issue 21 :: March 2012

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Interview: Lisa Kurcharski

I didn't know about Lisa or her work when I lived in Chicago, and I became aware of it when her cassettes were sent to N D. I reviewed a tape in issue 18, and Dan and Seth each reviewed a tape in issue 19. Had N D continued, we would have interviewed her. But as things go, the interview had to wait until I visited Chicago in 2012. Her work primarily employed her voice and was clever, inventive and whimsical. She mentions in the interview below trying not to sound like Laurie Anderson, and this is a good reference point, But Lisa's work was never so NPR-friendly, being more suited for smarter, underground channels. At the time, I would have never have made a connection to Anderson, but maybe to recordings of Alison Knowles or Sue P. Fox.

Her music might be hard to find these days. The blog Alice Rabbit has posted .mp3s of her 1993 cassette A Variety of Barks, Hisses & Squeals. Download now before it disappears. There are also two .mp3 files for download at the end of the interview. Hopefully more will make its way online or through rereleases in the near future.

In February 2012, we met at the Chicago Cultural Center, which has greatly changed since the last time I was there.
 
[We started the conversation with Josh trying to set up his recording device and me wanting to look at the recording device. I immediately had tech envy. We were also talking about the Experimental Sound Studio. ESS is where many of my pieces were created, recorded and mixed. The studio, at the time, was run by Lou and Dawn Mallozzi. This was at the studio’s first location, and I was lucky to work with Dawn on some pieces before she died of cancer. She was a wonderful person and she did a lot of work running the studio with Lou.]
[As the interview starts, I was explaining that at the time the studio was in its first location the studio was at risk of loosing its space because the owner thought he could make a lot of money selling. At the same time, the studio was in the process of finding a new permanent space.]
...in a tenuous state because the building owner wanted to sell the building. And also, about that time, the real estate market was shifting to sell, so a lot of people wanted to sell, but we also wanted to move, there were all sorts of physical issues [with the building]. Either way, ESS knew they needed to find a more secure place, which they ultimately did just a little further north. But now, since they have more ownership of the building, they can do more: they have concerts there, they have archives. Since they moved, it has become its own place a little more. The nice thing about it is it has become a central force in making sure that experimental sound work happens and has a place to happen, a coordinated place to happen. They do the Outer Ear Festival. They also advertise for people doing pieces, they coordinate the Conservatory; the Lincoln Park Conservatory has sound works there. They coordinate many different things for people who work in sound as a medium, not just music.
Since I moved away in '93, I've heard the name more and more: why didn't I know about it when I lived there?
The only reason I found out about it is that I took a sound class at the Art Institute as a one-off course, and I thought the same thing, too. It was in the '90s, and I thought “how come I've not heard of this?” I wasn't sure why they didn't advertise or get the word out more that they existed. I've asked the same question for a long time, “why don't you have a Facebook page, how come you don't have this?” It took them a long time to get a presence beyond just the small group. I don't know if it had to do with money, but you're not the first person to ask this question. But now they have a Facebook page, they have a little more of a presence, but even now I bet there are people in the city who don't know the studio has certain functions, that you can become a member and use the studio and rent it for a reasonable price.
I was just at the web page yesterday, trying to research you, and it seems the web page is a lot smaller than everything I know they have done.
Yes. I was on the board until probably 2000 and there was a lot of discussion about many different things. I moved at the time further south and my job shift changed so I was getting up early, 4:30am early, most people in the arts are just getting home at that time, so for me I couldn't really go to their board meetings which were between 9 and 11 [pm]... But during that time there was a lot of “we need to get more people in, we need more people involved, we need to get word of the studio out more...” I think it boiled down to there were not enough people doing things, and I think there was a great reluctance to bring any one in to be the face of the studio, if that makes sense. They probably would have liked me to do a lot of administrative stuff, but I wasn't in the position to do that. The thing is, when Dawn [Mallozzi] died, all of that stopped. If Dawn had lived, much of that stuff would have been done, and mostly by her. That's reason why right between when she died and when they changed, some things moved forward, because they had to, and since Lou [Mallozzi] is pretty much the main driver of the studio, if he decided to let some people in and do things, then it would happen, but I am not sure if he is comfortable in letting some things go in terms of control. He's someone you would have to ask about that, but I do know he is very careful... they are probably the most financially conscientious place I've run across. I've worked with other non-profit agencies behind the scenes and these people were much more careful than any other place I've been in.
