Thursday, March 31, 2016

rotational q-and-a with corporal tofulung

when i first thought i would start a new abstract music writing blog or reviews site i knew i wanted to try some interviews and dust off those skills hiding somewhere in one of those unidentifiable folders near the back of the mind-cabinet. and i knew i wanted to tackle some of the raw and obscured-from-view projects/artists/labels/musicians where the creativity is flowing and there's a whole new world we can get into.

corporal tofulung (this name is the alter ego of an auckland/seattle artist
) was one of the first interviews i wanted to do. her new label dubbed tapes, where she's recording new albums over found and recycled tapes is really something else, and her own contact microphone-driven solo project named the doll, and group properly named contact mike, have been doing wild things with lots more on the horizon as well. she's also an incredible artist and comics-maker and radio host of the great oc/dc show on hollow earth radio. a multi-disciplinarian spiralling art in many directions: perfect for the q-and-a series.

i could go on and on biography-style, but i think she does a much better version of that. corporal tofulung's answers, via email, are presented below as i've received them, unedited

she was kind enough to fill the responses with a plethora of hyperlinks too, to follow the parallel trains of thought and discussions. so please explore.

we hope you enjoy our conversation.


rotational: you were living in seattle correct? but grew up and still spend time in auckland, new zealand? how do the two places differ, if significant, from one another in the more experimental and underground community? and how did noise or the weirder types of music come to you?

I lived the first 20 years of my life in AK and then moved around, lots of time in Wellington NZ interspersed with jaunts in Dargaville NZ, Norway, the UK, South Korea & Sydney AUS. I just left Seattle after 3 years and will be living in Auckland for about a year.

When I left AK in the mid 90s it was becoming overtaken by dance clubs and great old pubs were being transformed into Belgian beer bars. There were still some live music venues [I remember a grunge bar called Kurtz Lounge opening] but they were becoming sparser. At that time Wellington was more my style so I relocated there.

I'm really excited to spend some time in AK again as it now has the Audio Foundation, a charitable trust founded in 2004 by Zoe Drayton "to support, promote and preserve Sound Art/Experimental Music/Noise/Outsider Music/Drone Music etc in NZ." The AF's current Director is the eclectic musical genius Jeff Henderson: he ran 2 DIY venues in Wellington called The Space and Happy which fostered and supported underrepresented music. The AF hosts international performers through their Altmusic programme as well as local and national exhibitors/performers. The other great thing (amongst so many!) is the Musical Electronics Library [MEL], a lending library of FX and sound generators inside old VHS cases. Predicictably, I am going to be using the AF to discover all the nooks & crannies of noisy weirdness in the AK scene.

When the husband & I landed in Seattle we knew nobody in the music/arts scene, so he put out a call for any leads and was hooked up with Eiderdown Records label head Adam Svenson. Next day I was in Adam's back yard at a BBQ with a swag of Debaclefest weirdos, a fondue pot gamelan, and an adorable new friend called Tippi putting her tongue down my throat. 

Once I started volunteering at the 100% volunteer-run DIY space & radio station Hollow Earth Radio, everything just happened from there...

rotational: yr a fan of the multitask: you run a label and perform with a group and release solo jams, write comics, and do a radio show on the amazing hollow earth radio, how do you compartmentalize all the moving parts? or do you just let them all flow and overlap? i am always curious how others go about tackling/juggling projects as i tend to get super organized mentally about each thing i'm doing and have to clear space for that to hit where it's supposed to end up, etc. so it's fascinating when others can be reading several books at once, so to speak, and have you always been tuned into/wanting to test out new things at once? 

My brain generally operates at an exhausting speed, it's like an independent systematic thought-collaging machine. I have a short attention span, dyslexia, impatience, unsurprisingly I had chronic insomnia for years. I can't do that reading-multiple-books-at-once thing because my short term memory is dysfunctional. But I can work on new projects at the same time, and find that it keeps everything from getting stale or in a rut. About 20 years ago I was really focused on painting, but after 5 years it got all jammed up and couldn't create anything fresh anymore. I haven't been able to paint since [but have plans to start again this year]. Likewise with writing, I went overboard with that and only started again two years ago when I started a new format – comics.

One way that I keep a semblance of cohesion on my projects is by working in different genres under specific identities. I've been doing music solo as The Doll since 2005 and started using Corporal Tofulung in a band around 2010.

