> THE RITA Interview (Yellow Green Red, Feb 2011)
There are some serious characters in the world of noise, but I can’t think of anyone with
a fresher, more interesting take on it today than The Rita (née Sam McKinlay). The Rita
essentially pioneered the idea of the “harsh noise wall”: a formless, unwavering monolith of
sound that does to power-electronics what Earth did to metal. In recent years, numerous
other artists have followed strictly to the guidelines of HNW, whereas McKinlay himself has
continually pushed onward, unwilling to plough the same terrain for too long, only content
while scratching deeper into the creative recesses of his mind. Dig into any of the many The
Rita releases and you’ll find a trove of overt sexual imagery, allusions to silent film, and most
interestingly, more shark sounds/references/worship than you ever thought possible, all playing
crucial roles in both the context and actual sound of his music. It’s an eclectic and delightfully
confusing mix, performed with the reverence and dedication that only a true maniac can
provide. The Rita was a mystery to me in a lot of ways before this interview, and after learning
a bit about his personality and gaining insight into his thought process, The Rita has only grown
Yellow Green Red (YGR): One of first things that stood out to me about The Rita was the name. I’ve thought
about it a lot, and it strikes me in a strange way, like it doesn’t sound harsh or discomforting, yet I think it somehow fits the music. Where did the name come from?
Sam McKinlay (SM): The title of the project is taken from the name of the barge that motors up the Amazon in
The Creature From the Black Lagoon. I’m also infatuated with women’s names, especially
actresses from the silent and pre-code film era, so via my personal tastes, it’s thematically nice
to have The Rita up on the releases and posters, as it constantly brings to mind for me Lya De
Putti, Evelyn Brent, Carmel Myers, etc.
YGR: I understand that The Rita plays “wall noise”, which I think is a fairly apt descriptor. How
does this differ from, say, harsh noise, or power-electronics, in your perspective?
SM: The Rita’s style of “wall noise” is straying further and further away every month from the
contemporary strategies of the HNW (harsh noise wall) artists of today. The early years of the
project was focused on violent and moving harsh noise, but always with a gelling factor that
caused the works to be one constant moving ocean of rough sound. I was (and still am) a big
fan of harsh noise projects like Dead Body Love, Macronympha, Skin Crime, Ovmn, Incapacitants,
etc., and I was participating in the genre I personally thought they represented. In the early ’00s,
the direction was made a little more directed by “deconstructing the harsh noise object” and
defining factors within the avalanches of ’90s American-style harsh noise. The resulting works,
such as (the developmental) Magazine and Total Slitting of Throats, represented
harsh noise as a massive unchanging wall that took my colleagues and I’s favorite aspect(s) of
gritty harsh noise and magnified the sounds for maximum obsession and enjoyment. The “wall
noise” I play, especially with the more recent works, sits me right back into the harsh noise
genre, the early ’00s acting like a developmental stage for me as now the extended “walls” of
texture are articulated within a more animated conception. The strategies of “drama” and
segmented sound areas to build violence via power-electronics interest me also; projects like
Con-Dom, Ultra, and Iugula-Thor being incredibly influential to Josh Rose (Rundownsun) and I’s
power-electronics project BT. HN.
YGR: How did you first find out about noise as an art form?
SM: I have always been interested in the arts as far as I can remember, from drawing sharks
repeatedly as a little kid, to realizing the sound/noise tendencies of the feedback solos of Big
Black in high school as I began to do abstract expressionist painting, etc. So, it didn’t take long
for me to perceive harsh noise as a variable of “sound art”, as harsh noise is abstracting sound
texturally, dynamically, or otherwise. I took a hiatus from recording when I did my BFA; focusing
mostly on minimalist painting, installation, and landscape pieces taking influence from artists
such as Richard Serra, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Long, Barnett Newman, George Trakas, etc. I
started recording again when I got my degree and immediately started to translate what I studied
and articulated in school further into the harsh noise technique that I was interested in doing.
Most recently, the physicality of the source sound recordings, live and pre-recorded, has begun
to take the project down to more of a “performance art” avenue, which I still equate with
deconstruction and power through minimalism.
YGR: How important is the sound source for a The Rita recording? For example, if a recording is
based on the sound of grinding skate trucks instead of a no-input mixer, what difference does
that make to you?
SM: Source sounds are the primary driving force behind my work, especially in the last few years as
drawing from personal dynamic interests can be pencilled with harsh noise technique, virtually
bringing forth the various passions into different harsh sound works. I don’t ever use feedback
loops, so my version of a “no input mixer” would be a white noise generator that is sculpted
personally (like a guitar) with a harsh noise artist’s specifically chosen and articulated chain of
effects. I have been lucky enough to have colleagues that have built me specific white noise
generators that do different things I’ve asked for, from the original WNG #2 from Sirkut, to the
dual-filtered “THE RITA IN A BOX” from Damion Romero, to the deep filtered feature of the
Traumatone WNG – all great pieces that generate the sound that set the stages for either heavy
textural manipulation, or set a stage for a violent mic’d source (live or otherwise).
YGR: Are there any sound sources you’d like to work with, but haven’t yet been able to, be it
for financial or physical limitations?
SM: Years ago, I tried to mic the surface feeding tendencies of the Great White Shark they had at
Monterey Bay Aquarium, but as expected (and I very much appreciate) they didn’t want anyone
uncertified in there messing with the feeding program – even if I could possibly get a grant from
Canada Arts Council. There are plans in the works for recording a live Reef, Bull, and Whitetip
shark feeding; being part of a group dive in the Caribbean that has the sharks all around them
as they feed, nudging and scraping past the divers. That’s looking far into the future though,
as it means raising the funds to do so. This summer I’m hoping to do mic’d surface ocean fishing,
work more with the voices of women, and look further into the inherent abstract harsh noise
dynamics of Vodou percussion.
YGR: Why do you think you’re so interested in sharks? What draws you to them?
SM: My deepest rooted interest is in sharks. I was born in 1973 and remember at a very young
age being exposed to a lot of the JAWS movie advertising, and as we all know, JAWS
was the first film to fully embrace the blockbuster and tie-in marketing phenomenon that is
now standard. I still have the first large rubber shark I got as a toddler, and its characteristics
are very much like ‘Bruce’, the mechanical shark from JAWS. Because of JAWS,
the ’70s were inundated with exploitive shark paraphernalia via magazines, articles, and TV specials,
and I was always front row center to cut out the pictures and watch all the different shows. I
think that’s why these days I’ve really embraced more than ever the interest in the shark as
human predator; I’m incredibly fascinated with the legendary Great White, Oceanic Whitetip, Bull,
and Tiger shark attacks of this century. Many know that I am also a classic horror and monster
movie fan, so the true-life visions of something like the monstrous shark attacks on the Jersey
coast of 1916 and the California coast of 1959 really feed the flames of my interest in the shark
and especially how it’s seemingly vicious characteristics are translated through cinema, books,
comics, and most especially the exploitive shark magazines of the ’70s. Don’t get me wrong,
I can definitely be called an arm chair naturalist when it comes to sharks and their biology and
protection, but I also have an unquenchable interest in the shark as some abstract killer created
by man’s imagination. Sometimes I think that I like Bruce from JAWS more than I like real