Mr. 786 - 2006
Richard and Alan Bishop
Taken together, the songs, stories, and theatrical performances (including your Uncle Jim songs and monologues) offered by Sun City Girls, but especially you and Charles, rank the group among the rare number of music artists exploring the space between literature and music. The lack of credit Sun City Girls get in this regard derives in part from the band's Rock, or Rock-oriented, music featuring more in the way of improvised, often word-less, singing, mostly by you alone or you and Rick together, while the longer literary explorations are saved for rarer occasions: notably, Dante's Disneyland Inferno, Charles's solo records, The Handsome Stranger, Carnival Folklore Resurrection Radio Two, and most of your solo work. The black humor, often graphically depicting violence and reflecting a dark, or at least unflinchingly-satiric, perspective on social relations and politics, that is central to these literary-minded works has received negative attention, perhaps also discouraging serious interest. From the press coverage of Sun City Girls, few would expect to find a piece as poignant as "Charles Gocher Sr." from Dante's. Sun City Girls may have already completed most of the longer, literary-oriented works they had planned to do; but, from the perspective of critics and most listeners, this is largely uncharted territory. First of all, since it was mentioned as far back as the Forced Exposure interview from 1989, I've wondered if Dante's was set aside as a place especially for such pieces, or if the project was conceived first and in turn inspired more text-based works than the group had ever imagined. Second, though I know you cannot speak much for Charles, can you tell us what writers and literary works you have appreciated and been inspired by over the years? Were there individuals in your life who directed you towards certain writers, or a particular perspective on literature, songwriting, and whatever word you like to use for that which lies between the two"spoken word" being the peculiar phrase favored by many?
Lorene Bishop - 1963
My mother was a writer and a poet. She taught Shakespeare, English, and drama at various high schools across the country until she retired. Merle Haggard had a crush on her in the early 1950's. She was his eighth-grade English teacher in Bakersfield, California, when she had just relocated there from Oklahoma with her first husband. He knew her as Mrs. Payne [her first marriage was to a man named Clifford Payne]. Merle claims to this day that she was the first person to get him interested in writing. I can say the same. She tried turning me on to Dylan in 1972, but I was 12 years old and all about Hendrix, Zeppelin, and Sabbath and couldn't be bothered by those blue ditto print-outs she'd bring home to show me of weird lyrics from songs like "My Back Pages" and "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." But a few years later I could sing and play every song in his mid-60's catalog and then I started to write my own. She also tried getting me to read Shakespeare when I was a teen and it bored the shit out of me. But she was the real deala grammar freak, almost memorized the Bartlett's Familiar Quotations collection, and would always look something up in her reference library when she didn't know it. She was bigger than the Internet back then.
But my experiences have inspired what and how I write much more so than reading literature. Charles and Rick have their own entirely unique operating systems and you're rightI won't speak for either of them about possible influences or what inspires them. All those who have anything meaningful to say about what they feel, ignoring society's built-in checks and balances that keep most people silent about their true perspectives for risk of exposing that they are truly uninspiring, will receive a variety of negative attention aimed to discourage serious interest. Those who can tune into Sun City Girls are clever enough to see through any negative facade or discover that the entrance into our world is constructed to keep the idiots from getting in unless they are willing to evolve. We get a ridiculous amount of serious "interest," and we get more "credit" than some may realize from where it truly matters, but "credit" is like "interest": it can be a friendly word, yet in time it can morph into a vindictive creature with razor teeth looking to feed upon the unwary. If we wanted credit from the institutionalized entertainment hype machine at-large stocked with dullard intellectual types who are extremely narrow-minded (posing as beacons of liberated thought) and in awe of who they've been told to be in awe of as they buy into decades of social engineering designed to keep them thinking they're progressive as they stumble from inner imbecilic to outer irrelevance, we'd have whored ourselves out for those types of services which attract that particular brand of credit years ago. We've got shit to do and ain't got time to live in a fairy tale. What's there to gain from shallow accolades when most of humanity is a collective zit on a blind idiot's inner nostril? These are methods of distraction which must be ignored if one is to accomplish great work. History and what most believe as reality is completely engineered, manufactured, and re-written bullshit. There are few people on the planet who are qualified to critically analyze what we do or say. It's a very comfortable place to be. We prefer to have control of our lives as much as is possible. We exist in luxurythe luxury to go about our business unknown to the herd of Eloi who guzzle slop with snouts in troughs occasionally looking up to see if their master is watching. Who in their right mind would want to deal with them?
