David Jones: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyor of: Blackest noise and crystalline ambience.
File next to: Prurient, Oren Ambarchi, Keiji Haino
Playing: Wavelength “Don’t Speak” Friday, March 25th at Array Space. Get your tickets here!

A true wizard of the wires and a technical tinkerer to boot, David Jones finds beauty in repurposed electro waste and transcendence in transforming junk into makeshift instruments. A force to be reckoned with in the Toronto underground noise community, he has many aliases, each one a signpost for some of the best experimental music going on in Toronto today.

With no less than three projects on the go at any given time, how do you balance your time with each, and can you talk a bit about the inspiration behind each project?

Oh man, well, I don’t think I really balance my time! I’m sure I’m not alone in acknowledging that almost all my free time is spoken for by these endeavours. Bile Sister and Manticore are my more well-known collaborative projects. It’s inspiring to work creatively with Julie Reich and Zoe Alexis-Abrams and to somehow create an end product that you could never have envisioned beforehand. Music that’s beyond the imagination of a single person is special; there’s a sort of alchemy involved in the mix and match of talents and abilities, natural or learned. Long-term collaborative projects like these, which are centred varyingly on improvisational elements, require vulnerability — the ability to work against your instincts and to have trust and patience. I’m shy and anxious, so sometimes playing an instrument is a better way for me to connect with people and socialize.

I first saw Julie play as Bile Sister at a show at 961A when we were both on the bill. I introduced myself to her because I was really affected by the music and the way she played her Roland JX-3P. Very soon after we became friends, and soon after that I joined the band. I’ve been working and writing songs with her for over two years now, and it just seems like a natural pairing. She has the knack for layering sweet and sour melodies over a bustling, beautiful mess of lo-fi beats and synths.

Zoe and I recently talked about how Manticore began as a drone experiment and evolved of its own momentum into something more in the realm of opera… maybe alien opera? When we first started recording, we’d put a condenser mic in the middle of the room and just play. When we sat back to listen we were kind of blown away with what we had created in that space. What Zoe can do with her voice and how well we could play off each other in the moment was a bit of an epiphany for me. Last year we opened for Eyvind Kang and Jessica Kinney, played at St. Andrew-by-the-Lake with CCMC Duo, and opened the Electric Eclectics Festival, performing as we watched the sun set behind the audience. In both of these bands, there is a challenge to find new paths and take risks. We’re sometimes the odd ones out on bills at shows, but that excites me more than anything.

Virtually every time I see you perform solo, you seem to be standing (or kneeling) before a different technical setup, each one looking more complex than the last. What factors determine what you will play at any given set and how much work goes into the creation of these noise makers? Do you have any formal training with electronics?

I’m your typical autodidact so I’ve learned mostly from my own reading and YouTube-watching. Electronics is like a form of magic for me. You’re entering the domain of the subatomic particle; everything is unseen and theoretical. But there are formulae, schemata, and symbols that are invested with cryptic meanings and hold the potential for immense power — or funny sounds. I failed science and math in high school, so to return years later to these principles on my own brings new confidence and excitement. I’m still a learner, and making comprises just a segment of my interest in sound design. But I like the intimacy of building or assembling equipment. The fruits of ongoing research and work that I do between shows are usually what I bring when I perform solo. Whatever materials I’ve been working on are injected into the live situation, which explains the many different setups. This is not to underestimate the primacy of shambolic failures, weird half-working machines, broken and thrown objects, and fortuitous accidents to the project or performance. Nor is it to understate the emotional connection I have with my solo work as Hexzuul which is, expectedly, the closest to my heart of all my present endeavours.

There have been multiple occasions now where we’ve seen you collaborate with other artists, usually under the guise of your “Hexzuul” moniker. We’ve seen you perform with interpretive dancers and live projection artists. How do these collaborations come about, and are you working on any other collaborations of note?

My work is very materially focused, so I’m constantly imagining new ways in which it can be exploded or interconnected with other disciplines and practices. Maybe collaboration is the balm of the control freak? Some of my earlier performances I did were in theatre, as music for plays and performances. I enjoy spectacle and the candour of body movement. Working with Cassandra Witteman (Chrysanthemum White Alder) for years as part of The Good Children taught me a lot about how to interact with live performance — how important it is to observe outside the aural realm. Her work goes beyond dance to encompass costume design and voice performance and was a major inspiration for me to perform live. I always felt that my music, abstract and voiceless, desires tactile form and visual suggestion, so it’s rewarding to work with others in this sense.

