Consequences of decisions play out forever. The period 1999 to 2005 was one in which I was quite active artistically, often in a publicly striking way, but few traces of the art from those days remain. Ephemerality was a key of the posture I struck, to good effect at the time but to the detriment of lingering reputation. Long after, a happy moment proved consistency was not quite so utter as long imagined. It is like something lost has returned.
To back up, in June 1997 I began collaborating with two bandmates from the eighties, Karen Pittman and John Witham. Back in the day, we had been three sixths or sevenths of an improv/overdub collective, Jam Cadre, which I left in December 1989 for eight years of exile downwind of hog lots in Iowa. Austin accepted the prodigal’s return in June 1997, and on the second day Karen and John invited me to join a loose project of sample-and-loop-based composition. Before you could trace a buzzing cable, we were baking tasty sounds, some savory, some crunchy, some liquid, some sweet. The output was satisfying enough that we adopted a name, Never the Same River, and started talking about the unfolding body of work as an album. I wanted to call it “Art Movie with Subtitles,” which John was willing to accept, but Karen never warmed to. The whole project went into the archives when Karen and John, who were married, decided to get unmarried. For reasons I have never quite fathomed, this meant my band had to break up. There was no agreement about finishing or releasing fruits of our common labor. It seemed to me that a little will power could have held off the crisis until after the album was done, and then the band could have broken up but with an album as legacy. That may show a lack of empathy on my part. I had already finished my own unmarrying before coming back from Iowa. The upshot was that months of work on the mostly finished pieces of a mostly finished album were swept into the dark. Some of it has haunted me over the years. Once in a while, I still listen and some of it is almost…almost….
In 1999, a little before the band broke up, John and I started a parallel collaboration creating live-mixed video performances for trance parties, galleries, clubs and festivals. Combining multiple, abstract sources partly prepared in advance and partly processed and mixed in real time, we projected evolving, wall-sized, neo-psychedelic textures in places where lovely creatures shed their day skins once the sun went down. Part of our compact as a duo was that we made no record of the projected streams. We could do anything. If something didn’t work, any change erased it. Only now danced in the environment, and sometimes now was passionate and gorgeous. About the time the band broke up, John and I began styling this video initiative, neverthesameriver. We contributed to amazing events, and worked with extraordinary sound and decor artists, but collected no samples from tens of hours of painting with fluid light. “A gift to the sands of time,” I kept explaining to people who asked if any neverthesameriver had been pinioned for sale. You had to be there, breathing the atmosphere, sweating in the humidity, rocked by the beat, sharing the space. Nothing was collected and none of it could be recreated. After a couple of years, I struck out alone, pursuing a similar but adapted vision still predicated on ephemerality. Somewhere there may be a few handbills with “stikmanz” in a low corner among the credits. Of the video, there have been only scraps, nothing extensive, especially after a burglar carted four computers through a kicked-in front door in 2008. Software on which I had relied would not run on a new operating system.
Nostalgia comes when it will and does what it will. Several weeks ago I listened to one of the unfinished Never the Same River tracks on obsessive repeat. It is so close to being wonderful, and so obviously not quite done, and so finally not ever going to be done, that it leaves an aftertaste like green persimmon. One day I strapped on the zouk and played along with the old synth tracks and processed voices. While playing, I got the idea to reset, rather than recreate, the original concept. Enthusiasm took control of a few days, and resulted in the audio track, “OMO,” which is an individual response to what three of us started long ago. That is available HERE for download.
One day when the audio track was almost a wrap, I was sifting shelves here at intergalactic HQ, with a mind to clear the cruft. Among the relict collection of commercial DVDs I found almost two hours of video that I created in 2003 and forgot. Not quite an hour consisted of long samples of different imagery and effects used in live mix, and not quite an hour was a five part visual composition with a sound track. The recordings were made on DVD+R disks, which is a hard format to crack for sharing today. The method I worked out with guidance from the hive mind suffers some loss of quality in the conversion; even so, it pulls forward documentation of activity which I thought had left no mark. Several quick snatches from one of the files crashed together nicely to make a visual track for OMO, which is the video that can be seen HERE. Nothing connects the visual and audio tracks except deep roots in the past, an artist’s nostalgia, and the fact that I made both and have made them one.
The text of OMO, consisting of three samples of spoken Dvarsh, is an attempt to use the made-up language as a psycholinguistic provocation. The text relies on a feature of Dvarsh grammar to create tension by first suppressing the feature, but subsequently suggesting it. The feature has no equivalent in English, meaning the effect is not only untranslatable, but imperceptible to an audience without knowledge of Dvarsh. Ain’t that the coolest?