I have always literally been unilaterally out of my fucking illiterate mind, so to speak. I use a machete to cut to the chase. I already know everything else you're not supposed to know. The entirety of all forbidden knowledge is locked inside my 37th nipple, the one between my left dick and the blowfish patch. I spend my spare time unlocking that knowledge slowly, because if I let it all come out at once I'd kill every soul who couldn't play a Hammond B-3 organ to my strict specifications by sawing their ears off, impaling them with my bass guitar with attached bayonet, dropping them in a salt-water bath, and watching them bleed to death slowly as I serenade them with Qasidah songs dressed as an Appalachian Berber. Maybe I am an elitist, I forgot. I realize that some people are curious of what we do and where we've been and what we listen to or read and I can depreciate that. I have no interest in show business. And so we exist for most as an entity of fragmental pieces to a puzzle without a template for those who are interested in attempting to understand. And so they will not understand anytime soon. It's much better that way. We probably shouldn't even take "credit" for Dante's Disneyland Inferno as it was channeled directly from a green-velvet card table covered in babbling fish-out-of-water flopping cut-out tongues of Sino-Tibetan child hookers and carved into a compact disc by an upside-down dwarf acting as a conduit with a plutonium toothpick super-glued between his front teeth while a Badui priest performed circular breathing from a flask containing the dying breath of Julius Caesar wedged up Billie Holiday's hermetically-preserved vagina. So, in essence, yes this would be extremely difficult to duplicate in the future. Sorry, I got a bit side-tracked. Do continue.
The negative reactions many have had toward the large number of Sun City Girls records, and what to these nay-sayers is their random disorganized nature, stems in part from a lack of appreciation for improvised, or improvisational, music; a common failure to understand that in making music, an art that is ultimately experienced live, in "real time," improvisational strategies brilliantly distill the artist's work to the point in question, serving as a test, to determine what aspects of the long thought processes conceiving and motivating the artists, and the long hours of practicing, will prove to be fruitful once a performance or a recording commences. In addition, performances that are documented in a relatively-simple way, both in featuring few if any over-dubs and in allowing the limitations of cheap equipment and informal "studio" spaces to determine the sound of the recording (which is how I'd describe a good number of Sun City Girls records, especially early on) counter what has over time become the norms of recorded music: creating an illusion of a musical performance, making the arduous, often-expensive process behind it non-transparent to the listener. In such a commerce-centric perspective, the rebukes directed at your records reflect the listener feeling duped or swindled, as if a promise had been made, and subsequently broken, by Sun City Girls.
This failure to appreciate live, improvised music, documented "as is," reflects certain broader assumptions, accepted ingrained ways of understanding culture, namely: that work, not play, is the role creating art occupies in an individual's life, and thus he must work hard to create a refined finished product which entertains the consumer/patron. In other words, the artist does not find solace, catharsis, what-have-you, in the process of making art, but in the success (the wealth and power) that comes from getting credit for a popular product.
If someone demanded of me a basic description of Sun City Girls, I would say your music is what results from three individuals with diverse, but like-minded, tastes getting together, often with little planning beforehand, and improvising; and when they engage in this activity, they do so for their pleasure, striving to create something they are content with. The claim often made to the effect that Sun City Girls put out everything they put to tape actually reflects the preferred approach of Jazz artists like Steve Lacy and Anthony Braxton. The extent to which anyone is disappointed with this approach would only measure that listener's frustration with himself: for wanting too much from someone else's work, for not doing anything of his own. A spectator/patron either appreciates another's workits use of the materials and tools at hand, the sentient experiences it fostersand perhaps re-thinks his own thoughts on, or approach to, creating art. To disparage the very existence of a recording, as compared to a critical analysis, is to engage in a game of social status and commercial position.
