Apparently someone at Pitchfork said that David Byrne would collaborate with anyone for a bag of Doritos? So he tells us in his book How Music Works.
This reawakened some old fantasies from when I first began recording my poems and “music” back in 1996. David Byrne. Robert Fripp. David Bowie. Brian Eno. David Torn. These are some of the big names that have inspired me to try my own thing and are some of the musicians I most fantasized about for collaborations.
I mean, a bag of Doritos? I can handle that.
There are so many reasons I won’t take this thought seriously. Lack of talent or feelings of inadequacy or inferiority are not considerations. I believe we’re all equal. That thinking has gotten me labeled arrogant over the years (back when I was a young painter considering myself the equal of the great masters, for instance). I’m not always good at articulating my thoughts—I both do and do not consider myself their artistic peers. On the one hand I believe that we all have the potential to create art. If any of us works at it long enough so that artistic expression is part of who we are we are in the same league (there is still that indefinable something that only comes through a few artists, just as there are only a few of us who ever seem to be truly alive and vital). On the other hand, I believe that all artists of eminence are ordinary human beings trying to get through life as best they can. In so many ways I have been reacting to the way scholars and the social elite treat a few artists as separate from the rest of humanity that my thoughts are a bit skewed toward a creative populism that I may seem irrational.
What I’ve already found as a block to collaboration is that I’m used to doing things alone. Whether or not this has to do with my isolated upbringing (an only child in the north woods) or that art is a way of thinking rather than a means of communicating, I can make no definitive statement. Regardless, I’ve been drawing and painting, writing, and more recently cobbling together audio somethings in isolation. I’ve done one recording with Charles Schlee in which I put together some basics, primarily beats from a commercial loop disc, and my voice; Charles added bass and guitar, creating a melodic line on bass; to which I added some more blips and drones and squeals. The other collaborations have been much more passive: either someone has added my reading to their music, perhaps created music to accompany my reading, or I’ve added my voice to their music. All of which is legit but not very interesting as a process. (More on these works can be found at my memoir Prattle and Din.)
I honestly don’t know if I could actively cooperate with another person on a collaboration where there’s a constant back and forth, give and take. It would have to be with someone who is more an artist or tinkerer than musician. By that I mean someone who doesn’t need to communicate in the moment as one musician feeds off the other as they perform but who can create bit by bit (not meant as a digital pun, but accept it as such). We would be making a collective audio collage. (In a later chapter Byrne has interesting things to say about his more recent record with Eno in which Eno supplied the music and he added melodies and lyrics. He felt the pressure was off because of the temporal distance of sending files back and forth, that he didn’t have to respond immediately, always having to come up with something great right then and there. I like that. I can imagine Eno is a bit intimidating even to a seasoned musician.)
A very important barrier for me is the scale of what those guys do. I can’t imagine fitting in. Really, it scares the shit out of me. In his book, Byrne talks about his most recent album with Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, how it cost almost nothing to record yet later says the recording process cost about $50,000. The overall budget for release was several hundred thousand. Right. I spend about $500 a year on software, most of it updates of stuff I’ve already purchased, and maybe a few hundred more on general computer stuff. Last year I really laid out the cash to buy a new microphone that I’d been looking at for something like seven years (under $400). My releases on Bandcamp are free until something sells, then they take a cut.
Nor would I want the sudden influx of public attention. Of course I’d like a larger audience. I’d like for hundreds or even thousands of people to be exploring and enjoying my stuff. But to suddenly have thousands or tens of thousands of people to be looking at me because I’m associated with some big name? That sounds scary. For me. And probably for them. Most people have no business encountering my art. I’ve gone on a long journey of questioning most of what our society has to offer, though I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface, that most folk take for granted as part of the natural order. I think a very small percentage of the populace would be at home or comfortably challenged by what I’ve been doing. I don’t think I’ve gone that far from the center or said anything original—I would say I’m pretty ordinary, middle of the road, bland—but from what I’ve seen of reactions to my art and the general drift of world politics, no, most folk don’t want to go there.
Perhaps the main issue, though, is if Byrne (or any of those guys) would be appropriate collaborators? The person who probably would be key to any project, and who connects all or almost all of the above mentioned artists, is Eno. He worked with Byrne and Talking Heads on two albums that are essential to my listening pleasure, my musical esthetic (taste), and to my desire to create my own recordings. On a recent drive up to Duluth I was listening to Remain In Light, not having heard it for a couple of years: what is side two of the LP sounded like a template for many of my own recordings. Repetitive rhythms. Drones. Blips. Squeals. Noise. Not much of a melody or harmonic in the usual sense of pop songs. An overall dark feel. Despair. Disorientation. Cultural alienation. “Seen and Not Seen,” “Whispering Wind,” and “The Overload” all seem like templates to a majority of my recordings.
I think Byrne himself has moved on, found other ways to express himself. As has Eno (though I can’t imagine him being tempted by a bag of chips nor much of anything else so terrestrial). Intellectually and theoretically both would be ideal collaborators in that they work more as artists than as jamming musicians and can get excited by non-musical influences. The problem as I see it is that I represent their common past, from over thirty-five years ago, rather than something new. Anything I’m doing now they’ve already done.
In a sense I have worked with David Torn, though he knows nothing about it. Years ago he released two discs of loops, SPLaTTeCeLL and Pandora’s Box, that I purchased from Sony (back when Sony owned ACIDPro), and made heavy use of. I’ve never felt comfortable working with loops, more because it made my recordings too pretty and professional sounding than because it seemed like cheating (some people view it as coloring in a coloring book rather than cutting out images for a collage…and, anyway, how else would I get David Torn on my recording?). And that would be part of my discomfort in working with any of the aforementioned artists, including Charles Schlee: their contribution would sound too good.
I’ve been thinking about this for so many years that it appears my bag of Doritos has gotten stale. And, there’s the question of whether or not I could share them even if they’re a little moldy.