Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Black Dice

Black Dice feature in Self-Titled Magazine

Late summer of last year, I was asked by the editors at Devil in the Woods Magazine to write the "definitive" article on Brooklyn's Black Dice. Oddly maligned now by the cognoscenti (a colleague at Pitchfork once lamented that after Beaches & Canyons they moved away from sounding like the Boredoms, which is really fucking unfair) and forever in the shadow of a band they helped nourish, Animal Collective, I undertook the task of recasting the group. Read for yourself to see if it was successful.

The article involved a series of one-on-one interviews with Bjorn and Eric Copeland and Aaron Warren, as well as ousted drummer Hisham Bharoocha. I also talked to Catsup Plate Records founder Rob Carmichael, DFA label boss Jonathan Galkin, the Animal Collective's Avey Tare, and world-renowned artists Richard Phillips and Doug Aitken. In retrospect, I wish that I had talked to videographer Danny Perez, Gore co-author Jason Frank Rothenberg, and old bassist Sebastian Blanck, but I was already neck-deep in tape.

Having finished the exhaustive piece, easily the largest article I've ever written for a magazine, I went away on holiday to the other side of the world. Upon my return to NYC, the article still hadn't seen daylight. DiW instead had molted into a new entity, Self-Titled, some weird amalgam of online and print that I have yet to figure out. What I do know though is that said Black Dice article is now seeing some day/ pixel light. The editors keep assuring me that they'll be submitting it for Da Capo's Best Music Writing, but that's neither here nor there, I'm just glad that it exists. (Seriously though, stuff that ballot box come November.)

Usually, I post all relevant interview transcripts here, but for once, the canvas provided by DiW/s/t was large enough to capture nearly every nuance and grace note (which I remain grateful for), so rendering the transcripts here ultimately feels redundant. That said, I am posting below the words from Doug Aitken and Richard Phillips, since both gents were kind enough to take time out of their busy schedules to speak with me, a true honor. At the last moment, all of Doug Aitken's comments were excised and Richard Phillips (who was gracious enough to let me use the above image for this post) had many more illuminating points to make about the art world at large. Enjoy.

Richard Phillips

"I saw them live early on. A friend of mine brought me to some club in Brooklyn. It was a night they played with Wolf Eyes, an all out noise-fest. When I saw Black Dice it was a complete paradigm shift. It was just a really all-out assault, a terrific show. Wolf Eyes were also quite powerful in a more tribal way. When I saw them again at another point, I took Doug to see them at a loft party in Brooklyn. I was struck by the commitment to this form that was completely…it was really had broken free and was original in its aggression and assault. It was a new form. I was preparing the exhibition concurrently and was inspired by them while painting.

"I ended up speaking with Bjorn, Hisham, Aaron and Eric and organized a studio visit. I thought it would be perfect to have them perform at my opening. A 140 decibel all-out assault that they do be happening during the opening for my exhibit entitled “America.” Which dealt with different ways, issues surrounding individuals sovereignty, individuals relationship to power. A huge painting of Bush, with pink panels.

"I just felt the show was as much about negation of that power as much an affirmation. The way in which their music I felt was did have this … application of negation as a way of making music, something I identified with. They did a two-part piece, two half-hour long pieces, solely for that show. They performed at absolute top volume. We provided a huge bowl of ear plugs and they were gone in 15 minutes. This was a night of openings at Chelsea Piers and a lot of it for me was to end the glad-handing, social aspect of openings, where it just becomes a way to advance ones career and I wanted to take the whole idea of discussion and interaction completely out of it. The sound would completely annihilate that potential and that it would be really about being in the space with them and these paintings at a certain point in time. and to cause a break in the trajectory of Chelsea and the arts scene, to really detonate a response to this kind of formulaic traipsing around. They had come over and seen the paintings. It was a statement of purpose. The timing of it…to have this kind of event. 9/11 was uncanny, horrific.

"In sense of collaboration, it was one of the more successful ones I ever worked with. It stands to me as a real singular moment in time. I honestly feel it was a summation. It’d be difficult to repeat. It was before their work became more lyrical and melodic in a sense. It was a culmination of things. I knew what they were capable of. The show was no less violent. It was really a breaking point, a real outpouring of energy and intensity and I felt that way in the run up to the show. There was a kind of abject nature, a negation, not in a punk way. What I really felt about Black Dice they absolutely annihilated agreements/ disagreements. The sheer sonic force blew threw the whole thing. The environment, there was a lot of people in the art community as well. You could hear them from blocks away. There was a huge crowd, hundreds and hundreds of people.

"What I wanted to do was have the gallery and those images become a nucleus for a kind of change. We didn’t have any possible…it was as important as the paintings. It was absolutely integral. That sense of the sound at such an extreme level and it being a culmination of those earlier performance. I was surprised how things changed. I watched their most recent video, it has a dance feeling to it. I really liked it a lot. I really responded to it. I felt the work they were doing at that time was really on it and leading in an important direction, regardless of their discipline. I really identified. It was really of the moment. What could’ve been a better expression of that time? It was more prophetic than we could’ve ever imagined."

Doug Aitken

"Richard Phillips was telling me I should check Black Dice out when they were playing in Williamsburg. You have to listen to your friends to get a lead on some things. It was a physical experience, it’s not so much a sonic experience. That was the thing about BD that impressed me. You could stand there and there was this really heavy bio-rhythm moving through your body that came through the sound.

"The thing that struck me was the idea that there’s something very much a raw white noise wall that you’re confronted with, a sonic assault. The deeper you’re in it, you start pulling up these delicate rhythms and frequencies and repetitions. That’s what makes Black Dice complex musicians. They’re able to harness and create something repetitious, hypnotic, that makes me think of Riley, Reich, Young. Merging that with a VU white noise quality. They’re just a couple of guys. It’s unpretentious, a pretty raw, dirty feeling, very honest and direct.

"I did this happening two years ago with them. Sometimes you feel like you’re inside a speaker cabinet when you see them play. It’s so small and tight, crushing and compacting inside your mind. On a personal level…(like the artist masturbating under the floor) Black Dice plays, very similarly, getting at you and getting in you and shifting your perceptions. That’s really interesting, these ties to avant-garde art sensibilities. It’s still more of a sonic experience for me personally, but I love that book of collages, Gore. It’s just fresh, people doing what they want to do."