Well said. We play hard, our playing is hard work, and our work is hard for others to play. Humanity is often synonymous with failure. And of course we never promised anyone anything. Those investigating Sun City Girls who feel as if they were swindled are not ready to deal with it. Sun City Girls improvise and compose music. We compose individually and collectively and we compose as we improvise. I prefer improvising music, live, in any situation to actually having to sit and listen to recordings of improvised music, so I can understand why others aren't into it. But the experience of collective improvisation or, in some cases, collective trance/spirit possession when all participants are focused is unlike any other. They are among the most exciting metaphysical experiences one can encounter. But these ideas terrify people. It can also be dangerous if one is not familiar with detaching from themselves and having the will to take things further and to trust the inside/outside explorations which result from very-specific methods of practice. Humanity has conformed to the need for endless detail, structure, programs, rules, and security. Fear of failure eclipses the chance for greatness. Not for us. Failure is void in the Sun City Girls vocabulary. We simply don't think that way. Drifting beyond established, acceptable practice is despised, mocked, and scorned by much of society. Sun City Girls operates on so many different levels and releases such a wide variety of material that it becomes almost impossible for any one individual to approve of everything we do. That's the beauty of it. We are free to express our ideas however we see fit without adhering to any set release schedules, presentation, or context. There is no Sun City Girls logo, Abduction has no "look," Sun City Girls has no "image," and we're still working on our first record. That's how we operate. Anything and everything is possible at all times. And how many people will generalize or attempt to define us based on only listening to a few of our records or after seeing one show only? That works with most outfits but not with us. Today, many consider themselves writers, critics, and musicians, armed with technology and full access. We never grant full access. We are outside that programmed system and do not adhere to the commoner's perceptive limitations, so misconception of our work, disappointment with certain releases, and frustration with how we proceed with our craft is to be expected if we are measured the way all other groups are measured. One has to work much harder to even get a clue as to what Sun City Girls is. It keeps the unadventurous away from us. That in itself is an incredible achievement. Many of those who get disappointed or frustrated have yet to discover that the entirety of our music, art, ideas, and opinions are not meant for them. What we mostly offer is meant for an evolved, more-unlimited version of thema version many of them may never evolve into.
Alan Bishop - Surin, Thailand, 2006
On this issue of common misunderstandings of the artist's place in society, I want to broach the critique leveled by one of the editors of the Wire magazine last year, crude and misinformed as it was. One comment he makes ("Sun City Girls don't wear Ugly American masks; they present mocking images of the Other") I've found to be a common complaint: this notion that yours and Rick's singing, and some of the theatrical aspects of your performances, are supposed to be an imitation of "ethnic" musics and other practices. Following this line of thought, he finds that the interaction between Sun City Girls and the various cultural traditions you are influenced by is "horribly one-sided," thus failing to create a "conduit between the West and the unknowable Other." What is troubling about this critique, intellectually speaking, is this assumption that the "Other," is unknowablethat such an "Other," diametrically opposed to the "West," exists in the first place.
I say that the critique in question reflects a misunderstanding of the artist's place in society because it seems ignorant of the crucial fact that an artist's work ultimately exists beyond his self. Certainly a lot of contemporary popular art, perhaps most of all stand-up comedy and Rap/Hip Hop, as well as (sadly enough) most post-"grunge" Rock music, revolves around the notion of unmitigated personal expression, with the artist apparently determined to be as obnoxious and/or self-obsessed as possible. Yet it seems unlikely that anyone at the Wire would have such a perspective, given their focus on experimental musics. After all, who doesn't understand that a singer is not necessarily, indeed should never a priori be thought of as, the same person as the narrator of a song? With performances that are not, formally speaking, theatre, yet are staged events, meant to convey a particular impression of the artists that is distinct, perhaps wildly different, from what one get from, say, a lecture, the artists in question are not presenting objective or fair portraits of themselves or others, and certainly are not saying how they feel about certain societies and their cultural traditions, political systems, religious beliefs, and so on.
Perhaps the discomfort several writers at the Wire have expressed regarding the Sublime Frequencies label and its approach toward the controversial issue of copyrights has carried over into their reception of Sun City Girls. The editorial, in so far as it effectively formulates an opinion at all, seems to suggest that an artist has a particular social (or "ethnic" if he's from a non-"Western" nation) identity which he then expresses in various waysmusic, clothing, etc. Those who are foreign to the artist must be treated with either reverence or disdain. After all, what kind of ambiguity can be there if there is a "West" and an "Other," with little in between? The only option for a "Western" group like Sun City Girls thus is to present traditional musics in some sort of pristine, authentic form, or to mock the "Ugly American" who fails to grant the "Other" this due respect.
