by billy navrovski 4090 words
brussels, winter 2013
do you know the experience of realising that you have been listening music without doing anything else for a couple of minutes? do you ever forget the fact that you are in a social environment during a rock show and you just completely depend on the music for your physical and mental activity, for your movements and thoughts? do you ever experience alienation because your attention is moving away from the spectacle or the film you are watching because of the music?
these questions come to mind when i make myself think of what i want to write about music. it is something that is without any doubt tricky; to write about music. it is the domain of critics, ana-lysts, journalists, theorists & fanatics. it is a domain that uses one medium to comment on another medium; the first uses prose - words, phrases & paragraphs - the second uses music - instruments, hertz & effects. but in a way though, they both use sounds: while reading this you probably hear a vague voice in your head and music uses words most of the time. furthermore, i would be delighted if you would listen to our music while reading this essay or prose or manifest or letter.
what is worth to be in the words?
the music that a cufnosed circus has released so far may be hard to categorise, but does one always need words to correspond to certain expressions of emotion? some people want to distinguish genres, but art is about emotions and emotions are hard to define. emotions are, after all, some kind of activity in your brain.
it is so bloody hard to use language when you have to describe your deepest feelings. with deepest, i think i might mean ‘most extreme’ in the sense that they can be perfectly positive or unbearably negative. not that i am a big fan of dualism, but it is easy to start with. nuances will follow.
my own ambitions initially lay more in the art of words than in the art of sounds, if those correspond to respectively literature & music. for prose, the problem was that i did not find my own life interesting enough to write about and the abundance of fantasy i had as a teenager ebbed away as i read more and more. also, i figured out that i preferred to let my emotions flow in my consciousness as abstractions, rather than trying to use metaphors or cliché words to determine my feelings when i was making a poem out of it. in short, i had no idea what i wanted to write about. or; i had no idea what i wanted to say to the world. what is worth to be in the words anyway?
when i first started making music, i was freed of this limitation of words and i did not have to take the detour via language to express my emotions. in one way or another, i was able to canalise my sadness, frustrations, ambitions or my need to move into the few notes i played or the rhythm i made.
poetry became something that was more about the form than about the content for me. more and more, it displayed a succession of syllables rather than a representation of feelings, emotions or inner moods. it had to suit the music i wrote it for and consequently, it dissolved in a greater palette of sounds.
the voice became an instrument instead of being the bearer of significant information. this, and insufficient knowledge of the classical rock ‘n’ roll instruments inspired me to devote all my time i am not busy making a living to sounds, in the broadest sense of the word.
sound as entertainment in the first place, but i surprise myself finding joy in hearing or listening to arbitrary noises. the sole rhythm of the dripping rain seemed absurd to me and particularly that i enjoyed. maybe i am just afraid of absolute silence and i can hear beauty in every sound that would hinder such a horror.
however, there are more shapes than just music or sound in which feelings can be transmitted. we think the music we make would perfectly suit stories that are being told in other disciplines of art, to accompany dance or movies or theatre or games. we want to combine our music with art of others so i should not write about music only, but about all art.
assembling different arts
it is interesting to see how different forms of art can inspire each other. it might be even more interesting to intertwine different forms of art, although my relationship with intermediality [anything from showing a book in a film or adapting a book into film to combining poetry with film & intertwining sculpture and painting. i do love intertextuality by the way and from gérard genette – who somewhat coined that term – i also steal on the last page of this narrative.] is a bit ambivalent. it turned out to be exceptionally hard for me to bring literature into music. this is what i tried to do because i thought the twenty-first century did not need poets anymore and i decided to devote my time to music, because that would be the main medium of resistance.
on the one hand, what attracts me in certain fields of art is the artisanality; the showing of skills that are specific for that medium. one could think of the structure of a pop song [how the beatles invented and deconstructed the pop song, after them and andy warhol everything became vague and nowadays, genres arise seemingly exponential. but why refer to music that was made fifty years ago? i should refer to newer shit, shouldn’t i?], the rhyming in a sonnet [solomon don dunce] or the flatness or shades in a painting [giotto?]. of course, these three examples are of different value within their fields, but comparing different arts is impossible and borders of domains, disciplines, fields, media & genres will probably – no, hopefully even – become vaguer than they are nowadays.
