> INTERVIEW WITH irr. app. (ext.) (MATT WALDON) by Musique Machine
When Musique Machine had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Waldon, the West Coast surrealist known as irr. app. (ext.) in the Summer of 2005 he had just been recruited to join Nurse With Wound’s new live configuration. Since then he has helped to ensure their deliriously potent live performances are a regular fixture in key cities across the globe, while maintaining a resolutely singular approach to his solo work, both audio and visual.In the last few years, this has seen him conclude his trilogy dedicated to Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich with a fourth (!) instalment of beautifully disturbed and recycled field recordings; make wild and wonderfully blackened noise pools with Blue Sabbath Black Cheer; and, most recently, release a superb batch of three CDRs – ‘Deflating An Imaginary Spleen, Almost In Public‘, ‘Ustrojenstvozaginate‘ and ‘Tuberpendicular‘. This surge in dada-ist sonic crafting respectively reveals the evolutionary process of irr. app. (ext.)’s twentieth live performance, the compositions of confused machinery, and an album with sounds sourced from potatoes (yes, potatoes). With such an abundance of fervent finery it was high time m[m] caught up with him to discover what effect the last eight years have had on his unique and unparalleled art.
m[m]: Since you last spoke to Musique Machine I’m guessing one of the greatest changes you have experienced was moving from California to Hillsboro, Oregon in 2011. It seems to have coincided with a growth in both your solo and collaborative work. What effects do you feel the move north has had on your creative output?
MW: The move has made it much easier for me to get things done: not particularly due to the fact of being in Oregon rather than anywhere else, but because I ended up in a situation that affords me more space to work than I’ve ever had before. For the first time in my life I’ve been able to set up a proper studio and have everything I need more-or-less continually assembled and functional. 25 years’ worth of audio archives – all the way back to my earliest, crudest cassette sources — are now organised and easily accessible in digital format. I’ve never had that luxury before. I’ve always had to waste time digging through boxes and piles of stuff crammed wherever they would fit, or been forced to tear down one thing so I could set up another because there wasn’t enough space for both.
MW: It’s also helped that I moved away from most of the people I knew. There are a few lovely individuals in Portland that I am fortunate to be able to spend time with, but social activity is a far more occasional thing here than it was in California so I can spend the majority of my time on creative work. I’ve lived in this area for over 3 years now, and I still barely know anyone. I’m sure this will make me sound like a miserable old grouch, but my experience is that it’s rare to find friendships where the positive aspects balance out the negative impacts on your time. I guess I’m not a ‘people person’.
m[m]: Also, I’m guessing another major change has been your increasing involvement in Nurse With Wound (NWW). You’ve gone from ‘remixing’ the work (Chance Operation…, Angry Eelectric Finger etc.) to becoming a regular member of the band (alongside Colin Potter and Andrew Liles) performing several dates most years. How did it feel to become a member of the very thing that first influenced you to experiment with sounds? What effects has being part of NWW had on your solo work?
MW: Well, to be honest my involvement with Nurse With Wound has decreased considerably during the past several years. From 2005 to about 2009 I was participating in just about every live event that NWW was doing, but I haven’t been involved in any of the shows since early 2011. This wasn’t the result of any personal differences: I still dearly love the other Nurses and they remain amongst my closest friends. It was due to problems on the planning side of things, which have always been a complete shambles with Nurse. None of us are very business-minded (Steve least of all!) so it’s left us vulnerable to be taken advantage of by all manner of criminals and frauds. By 2011 the situation degenerated so much that it almost completely derailed NWW live activity, and it entirely sabotaged my involvement. The money that would have covered my overseas travel was being stolen by what passed for our ‘management’ at the time, and the others were told that my participation was not possible because of lack of funds. I wasn’t being told anything at all, so for a long while I had no idea what was going on. The circumstances have now been changed, and I should be on board again for the next show, which is supposed to take place in France in 2014.