I have other identities for comics, producing, and my various art projects. People ask me how I keep track of all of these entities as it seems chaotic to them, but it's more like one of those comedy skit shows like A Bit of Fry & Laurie where there are some serial skits and the actors can slip into the relevant characters and take it from there. I find this to be an effortless process, great for funnelling all of my mental energy, and easy to step back from when I need to go back to my everyday life. I read books to shut off the constant cross-referencing going on in my skull, and need to spend most of my time in quiet environments devoid of humans. 

rotational: with the label you've started, dubbed tapes, you are recycling old cassettes and dubbing new albums over top and creating new found-art releases of intricate expertise, and i'm wondering how that idea came about? have you been dubbing on old tapes for awhile and just thought, hey, this could be a label? i love the commitment and the process part of this so much, and i'm really into the re-use and re-purpose model. do you go flea market/thrift store shopping for the to-be-dubbed-over tapes? have a pile at home that are getting their proper art-life? anything specific you look for in the search for 'useless' (or no longer useful) tapes? 

I'm totally obsessed with re-using/re-purposing [saving the planet AND avoiding wasting money!] so my absolute favourite thing is when I find something on the side of the road that I can use. Some days I'm walking around and then I realize that half the clothes I'm wearing came from the gutter and the other half from the op shop - it makes me so happy.

As for the tapes, I used to do a lot of dubbing and mix tapes etc in the 80s & 90s, in the 00s I'd buy strange mix tapes from charity shops and play them in my car. I still have some of the mix tapes people made for me, Dr Scoffer's 'Obscure NZ Music – Trippy' and The Thin King's 'Jazz trumpet' mix, they've lasted just fine. Another tape in my collection is a purple coloured Tom Jones tape that used to belong to my parents. The thing about tapes is that they're indestructible. I always had a supermarket bag full of them on the floor of my car, I'd take one out, hurl it down & put in another, they just carried on as normal. You couldn't do that with a cd eh?! 

My ex had an old record player in his car and he'd spin records while driving around with this sub woofer taking up the whole back seat. If you were the passenger you had this wooden thing from the 70s on your lap, needle jumping everywhere. It was wonderfully ridiculous in so many ways.

I haven't had a vehicle for 5 years, but am so excited about getting my tapes out of storage when I get one next month...

Meanwhile, the tape label. I came up with the idea in September 2015, I can't remember how exactly. I have a lot of ideas. I was going to do it when I got back to NZ, but then I went to the Gatas y Vatas festival and recorded Becs' performance. She had created a backing track that played while she live painted in a wedding dress while the audience improvised with kitchen noisemakers – pans, jars of rice, wooden spoons, a gourd... it was so exciting to watch and be part of this act of creation. And when I listened back to the recording I was in ecstasy. I just had to release it.

Yellow Dragon was also there that night, joining in, and as they are good friends I thought the perfect album would be a track by each of them and a collab. I'd seen Yellow Dragon play before at Hollow Earth's Magmafest and it was a noise table/guitar/drone type thing, but the track I got was a total contrast, a stunning minimalist organ piece. And then they worked together in Bec's bedroom and gifted the world a piece of sound collage with field recordings of building sites and screeching bike brakes, electronics, samples... it was perfect.

Then I had to get another musician interested in this brand new label [I was inspired by the Eiderdown Records practice of releasing albums in pairs] so I asked the astoundingly talented musician-artist wrtch – who said yes! Woaaahhhh... Next thing I know there's a release gig planned, and I'm scouring Value Village's cassette section for raw material.. I got hold of a tape component [jettisoned from Hollow Earth's dj booth as it wouldn't rewind] and was dubbing tapes night & day. 

I dub silence on to them first, and have to work out the length of each tape with a timer, as they are all the length of the original album. Most of them are 20 – 25 mins, or longer for Greatest Hits albums, I ended up with piles of tapes, sorted by length. I had to match them to the two albums. There was inevitably some dead time at the end, so I filled that with an ambient field recording taken from my balcony: traffic, birds, airplanes. I won't use this recording for my next pair as they are New Zealand artists. I recorded rain on the tent earlier this year, and it is perfect.

