album reviews

7", 10", 12" reviews

compilation reviews

remix reviews


Interview for The Morning Line - Vienna
Anna Ceeh in Conversation with Terre Thaemlitz (un-cut)
- Anna Ceeh

This is the un-cut version of an interview published in The Morning Line publication box with Special Edition Vinyl, edited by Eva Ebersberger and Daniela Zyman (Austria: Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary & Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2011) ISBN: 978-3-86984-242-4.


1. You have lived in Kawasaki in Japan for about 10 years. Not far from Tokyo and also not far from Fukushima. How is it there now? Will you stay in Japan?

Yes, I've been here for just over 10 years now. Kawasaki is to Tokyo as Brooklyn or Queens are to Manhattan - just a river divides us. I am about 235km from Fukushima. Of course I have no intention of leaving Japan. If the reactor situation escalated and it did become too dangerous to stay where I am, I would move Northward or Westward, but it seems that will not be necessary. I absolutely do not wish to downplay the seriousness of the situation in Fukushima, nor do I endorse the way TEPCO and the Japanese government have been handling this situation, but I must say the international reaction - over-reaction - has been quite difficult to deal with at times. There seems to be a belief that Japanese people are living in a bubble of ignorance, unaware of the "real facts" which are supposedly known to The New York Times or other foreign media (which, by the way, we can access online from Japan). The idea that Westerners know what is happening here, and the prioritization of Western media as "factual," is incredibly frustrating, patronizing, and ultimately racist. Germany in particular, with it's neurotic environmentalism, has created a lot of unnecessary panic. You know the scene - tens of thousands of people demonstrating against the cancerous potential of radiation, all the while puffing away on cigarettes to the beat of techno music in a festival atmosphere... Ill conceived, if not offensive. There is also a very particular history behind Japan's reliance on nuclear power, since we have no mineral resources. As I'm sure you'll recall, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor was a reaction to the US naval blockade of Japanese oil imports - the US' instigation of Japan's attack being the US' "back door" into war with Germany at a time when the general US public was against going to war. So Japan's struggle for a degree of self-sufficient energy has a long, hard history - and to overlook that context seems irresponsible. But, as I said, this is not to excuse the unjust practices of the Japanese nuclear power industry, which include decades of exploiting untrained underclasses to perform dangerous maintenance and clean-up work. At this stage a "nuke free" world is simply an impossibility. It's too late, as the attempts to contain Chernobyl and Fukushima teach us. This stuff is with us for thousands of years now. The issue seems to be how to more ethically and responsibly maintain⁄contain what has already been created, for as long as possible. Less advanced nations will surely have problems with their reactors as well, and improving the technology seems imperative to everyone's long term safety. Maybe a few hundred years from now they'll figure out a way to stop nuclear fusion quickly and safely... The current alternative of leaving huge, radioactive cement piles with "Warning" signs for future archeologists to crack open does not strike me as a good idea. Who's to say they won't dismiss the warnings in the same way current archeologists dismiss the warnings and curses on ancient tombs? Why shouldn't they?

2. You are American, however you chose Japan to be the center⁄initial point for your activities⁄work. Why Japan? How is it as an immigrant beyond the hierarchical structures that are predominating in Japan? Are you as an artist, electronics music producer, Comatonse Recordings label operator, pansexual Queer more philosopher, activist - you are indeed very miscellaneous - anyway beyond these rigid social mechanisms?

There are so many factors involved in migration, it's hard to answer this question directly. I never imagined I would have the chance to leave the US. In my experience, people in the EU seem to have recently lost sight of how difficult it is for people to move between countries, because there is now so much mobility within the EU. But the global situation remains very difficult, even for people from the all-privileged USA. Class, type of employment, sexuality, gender and race all come into play. So I feel very fortunate that I was able to obtain permanent residency here. As for the US, the critical nature of my projects and writings while living there are an indication of how unhappy I had been in that context - although, like I said, I never imagined being able to live elsewhere. Additionally, all my work was either in the EU or Japan, so there was some appeal to living someplace where I might also find local work. The reason I prefer Japan to, say, Europe, is because of the higher level of personal safety in daily life. There are fewer Class-A drugs, guns and other things that - when combined with Western ghettoization around poverty - have contributed to some of the difficulties I experienced in the US. Of course, there is poverty in Japan, but rich live next to poor so you do not have the West's extreme ghettoization, which means it is finally possible for me to live someplace that is not surrounded by gangs and drug dealers (or, in the US countryside, neo-Nazi rednecks). Homophobic and transphobic reactions on the street are also far less. I may get a strange look now and then, but people do not shout, spit or throw things. So my interest in living here is really on this very basic level of daily safety. But in terms of immigration, "artists" (or any freelance media producers) rank incredibly low on the table of who is admitted. And my sexuality and transgenderism were clearly not assets with regard to my living here on a spousal visa. I dealt with some of these issues and fears in "Trans-Sister Radio."

