As if it were necessary to begin with the question of the phenomenal productivity of contemporary experimental musicians when interviewing Robert Horton. More than thirty years after his beginnings in composing music, he left the shadows in 2005 to finally publish his music. Horton has had dozens of releases on an incredible number of underground labels. These documents conceal some of the most enthralling sound explorations of the last number of years. We exchanged some emails to clear up the situation and to find out how to become a legend in the sprawling underground.
Well, I have always been prolific. During the mid-1980s, I was releasing a lot of material as part of the cassette revolution. Tapes were released in Japan, Europe and the U.S. In the late 80s, I had a health crisis that slowed me down for a few years. Then I started an anti-racism educational organization in 1993 that still continues. So, it’s a combination of chance, momentum, and label owners with open ears.
Occasional pieces came out on compilations under the Egghatcher name. One of my favorites was on Lucky Kitchen — MUSIC FOR IMAGINARY VIDEO GAMES. There is definitely a backlog of Egghatcher material. Right before the recent flood of releases, Egghatcher spent a whole year working on ACCIDENTS (2004), which involves recording real life events and then “orchestrating” them with certain related filters, using Tom Erbe’s Soundhack software. There is also some overdubbing of subtle guitar, boot, and piano. The boot is my four-stringed homemade instrument.
A series of almost funny miscues with record labels over the years also lent a sense of futility to releasing material. The useful part is I learned to throw away or recycle the stuff that doesn’t work. My partner Janet Carter is very good at telling me, “My body doesn’t like that one. It doesn’t work.” Meeting Tom Carter (no relation) in the Jeweled Antler basement in North Berkeley and getting to be friends was helpful since he encouraged me to send out stuff and to not buy into the negative futility thing. The other person that was helpful was Brad Rose. I found his website and sent him a demo of ANGEL HUMMING THROUGH A WIRE and he was so enthusiastic — none of the label-owner cynicism I had encountered in the 1990s. We’ve become friends through email and occasional phone calls.
Even during this period when I’m dealing with a physical disability, I just happen to make a lot of music. I always feel behind on projects. A few years ago there was nothing out. Now there is a lot on the underground circuit. I think it is a challenge to really edit and only release material you really believe in. If I had had a label in my 20s and 30s, I would have released a lot of stuff that was crap. Now I can pick through that material and put out what I think is good on the archival releases.
Unless they are noted as archival, most of the Robert Horton material was recorded in 2004–2006. The Egghatcher material is from 1999-2004. There have been four volumes of archival material (with more to come). ISM is an exquisite overview done by Clay and Theresa of Davenport, featuring material from 1979 to 1991. MOVING THROUGH ONE LINE TO VASTNESS on Sloow Tapes is from 1987. Just released on Jyrk, is PLATEAU 1985-1988. Plateau was my just intonation drone group with Hal Hughes and Michael Shannon. Also recently released is WARMTH, on Foxglove, a boot drone piece using two reel-to-reel tape recorders set up to loop in a way similar to that used by Terry Riley, and egotistically named “Frippertronics” by Robert Fripp.
The one release that is an exception to the 2004-2006 dates is EXPOTITION put out by NAFH and recently reissued. It’s mostly material from 2003-2005, but there is a duet with Hal Hughes from 1983 and a sampler piece from 1989 – the title piece. In the late 80s I used sampler to create dream bands. Some parts would also be played live. I was trying to get a “computer primitive” sound. I was working in a similar way to the Plunderphonics approach of John Oswald at around the same time, without his conceptual baggage or notoriety.
Egghatcher uses fewer real-world instruments and more computer-transformed sounds and field recordings. In the mid- to late 1990s, I really got into working with Tom Erbe’s program Soundhack. It’s really like an instrument in that it’s hard to learn, and the way you learn will determine your sound with it. It lets you mutate and convolve one sound with another. Egghatcher was most active 1997-2004. The Egghatcher recordings released so far are from that period. Egghatcher and I like to do the split personality thing. It’s fun. Some newer Egghatcher will be released on Students of Decay, a split album with Robert Horton.
Under my so-called real name, I release pieces that are played on my various instruments so they have a more organic feel than Egghatcher. My homemade instruments — boot, sex machine, folgerphone, electric barometer, saxette — are all used, as well as guitar, autoharp, bass, trumpet, harmonium, Casio MT-68 (a cheap but great keyboard from the 80s.) Computer is in there too, but not as prominently as with Egghatcher. Recently Miscegany Records released a Robert Horton CDR called BOOT which is solo recordings, mostly with no overdubs, of the boot. Two Robert Horton CDs are coming out in 2006 — DIRT SPEAK on Digitalis and SLEEP, WAKE, HOPE, AND THEN on Mike Tamburo’s NAFH label and Music Fellowship.