So, when I look for tapes, I'm thinking mostly of the length, guessing if it will work for the particular release. 

rotational: tapes are constantly getting the knife-job, they get cut up all the time from all the format-specific nerds, and it doesn't help that things move in swelling trends and hype too - which helps build the case for all the trash-talk (when you see bigger and cheesier stores stacking tapes, and tapes of pop artists), but the way yr handling the label and the home-dubbing and the art and care and physicality involved, i feel like so many of the dissers are just missing that tactile element. it's so easy and effortless to enjoy tapes when yr pulling them in and out of cases and using the deck and getting into mail-trade, etc, etc: what do you think it is about tapes that make them so malleable and adaptable? why are they so great?

Oooooh that's it really. They are so great because they are so malleable and adaptable! I love the hiss, the lofi sound, everything you're saying is the answer. I have zero interest in having discussions with those people you mention, I feel like they would be happier if they just ignored tapes and got on with their own interests. I love records, bandcamp, whatever... I'm not tied to tapes, I feel that each format works in different ways. 

rotational: and i mean some of the tapes i have sound so good on my deck with the dolby b noise reduction on, it sounds hi-fi. the quality can be quite good as it has its own specific flavour and feel compared to supreme digital stuff. it can really add to a particular album in a way the cdr can't. and i feel like the dubbed tapes that yr doing, this just moves further into this idea, the combining of elements to make the album. does the sound of tape (the imperfections and peculiarities and compression) act as an added effect for you? like adding reverb or distortion?

Yes! I had to make the decision of if I wanted to dub from my computer, or dub a master tape and then dub all the tapes from that – in which case they would deteriorate every time. I love the inevitable corruption of this – tape #100 would be so different from #1. In the end I went for the former method as the tapes I'm dubbing on are not pure blanks, they have personalities and wear of their own. 

The other thing is that the musicians can dub their own tapes and distro them at gigs etc, they're not limited by me. It's their music and they should have control of it.

I was on the road for 3 months and wasn't able to dub tapes but that didn't stop Becs, Yellow Dragon & wrtch from doing it.

rotational: to back up for a second, can you fill me and us in on the roster so far and how those musicians fit with/or came to the label?

I decided that as I was relocating to NZ I'd release two local artists, and as I was travelling I listened to all sorts on the internet until I found what I wanted. Then I approached The Biscuits and Ducklingmonster and they said yes! Dubbed Tapes #3 and #4 will be released at the end of this month. I'm so excited about these two releases, they are a fabulous contrast to the first pair.

rotational: you are also a huge fan of the contact mic, and i especially enjoyed yr twitter photos when you were on tour with the contact mike ensemble, what kind of set-up are you currently using? and how did the gear accumulate or shrink over the last little bit to get it to where you feel it's doing what you want? and when did the smaller guerilla more mobile style fall into place? or do you bounce between the portable and larger more noise-table set-ups with huge amps or speakers depending if yr playing within the group or alone?

Contact Mike hasn't changed from the first gig when we guerilla gigged the 2014 Capitol Hill Block Party, it was giant outdoor PAs vs 9V mini amps and it was hilarious. We never play with big amps or noise tables, just mini amps and contact mics, sometimes someone has a guitar pedal. Mikes have to be able to move around, and not drown each other out. Each Mike decides what they want to play – some play the ground, park benches, pinball machines, whatever is in the terrain. Some Mikes use extra items – Ice Bucket Mike has a hydrophone and a cooler of ice and water, he often dunks his head in it with the mic in his mouth. Wild Mike has his mic in a gas mask. Skirt Mike sometimes bows a whisk. I've played with cheese graters strapped to my face. We've also had hair clippers, electric drills, toy saxophones, tape measures, kettles, and blenders. Contact Mike is a collective, each Mike is free to do what they like – we played a gig at Cafe Racer, and I spent half of it micing the toilet while everyone else was in the stage area, except for Chops Mike who was micing empty kegs in the hallway. It's total experimentation – we never practice together, and you have no idea how something's going to sound until you do it live.

I like the idea of the No Audience Overground, where there's loads of potential audience members. Children often ask questions and sometimes join in. We've had jams with families in living rooms, the best was with Phong Tran's family and friends. Two massive improv noise jams that inspire me every time I think about it. There was even a 14 month old baby! 

In January we guerilla gigged in a children's playground in Cuba Mall [Wellington, NZ] and some buskers got excited about it and played with us – that set became a tribal catharsis of sound.

In Charleston and Savannah we got asked if we were contacting aliens, and if we were ghostbusters [to which we replied YES, of course].

rotational: what's a normal (normal!) night like with yr gang heading out to set up the gear and play the impromptu sets/busking that you do with contact mike? are you all location scouters? have you had any hostile reactions to dive-bombing a quiet afternoon or night with some wild and free noise sessions? anyone join in?

