Interview with W.T. Nelson

FLON: I guess the place to start is with the re-release of Emperor Of The North recordings on The Daft Alliance. How would you describe this music and the processes you used to make it?

WTN: Emperor of the North is one sort of “sound I make”.
The work leans on foley harder than other projects that came previously. It’s both narrative element & sometimes the music itself. Nice pair of stereo headphones was the 70’s version of VR… so this has long been a passion since I made my first recordings at the same time.

Also it aspires to an ongoing fascination with the process of reduction in practice. This is in pursuit of presenting the illusion of an elegant semblance of  some hidden organic order glimpsed at just “under the surface” of any given composition. Or perhaps it’s there all along and the reduction is what reveals it?

FLON: What exactly do you mean by reduction?

WTN: A search for the essence of every work by relentlessly reducing all elements.

I used to work at a magazine…I’d have to edit and layout these these portraiture photos which were the subject of the “books”, photo essays if you will. All focused on a model or sometimes models.

So you’d get a bunch of photos & you’d have to put them together into these layouts that enchanted from 2 to maybe 10 to 12 pages with ink if it was spectacular. Out of hundreds of photos, consisting of perhaps 20-30 poses, I would endeavor to choose the very best “shots”, sort of like “takes” on a recording I guess. Then I’d have to whittle THEM down to, say, 8-12 photos for the layout.

Once in a while there’d be a photo that was terrific. But it didn’t fit into the rest of the layout.

This was especially frustrating if it was better than ANY of the others in the layout. I felt almost emotionally attached to the little photo—they were usually 35mm transparencies—you had this magic German loupe that you’d peep through on a light table. Much like the headphones it was like looking into a whole other world there…

So inevitably I had to make the layout as strong as possible. Give it a fighting chance. And the best photo would be sacrificed for the greater good of the story being told (trite as they usually were—though some were profound in one way or another).

Later on the publisher requested I use even less photos, make them bigger. It was great because most equivalent books went the other way—tried to dazzle with sheer quantity of photos.

So the photo feature narratives became even more distilled / reduced in total parts but it hit harder. The photos were fewer but each was so much more powerful rendered much larger on the page. They needn’t “compete” with each other—making a visual mess on the pages. Scale could be more decisive. Intention & impact are clearer & more direct.

Both the idea of the “best photo” being discarded & the “fewer photos” seem anti-intuitive at first but the results are clearly superior. Also I appreciated the idea of empowerment to (and from) ignoring status quo to offer something with more integrity & authenticity.

Interesting to note: the photographers appreciated this straight away. It made the essence of their work come to life despite being rendered as four colors of ink summarily deposited with the most extreme haste on a two dimensional roll of paper.

Apologies, perhaps this is ironically the opposite of a “reductive” answer about the “less is more” thing (not to mention undoubtedly a bit far afield from the subject at hand!). But I am fascinated by processes. In a way it’s almost all I think about. When I’m not thinking about other things (ha ha ha).

FLON: I think I get it. You start with a larger pallet of sounds than you end up using in the end?

WTN: I guess what I’m saying is no take is sacred unless it propels the other bits in the overall assembly to be greater than the sum of its parts. Reduction & distillation seem to deliver the best results consistently and are somehow personally fascinating.

FLON: Is your source material mainly field recordings?

WTN: Some is recorded “in the field” & some in “the studio”. Some is transmitted through the air to a microphone, some is recorded direct as AC voltages in the audio range of frequencies straight from circuitry & some is a combination of the two (by electro-acoustic means). I am fascinated by audiovisual phenomena especially when it is narrative. By
that I don’t mean it must have words or voice but that’s nice too…More like normal everyday sounds that we usually “block out” to allow for attention to other things. When I see or hear something notable I make an effort to capture it if I have the means to do so. Probably been doing so for 40 years.

FLON: Do you still use tape?

WTN: If only! Last week I was lucky to preview a new recording by Mike Meanstreetz with BARNES & SNARB of Amps for Christ (from a forthcoming split 12″ with massive-maestros Bastard Collective on Black Claw Records). The first track plunges earpopping deep into magnetic tape manipulation. The long tradition of MINDBENDING music which was made possible (& simply cannot be created without) this medium is “tape”. Absolutely took me to a time & place I had not been in far too long. The sounds therein are certainly important enough to stand on their own, important enough to be pursued even now when they are inconvenient.

