> ORGANUM (DAVID JACKMAN) Interview by Paul Lemos (1988)
Unsound: What does the word ‘Organum‘ mean and how is that meaning related to the music?
David Jackman: ‘Organum‘ is a type of Christian vocal music. Historically it was the first development out of unison chanting, and being sometimes just a drone plus melody is of pleasurable interest to me. As you know, the Organum sound is very much drone-based. So that’s the somewhat loose link with the music that I make and the name doesn’t have any other significance, though it does have other dictionary meanings. Drone musics have always appealed to me, Celtic, Indian, Japanese Gagaku and so on.
Unsound: What’s the philosophical or social statement behind your work? For example, is there an element of mysticism in Organum?
David Jackman: There’s certainly no social statement behind the work and, philosophically, there’s nothing consciously being projected into the sound. Apart from the blind desire to make sounds, the only thing that was at work in the beginning, particularly with ‘Tower of Silence‘ was the wish to make something that sounded completely new. So it was invention that was the driving force, even to the point of eccentricity in the way the sounds got made, like an alarm-clock case being scraped round a rusty bicycle-wheel rim for 20 minutes. As it happened, nothing new got made at all. Instead, Organum music came out sounding really ancient, like something from the very beginning of music-making.
Unsound: How would you define music as opposed to sound or noise? And where does Organum fit into that definition?
David Jackman: In my opinion, music is not any kind of opposition to sound or noise at all, so I don’t think it’s possible to even attempt such a definition. In any case, the work gets made in an intuitive way – which is my particular manner – so what use would definitions be? They’d just be limitations and stumbling blocks.
Unsound: How do you begin creating a work and what is the process used to develop a particular track?
David Jackman: Well, ideas just come and knock around in my head. If I want to, I can then sit down and make diagrams of the various sounds – elements that could go into the track. However, when I go into the studio I usually find that either they don’t work together or I do something completely different anyway. Intentions, which are a sort of fantasy about a track, generally go out of the window pretty fast. I find that it’s no use in my trying to force sounds to fit ideas. Sounds have a life of their own which I have to respect if I’m going to get anything done. I don’t hang on to the intentions if they’re getting in the way. As far as process goes, I only know I have something when the music coming out of the studio speakers begins to add up to more than the sum of all parts. After that the music is made fairly quickly and there’s not much fiddling around with any particular sound. But very odd things surface when a track is in progress. There’ll be strange thoughts and associations that won’t strictly make sense. This kind of non-logic is interesting, because it often leads to a finished track which you then mentally step back from and think, “where on earth did that come from?’ And you hear it as something new and unexpected.
Unsound: Do you foresee any changes in the Organum style?
David Jackman: You can view the early records as being just dense streams of sounds. But the very recent work has become simple. There’s a sort of clarity now and I find that a bit unnerving. When you have just a few naked sounds it’s either going to work really well or just sounds awful; so the music has become more difficult to do. It was comparatively easy to pile on the noise, though even then there were still all the usual problems of composition, of making something work as a texture, durations or whatever.
Unsound: A lot of people feel that the music is developed through extensive tape processing. Can you discuss the manner by which the sound is processed – or not processed?
David Jackman: The sounds on ‘Tower of Silence‘ and ‘In Extremis‘ are mostly of acoustic origin and are not heavily processed at all. But they were put through the usual things like reverb, equalization and chorus. However, that doesn’t make it electronic music. It’s only in the very recent work that I’ve begun to let the studio take over, and it’s something I don’t want to indulge in too much. I don’t want the gadget to sap the desire to originate sound; I think that can happen of you rely too much on technology.
Unsound: What was your pre-Organum work like?
David Jackman: Loops, collaged layers of tape-loop sound. In some ways it was probably more inventive that the later work. Being recorded on an ancient Revox from sound mostly stored on cassette, it was a bit rough on the technical side. I worked that way for five years.
Unsound: What are your musical influences?
David Jackman: Apart from all the drone musics, listening to the weekly AMM sessions in the early 70’s taught me most of what I wanted to know about sound-making. I really owe them a debt if gratitude – one of the world’s great bands. I think it was through them that I really began the process of learning how to listen. At about the same time, the ritual music of Tibetan Buddhism also had an impact. I liked the music because it appeared to be totally relying on texture for coherence. Note relationships didn’t seem seem to have anything to do with it. I may have misperceived it but that interpretation has guided my compositional approach a lot. But other sounds can be influences too, apart from the musical ones. For instance, the engine notes of the various motorcycles that I’ve owned. ‘Tower of Silence‘, for example has in it’s texture many sounds which can be traced back to a Kawasaki KH400 I used to ride. And the metallic scraping found in most of the Organum tracks is a direct result of hearing and liking the squealing brakes of trains at night when I was 14. I don’t think I’ve used a noise yet that doesn’t eventually turn out to have some personal meaning or historical link.
Unsound: Can you say something about the ideas and line-up of The New Blockaders? How does it differ from Organum?
David Jackman: You’d better ask them. I just liked the noise they made and they liked that Organum made, so we did some work together. Probably the major difference is that Organum has never had any strong Dadaist inclinations. But I like their music because it doesn’t really register as music at all.
Unsound: What are your feelings about American art and music as compared to Europe?
David Jackman: I wouldn’t know how to make a meaningful comparison. But the last American artworks that interest me were the works of the minimalists sculptors and, more recently the music of Glenn Branca and Rys Chatham. Some of the hardcore was good too. However, it doesn’t matter to me where art comes from. There are only three questions I ask – do I like it, do I think it’s any good, and originality; have I come across anything like this before? Art considered on a nationalistic basis doesn’t interest me.
Unsound: What are you involved in outside of music?
David Jackman: I ride motorcycles, stare outside of the window and have a nice time with my friends. And like a lot of people, I go to work in the morning. You know, just a normal life. But I don’t regard music as a separated compartment of my life at all. Listening goes on all the time.
Unsound: What’s your goal for the future of Organum?
David Jackman: Well, as I don’t work with with overt theories but with specific sounds and an internal urge there can’t really be any goal. So each track is it’s own end. Really, there’s no mystery to the music; I just make it because I want those sounds to exist. There’s no other reason.