3. Can you affect, form the society there equally? As far as I know you also write Japanese texts?

I do normally speak and write (emails) in Japanese, but I cannot yet speak at a level required to discuss my projects or ideas in detail. Like Germany, Japan is a nation of bloodline nationality (whereas in the US, simply being born in the US is enough to make you a citizen). I'm not sure how they do things in Austria - I assume similar to Germany? In any case, this clearly affects peoples' attitudes towards those who appear non-native. For example, when I only had a visa people would note I was not yet a permanent resident. Once I had residency, then it becomes a question of not having citizenship (Japan does not recognize dual citizenship, so I would need to give up my US passport), and I have no doubt that even with full citizenship people would not hesitate to point out I was not born here. But since we all know there is no equality in the world anyway, the fact that there is no "prize of equality" or "American dream" being dangled in front of me like a carrot before a mule can be a relief at times. There is a way in which "not belonging" gives one a certain mobility not granted to others. There is the possibility to misunderstand the rules, to misbehave unknowingly... all of which is very valuable in a relatively authoritarian-structured democracy like Japan. Humanist models of equality are not of interest to me, since they hinge upon a homogenized concept of "human experience," the heterogeneity of which can have fascist backlashes - particularly when most humanist rights movements claim DNA and "being born this way" as the chief reason why a particular group should be given rights. Such "birthright" arguments are nothing but feudalist, and have nothing to do with our capacity for choice!

4. You use is the pop structures and mechanisms of electronic music to give discursive world, identity-political, activist content. Here quasi multiple strategies are possible. Respectively. you can using these strategies you teach communicate meaningful content ⁄content and: It Could quasi decline by sector?

Certainly, divestment and secrecy are ever important aspects of "alternative" media production, particularly when everyone wants to put everything online to swim about in the same waters as dominant media. I am uninterested in this "equality" of access (which, of course, is not equal or democratic at all). I am more interested in taking things offline, distributing them through very small and at times personal systems in which the projects may regain the specificity of context that has been lost on the internet.

5. Can you please tell me about the potential of a performance⁄your performances?

It's no secret that I dislike performance. I dislike concerts in general, and never go to them myself. I have no interest in improvisation, although I can appreciate how long ago it was an important critique of structuralism and classical music... but I find the sonic results utterly worthless masturbation. I am also not trained in playing instruments, so that also limits what is technically possible in a performance. I prefer to pre-arrange everything in the studio, and then simply press "play" before the audience. Part of this anti-performativity is also a critique of the transgendered stage, which is commonly overloaded with camp and pantomime. For me, it's a different kind of drag show. What I do feel I can bring to a live performance is my voice - to actually speak to and with the audience. Introductory lectures and Q&A have become standard parts of my concerts. Since "Lovebomb," I have also been producing text-laden videos which are screened during performances to further communicate a project's theme, and decrease the poetic vagueries of a-rhythmical computer music. But if this has any particular "potential" beyond what one can get from private listening⁄reading⁄viewing of the projects at home, I doubt it. Performance is an economic necessity within an audio marketplace where sales are dismal - which is no surprise when considering the anti-commercial nature of so much of the music we're talking about. Performance is just a job for me.

6. Can you please tell me about the potential of music production⁄releases? (also the distribution as a strategy ⁄linked to theoretical statements and contextually accented graphic design)...

Again, it's not about the potential as much as exposing the lack of potential in a critical manner. I do not believe in the "power of music" as a medium. To the contrary, it is music's status as an industry that relies upon contentless, masturbatory nonsense - and our mass consumption of that nonsense - that is of interest to me. The music industry epitomizes so many problems within dominant culture, it becomes a logical place from which to produce critical analyses of those problems. Releasing projects is not a way for me to explore potentials, but to disclose limitations.

7. What are your priorities for DJ acts? Or is it reduced to just acoustic elements?

One obvious priority is getting paid, since there are often problems getting paid in this field of work. Clubs are incredibly conservative, as are many of the customers, so there is little to do other than send out "secret messages" by mixing certain tracks for "people in the know." As an example of how conservative the dance scene can be, I was actually cancelled from the release party of my album under the alias DJ Sprinkles, "Midtown 120 Blues," because I refused to do a traditional "live" performance (ie. instruments on stage), and insisted DJ-ing was a more appropriate form of live performance. So we're still living in a time when a DJ act gets cancelled from their own release party because DJ-ing is not considered a form of performance... Again, it's just a job.