I think a lot about my gender and cultural background in terms of the music I listen to and make: are there ways to move out of my expected role in ways that are natural? Dance and performance art are undervalued, I think, not only because they are difficult to commodify but also because of how they are observed by a patriarchal privileging of the male rock performance as de rigueur stage act. As you’ve seen, sometimes my solo performances become highly performative. Regarding video, I’ve worked with Mandelbrut (Luis Hernandez) for over three years now, and his analogue fractal projections formed a crucial element of many of our collaborative Good Children performances. The three of us attempted to conjure liminal, intense, ritualistic environments through sound, visuals, dance and voice. These performances brought me personally closer to the fabric of dreams and memory that inspires what I do.

Mandelbrut has recently been working on a chemical liquid light show process with extremely rich visual effects. One of the properties of the liquid light show is that that there is no refresh rate or scan lines in the projections. It’s just pure, incandescent light, so the movement of the coloured chemicals remains smooth and deeply saturated; crawling as it does in bloody splatters across the wall. We continue to work together as Hexzuul and Mandelbrut, where I perform within the threshold of projections. It can be a powerful, magical space for me. I still have a scar on my lip from what I did when I was possessed by what we created during Ghost Hole VI last Halloween.

You have also been involved with producing some video work. Do you approach this art form in a similar fashion to the way you create your music? What is it about video as a medium that you find intriguing? 

As I mentioned above, I’m very materially focused with my work, so it seems natural that my interest in sound would spill over into video. I first screened works made with time-decayed and processed 8mm tapes mixed with sine-wave oscillators about four years ago. The simultaneity of pure sound and video led me naturally to video synthesis, and this has been something I’ve worked on over the last few years. Importantly, I’ve met and worked with some very talented and knowledgeable video artists such as Mandelbrut, Philip Baljeu, and MC NTSC since that time, who I’ve learned from and who’ve helped me develop. I’m part of a loose collective called Videchrome where we work and learn from each other, document, create, and publish. Analogue video synthesis lends itself to live performance since most of the control mechanisms are tactile and there is no need to render.

With video, I start with video synthesizer signals and optical feedback, and then I use mixers and effects chains to process and perform. It’s basically the same thing that’s done with audio except that it’s much more volatile in a live setting. With analogue video we’re working with a composite signal, so it can’t be altered without preserving the syncopation frequencies embedded in the signal that tell the TV where the horizontal and vertical lines should be. So there’s an impetus for putting old junk and obsolete gear to good use since the circuitry needed to alter video signals can be very complicated. Old mixers, colour correctors, enhancers, cameras, effects units are vital to the set-up, and they can be found for cheap.

I’m currently shooting a second video for the band Mimico. The first I made was an adventure in lo-fi, and was made with mostly old analogue video hardware. However, for this upcoming video, we’ve been shooting in a full studio and in HD. I’m working with Natalie Logan (who directed our recent Manticore video), Philip Baljeu as studio engineer and dancers Carolyn Ellen and Tala Berkes. As an artist / director, I prefer to allow people’s skills and creativity to come through and add to the final product. So far it’s been amazing working with such talented and creative collaborators.

I’ve never been shy about telling you that you are one of the most forward thinking artists in the city and that you need to take your show on the road! Can you tell me what you think prevents artists working in these fringe environments with experimental music, noise, etc. from achieving widespread attention?

Thanks for the kind words! What a question, though… I think that any medium approached with more than cursory or cynical interest must necessarily have limited appeal. Take that, pop culture! Also I believe a smaller scale widens the parameters for intimacy and connectivity with the music and sound. The surging interest in cassette ephemera, forgotten, unappreciated and outsider music from the past and present, reflects this. But as rare and weird items are now available for anyone to buy online, or are repressed on vinyl and CD, the possibilities for emotional and social connection shrinks, and the magical properties that connect us to music are potentially diminished. Into the second decade of the 21st century we are very self-conscious about our relationship to music. We are situated atop a precipice looking back at over half a century of recorded and performed popular and experimental musics that have produced their respective legends, heroes, innovators and iconoclasts. Figures that are forever to be revered atop the pedestal of music history. I think the difficulty this generation has attaining these heights, due to varied economic, social, and technological forces, has turned the broader focus away from the canonical to the revisionist so to speak. This is good news for those of us who have always felt an affinity to the outcast. The middle ground has washed away, leaving in its wake a smattering of super-rich pop stars and a thriving, teetering, self-imploding world of independent music.

