Andy Ortmann (Panicsville): Interview
The Absurdist Equation
Writing something clever here would be
counterintuitive. I was, and continue to be, lucky enough to trade emails with
Andy, some of which concerned this interview. I think there were some great
topics discussed, and if you care about art give it a read. I hope you enjoy it
as much as I did.
In past interviews, I'd recklessly implied that the artist could be classified
as "noise" and that garnered a reactionary, put off disavowal of any such thing.
I better understand now why they were upset. At that time I would've done the
same to you, but now I can clearly discern the difference. That being said, how
do you relate to noise? Does it inform what you do at all? How is noise
As far as delimiting, noise is the ultimate form of liberation, creatively
speaking... Here's the law (of music), and noise is WAY up here, outside of
accepted parameters & notions of music. The muffler rusted off my scooter, it
sounds like a fucking chainsaw! People get so pissed when I ride by, holding
their ears & shouting at me. It's funny that their kids have an opposite
I guess the more interesting question then might be, where does music end and
noise begin? Your music, to me, decidedly falls within the bounds of "music."
But, in this sense, it's almost insulting to call anything noise. So... I think
it's descriptive as an aspect of it, though inaccurate as a blanket statement.
If you wanted to be insulting, you could say it was unemotional AND amateurish!
That being said, do you listen to much
music that would be considered "noise?" The reason I ask is Contradiction sounds
like a reaction to noise, power electronics in particular, and of course emo.
While obviously mocking emo, it could be assumed that you're likewise mocking
noise. I believe Weasel has a bit of an aversion to it.
I listen to a good deal of noise music, but my tastes are all over the place
too. I don't know that Contradiction is necessarily mocking power electronics,
as it is addressing topics that are normally untouched in the genre. We wanted
to make the harshest electronic music we could without relying on the equally
gruesome, tiresome subject matter that power electronics is so well known for.
Does the term noise have much meaning when applied to something that's presented
If you had to place yourself as the
descendant of a musical tradition, what would it be?
Futurism/Musique Concrete/Collage/60's-70's Electronic music.
That's certainly a direct response to my
question. But, could you elaborate on it? Is the concept of descendancy valid,
which might imply a forward progress in music, an evolution?
Totally! Everybody is influenced by what came before. Like if we didn't have
Coke, we wouldn't have Vanilla Coke, or Coke II.
Your music being a refinement or
descendant of the traditions listed above, would you say there is a reactive
element to it? What are you reacting to, and how?
No, I wouldn't say reaction, not in the negative sense... These things are a
part of the makeup of the whole. If you were to remove the legs & wings from a
butterfly, does it then become a caterpillar?
Is your music substantially political? Collage was heralded for its potential
for political and cultural commentary, and being a collagist yourself, do you
exploit that power? If so, what are you commenting upon?
Actually, no. I find most politically driven art to be dull & irritating. I have
an aversion to such things. I am more interested in people making their own
conclusions, versus me trying to persuade them to think or feel about something
political. Art becomes cheapened when it is misused as a political vehicle.
Who would you consider your closest contemporaries are? What music is being made
that is most exciting to you?
To vaguely answer both parts....
Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock, Broken Penis Orchestra, John Wiese, Evil Moisture,
Weasel Walter, Kevin Drumm, Fire In The Head, Irr.App.(ext), BXC, a lot of the
Detroit crowd, Nautilus Deconstruction, I'm sure many names are slipping my mind
at the moment....
Why does music not stand on equal footing with the other arts? That is, music is
treated, at best, by the art establishment, as something to accompany other
arts, and more commonly, by the average consumer, flippantly and as something
disposable. But, you could argue the average person treats most everything
flippantly. A second question would be why do you think people are, in general,
so un-examnining? Why do people hate to think? Laziness, or is it behavior
Music may be considered a lesser art, due to the fact that it's constantly
cheapened. Everything can be downloaded, the value has been stripped, unless
there's a way to keep it unique/rare. What if everybody was into downloading
sculptures, paintings, installations? Sound art (in the high brow sense) is
presented in gallery spaces that (theoretically) demand such respect. So,
Assuming people are un-examining, I'd attribute that to an environment that
mollycoddles sloth. The less you have to move or think the better your life is,
or something of the sort.
But, music is the last of the more classic arts to reach any sort of
commoditization. You could buy prints of paintings or photos of sculptures long
before you could acquire music. On the other hand, it is the highest fidelity
commodity. So, would your contention be that it being the medium best suited to
making money that lessened the station of music?
I don't feel that music is "lessened" because it is a commodity, it simply makes
it more available. I don't think too many people involved in the noise scene are
getting rich, or have that as their intention. I am making an assumption that
those making this type of thing are doing it out of a general love for this
brand of self expression versus personal gain.
Then I might make the same assumption for you. What are you trying to express?