MW: Leaving aside that aspect, in a personal and creative way being involved with Nurse has been a fantastic experience. To meet someone who had such an enormous influence on me, and then to become close friends with that person, and then to get to work with them as part of the project that most inspired me to begin my own audio work… it’s so unlikely that I still don’t know how to process it. In the middle of the very first performance in which I was involved (the shows at the Narrenturm in Vienna in 2005), sitting there with Steve making sounds behind me on one side and Diana Rogerson doing her vocals on the other side, I just had to stop and let the gigantic “I!! CAN’T!!! FUCKING!!! BELIEVE!!! I’M!!! HERE!!!” that had been building up in my brain have its moment so I could get on with being a functional human being. Fortunately, over the years the drooling fan-boy mentality has (mostly) been replaced by a genuine friendship and affection for a real person. In a big way it’s cured me of the whole ‘fan’ mentality for good: why do I need to waste my time with that nonsense when I can call up my favourite creative individual on the phone and have a casual chat? Developing a friendship with Andrew and Colin has been a real pleasure as well.
MW: I’ve tried to keep what I do with NWW and what I do with my own project as separate as possible, although some cross-pollination is inevitable. I suppose the biggest effect has been the technical experience that working with NWW has provided me. Between 2005 and 2009 I did almost twice as many live shows with Nurse (and in far nicer venues) as I have ever done as irr. app. (ext.). And, of course, from a business/practical standpoint, working with NWW has provided me with a wealth of knowledge about how not to do things!
MW: Strangely (or perhaps not), my years of involvement with Nurse don’t seem to have noticeably generated any additional interest in my own work. Most people (unless they already knew me personally) never seemed to notice that I was involved, and no-one seemed to notice when I stopped being involved in 2011. A number of times I’ve found that people assumed I was Andrew Liles and attributed my contributions to him. I’m not aware of Andrew ever experiencing the reverse. It doesn’t matter all that much – the opportunity to work with NWW has been its own reward – but it is a bit perplexing sometimes. There have been years where there was so much time & travel invested in Nurse that I had to completely neglect my own output, and to find a zero sum as the end result of all that effort can be a bit discouraging.
m[m]: I find that surprising as I imagine many NWW fans are more likely to be on the obsessive record collector end of the spectrum, who research the work and that of those involved (that’s certainly the route I took in discovering your solo work). Who do you think comprises your audience for your solo work?
MW: That’s a good question… and one I can’t really answer. A number of the people that buy records from me directly have been doing so since before I had any involvement in Nurse, and I imagine they all came across my stuff in different ways. Some of them knew me already or attended some of the infrequent shows that took place while I was living in California. Some of them became interested after seeing my visual work somewhere. Due to my association with Stilluppsteypa, a large quantity of my first CD ended up over in Europe, and I’m sure that had a gradual effect in creating interest over there. And, years back, I used to get occasional reviews (and the rare interview or article) in experimental/underground magazines like Bananafish and Sound Projector; there was even a brief write-up in the Wire once. College and independent radio used to play my music from time to time. Online sources like Brainwashed and Aquarius Records were very supportive as well. Except for Aquarius, who are still very good about stocking and reviewing my records, a lot of that has dried up these days: and it’s entirely my own fault. I’m extremely bad at schmoozing and maintaining casual social connections, and have become very inconsistent in regards to sending out promotional material. So, thinking about it, I probably phrased that previous answer poorly: I’m sure my participation in NWW has generated some interest in my own work, but it seems to have been balanced out by a drop-off in interest for other reasons, so the end result is not noticeably different. Also, I think a lot of people have had to abandon the ‘obsessive collector’ approach, due to both the bad economic situation and the disordered state of music distribution at the moment.
MW: In print, this might be coming across as a gripe, but it isn’t at all: the fact that anyone takes any interest in what I do is still amazing to me. I don’t try to please anyone except myself with any of my creative output, so there’s no reason for me to expect anyone else to enjoy it. I just released a record centred around the sounds of cooking potatoes! And I can still pay my bills! (Well, just barely… but barely is good enough to keep going.) And, as I said, working with NWW has been a joy, and was never done with the expectation of big material rewards.
m[m]: Another key influence expressed on two recent releases – The Other Side is Blank and Flux/Crayfish – is that of David Jackman. How did you first encounter his work and in what ways has it influenced you since?