Let me back up and ask how did you start doing sound work?
I actually started in theater as a background, but I was very much a visual artist and writer at the same time. I graduated from college during the Reagan era which meant there were no jobs, same as there are no jobs now. I took what I could find, and interestingly enough, I got a job, I was very lucky, as a security job at the Museum of Contemporary Art [in Chicago], which is ground zero for meeting a whole bunch of artists, professional artists and pretty much your colleagues in the area. The interesting thing is that through those contacts, I was writing, drawing, painting, I was doing a lot of zine work, which is why I know about [N D], and some of the people I knew at the Museum of Contemporary Art were Liof Munimula, so I knew about people doing improvisational things and they started talking “you shouldn't just write poetry, you should perform it,” that concept of performance work. I think one of the biggest points when I realized people weren't hearing my poetry correctly is when I heard someone read it. Either they were really bad at reading, a lot of people when you ask them to read something sound like “I-am-an-au-tom-a-ton...” So I started thinking maybe I should start presenting the work audio-wise. And a lot of my first works were me taking my poems and translating them to a sonic environment, like taking a word and replacing it with the sound, or start playing with words and sound words. So many of the pieces you say you've heard were built off of those types of ideas.
Did you have a tape recorder?
I was able to find a 4 track player through the [Chicago] Reader in some suburb, someone had it in their basement. I used a bunch of little cassette recorders. When I got the 4 track I was able to start cutting and splicing 1/4” tape and Radio Shack was still selling it. I don't know if they still are. Someone in another apartment said they found an abandoned 2 track, but it was 1/4”, so I had another one of those. And they still work. I started collecting any type of microphone and recording device, including from the American Science Center, so I had built several contact mics. They no longer sell the piezo discs that you use to make those. I used to go around and make contact mic recordings all around the city, and no one even blinked an eye. There I was, taping something to a pillar, and no one is even bothering to look at me, nowadays they might. I was constantly out recording and then I would bring it all into the studio, either my place and I would start figuring out where I could use these [recordings]. But I did after a while start to create scores. I knew what kind of sounds I wanted and then I would go out and try to find them and build pieces.
Where did you get these ideas of tape splicing, making microphones?
Some of that was due to the sound course, believe it or not, Lou [Mallozzi] taught the first sound class I had there, which was Sound 101. In that studio they used 4 tracks, they had three 4 tracks and a mixing deck. I learned how to splice there and finally figured out the nuts and bolts of what I wanted to do, and you really didn't need a lot to get what you wanted. It wasn't as expensive as it is now. Like if you want to buy ProTools: that is an investment. You could get away with really cheap, you could really find stuff. I was always in the libraries looking for sound effects, a lot of animal sounds. I used to record people making animal sounds. I recorded a Montessori class making animal sounds. That was a project. Where can I find kids that will let me in to record kids making animal sounds where they won't think I will do something to them? I didn't realize how hard that would be. They were afraid that the kids would be recognizable and people would want to abduct the kids. But this was just audio, no one is going to recognize the one kid going ROAR! From all the other kids. I just put it down as Montessori kids. I told them I would be as vague as possible, even though I like giving credit. And since I was using handheld tape, I didn't use a micro-cassette because that was a little too lo-fi, but I had a Sony, very similar to this [Tascam DR-07], it had a stereo recorder and I would walk around with it, and I could record conversations very quickly. And it was very... clean. I was surprised how good it worked. And I used it for almost all of these pieces [compiled onto 6 CDrs given to me -ed.], which is amazing considering how much tape hiss... if you combine all those things the tape hiss adds up. I did one piece in my parents' house and I recorded over it and I thought “what is that horrible sound?” and I realized it's air, it's the tape hiss air of the place, magnified four times all compressed. It's amazing how clear some of this is, considering the source, all lo-fi. There's no digital, really.
Were you listening to other sound works?
Yes, at the time I was familiar with Laurie Anderson, and I had her sign one of her books for me. I was trying to be conscientious of not sounding like her too much, because she is very popular, very good. She's one of those artists, in the art world, who is very successful, and that's been held against her in some circles. But everybody knows who she is. And I did listen to Meredith Monk, and John Cage. And I was listening to other sound artists, like Laetitia Sonami, I liked her work a lot, she was doing the glove work, way more sophisticated than anything I was capable of doing. There was some people in Chicago whose work I really liked, Paula Froehle. Most of the men were doing improvisational work and I found a lot of women were doing spoken word work. It didn't mean those two didn't cross, like Carol Genetti's work crosses over to the improvisational pretty easily, and Eric Leonardson has done a lot of stuff that could be in both camps as well. So there are people who cross. I was starting to search out audio works. Gregory Whitehead came into town and did a workshop and I was one of the bugs; that probably doesn't make sense. Our whole theme for the workshop was bugs.
