Khate Gausman is an electronics/noise/circuit-bending artist based in Virginia. A few weeks ago, we did an email interview for a magazine piece I'm writing about her (hopefully I'll be done with it is week - fingers crossed!). I'm posting it all here, pretty much unedited. because there's no way I'll be able to squeeze all this info into a several-hundred word story.
Enjoy! Buy her records! If you're unsure whether you'll like her records, download/sample a few of the many great mp3s on her site!
What sparked your interest in circuit-bending related tunes? Was there a sort of "eureka" moment? Is there anyone who you would count as an influence?
Back in '98 I bought a CD & book set called "Gravikords, Whirlies and Pyrophones", which features work by Reed Ghazala. Flash forward two years, when I find a Speak & Spell in a thrift store and think "wait, can't I do that circuit-bending thing on that?" Curiosity soon became an obsession. I come from a visual art background and only started making noises in the late 90's, so the idea of constructing a unique sonic sculpture was a very happy marriage of old interests with new.
Your two latest albums - Composition of a Recorded Mass and Parts -- seem different from your previous work in the sense that each seems to hew to a certain sonic idea. i.e. the former is less solid and sort of shadowy and amorphous, but the latter is full of quick jolts and sharp edges (to these ears, anyway). Meanwhile the older CDs struck me more as collections of odds and ends, potpurri style. Was this intentional? Do you find yourself increasingly wanting each album to
stick to a particular mood? (or am I totally off base, here?)
You're correct --- recent albums adhere a bit more to a sonic theme, but for reasons as practical as aesthetic. Within the last year I've accrued a backlog of material that has only recently been mastered; with more tracks to pick from, it's easier to arrange them by theme. I don't mind the potpourri approach to album mixing, and will probably release some like that in the future. It's simply that the most recent work has sounded better grouped with neighboring themes, and I have enough of it to do so.
I notice that Composition (and a few tracks on other records) incorporates samples from the Conet Project (radio recordings of people talking in code, forgive me if I'm getting the name wrong). Is there a particular significance to the inclusion of those samples in your work?
There's something hypnotic, alien, and totemic about that stuff and it fits >in well with your music.
[I like to use them because they are hypnotic, alien, and totemic --- waitaminnit, quit preempting my good answers. :P] I was familiar with spy number stations before I'd heard of the Conet Project; most of samples come from SW enthusiasts' websites. My dad was into shortwave for a while when I was growing up. I can't help but think I was influenced by hearing the foreign voices and disturbing interference on Friday nights as I labored on artwork in the next room. I've always been fascinated by codes and ciphers and mysterious communiques, so the idea of a code I could inject into audio artwork delighted me.
what, exactly, does circuit bending entail, and what do your tools and materials consist of?
In a nutshell, circuit-bending involves opening up some sound-making or -altering device (toys, keyboards, guitar pedals, etc.) and re-wiring it to create sounds the manufacturer never intended. The results can be controlled effects or random glitching. Part of the allure --- for me, anyways --- is also modding or re-housing the case, so the instrument becomes not only a unique source of strange sounds but a work of art unto itself.
the article mentions that circuit bending is a pasttime both you and your partner share. Do you two ever collaborate on projects? Does he make records as well? What's the dynamic like when both of you are teasing noise from sound chips at the same time?
Wayne indeed does his own musical thing; we met at a gig in Richmond, VA we were both on the bill for. He goes by FERALCATSCAN, and we often collaborate making noise as well as circuit-bent artifacts. It can be nice having another bender in the house, in order to get a second opinion on design or technical challenges. The biggest hurdle we have while bending is occasionally wanting to throw the other's toy out the window, having heard "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or somesuch 673 consecutive times during an afternoon of searching for good bends and mods.
Do you consider what you do experimental electronic sound, noise, or some other genre classification?
I use "noise" casually because it's easy to say and only 5 characters to type. Albums like Circadian, though, I don't find particularly "noisy" in the genre sense of the word. I like to dabble all over the electronic spectrum from strange rap remixes to glitch techno to dark ambient to noise. It's tough to pigeon-hole myself.
Tell me about how you came to be involved with the Women Take Back The Noise compilation. Have you been featured on any other comps?
Ninah, the incredible force behind WTBTN, invited me to be on the comp. I sent some tracks, two of which got selected. I was fortunate to see the compilation in progress when I was in California last year. One thousand circuit boards waiting on cookie sheets to be hot-glued into boxsets is an impressive sight, indeed. I've had tracks on Dark Assembly I & II, which were Virginia-based goth/industrial comps, as well as a handful of noise comps released in DIY (and now OOP) fashion.