MW: My first exposure to David Jackman was through the excellent compilation LP ‘The Fight Is On’ released in 1985. I probably came across it around 1991. I still think that is a fantastic album. I was already interested in Nurse With Wound, Coil, Current 93 and The Hafler Trio — and here they were all gathered together in one place, so I didn’t think twice about getting it. Every track on there is a gem, but the Organum tracks really stood out for me. They had a very distinctive approach that had nothing to do with musical development or any external references: it was just pure, textural sonic architecture. I immediately set about trying to find more, and fortunately at that time it was still possible (not particularly easy, but possible) to find Organum releases without having to pay a fortune to resale gougers.
MW: I can’t fully explain why David Jackman’s output appeals to me so much, but part of it is a fascination with the meticulous audio structures he creates. For me, rather than just being the realisation of someone’s compositional ideas, the tracks create the impression of being unique environments, as if I’m discovering some isolated little ecological niche within a cave or a tidal pool. One influence his music has had on me has been the desire to try to invest this quality into my own work: suggesting the existence of a particular environment within the sounds that the listener can inhabit for a while. I’ve also been influenced by the care that David Jackman takes in creating his tracks. Even the harshest, noisiest pieces have a clarity and balance that is usually neglected in harsh music.
m[m]: This year saw the final instalment in a trilogy of releases with Blue Sabbath Black Cheer, all of which were recorded back in 2009. What was it about those sessions that made them so fruitful?
MW: Well, there never actually were any sessions as such. I’m pretty sure it was Wm Rage who came up with the whole notion of the collaboration… I can’t quite remember where the germ of it came from, beyond the fact that I had long been friends with Wm and Stan (the two principal Sabbath jockeys). I thought it would be fun to see what I could wrestle out of the kind of harsh territory they generally inhabit. Wm gave me a pile of different things to work with: live BSBC recordings and individual sources from himself, Stan, and their BSBC collaborators Crystal Perez, John Lukeman and Geoff Walker. He also sent me some material from our mutual friend Mason Jones. I added some recordings I’d made of Leslie Nichols-Rage during a visit to chez Rage, and, naturally, worked in a big greasy dollop of my own sources. But none of us were ever in the same room together: it was just me splashing about with all the ingredients here in Portland and then sending the results up to Wm in Seattle. All three albums came out of the same 80-90 minute batch that I put together in late ’08 and early ’09. A slight exception is the cassette release ‘Skeletal Imposition’, which used a raw ‘demo’ version of one of tracks that I’d sent to Wm early on; he liked it and decided it would be make a good cassette release after he tweaked the tracks and added to them a bit.
MW: When everything was finished, the plan was that BSBC (under the Gnarled Forest banner) would release an LP using some of the tracks, and I would release a CD using the rest. I’ve always been rubbish at figuring out how to get anything released and I never managed to get the funds together to make the CD, but fortunately Phage Tapes was interested and took the project off my hands after I had been getting nowhere with it for a couple of years.
m[m]: Are there any plans for you to work (or maybe perform) with BSBC in future?
MW: There’s no plan for it right now, but there’s no reason not to do it again. I thought the studio collaboration had some really good results. The two actual live collaborations we’ve done so far were enjoyable, but not particularly successful – from either of our perspectives, I think it’s safe to say. But we enjoy each other’s company, so that might happen again just as a bit of fun. And I’d like to work with Crystal Perez at some point: I really like her ideas both in the context of BSBC and her solo project Pink Void.
m[m]: You have just released three new solo albums – Deflating…, Ustrojenstvozagyat and Tuberpendicular. The first, Deflating…, is your third (?) live album, this time including “the last three rehearsals” along with the final performance. How much do you rehearse prior to a solo show? In what ways does your approach to performance differ from your approach to recorded work?
MW: Each live show generally needs to be reinvented from the ground up — even if I’m repeating something I’ve done previously, I have to re-design all of the settings to work within the new sequence of the set – so I have to spend a fair bit of time ironing out the technical side at the same time as I’m rehearsing the performance aspect of it. Typically, a long period of time will have passed since the last show, and as a result I’ll have forgotten the particulars of whatever I worked out the last time. Except for some background field recordings I don’t use pre-recorded sources, so a physical layout needs to be designed so I can move between sound sources and switch between mixer & effects settings in an efficient way. After all the settings are sorted, I try to go through the final form of the set at least four or five times (or more if I keep screwing up). It’s a very poorly-organised way of working! If you listen to the actual set on ‘Deflating…’ and the three different rehearsals, it becomes clear that I never stopped screwing up that particular set; but I thought the end results were interesting enough regardless. I’ve never been able to get comfortable doing irr. performances. In contrast, performances with Nurse With Would have generally been very comfortable for me.
m[m]: Why do you think this is? Is it safety in numbers, or the pressure of having sole responsibility for your solo shows, perhaps?