and though i appreciate mediumspecificity - or the refining of techniques that are unique to a certain form of art and the accentuating of this - the intertwining of different ways of expressing emotion, telling a story or transmitting a mood commands/earns/deserves respect. i can hardly imagine a film in complete silence or a poetry slam with no audience. again, these examples are no equivalences in different domains; movies used to be played with various musicians in different theatres & the poem of the slammer is the same on paper.
so on one hand skills and on the other hand combining, but my examples for the latter were partly incorrect as they illustrate the transience of art rather than mixing them. what i probably mean is the bringing together of different performance arts, or image and sound, dance and poetry, film and street art or acrobatics and graffiti, painting and pop music as one experience.
i want to make sounds, either in the shape of pop music, for theatre, literature or as sound art and i would like to go on tour with a circus. i want to collaborate with people and what this experience we will provoke will exactly be, remains undetermined. just as the product of music, nowadays: is it vinyl, mp3’s or is it gigs?
the context of art changes
a cufnosed circus does not want to be restricted to a certain genre or form of art. we want to do all, we want to be able to do all and intertwine our personae with other artists. i am sorry for repeating myself, but i just explain it so you under-stand our motivation of choices and read the underlying thoughts or whatever i am writing here. anyhow, it is true that we are aware of the context of our music.
to contextualise art,
to have a
framework and that
to build with
these words. to understand
a work of art
in a bigger framework, one first needs
to get to the roots
and one needs
to be able
to place it
in a wider
the things that
have been done already,
the signs in a culture
& their meaning,
the codes in a discipline
& how to use them,
that are being made.
to deal with art is to know the
conventions and play with them,
seek boundaries and borders
and then try to innovate
within what is beautiful. we are convinced that one needs to know what has been done, before doing it oneself, just as one needs to know the 12-bars before one can customise the blues.
at the same time we try not to have a definite product of art, because we cannot define a definite product in music our-selves. would it be the song when it is performed with the most passion, the song when it is recorded and you can listen to it a thousand times, the album or a concert?
we emphatically have chosen to publish ep’s. one of the reasons we do this, is not to ask too much of our listener: twenty minutes is enough. another reason is our restrictions in recording, as most of our recordings are done with only one mic and we care about diy.
but the most important reason is that it allows us to give a glimpse of the process, to show how songs evolve & we try to do art in its purest form: a concept that we approach uniquely each time we do it. we develop simple themes and motives and their elaboration differs each time as the mood we are in, when we perform it, differs each time too. our ep’s show our moods.
we want to reveal temporality in music in one way or another, and we always play our songs, compositions, improvisations, drones or mantras differently. we try to show the transience of our music. songs can be played differently each time and our soundscapes depend a lot on the gear we happen to stumble upon when we do them.
so we make ep's to expose multiple angles, different fragments of [our] music and sporadically the blues. we would not feel able to play the blues all the time because we do not always live the blues. after having learned its history, it fragmented our look on music.
as germanic europeans, we have little tradition in blues. we are [grand] grandsons of farmers who did not have the luxury or time to cultivate art. we are born on the countryside and at primary school, we were the guys from the hamlet, not the village. at secondary school, we were the guys from the village, not the town. so no trains, no highways, no nearby cities, and because of all this, we feel a bond with bands from for example norway, belgium or seattle. probably subconsciously we became loners.
the fact we were born in such a non place may also be the source or roots of our interest in marginal art. i say marginal, and not experimental or non-conventional because i like how that word sounds best. also, our art might be commenting on society. we are not denying society, we are constructing it. we are not avoiding it, but as a small part of society we are adding to it in our own way. we would love to have a broad audience and make art for everybody, but it is probably not easy to listen to our music. hence the choice of the word marginal: we are part of the whole but a bit outside the simian flock and we reflect on it.
