalism is feeding to Third World nations, a way to get out, everybody has the access to a potential success or something like this. Within creative media, even this word creative as well, I hate it, it is really problematic. First of all, because the history of creativity and the patriarchy is what I think of as the uterus envy of male creators to give birth. But all of these fictions about the fact that within a social environment that relies on connectivity, the language that we use to say that we all exist together is about individuality and there is some gap going on. And I think that that gap of being an individual within a society is something that clouds relationships that in a way ultimately feeds into developing these lives that are very much about the nuclear family and having your life and a little life that is your own house, your own car, your own property, your own children, which is also a property relationship and passing on property. All of these things are tied into this notion of creativity and individuality and all this stuff. I think most people want to think of it as a way of getting away from that, to be individual is to not be a robot or to be totally different, but usually when people pursue these things they end up more robot-like in my mind. There is a very strict pattern of what it takes to be individual and we know the signifiers. We know the hairstyles, we know that clothing, we know the music tastes, if you're using a Mac or PC, if you have an iPhone or not, these sorts of things, these are very established things that we project our identities through. If you read, it may be a good article, a very old one, The Art Scab by George Grosz, it is from about 1917, I guess, and it is maybe a nice rant to read against artistic expression.

Participant: One thing you said, music is not universal, I find that very, very interesting. With the wide spread of popular music all over the world I find that there is many times a disconnection with more traditional older music. Like, we listen to the notes and we think it sounds off and why would they use that note and that type of thing. You just see this as I wonder problematic or just progression or the way the world is?

Terre Thaemlitz: When it comes to world music and stuff like that, especially since so many of our relationships to these musics are also through those same commercial distributing agencies, it is a section in HMV or something like that, it is very important first of all to complicate the difference between picking up some type of world music in a record shop to experiencing it within talking about the local music of where somebody grew up. For me, growing up in Springfield, Missouri, my mum does folk music and there is a big difference between the way my mom plays it, which is really fucked up but interesting in a nice way, compared to, if you buy a bluegrass record from a record shop, there is this kind of gap. What I mean to say is that I feel like the idea of all music must be important everywhere in the same way, it must be respected in the same way. This is also a trap of humanist thinking, I think, where everything becomes conflated to the same level, when, of course, the real power dynamics around those intercontinental relationships are not equal at all. In a way, in order to avoid that propaganda of saying: "Hey, we are all equal," because the ideal of wanting to be equal is radically different from saying: "Hey, we are all equal," because we are not, the systems don't allow us to be. I think rather than clouding that up with idealism, it is more important to think about this music is taking on a specific meaning in this context. And outside of that context it takes on a radically different meaning in relation to industrial distribution or something like this. That was something I was trying to get out with the DJ Sprinkles album. House music had a very specific relationship to transgender sex work, HIV activism, this sort of stuff, and that was completely lost in 2010 music distribution. So then the problem becomes not so much what is special about this music, but what is special about our relationship to that music in the place that we're listening to it right now? For me, that kind of becomes a more productive way to talk and think about music, rather than try and invest sounds themselves as some sort of magical ethereal quality that can transcend time and space. Because that sort of thinking, in the end, hides the real power dynamics that need to be addressed, that need to be changed, and we would want to be changed.

RBMA: Is there any more questions? Will thank you very much.


Terre Thaemlitz: Thank you.