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Interview with Richard Garet

img  Tobias Fischer

For years, Richard Garet has established himself as one of the most consistently challenging, reliable surprising and inspiringly different-thinking sound artists. Emerging from the aftermath of the fruitful microsound scene, Garet's oeuvre has always been marked by an intriguing in-between-ness, by spaces that seem familiar on a first listen but reveal a wealth of unprecedented potentials on a closer listen. It should seem no surprise, then, that his progress as an artist has not just been documented by releases on a wide range of labels – including his own, Contour Editions - but also through his gallery- and museum-oriented installational work at the border between the visual and the acoustic. Despite these credentials, it would take last year's much-publicised, widely praised and, admittedly, at times heavily criticised MOMA exhibit Soundings: A Contemporary Score to present Garet's work to a wider audience. Which is right where it belongs: Equally uncompromising and accessible, it conveys a sense of excitement that is all too often absent from the occasionally over-conceptualised hall of experimental music.

In this interview with Richard Garet, we speak about the future of Contour Editions, his latest release Blank Tape Positive as well as "the politics of listening".

For me personally, it was nice to see an exhibition like this after some of the exciting approaches of the late 1990s and mid-00s built around labels like Trente Oiseaux, Non Visual Objects, White Line and Winds Measure seemed to have fizzled out somewhat. How do you personally look back on that time?
I look at that time greatly and I have listened to these artists' works, and participated in these platforms that you mentioned. The work of Bernhard Günter, released by Trente Oiseaux, for me still remains at the top of the list from all the releases ever made from that particular period. Regardless, I see the time between 1990-2000 as a very interesting period for music with emphasis on sound, material, and focused listening. It's still dictating much of what’s happening today. And still today, we find new people with the same approach and focus.

Quite a few of the aforementioned labels and related imprints have been discontinued. Contour Editions, meanwhile, is still active and there seems to be a tangible, fresh spirit to what you're doing. Tell me about your concept of the label today and about the challenges you're facing. Where do you see Contour going over the next few years?
For me Contour Editions is a platform for releasing the works of people I like, and whose work I think should become accessible to others. The label’s intention is also to build a community, and function as one, where the people involved can connect, and become aware of each other. To me, it does not matter how many achievements the person might have or not. The focus is strictly on the work, and what’s being said or proposed by the artist. I’m aware that there is no financial return for me doing this, and that’s not the point either. For me this project is something that I make out of love for the art, with integrity, and with all pure intentions. And that’s why I put time and dedication into it. I never feel I’m putting enough time into it, because it gets harder and harder everyday as I’m getting busy with my own practice as an artist. Additionally, the agenda moves very slowly, and not many publications are presented yearly. In terms of where I see this going, I’m not really preoccupied or thinking much about it other than: just keep doing it. I prefer for the answers or new directions to reveal themselves. Changes and opportunities usually come from within my circles and the community itself, so if this expands, more opportunities and changes will occur. On one end, the past year we created a new section of the label “Contour Editions Installation” where the label serves as a portable platform, with the purpose of creating multichannel sound works in available spaces. For this section, we have been running the show, Daniel Neumann, and Wolfgang Gil, and I participate as an editor and contributor. I direct and run the rest of the label fully. Truly, I plan to continue doing the same, and I keep observing how media and distribution changes, and if something becomes functional and more appealing to me than what I have, and do right now, I might try it. I also think that as the world changes, and other things become more obscure and outdated, they become more special. So I observe that too. That’s why also I keep things as they are and I keep myself open-minded as well. But primarily, the focus is on the work and on work that can become distinctive within a strong community. Also, bringing something else to the conversation interests me. For example: the trilogy of works by Andy Graydon, is a very good example of also using the platform for a unique approach that is more conceptual to sound rather than just music and listening. So Andy’s contribution was quite special because he had all areas covered. Then, rare things, such as the work of Alfredo Marin, and David Baker ... I mean, these guys are really obscure and great. So that interests me too. And great things are coming our way, but like I said, I move slowly with the agenda...

The label's latest release is Blank Tape Positive. Could you reveal in more detail the processes behind recording it?
I have been working with magnetic tape for quite a while but I haven't been giving it a direct focus. To me, it has always been a material that I used, and mixed, with the rest of my palette. Then I can say the same about playback tape devices. Subsequently, in recent years, I have embedded my practice and approaches into these materials very fondly, and I have started to deconstruct them in many ways. So on one end, treating the physical, transformative, and ephemeral qualities of magnetic tape. Then on the other, also modifying the machine in an attempt to modify the playback outcome. So the combination of the two has yielded very interesting results. But then, it doesn't stop there, because from the playback machine many other things can be intervened, crafted, and used as well such as: the circuit board, the output lines, the heads ... you name it. Anything that can activate or modify how the signal goes, etc., – and without killing the machine – is welcomed; and then of course it has to playback tape as well. So that’s the starting point, then it becomes a manner of recording and accumulating many hours of playing and interactions with the material. Manny of these recordings were direct mixes from the mixing board, room recordings, contact mic recordings, and electromagnetic recordings. Subsequently, it became a process of listening and reorganizing the material in a multi-tracking application. I think that I spent a couple of years working on these pieces and listening to it until I decided that they were ready.