A comment Charles made in the aforementioned Forced Exposure interview is pertinent here: "we're in tune with disoriental philosophy." In my own interpretation, this statement suggests that Sun City Girlslike most artists, I'd hopewant both themselves and the listener/ viewer/ reader to enter into a new space when enveloped in a work of art, the senses and the intellect jointly impelled to reassess their sensesnot document it in some sort of scientific way.
Alan Bishop - Jakarta, Java, 2006
I could have assumed wrongly, but I never thought that Sun City Girls aimed to play traditional musics, or any kind of music, in the way they are "supposed" to be played (which is not to suggest any kind of disrespect for said traditions). I would assume that Sun City Girls, when working with instruments collected from travels abroad, approach them the same way you approached the instruments you already play: as self-taught musicians taking on another challenge. And with regard to your and Richard's singing, the influence of various styles and genres is evident, but rarely it is immediately obvious; the models used are alluded to, not imitated. Again, we come back to the discomfort many critics and listeners feel when a singer's style clearly reflects the influence of those who are of a different social strata or "ethnic" group.
I'd say your assumption is basically correct. But as we're performing that "supposed" traditional/ foreign music or however anyone wants to categorize it, we may also be interpreting the sounds of leaves falling, a possum stumbling around in an attic, and a millipede crawling across a leather sofa, so I wonder if that's all "ethnic" too, if those interpretations were inspired by direct experiences we may have had in Sumatra or Egypt. At the same time, Gocher may be hitting his snare during a five-minute stretch only when a girl in the crowd blinks her eyes, and we'll make a comment only one person in the audience will understand (13 times per show for 13 different people) and perhaps even have a cell phone on stage beaming the show back to 5 people in a room in Portland, Rangoon, or Cairo, who get referenced in another way that no one in the immediate audience could possibly be aware of. That's just naming a few of the possibilities. James Joyce couldn't have written Finnegans Wake without first transporting himself into the future to research what we're doing. Its trueI finally met with him last week and he told me. He's got another month before returning to the past. Would you like to correspond with him too? I can set it up.
Usually I never respond to press reviews because it's a distraction, but since many have asked me to comment about all of the Wire's seemingly-orchestrated negative reviews and editorials from the past three years, and you threw me a hanging curve, I might as well slap it into the upper deck, round the bases, get it over with and move on. Those were hit pieces in the Wire, nothing else. He came to bash us regardless of how or what we performed. I wouldn't rate that particular Sun City Girls performance as one of our better shows, but there was never any intent to critically discuss our performance in that editorial. That's fine. We're fair game, as is anyone else. People should express what they really feel, and if that's what he thinks, at least he has the guts to say it. Many don't have the balls to express their views. I still happen to think Chris Bohn is an idiot and that his observations are geared for the unenlightened followers of the perceived "establishment" of experimental music. The Wire is merely an extension of the fashion industry. It begins on the cover and spreads inside with their photo shoots. How they make musicians in their thirties look at least 50 years old is amazingperhaps the most uninspiring lame photography in all of journalism. In their world of coverage, experimental musicians all appear and act like corporate employees at Playstation working on some new video-game technology, but really they should all be shot from a cannon into a valley littered with four-foot-high stainless-steel spikes, become impaled on those spikes, and expire (die); resurrect themselves under a completely-new identity and learn how to make challenging music. I can actually visualize how those uptight workshop commandos must cringe anytime our name appears in the Wire. We are not of that species. We never have been. We've been imported into the pages of that magazine over time because of the cross-over interest of its readership and the journalists who write for them.
Staff writers and a few affiliated with the Wire have criticized the Sublime Frequencies approach on several fronts, and as you suspected, that's perhaps the reason for the negative Sun City Girls editorialswho knows? But their comments are naive and predictable, lacking experience in the reality of the situations encountered by Sublime Frequencies and our contributors. Still, I would argue on their behalf that they should say whatever they feel they need to say, because if our label has accomplished one thing, it is that we've opened the gates to the discussion and appreciation of the music from overlooked areas of the globe on a wider scale than before. And we have taken the topic outside the exclusive halls of academia and dumped it into other markets of the Western world. We knew we'd have to deal with some of this type of criticism for what we are doing, but we also knew the positives far outweigh the negatives, and apparently no one else is willing to take those necessary risks to accomplish the end-result of promoting and releasing ignored cultural/musical genius from North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, which is what matters most. We prefer to focus on the positives and continue to work at removing the negatives.