MW: Both of those things, exactly. Performing with NWW, I can stop and reconsider what I’m doing and the whole performance won’t grind to a halt. I have three other people whose ideas I can respond to and build upon, rather than having to conjure everything out of thin air myself. And, of course, if it all goes wrong then Steve gets all the blame! That’s one of the real benefits of being a somewhat anonymous contributor. I’ve had some blissful experiences onstage with Nurse, where I could just relax and dissolve into the performance; when it’s me on my own, I have to spend so much time thinking about all of the technical steps that need to be done that I never get to loose myself in the moment like that. Which I think shows that I’ve been going about it the wrong way.
m[m]: Ustrojenstvozagyat combines two previous digital releases from 2011 with two additional new pieces. You occasionally go back to previous releases to redevelop them into new work – the clearest example of this is perhaps your ‘Orgonosis’ series. At what point do you deem a composition as finished, and at what point do you find yourself dipping back into it as source material for further works?
MW: The ‘Orgonosis’ series was a special case. I was prompted to revisit and rework the sources used for ‘Ozeanische Gefuhle’, and then it became a challenge to try to do it again, and then yet again, just to see how far I could go with recombining that material. How I decide that something is finished is hard to explain… that’s just a matter of my own compositional sensibilities at work, and they continue to change over time. But I never stop dipping back into source material: I’ve accumulated a sizeable archive of field recordings, shortwave recordings, studio experiments, etc, and I’ll frequently revisit certain sounds to see how they can be manipulated in a new way — and sometimes just placing them in a new context turns them into something completely different. The new tracks for the ‘Ustrojenstvozaginate’ album came about because I enjoyed those sources so much. When I was reviewing the original tracks for the physical edition, I saw there were some interesting possibilities I had overlooked and I couldn’t resist exploring that.
MW: The way I handled ‘Ustrojenstvozagyat’ and ‘Celestial Laminate’ was a mistake, but at the time I hadn’t properly thought through how to approach digital releases. When I put those first two batches of albums together, my idea was that they would only ever be in digital format; but after getting enough requests for physical versions (particularly for ‘Ustrojenstvozagyat’) it became obvious that I had been thinking about it the wrong way. Now I know to make physical versions available at the same time.
m[m]: Tuberpendicular started life as pieces you posted on the Nine Day Antler Society (NDAS), an online gallery you share with At Jennie Richie, Loving ♥ Kindness, Thomas Carnacki, R K Faulhaber, The Recordists, and Crank Sturgeon. How did this come about? As you all aspire to contribute a new work each month, has it provoked a more disciplined way of producing material?
MW: NDAS was instigated by At Jennie Richie, who invited both Eriijk Rêssler (L♥K) and myself to contribute. The original idea suggested by AJR was a full West Coast-spanning collective: AJR is based in Seattle, I’m in Oregon, and Eriijk is in San Francisco, and there was a plan to expand the roster to include someone in Alaska, British Columbia and Baja California. Not surprisingly, that idea never panned out, so it remained limited to the three of us during the first year. Back in August AJR decided to drop the West Coast concept and asked some of the bands associated with the Readymades Tapes label to join in; I suggested getting Thomas Carnacki and Richard Faulhaber on board as well.
MW: Having to come up with monthly (and, for the first year, bi-monthly) NDAS contributions has been enormously useful for me. It’s motivated me to maintain a more regular output, to work more quickly, to explore a broader variety of approaches, to interact more with other creative people – and, of course, it provides an immediate public outlet for all of it, instead of more unheard stuff being piled up in my personal archives. And it’s also created a whole resource of finished (or at least well-along-in-progress) material for me to cull from for future releases.
m[m]: Both Thomas Carnacki and Richard Faulhaber seem to consistently crop up in relation to your work as irr. app. (ext.). How did you all meet?