We don't have to set anything up so we just agree on a time and place and meet there. Often you won't know which Mikes are going to make it until 10 mins before the performance. One of the Mikes suggests a place, we see who's available, and then we do it. If we get booking requests it's the same process, if we've got enough we say yes. We've just had the first intercontinental gig - Chops Mike & I skyped in to a Contact Mike gig in Seattle! 

We've never had a hostile reaction that I know of, though there were some unhappy tourists at the Fremont Troll gig. This was for International Troll Day which fell on the same weekend as the Fremont Fair so there were loads of people everywhere, and tourist buses would pull up and spew out a ready-made audience. I'd booked violin shredder Eric Ostrowski, black metal stripper Death Masks and hand-crank siren lovers TBA to freak the sheep that Sunday. We waited between sets for a new batch of unsuspecting tourists to arrive, then unleashed the noise. Some looked baffled, some got out their selfie sticks and took pics with the shirtless and growling Death Masks. I overheard one mother saying "Don't worry, it's just a crazy man".

We had a whole swag of Mikes clambering all over the troll and making a wonderful cacophonous racket. As usual, children seemed more interested in what was going on.

rotational: objects and rooms and microscopic sounds can all be recorded relatively easy with the proper mics, but arranging/processing can tweak them into another realm, what sounds interest you the most and are you picturing it before you record? and is the not-sure-what-yr-going-to-get part of the creating? what are some of the cooler sounds that surprised you by how weird or different they sounded from what you originally thought when looking at the object?

We record Contact Mike sets with either a zoom or just a cell phone, often in a bag as we're on the move. There are a couple that are the broadcast recordings from when we played at Hollow Earth Radio. There's no processing after the fact, we just go with the raw recording.  No one knows what's going to happen before [or during] the gig so it's definitely all about exploring sound in the moment. One gig in a park in Seattle we all climbed onto this hollow metal picnic table and had great sounds from it, polyrythms and noise intermingling. A similar thing happened in Fire Engine Park, where there is a big metal fire engine for kids to play on. At our last Hollow Earth show DJ Mike attached a mic to a razor blade for a stylus and destroyed records – it definitely produced unexpected sounds.

rotational: do you have compositional methods in mind when you piece yr collages/mixes/jams together for the work under yr solo work, the doll (great name!)? are you interested in the everyday life aspect of field recording, the kitchen sink verite style? or do you like seeing what can happen with the noises after you get to mess about?

When I recorded Noisewife I contact miked appliances and went with it, I didn't compose anything beforehand. It's all recorded on a zoom. Most of the tracks on that album are either not mixed at all, and some just a bit. I like how the background sounds blend in, all the construction going on, insects, and cars going by. The resulting album sounds just like my life at that time, if I listened to it with headphones on it was just like my normal day.

There's a lot more collaging with my EPs, I might have 3 or 4 ideas that I want to make into a track, Dick Bling is samples from Bodycount and The Robba's debut album with some other stuff chucked in. I treat it like a paper collage, get all the bits ready and then start playing around. I do like messing around with effects, I indulged in them heavily for my diapercore album Rash.

rotational: you have a few new albums out now under the doll moniker, what are those and how do they fit in with or extend the history yr creating with this project? and each of these albums was for a different format, did you approach them differently knowing that?

The Doll recently had a 7" lathe released by Heavy Space Records and a digital album on vaporcake. Both of these recordings are limited editions [20 lathes, 30 downloads] so I wanted to make something really special for the people who end up with copies.

The 7" is a two-part composition recorded all at once, using contact mics, an Osterizer blender, a T-Pain mic and some pedals. I had time limitations to work with, and I decided that rather than create two totally different tracks it would be fun to have it so that if you kept flipping the record you would get a continuous ebb and flow feeling. As it turned out there's no way of knowing which side is which anyway.

