issue 1 :: Spring 1994

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Interview: Dan Burke

I conducted this interview by fax with Dan Burke of the noise band Illusion Of Safety mid-January of [1994]. I am grateful to Dan for being so open about his music in this interview.
Rumor has it that Illusion of Safety is planing to release 4 records in the immediate future. Can you tell me about them?
There have been 2 new IOS CDs completed over a year ago which are about to be released. Water Seeks Its Own Level is due out on Silent Records this month. This is a solo CD of mine (although I did incorporate some DX-7 work by Jim O’Rourke) which has no rhythms on it, healthy doses of field recordings, and soundtrack-like textural sampling. The other CD is Distraction coming out on Odd Size (France) probably in March. This work is also solo pieces of mine (except for a 10 minute piece called “Helen Your Brain, Forever since about breakfast” which was done with Chris Block and JOR) and is mostly decomposition work (Manipulation of musical structures, disco, thrash, funk, etc. similar to “Historical Pt. 1” and “Musicfuk 2” on Historical CD). Besides these there are 4 other CDs planned for ’94 release, which we are currently (slowly) working on. One is an ambient CD, similar to Probe but hopefully with more of the warmth and beauty of our earlier work, and with no nasty noise parts. The second is a live CD from our East Coast US tour of May ’93. This CD will be a compilation of the best moments from the live dates and the two rehearsals that Thymme Jones and I did. This CD will be a little different than most IOS releases due to the instrumentation used: prepared guitar, autoharp, trumpet, wine goblet, walkie talkies, metal sheet, electric razor, shortwave, and prepared tape. We have also begun work on a CD for We Never Sleep. This one like “Inside Agitator” deals with the human condition and will be more social/political/rhythmic in nature. The other CD planned is another decomposition work like Distraction, more manipulation of standard song structures and collage. I would also like to see our first LP More Violence And Geography released as a double CD with our tape about worldwide torture In 70 Countries sometime in the next two years.
There seems to be about four or five core members of IOS, you, Mitch Enderle, Mark Klein, Jim O’Rourke... Due to the nature of the group, it is not apparent from the recordings what each member contributes. Tell me about the creation of a “typical” IOS composition.
IOS began in 1983 as an improvisational collaboration between myself and the avant-rock group Dot Dot Dot. Eventually I hooked up with Mitch Enderle, Mark Klein, and Mark Sorensen, who had more similar interests in music. Us four began to work together as the main core of IOS from 1986-1989, a good portion of the work from this was main core, but there was still work done with Thymme Jones and Chris Block (of Dot Dot Dot), and of course solo pieces from all members. I met JOR in 1989 and immediately asked him to join IOS (his skill and sensibilities were unquestionable). At that time Mark Sorensen moved to California, and he still helps us out with video production from time to time. Since this time IOS has continued to have a revolving lineup, collective is a good description of IOS. During the time of our first LP it was mostly main core work. We would usually just experiment and "jam" and finally compose structures that we would refine and then perform or record. But throughout there has always been solo pieces (and not just my own). The first piece on our first LP “Get In That Room Eliam” is one of Chris’s solo efforts. these days it usually starts with myself coming up with a concept, sound or sequence and then either finishing it alone or working with one or two of the others. Most releases are scattered, for instance on our third CD Cancer, the first few minutes are Jim and I improvising in the studio with a margarita glass and piano, which leads into a piece constructed by Thymme using samples that I created. The next few sections that crossfade together are my work that culminates in that very intense noise done by Jim with a TV and then finally drops into my short decomposition using Public Enemy samples. After some silence there is a solo piece of mine, then a solo piece of Jim’s and finally a solo piano piece to close the CD. Probe on the other hand was a completely collaborative work done by myself and Jim. For this CD I created all four backing sequences while Jim was on tour in Europe. Keeping in mind his compositional techniques I made everything long, slow, subtle with plenty of rooms for changes. When he got back from we examined the structures and added, subtracted and finally mixed them to our mutual satisfaction. The Inside Agitator beat sequences were done by myself, then I had some of the others do overdubs. I am usually the one responsible for IOS rhythmic tracks, but there are exceptions: Mitch did the beat on “New Game” from Fifteen; Chris did “Eliam” on MVAG, Thymme did the beat on “The Line Of Least Resistance,” a compilation track on Charnel House’s new CD Arrhythmia 2. The interior tracks on IA (indexes 3, 7 and 9) are spontaneous improvs done by all six of us in a 5000 square foot warehouse.
Illusion of Safety deals with more than a couple of distinct types, for example the differing sides of the The False Mirror 7”. There are not only these, but also extended voice recordings, radio collages and others. How do these diverse elements fit into the project’s philosophy?
