Rory Storm—Yet Another Monument To… Noise
All images courtesy: lucy-my-control
Rory Storm is an experimental/noise artist whose work reflects the dichotomy of modernity. He lives in a house that sits on a rocky shoreline with a beautiful view over a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Rory knows he is lucky. He appreciates what he has. He loves his wife, his baby, his friends and his family, but Rory also knows the world is falling apart. He watches it disintegrate a little bit more each and everyday as greed, political hubris and environmental disregard take hold.
Rory is a musician whose focus is not on the accessible or the facile, he is interested in creating sounds that reflect uneasy environments and unspoken emotions. Rory knows that the benefits we enjoy in a globalised world have come at a cost. It may not be you or me who’s paying, but someone, somewhere, is suffering for our pleasures. Rory recognises the fragility of this existence. He is compelled to make sonic comment on our purportedly ‘comfortable’ and ‘free’ existence. Rory knows these are ephemeral concepts at best, he knows it can all be taken away in a second.
Rory’s work is challenging and idiosyncratic, he produces music that is nominally set in one genre, but reflects elements from numerous others. He is prolific musician. As a solo performer or collaborator he is always moving forward, and he is a complex and outspoken artist. He loves music and words, and the laughter of his daughter. But Rory watches as that supposedly beneficial mask of global capitalism crumbles before our eyes, and he wonders how it will all end.
Rory is the son of an interconnected world. As much a recipient of its cultural and technological advantages as a victim of its wilful isolation and the contempt which it shows for those who don’t fit into nicely wrapped packages. Rory cares about people on the fringes because he knows the invisible hand has withered and died, if it ever existed at all. Rory has something to say about all that.
I’ve known Rory for some time now. His opinions and my own differ widely on many aspects of life, but on two crucial points we are aligned; both of us recognise the importance of music as a medium to inspire, illuminate and educate, and both of us love our fucking noise.
Rory Storm: An interview.
How many albums/cdrs/tapes have you made and/or released?
Despite The Heat Of The Day (as The Rubber Bride, no label)
We Are Superior Beings (UFM)
Fuck The Memescape (UFM)
Attacils (Artless Intent)
The Sun Always Comes Up On Robot Morning (Cook An Egg)
Lipbalm Recruitment ep (Lost & Fond)
False Laughter ep (Lost & Fond)
Failure Points ep (Lost & Fond)
Black Plastic Monoliths double 3″ (no label)
Yet Another Monument To Mondrian (no label)
Like Grey Pencil Lines Stain The Hand, Lay Sleeping Eyes In Grey Hills (Root Don Lonie For Cash)
Cheap Utopia Eats Cheap Utopia (Epic Sweep 7″)
Wirewreath (Epic Sweep cassette)
‘Koromiko Rd 1988’ – Wailing Bones Vol 8
‘Clark Gable’ – Radio1 sampler
‘Shoulda Run’ – Dream Magazine Sampler
‘3.06’ – Dirt Beneath The Daydram
Plus there’s at least the same amount of unreleased material. Wirewreath is the most recent and can be downloaded here for free. There’s also a Rory Storm and the Invaders album, Lone Nines, on Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, and I play on two Jo Jo Eff Steve albums, and a couple of Ray Off albums.
What have you been working on lately? You’ve got some work coming out on a new compilation soon, and you’re always busy brewing up something in the lab, so what’s on the immediate horizon for Rory Storm?
I’m a bit stuck between projects now. A few weeks ago I finished a half hour set of minimal techno that I’m hoping will be released on cassette in the next few months. Other than that, I’ve got a couple of things that I made earlier in the year that I’m going to start trying to find a label for. I’ve been fiddling around unsuccessfully for the last month or so, which can be quite dispiriting. Something will come along soon though. I’ve got several projects in the conceptual stages now—I’ve started working on a Strategies Against Architecture styled album made with kitchen utensils and other bits and pieces of metal.
You make all sorts of music. Techno, IDM, blackened drone, indie/experimental pop and noise. Why such range of music?
I guess it reflects the fact that I have pretty catholic taste in music. It’s always been really important to me to cover the widest range of bases: like, when I played in the Invaders, a really challenging, loud and chaotic improvised drone band, I also had a Friday night 80’s pop retro show on the Dunedin student radio station.