one of our critiques or comments on contemporary music is the lack of mistakes or filthy thingies in pop music: blue notes are hardly played, impurities are being auto tuned, any dynamics are being compressed to constantly be as load as possible and consequently there is no more catharsis for the people because pop music does not ask their effort. it is so flat, so empty, so void or anaemic. people listen to songs hundreds of times and it does not even seem to bore them. what we want to do is to make people realise the limitations or incompleteness or fakeness or short-sightedness of broadcasted art: we want to question all the pre-digested music, amongst other things.
the more one breaks with conventions, the more surprising it gets, but the harder to listen to as well. the more conventions are being followed, the more alternatives there should be, and the more extreme it should get. while conventional music is getting emptier, our music is becoming harder.
music that is following conventions = easy listening, breaking with conventions is what we try to do to make people aware [of what?] of the limits of music, i guess. no, we do not want to revolt against the establishment & music has no limits either, we want to deceive you. because we are somewhat aware - having watched television until 18 [when mtv was still broadcasting video clips of alternative music] before moving to a city - of clashes between different peoples, this variety of social environments, religions and generations in society. there is a multiplicity or different ways of life that is possible and we are interested in certain extreme ones.
we want to foreground these extremes. show the variety and have the friction by incarnating awareness of those varieties to undo all eternal contradictions in life – good/bad, man/woman, night/day, positive/ negative, winter/summer – because of the incorrectness that it brings along, as there is neutrality, androgyny, indiffer-ence, dusk, autumn...
we do not fancy the importance of dichotomy in life and we want to hack it. city & countryside, white & blue collar, calm & wild, something with dualism and my love-hate relationship towards that.
it is just that we do not necessarily want to make music for radio. i am com-plaining about pop music again, but it was the first art i came in touch with in my life, via radio. anyway, i quit listening to the radio on a daily basis a long time ago and i think nuño’s listening to classical music on the radio when he is working. how beautiful that probably what he hears is conventional in its subculture, but unconventional in a wider perspective. so traditional and progressive simultaneously.
we wanted to customise the blues in our own way and our minimalistic approach led to the fact that our compositions mostly evolve around one key; e or d, depending on the tuning of our guitars. some of our songs are written c, because i wrote them when i had a table with a clavier painted on it.
though we do not want to think too much about scores, keys and the like. instead of thinking of music as science, with hertz and time intervals, we see music more as a vehicle to transmit atmospheres. that is why we use lots of intuition in our music.
begetting the drowned magicians
güntherpierre is classically trained, but the problem is this -restricted- him of writing songs. it either felt hackneyed, trite or too far-fetched. probably the same problem i had with writing a story or a poem.
at an estuary, the idea for the drowned magicians arose four years ago. before that, gp gathered his friends around to jam, so they would do something intuitive and he would try to get it into a rock song in earlier bands. nowadays he likes to see what potentiality it has to become an epic composition. or, he forbids to play notes and the others just brush sounds.
most of the time though, i come up with a vague idea and try to communicate this concept with the other members of the drowned magicians and then we execute the idea. i really need the input of others because in my head it is still abstract and not completely clear and only with the help of the other guys it takes shape. i try to leave it open a bit, so they can contribute colour as well.
also, we love accidentism which means for us as much as attaching significance or meaning or relevance to something that is accidental or coincidental and might seem irrelevant or trivial at first. this is demonstrated in moving to any city abroad because some random girl invites you to live in her house & in music it can be translated into making a rhythm out of interference or using playing cards to decorate percussion, use ornaments or attributes that are accidentally at hand in the music, lyrics etc. it can also be complete randomness and hectic violence.
we want to see what boils to life when we play. therefore we leave space for the mood of the moment to see how we anticipate on that particular moment. this way of working also gives way to simplicity, as i am not musically trained & sometimes i just play the same bass line for twenty five minutes during a rehearsal, knitting the tapestry the others can dance on as fakirs.
