5 Questions: Matt Shoemaker

Matthew Shoemaker is a self-taught artist working in both digital and analogue realms. His interest in the treatment of sonic phenomena has lead him to produce diverse sound works that take the form of manipulated environmental recordings and mind-melting psychedelia. He has been published by Trente Oiseaux, Helen Scarsdale, Ferns, and Mystery Sea. He is well travelled. To my delight, he agreed to answer some of my inquiries via email.

Scrapyard Forecast: First off, It’s a bit unclear as to where you live now. Are you still in Seattle or have you recently relocated to San Francisco? Either way, how do you think living on the West Coast has affected and influenced your music, in so far as, personal connections you have found to be fruitful and whether or not you find “place” to be all that important in your practice?

Matt Shoemaker: Presently I'm living on Camano Island in Washington state. I was down in San Francisco for awhile in 2009, but circumstances brought me back to the Pacific Northwest. Yes, because I have lived my entire life on the West Coast, there certainly have been regional influences: people, art, and music; all have been deeply affecting, as have more West Coast geographical factors like the the nearby mountains and the ocean. I'm pretty much affected by everything I experience, so for sure, "place" is important. I have yet to figure out how to work with sound in a vacuum.

You released two works on Bernhard Gunter’s Trente Oiseaux label dating back to 2000. How do you regard those works in comparison to more recent releases on Helen Scarsdale and Mystery Sea? Are any of these less or more “grotesque” than others?

I regard my early work on Trente Oiseaux with much affection, but that sentiment would pretty much apply to everything that I've been fortunate enough to have released out in the world. Honestly, I don't know if I really have the distance necessary to offer any critical insight regarding a release-by-release comparison. Certainly there are surface differences, mostly to do with technical aspects of how the sounds were assembled or differences with each individual album's narrative (the way tracks are sequenced, for instance); but beyond those fairly obvious distinctions, what I mostly perceive is a continuity of sorts, with one thing relative to another and various persistent themes tracing a fundamental constant. Those particular themes are very difficult for me to put into words. Making the music is my idiosyncratic way of considering such things. Regarding the "grotesque" factor, I would first like to say that it is an arbitrary descriptor that I have used before but please do not read too much into the word. However, to directly answer your question, I am totally comfortable in saying that all of my releases are more or less equal in their "grotesqueness." Or, in other words, that they can all be more or less listened to as highly altered versions of a sonorous reality. By that measure, you could just as well describe the music I make as "psychedelic," or any number of things. I fully intend there to be an aspect to each release that's really open to the listeners so that they can kind of complete the picture or give it their own meaning. It's important to me that my music doesn't say anything definite.

A) Field recording is often at the center of your work, especially the use of bird calls. I think I speak for many musicians and connoisseurs of sound that the practice of the tasteful use of these recordings in an experimental context is truly a fine line to tread, the result often being something that sounds either beautiful or trite. How do you approach the incorporation of field recording into your work?

It's true that for many people taste is often a fine line. I would describe myself as one of those people. Regardless, seriously considering what the status quo finds tasteful or not is an activity that I avoid, maybe to my own detriment, though I hope not. My approach to using field recordings is pretty simple really, and is not that much different than how I approach using electronics or acoustic instruments: the base criteria being whether or not the sound works in a piece. I usually begin working on something in a additive way, with a great deal of layering or augmenting, but after awhile that approach begins to get old so I start to tear things apart and boil it all down. I will usually cycle through this process a number of times before some sort resolve takes hold. Occasionally I'll begin a piece starting with a field recording as the foundation to work from, but just as often I'll begin with another sound, maybe a bowed guitar or some electroacoustic feedback, for example. Whatever captured sound is auspiciously appropriate or evocative will usually be brought into the mix and given consideration. Saying that, I should let you know that I have some releases on the horizon which are created entirely out of mixed field recordings, as well as some releases created without any field recordings at all.