Do you feel you succeed, in a personal sense and in a communicative sense to
I don't think that I'm trying to communicate a specific message. I look at a lot
of my stuff as narratives. So in that respect I'm telling stories through sound.
That seems to be relatively apparent from the feedback I get. Images form in my
mind, so I try to materialize those into sound, the packaging usually reflects
that as well. Though I like the idea of confusing people, using a variety of
instrumentation & sound choices. In this sense I would feel successful.
What drives you to create? Similarly, is there a response beyond serious
consideration you want from a listener?
The same thing that drives me to have sex or eat, it's an inherit part of my
existence. I can't fathom myself not being creative/productive. I'd be another
zombie in the world shuffling around aimlessly. It makes me depressed to think
of being an empty human shell when I think of such things. I don't know that I
am looking for responses from the listener... since I have no agenda. Maybe for
them to feel or think something they otherwise wouldn't from the environment
these recordings create.
Is your live act or your recorded music more valuable to you?
The set I saw of you in Seattle wasn't terribly similar to what I've heard of
your recorded output. How valid would you say that is? How would you describe
how each serves you and your art?
Completely valid. The live sets differ greatly from performance to performance.
I sometimes do variations of released material, though not trying to perform
tracks "as they appear" on a record. I always liked live material that was
altered by bands that changed up their songs from their songs on album. I see
myself adhering to this type of thing as well. I also like what can happen in
the live setting that allows for spontaneity, though this potentially opens the
door up for failed attempts, too.
Theatricality is absent in so much of experimental music, instead there's a
sense of serious devotion to the creation of sound. In that way do you feel your
performances transcend music, to I suppose an Aktionist event or something of
the ilk, or does the performance more accentuate the music for a more full
I do think the performances transcend, as well as accentuate straight music.
People usually go to see live shows because there is an element present that is
so different than listening to a CD at home. The live environment is potentially
more encompassing of what someone does. You have a lot of options as to what can
be accomplished in a live setting. I am more entertained when a show is more
performative, but than can just mean that person is exuding their personality in
front of an audience, versus throwing on a costume or whatever. Though, a lot of
people don't consider themselves "performers" who have to do a song & dance
Your music, as does most all "avant garde," resides in the darker side of music.
Is there inherently so much more richness to the minor key, or to the brooding
man? Would you regard it as possible to make music you'd be proud of that's,
say, cheerful or celebratory?
Art and music is an extension of yourself, your thoughts, your bubble. If my
music comes off as the dark side, I wear black on the outside... I have done
stuff that's cheerful and celebratory! Those terms are subjective.
true, they are subjective, but they also have meaning and are descriptive. And
some of your music is indeed brighter than dark. But, would you disagree with
that assertion that bolder music tends to be dark, or ominous? I could interpret
your response as implying that "life is dark."
Yes, life is dark indeed, getting darker by the day.
Define "bold". As I think a lot of "darkness" is contrived, cliché and devoid of
original thought interjected by the artist. Though, generally more fascinating
than the bright side of life.
I mean bold to be exactly that which is
not contrived, cliché, and devoid of original thought. Music that is willfully
individual. I also find a lot of such music to be violent. Violence and darkness
are both concepts we are taught to filter out to be polite, functional humans.
Do these themes arise more from choosing to not create polite, functional art,
or by means of a removal of those filters? Or is there any difference?
I guess it depends on your angle. For myself I would be removing filters. To
deliberately try to create ugly things seems a bit shallow and thoughtless.
Other than to simply try to shock an audience, not leaving them with something
to think about (see FUCK magazine).
Another filtered theme that inspires violence and darkness is sex. And even that
sexuality which is expressed in art is highly filtered. Can art be created
purely from raw sex, or is the act of making art a filter in and of itself? Do
you think such art, if possible, would be interesting, or blandly homogenous?
What role does sex play in your art?
Sex is a very powerful thing, and like
any thing of great power it can be used for good or bad. Our society is still in
a cave about accepting sexuality, even though we are constantly bombarded by it
in advertising. There's an element of mystery to it for a variety of reasons,
sex is interesting. It will never cease to be subject matter. There are so many
possibilities about sex, it is always changing, people will always want it.
Sure, art can be created from raw sex. Whether or not it ends up being "good
art" or "bad art" may be another question. For some people the act of sex is a
filter, for things that they can't deal with in their own life. Like a serious
drug addiction, sex can be used to avoid reality, some people are better at
communicating through sex than they are with normal communication. For my own
work, I don't know what the numbers are... 70-80% I am very interested in it,
and I guess that comes through the work. Most apparently would be the life
recordings of my sexual scenarios. Though everyone knows they're being recorded
in advance. I sometimes use suggestive titles which may invoke certain imagery
to put sexual thoughts in the listeners mind.
Finally, I see a definite trend of absurdism in your music, which is almost the
direct consequent of violence and darkness and sex, the intellectual response.