Not insects, but bugs...
All of them, anything bug could mean. It was Gregory, Lou, Shauna, myself, Mark, Ken, Audrey... I think there were seven of us. It was a two week thing and we made a piece. We came up with as much text as we wanted, we recorded, we made sounds, and then we created a performance piece and performed it live for radio on WHPK [University of Chicago radio], and then we created a studio work on its own, a more polished recording. The group stayed together and did something on hypnosis, because I was interested in that at the time. I also liked the patter, “you are getting very sleepy,” so we did the piece on hypnosis and it wasn't done as a performance, it was done as a sound work, but I think a couple of the other people took the idea and created another performance, which was kind of interesting to see how it splinted and went its own ways. Many of those people were doing their own performance work and the group went on from there. Greg Bendian came by and I thought he had really good ideas how to cue and compose. He would create symbols, a way to very quickly communicate in an improvisational situation for you to take over, or “I like that, do more.”
Was he conducting? Was he playing?
He was playing different things, but then he had a group of other musicians, and for the most part I watched the situation since I wasn't a musician, but I wanted to see how he did things. But it was a very interesting way for him to quickly communicate while improvising that you're not playing and hoping that you'll catch something. You’re made to pay attention to people a little more and you can communicate with them verses blowing your horn at them, “Stop! Stop, so we can hear so-and-so!” It was an interesting way of creating like a percussive section, a horn section, and different symbols so that very quickly unfold a piece that sounded like it had a little more cohesion than many improvisation pieces sometimes do. I took some of that idea and created performance works. I had index cards: there was the Task pile, and then the Reading pile. People would have to pick a card from one pile, and a card from the other pile. So a task would be, “Create a rhythm for 30 seconds using X,” I would have toys laying around, or “Create a melody, go backstage and hum,” or they would have to read. And I would create pieces on that.

“Filmic Phrases”—Here I am holding the action or phrase cards for a performance piece. Surrounded by the performers.
And you would give them the text to read?
The text would be on the cards, and a lot of those were the hypnosis and the filmic phrases. This is something we did on the radio, performed it live. We did these pieces a lot. So if you knew me, and if I knew about you in any kind of way, shape or form, I would collect you.
Did the task/text piece have a name?
It was a way I found that was interesting to format a sound piece where it wasn’t the same every time…
It was a process to generate pieces?
Right. The sounds and the text were the same, but each time it came together it was a different mix. Brian Eno, whom I am a big fan of, big surprise, a lot of people are, said that once you hear a piece, why do you need to hear it again? Why do you need to spend your life rehearing things, and I do it all the time, but I thought that is an interesting way of looking at a sound piece, it never changes once it is recorded, and much of what he does is recorded pieces. I thought this is a way of making each piece the same collection of ideas, but you could hear me shuffle them around. How can you hear something different? What would make someone want to come to my performance more than once? Which is true, if you know what to expect. The text would always be the same, but in terms of the performers, the Museum of Contemporary Art has a lot of people who are more than willing to help you out. Painters, writers, performance artists. I basically took every single person I could get. I need three female voices, or three male voices and you can’t be afraid to be in front of an audience.

“Hypno” — We talked with the magnifying glass sometimes for this piece. Same layout, cards pulled at random to say text or make sounds. Lt to Rt- Amber Creger, Will Green, Me, (behind me) Brent Riley, Lorrie McAllister, Chris Heenan, Amy Rudersdorf (sort of my team)
So these just weren’t your friends…
Colleagues… I had people read… This piece [“Colorblind Doppler”]... I know what she looks like, but can’t I remember her name, but I think I worked with her at the bank. I just liked her voice, and I wanted to record this one piece, so I had her read it, I'm sure just into a mic and then I went into the studio and played with it with the doppler. And it was a text that I messed with. It was a technical text about being colorblind and then I messed with it, so it sounds official then it clearly is not. I don't even remember... what is her name?! Some of the people, like the person I worked with on this, Chris Heenan, he went off to do jazz saxophone work with the Ken Vandermark Quartet, and now he is in Berlin, but he did a lot of things with helping me doing performance, using his voice, not necessarily using his saxophone at all. One person I went to college with, I used her because she had a really peculiar voice [“MooBoo”]. I asked my parents, because they have older voices. I've tried to get some people to let me record them and they won't because they're too self-conscious about their voice; I think it sounds really cool, they think it sounds rough or bad or it doesn't sound like a TV voice. There's one woman who lived next to me who was obviously a chain smoker, she had this really husky voice, but you could hear all of her words clearly. You could never imitate that voice. It was like Lauren Bacall times ten in terms of huskiness. I really wanted to record her, but she just could not, “my voice sounds horrible.”

