Exit Sense’s artistic practice extends across several mediums. His website, exitsense.net, contains a number of pieces, moods and zones, encompassing the angelic/demonic, the erotic and the digital. His music is similarly wide-ranging. On his most recent release, Amor 107.5, out through Astral Plane Recordings, he draws from a deep well of influences, incorporating classical and avant-garde composition, contemporary club production, and hip-hop, pop, and R&B vocals. The result is a suite of tracks that are by turns abrasive, melancholic and beautiful.
I spoke to the producer on Twitter about his visual art and music, his preference for affecting, intense soundscapes, and the technological and sexual valences of his productions. His responses are erudite and insightful, providing new dimensions to his art, and drawing links between personal experience and social formations. He touched on his Catholicism, sexuality, and gender in order to consider his repeated occupation of indeterminate spaces and subjectivities: a fruitful location for both music and discussion.
I want to start by discussing your art, particularly the connections you seem to draw between queerness and technology. How does this relationship manifest in your work?
When themes of technology manifest in my work, I would say mainly it’s because, aside from my being influenced by the bleakness of industrial music, the internet is where I live and the way I cope with my daily reality.
My net art is more explicitly about gender and sexuality, particularly in the weapons series of my webpages. Here I explore ideas of masculinity and my own sexuality, which I like to think about critically. I have had many unrequited crushes on straight guys in my lifetime. I feel like I have a deep-seated need to bond with them in such a way that I want to consume their energy because it feels like something foreign to me that I lack. Yet when I see guys on Grindr flaunting a “masc” persona I’m repulsed and it fills me with sadness that gay men are shamed for their femininity.
I don’t think either that I’m attracted to hypermasculinity. I feel like there are ways to infuse “femininity” and refined sensibilities into masculinity, and that true beauty is all the richer when it embodies balanced contradictions. In my webpages I decorate the weaponry with, for example, roses, to make this masculinity my own.
I want to express these intense feelings of infatuation and obsession with beauty that I feel when I look at some men’s faces which come across to me as so overwhelmingly beautiful. It almost makes me cry to think that I normally cannot discuss these feelings and come across as a lunatic with my romantic frustration.
In each weapon page I play a role of masculinity. Whether it’s alpha or beta is irrelevant: I mean things men stereotypically do more often than women like play video games. Video games were one of the only ways I was able to relate to other boys in my childhood.
Behaving masculine is not something that I care to do in everyday life because of my aforementioned disgust toward toxic masculinity, but I guess I need an outlet for this wellspring of adoration I have for the natural energy that (usually straight) men have.
These webpages are about fashion personas — not clothes specifically but personas: like how a Myspace profile page design or Tumblr blog would express a lot about a person in terms of style and their subculture. That’s indeed one way my webpages are about technology. Each weapon is its own unified aesthetic that is like an outfit I associate with masculinity. I feel as though I’m performing masculinity in my creating them — I put on an outfit based on a certain subculture or person.
Moving to your music, how are questions of performance, queerness, gender, and sexuality captured in the musical and visual components of your productions? What sort of opportunities are opened by music, as a medium, for translating personal experience and feeling?
My music is personal in a different way to my art. I imagine that the anxiety in my music, especially in Amor 107.5, comes from my living with my dysfunctional maternal Cuban family. The only way I have been able to cope is by escaping into the internet and music. My choice of mashups is intentionally jarring — I try to find a sound I’ve never heard before by piecing together music that I have heard. Though I’m conscious about wanting to improve my craft, I’m interested in expression far more than craft. I think that I express a lot of anxiety and intensity in my music and mixes in a way that is comparable to the catastrophic intensity of shamanic transformation. Pain is really very transformative. I try to find religiosity through nightmarish experiences, partly as a way to rebel against my overbearing family and subvert their Catholicism. I try to create a hell that is like a heaven… (again, the contradiction makes this so compelling to me)… Like the wrath of God, who is eternal love, hellfire is surely transformative… This is the part of me that’s a mental terrorist. Perhaps it is even comparable to the catastrophic emergency themes of “EMT (FIRST RESPONSE)”.
I’m very touched by the artist Hermann Nitsch, whose artwork is intensely violent yet intensely religious. It’s worth also noting that I took the artwork for Amor 107.5 from the queer sci-fi film Flaming Ears: a coincidence that it’s from a film which is queer and sci-fi; I like the image because it portrays religious worship in such a dark way, and darkness in such a frail and hopeful way.