We live in a city rich with artists and anyone who hangs around long enough can see that we have a huge pool of talented experimental musicians. Is there anyone based in Toronto that you’ve been hoping to work with in particular? And beyond that, if you had the opportunity to work with any famous musician, living or dead, who would it be? 

Yes! I have lots of collaborations in the works that I am very excited about. I’m thinking back to the time management question you asked and wondering if I could do a better job of getting more of them up and running! But they are taking form. Xuan Ye and I will be doing our second collaborative improvised performance at Dundas Video for Track Could Bend’s first anniversary in April. I’ve talked about collaborative performances with Bryan Bray, Alan Bloor, and Brigitte Bardon’t. Andy Yue, Chris Trotter and I also improvised together at Audiopollination and are hoping to reconvene for a recording. I really want to see these all happen. I’m working on remixing some incredible Mandelbrut material and collaborating more on recorded material with Fog Spirits and Ruin. I’m going to say that in some kind of dream world I’d like to work with Mika Vainio, Keiji Haino, and Franck Vigroux, since I think I might be able to catch them all in the same room at the same time and secretly play along in the corner.

Occasionally you switch hats and run a music series of your own called Dianetics. It has consistently been some of the best programming I’ve seen in the city and I’ve discovered many talented underground artists by attending. Who are some of the performers in the city you are most excited about currently?

Yes, I plan to host another Dianetics show soon and look forward to inviting people to play. I developed the series as something that I just wanted to see happen — a mixture of performance art, dance, video art, noise, drones, and anything that just seemed to fit the vibe — a mystical and magic intensity combined with a physical rawness in the production and performance of the works at hand (moving bodies, analogue technology, amplified metalwork, and music made from cement blocks come to mind from previous Dianetics events). There are a lot of exciting things happening in this city and lots of great performers who are getting the attention they deserve. I’ve really been enjoying what I’ve been hearing from Cares, Babel, Cetacea, Xuan Ye, Ceramic TL, Brigitte Bardon’t, The Despot, Ruin, HF, Ambsace and many others. I’d also like to do more video collaborations and music videos, and more live performance with dancers, performance artists, and visual artists.

This Friday you’ll be playing in a very unique and refreshing environment, in which talking is forbidden. How do you suppose people will communicate with one another? You can speak through your music, but for those of us without the means, how would you like to see people communicate?

I’m the kind of person who will space out and accidentally say something… hopefully not an expletive. So I hope I don’t ruin it for everyone. But Array Space is known for hosting shows with respectful and attentive audiences, so it won’t seem so out of the ordinary. However, I do suspect a larger crowd, so it’ll be very interesting to say the least. I’m all for social experiments, and so I say bring it on and let’s try it out! As much as I dislike the chattering that happens at shows (and I’ve seen noise artists drowned out), we’re all guilty of it to some extent. Shows are the spaces where we connect, so it’s not without reason that we have to socialize and get excited. But I would like to see even more of this; maybe a lights-out show, a drone sleepover?

Finally, what’s on the horizon for your solo material? …with Bile Sister? …and with Manticore? The people are hungry for more!

Recording, recording! Bile Sister is working on lots of new songs towards our next full length album. We’ll be on a mini tour with Chandra Oppenheim in early April, acting as her backing band and doing opening sets. Manticore is also crafting new songs to perform live. We’ll be opening for M. Lamar at Ratio on the 26 of March and are in the process of recording more material. And as always, I’m compiling more solo recordings which find their way onto Bandcamp, limited-run cassettes, CDs, or SoundCloud. I’m also working on more audio / visual noise and drone videos, some I have already released on VHS compilations through Videchrome.

— Interview by Jay Pollard (Invocation Presents)