What some critics of the Sublime Frequencies aesthetic seem to forget is that we are not representing anything or anyone, nor do we claim to. We are not a publicly-funded organization with obligations to constituents, nor are we interested in networking to influence or interact with the powers of media and entertainment. We work with what we have available, are a private self-financed entity, and are more interested in the actual music we release than some critics seem to be; if they were, they would be actively engaged in discussion of that music, but instead prefer to comment endlessly about our aesthetic of presentation or question our methods of operation and documentation. To the peddlers of high brow, it's all about style, method, economics, and trend. But there are no sacred species of human and there is no music off-limits to expansion, manipulation or exposure. The Wire is functioning as a vehicle of industry-fringe management. All those trust-fund academic clowns are tip-toeing around trying not to offend "the unknowable other," waving the holy croquet mallet of institutionalized political correctness as if it was Hendrix's "freak flag high." I know the "unknowable others" Chris Bohn speaks ofall of them, personally; I stay with them, eat their food, drink their tea, share stories and opinions with them, watch their kids grow up, and have spent intermittently what amounts to years of my life with them. They are regular people like we are. They are not aliens from another dimension. They want their music spread around and heard outside their locales in any possible way we can get it done without having to go through the rectal funnel that major record labels, I.P.R lawyers, academia, media, international foundations, and their own governments have been ever so corrupt and hypocritical to very-selectively offer with strings, rope, barbed-wire, bombs, poverty, political agendas, wars, and genocides so firmly attached. That's the majority demand from the heart of the "unknowable others"; that's how it is. We receive only positive support from the areas we work in. The negative reactions all stem from the politically-correct crowd in the West because they've been engineered to think that way. Maybe we're crazy to spend our own money to promote this music to the world when all others have failed to recognize it or respect it; even their own local music industries have abandoned it for newer, more-popular trends and usually can't be bothered when approached for help with licensing, ideas for releases, or other potential projects. But the overwhelming support and positive reaction has been what keeps us active and spending our time and resources to continue the label. A major reason why others aren't doing this is because it takes a massive amount of energy and the risk of financial loss. Most importantly, it takes the obsession with and love for the music, people, and cultures affiliated. Some dolts actually think Sublime Frequencies is a money-making machine "cleaning up and taking advantage of poor innocent cultures that can't fend for themselves, therefore needing some international representation to fight for their property rights against the mighty Sun City Cannibals." It's so laughable; if they only knew. I'd like to witness some of these "do it my way" critics starting up a label for a while to do it their way just to see what their threshold of financial loss would be. Ours is 31 releases and counting.
unknown - Seattle, 2004
Another one of the Wire's sheltered-view crew, while reviewing the Sublime Frequencies Broken-Hearted Dragonflies disc, ripped Tucker Martine (the engineer/compiler of the project) for attempting to process sound to imitate live insects in their natural habitat. Don't these people ever go outside? It's a fucking field recording of real insects! Nothing more, nothing less. You don't need to process it. It's amazing as it is. But if one never leaves the house, how would they know what insects sound like? I suppose the sub-title of the record fooled him and he took it literally: Insect Electronica from Southeast Asia. But to his credit, he did write, "If this is an actual recording of insects, I want to know how it's done," but of course that's after he trashed Martine and the label and rushed to the judgment that it was phony electronic music. The way it's done is: you venture outside and turn on the recording device! He also asked the question in the same review: "What are the Bishops doing in Burma, anyway?" (knowing we've spent a fair amount of time there from our other projects) as if Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Su Kyi should dictate whether or not outsiders should visit Burma, an issue that's been debated from the cafes of London to Internet chat boards to the pages of the Lonely Planet guidebook ever since "The Lady" begged people to stay away from the country several years ago so the ruling Burmese generals wouldn't be able to get hold of that precious foreign currency. Anyone who would adhere to a request of one person (well, she was "educated" in the finest U.K schools) to steer clear from a land of 50 million people the size of the western U S because she's trying to cripple the ruling general's economic windfall via tourism (regardless of the