Time was when all the transports from the thrift store, hand-me-downs & pawn shops were workable. The preamps on most were incredible! There was a smell of dusty machine oil on the tube units when they warmed up.

Since I couldn’t afford the fancy digital stuff in my high school years I used what was readily—& economically—available. Same as all of the musicians over the last 100 years who choose to exploit the mediums of reproduction AS the instrumentation to create music since the invention of recording.

I tried to build what would have been (though I hadn’t known it at the time) a primitive “Mellotron” out of an array of second-hand 8-track tape units and a computer keyboard. And performed “prepared reel to reel” with tape pulled out of the capstan on this sweet portable Sony solid state with “3 inchers”. When spanked and spun at high speed though an Altec horn it was pure uncut audio violence. At this MITB Jabberjaw gig (with Masonna & Merzbow in ’96) it literally cleared the leeward end of my rig of all hearing lifeforms—remarkable because it was pretty tight in the room there.

I even took my Teac 1/4″ 4-Track to Teac America in Los Angeles for service & new heads. It seemed normal, but the era was very nearly finished. Nowadays most of the rubber on the transports is roached and precious few technicians even have the expertise. Extremely specialized machine parts hard to come by. They are real Rube Goldberg devices; can of worms…

In the ’20’s the mediums are swapped. Digital—with no absolutely no stops in terms of editing—is the cheap & low, whereas magnetic tape is the high & snobby expensive bit! The question is can it—with the recent resurgence of 1/8″ transports—be maintained or will it ultimately be lost sounds of an arcane instrument silenced by pragmatism & expediency?

FLON: So, the EOTN stuff that’s being re-released, was that mostly tape-based, and what are you doing now with digital recordings?

WTN: No, project EOTN was founded in the 20-teens more or less in an effort at helping an old friend in a tough stretch get another project of theirs restarted.

Haven’t really messed with tape (as an instrument) since the early 90’s.

As far as recording is concerned it’s exclusively digital for over 20 years save for (The Bastard Noise) Rogue Astronaut which was tracked on tape but edited & mixed in DAW system. I think there are some things folks get hung up on just because it feels
cool & cool is imagined to equal “more authentic”. Say, vinyl, tubes or tape…

Vinyl as a reproduction method is garbage. But the physical artifact is charming.

Tubes CAN be better than solid state (or maybe different & unique) but what most folks use them for have very limited advantage if any at all.

And tracking on tape is a drag. When it comes to tracking digital is the most expedient, flexible, economical & limitless.
However PLAYING & MANIPULATING sounds ON tape—using the medium AS THE INSTRUMENT—has no equal.

FLON: What are some of your other projects and and how are they different?

WTN: Geronimo & TTT are active & notable:

Geronimo’s operation & instrumentation (Bass / Percussion / Electronics / Vocals) contrasts with EOTN’s lone effort.

Writing is primarily real-time collaboration & distillation over a long period of time by manually performing the material & fine tuning.
The group dynamic is remarkable as no-one in the trio is prone to ego-puffery. All are open minded & afford the other two safe space for fearless expression & BRUTAL critique. There’s an organic mutual respect that can only be born of profound friendship beyond the project. Further it seeks to collaborate with artists outside the trio (of Francoso / Ruiz / “yours truly”) when recording. The result is always more than the sum of its parts, there seems to be a force amplification of our efforts in the finished product. Geronimo has three releases so far on Three One G who have supported us with their blood, sweat, tears, treasure, time & unending patience from the very beginning a decade ago.

WTN: TTT is a mostly electronic collaborative effort with Tube Tentacles’ Garoz de Diego. It’s more rhythmic than EOTN, but a bit of the field recording experiments from EOTN bleed over… Where EOTN enjoys freedom to explore whatever comes to mind TTT works to refine “a defined sound” for itself. I’m not sure we’ve been able to do so do so decisively on all of the material just yet but this is the vision & I think we’ve hit the mark a couple of times so far. TTT debuted in 2020 with  the piece called Cong Moong on Daft Alliance’s Plague Hymns release. There’s a doozy of a three-way CD in production with Brown Piss & Like Weeds published by Marbre Negre as well as asplit release with Dungeon Destroyah in the works as well.

FLON: Cool. Great talking to you. Any upcoming releases or events you want to mention?

WTN: Likewise thanks Bart! EOTN has a new split with Janky Funeral soon to be published by Daft Alliance, really happy about how that came about & out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s