Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jute Gyte Interview

Jute Gyte is the fantastically outré project of Adam Kalmbach, whose music is so weird that calling it a mix of experimental black metal, noise, and ambient is really a disservice, which may distract from the fact that this is simply great music. Earlier in 2013, saw the release of "Discontinuities," the project's incomparable 21st full-length album and one of my favorites for the year. Here we get the pleasure of hearing the thoughts of the man behind the band and his exciting perspectives on music along with his answers to a random question or two just for fun.

Apteronotus: The reasons that people have for making music seem to be countless. Some bands are out for fame, some musicians simply love the rush of playing live, and some are just trying to make a living. What are your motivations behind creating Jute Gyte, offering free downloads of all your music, and writing music in general?

Jute Gyte: I have a variety of interests and hobbies but music is the only sphere in which I feel that I have both talent and something of value and individuality to express. Moreover I create music because I feel driven to do so: my thoughts naturally turn to music and the solving of musical “problems”. I also feel that music is the avenue through which I am best able to recognize my “self”, which I'm sure sounds really flaky. What I mean is that when I consider my past I cannot quite believe that the past me has any connection to the current me. Yet when I listen to my past music (whatever my feelings about its quality) I feel a strong connection, almost as if by listening I am recreating the thought process involved in creating that piece. This pseudodialog between the past me and current me through the abstract language of music is basically the only way I can countenance the past.

I offer free downloads of all my work for a few reasons. I want to reach listeners and I have found that removing artificial barriers to access has broadened my audience. More importantly I feel very strongly that art should be available to everyone regardless of their (lack of) disposable income.

A: If someone with absolutely no knowledge of either metal or electronic music asked you what your music sounds like, how would you explain it?

JG: In either genre, my music is generally highly chromatic (sometimes microtonally so), rhythmically complex, and experimental. It is the latter quality that leads me to work in both metal and electronic music - different genres advantage different kinds of experimentation. I find it useful to think of music as three interwoven systems, each with their own rules, that combine to generate individual works. These systems are rhythm (the horizontal organization of sound), pitch (the vertical organization of sound), and timbre (the character of the sound, which is itself built up from microlevel horizontal and vertical organization). My black metal work places these systems in a hierarchy where pitch is paramount, followed by rhythm, then timbre. Pitch must be served by these other elements – there are often four of five independent guitar parts sounding simultaneously and they must not be tethered to an ill-suited rhythm, nor may timbral experimentation be allowed to obscure the complex pitch verticalities or muddle the rhythm. In contrast, my electronic work usually favors timbre and rhythm as equals, with pitch as the lesser element. In this case, an ostinato pitch pattern might simply serve as a ground above which complex timbral and rhythmic possibilities are explored.

A: You are much more prolific than the average band, how do you feel that this influences the way that your music is perceived by others?

JG: I'll address the first point, then the second. I'm more prolific than the average band in part because I am not a band but an individual. The average band's productivity is limited by a variety of extramusical concerns, like coordinating writing and rehearsal times and spaces, booking studio time, communicating with a label, and embarking on grueling tours. Because I am an individual, recording my music in my home studio and releasing it myself, and because I do not play live, I do not face these burdens. However, there was a time when I was recording music without releasing it, and so from 2011-2013 I have tried to clear this backlog of finished material by releasing several albums of it per year. I've more or less accomplished this goal (and relegated to the dustbin work about which my enthusiasm has waned), and so I plan to release material less frequently from now on.

I have worried that potential listeners might see my discography and suspect that I value quantity over quality. I hope that actually hearing my work dispels this idea. I am productive, but I also have severe standards – only about half of what I record is released. That said, I think the current norm, in which a band releases one album every year or two, is a strange one, more rooted in the extramusical factors I mentioned above than in the capabilities of musicians. Mozart died at 35 yet his complete works span 170 CDs. In Leipzig, J.S. Bach composed a cantata every week for five years. These achievements are not brilliant anomalies – Telemann was less talented but even more productive – but demonstrate that it is possible to produce worthy material at a greater speed than that currently favored.

A: How do you feel that your choices in instruments/electronic interfaces influence how you approach musical “problems” and how do these choices influence the foundational rules of music’s interwoven systems that you mentioned?

JG: In metal the obvious focal point is the guitar, a pitched instrument. Musical “problems” or experiments relating to pitch might be questions like “what if I tune the guitar to [a certain tuning] and then only allow myself to play [a certain limited selection of frets] no matter what strings I'm playing?” or “what if each riff in this song is in a different tuning?” or “what if I layer four guitar tracks, simultaneously presenting this riff in all its interval-preserving forms: prime (normal), inverted (horizontally flipped), retrograde (vertically flipped), and retrograde-inversion (horizontally and vertically flipped)?” Sometimes these ideas are exciting in theory but fail in practice and have to be discarded, but these kind of thoughts result in around 75% of the riffing on my black metal albums. The other 25% are riffs that I more or less improvise while recording, a process that I find more immediately exciting but less likely to produce results that truly surprise me.