“Moo Boo” (performed at Hot House) Lt. to Rt. Lanore Diefenbach, Eugene White, Me, Chris Heenan.
We popped the balloons at the end.
With the card piece, were you ever surprised at how people interpreted the cards?
Yes. Some people were much more aggressive than I assumed. They took on a little bit of a life of their own... I had one where I had three piles, one was an action, one was a text, and then you had to pick up how to say it, so you had to lisp, or stutter, or shout, and that made people much more vibrant than I anticipated. One person was really embarrassed about doing the stuttering part and he almost went to hide. Someone we knew had a stutter and he was in the audience, he didn't want to offend him! Like he would be making fun of him... I guess I don't think about that. When someone stutters, I know it is frustrating for the person, but I don't think it necessarily sounds bad. Or, it has a quality to its own. I wasn't making any judgement calls on it: it made the text staccato, and that's what I was looking for. B-b-being able to accentuate a consonant throughout the text was what I wanted. The easiest way to communicate that to someone is to tell them to stutter. If you make it too complicated...
Were there rehearsals. Or was it just show up and do these things?
No, no, no... I wasn't going to take people who had never performed in front of anyone before and throw them in front of an audience... You probably would not have wanted to live underneath me during that time. We would probably have four rehearsals. Once I felt people were comfortable doing what they were doing, then, even though what we were doing was Sound Art, I would coordinate what people wore. I have a degree in costume design, which means I am conscientious of if you are going somewhere, people are going to watch you. You can't tell people not to pay attention to what you are wearing, if you're asking someone to a performance. I had everyone who was performing wear a color. Everyone had one color to wear, so you might be assigned Green, I don't care what you're wearing, but the shirt, the pants, everything had to be Green. It was a way of color-coordinating everyone and made everyone interesting to look at, because they were wearing these colors, and it turned into crayon sculptures in the space, which was nice. I did one called “Lucid Snow” where everyone had to wear white, and one person was rolled up into a giant mound—for some reason I have all sorts of things in my house, I have a twenty yard roll of chiffon white fabric that someone was throwing away and I took it, you never know when you will need twenty yards of chiffon.
Been there.
I rolled one person up and they were a snow mound, and then the sound piece went on, and I had people who had never... they weren't artists. By then I was working in a PR firm, so I'm asking administrative assistants “hey, do you want to do this art work thing? There's not going to be anything that makes fun of you...” There are limits of what you can ask from someone who has never performed before. I never did anything that would make them feel in danger or that someone would make fun of them in any way. But I would give them tasks to do, and they were all very interested in it. If you are someone looking for performers, don't be afraid to ask people who you don't think are interested in it. You should give them a shot. You would be surprised how excited they were to be involved with art, because no one ever asked them to do it. The interesting thing is when you ask people to perform, they bring their friends to see performances that they would never have seen either. So I got a new group of people to hear my work automatically built into that, and they were all very interested. I had not ever done that before, it was called “Lucid Snow.” You can ask people to read and whisper into people's ears in the performance, the audience would each get a secret message. That was fun. That was hard to record, but I recorded bits of... I did an official recording. Once I starting doing performing, texts were still important, because it is a nice grounding source. Watching people look at art [as a museum guard], if you want someone to stop and look at a painting longer, put text on it, because people will read it. It makes people stop. Even if people don't understand [the words in the performances], they will listen to the words. Same as if you listen to a lot of music nowadays and read the lyrics, they don't always make sense, but people like to hear the sounds of the words, so it grounds them in ways that just using a sound doesn't. I like making my audiences feel comfortable enough to stay, because if I want to say something uncomfortable I want them to stay long enough to feel it. And there is also a little bit of the theater in me, knowing that theater is something people will walk away from if it's too odd. If you see jokes on television about theater, usually it's someone standing, screaming... it actually looks more like performance art. There's playing to expectations and playing against them, and I feel you have to—for me and my work—I want there to be a bit of both. I know people want to be comfortable, but they want to be shocked at the same time, so you have to find a way to do both. My worked has arced greatly from being didactic to being less didactic. I think that is the difference between being twenty and being older than twenty [laughs], is you don't have to have a political stance all the time, you can find subtleties, and your work can be about not telling people what to think, but simply thinking about things. I know my work has spanned towards questioning, wondering, trying to find more so than the didactic way that I was even writing when I started do all of this. By the time I started working with sound, didactic doesn't work with sound art that well, because then it just sounds like you're preaching, and that's not fun. For me. It wasn't fun to work with. For some reason the Butthole Surfers just flashed through my mind; they're still just playing guitars, regardless. They still have something else going on.
