“In the Cooler” interview transcript

I think the audio recording of the interview I did with Peter Lewis on NCCR’s April 12 “In the Cooler” program is no longer available online, so here’s a (loose) transcript (with links!). Peter emailed me questions which I recorded answers to and then emailed back.

PL: You music is described as that which ” explores the relationship between technology, industrialization, consumerism, and its effect on society and our natural world. “ How does it do this?

EJK: This is a great question, and I’ve got something of a long and convoluted answer for it. I’ve recently focused on creating electronic music of an ambient/industrial nature using MIDI with virtual synths, samples, found sounds/field recordings.

My music tends to be heavily influenced by place; I’ve written music about New Orleans, about Cleveland when I lived there; my most recent album is about the Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV, which is where you go in the US to get your license, get your car registered, that sort of thing. Stems from Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports; but I was thinking about music for a place where everyone is already kind of disgruntled about being there, so how can I reflect the traditional uses of background music (like Muzak) which are usually overly cheerful, with the actual feeling or experience of being at the DMV? And I tried to do that, in part, using some “recycled” standard repertoire, like Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies, pieces that we may have heard as elevator music. So I’m thinking about the music that we are forced to listen to in commercial and public spaces, that’s often curated specifically to make us buy things, and I’m attempting to combat that a little by making music that actually reflects the feelings of being in those places, which can sometimes, at least in the case of the DMV, be a pretty angsty experience. I also fold in, using found sound and field recordings, sounds from the natural world, that have been captured digitally and warped to the point of being unrecognizable, to contrast the sounds of the outside world with manufactured worlds like shopping malls or government buildings.

PL: What drew you to expressing your thoughts and feelings in this particular way?

EJK: I’m thinking a lot lately about the environmental impact of our technological advances; the terrible ways we dispose of unwanted technology, or massive data warehouses that require tons of resources to run, including both water and energy, and wondering how I can make the music I want to make while minimizing both my carbon footprint and my encouragement of industries that take advantage of their workers and result in gross in-equivalences in the global economy. And part of the way I do that is by having a relatively minimal setup, focusing on samples and virtual synths rather than collecting a lot of hardware synthesizers, buying as much used equipment as I can. So even in my own practices I’m trying to reconcile how tech, industrialization, and consumerism affect what I can and can’t do musically. And I want to give a shoutout here to Safiya Noble, a professor and library science scholar in the communications dept at UCLA; she studies bias in internet search algorithms and has a brilliant book called Algorithms of Oppression that everyone in the world should read, and she also researches the effect that the technology we’ve all come to rely on (cell phones, computers, etc) and how they’re built using minerals and materials mined in Africa, using incredibly cheap labor, and taking the profits outside of the continent and away from the workers, who often are left with terrible health problems because of the type of work they’re doing without proper health regulations and treatment. And I have as many tech devices as the next person, so I’m definitely not a role-model here, but it’s something I’m trying to do in my own actions, and maybe bring a very small amount of awareness to with my music too.

PL: Would you describe your music as hopeful…or hopeless?

EJK: That’s another great question, and it’s always funny finding out how other people hear my music and what they interpret it to be about, versus what I think it’s about, and that’s just one of the wonderful things about music and the fact that it’s subjective. I’d put my music in a middle ground between hopeful or hopeless. I think I often reflect feelings of tension in my music–Stewart Gardiner’s a music reviewer, and on his blog Concrete Islands he referred to Music for the DMV as “a pervasive ambience of anxiety,” and I think that’s pretty accurate.But I’m also someone who finds music that’s overly joyous kind of depressing, so to me there is something hopeful in hearing music that’s more reflective of the actual experiences we have, which are often NOT joyous. I think there’s hope in honesty.

PL: Are you a positive person about the future of the world?

EJK: Haha, that’s a really difficult question to answer. I’m very concerned about the environment and what we’ve done to it, about our political systems here in the US and in a lot of other places, about racism, sexism, ableism, and every other ism you can think of, and it really seems impossible to get ourselves out of these disasters and inequalities at some points. But, I get up every day and I do my job and I make music and I enjoy time with my husband and my family and my friends, and I try in my very small way to have a positive impact on those around me, so…I don’t know. I think I’m cynical, but hopeful, and maybe that means there’s some positivity in there somewhere.

PL: Which of your tracks would you recommend?

EJK: Off my album Music for the DMV, I’d recommend “Club Clanger,” which is kind of like an Apocalyptic dance party that uses a lot of found sounds; and “Mysterious Grooving Gymnopedie,” which is one of those Erik Satie arrangements I mentioned that will give you a good idea of what I mean when I talk about taking standard repertoire and trying to make it reflect the actual experience of being in a public place. Also, just a couple of weeks ago I released a cassette tape and digital release called Departure 2019, there’s a “live” demo of a new song on it  called “Departure” that is something I’m working on for my next album, which will more explicitly tackle the issues of industrialization and environmental disaster.

PL: Can you select music from a couple of others please?

EJK: YES! I’m a huge fan of the band Portishead, and Beth Gibbons just released a recording of Górecki’’s Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs with the Polish National Orchestra that is just fantastic; I’ve been really infatuated lately with Tanya Tagaq, and she has a new album out called Toothsayer that I just love, you should listen to the title track, “Toothsayer, “if you want to get your feet wet with her music; and finally, I have some friends based out of New Orleans who have a band called HAWN, they released an album called For A Ride through Strategic Tape Reserve earlier this year with some beautiful vocals and fascinating and unexpected electronics, I’d recommend starting with the song “Man On The Make.”

Thank you Peter for having me on!