8. Can you please tell me about the potential of Radio⁄concrete about TRANS-SISTER RADIO?

Although my work with radio dramas was an interesting chance to produce tracks with voices and dialogue - which was in some ways an incorporation of the lectures from my electroacoustic performances into the recordings themselves - the radio industry is quite conservative and institutionalized in ways that make it difficult to present collage-based projects. There were also disappointing - albeit not surprising - thematic limitations.

9. Your label almost exists 20 years. What is the basic idea of it? Who and what gets published?

Comatonse Recordings is basically an outlet for my projects that I could not get released elsewhere. Although there have been releases featuring other producerts (Erik Dahl, Ultra-red, Simon Fisher Turner, Scanner and Pete Locket, etc.), these are few because I have no budget and it always feels wrong to release materials without being able to properly pay people - particularly since I am so vocal in my stance about "never working for free," which is a rejection of art and media industries that rely upon an unpaid labor pool. I always split everything 50⁄50, one-time use, I never ask for publishing or anything like that... but I have no distribution and the editions are so small it's usually better for me to pay in product rather than money - which, again, I really do not like as a business practice. So the releases with other producers are basically little things worked out between friends more than anything else. I'm quite unhappy with it, really - but I think it's better to be unhappy with the notion of doing business, rather than to be excited or positive about all of these organizational motions under capitalism. I'm always incredibly ashamed about the terms of release when working with others. I personally prefer to think of Comatonse as an out-of-pocket dumping site for my own failed projects, and not as a "real" label in a conventional business sense.

10. One could say that you consciously challenge the audience ⁄the recipients?

I would just amend that by saying "challenging" does not always mean something exciting or bearing potential (this term you keep using). Denial, boredom, frustration - these are very important approaches for me.

11. On your homepage you have sound files from speeches of Vladimir Lenin in 1919 & 1920 for download! Why Lenin?

The free download is actually called "iLenin" (spelled like iTunes), which is intended as a rather sarcastic commentary on the commodification and commercialization of "The Left" over the years. The recordings themselves are from a box of old Soviet-era records I found in a second-hand shop here in Japan. I felt they had historical value, and thought someone might find them interesting.

12. You have released over 15 solo albums, as well as numerous 12-inch singles. You produced view video works. Apart from theoretical texts that you post permanently. You are very active, very productive! How does that work over the years? One could assume that you are more or less constantly producing?

I don't know. I'm certainly not one of those "musicians" who is constantly churning out sounds on their gear. I'm quite slow with producing things. For example, my current project "Soulnessless" has been in production for four years now, and I can only hope I finish it this year. I do always seem to be busy with remixes or compilations or random things - including TML. These are all necessary for economic survival. But in my mind, the main "project" I am working on is always something that will have no distribution (such as "Soulnessless"), or even more "personal" things such as digitizing my entire vinyl collection... You could say it's part of my critical strategy to resist emotionally prioritizing or getting enthusiastic about projects with economic support - it's one way of trying to stay sane within the pressures of life under capitalism. Of course, it's very difficult to deprogram one's reactions to finance. And unfortunately, this "not caring" about money also means being more strict about business dealings so as not to fall into the economic trappings of life as an exploited "unpaid artist." I consider unpaid projects a serious labor issue within the arts and media production, and would rather withhold projects and get a "day job" than see them released for free. So as a result of all this fussiness I think I come across very hypocritical, and at times difficult to work with, which is unfortunate but unavoidable.

13 . You created a really wide spectrum of art. You are an engaged activist. I personally think you did pioneer work, since you have been doing it over 20 years. Who insprired you and kept you going over all these years?

This is the third time this year people have used the term "pioneer" in relation to my work, which - although I appreciate it's intended meaning as a compliment - I find disturbing. I have put so much energy into deconstructing "talent," and showing how all my projects (as with everyone else's) are completely referential and devoid of anything "new," so a term like "pioneer" somehow denies the very thing I've tried to discuss - although it simultaneously verifies the utter hopelessness for changes of perception around audio and media production. I'm sorry, I know it's more appropriate to just take the compliment and say "thank you," but I do feel there is something within that term that is worth reflecting on. As odd as it may sound, it is precisely this kind of cultural confusion that keeps me going more than any list of other people I could name for you as "inspirations." I guess I am more motivated by crisis and confusion than by feeling affinities with things I enjoy.

14. Noteworthy is the fact that you are very talented in all areas on which you are active: a great artist ⁄graphic designer ⁄performer, an outstanding music producer, excellent DJ, and also extremely good as a writer of critical and discursive, I would say philosophical texts ... Were you always aware of your broad scope or how did you develop your skills?