If you're a fan, they just did a show together in Austin, for the first time in ten years or something [they actually did an 11 date US tour before the Austin show].
I was going to say, it's been a while. That's nice. Sometimes when they get together again it makes them think “why were we apart?” and some of the issues are no longer issues because they grew out of them.
Or they've worked with other people and “they were worse than you!”
“You're no where near as bad!” [laughs]
When did you start releasing work on cassette?
In the '90s. It was pretty much all during the '90s. It was like releasing albums, in some ways it was good because it made me come up with a collection of things. It's a little like how painters make enough paintings for a show. I felt like just doing one piece, if you were going to perform it, that's OK, but if you wanted people to buy it, you needed to have a collection of pieces. So I started doing CDs, I started doing four or five, and then I stopped because the studio costs for mixing became very expensive for me.
Four or five tapes?
I did those and then I started doing performances, so the performance aspect took over from where the cassettes ended, but also the costs needed in the studio to complete these pieces was turning into an expense where I knew I wouldn't be able to sell enough cassettes to make any money... Nowadays, I would be more inclined to have my own studio and have everything independent of an outside source. The nice thing about going to ESS was that I could do that and find a community. There wasn't the Internet then, there wasn't other kinds of meetings that took place, now there are a lot more opportunities for people to interact. Making the compilation tapes made me learn the studio really well, and also I love doing that, mixers are like... fun. The mixing and the editing was actually very exciting, that was the most fun. Just creating in that environment was fun and I thought the only problem is that I can only afford two hours today. By moving to performance, I could do that over and over and there wasn't really a cost.
Doing live mixing?
Doing performances that mixed themselves. And then doing radio works and recording them from the radio. I think I performed at LAW, Northen Illinois, Northwestern [WNUR], WHPK... What I would do is I would make tapes and I would mail them to fifty or sixty different radio stations across the United States and Europe and they would play them. I have a long list of all the places that actually wrote back and said “we played this.” That's the reason why the creation of the tapes became so essential after a while, because I knew I wasn't going to sell them. A person in Iceland aired one of the tapes and said someone called to complain about it, and he said “Then I know I have the right tape.” [laughs]. I even did some pieces in England once. I had a chapbook of poetry published over there, and several magazines also publshed poems, so I went there to do some readings.
Straight poetry readings?
Some, but I also threw candy at the audience when I read “Everything You Put in Your Body is a Drug.” I didn't know if they would make the connection right away, not that it wasn't obvious enough, but it was certainly a very different crowd. It was at Surrey University, so it wasn't like I was talking to... a very stogy group of poetry lovers, although I certainly met enough of them. I can tell you they own the English language and you do not. And the sense of playing is not the sense of play happy, no, [laughs], so I was very different from many of the poets.
I can imagine them having a prouder sense of the poetic tradition.
I know there are people there who have read much more contemporary stuff from America, I know they know about it, they talk about it. But it is interesting when they are actually confronted with hearing it/seeing it, I think it is literally foreign to them and it's taken them a while to figure out how to take it, like are they being made fun of? Or should they be having fun? There were a few that I think got it, I could tell that they were getting it, that I was trying to read a poem to them.
I wonder what they think of the American accent.