political situationas there's many sides to every story but there's only one side of the story circulating outside of Burma, isn't there?) is fucking infantile. These anal-retentive warlords of the keypad have the cultural, political, and economic awareness of Dan Quayle multiplied by the sense of humor and wit of an abandoned letter opener, regulated and divided by an education steeped in behavioral and cultural engineering by their masters. These fucking idiots need to be called out and challenged when they get shit wrong and not many have the guts or are willing to do it. Everyone wants to keep the lines of communication open so perhaps they can get their due someday. I don't give a fuck about that shit. I've spent most of my life exploring ways to completely destroy the mentality that drives magazines like the Wire, not to mention all those who find their comfort in academia, the major news media, or consensus reality. I would feel sorry for these people, but I already know too many teenagers and 20-to-25-year-olds who are more evolved in their intuitive processing skills, so I figure these chumps at the Wire and elsewhere should know better by now because the evolution is apparent in so many others operating on either side of the Atlantic. These are common characteristics of the same cultural scholars who believe Osama bin Laden engineered 9-11, North Korea is starving to death, the Iranians are a threat to civilization, terrorists roam Indonesia killing white people, Hezbollah defeated the Israelis last summer, Al Qaeda actually exists, and tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, loose bowels, towel-heads, second-hand smoke, bed bugs, and vehicles without seat belts are too much of a risk to consider traveling to a developing nation. With such savvy corporate-styled design, built-in institutionalized cultural agendas, and a knack for constructing sub-mediocre foundations from a completely annihilated swampland of current trends in creative music, one would get the impression that the Wire was the Haliburton Hippopotamus of experimental music journalism. The present "underground" of music is heavily infiltrated with mollusk-bred scene-makers, hack-sweet slurping yes-men, and miscellaneous sub-species of imperial swine masquerading as hipster progressives. Some are present to police the action and abuse their power, others have no clue as to how they are used as tools, and the rest are squirming on the rump of an epileptic unicorn attempting to decipher which button to push to claim their 15 minutes of fame. When artists start self-financing themselves so they don't have to kiss anyone's ass, activating their creative weaponry, shooting to kill, and ignoring the press and critics, the results of their work will be more focused, outstanding, honest, and unpredictable and all those Wikipedia-referencing journalists will vanish into thin air where they truly reside as a fucking illusion.
Porest - Bandung, Java, 2006
I'd like to turn to the subject of the sound-collages, both those created by Sun City Girls and those done by you alone for the Sublime Frequencies label. My assumption at this point is that Lo-Pacific is distinct from the subsequent Sun City Girls collages (Carnival Folklore Resurrection Radio One and Radio Two, 98.6 Is Death, and Static from the Outside Set) in that it does not (or, rather, it seems not to) feature performances by Sun City Girls, but instead consists entirely of other, varied sourcesmaybe even more varied than the similarly constructed Sublime Frequencies records, since there is not, from the listener's perspective at least, a pre-set origin of the sources, as there is with, say, Radio Java or Radio Palestine.
Nonetheless, all of the Sun City Girls sound-collage records, but especially Lo-Pacific, have provided me a listening unique listening experience, which stems from the idea I have in my head that, though I'm listening to what is formally a Sun City Girls record, I am not listening to Sun City Girls per se. This disjuncture between the listener and the artist discourages any tendency to assess the work, to render aesthetic judgments. I don't worry so much about following the work closely as I listen; my attention comes and goes, at times in sync with the different segments of the work, but often not. So much of modern electroacoustic music, and other kinds of experimental music, has had as its goal the hope of its blending into the surrounding environment. So little of it, in my experience, has actually achieved such "ambient" status. Its lack of variety in the sounds and structures, when combined with the slowly moving, low-density nature of the works, results ultimately in my losing interest once my attention lapses, when the ideal set out in advance is that the listener should be able to let his interest pass and then return whenever he pleases. In the end, with the sound-collage pieces just as much as with anything else, the listener can become familiar with the work, often tries hard to get to know the work in all its detail. But, again, with the sound-collage works, the great diversity and number of their constituent parts makes the process longer, yet more pleasurable, because the music, in its varied sources, is not as tied down to the artists in question.
