Some notes from the Lustmord seminar at Audiorama, January 14

Brian Williams, a.k.a Lustmord, resists being pigeonholed, but it’s probably safe to say that Lustmord was instrumental in creating the dark ambient genre in the early 1980’s. During this period, he was also involved with the industrial acts SPK, Throbbing Gristle and Nurse with Wound. Among Lustmord’s most successful records are Heresy (1990), The Place Where the Black Stars Hang (1994), and Stalker (together with Robert Rich, 1995). In 1993, he started working as a sound designer and sometimes composer for motion pictures, e.g. The Crow, From Dusk till Dawn and Underworld. A born Welsh, he now resides in Los Angeles, where he has collaborated with metal bands Tool and Melvins.

Williams began the seminar by playing Lustmord’s very first track, and told us a bit about his childhood and attending art school in the U.K. He continued by playing some examples of his work in movie sound design, which mainly entails providing composers with sound libraries, where the same basic sounds are available in many variants. Ordinary sounds are usually transformed to feel bigger and have more impact. Sounds and music are added during post-production, when the team is short of time and money, so composers and sound designers have to work under heavy time pressure.

Lustmord was started because Williams didn’t hear the music he wanted to hear, but now he never listens to dark ambient, dislikes being imitated, and doesn’t want to collaborate with people doing the same thing as himself. He prefers Kraftwerk and music with a slow groove, like dub and early hip hop.

Williams considers a Lustmord album a single work, not a collection of tracks. Rather than being “dark” or “ambient”, he wants to express a sense of awe and a cosmic world view, where man is insignificant (Williams is an atheist). The records are always based on a specific idea, but he categorically denied seeing pictures in his head when composing: “I work only in sound”. The sound should be big and dynamic, and he uses none or very little compression.

When asked why he so seldom plays live, he answered that it hadn’t been very practical earlier, and that he hadn’t thought that it would be very interesting for an audience, but he changed his mind after seeing Kraftwerk using laptops on stage and after his own performance for Church of Satan in 2006.

Although Williams didn’t seem very eager to speak about his work, and hadn’t prepared his presentation thoroughly, he willingly answered the audience’s questions. He was humble about his accomplishments, and described himself as a ”non-musician”, due to his lack of formal training. He stressed that equipment doesn’t matter, but ideas do, and considers himself to have a punk attitude – “You can do it!” – from the early years spent with Throbbing Gristle, when “punk actually meant something for a year or so”. He stated that punk isn’t a style, but an approach, a way to do something. Perhaps that is the reason why Williams doesn’t want to be associated with a certain genre.

Denna text finns också på svenska hos Nutida Musik.

Two seminars

I attended two seminars this week at Audiorama, the new multichannel venue for radiophonic/sound art in Stockholm. At the first, Morton Subotnick talked about his life in music, beginning with the San Francicso Tape Music Center and the development of the Buchla synthesiser, and ending with his latest mixed media work, Jacob’s Room. Many of his anecdotes have already been told in Bernsteins The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s counterculture and the avant-garde (and, according to Andreas Engström, by Pauline Oliveros), but it was interesting all the same.

The other seminar was about radio and radio art. Mats Lindström, director of EMS, introduced the subject by speaking on the importance of Sveriges Radio (the Swedish national radio and the founder of EMS) for electroacoustic music, radio art and text-sound composition.

John Kieffer, creative director of Sound and music (which Sonic Arts Network has merged into), talked about radio’s creation of new ways of listening, both collective and solitary: the scarcity of radios in Jamaica made people gather to listen to American music programmes, which led to the sound system culture; in England, people met at car parks to listen to their favourite shows on their car radios; and Kieffer’s concentrated listening to bad quality pirate radio in bed at night, which gave rise to an intense experience comparable to deep listening.

Researcher Kersten Glandien spoke about the relation between radio and sound art. According to Glandien, radio art is one-directional and exclusively aural, while sound art is interactive and connected to other media. Dependent on public radio and its policies, the “inefficient” radio art might turn into a dying genre due to commercialisation and dwindling resources, whereas sound art has developed close ties with galleries and museums, and is now fully integrated in the art world.

If I interpret her correctly, there are, however, some trends that point to a brighter future for radio art. One is the creation of new independent radio stations, run by enthusiasts and using new web technology to reach out, e.g. Resonance104.4fm in the UK and WFMU in the USA. Another is the ties between sound art and radio art, and the increasing collaboration between radio stations, new media organisations and art institutions. A third trend is the new interest in single-sense experience and focused listening. She also mentioned the vast archives of sound works assembled at public radio stations, and the problem of preserving and make them known.

An interesting discussion followed on the temporal aspects of broadcasting vs. mp3-players and the like, and on the importance of public radio for artists. There still seems to be funding for commissions of radio/sound art available, and public radio still matters for distributing art and music outside the large cities.