It was funny, while I was setting up and testing the microphone, I actually knew more about the microphones than the people at the space did. So I was setting up and there was a drama club there doing what I call the cork talk, I know a lot of actors do it, they put cork in their cheeks and they speak. What is that supposed to do? I know it is supposed to do something because all the actors in theater school seemed to do it, except me. I don't know if it is to learn how to enunciate better, but these people were O-VER SAY-ING THING-S and talking like that. I said to them “I'm sorry I didn't know someone was in here,” because I was behind something, and they all started laughing. They said they were practicing American accents [laughs]. I didn't know if I should tell them that they shouldn't over empathize the differences between their language and ours, if you just try to casually sound American you sound more American than if you over try. I thought it was funny, they were actually practicing American accents. There were a group of seven of them across the stage practicing American accents and I didn't know that's what they were doing. It sounded odd, but maybe we sound like that to them. I thought “I've got to do a piece on that.”
We think the English accent [ignoring regional differences] is cultured and refined; I imagine they think we sound like morons.
There is one of those old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, he says “our soft-spoken cousins” or “our soft-accented cousins,” and I realized he was referring to Americans at that time, World War II. I know that we sound crass sometimes, I can tell by the way they imitate us, but I really don't know how they perceive us, because I'm basic American mid-west. They tend to do Southern accents a little better, but even then. I think I saw a person imitating an east-coast accent and they didn't get it right, and it is one of those accents that sound more British, but there is still something that they don't get, usually the rhythm. When I was there, I was asked if I was Canadian at least four times, which I thought was odd. I know what Canadian sounds like, some of them don't sound too different from the way I'm talking, but there are certainly giveaways. As soon as they start into certain vowels: “oh, you're from Canada.”
One of the minor reasons I wanted to move back to Texas was because of the accent.
Texas accents are different. I was in Houston for a theater internship, and a lot of those epeople were transplanted from Ohio, so I didn't hear as many accents as I thought I would.
In Austin, we get a lot of people from Michigan... But there is something I like about the Texas accent, not the Southern accent.

The Texas accent is pretty specific to itself. It's not... there's a slight drawl, not all the time, it's not very heavy, but it's very understandable.

You rarely hear anyone with a strong “cowboy” accent, it's just a little bit and for some strange reason, I like that.
It is a nice accent. Considering I've spent time traveling with my parents throughout the whole United States. Tennessee is fairly understandable, still, and that's definitely the South, that kind of accent. And then when we hit the Carolinas, South Carolina, it was almost incomprehensible. I could not get some of what they were saying. We were camping and these kids were talking to me and I couldn’t understand them. And I asked my mom: “Why do these people understand me and I can't understand them?” “It's TV, Lisa, they can all understand TV people.” That makes sense. California has a voice distinctiveness all its own. I always think Clint Eastwood: however he sounds, that's California.
I can't stand the Boston accent and I don't know why.
I've only heard that a few times, and when I hear it I keep thinking “are you making this up? Are you trying to pretend to have an accent?” It's real, but when you first hear it it sounds so different and so... it's not soft in terms of how people speak it. When you're in the South, you'll hear the drawl, but it's usually not blam-blam-blam in terms of percussiveness. If there is curl to the voice, usually there is less percussive quality to it, so when you hit Boston it hits you. I was with a friend in New York [City], and we were talking with someone with a Boston accent, really thick, like “hot attacks,” [heart attacks] the whole deal, and she started imitating the accent, and the woman was getting mad, because it sounded like she was being mocked. I didn't know how to explain to this stranger that my friend just does this, once she hears something she imitates it instantaneously.
Have you done any sound pieces with accents?
No. It's really hard for me to hold a steady accent. I tend to sound like I can go from French to Indian to German. I think I'd have to hire actors to do that. I actually did hire—hire implied paid: I gave everyone pizza—for one piece for a Fluxus program, many years ago, at Gallery 400, I created a piece called “Speakers.” [Loud]speakers are right and left, so I had two people, actors who would not be afraid to perform, each person would be wearing headphones and blindfolds, listening to cassette tapes, Walkmen, and I would start them at the same time, and both would imitate exactly what they heard on the tapes as quickly as they could. So sometimes they would be talking to each other, just a little out of sync, or they would be fighting because I had armory sounds. They were the speakers: the only way you would hear the piece was if they said it. Sometimes they would just burst out laughing, that wasn't on the tape, but I know they would hear something, like a hyena laugh, and they would react to it. It was fun to watch. And the audience could do it too. Anyone in the audience could become a speaker if they wanted. Because I had enough actors, and I wanted actors this time because I wanted people who could do funny sounds really well. I should have asked more actors to do things over time. There's no recordings of it, the performance, I have the tapes that were used. I have pictures. It only existed when people did it. I made up all sorts of funny things that would force people to have reactions to stuff as much as the imitations, “I'm not going to do that!” I think I had something where they had to imitate someone with a different accent because I remember the looks on people's faces thinking “how do I even say that?” I think I had language tapes that people didn't understand. I used a lot of French tapes, “Bonjour!” so people would suddenly have to speak French, and if they knew it, you could see in their faces “I know how to do this!” and other people would [mumble], “I don't know what they are saying.”