Easily since there is no single guiding philosophy for IOS that I could state. Since I am responsible for the output of IOS (even if I am not composing) there are some distinct interests and characteristics present. Originally I set out to create a dark soundtrack kind of music, also to look at the nature of humanity and the condition of our world in a creative way. I also saw no musical boundaries for IOS, any style of music could be used, abused or perverted; I wanted to explore the boundaries for what is considered music. My major inspiration to do this this music was seeing the final two performances of Throbbing Gristle. For years I’ve called this music Industrial and sometimes still do, although that term means nothing now. I see this music as sharing as much as much with that tradition as with academic and pop music. It can be fun to play with preconceptions and rules since there shouldn’t be any. I am attempting to get some emotional or other reaction to the sound/music/information in myself as much as for anyone else. I think there is a conscious effort on all our parts to create beauty, even if the raw materials are ugly and questionable. We also examine honesty, values, and irony. All of this and our individual orientations, tools and abilities leaves the door almost wide open. Speaking for myself, the technical beat music interests me a lot, but no more than the soundtrack beauty of Cancer or the harsh power electronics of Probe. In fact, I have several other projects to get that side of things out of my system. I have just released a CD of my solo work called The Seven Inches Of The Apocalypse under the band name Fixated. This music has elements of techno, industrial and house mixed with a lot of sex. I am also working with a guitarist named Dylan Posa on a techno-thrash project called Lillycrusher; hard beats with lots of noise and metal guitar. I have completed a CD for a acid-disco project called Groovy, which I am shopping around. The music released as Illusion Of Safety should always be challenging, beautiful, honest, moving, curious or thought provoking.
On “Third Rail” on Historical, there is a long piece of dialog that seems to involve two policemen and an apprehended killer who says “If I had more bullets I would have shot them again and again. The problem is I ran out of bullets.”
The dialogue is from a documentary style movie about Bernard Getz. He was being harassed in a New York Subway (he believes he was being robbed, but no one knows for sure) by 5 youths and he pulled a gun and shot them. It caused quite a controversy. Some applauded him for fighting back, of course he was arrested. I’m not sure of many details like if went to prison, how many were shot/killed, etc. You have misquoted him: “You can’t understand this because its a realm of reality you’re not familiar with. If I had more bullets I would have shot them again and again. The problem is I ran out of bullets.” This guy had been mugged in New York (his home) before, in fact they had thrown him through a glass window, so there was some hostility in him understandably. This time he was prepared. This piece can either be taken as a pro-gun control of anti-gun control statement. Once again, interpretations are always with the perceiver. I used to feel anyone should be able to own a gun. But when you look around this country it gets pretty scary. I was confronted in Europe a lot about this subject, as they are not allowed to own guns over there. Consequently far less murders are committed. In Chicago alone last year there were like 924 murders. It’s just too easy to off someone if their stereo is too loud when you have a gun lying around. It would be great to be able to defend yourself but chances are whoever is after you, whether it’s the army, police or an outlaw is going to have you out-gunned anyway.
While never dealing exclusively with the theme, many violent images can be found in IOS works, the above mentioned piece, the part in In 70 Countries describing, in detail, a man’s experiences being tortured in the hands of state police, a woman talking about electro-shock therapy on Finance and Ideology, et cetera. In violence, or images of violence an essential part of being an “Industrial” band? How does IOS’ use of violent images differs from, or is the same as, Throbbing Gristle (who, it can be said, defined this paradigm) or Nine Inch Nails (who seem to be trying to live up to it)?
Throbbing Gristle came up with the phrase “Industrial Music,” and the music and information they used, they saw as a mirror of society. NIN and Ministry are just rock music, although they may also look at some of the same themes. This look at violence, torture and mental health is just an observation and shares some common ground with TG. I studied psychology and must say I am fascinated with aberrations of the human psyche. I don’t think violence should be an essential part of any form of art or music but it does make potent subject matter for examination.
Describe an equipment indispensable to the IOS sound. What is the most untraditional or bizarre noise-maker ever used by IOS?
During the days of the Main Core, cassette players and 3.6 second digital delays with a loop function were our weapons of choice. Now we use quite a bit of sampling, which we try to use in innovate way. Sometimes it is the obvious, like in the decomposition work “Historical Pt. 1” or some of the pieces on Distraction, but more often we try to make the samples into something new and unrecognizable with certain connotations or hints of recognition. A few years ago Jim introduced me to FM synthesis with a DX-7. A really amazing synth that allows for unique and interesting sound combinations. this instrument has shown up sporadically over the last few releases and will be a little more apparent on these 2 CDs about to come out. Bowing large pieces of sheet metal is a favorite sound. On “Devices To Be Used” we employed party favors and a doll. Since portable DAT has become available, field recordings have become more prominent in our music. I see these recordings as “snapshots” of a particular time, place or event, and this documentary quality lends itself and expands our sound immensely, we have always used elements of “musique concrete.” Now it’s taken to an extreme, to give the music a sense of hyper-reality.
Is IOS inspired by any particular books, political movements, artistic manifestos or other non-musical material?
It would be difficult not to be influenced by everything around us. Everyone is influenced by our culture and the media, hence the fascination with violence, and my short attention span. Films have been inspirational to all of us though in different ways. Some of us have worked in the design and photography fields, and the aesthetic concerns of those disciplines have played a part in our compositional technique. Discovery of Dada and Surrealism was influential for me.
When I lived there, Chicago always seemed to have a fantastic music scene. What is the Chicago music scene like from your point of view. How does playing live differ from being in the studio? Which is preferable?
We have not played in a while. The best place in town Club Lower Links closed down. It was kind of like our own cabaret Voltaire, where any kind of non-mainstream art, performance, theater, or music could be presented. now its down to the regular rock clubs,some more “industrial” than others, and loft spaces. Chicago has always had great audiences for all kinds of music. The people can be warm and enthusiastic, and there is a thriving music scene here locally, but it really does not include us. As a personal preference, studio work is necessary for the perfection I always strive for, but live is fun and a great way to get out and meet people. We have performed almost 100 times and it has always been a rewarding experience for us (I’m not sure how the audiences have felt).
More information about Illusion of Safety can be found here.
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