Originally Appeared in Unit Circle #4
On July 17th, 1994, I met up with Neil Hertzinger of Grae Com and Mason
Jones of Charnel Music and Trance. We were going to have just a couple
hour chat about experimental music for The Unit Circle Zine. We ended up
talking for almost 7 hours. What follows are some brief excerpts of our
conversations (well, at least the first two hours of our conversations, after
which I ran out of tape).
I've done things
Kevin [to Neil]: So have you done anything since your cassette?
Neil: No, that was 1990 and I've done nothing since.
Mason: Not true, you have a split LP with MacroNympha.
Neil: Yeah well, I forgot.
Mason: Good thing you have me around.
Neil: I've done things.
Kevin: You've got the video, is that on Charnel Music?
Neil: Well, I just put a few copies together and sent some to Mason
which are probably still sitting somewhere.
Mason: Videos don't sell for shit.
Kevin: Well then, the complete retrospective of all my work, I shouldn't
make 10,000 copies?
Neil: Maybe 5,000.
Mason: You should scale down your expectations.
Neil: Well, and then I did some tracks for some people and did some
compilations, and then I went to grad school and my life ended...
Radio Stations and Magazines
Kevin [to Mason]: If you are going to make a new CD for a band, how many
do you usually make?
Mason: If it's a band that nobody's ever heard of, like Gravitar, I did
1000 copies and depending on how well it sells, I might press another 500 or
1000. I think Crash Worship is the only band that has ever sold more than
2000 copies. I might have sold more than 2,000 copies of the second Arrythmia
CD. It depends. If I press up 1000, figure 200 of those are promos.
Kevin: So you send them to radio stations?
Mason: Oh yeah, radio stations and magazines.... With the more
experimental stuff, I probably won't send out as many. Like with the Monde
Bruits CD that I'm putting out. I probably won't send out as many radio promos
of that, because there aren't as many places that will play them. I'll
probably end up sending more promos to European radio stations.
Kevin: Is there big support for experimental music in Europe?
Romainian Folk Music
Kevin: So the only question I actually thought of, before this, was "How
do you classify your music?" Mason, you've done guitar noise and other stuff.
Neil and I do more similar stuff...
Neil: Romanian Folk music...
Mason: Klezmer Rap...
Kevin: Hey, there are Klezmer Rap Bands.
Neil: My supervisor at ILM plays hurdy-gurdy [Neil was a summer intern
at Industrial Light and Magic, a computer graphics studio, at the time of this
Mason: Bring in the DAT and record him!
Neil: I was thinking about it, it is the coolest instrument. It
bypasses the accordian and bag pipes.
Kevin: People toss around these labels, like "industrial." We were all
on a Industrial compilation [Mind/Body, see catalog].
Mason: I don't think that there is anything on that CD that is
Kevin: Some of the dance stuff... well...
Mason: I don't call that Industrial, Skinny Puppy is not Industrial.
Kevin: There's Industrial, Experimental, new music...
Mason: I like new music. Anything I release is new, therefore New
Neil: I don't try to fight classifications at all. As far as I'm
concerned Industrial means whatever the hell all those screaming dweebs on RMI
[rec.music.industrial, an internet bulletin board] think it is. I call my
music Experimental, because it's the easiest way to describe it.
Mason: Any genre that can include Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy,
Front 242, and Merzbow is just silly.
Neil: These days there is just no point in fighting it. These days, I
just say Experimental, although people who listen to true academic experimental
music might take me up on that.
Kevin: I consider academic music just as a whole other class. A lot of
academic music is just concept. "What if I did this? and I did it for 15
minutes, and taped it?" And you hear it and you say, "Wow, that's a neat idea,
I wish I'd thought of that." And then you say, "Wow I wish this was done.
I've got the concept and now I'm ready to move on."
Mason: Well, I'm recording four different kinds of music right now:
basically, I use the name Trance for the percussion and the soundtrack work and
the guitar noise, I just go under my own name. And then, I'm also working on
this project called Taxidermy, which is like tribal Skullflower: drums and
Kevin: Is that all solo?
Mason: Yeah, I'll probably put some people together as part of
Kevin: That will be your project with some guests?
Oh, completely live
Kevin: You've done a lot of stuff with other people, especially live.
Mason: Oh, completely live. I've never worked in the studio with anyone
Neil: I did Indoctrination with a friend of mine, Paul Kerchinsky, who
used to be loosly associated with P. Children. Actually, we did the song to
play live in Pittsburgh and then after that, recorded it. We were actually
supposed to tape it live, but that got fucked up. We went back home and just
played it live, to DAT, and it came out nice. Coincidentally, it was 22
minutes long and just worked out for the record. I'd like to do more
collaboration stuff, when I have time. I get tired of things quickly. I get
tired of what I've done. Working with Paul was great... I played live with
Joe and Mason. That was great.
Mason: Trance and Macronympha...
This music breeds that
Kevin: A lot of people who work in this genre, work solo. Do you think
there is a reason for it? Do you think that this music breeds that?
Neil: Well, it doesn't fit the format of a band where you need this
person on a bass instrument and this person on a treble instrument, this person
Mason: Also, It's not done live very often, so you don't need more than
Neil: and there is a lot of these electronics where you inherently have
these possibilities to overdub.
Mason: When I started recording, I actually was recording with friends,
doing stuff. Most of that was never really released.
or do you plan things out?
Kevin: When you write, do you improv and whatever comes out is the
finished product, or do you plan things out?
Mason: It's mostly improvs. The first part of a piece will usually be
improvised. I sit down, think about what I want to do and do it and see what
happens. And then for adding on top of that, I'll sometimes pick a sound and
improvise with it. Some of the stuff I've been doing lately are like fictional
soundtracks. So I'll lay down some instruments and actually add in some sound
effects, but those are planned. So the sound effects will tell some kind of a
Neil: I've actually fallen into a method, which is one of the things I'm
not very happy about anymore, I'd like to do something different, of always
just improvising everything to tape. It's what I call a direct process and
the mix is what makes the song. Indoctrination was different and that's
what I liked about it.
Kevin: I was working with something before that I've come back to. I
just improv stuff to tape and I try and get as many looping tracks as I can,
and the entire song is the mix. I try and get as many things going through the
board (as possible) simultaneously. I have no idea what is on each channel,
and then I just do stuff. After, I pull out the best eight minutes or
something. That's good for a lot of stuff I do, but it's not as satisfying
as writing something down. I've gotten really into the idea of writing a
string quartet (all laugh). I've actually started working on some. I like it
because it's the exact antithesis of what I'm doing. It's such a different
Mason: I've done string quartet-type pieces. Laying stuff to tape piece
Kevin: Yeah, it's a completely different thing because you go from your
own limitations to somebody else's limitations but you have to keep them
interested and you have to write interesting music and you have only four
I'm Creating a Picture
Kevin: With the soundtracks, what do you think about when you write
them? Do you have a plan?
Mason: When I write them, I'm creating a picture. Someone who listens
to it might see a different picture, I'm interested in seeing what the
Kevin: Do you have a story?
Mason: Calling it a story is a bit to far, it's more like a sequence of
sounds which make someone think of a story. Some of the stuff on the
Audiography CD is like that, and the writing that is in the booklet is
Neil: My approach is sort of the opposite, because I'm so involved in
the visual arts. I do visual tracks, and I do the sound stuff later...
We discussed so much more that day that there really isn't any way to
encapsulate our discussion in some kind of summary. If you don't know the work
of Trance or Grae Com, you should check out some of their stuff, which is
listed in the discographies included in this issue.
Unit Circle Music