Perhaps something can be said about how I’m obsessed with the violence of masculinity in my weapons series and how I’m also obsessed with conveying a violent feeling in my music. “Turn On the Lights” also ties back to my unrequited infatuations — the track is a love letter — I wanted to express a tenderness with an undercurrent of obsessive violence, as that is how my emotions feel sometimes… A friend of mine suggested the wedding melody bells be softer and less percussive, but I intentionally left them percussive, to have more of a violent passion.
And I heard this Scorpio is a loner
He gives me a boner
I’m not even a stoner
What type of drug do you want
I’m champagne black magic
margarita white magic
You can come sit with me
And see me change the weather
Do you like my glassed feather
Turn on the lights
I’m lookin’ for him
Send him my heart
Tell him I’ve been lookin’ for him ‘cause I know he’s smart
Looking at my astro logical chart
And I know, to keep him, yeah, I’ve gotta make that art
He’s a bad boy
But he’s a sad boy
He’s been misled
Now he’s ready for the world
If I sang and wrote lyrics, my music might address gender and sexuality more explicitly like how my webpages do.
My interest in making music that defies genre categorization is surely in itself queerness. Whether coincidentally or not, this is evident in other contemporary producers and DJs that influence me such as Elysia Crampton, Angel-Ho, Mistress and Total Freedom.
I’m interested in the affective nature of your music, its foregrounding of extreme emotion. Do you think you could draw connections between this production of emotion and Catholic confession as a form of disclosure and revelation? Perhaps we could think about this relationship in terms of the internet again, in particular how the personal is performed online, through the use of different personalities, sounds, etc.
It makes me uncomfortable to adopt the metaphor of confession for anything. The way I’ve been taught Catholicism was always in this unpleasantly literal way. I don’t go to church every Sunday, so I need to confess or I will go to hell. My grandfather goes to confession and then acts like the same grumpy self-centered man the next day.
It makes me uncomfortable to adopt the metaphor of confession, yet there is the part of me compelled to go through with it, with the belief that it will somehow heal me.
I have difficulty trying to apply this metaphor of confession without imagining that it somehow involves having to make confessions of wrongdoings. If this is done in the way Amor 107.5 was released (to the public) then it’s not being done in a forgiving space where I am not judged. If Amor 107.5 is a confession, who is the priest ready to absolve my sins?
On the other hand, I can confess anxiety, aggression, misery and horror through art and music, and in this way, rather than actually violating listeners, I will be gifting them. I have difficulty putting myself forth publicly (including, and perhaps even more so, online) in a way that is ordinary rather than through art and music. I’m afraid of the mistakes I’ll make.
Do you think the style of music you’ve used on Amor 107.5 gains a particular affective charge from the relation between its abrasiveness and its connections to a “scene” of like-minded producers? In other words, does it gain its power from its exploration of inner, “hidden” feelings within the context of a broader community that enables/encourages these feelings and experiences to be shared?
I’m grateful to have a community that will listen to me. It helps also that other music producers in this community inspire and influence me, in turn allowing me to create sounds that may continue to run in the vein of these shared interests our generation has.
Speaking of influences: when releasing my music, in my passive anxiety I failed to assert that the classical composers and sound artists in my music should be credited alongside Rihanna and Future. The European academics remain once again inaccessible to the public, perpetuating elitism … Well, those artists are Baudouin Oosterlynck, Evan Parker, Morton Feldman, Sofia Gubaidulina, Johann Sebastian Bach and Horatiu Radulescu. I’m drawn to their sounds, whether baroque or atonal, for their dramatic intensity.
I wonder how you view the push-pull that you seem drawn to in your responses and in your music, between otherness and connection, infatuation and repulsion. Do you view this “helplessness” as perhaps dialectical and productive? In other words, does it allow you to take up residence in different positions, to move across styles and references? Or does it always isolate you — from your family? Your religion? Your gender?
I’m reminded of this James Ferraro interview - Interviewer: “I think where him and you differ is you don’t really express much of an opinion, in terms of being negative or positive.” James Ferraro: “That might be my flaw as an artist that is trying to communicate an idea but I like these ambiguous statements.”
I relate also to a quote by Arca: “It’s hard for us to reconcile with grey areas, and yet somehow that’s the area I find the most poetic, the juiciest.”
These contradictions I carry do give me a greater breadth of influences and references. Helplessness is a strong word: I often feel helpless when trying to relate to people but I don’t want to think of myself as helpless. Whenever I’m isolated, I will escape elsewhere and find somewhere I can stay, even if fleetingly. As for how it affects my artwork: if I don’t feel comfortable staying in one place, why not be in multiple places at once? Perhaps only then I’ll be able to reach a place I can call home.