How do you make a living outside of music, and where has your artistic career taken you thus far? (in an earlier email, you mentioned doing a BBC interview) What have some of the highlights of this experience been for you?
By day, I'm an a/v tech for a public library. We set up conference room equipment, fix the circulating tapes and discs that the patrons abuse, and run lights and sound for events in our 268-seat theatre. I've always enjoyed working for libraries, and this combines my bibliophilia with plugging in cables. It's a good gig.
A definite highlight was being asked to give a talk at UC Santa Cruz last year. They have an MFA program in Digital Arts and New Media, and asked me to speak about circuit-bending at their colloquium last year. Meeting the folks who came to the talk was well worth the trip alone. Thank goodness this was before the "liquids can explode" TSA regulations; it was enough fun at the time flying to California with circuit-bent devices in my carry-on.
Tell me a bit about Field Report, and the contest you held in relation to it.
2006 was a very productive year, track-wise, so I had quite a bit of stuff that could be released after the winter mastering season. I was in a visual art doldrum, and decided to loosen my DIY reigns for a change. The album was made available for mp3 download, and folks were encouraged to come with their own album covers. The selected artist would win a Khate-for-life subscription (free albums in perpetuity). I thought the contest would free me from agonizing in an OCD fashion about artwork for a new release, but instead I just chewed my lip over selecting others' artwork. After picking through some fine submissions, I went with David Waldman's excellent photography.
Field Report is probably the most "live" full-length album. There's alot of straight-to-tape sessions with minimal computer editing on it. If you're curious what an average Saturday night in my house sounds like, there you go.
Do you have a favorite of any of your records?
Here's where I'm supposed to say "they're my children, I love them all equally!" But truth be told: if I'm feeling down on my work, I listen to "Ononharoia" to trick myself into thinking, "eh, I'm not so bad."
What are some of your favorite mainstream artists/albums? Have you ever considered sampling from any of them?
Honestly, I don't listen to a heckuva lot of recent mainstream (if by that, you mean "can be heard on antennae radio in a car"). When I lived in NY and managed a used CD store, I was a bit more in touch with genres outside the ones I favor. Now, the closest I come would be occasionally enjoying the local rap/hiphop station. So, I have done remixes of Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot, and sample lots of old school like Public Enemy, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane. With the exception of PE (who seem to be sample-friendly), these tracks tend to get released for friends only, as I'm afraid of lawsuits I cannot afford. Shame, as I think they're pretty interesting.
How's your D.I.Y. process working out, i.e. recording and releasing everything yourself working out? Is it a course you prefer to recording for a label, or have you ever considered signing somewhere?
If I knew I could get signed to nature's perfect label, where I'd maintain complete creative control, keep CDs affordable for fans, and it was run by honest folks, then I'd probably sign. I'd like the added publicity a label could generate, but I'm so terribly wary of getting embroiled in some sort of contractual hell. Being DIY also means keeping costs low, and I'd rather have 100 people buying a CD for $5 than 33 fans buying them at $15.
You mentioned teaching circuit bending in the newspaper article. Do you have a lot of students, or a number that's surprising to you?
I've done two workshops in Richmond at noise festivals, and was pleasantly surprised at the the turnout. When we knew the Daily Press article was going to run, we set up a meeting place for Williamsburg, and got about a dozen attendees. For a podunk town such as that, I was again happily surprised. A handful have followed up and we regularly have folks over to teach them the arcane arts of bending.
How does your songwriting process operate?
Sometimes I play the instruments; sometimes, the instruments play me. With certain bent instruments, it's often seemingly up to chance what they will spit out. In those instances, I record gobs of material and then edit it down into interesting and digestible chunks. Other times, I'll have a theme in mind and either use the reliable bent instruments or my straightforward gear. Most often, it's a combination of the two, layered upon each other and "iced" with field recordings and samples.
Seasons and weather play a big role in what I work on. If I start a track and don't finish it within the season, it will usually get shelved until the following year because I simply can't get into it once the weather changes.
When and why did you decide to change your first name to "Khate"?
