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).


The Discussion

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?
Mason: Definitely.

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 discussion].
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 Industrial.
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 Music.
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 guitar noise.
Kevin: Is that all solo?
Mason: Yeah, I'll probably put some people together as part of Taxidermy.
Kevin: That will be your project with some guests?
Mason: Maybe.

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 else.
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 to sing.
Mason: Also, It's not done live very often, so you don't need more than one person.
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 story.
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 challenge.
Mason: I've done string quartet-type pieces. Laying stuff to tape piece by 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 tracks...

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 differences are.
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 my pictures.
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...

last words

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 Discographies