The digital release had no time limitations, one of the beauties of this format. I hunted through my stockpile of snatched audio and field recordings from Australia/USA for sounds that made me feel like dancing, and I created a track for each of the 13 playing cards. The idea is that you listen to this album on shuffle, and get a different aural hand each time. It's the most beats-based album I've ever made, I imagine people listening to it on buses, trains, or wandering around.

rotational: continuing with yr solo work, what are some of the best working environments for setting up the mics and gear and having a great meditative jam? when you capture the sounds are they done more documentary record-and-be-quiet or is the recording itself the meditative jam for you? i always look at the rooms in our house differently after hearing the doll album noisewife that you did. excellent stuff that gets me thinking about the dream house idea, of having a room mic'd up and gear ready to go. i worked in a warehouse for a bit a long time ago and the machines in there were so great, amazing sounding. all these gears and pulleys and rhythms. that would be the ideal afternoon jam. what's yr ideal spot?

Thanks, it's really lovely to hear that!

I'm definitely more into improvising with the space and sounds, just seeing what works and what doesn't. As for ideal spaces, I used to live up a hill in Wellington and would practice the drums looking out at houses, trees, and the sea. In Seattle the apartment was on a ridge so there was lots of sky, houses, and trees. 

This is ideal for me – being up high and with lots of space and air and nature around me.  

It's the opposite for performing – for that I prefer a small dark cave, if not available you can often find me under a table. I've got a gig coming up where I'm going to play under a stairwell amongst stacked chairs.  

rotational: you recently hipped me to the dada songwriting project/compilation, what's the story behind that? do you view that similarly to trape-trade mail-art and the tradition of the exquisite corpse? it seems like history and being able to re-work it (like found and junk/outsider art) is an important part of the puzzle for you, is that a fair assessment? or maybe it's less about history and more about creating something new, it's more about where that object/idea/piece of art can get pushed to? is there a philosophy/or hint of one in there somewhere for you?

Hollow Earth Radio has an annual DIY Holiday Fair in partnership with The Vera Project where you can buy your Christmas gifts: crafts, music from local labels, comics, zines etc. There is also Hollow Earth DJs and the Surrealist Songwriting Project which is like a musical Exquisite Corpse – one person records 2 minutes of sound, the next person listens and plays along, the third person listens to the second recording and plays along, and so on. You do not get to listen before you play – it's all improvisational. I loved this so much that I wanted to do an album of it. But rather than Surrealist, I went for a Dada approach. People sent me 2 minutes of raw recording [no post-processing or field recording, a live recording of you doing something] and I combined 4 of them in the order that they arrived. The person gave me basic information (name, instrument, country) and one word for the title, once I had 10 tracks [from 40 contributions] I wrote all of the words onto pieces of paper, and drew 4 of them out of a halloween pail to get the album title for volume 1: Rejection dryrot ripple Gombage. Volume 2 is currently underway, I have 3 completed tracks, and 7 to go which means 28 more contributors. If anyone is interested, please hit me up on Twitter for the details @GinOnDiamonds.

rotational: we can get into the comics and writing angle too, how about you freely tell me a bit about yr participation in that new zealand anthology of women's comics that came out, and how long you've been drawing and into that art form? and does yr brain/mind settle into a different routine or process when creating these works compared to music/label-making?

Three Words came out in March through Beatnik Publishing. It is indeed incredible to see the art of over 60 NZ women comix creators. It is also the first NZ comics anthology that paid it's contributors! There is a grand variety of styles and approaches, my contribution Inflated Mythmaking is [IMO] the most no-fi – this makes me very happy.

I only started doing comics about 2 years ago, the first strip was a kind of throwaway piece, just amusing myself. However, Seattle has a very lively scene and people encouraged me to continue, so I did. I use the same format each time, 6 panels of talking heads, one character is the same each time and the others change. All of the strips are true stories, things that amuse [or in some cases disgust or irritate] me. My mind does have to settle into a routine for this process, most of the time spent in getting the words just right. In Seattle I used to go to a weekly comics group in a pub, we'd all sit around eating and drinking and drawing. I'd also go to the monthly drawing night Dune, where each person draws a picture and contributes a few dollars towards printing – the next month you'd turn up and collect your copy of a collaborative comic book!

rotational: what do you have lined up for 2016? you seem real busy!

I'd really like to get some Noise Yoga going in Auckland, and have been chatting to the vital Uniform/NoVenues collective about this. Their [Society for Cutting Up Venues] S.C.U.V. Manifesto is so good! I will be playing more guerrilla jams, and adding to the Contact Mike collective. We are putting together an album of solo Mike contributions, it will be up here when it's finished. I'm planning on doing something again for World Listening Day this year, and sending tracks in to more compilations. I really love collaborative projects, so will be on the look out for those.

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