I got the name from Wildy Petoud's short story "Accident D'Amour", a truly horrifying bit of splatterpunk. At the time I was making angry, stompy industrial music and needed a nom de synthesizer, so putting the "hate" in "Kate" made sense. It stuck, though I drifted into less angry genres. The only place it actually says "Khate" in paperwork is at the auto repair shop, because I have vanity plates on my car and they just assumed that was how it's spelled.
What's next for you? I know Field Report is out soon and you mentioned playing a show in NYC with Z'ev. How was that experience, and what sort of reception did you receive? Do you think you'll play out live >more in the future?
Opening for Z'EV in Rochester was a fantastic experience, even though it involved driving through a foot of snow in April the next day. The incoming nor'easter kept the audience small, but everyone involved was very enthused. I would like to play out more, but the area I live in doesn't have much in the way of venues which cater to the experimental set.
I notice that every track list on your CDs is shadowed by a comment on
each track title. Why do this? Is it a means of sharing a bit of literal, lingual self, since these songs are for the most part "instrumental" in form?
Yes, since there aren't lyrics (aside from the odd sample) for my songs, I like to give little hints in these footnotes. I try to make them vague enough that the track is still open to interpretation and the impressions of the listener, but perhaps points towards the direction I was feeling at the time of creation. Plus, I've always enjoyed descriptive, illustrative liner notes in general; why do classical albums have them, and yet far more mysterious electronic albums do not? At best one seems to get a name-dropping list of thank yous. I used to include thank-you's, but I'm afraid of leaving someone out, and the "you know who you are" is a cop-out. Best to simply thank the listener.
You work in a library, right? You ever find that your day job influences your music, and if so, how?
While I work for a library, it's as an AV tech. Our department fixes abused media, sets up equipment for conference rooms, and runs lights and sound for our 268 seat theatre. If nothing else, running sound for our concert series has certainly given me a great deal of empathy for soundguys*, and so I try to make my live rig as soundguy-friendly as possible. It may take me an hour to plug in the miles of cable, but once I'm ready to go, all the soundguy has to do is make me loud. I'd be the last person on earth to be some diva whose monitor check takes longer than the house check. Running sound for a variety of genres has also enhanced my mixing and production chops; if I ever decide to incorporate, say, a hammered dulcimer, at least I know how to mic it.
*I call myself a soundguy; while it may seem obvious coming from a woman, let me be plain: no sexism is meant, I just like the term, regardless of gender.
You said you had a fine-arts background; did you go to school for
arts, or was this a personal pursuit?
A bit of both. I've been drawing as long as I can remember, focused on art during my primary school education, and started off in college as an art major. I switched to studying psychology during college, and then found a happy marriage of the two in art therapy and got a master's degree in that.
My visual art pursuits have taken a backseat to the noise-making in the past few years, album covers and custom-painted bent instruments not withstanding. In recent months I've been trying to get my art mojo back, though. I've been keeping a sketchbook and just spent the July 4th holiday working on some found object sculpture (an alien Virgin Mary shrine made from an overhauled Barbie; a circuit-board dragonfly with wings cut from the acetate matrices found inside PC keyboards).
How was the track "Imaginary Numbers" crafted?
Like many tracks on FR, it's got a very "live" feel and technique to it.
It employs the Vinyl Translator a great deal, a circuit-bent turntable that runs forwards and backwards from about 10 to 50 rpm. It's very fun to play and gets trotted out to live gigs regularly. The working title for the track was "The Office" because it heavily uses an 80's record of office sound effects --- lots of clunky teletext and now-antiquated copy machines.
The spoken samples reflect my love of number theory. I'm no math genius, yet number theory intrigues me greatly; it tantalizes and confuses my brain at the same time, like hearing a Catholic mass in Latin. I sense the power and the mystery even though I don't fully grasp it. Imaginary numbers are among those mysteries, so this became something of a hymn to them.
Does Field Report, in your mind, have an overall/overarching
theme? It reminds me of Composition in a way but it's sort
of...darker, more enthropic (even with the samples).
FR was arranged more as a potpourri album, an assortment of odds and ends that hadn't fit well on previous releases. They didn't play well with others, so they're forced to play with each other. It's an orphanage of an album. The chaotic and darker feel probably stems more from my general mindset in the late summer and fall of '06, when most of the tracks were composed, than a conscious effort to group tracks thematically.
The title was picked after selected the winning album cover artwork. It fit the feel of Pighood's lovely cover photo "Hose Nazi in the Wheat", as well as the nature of the track selection. Might not fit together, might not be pretty, but here's what's out there. Just reporting in, sir.