In his 1999 interview with Popwatch Magazine (republished at Perfect Sound Forever), Richard notes that Sun City Girls benefit from not touring regularly, the three of you having your own projects outside the group, and in general pursuing non-Sun City Girls and non-music activities, keeping most of the group's recordings and shows non-obligatory, non-planned, and open-ended by comparison. While you have recorded four solo records [three as Alvarius B, one as Uncle Jim], the time you have apart from Sun City Girls also directs you into passive roles, such as your overseas traveling. Of course, other articles and interviews have described Sun City Girls performing while abroad, with local musicians; still, so far as listeners are concerned, the sound-collage works on Sublime Frequencies are so far the principal result of your travels. The Sun City Girls sound-collages, to the extent they feature non-Sun City Girls tracks, also result from free time away from the regular practices of being a music-artist: composing, rehearsing, recording, etc. In these cases, you are a collector, putting disparate sound objects together, not seeking to change what's already thereat least not dramaticallybut to focus heightened attention on it. The Sublime Frequencies records, moreover, being entirely made up of tracks by artists other than the compilers, are not far removed from the mixes created by D J's, post-Disco, when they rose to the status of an artist on the basis of their selection of other artists' worksor, rather, the order in which they selected them, and the segueways between the tracks concocted from the tracks themselves.
Another comparison comes to mind: the persistent tendency among North American artists to want to remove themselves, at least in part, from the creative process. In the music, these kinds of artists tend to be grouped together by their interest in "chance" or "indeterminacy": aleatoric methods used either to write a score (for example, John Cage) or organized a live performance (for example, John Zorn). Other salient comparisons with the sound-collage works come from the visual arts: namely, Isamu Noguchi and many of the Minimalist painters and sculptors. They understood that, in the proper context, an artist could be more successful with his materials by doing less, not seeking out new forms through the manipulation of the material at hand, but recognizing the complexity that is already present, whether it be a large basalt rock in Noguchi's case or the arrangements of straight lines as in Sol Lewitt's or Agnes Martin's. Moreover, with the "radio" works, the artist's tool is generally the radio, especially short-wave radios I assume, and as such these pieces are even farther from the domain of conventional art, being both an exploration of the uses of modern technology in art, but also an experiment in chance.
All these points of comparison you raise are interesting but I never really think about them before, during, or after creating a project. I'm not sure how one even measures art or music these days because half of what I see and hear out there is so lame the creators of it should be caned until their asses explode. I've always looked at "titled" art and music movements as a society of privileged academia-dominated, media-distributed corporate marketers who create something out of nothing in order to manage the way people perceive things in order to generate financial gain, propagate agendas of thought, categorize for easy reference, or justify their existence as conduit and benefactor. Honest artists and musicians get sucked into these so-called movements and then they're labeled as such until the end of time. I also prefer the destruction of the categorical process of work-medium. Each medium of work is directly related to all the others, so I don't find easily discernable categorical differences between musician, archivist, collector, collage artist, writer, etc.; these roles are of the same general procedure and discovery process for me. They cross over as extensions of each other, covering the same contextual material and helping to expand the various ways I work with ideas. It seems natural to utilize all of the media if they are available to facilitate the expressiveness of the root ideas; some of those ideas from others' creations I/ we (Sun City Girls) have processed through my/ our (Sun City Girls) system, resulting in another way to express it, from the love of the original idea, not as a tribute or approximation of a foreign style, as the previously mentioned Wire bloke would interpret. To me, those areas of the world are not foreign anyway and are quite comfortable places to live.
Alan Bishop - Jakarta, Java, 2006
The radio is one of the greatest musical instruments ever made. I'm always promoting the radio as compositional device and experimental tool. Radio recording and collage is something I've always done for self-amusement. I had no idea that people would actually like it, but when I started sending them around to friends a few years ago, the feedback consisted almost entirely of requests for me to release them as finished projects as soon as possible. Now I have the vehicle for that with Sublime Frequencies. It seems such an obvious concept to create these types of radio documents, and that it should have been done by others in a similar way decades ago. What I'd give to hear hours of Thai, Cambodian, Indonesian, Moroccan, Indian, Burmese, etc., radio from the 1960's. I know older recordings from these countries exist somewhere, rotting on reel tapes and cassettes in the back room of an old storefront. There's always more work to do.