I’ve also always been interested in the idea of multiple narrative voices and in false narratives. Most of the time, though, artists that think in these terms work express it in lyrical content. While that’s cool, and I’ve totally written songs from the points of views of different characters, it seems too easy to me – I’m much more interested in form and style as expressions of narrative.
It’s much more interesting to be making albums where the character of the music itself is different – where the narrative voice is expressed by the musical, stylistic, sonic, formal aspects of the recording, not just in the words of a person who might have said, “I’m a whore” or “I killed fifteen men.” I remember reading about a South American writer who published hundreds of books under a hundred different pseudonyms, and thinking that was really cool.
A good example is a project I’ve been sporadically working on for a few years – a series of seven inches by fake bands, all of them completely different. I’m up to around forty now. I haven’t done anything with them now – the music is just sitting on my hard drive. But each one has a back story – these are the people in the band, this is how long they’ve been playing together, this is what they listen to and want to sound like, this is what they’re using to record and where they’re recording it, this is the aesthetic that their name is trying to express. Obviously it’s just all me, and my technical skills are quite limited, so it’s probably much more similar sounding than I’d like it to me, but it’s a good intellectual exercise.
Who were the bands that revealed to you a world of possibilities outside mainstream sounds?
My high school was extremely gentrified, and we were all locked away in little groups that had nothing to do with each other, and of course it’s definitely not like it is now, being able to access whatever you like. The only way you could find out about interesting stuff was through people that you knew, and there were no cool kids that I knew that I could find out about anything even vaguely underground – so there were big holes in my knowledge for a long time.
It wasn’t until later on, when I was like seventeen, that I discovered the normal gateway bands for any white kid growing up in the late 80’s – the first few Cure albums, the Velvet Underground, Joy Division, the Smiths, Flying Nun bands like the Gordons, Snapper, the Skeptics, the Headless Chickens, the Tall Dwarfs, and then later the Pixies and Sonic Youth. The live side of Ummagumma made an enormously long lasting impression on me. At the same time I really dug the hip hop and early house music that the Samoan kids in my art class listened to. I remember the first time I heard Pump Up The Volume and going, like, wow, WHAT’S THIS?
It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I discovered the real underground stuff in the world that I actually started to make music in. Before that I mostly went to see alternative pop bands or hardcore shows, nothing exciting. A few raves. But then a friend of mine turned me on to early Neubauten, the Dead C and Xpressway bands like Flies Inside the Sun and the Sandoz Lab Technicians, and then for a few years I didn’t really listen to anything except the most abstract and cerebral music possible. If it wasn’t recorded on a boombox in an uninsulated warehouse in the industrial area of Dunedin, I wasn’t really interested. I’ll tell you what though, listening to mainstream pop again after that was crazy – it was like, you can hear all the instruments! And they’re playing in unison! And they know what’s coming next! And, you can also hear the bottom end! Amazing revelations.
That had a huge impact on me later on with my own music making. I’ve always tried to have reasonably high production values on the recording that I do at home – partly because for a long time this was something that distinguished my stuff from other people’s, particularly in the scene I was in in Dunedin where it was morally imperative for your recordings to be of as low fidelity as possible.
It wasn’t until a long time after that that I remembered that as a kid I’d really liked these American New Music records from the 60’s that Dad had bought because he’d liked the covers. Going back and listening to them is quite cool – they’re actually pretty heavy. And of course, I’m still having my ears opened: over the last couple of years I’ve been listening to lots of dub, which I’d always quite disliked but now I love —so much in fact that if I had my time over again I’d probably go down that road as the music that I’d specialise in.
I fiddled about for years making low grade stuff before I started taking it really seriously in my mid 20’s. When I was 13 or 14 I had a stereo with a turn table and a double tape deck, so I did a bunch of tapes that were edited cut ups of talk back radio and Gilbert & Sullivan records, and sped up/slowed down drumming on buckets and my desk and noises with kitchen utensils. Very earnest and probably totally unlistenable.
Later I got hold of a Casiotone, and then a guitar and amp and a 4-track and some effects units when I was 25, and I was away.
How do you approach each project when recording? Do you have set idea about what you’d like to record, or do you discover a common theme whilst experimenting?