and we make mistakes and do not hide them; we are humans, it is normal. it is inherent in life, hiding mistakes would be a sort of lying. there is something really beautiful though frustrating about not being able to grasp perfection. we show mistakes to not lose the aura or authen-ticity of the moment though sometimes it is just artistique lazyness. we just try to play with it, with the imperfection of takes , as a tattoo artist who does not have a nice clean sheet of paper either, but needs to work around the shapes of the body.
lots of time is spend on how our guitars sound. q and gp have been customising guitars to liven them up with p-90’s, charisma & some paint. also, effects play an important role in the rite. we hope our music does not become superficial because it is more about how a sound is, and how it is customised and influenced by equipment, then it is about what is played with notes. still, we say something with the sounds we provoke.
transferring moods takes time. other than trying to convince listeners of our coolness with licks and riffs, we ask them to put some time and effort into letting our music sink in and we hope to guide them to slightly altered states of being, to let the tranquillity sink in, to do a mantra. therefore we use microcosmic repetition, variations on the same theme for fifteen minutes to let thoughts flow in the minds of the audience or do something totally different and be so wild that the succession of thinking stops whilst listening to the overload of noise, sounds & reverb we produce.
it takes time; catharsis! reading a book, seeing theatre or dance as well. we know it is not easy, but we do not see the point of easy entertainment. we see it, panem & circenses, but we think it is not something the audience should do all the time. do some effort, lazy sheep!
i just mentioned two completely different goals of our music; on the one hand we want to make the listener think and on the other hand we want to undo thinking. these two seem oppositions, but do they necessarily have to be so? dualism again, what do i want to counter? if music is the medium for resistance, to what do i want to resist? to the music that is kitsch to my ears, or to the listeners of that music, or to the makers? and how am i going to do it? resisting all three of them? resisting nine to five as well, maybe. and how to do it? by doing/behaving/wanting the opposite? by countering? altering? denying?
what is there to deny? notes? rhythms? rhymes? we have songs without them. what to oppose? loud and soft? we have tapes with an overload of distortion where you can hear us press the buttons of our effects. what do i want with these dichotomies [was it derrida or deleuze who preached discovering marges to undo bounderies? being experimental in the hope of a turn
over.] with these oppositions of silence and sounds; silence and music; music and noise; soft and loud; conventional and marginal. no, those are not opposites, i do not think they are dichotomies.
it is to cope with these eternal contradictions that we want to do with a cufnosed circus. we deal with these counterpoints - daily life and distraction, happiness & sadness, ambition & boredom, innovation & tradition, concrete & abstract - and they are the subject of the conver-sations we have while playing music.
we create by hacking. life is based on routines like eating, sleeping and doing the same stuff all over again, but when people break through, when people log out of reality to go running, play cards, do sports, play computer games, dance, drink, make music, watch movies or do whatsoever, it becomes intense, passionate & worthy.
we are okay with the absurdity of life: there is no meaning to it and we can give meaning to life ourselves. life ends badly and we can only decorate it. make life a bit more beautiful. in relation to the world i may seem useless and my art may be marginal, for me it is my personal truth or blues. apparently, breaking the habits is what some people do and in the sounds we make we try to do something with this by surprising and we want to fool dichotomies by combining hard and soft and all between.
with the music i am talking about, i refer to what is on bandcamp, on souncloud and on the usb. a cufnosed circus is nuño & billy & all the people they have gathered around them on our path to imperfection. what we publish as the drowned magicians is our main focus and aside we have our own projects, sounds, questions that are all different delimited domains that are becoming one whole together.
we, in the margin of society, we want to reflect on it. maybe our way of living inspires, intrigues or interests others. we aspire combining our art with poets, dancers, acrobats, trapezists, filmmakers, sound artists, actors etc. it would be enriching for both of us and for the spectator as well. it would not only add a second diegetic level – intra or extra – to our art but a new dimension to art of others as well. so secretly, this is an open application to theatre companies & dance ensembles around the globe for we can effectuate any dark mood you wish.
on behalf of a cufnosed circus,