Thursday, December 11, 2008

nospectacle in Famzine

Our friend John "Billiebob" Williams was kind enough to interview Walter for his excellent blog, Famzine. Here is the interview reprinted in its entirety.

nospectacle combines music and video into a mind melting live performance. The trio consists of Walter Wasacz, Jennifer Paull and Chris McNamara. On Friday, November 28 at Cranbrook Art Museum, they performed a set loosely based on “Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” the multimedia experience created by Andy Warhol in the mid-1960s.

Walter collaborates with several other folks around town and hosts with Carleton Gholz. He writes a column for Metro Times called The Subterraneans, which is devoted to Detroit dance culture. He talked a bit about performing with his multimedia collective.

nospectacle played some shows this year that have had good publicity. How did those feel, being a fairly young group?
Well, it’s been great. We’ve able to do pretty much what we’ve wanted, which is to bring a Detroit-inspired electronic music and video group project into a variety of venues, exposing it to lots of different people. From the beginning, the idea was to include as many people as possible in what we do, and not do some kind of exclusive, elitist, bullshit artistry thing. We’ve played in clubs, bars, coffee houses, art galleries, museums, colleges, the Movement festival — I’d like to play on the sidewalk one day, just set up and perform for passersby. As long as we could get cords long enough and some sound with a little ooomph…

The members of the group have roots in melding sound, art and visuals. How do you keep this element fresh in your shows?
Chris McNamara has been making original sound and film productions for the past decade as a member of Thinkbox and as a solo performer. He’s had films screened in film festivals and has done sound/visual installations here and in Europe. He also teaches in U-M’s Screen Arts & Cultures program. He’s a really accomplished guy, but totally humble and down to earth. It’s a privilege to play with him. Jennifer Paull is starting to make her own animation pieces and does some digital video editing, as well as audio production and editing. I use a turntable and work the 3-channel mixer, so there is always an element of DJ performance to what we do. It’s all live and in the moment, and we try to turn any glitch or human error into something that works to our advantage. The streaming video is also mixed live, with three projections often going at once. The effects can be trippy or totally calming, depending on how we feel.

Is your studio setup mostly laptop and a couple controllers?
Yes, two laptops (both MacBook Pros), two audio controllers (one M-Audio Evolution, one FaderFox), some audio and video interface hardware, three mini-DVD players, a Technics 1200 … and waaaay too many cords, wires and lines in, lines out. We’re not gearheads at all, always grumbling and fumbling about the equipment.

What is your interpretation of the (literal/ figurative) space between artist and audience?
I love that question … When I was a kid, a long, long time ago, I learned that the ideal distance between artist and audience is almost none at all, a sheer, almost invisible veil is the best image I can think of, where the expectation is that the artists provide the content for the performance but its expression is shared with the audience. It has to be that way. Everyone present participates in making a show a magical event. I hate that artificial separation between producer and consumer that is too often imposed. You know, ‘we’re up here, and you’re down there,’ that kind of thing… Everybody should contribute if a performance stands a chance of being great. Kids, especially kids, should leave a venue believing a part of their lives has changed, and for the better. The world should tilt ever so slightly on its axis, the cultural landscape should be re-shaped. That’s the goal, anyway…

When performing in art settings, do you find the audience may not understand what you are doing?
They seem to understand it pretty well, maybe intuitively grasping that what we’re trying to do really is art, that it’s like a living, breathing installation … one that you can dance to if you feel the urge.

You have worked on music and art projects with other individuals?
Carleton Gholz and I started Paris ‘68 in 2002. We brought DJ culture to Indian restaurants and libraries, we invited an artist to paint canvases in front of Detroit Threads while we played in the display window, we did some fashion shows, did a thing at the Detroit Science Center for the launch of a new brand for an advertising company, tried to bring social change politics to the dance community … and failed miserably. But that failure was absolutely a good thing, for us anyway. Carleton is now a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, doing very well, and nospectacle is getting a bit of attention for breaking its own unconventional way, so that’s good …

How do the members of nospectacle jam/collaborate?
Well, we start with some good food! Chris and Jennifer are awesome cooks and we try to always eat well, and cheaply...Jamming is the right word, really breaking it down to some serious dubs, spatial ambient tones and some deep Detroitish grooves, putting them all into a digital blender and hoping they all get along together. It’s a bit of trial and error but you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Some of the motivation to make interesting, innovative new sounds and pictures comes from a fear of being a bore. Who needs to hear the same stuff over and over again, no matter what kind of music you make? Listening to techno can be the most boring experience imaginable if you just recycle what someone did way more originally in ‘86, ‘96 or ‘06. Make something fresh, I say, or do something else.

I also work from a premise that you have to hurt somebody when you perform. Really give them a good whacking. You need to, figuratively speaking, punch it up and engage the audience so that they want to respond in a physical way. Or they need to. I was taking pictures of a performance by the Fall a few years ago and knew singer Mark E. Smith had a disdain for photographers or fans that got in his way while he was on stage. I thought he might hit me if I got too close, but I thought that was great. I was ready to hit him back. That’s the kind of tension you need.

What is your favorite Warhol work or genre?
Love it all, but I think his paintings from photographs of cultural icons like Marilyn, Che, Mao, Elvis and others are timeless …

What other artists do you like?
Visual art? I have a soft spot for some real bad boys, Francis Bacon, Caravagio, Max Ernst, Duchamp …In film, I really like the French New Wave and people that inspired those guys, like Jean-Pierre Melville, Hitchcock. I love Bunuel and 21st century surrealists like David Lynch and Guillermo del Toro. And David Cronenberg, ahhh …

In music, I was schooled by the Rolling Stones when I first heard ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ and the Velvet Underground’s ‘Waiting for the Man’, that kind of dark, literate rock poetry you can dance to … I loved the glam era (T-Rex, Bowie, Roxy Music), the first rush of disco, the way punk attitude turned music on its head in the late ’70s, then bands like the Birthday Party, Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, the Fall, Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine. All great. Then came electronic dance music from Detroit and Berlin’s Basic Channel and Chain Reaction in the late ’90s that put me straight on (or is it off?) course. But everyone probably says that. It’s still the best techno ever made …

Local favs?
Rod Modell and all his projects, deepchord, Echospace, are wonderful. Mike Huckaby is doing some exciting work, the best I’ve heard from him ever. Aaron Carl is still crucifying himself for his art and bringing it strong, Carl Craig’s newest stuff is as good as he’s ever done … Colin Zyskowski and Alvin Hill are taking music and video work to another level. I think we’ll hear more about their projects in 2009. There’s also some great noise and experimental music in this town that people take for granted. Still lots of good stuff to get excited about locally, just got to get the next generation kids to produce and promote something that stands apart from what’s been done in this city’s past. I like what the Proper | Modulation gang is doing, bringing in some sweet stuff from Europe and building their own scene with local DJ and other artists. It’s not easy. It has to have that Detroit vibe, something elusive and mysterious, filled with confidence and power. Maybe you can’t find it, it has to find you….


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