In English we say, "Jack of all trades, master of none." Whatever skills I have obtained over the years simply emerge from repetition.

15. You often wear women's clothing for your performances. It seems like the wardrobe of a middle-class conservative Lady, so longer wide skirts and blouses. Why such an appearance?

Because I have no budget to buy nice clothes that fit a person with my body type. Shoes are particularly impossible to find.

16. At your last DJ Act (as DJ sprinkles) in Austria last fall you wore male, almost macho clothes: so a blue jean, boots, wide shirt. All supported by the strong and visibly muscular body. The contrast of your appearance, a very fine, beautiful, very sensual and feminine face to this outfit was ostentatiously as the women's clothing, that you wear otherwise.

It's always interesting to hear how people see me. I find these interpretations change radically depending on whether or not the person is aware of my transgenderism. I am equally uncomfortable in men's and women's clothes. I do not feel empowered when wearing women's clothes, nor do I feel festive, campy or celebratory. I do not enjoy playing with fashion. I find all fashion - male and female - incredibly oppressive and sexist. Since I am always concerned with personal safety (as a result of nonstop bashing in my youth), I tend to dress in men's clothes more than women's clothes. I pass as a man much more easily than as a woman - and society demands only one or the other. This confuses some people who are used to the media image of transgendered people "coming out" and constantly cross-dressing. Even within medical fields, this is the break-point for who is "serious" about transitioning, etc. Of course, reality for most transgendered people in the world is "the closet," hiding, tricking others, and even momentarily tricking oneself when required. DJ Sprinkles is a "male" character, you could say. This began back when I was a youngster DJ-ing in transsexual sex worker clubs. The overwhelming majority of the girls were transsexuals (medically transitioned), whereas I was not interested in hormone therapy or surgical alteration. Since transsexuals tend to place enormous pressure on non-transitioning persons such as myself to undergo treatments - or else to dismiss us as "drag queens" only "playing" with the issues that are so "real" to them - I felt more comfortable remaining closeted around my own non-essentialist transgenderism in that context. These are the types of multi-layered closets that get left out of most Pride[TM] based identity discussions. I am much more concerned with giving visibility to this sort of crisis than to your more typical visibility around "self-actualized" transgendered people who came into a singular, familiar, media-friendly trans identity construct. Under patriarchy, I cannot imagine any available form of gender "self-actualization" that is not ultimately a capitulation to systems of domination. No "masculine" or "feminine" form offers us any escape from the crises at hand, no matter how much we feel these desires for reconciliation on a body level. Of course, if it is psychologically impossible for a person to live as the thing society expects them to live as, I can totally respect gender transitioning as a form of self-preservation. In such an instance it is more urgent to distance oneself from what one was than to believe one has become something other. But that individual need for preservation is often twisted culturally and used to justify the very conservative practices and ideologies of the medical establishment. Clearly, around the world, the models of "man" and "woman" offered to people wishing to transition genders reflect incredibly regressive cliches of the body and beauty standards under misogynist patriarchies. They do not offer the resolution of gender crises as much as a chance for safety by "passing" as that which is respected under those patriarchies. Safety is valuable - I know, very deeply. But the safety offered by transitioning has never personally struck me as safe at all - not in the long term, not personally, and not culturally. It's a very difficult subject - particularly getting people to "hear" what I am saying if they see me as a "man" with a penis who dresses in male clothing but says she is transgendered... It doesn't fit the pattern for "self actualization" most people cling to. It's easier for many people - even some transgendered people - to dismiss my approach as a word game, which clearly overlooks the violence, domination and economic realities that lead to my usually appearing as a "man" at this particular time in my life.

17. There was something else that amazed me about this DJ act from you. You could sort of touch, read, analyze the matter of sound, which you produced and which filled the space . You could explore the dense conceptual development during the DJ acts. The sound's convolute was like an intellectual exercise, like a very well structured and very complex, multi-layered text that captures one and not let go.

There certainly was a lot of nice dance music produced in the late 80s and early 90s.

18. Which contents are now the most current ones for you? So what is is your current mission and your current statement? What have you been working on recently?

My most recent "big project" is "Soulnessless," which is a deconstruction of issues of spirituality and religion in the audio marketplace (http:⁄⁄⁄releases⁄soulnessless⁄).

19. Do you think, or are you experiencing that sound actually plays an more important role? A greater role? Do you think that sound gets more impact to the visual media?

No, no and no.

20. Do you see it as a potential (in relation to the current development of new terms, knowledge transfer ...etc)?

It seems every new "potential" is accompanied by equally horrific new forms of exploitation - if we are lucky, they neutralize each other. We are generally not lucky.