Speakers for Fluxus Event Gallery 400.
(Two volunteers: Lance Baker and Mara Hickey)
This was performed a number of times?
No, just at the Gallery 400. There was a large, open space, I was in one corner with my chairs. They had other pieces or performances that moved. I think at the same time the MCA had a show about Fluxus work and other galleries were doing that too at the same time [1993?]
I love the piece “Show 19” [on the “It's All In The Wrist” cassette].
When I was a guard at the MCA, right behind the building there was a professional studio, and there was a dumpster next door. Guess what they threw out? Reels and reels and reels of four-track tape. I said this is manna from heaven: I need a car and an empty trunk, let's go.
I was going to ask about the “tapes found in a dumpster” [listed on that tape].
Most of that was from those people; “oh, I'm not done yet,” “let me do this again...” The comments in between the NPR voices. Some were unusable, really really really bad rap music, people who wanted to do demo tapes, but at the very least I could record over those. I couldn't believe they just threw them out, and didn't tape over them or something.

Quimby's (when it was on Damen and the first owner lived above.) Asked if I could put a sound piece on the back table. The suitcase contained a series of cassettes and a painted walkman. Anyone could sit down and listen to a piece. Was up for a month and a half.
What have you been working on lately?
After I did a bunch of the sound pieces and I moved toward Midway Airport [Southwest Side of Chicago] into a house... because I wasn't near [ESS] and I was trying to make sure I had enough money for the home... as luck would have it, in 2001 I lost my job, and then I was in an accident. I was crossing the street and a car ran into me. So I was kind of out of commission for a couple of years, due to that, I had a subdural hematoma, bleeding in the brain, but not so bad that I needed surgery, but that took a while to recover from. It seemed like there was a big change, I was ready to start, I did have my sound studio set up in my house, and then all this happened. It was a bit of a struggle, so let's just write those two years off. Then I thought, “what can I do?” My work life shifted, I couldn't get to ESS easily, so I just started writing again, not necessarily poetry. Poetry is nice, but it has its limits, and at the same time I was looking at film and video. I did take a couple of portable video camera classes and editing classes. I made a documentary of a pet parade and had that up on cable access [local CANTV]. And then the Internet started becoming popularized and I thought I want to do pieces that aren't so ethereal [laughs]. I decided I wanted to start writing stories, novels and screenplays. I've spent that past four years working on those. I would also like to make small video pieces to put on the Internet, the whole YouTube thing, which I love, those strange little clips of someone imitating their dog's voice. I think they're great pieces. I have to shift how I think of doing work. I think film would be an ideal realm for me to go into, sneak into. I'm edging into that world, that doesn't mean I won't dabble back into doing visual art and painting. It's been really nice to do this without any pressure of an end result. I've actually finished stories and I'm getting into the realm of how can I produce works and then use different outlets now. Outlets are now free, and they haven't been for a long time. That makes things better for me. I've been basically collecting myself. I'm actually fairly pleased, it's taken a while. Have you ever written a book?
Not yet.
Does it sound daunting to say that you're going to write a four hundred page novel? When I started doing it, I thought only people who do writing courses can do this. The biggest thing you can do is to find out you can do something, it doesn't mean it has to be perfect, but I did do the National Novel Writing Month. It started in the 1990s in San Francisco. It was a dare: in one month, write 50,000 words. Could I do it? I don't know, but I thought it would be a good way to see if I have what it takes to keep it going. I had a general story idea and they said “don't even worry about if it's going to be a masterpiece, because it's going to be crap and you have to be totally comfortable with that.” So I just trusted fate and wrote. I did the word count, and I did more, but I have a story. There's probably stuff I could take out by the droves and throw it into a fire, but I came up with a story. As soon as that happened, I realized I can do this, I can make a bigger piece that has more complication, more depth to things nowadays. I just don't want... while I love the little dog being imitated by the voice [“Animal Trials”], I'm not interested in simply a one-liner.
Do you write so many minutes a day? So many words?