Future Ears is my free jazz loud noise project.It involves sax players Henry Kuntz and Dan Plonsey. The next Future Ears project will also have guests Tom Carter, Michael Donnelly, and Pete Swanson of the Yellow Swans, and will be on the Swans’ label, Jyrk.
Hoal was started to release material by my project with Lon Huber called the Attemptations. In many ways, the Attemptations is the weirdest project I am involved with. It’s a sort of noirish musique concrete, though it involves improvising with environments. On one piece, we literally play my backyard. The label is not that active, really. Lon and my lives are too busy. I head and am the main teacher with an organization that teaches antiracism classes and Lon is a computer troubleshooter. I met him years ago in the late 80s when I owned a desktop publishing service bureau. He ended up working for me and we soon found out we shared a love of strange musics. He is also an expert on weird Italian horror movies.
50 was Brad Rose’s idea. We were chatting via email and he mentioned that Keijo was over 50 as I was just approaching that life mark. When Brad suggested the idea of doing a single split CDR to Keijo, it turned out he had recordings with the Free Players made on his actual 50th birthday. There was too much material for a single split, so we did a double. Brad amazingly got the project out in time for my birthday party. I would love, someday, to do a collaboration with Keijo. I love his music and we are both fans of Woody Guthrie.
There are lots of ways I can answer this. The first is that I have more of a sense of humor, and I don’t have to be consistent with a perceived historial lineage or school. I can be all over the map and play with traditional musicians like Hal Hughes or Duck Baker, composer improvisors like Dan Plonsey, noise dudes like the Yellow Swans, and psychedelic improvisors like Tom Carter. I can have a lot of fun. From the so-called “classical avant garde” (actually, that’s a pretty funny concept), John Cage, Luc Ferrari, Pauline Oliveros, and Lamont Young are the folks I feel the most simpatico with. Harry Partch, for me, stands completely outside that tradition.
My work doesn’t have any relationship with that of Derek Bailey, though I like his music. Fundamentally, he uses standard tuning and is way into Webern. My main instrument, the boot, uses open tunings and I’m way into drone. That’s a pretty big difference. I have more in common with instrument builders like Hugh Davies, Max Easterly, Prent Rodgers, or folks who invented new approaches to playing their instruments like Keith Rowe of AMM or Fred Frith. Also, I change my attitude to improvising all the time – sometimes incorporating composing or editing the result. I have no hardline belief other than if you are going to release something, it should be alive within itself.
I would have to say the two Harry’s are my influences – Harry Partch and Harry Smith. Harry Partch in terms of building my own instruments and in terms of using different tuning systems and just intonation. Harry Smith in terms of the totality of his vision and how it connected to the blues and what is now called old-timey music. Roots and vision. The way he approached music, ignoring genre. He took his creative approach to film and painting and applied it to the packaging of his ANTHOLOGY OF FOLK MUSIC, in terms of music selection, sequencing, and art.
Another formative influence was Henry Cowell’s ANTHOLOGY OF THE WORLD’S PEOPLES on Folkways – the different sounds of instruments made by folks all over the planet from the materials of their environment. Harry Partch also had a real sense of location in his pieces, like “Petals of Petaluma” and “Barstow.” David Keenan, the writer and musician, pointed out that I’m very influenced by John Fahey’s approach to musique concrete, like the pieces on VOICE OF THE TURTLE and YELLOW PRINCESS. I think that is true. Fahey’s sense of location, as in the singing bridge piece on YELLOW PRINCESS, and the emotional resonance of the sounds he used were amazing. Probably the only other person doing that was Luc Ferrari.
Another non-musical influence is the German collagist Kurt Schwitters. Anything you find anywhere can be combined with anything else, and it is the juxtaposition that has meaning.
Influences on my boot playing range from slide guitar players such as Mississippi Fred McDowell to veena players like Z.M. Dagar.
And I can’t talk about musical influences without mentioning the Jefferson Airplane.
In the basement of Blind Joe Curry, the legendary Quincy, Massachussetts musician who was completely self-taught on guitar, string bass, and piano. Joe was such a huge influence on me. As far as I know no recordings of Blind Joe Curry survive. By the early 1980s, he gave up music. Legend has it he now runs a garden supply business somewhere near Boston.
originally published in French by mille-feuille.fr
-- Constantin Dubois (18 December, 2006)