"Interviewing the Anti-Artist" by Aaron Johnston

Spontaneous combustion. In the case of animate objects, it’s a nasty sight. But if you liken its effect to creativity, nothing comes closer than Mark Spybey. While his music--yes, the improvised type if you couldn’t tell--is more comparable to the black clad industrialists of yesteryear, it comes from a source entirely devoid of "genre" boundaries. It is a sound of free expression that downloads as suffocation to some and long breaths of fresh air to others.

This interview reflects a turning point in Mark’s career. "How Hollow Heart" was just released and his departure from Download--though not spoken of here--was still fresh enough to drip. Although this Q and A focuses exclusively on "H H H" and his personal philosophies, it is perhaps a more fitting slant given the immense passion of the subject. The time for chit-chat band interviews that request answers to musical influence are over.

What were the plans for "How Hollow Heart" and what instruments were used in its creation?

Spybey: I had a few plans for the HHH sessions. However, when we actually started, they were thrown out. I can honestly say that we didn't talk, we didn't plan and what happened was a pure improvisation. I did bring some original four track recordings to use, but I’m very lazy so I just grabbed one and fed it through my effects processors without knowledge of its contents. I mainly used my effects processors, voice, a four track and the usual toys like my harmonica, ladyshave and dictaphones. The other collaborators, Gerald, Chris and Heike from Kinder Atom and Digital Poodle, mainly used keyboards and vocoders. Chris also used a scanner. This was the first time keyboards were used on a DVoA release. My friend Sheldon Drake also helped set the scene for this album by encouraging me. I’m always interested in pooling references from other musical genres. He alerted me to the music being made in New York City, the illbient scene.

The song "Ralbag" seems a little premeditated.

Spybey: I can understand your comments. It sounds composed. "Ralbag" was recorded at a time when I was concentrating more on my vocals. If you listen carefully, there are only two things happening--synthesizer and improvised voice. Imagine my surprise while listening to the eight hours of music from those two sessions when this seemingly completed track just stared at me. It had everything to do with those present and their skill at both improvising and carefully listening to each other. Eric Pounder (ex of Lab Report) calls it, "allowing oneself to be silent." It's a skill that can be developed only with a great deal of tolerance and patience.

What’s your opinion of "good musicianship" and the "proper" use of instruments?

Spybey: I can't "play" instruments in a skilled, technical way. If I use a vocoder, for example, I don’t know how to manipulate or change settings. I have a deliberately restricted array of skills because I believe that learning new ones will impair both my music and the ability to be creative in an unrestrained environment. Even when I have access to a studio, I can't bring myself to use more than four tracks. If I do, my creations eventually resemble mud. I'm more of a textured, concrete person. I want to make music that resembles old walls on old buildings, paint that has blistered in heat, marks created randomly by the rain and damp, etc. My works are the indecipherable scribbles whose meanings have become lost in the march of time and progress. Botched repair jobs. Cheap and nasty materials. Mud is mud.

You plan on releasing a few offerings culled from the HHH sessions. I believe that the music someone creates at a particular moment in time is representative of everything existing at that instance. Don’t you feel that fresh a sessions would reveal tones, moods, feelings or colors not captured by the existing tapes?

Spybey: The only other material to be used from this session is a 30 minute drum and bass excursion. I agree, improvisation captures a brief period of actuality. I'm not interested in using the remaining six hours or so of material because I have since recorded more and collaborated with others. The "Drum and Basse" material is completed and ready for release and I also have a new DVoA album that I recorded in January. There’s also some completed material that I don't think will fit into the DVoA rubber stamp.

Are you content with your output?

Spybey: I'm not content. That’s why I can't fit all of my plans into the DVoA fold. I somewhat regret the use of a billion names, but it's a necessary evil. Also, the "market" can only sustain a certain number of releases, or so it says. I have my doubts, but I work with the system and won’t flood it without a clear, logical reason. I think there are many reasons why experimental and improvisational musicians seem prolific. Personally, I prefer to keep busy. Instead of curling up with a good book, I return from the day job and make music. Honestly, I find it ridiculously easy to do.