It depends, really. Sometimes I’ll have something germinating for a while and then start working on it. This can be a particular concept or figuring out, mentally, a certain process or technique. Then I’ll actually put the work into manifesting it. Sometimes I’ll hear something in a particular style and want to do something that’s similar. Yet Another Monument For Mondrian, for example, was a combination of these two things. I’d listened a lot to Autechre’s album Quaristice which I wanted to, frankly, attempt to imitate. At the same time, I’d been thinking about doing this thing where I’d do several versions of the same rhythm track, pitch-shifted to different notes on a scale, and then place them at sixteenths after each other, at descending volumes, so you’d basically get a pitched delay. (There’s probably plug-ins that do the same thing, but there’s nothing like the dignity of labour). This produced a really beautiful bubbling effect, very murky, like listening to a drum machine underwater. Other times I’ll just fuck round for ages until I find something that sticks and then run with that until I’m bored with it. Basically, which ever way it comes, I’ll work on it until I have an album’s worth of decent material and then leave it behind. Never look back.
I know you are a shy person and I’m wondering how that plays out in your artistic life. Do you ever seek feedback for the work you make, or do you grind on regardless until you are satisfied?
Yeah, there’s people I send stuff to when it’s done, but I never actively seek criticism out while I’m engaged with it. Maybe that’s because these days I work in isolation—I’m not in an active artistic community the way I was a few years ago. Also, I don’t play gigs very much now and there’s nothing better for receiving unsolicited advice than having punters talking to you while you’re packing down after you’ve played. So yes, I get to be my own critic. I’m quite confident that I know when things are working, when they can be improved and when they’re not worth continuing with. It’s a skill you learn. The first couple of albums that I did I gave a bunch of stuff to the guy whose label was doing the release, and he organised what was going to go on and what the track listing would be. Most of the time now, though, all the responsibility is on my shoulders. Giving it to people who know you as a person and know your work is actually less stressful than the thought of total strangers listening to the end product of what can sometimes be a difficult, emotional process.
Sometimes it’s horrible, sometimes I don’t really care—sometimes it’s actually extremely helpful. Partly I guess that depends on person involved. I mean, there’s no one making experimental music who hasn’t had their work met with bewilderment and aggression— which usually manifests itself in a drunken heckler yelling, this is shit! Play some real music! While it can be hard not to take this kind of hostility personally, you just have to deal with it. I know the stuff that I make isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea—that doesn’t mean that I think that they’re total fools for not understanding my beautiful art, it’s just that experimental music can be difficult and challenging.
On the other hand, if it someone who really knew their stuff and who’s opinion I respected told me that my work is shit and not to bother, I’d have to take that on. It’s never happened though, so that’s okay.
Noise music is frequently nihilistic, and plenty of noise artists are famed for their controversial opinions and politics as they are for their music. Obviously, there’s also a positive thread in noise (here I’m thinking of Merzbow’s animal rights themes) but the overarching aesthetic of noise is that it’s simply uncomfortable to listen to. What attracts you to such a conflict-ridden and confrontational style of music?
There’s lots of reasons for this. One of them is the fact that it’s still, embarrassingly, very much a boy’s club, and you have many of the dynamics of any male dominated social domain: misogyny, fear of queerdom, alpha male styles hierarchies, and so on. There’s an awful kind of drill-yard, boot-camp, competition of endurance to a lot of noise. One of the things that really attracted me to the scene I was involved in in Dunedin was the fact that it’s post-feminist and post-queer: there’s men and women, straights and queers, and everyone makes stuff – there’s no judgement based on gender politics. It’s amazing how used to it you get: I was shocked when I moved to Wellington and some guy told me, seriously and kindly, that no one was going to take my band seriously until I ditched the chicks in it. For my own good…. It’s hard to accept that a medium that is involved with challenging accepted notions on an artistic basis is populated by people whose politics are so conservative socially.
I do have real problems with some of the politics you come can come across in the wider noise and experimental music scene. Noise music as it’s practised now has deep roots in late 70’s UK industrial bands like Throbbing Gristle and SPK and Whitehouse, whose aesthetics were strongly based in S&M and Nazi imagery. I really don’t think that this has any real relevance or use anymore. Quite the reverse, in fact. I really struggle with the current Wire-lead trend for horror movies, as though watching depictions of varying amounts of verisimilitude of people dying in really nasty ways is somehow an act of sub-cultural transgression. The weird exultation in enjoying other’s hurt that this kind of thing engenders is completely opposite to the emotions that the real experience of violence causes: grief, fear and shock.