Regarding the Sun City Girls collage releases, all of them are prepared for and function as personal audio talismans. They consist of selected collected pieces from elsewhere combined with scrap Sun City Girls or solo material, and I sequence each project in a variety of methods I couldn't even begin to describe here. From the best of my memory, Lo-Pacific consists of Burmese and U.S radio broadcasts, field recordings from Burma, Sumatra, India, Hawaii, and the U.S, one Sun City Girls performance, and an odd track from a reel of tape found in an Los Angeles dumpster courtesy of John Vallier. So when you listen to it next time, you'll probably figure out which piece is Sun City Girls. Like many Sun City Girls projects, material is utilized from the entirety of our 25 years of production. We've never been on any chronological release schedule. It's plenty of work trying to keep track of what's been used from the archives and what hasn't.
The modern electroacoustic music you spoke of should have a convention every year where they could gather every artist together for a drawing and only ten lucky winners could release a C.D that year. There's too much music to process now. I would be ecstatic about that if it was all good music. But the available technology makes almost everyone at least a parlor musician today. As I said earlier, the experimental music community needs to be challenged to upgrade their fucking gig: too many beige-worshiping mediocre "artists" without a sense of cleverness, wit, dynamics, personality, as if they were corpses tossed on a table of electronics or a floor littered with pedals and the random way in which they lie dead on their equipment was dictating the sound of the current trend of the moment. A 13-day old cocker spaniel is aware of how easy most of that shit it is to produce with today's consumer technology, and how flat-lined most of the contemporary work truly is. Those people need to challenge themselves more and forget about what others think about art, music, or anything else. Popular opinion is under hypnosis and is not an inspiration for anything but continued momentum for the sinking casket of collective humanity.
Seemingly, Sun City Girls after the 2004 tour entered another period of relatively-infrequent activity, similar to that which stretched (from what I can surmise) from some point in 1998 to whenever the Carnival Folklore Resurrection series began to appear in 2000. The group's resurgence then fit in well with the rise, or the newly prominent place, of Indie music that was more experimental, more comfortable with being outside mainstream attention. Of course, the attention Sun City Girls received with your 2002 tour stemmed in large part from the mere fact that the group had not toured the United States since 1992. There's also the inevitable recognition artists receive for having been around a long time. Still, artists and listeners in the Indie/experimental milieu, especially given the disgusting jingoist/imperialist socio-political climate of the time, were reacting against the Indie and experimental music of the 1990's and either its numerous attempts to appropriate or work within the mainstream or its pseudo-academic nature, and in turn rediscovering older ideas emphasizing D I Y means of recording and publishing recordings and radical methods of thinking about and creating music. I am referring here to the artists generally grouped together as either Free Folk or Noise Rock, in addition to the artists who fall under the rubric, New Improvised, which I coined in my essay "The End of the Rock Era," as well as the labels, festivals, and so on associated with them. Was the return to touring in 2002 simply a matter of it being the right time for the band members? Was there a conscious desire to reconnect with a wider community of artists? In the Popwatch interview with Richard noted above, he mentions recordings done in 1999, which apparently have not surfaced [then again, since Flute and Mask and Wah do not have recording dates listed...]. At this point, is there a backlog of recordings to be released? Are there plans for another tour anytime soon?
Alan Bishop - Medan, Sumatra, 2004
We never go away long enough to actually signify a resurgence. We take breaks from performing if that's what you mean, but Sun City Girls not touring never means we aren't active doing a million things, all of which apply to what Sun City Girls has been and always will be: a vehicle for expressing and manifesting a huge collection of ever-expanding ideas. We're also involved with other activities outside the visible ones which are no one else's business. As you would probably guess, there is a massive backlog of Sun City Girls music, solo music, recordings with other musicians, writing, film and video, sound/radio collage, noise recordings, field recordings, novelty projects, photos, illustrations, artwork, ephemera, and a host of material I can't remember until I start opening taped-up boxes. So the next time some dumb-ass tells you that we release everything we record, you can tell him that our backlog completely dwarfs what we've already released or published in every medium. Flute and Mask and Wah were recorded in 2000 and 2001. So if those dates aren't listed in the liner notes, I'll have to discipline my staff for that! Shit, I can't get good Filipino Muslim help these days. As for touring, I don't know if there's a right time for it, or if there is any need to establish contact with other artists who seem to always be looking us up anyway. Being around for 25 years, we've seen communities of artists come and go and they keep coming and going. Touring still provides us with the opportunity to get around to places we wouldn't usually choose to visit and to see old friends who always show up where we least expect them, so I suppose we'll be out there performing live again next year. Maybe.