B) Is it true that you went to the Brazilian rain forest as part of a residency guided by Francisco Lopez? Could you talk about that experience a bit and about some of the prized sounds you captured there?

Yes, the trip took place in November of 2007. I was part of a group of 11 who went to Brazil for several weeks to participate in Francisco's annual Mamori Sound Project residency/workshop. We convened at a jungle lodge in an isolated area of lowland lakes and rainforest, perhaps just four or five hours' journey outside of Manaus, right in the heart of Amazonia. As you can imagine we did a tremendous amount of recording, morning, day, and night, in all kinds of locations. Francisco is extremely good at organizing these things; his knowledge of experimental sound art is deep and vast, and his training as a biologist makes him an excellent guide in the jungle. I had some experience in tropical rainforests while traveling in South East Asia, so I had some idea of what it was going to be like with the heat and humidity, but I also knew from prior experience that there's truly nothing quite like the super abundance of noisy life in such a place. It's self-evident, I suppose, but the Amazon rainforest is really an intense place. Sonically, it's unrelenting. I have assembled a three-volume CD set of minimal soundscapes created solely from my Mamori field recordings that's being released by Ferns Recordings in France (who, by the way, also released my Mutable Depths mini- CD back in 2008.) The first volume should actually be out in a month or so. Birds, insects, frogs, and fresh water river dolphins; open air mic; contact mic, and hydrophone recordings all make a featured appearance. I have tried to create something that considers the Amazon rainforest as deep space.

I’ve read that you have a broad knowledge of avant-garde cinema. What are some of your favourite films? Is the use of sound in cinema something that greatly peaks your interest?

Ah, movies. Yes, I enjoy movies. I'm proud to say that I have both a low brow and high brow. A few favorites that come to mind: Perfumed Nightmare, The Thin Man, Zulawski's Possession, Pather Panchali, Gimme Shelter, Vertigo, Gates of Heaven, Mystics in Bali, M. Hulot's Holiday, the original Dawn of the Dead, Planeta Bur, Mick Jackson's Threads, Pick Up on South Street, Un Chien Andalou, Mike Leigh's Nuts in May, The Bank Dick, Scanners, Caché, Sorcerer, Que Viva Mexico, The Seventh Victim, Once Upon a Time in the West, Audition, Sans Soleil, Paddle to the Sea, Holy Mountain, Lyrisch Nitraat, Chinatown, Quatermass and the Pit, Mysterious Object at Noon, Lang's Scarlet Street, Werckmeister Harmonies, Wiseman's Hospital, Girl from Tobacco Row, Even Dwarfs Started Small, Road Warrior, The Exterminating Angel, Them!, The Killing, Come and See, Brewster McCloud, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Heaven and Earth Magic, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre...I could list a thousand other movies. I'm pretty much interested in any use of sound, so naturally sound in cinema piques my interest.

You’ve collaborated with David Knott under the guise Omake & Johnson, to date releasing one album on your own Human Faculties label. Could you briefly describe how this project came to fruition, and possibly indulge us with what’s in store for Human Faculties in the near future?

Dave has been a very good friend for years. He's an amazing musician. I've learned a great deal from him and he never ceases to surprise me with his approach to improvisation. I can't remember exactly when we first started Omake & Johnson, but I would guess sometime around 2003. We intend to produce more albums, as we have hours and hours of recorded material stored away, but we have no specific release dates scheduled. Hopefully, sooner than later. Regarding the future of Human Faculties, all I will say is that I hope to be able to get some more releases out on the label. I created Human Faculties to have something directly under my control so that I can spontaneously get a release out if I feel the need. That concept still applies, so expect something from the label in the future, but specifically what that 'something' is or when it will come out I cannot say for certain. Besides, right now, I'm preoccupied with a handful of projects which are destined for release soon on other labels. Aside from the Amazon field recording project that's coming out on Ferns, I have two other new projects which I am very excited about: a picture disc and a new full length CD, scheduled to be released later this year on Elevator Bath. Keep an eye (or ear) out!

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