Actually, I assign myself to do certain tasks. For instance, today, I have to work on log lines to promote scripts I've already finished or I need to write an outline for my next idea, which is a comedy. I love comedies. You can bring up so many serious things in comedies. If you're really serious about them, people cry and there is a limited audience that want to see that. But once I decide to write, I need to get so many pages in a day, get at least these five scenes done. In the story I'm working on now, there is a guy who has a phobia of cupcakes, which is ridiculous, but I thought how do people get cured from phobias? So I did research on what are the current cures for phobias, and then I created my own cures for phobias [laughs]. The nice thing about the Internet is finding connections like the Meetup Groups, and I was coordinating a screenwriter's group in Chicago, and you have to be accepted into the group, so it is not people who are [just] thinking/talking about writing. I've been in that going on three years and that has been extremely helpful. It has also been my introduction to the film community.
Is it the kind of group where everyone presents what they are working on?
It is intense, to say the least. If I [post] a piece, usually a rough draft, everyone reads it and gives feedback on the entire script. Do the characters develop well? Did you lay the scene out right? Could this scene be somewhere else? These two characters are actually the same character, combine them. It's really a good group, but when you put something up, be prepared. Since we only have two full scripts up a months, it is doable. It's been really nice to have the group. In a sense, if I were to say who would I pick to help me, I know have a group, similar to what I had at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I like those kinds of groups, the same you have with the Fluxus group here. You need to find a way to connect with some people and you can get a lot done. But my second thing is I have to start acquiring equipment. Either acquiring software to edit. The prices on cameras have come way way down. But that is my goal now, to start moving into pieces that... and I've even thought should I go back into painting, just to make me think visually. But I've focused for so long on the writing that I'm getting proficient at the formatting of it. I've discovered the joy of actually honing in, because then you realize how this could get really good if you don't run away from it after the first few gestures. It's been a shift to become patient with myself. I do think film would be an ideal place for me to go because I don't like being limited by the location of a stage. I like the fact that you can have a scene in the middle of a street or a field. That's really hard to do on a stage. I also find that some of these language things that I have been playing with are starting to creep back into my writing, and I thought that would be interesting dialog to have people saying things that were poetic or sometimes didn't make sense and then they made sense. China Miéville just wrote a book where it's all about miscommunication [Embassytown] and language being used where you know what the word is but it's being used like slang where “bad” means “good” or “phat” is “good.” He uses language that way so that it takes the reader a while to get comfortable not understanding everything and then suddenly understand that level. It's not for everyone, but I thought that kind of use of language, maybe not quite that indecipherable, but playing with it again in dialog has turned into a fun thing to do.
I've been reading a lot about Wittgenstein and his theory of meaning as usage.
Did you see the Derek Jarman film?
I have not. I don't know if I want to see it.
You should. It's a sparse film of his. It's one of his later ones, it's not as chaotic. I was surprised at how unchaotic it was.
I just don't want to get someone else's image of Wittgenstein into my head, or read his writing and have that actor's voice in my head.
I think if you actually watch the film, Jarman has him reciting lectures and concepts of Wittgenstein, so it is not necessarily him coloring it too much. That's why I was surprised when I watched it; it was pretty straightforward, he's not manipulating him, which he likes to do. One thing I thought was really interesting, it was one of those books on the history of the English language. It had to do with the history of a certain word. An artwork was described in the 1700s as “artificial” and nowadays that would be considered insulting to be called “artificial,” but in that time period “artificial” mean with great artifice, with great technique and skill. So that reading it now, you wouldn't understand it, the words have shifted their meanings so much. I have been reading a lot of books from different time periods as a study in anthropological literature, where I've discovered—that's a weird way of saying that—what must be one of those words, and then try and find out what that word meant at that period, which is an interesting way of looking at it.
 
[At the end of our interview, we looked at the Morbid Curiosity exhibit at the Cultural Center, which “lived” up to its name. Then I headed home, and Josh went to get something to eat at a place I recommended called the Oasis. I hope he liked it.]
Please download .mp3 files of “Colorblind Doppler” and “Duo Duet (1)”. A MMPP EXCLUSIVE! Free!
Lisa Kucharski can be reached at eenah [at] aol.com
2013 Update: Lisa has uploaded some files onto her Soundcloud page
2013 Update: the m.m label has released a 7" and a CDr of Lisa's older works. You can listen to the 7" on their Soundcloud page.
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