And obviously it’s important to make work which explores negative emotions: fear and grief, sadness, frustration, powerlessness, anger, loneliness, blankness, alienation and abjection – a lot of my music articulates these emotions for me in ways that are more profound and more satisfying and effective than sitting down and saying to someone, I’m afraid, I’m sad, I’m angry… I can’t get anywhere and I can’t handle the awfulness of the world. You have to make art which engages with these emotions. To paraphrase Burroughs, the only valid artist is one for whom death is a major character in their narrative. But you have to work with it on real terms, not this fake macho fantasy of being unaffected by everything.
I’m also a bit hampered by the fact that the kind of music that I’m best at making is the kind of music that expresses these emotions. It’s not that I don’t think that making music which is happy or sexual or about enjoyment is invalid, it’s just that I’m not very good at it. Having said that, something that’s central to my work is the attempt to reclaim the idea of making art which is beautiful, but at the same time still radical and challenging. I have no idea whether I can really do this, but that’s definitely part of what I’m attempting.
We spoke recently about how you find it difficult to explain to folks exactly what your music sounds like and why you make it. Is that an issue for you generally? Do you feel your music is devalued in some sense because it is very much an acquired taste and commonly misunderstood (and I mean that in the nicest possible way!)
Yes, I do find it hard to talk to people about what’s going on in my music – it’s difficult to do without sounding like a wanker. I think partly that’s because music articulates emotions and concepts which only function on a profound or sublime level, and English is crap when it comes to having words for that profundity which aren’t repellently clichéd. Also, we come from a culture which is very suspicious of emotions which go further than those associated with being wasted, with fucking or fighting. The vocabulary just isn’t there. And of course, experimental music really is a minority pastime, for a bunch of reasons. Saying to your Joe Bloggs guy in the street, the last release I did was pretty much just a pastiche of Black Dice, or, I’m really over my Dead C phase, is basically meaningless to them.
You recently became a father for the first time. How do you balance the positive aspects of parenting (the love, the joy and the beauty) with producing work that is grim faced? Does that ever leave you with a sense of cognitive dissonance?
When you don’t have a child, the only future you’re moving toward is your own… But when you do have a child, you have much more investment in the future being better than the present. Realistically speaking, right now it feels as though it’s getting worse. Things are just so fucked. I’d see the grimness you’re talking about as being more blankness, to be honest. It’s really hard to engage with the world positively when it seems so hopeless. I mean, I’m sure that people have always felt like this, and that there’s never been a perfect time to be a parent. In the face of that, it seems pretty bullshit to be making art that’s about anything else, really
Being a dad takes up more and more of your life, especially as kids get older, have you give much thought to what the future holds for you creatively, do you see yourself as someone who will always make music?
I hope so. At the moment, I’m just working on recording and not playing, and that’s dependent on having something to record with. Unfortunately my computer is getting pretty ancient, and I’m not going to be in a position to replace it when it finally gives up the ghost. We’ll see. I don’t won’t to be one of those middle aged guys who’s all like, “back in the day, when I had it so good, you kids don’t understand.” One of the good things about making experimental music is that it’s like blues and jazz—you can get older and still keep making it with dignity. It’s not a young person’s game the way that rock is. You can keep going up the slope – you don’t do your best stuff by the time you’re 25 and it’s over.
Last question: Desert Island discs time. What are your top five of all time, and what are your top five for 2011 (they don’t have to have been released this year, perhaps just things you’ve discovered).
Always, always the toughest question. Okay, of all time: the Nancy and Lee album; Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine; Neil Young’s Harvest; Rojo by I.A Bericochea, and Earth’s Hibernaculum. Plus, as bonuses, The Gordon’s self titled album, and Kraftwerk’s Man Machine.
Recently: Ricardo Villilobos and Max Loderbauer’s Re:ECM; Zombi’s One Foot In Front Of The Other; and the Skull Disco compilation Soundboy’s Gravestone Gets Desecrated By Vandals. Plus, my wife has just introduced me to a band called Warpaint – like Slint with the interested female vocalist—they’re choice.