Blank Tape Positive deals with decay and what you've referred to as "outmoded positions". What makes these fields so interesting to you?
Well, as the world of consumption and commodity to experience media and music redirects and changes its focus into other things, I find that what's old and somewhat left behind becomes interesting. Maybe it's nostalgia because it's something I grew up with, and understand, and as it becomes more isolated then it presents itself as more interesting because it becomes easier to differentiate. Another aspect of it, is that it creates a lot of contrast, and it adds richness to the work once combined with digital media. But I think there's something very challenging by simply using something that the world does not want anymore, because the advances of technology tell us that this is old, and that something else much better has been invented for our use and experience. That level of functional rejection creates a lot of room for exploration of media and the politics of technology, media, and consumption. Subsequently, when one takes a stand on noise and defunctionalization through this displacement of media, I believe it produces a very rich emphasis on the anti-method, and it brings focus to the noise in our lives. In a way, what is discarded also becomes like noise—like something we are quick to dispose of. Then, by bringing the unwanted into a place of focus and appreciation, it has the potential of changing how we then think about things.

The press release to Blank Tape Positive also mentions the "politics of listening". What, specifically, are you referring to with it?
It focuses on the differences, theories, aesthetics, awareness, content, and consciousness related to the experience of listening. Basically, anything and everything to knowledge embedded in what we are listening to. Also, it has to do with the capacity to override the taste for listening for something through the capacities of reasoning, and considering associations to what the sound is and what it might propose, rather than just for what it is, what it sounds like. Subsequently making different choices through thought-processing. This brings to our attention that sound is not just what we are listening to, but also everything that constitutes the source, the material, and how it might affect us. Therefore, there is the potential of significant impact on the listener.

Blank Tape Positive is just one of many releases contributing to the debate around the balance between the possibilities of digital/virtual and analog/physical means. I'd be curious not so much in a prediction about where things are going, but where you would like to see things moving towards. What are some of the areas where you could see real improvements in terms of digital production means, software, man-machine interfaces etc?
To me there never was an issue with either analog or digital. I find it very interesting the use of both, and the hybrid practice is something that I enjoy very much. To be honest, I would not know. One thing I know is to never consider the tool much more important than just being a tool. For me, it has always been about working in relationship to limitations and by making use of what was available in the moment, or what I have encountered that shows potential for making my work, and learning in the process. Not by choice in the sense that I don't go and say: I will buy this and that to make this or that. Having the freedom or capacity of buying and obtaining what one wants can become counterproductive I think. Then, too much work and time goes into becoming an instrumentalist of one or many things. I find it more productive to define what that is that works for me in the moment, and focus on that. The only thing in my studio that I keep up to date is my computer, yet I do not stop using my older ones either. In that sense, the computer becomes beneficial to speed-up certain processes, but if I start thinking of my computer as the work, then things fall apart. I like to think that in my work media has got to be able to expand in both directions. Meaning: analog and digital media. And if those two extremes expand exponentially, then, I can establish a very open area for creativity. It also becomes about not being static; instead, it's about mobility and being able to jump from one thing to the next, enough to always be able to spice things up, and enough to keep it interesting.

You've cited nature as an influence on your work. How does it feel, then, to be living in a city as huge as New York?
Nature’s processes, yes, and the model of nature too. Both of them are completely organic, consequential, and efficient. In nature nothing ever seems out of place no matter how good or bad it might be, so subsequently, it works. A big city can be equally organic. I believe that it functions in the same manner, but obviously, the sources are unnatural and not found in nature. Regardless, that’s exactly my point when I think of background noise, which can be considered something that is derivative of the collective participation of human beings modifying and contributing to their habitat. However, human beings are part of nature too, although humanity is the species that manages to be the most destructive to nature.

New York City has most definitely influenced my work, how could it not! I mean, what I have been exposed to in NY as much in the objective, as well as in the abstract, can be considered very empowering and powerful and completely different than being in any other city for instance. Big cities are filled with dynamics and speed that shoots out information and sensory data at a very fast rate like nothing else. Then, exposure to culture, availability of materials and media, possibilities, scale, diversity, options, etc., it's an endless list once you start. But also, NYC is magical, because it's a place that takes you in, or it rejects you. I have been here for 18 years now, and I call it home.

Richard Garet interview by Tobias Fischer
Image xourtesy of Richard Garet and Mandragoras Art Space - MAAS, NY / © 2013

Homepage: Richard Garet
Homepage: Contours Editions

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