In electronic music my abiding concern has been the question of identity and change over time, and musical “problems” are usually related to this concern. A timbral example might be “continually repeat the same sequence of pitches, in the same rhythm, for seven minutes, but have every parameter of the piece's timbres change so gradually but completely that minute seven sounds nothing like minute one, without it being clear when/how the shift occurred”. A rhythmic example could be “if I gradually slow the tempo from X to X/4, but also gradually make the rhythm busier and busier, will the two contrary forces cancel each other out?” As the examples illustrate, much of my electronic work relies on smooth gradients of parameter automation to create imperceptible but significant changes over large expanses of time. These gradient structures are obviously indebted to minimalism but the work is not minimalist in other respects.

A: In the past you have experimented with both atonality, done via twelve-tone technique and with microtonality through the use of a 24-tone guitar. These both seem like pitch-oriented tools, and since your black metal work treats pitch as the paramount consideration, what future possibilities, if any, do you feel these approaches offer?

JG: My decision to turn to microtonal guitar was a pragmatic one. I increasingly found myself writing riffs only to find that the note I wanted was, for instance, not C natural nor C sharp but rather the pitch in between, so I had a guitar modified with a 24TET fretboard that would give me access to those pitches “in between”. This was a good idea. I cannot overstate what a revelation the microtonal guitar has been for me. I had used microtones before I had the guitar modified, but it is one thing to play with a slide or to retune something in software and another to have a naturally microtonal instrument. The immediacy – having access to microtones without recourse to special techniques or processing – makes all the difference and allows the microtones to form the basis of the music instead of being occasional ornaments or effects.

A fair question is “why isn't 12TET enough?” Why did I want the pitch between C natural and C sharp in the first place? I don't know how you hear music, but I know that as a listener when I hear certain interval combinations or harmonies in a work I instantly form mental associations with other works that use the same combinations, and as a musician I sometimes despair at this inescapable web of associations, formed from centuries of music built around only twelve different pitches. Though this may not be true, it sometimes feels as if everything has already been said and only minor variations remain, like rearrangements of the Titanic's deck chairs. Having access to double the pitches of the dominant 12TET system allows me to find interval combinations that seem at least comparatively novel and as a musician I find this thrilling. I feel that with my first microtonal black metal album, Discontinuities, I've barely scratched the surface of what is possible, and I plan to continue using microtonal guitar in all my future black metal work.

A: Relating to the theme of everything having been done already, what do you think of the idea that given the length of time since a major sub-genre has been birthed, that metal as a genre has exhausted or nearly exhausted all possibilities? Can genres in general become saturated, for lack of a better term?

JG: My sense of 12TET's exhaustion is a personal feeling and not a rational assessment, though it's certainly true that expanding beyond 12TET introduces new avenues. I don't think that metal has exhausted all or nearly all possibilities. I think there are a few ways that styles evolve. One way is to increase breadth by drawing characteristics from other (sub)genres to create fusions like black/doom or industrial death. This kind of broadening has clearly not exhausted all possible combinations. A complementary way forward is to increase depth instead of breadth, by which I mean to advance the genre without overt recourse to other genres. This is gradual and happens frequently as artists create variations on the styles of other artists. Even when an artist sets out with derivative aims they cannot help but introduce new elements, akin to evolution's random mutations, through their individual demeanor, talents, and circumstances. Over time these small changes accumulate and new possibilities appear. I don't see any reason to think this will cease.

A: Earlier you mentioned some classical composers, what kind of influence does classical music have on your own? Was Schoenberg an influence in how you approached writing “The Irreality of the Past?”

JG: Classical music is one of the major influences on my work. Listening to it and reading analysis/theory supply me with new compositional tools. Schoenberg is the creator of twelve-tone technique and thus essential to “The Irreality of the Past”, but Schoenberg as a composer was probably not much of an influence because I don't listen to his work all that often. When it comes to serialism my tastes run towards Webern, Babbitt, Wuorinen, Boulez's work from around 1980 on, etc. Wuorinen's book Simple Composition has recently been a major boon to me for its lucid explanation of post-Schoenberg serial operations that I didn't quite get before.

A: You have already indicated there would be more microtonal fun in the future. Other than that, what sorts of musical experiments are on the horizon for you, and do you have any albums currently in the works?

JG: I have a few (microtonal) things completed and awaiting release in 2014. Beyond that I am working on a project to unify my disparate musical approaches, which I guess really means to place pitch, rhythm, and timbre in an egalitarian relationship, without the end result sounding like scattered genre-hopping. This is a long-term thing without an ETA.

A: Missour-ee or Missour-uh?

JG: Ee. I seldom hear the alternative.

You’re in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling toward you. You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?

JG: I would not have overturned the tortoise in the first place!

A: If you have any final comments or anything you would like to add please feel free. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview and thanks for putting your releases in DVD cases, they’re awesome!

JG: Thank you for your interest in my music.

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