Outside of your own works, do you feel that making music has become too much a chore?

Spybey: Yes. The idea that bands have to release an album every two years and that the recording process must be agonizing are fine examples. I prefer to "simply" PLAY music. If I make a mistake, I usually keep it. I don't spend ages agonizing over how my music is constructed. I'm not interested in cracking markets. In short, most "rock music" has a need to produce a commodity that sells. Sure, involved in this is a high degree of craftsmanship. I couldn't give a damn about that. It probably shows, but I don't care. I avoid musicians and music stores like the plague. I don't salivate over gear, just over the prospect of making music.

What about narcissism’s role in the musician stereotype?

Spybey: I loathe the rock star facade and will do everything I can to ensure that people know me for who I am, warts and all. Even within this "experimental" genre, there are some who behave in distant and elitist ways. One of my favorite bands is AMM. Last year I was leaving my place of work in Vancouver and ran-into Eddie Prevost, the drummer of AMM. So I did the "excuse me, aren’t you Eddie Prevost?" routine. That night my wife Elaine and I had dinner with him. It was very natural. I'm not terribly social but at least I give the time of day to people who are kind enough to like my work and tell me so. I too have been snubbed by musicians. It's pitiful. Who do they think they are? Monsters. Dinosaurs. Baggage. Swill.

Drugs. Take ‘em or leave ‘em?

Spybey: Drugs derail productivity. Users will deny this just as they deny feeling paranoid. They’ll deny that forgetfulness is the result of having a memory problem and insist that hard drug taking doesn’t result in psychotic breakdowns, even though it does. Users are also heavily into denial. I loathe drugs and would never advise anyone to listen to my music under their influence. I make music that aids my concentration. Most drugs detour concentration while distorting reality. I know that I am starting to sound like an old fart. I'm just saying that being responsible for your actions and being in touch with reality are worthwhile values.

Any personal philosophies?

Spybey: Yes.

1. Everyone is an artist. I’ve talked extensively about how Joseph Beuys has influenced my work. I'm nothing special. I have developed an ability ie. "being creative" which is available to everyone regardless of background, social status, acquired skills or education.

2. Restriction is the mother of invention. I work on a small scale. Most of my instruments cost cents as opposed to dollars.

3. Avoid stereotypes. I’m listened to most extensively in "industrial" circles. I’ve never courted this camp and feel occasionally embarrassed by any association. But, I’m also excited because people who listen to "industrial" music are far less snobby than those who populate much of the ambient, isolationist and techno scenes. I'm not interested in adhering to fashion tags like being associated with certain record labels. One fashionably odd label in Europe told me that they liked my work but couldn't distribute it because they wouldn't carry any of Invisible’s other products. Well, if that’s their philosophy, I wouldn't want to work with them either! I would much prefer to work with a company that releases works by people like Mick Harris (Scorn) and Michael Gira (Swans). I’m happy working with labels, like Invisible, that are committed to supporting musicians and not simply releasing countless records that sound the same in sleeves made out of dried goat skins. I have a sense of community with other musicians and friendships that are far more important than the dictates of fashion and fad. This is why I will work with anyone whose work I admire, regardless of whether that work is pop, neo-classical, techno, grind-core or whatever.

4. Listen carefully. I like Pauline Oliveros' concept of deep listening music. I make music that focuses my thoughts in a disciplined way.

5. Avoid interpretation. When I read poetry or look at a piece of art, I consciously avoid interpretation. I prefer to allow the art to filter through my system, to stimulate me as opposed to making some futile attempt to guess the artist’s intention. That’s why I will never be drawn into a conversation about the meaning of a particular piece of my own music. What counts is the interpretation of the listener. It's an empowering philosophy.

6. Do not retreat into mysticism. That’s a favorite line from a Fall song. Don't retreat into mysticism because it can't be validly tested. Who needs it anyway? Certainly not me. Mysticism is an opiate for those who refuse to work with their own reality.

7. Don't listen to me.

8. Enjoy the sunshine, enjoy the rain.

9. Remember, this is 1997.

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