Would you regard yourself as an absurdist? How would you quantify the power of
Yes, I would. I like playing Devil's Advocate, I embrace contradictions and I
funnel the absurdity around me into creative output. I don't like it when things
are predictable. When things don't make sense you inherently try to make sense
out of it. I think Lucio Fulci was a wonderful absurdist.
Why did you release "Nightmania" as an Andy Ortmann record? It would seem to
fall in the creative rubric of Panicsville, if perhaps a little less "organic"
than the stuff I'm familiar with.
To legitimize myself to the art world.
Panicsville is predominately an ongoing series of collaborative explorations. "Nightmania"
was a personal examination, which didn't call for external personnel.
Why did you need to be legitimized?
I was being facetious...
You might pardon me for asking, as you're frequently referred to as a
chronically underrated/appreciated artist. What do you think are the barriers in
your art to garnering the more widespread renown of your peers?
I think ratings are determined a lot by media/magazines and whatnot. It seems
that a lot of who's popular is defined in part by things like The WIRE or
ARTHUR, where a certain group find out about what's good or what they should be
listening to from these writer's opinions. With that being said, how do these
artists find themselves in these pages? A variety of reasons... mostly if these
writers like your stuff. It seems there's a certain amount of "who you know"
going on there as well. Maybe I should be chummier with the right people. Or
maybe these people that are saying that I'm underrated/appreciated should get
jobs writing for the aforementioned mags... I don't see my work conforming to a
set of standards to "make it" or get popular anytime soon.
Famously, at least in a localized sense, you smashed crates of records and
randomly glued the pieces together to create a series of one of a kind records
titled "Four Notes in Search of a Tune." While musically its a beautiful idea,
there is also an undeniable aspect of artifact worship. This touches on the
uniqueness of music as an art, that its purely ethereal until its grounded in
historically very new objects. What place do these artifacts have in the scope
of music as art?
They exist as anti-records; statements & commentary on the very things that they
are. Though they could also be well crafted pranks... My driving force to start
NIHILIST was to fuse art & sound, to make interesting objects as well as
In reference to above, would this also play into the unique/rare element of
elevation of music? Do you think limited editions of 15 (not that you're guilty
of them) are to serve this dilemma? I'm fascinated by the huge prolificacy in
extremely limited availability that is such a common phenomenon.
I think presentation is very important. If you're going to make 15 copies of
your cassette or CD-r, I would hope that it looks great. Just my humble opinion,
I hate seeing cd-r with some hand scrawl in a zip lock baggie. It sorta makes me
not interested in it. Like a reflection of the artists music. If I spend a lot
of time & consideration on the music, I feel the packaging should equal the
quality of the sounds. The packaging on the first record I did (Pound of Flesh)
almost overshadowed the record itself. But ya know, it's just my opinion.
And one I commend you for, and share. You say it almost overshadowed the record.
This actually causes me to wonder whether you considered the two together as a
whole artifact, or two separated pieces to be appreciated on their own merits.
Additionally, what are some of the more memorable packagings you have seen?
I look at the things I make as entire works. I'll be thinking of the art &
packaging as much as the sounds found on them. Sometimes the art comes first
(like Nightmania) then make the audio around it.
As far as impressive packaging I've seen, the Chop Shop double 10" on RRR
(screened steel plates with photo book of scultures banded together by metal
straps), the Security of Ignorance 10 LP box (100 copies on marbled vinyl in a
wooden box each numbered. burnt into the wood with book & T-shirt, the other 100
were clear vinyl with glitter in metal embossed boxes), Irr.App.(ext) "their
little bones" CD-r is fantastic! Elegantly double framed with animal bones and
hand made book. The Nurse With Wound "psilotripitaka" 4 LP box in embossed black
leather bag was really nice.
As far as your brand of music goes, you're above average in the inclusion and
feature of the human voice, frequently with no discernible linguistic intent.
Why has the voice been abandoned almost wholesale by the majority of your peers?
And do you place any special value on it?
That's like saying the voice is not on equal footing with other sounds. I'm into
organics & analog sounds, the human voice (as well as animal voices) are about
as pure and organic as it gets. It's an infinite sound generator ceases to amaze
me, body sounds in general. You can create moods quicker with a voice than any
instrument. As far as my peers, you better name names...
I would say the human voice is on unequal footing! I place it on a higher
footing, for the reasons you listed. Allowing that many experimental artists
exclude voice, which I hope you will, would you agree it's because the
connection is so immediate and they're seeking to create a more alien product,
while seemingly sacrificing a valuable tool in making effective art? And I guess
it might be a matter of who you consider your peer.
I will agree that these people are excluding the human voice for trying to
create non-human work, so to speak. Voices are very important to my work, I feel
it's a factor to connect. Though, I am partial to most organic sounds,
especially animal sounds. These can easily be manipulated to sound just as alien
as any synthesized or computer music. It definitely widens the palette of
available sound sources, and makes for a bizarre and interesting end result.