MW: Greg Scharpen (Carnacki) and Richard Faulhaber have both been close friends for years — long before irr. app. (ext.) was a going concern. In fact, the existence of irr. as a recording project is largely due to the assistance of Richard back in the early 90s, and the later existence of irr. as a performing entity is largely due to the assistance of Greg in the early 00s.
MW: The circumstances behind meeting Richard were a bit unusual. At the start of the 90s I was using the studio facilities at a local community college, and my instructor kept telling me “there’s a former student of mine you should meet — you have a lot in common”. At this same time a friend & co-worker at my day job was telling me “you should meet my cousin – you have a lot in common”. Another friend that I knew from high school was attending CalArts in Los Angeles, and he was telling me “you should meet my roommate down in LA – you have a lot in common”. (In fact, it was this same friend who made me aware of the existence of Nurse With Wound because this same roommate of his had an extensive NWW collection.) Of course, it turned out that all of these completely independent sources were talking about the same person.
MW: The first time we finally met (at a rare theatre screening of Eraserhead in San Jose) we didn’t get along at all, but immediately after that we became fast friends. We would get together and record spontaneous, abstract improvisations on his little cassette 4-track set-up. It was incredibly exciting and inspiring for me: I’d never met anybody who was completely open to creative ideas like that (although, he did admit to me much later that at first he thought I was completely off my rocker). Richard was always very generous in allowing me to borrow his equipment, and it was only because of this that the first five irr. records were able to happen. And, as I mentioned, it was he who indirectly introduced me to Nurse With Wound.
MW: I originally became acquainted with Greg in the early 90s as a ‘the brother of the boyfriend of a friend of a friend’, but over the years we gradually became very close. It was with Greg and his brother John that I first started to travel overseas (mainly to attend Current 93 concerts), and that led directly to my getting to know Steve later on. Like Richard, Greg was one of the very few friends I had that was open to unusual creative ideas – and, more importantly, would actually follow through with those ideas. Richard, John and Greg were all helpful in getting the first several irr. live performances going, but it was Greg most of all that would contribute useful new ideas to the process and would put a real effort into helping to make things happen. It was inevitable that he would start his own project: between Thomas Carnacki and his theatre sound design work and his radio work on KALX and his film editing work and who-knows-or-can-keep-up-with whatever else he’s doing… he’s always been a creative blur. Makes me tired just thinking about it.
m[m]: NDAS uses a combination of blog and Soundcloud to showcase its wares and you also have a Bandcamp page with a range of digital releases. Meanwhile your most recent releases have been on vinyl, cassette and CD, although you recently said you want “to get away from CDrs” – what are your preferences with regards to physical formats? And what are your feelings about digital distribution?
MW: That question opens a whole messy can of worms. I’m still not very sure about how to go about distributing my music. Early last year, I sent out a survey to the people on my mailing list to try to clarify what formats they preferred and to get an idea of how best to move forward. The response at the time was overwhelmingly against download releases, but this year that’s already changed: now I’m getting requests for more material to be also made available in that way, and for older albums to be re-released in digital versions.
MW: However, there are still plenty of people who are strictly dedicated to physical releases, and some who won’t touch anything except vinyl. I can’t afford to produce vinyl, but I recently had a couple labels offer to do it for me and so I accepted just to see how well it would work out. The good news was that I ended up with a couple really stunning vinyl releases that I could have never managed on my own. The bad news was that I didn’t make much return on them: I only received a small number of copies to sell myself (which was perfectly fair since the label paid for all of the manufacturing costs) and, since the labels could make their copies available to people much sooner than I could, most people had already bought them before I could put mine up for sale. I’d still do this again for the opportunity to get some more nice vinyl packages out there, but I’ll have to plan it around the fact that it won’t help me pay my bills. This kind of music just doesn’t sell enough for there to be anything meaningful to divide up between different parties.
MW: The cassettes I’ve been doing because there’s a label I like to work with (Readymades Tapes, run by the At Jennie Richie cartel) and they keep asking me for more releases. And it’s an opportunity to get new material released without waiting 2 or 3 years for it to happen.
MW: I’d planned to get away from CDR releases entirely, but circumstances have forced me to re-evaluate that idea. The past couple years I’ve been developing my own hand-made CD packaging, with the idea that I’d have the discs professionally replicated while avoiding the costs & restrictions of getting manufactured packaging. But, in that short space of time, new release sales dropped from 100-200 in the first month to fewer than 50. So now CDRs are the only viable option: I can create them on demand rather than paying for the full run all at once, when I probably wouldn’t be able to sell enough copies to cover those costs before the bills are due.
MW: My personal preference has been towards CDs. I used to have a big vinyl collection (of course, I started collecting music before CDs were an option) but it was such a hassle finding room for all of it, and moving it to a new house was always a nightmare! During the past 10 years I’ve purged as much of it as I could. I really never wanted to accumulate any more vinyl or cassettes, but the resurgence of both those formats has forced me to do that anyways. I’m sure I’m putting some of the people who collect my music in the same position: grudgingly buying vinyl & cassettes again because a release is only available in that format. But I’ve got to explore all the options to try to find a way through these uncertain times.
MW: I’m still not acclimated to digital releases. I grew up with stunning gatefold vinyl releases, frequently packed full of booklets and posters and stickers, so it seems very incomplete to me. Part of me can’t help but feel: where’s the rest of it? I can’t sit and study the imagery, or read the liner notes. I can’t smell the fresh ink from lovely, glossy pages – or, I can’t rub my genitals against heavy, thrillingly-textured paper. On the other hand, releasing something in digital format is fantastic. It can be made available right away, without things like lack of funds, manufacturing screw-ups or creepy label shenanigans creating a roadblock for months-to-years. No problems with finding room for unsold copies, no scrounging for packing materials or waiting in line at the post office! It seems certain that even people who prefer physical formats will start turning to digital releases if only because of the obscenely escalating cost of postage.
m[m]: Tuberpendicular is said to involve “the molecular agitation of plant-based starches” and your track titles often have a biological bent – have you a scientific background?
MW: I don’t have any kind of academic scientific background. I’m just an enthusiastic amateur, and have a profound fascination with the natural world and all its processes. And I like to explore new areas of information. Also, that description is a bit tongue-in-cheek: it’s a deliberately obscure reference to the fact that a series of recordings I’d made capturing the various sounds created by cooking potatoes were used in all of the tracks on that album (which is the reason for the ‘Tuber’ in the title). Just as the reference to “disturbances in the electromagnetic spectrum” refers to shortwave recordings, and “the inducement of resonating membranes by an unruly nervous system” refers to manipulated drum improvisations. These were the three principal sources used to make the album.
m[m]: Is imposing limitations on your sound sources, like you’ve just described, a common compositional tactic?
MW: I’ve found it very helpful to create specific parameters for just about every project. But I never consider those parameters to be inviolable: if the project doesn’t seem to be ‘finished’ or ‘successful’ (in my estimation) then I’ll bring in whatever is needed to get it there. The limitations generally offer the most help at the beginning of the process. Other times, I’ll just start doing something and see what happens.
m[m]: What’s coming up next for irr. app. (ext.)?
MW: Lots, but it’ll probably be a while before much of it comes to light. A couple more collaborations with At Jennie Richie are in the works. A collaboration with Finnish musician Pentti Dassum is almost ready to go: it’s just waiting for me to finish some artwork, and then it’ll be released on CD by a label in the Ukraine. A collaborative release with the Toronto-based project Six Heads is planned for the Readymades label for early January. Some collaborative projects with NWW are underway, and I’ve also submitted an irr. track for an expanded reissue of the ‘Sylvie & Babs’ album — possibly released next year. Liles has also contributed a track.
MW: On the pure irr. front, I’m still working through a deep-tissue scrubbing & reconstruction of the never-properly-released albums ‘Foreign Matter, Nor Frequency Carrier’, ‘Inception & Silence Undivided’ and ‘Radiant Black Future’. I’ve also been attempting to clean up the very first, never-ever-released, cassette-only irr. album made in the early 90s, but that is an almost certainly doomed effort. An album of new material finished last year is waiting to see how it can materialise, and two collections of tracks submitted for never-released compilation albums are in line after that one. A couple more pre-‘Uncertain’ archival collections are planned for digital release. But the next release will most likely be another 3” CD I’ve just completed for the Petit Mal Music label – a kind of sequel to the ‘Neognath In Machina’ EP.
MW: I’ve started doing non-performances again, but this time they’re on video. As soon as I figure out how to use my video editing software I’ll be posting those online somewhere. All the original audio non-performances have been organised, and will be released in a small edition at some point, which will be enjoyable for absolutely no one except myself.
m[m]: What are non-performances?
MW: Non-performances are little personal events I began doing during my first trip overseas, which was to Nevers, France in 1995. In part, they were inspired by two interests I had at the time: Viennese Actionism (particularly Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Gunter Brus) and in the assemblage ideas of Kurt Schwitters. The idea was to take a moment where nothing of particular interest was happening and find a way to immerse myself into it so that it became something significant and remarkable – but only for myself. I decided to call them ‘non-performances’ because, although there was some kind of performance element to it, it had nothing to do with entertaining someone else or self-consciously creating any specific end result. Whatever action was taking place was simply a way to help me focus my attention in the attempt to transform my experience of that particular moment. I would record the event as a way to mark a distinct beginning and end to the process.
MW: Throughout much of my life I’ve been tormented by boredom. Most of my memories of childhood are long, unpleasant stretches of boredom (forced to sit at an uncomfortable desk for hours at school, forced to sit on an uncomfortable pew for hours at church, forced to sit around and do nothing for hours while my mother shopped for groceries or clothes, forced to sit quietly while my parents watched ‘Lawrence Welk’ or something equally coma-inducing on the TV, etc.) punctuated by irregular, all-too-brief instances of something fun happening. Then school ended and going to a job five days a week began — and boredom REALLY kicked into high gear. It took a long time for me to realise that I had to take responsibility for my own boredom. It’s easy to just sit and be bored, but with a little bit of effort the experience can be turned into something else entirely. It’s certainly easier said than done, but non-performances were my way of practicing this.
MW: That first non-performance in France was very simple. I was out walking in a gorgeous field with John and Greg and I found a dead mole. I was feeling jet-lagged and irritable, so I decided to create a little event for myself to commemorate this tiny, decomposing French mole. I started recording the ambient birdsong on my pocket cassette player, and, using only silent gestures, I did all that I could to keep my two friends from talking for as long as possible. I managed to keep them quiet for about four minutes before they became impatient and started to talk, and then the non-event was over.
MW: I probably did about 30 non-performances between 1995 and 2004. Many of them centred around interactions with animals (all living ones, except for that mole), which worked well because the animals weren’t influenced by any awareness of a ‘performance’ taking place; the rare times I had other people knowingly participating, it always created a self-conscious atmosphere that worked contrary to the whole point of doing it. Two of the most enjoyable events in the original series involved playing a little wooden noisemaker at dusk for a raptly attentive herd of cows in Wales (this eventually also attracted a herd of horses – on the same side of the fence as I was, which made me a little uneasy), and playing a kazoo to my sister’s pet turtle when I first moved to Felton in CA. This remarkably long-lived turtle now also figures into the new video-oriented non-performance series I’ve started.
MW: I’ve been focusing more time on painting and other graphic work, so unfortunately my already slow pace with getting things released is going to slow down even more. But it’ll all come out eventually — even if everyone has lost interest by that time.
m[m]: I think a world where there’s no interest in your work would be a seriously depressing one. Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to give such considered answers our many questions.
MW: Thanks very much for your time and interest!
To keep up-to-date with all of irr. app. (ext.)’s extraordinary outputs visit: http://irrappext.com/
(Picture credits: Main large front page photo taken by Jim Kaiser, small front page photo taken by Jim Hayes, first in text photo by unknown, second in text picture taken from the front cover of recent irr. app. (ext.) + Blue Sabbath Black Cheer release ‘Discordant Convergence’ , and third in text picture of therecent irr. app. (ext.) release ‘Deflating An Imaginary Spleen, Almost In Public’ .)
Interviewed by Russell Cuzner